The Waking of Helen by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Robert Reeves looked somewhat curiously at the girl
who was waiting on him at his solitary breakfast. He
had not seen her before, arriving at his summer boarding
house only the preceding night.
It was a shabby farmhouse on the inland shore of a
large bay that was noted for its tides, and had wonderful
possibilities of light and shade for an impressionist.
Reeves was an enthusiastic artist. It mattered little to
him that the boarding accommodations were most primitive,
the people uncultured and dull, the place itself
utterly isolated, as long as he could revel in those
transcendent sunsets and sunrises, those marvellous
moonlights, those wonderful purple shores and sweeps
of shimmering blue water.
The owner of the farm was Angus Fraser, and he
and his wife seemed to be a reserved, uncouth pair,
with no apparent interest in life save to scratch a bare
living out of their few stony acres. He had an impression
that they were childless and was at a loss to place
this girl who poured his tea and brought in his toast.
She did not resemble either Fraser or his wife. She was
certainly not beautiful, being very tall and rather awkward,
and dressed in a particularly unbecoming dark
print wrapper. Her luxuriant hair was thick and black,
and was coiled in a heavy knot at the nape of her neck.
Her features were delicate but irregular, and her skin
was very brown. Her eyes attracted Reeves's notice especially;
they were large and dark and full of a half-unconscious,
wistful longing, as if a prisoned soul behind
them were vainly trying to reveal itself.
Reeves could find out nothing of her from herself,
for she responded to his tentative questions about the
place in the briefest fashion. Afterwards he interviewed
Mrs. Fraser cautiously, and ascertained that the girl's
name was Helen Fraser, and that she was Angus's niece.
"Her father and mother are dead and we've brought
her up. Helen's a good girl in most ways—a little
obstinate and sulky now and then—but generally she's
steady enough, and as for work, there ain't a girl in
Bay Beach can come up to her in house or field. Angus
calculates she saves him a man's wages clear. No, I
ain't got nothing to say against Helen."
Nevertheless, Reeves felt somehow that Mrs. Fraser
did not like her husband's niece. He often heard her
scolding or nagging Helen at her work, and noticed
that the latter never answered back. But once, after
Mrs. Angus's tongue had been especially bitter, he met
the girl hurrying along the hall from the kitchen with
her eyes full of tears. Reeves felt as if someone had
struck him a blow. He went to Angus and his wife
that afternoon. He wished to paint a shore picture,
he said, and wanted a model. Would they allow Miss
Fraser to pose for him? He would pay liberally for
Angus and his wife had no objection. They would
pocket the money, and Helen could be spared a spell
every day as well as not. Reeves told Helen of his plan
himself, meeting her in the evening as she was bringing
the cows home from the low shore pastures beyond
the marsh. He was surprised at the sudden illumination
of her face. It almost transfigured her from a plain,
sulky-looking girl into a beautiful woman.
But the glow passed quickly. She assented to his
plan quietly, almost lifelessly. He walked home with
her behind the cows and talked of the sunset and the
mysterious beauty of the bay and the purple splendour
of the distant coasts. She listened in silence. Only once,
when he spoke of the distant murmur of the open sea,
she lifted her head and looked at him.
"What does it say to you?" she asked.
"It speaks of eternity. And to you?"
"It calls me," she answered simply, "and then I
want to go out and meet it—and it hurts me too. I can't
tell how or why. Sometimes it makes me feel as if I
were asleep and wanted to wake and didn't know
She turned and looked out over the bay. A dying
gleam of sunset broke through a cloud and fell across
her hair. For a moment she seemed the spirit of the
shore personified—all its mystery, all its uncertainty,
all its elusive charm.
She has possibilities, thought Reeves.
Next day he began his picture. At first he had thought
of painting her as the incarnation of a sea spirit, but
decided that her moods were too fitful. So he began to
sketch her as "Waiting"—a woman looking out across
the bay with a world of hopeless longing in her eyes.
The subject suited her well, and the picture grew
When he was tired of work he made her walk around
the shore with him, or row up the head of the bay in
her own boat. He tried to draw her out, at first with
indifferent success. She seemed to be frightened of
him. He talked to her of many things—the far outer
world whose echoes never reached her, foreign lands
where he had travelled, famous men and women whom
he had met, music, art and books. When he spoke of
books he touched the right chord. One of those transfiguring
flashes he delighted to evoke now passed over
her plain face.
"That is what I've always wanted," she said hungrily,
"and I never get them. Aunt hates to see me
reading. She says it is a waste of time. And I love it so.
I read every scrap of paper I can get hold of, but I
hardly ever see a book."
The next day Reeves took his Tennyson to the shore
and began to read the Idylls of the King to her.
"It is beautiful," was her sole verbal comment, but
her rapt eyes said everything.
After that he never went out with her without a
book—now one of the poets, now some prose classic.
He was surprised by her quick appreciation of and
sympathy with the finest passages. Gradually, too, she
forgot her shyness and began to talk. She knew nothing
of his world, but her own world she knew and
knew well. She was a mine of traditional history about
the bay. She knew the rocky coast by heart, and every
old legend that clung to it. They drifted into making
excursions along the shore and explored its wildest
retreats. The girl had an artist's eye for scenery and
"You should have been an artist," Reeves told her
one day when she had pointed out to him the exquisite
loveliness of a shaft of light falling through a cleft in
the rocks across a dark-green pool at their base.
