The Legacy of Cain
16. Helena's Diary
When I reached the foot of the stairs, my father called me into his study.
I found him at his writing-table, with such a heap of torn-up paper in his waste-basket
that it overflowed on to the floor. He explained to me that he had been destroying a large
accumulation of old letters, and had ended (when his employment began to grow
wearisome) in examining his correspondence rather carelessly. The result was that he had
torn up a letter, and a copy of the reply, which ought to have been set aside as worthy of
preservation. After collecting the fragments, he had heaped them on the table. If I could
contrive to put them together again on fair sheets of paper, and fasten them in their right
places with gum, I should be doing him a service, at a time when he was too busy to set
his mistake right for himself.
Here was the best excuse that I could desire for keeping out of Miss Jillgall's way. I
cheerfully set to work on the restoration of the letters, while my father went on with his
Having put the fragments together--excepting a few gaps caused by morsels that had been
lost--I was unwilling to fasten them down with gum, until I could feel sure of not having
made any mistakes; especially in regard to some of the lost words which I had been
obliged to restore by guess-work. So I copied the letters, and submitted them, in the first
place, to my father's approval.
He praised me in the prettiest manner for the care that I had taken. But, when he began,
after some hesitation, to read my copy, I noticed a change. The smile left his face, and the
nervous quiverings showed themselves again.
"Quite right, my child," he said, in low sad tones.
On returning to my side of the table, I expected to see him resume his writing. He crossed
the room to the window and stood (with his back to me) looking out.
When I had first discovered the sense of the letters, they failed to interest me. A tiresome
woman, presuming on the kindness of a good-natured man to beg a favor which she had
no right to ask, and receiving a refusal which she had richly deserved, was no remarkable
event in my experience as my father's secretary and copyist. But the change in his face,
while he read the correspondence, altered my opinion of the letters. There was more in
them evidently than I had discovered. I kept my manuscript copy--here it is:
From Miss Elizabeth Chance to the Rev. Abel Gracedieu.
(Date of year, 1859. Date of month, missing.)