"I would rather be a writer," she said slowly, "if I
could only write something like those books you have
read to me. What a glorious destiny it must be to have
something to say that the whole world is listening for,
and to be able to say it in words that will live forever! It
must be the noblest human lot."
"Yet some of those men and women were neither
good nor noble," said Reeves gently, "and many of
them were unhappy."
Helen dismissed the subject as abruptly as she always
did when the conversation touched too nearly on
the sensitive edge of her soul dreams.
"Do you know where I am taking you today?" she
"To what the people here call the Kelpy's Cave. I
hate to go there. I believe there is something uncanny
about it, but I think you will like to see it. It is a dark
little cave in the curve of a small cove, and on each side
the headlands of rock run far out. At low tide we can
walk right around, but when the tide comes in it fills
the Kelpy's Cave. If you were there and let the tide
come past the points, you would be drowned unless
you could swim, for the rocks are so steep and high it
is impossible to climb them."
Reeves was interested.
"Was anyone ever caught by the tide?"
"Yes," returned Helen, with a shudder. "Once, long
ago, before I was born, a girl went around the shore
to the cave and fell asleep there—and the tide came
in and she was drowned. She was young and very
pretty, and was to have been married the next week.
I've been afraid of the place ever since."
The treacherous cave proved to be a picturesque and
innocent-looking spot, with the beach of glittering sand
before it and the high gloomy walls of rock on either
"I must come here some day and sketch it," said
Reeves enthusiastically, "and you must be the Kelpy,
Helen, and sit in the cave with your hair wrapped
about you and seaweed clinging to it."
"Do you think a kelpy would look like that?" said
the girl dreamily. "I don't. I think it is a wild, wicked
little sea imp, malicious and mocking and cruel, and it
sits here and watches for victims."
"Well, never mind your sea kelpies," Reeves said,
fishing out his Longfellow. "They are a tricky folk, if all
tales be true, and it is supposed to be a very rash thing
to talk about them in their own haunts. I want to read
you 'The Building of the Ship.' You will like it, I'm
When the tide turned they went home.
"We haven't seen the kelpy, after all," said Reeves.
"I think I shall see him some day," said Helen gravely.
"I think he is waiting for me there in that gloomy cave
of his, and some time or other he will get me."
Reeves smiled at the gloomy fancy, and Helen smiled
back at him with one of her sudden radiances. The tide
was creeping swiftly up over the white sands. The sun
was low and the bay was swimming in a pale blue
glory. They parted at Clam Point, Helen to go for the
cows and Reeves to wander on up the shore. He thought
of Helen at first, and the wonderful change that had
come over her of late; then he began to think of another
face—a marvellously lovely one with blue eyes as
tender as the waters before him. Then Helen was
The summer waned swiftly. One afternoon Reeves
took a fancy to revisit the Kelpy's Cave. Helen could
not go. It was harvest time, and she was needed in the
"Don't let the kelpy catch you," she said to him half
seriously. "The tide will turn early this afternoon, and
you are given to day-dreaming."
"I'll be careful," he promised laughingly, and he
meant to be careful. But somehow when he reached
the cave its unwholesome charm overcame him, and
he sat down on the boulder at its mouth.
"An hour yet before tide time," he said. "Just enough
time to read that article on impressionists in my review
and then stroll home by the sandshore."
From reading he passed to day-dreaming, and day-dreaming
drifted into sleep, with his head pillowed on
the rocky walls of the cave.
How long he had slept he did not know, but he
woke with a start of horror. He sprang to his feet,
realizing his position instantly. The tide was in—far in
past the headlands already. Above and beyond him
towered the pitiless unscalable rocks. There was no
way of escape.
Reeves was no coward, but life was sweet to him,
and to die like that—like a drowned rat in a hole—to be
able to do nothing but wait for that swift and sure
oncoming death! He reeled against the damp rock wall,
and for a moment sea and sky and prisoning headlands
and white-lined tide whirled before his eyes.
Then his head grew clearer. He tried to think. How
long had he? Not more than twenty minutes at the
outside. Well, death was sure and he would meet it
bravely. But to wait—to wait helplessly! He should go;
mad with the horror of it before those endless minutes
would have passed!
He took something from his pocket and bent his,
head over it, pressing his lips to it repeatedly. And
then, when he raised his face again, a dory was coming
around the headland on his right, and Helen Fraser
was in it.
Reeves was dizzy again with the shock of joy and
thankfulness. He ran down over the little stretch of
sand still uncovered by the tide and around to the rocks
of the headlands against which the dory was already
grating. He sprang forward impulsively and caught the
girl's cold hands in his as she dropped the oars and
"Helen, you have saved me! How can I ever thank
He broke off abruptly, for she was looking up at
him, breathlessly and voicelessly, with her whole soul
in her eyes. He saw in them a revelation that amazed
him; he dropped her hands and stepped back as if she
had struck him in the face.
Helen did not notice the change in him. She clasped
her hands together and her voice trembled.
"Oh, I was afraid I should be too late! When I came
in from the field Aunt Hannah said you had not come
back—and I knew it was tide time—and I felt somehow
that it had caught you in the cave. I ran down
over the marsh and took Joe Simmon's dory. If I had
not got here in time—"
She broke off shiveringly. Reeves stepped into the
dory and took up the oars.
"The kelpy would have been sure of its victim then,"
he said, trying to speak lightly. "It would have almost
served me right for neglecting your warning. I was
very careless. You must let me row back. I am afraid
you have overtasked your strength trying to cheat the
Reeves rowed homeward in an absolute silence. Helen
did not speak and he could not. When they reached
the dory anchorage he helped her out.
"I think I'll go out to the Point for a walk," he said.
"I want to steady my nerves. You must go right home
and rest. Don't be anxious—I won't take any more
chances with sea kelpies."
Helen went away without a word, and Reeves walked
slowly out to the Point. He was grieved beyond measure
at the discovery he believed he had made. He had
never dreamed of such a thing. He was not a vain
man, and was utterly free from all tendency to flirtation.
It had never occurred to him that the waking of
the girl's deep nature might be attended with disastrous
consequences. He had honestly meant to help
her, and what had he done?
He felt very uncomfortable; he could not conscientiously
blame himself, but he saw that he had acted
foolishly. And of course he must go away at once. And
he must also tell her something she ought to know. He
wished he had told her long ago.
The following afternoon was a perfect one. Reeves
was sketching on the sandshore when Helen came.
She sat down on a camp stool a little to one side and
did not speak. After a few moments Reeves pushed
away his paraphernalia impatiently.
"I don't feel in a mood for work," he said. "It is too
dreamy a day—one ought to do nothing to be in keeping.
Besides, I'm getting lazy now that my vacation is
nearly over. I must go in a few days."
He avoided looking at her, so he did not see the
sudden pallor of her face.
"So soon?" she said in a voice expressive of no particular
"Yes. I ought not to have lingered so long. My world
will be forgetting me and that will not do. It has been a
very pleasant summer and I shall be sorry to leave Bay
"But you will come back next summer?" asked Helen
quickly. "You said you would."
Reeves nerved himself for his very distasteful task.
"Perhaps," he said, with an attempt at carelessness,
"but if I do so, I shall not come alone. Somebody who
is very dear to me will come with me—as my wife. I
have never told you about her, Helen, but you and I
are such good friends that I do not mind doing so now.
I am engaged to a very sweet girl, and we expect to be
married next spring."
There was a brief silence. Reeves had been vaguely
afraid of a scene and was immensely relieved to find
his fear unrealized. Helen sat very still. He could not
see her face. Did she care, after all? Was he mistaken?
When she spoke her voice was perfectly calm.
"Thank you, it is very kind of you to tell me about
her. I suppose she is very beautiful."
"Yes, here is her picture. You can judge for yourself."
Helen took the portrait from his hand and looked at
it steadily. It was a miniature painted on ivory, and the
face looking out from it was certainly lovely.
"It is no wonder you love her," said the girl in a low
tone as she handed it back. "It must be strange to be so
beautiful as that."
Reeves picked up his Tennyson.
"Shall I read you something? What will you have?"
"Read 'Elaine,' please. I want to hear that once more."
Reeves felt a sudden dislike to her choice.
"Wouldn't you prefer something else?" he asked,
hurriedly turning over the leaves. "'Elaine' is rather
sad. Shan't I read 'Guinevere' instead?"
"No," said Helen in the same lifeless tone. "I have
no sympathy for Guinevere. She suffered and her love
was unlawful, but she was loved in return—she did
not waste her love on someone who did not want or
care for it. Elaine did, and her life went with it. Read
me the story."
Reeves obeyed. When he had finished he held the
book out to her.
"Helen, will you take this Tennyson from me in
remembrance of our friendship and of the Kelpy's Cave?
I shall never forget that I owe my life to you."
She took the book and placed a little thread of crimson
seaweed that had been caught in the sand between
the pages of "Elaine." Then she rose.
"I must go back now. Aunt will need me. Thank you
again for the book, Mr. Reeves, and for all your kindness
Reeves was relieved when the interview was over.
Her calmness had reassured him. She did not care very
much, after all; it was only a passing fancy, and when
he was gone she would soon forget him.
He went away a few days later, and Helen bade him
an impassive good-bye. When the afternoon was far
spent she stole away from the house to the shore, with
her Tennyson in her hand, and took her way to the
The tide was just beginning to come in. She sat
down on the big boulder where Reeves had fallen
asleep. Beyond stretched the gleaming blue waters,
mellowing into a hundred fairy shades horizonward.
The shadows of the rocks were around her. In front
was the white line of the incoming tide; it had almost
reached the headlands. A few minutes more and escape
would be cut off—yet she did not move.
When the dark green water reached her, and the
lapping wavelets swished up over the hem of her dress,
she lifted her head and a sudden strange smile flashed
over her face.
Perhaps the kelpy understood it.