In the long idle days that followed an affectionate relation gradually grew between these two. In the chilly evenings as Adele lay at her side on the deck, Helen would protect her from the wind and would allow her hand to rest gently on her face and her fingers to flutter vaguely near her lips. At such times Adele would have dimly a sense of inward resistance, a feeling that if she were not so sluggish she would try to decide whether she should yield or resist but she felt too tired to think, to yield or to resist and so she lay there quite quiet, quite dulled.
These relations formed themselves so gradually and gently that only the nicest observer could have noted any change in the relation of the three. Their intercourse was apparently very much what it had been. There were long conversations in which Adele vehemently and with much picturesque vividness explained her views and theories of manners, people and things, in all of which she was steadily opposed by Helen who differed fundamentally in all her convictions, aspirations and illusions.
Mabel would listen always with immense enjoyment as if it were a play and enacted for her benefit and queerly enough although the disputants were much in earnest in their talk and in their oppositions, it was a play and enacted for her benefit.
One afternoon Adele was lying in her steamer chair yielding herself to a sense of physical weariness and to the disillusionment of recent failures. Looking up she saw Helen looking down at her. Adele’s expression changed. “I beg your pardon” she said “I didn’t know any one was near. Forgive the indecency of my having allowed the dregs of my soul to appear on the surface.” “It is I who ought to apologise for having observed you” Helen answered gravely. Adele gave her a long look of unimpassioned observation. “I certainly never expected to find you one of the most gentle and considerate of human kind,” she commented quietly and then Helen made it clearer. “I certainly did not expect that you would find me so,” she answered.
This unemphasised interchange still left them as before quite untouched. It was an impartial statement from each one, a simple observation on an event. Time passed and still no charged words, glances or movements passed between them, they gave no recognition of each other’s consciousness.
One evening lying there in the darkness yielding to a suggestion rather than to an impulse Adele pressed the fluttering fingers to her lips. The act was to herself quite without emphasis and without meaning.
The next night as she lay down in her berth, she suddenly awakened out of her long emotional apathy. For the first time she recognised the existence of Helen’s consciousness and realised how completely ignorant she was both as to its extent and its meaning. She meditated a long time. Finally she began to explain to herself. “No I don’t understand it at all,” she said. “There are so many possibilities and then there is Mabel,” and she dropped into another meditation. Finally it took form. “Of Course Helen may be just drifting as I was, or else she may be interested in seeing how far I will go before my principles get in my way or whether they will get in my way at all, and then it’s barely possible that she may really care for me and again she may be playing some entirely different game. —And then there is Mabel. –Apparently she is not to know, but is that real; does it make any difference; does Helen really care or is she only doing it secretly for the sense of mystery. Surely she is right. I am very ignorant. Here after ten days of steady companionship I haven’t the vaguest conception of her, I haven’t the slightest clue to her or her meanings. Surely I must be very stupid” and she shook her head disconsolately “and to-morrow is our last day together and I am not likely to find out them. I would so much like to know: she continued” but I can see no way to it, none at all except,” and she smiled to herself “except by asking her and then I have no means of knowing whether she is telling me the truth. Surely all is vanity for I once thought I knew something about women,” and with a long sigh of mystification she composed herself to sleep.
The next afternoon leaving Mabel comfortable with a book, Adele, with a mind attuned to experiment wandered back with Helen to their favorite outlook. It was a sparkling day and Adele threw herself on the deck joyous with the sunshine and the blue. She looked up at Helen for a minute and then began to laugh, her eyes bright with amusement. “Now what?” asked Helen. “Oh nothing much, I was just thinking of the general foolishness, Mabel and you and I. Don’t you think it’s pretty foolish?” There was nothing mocking gin her face nothing but simple amusement.
Helen’s face gave no response and made no comment but soon she hit directly with words. “I am afraid” she said “that after all you haven’t a nature much above passionettes. You are so afraid of losing your moral sense that you are not willing to take it through anything more dangerous than a mud-puddle.”
Adele took it frankly, her smile changed to meditation. “Yes there is something in what you say,” she returned “but after all if one has a moral sense there is no necessity in being foolhardy with it. I grant you it ought to be good for a swim of a mile or two, but surely it would be certain death to let it loose in mid-ocean. It’s not a heroic point of view I admit, but then I never wanted to be a hero, but on the other hand,” she added “I am not anxious to cultivate cowardice. I wonder—”and then she paused. Helen gave her a little while and then left her.
Adele continued a long time to look out on the water. “I wonder” she said to herself again. Finally it came more definitely. “Yes I wonder. There isn’t much use in wondering about Helen. I know no more now than I did last night and I am not likely to be much wiser. She gives me no means of taking hold and the key of the lock is surely not in me. It can’t be that she really cares enough to count, no that’s impossible,” and she relapsed once more into silence.
Her meditations again took form. “As for me is it another little indulgence of my superficial emotions or is there any possibility of my really learning to realise stronger feelings. If it’s the first I will call a halt promptly and at once. If it’s the second I won’t back out, no not for any amount of moral sense,” and she smiled to herself. “Certainly it is very difficult to tell. The probabilities are that this is only another one of the many and so I suppose I had better quit and leave it. It’s the last day together and so to be honorable I must quit at once.” She then dismissed it all and for some time longer found it very pleasant there playing with the brightness. At last she went forward and joined the others. She sat down by Helen’s side and promptly changed her mind. It was really quite different, her moral sense had lost its importance.
Helen was very silent that evening all through the tedious table d’hôte dinner. The burden of the entertainment rested on Adele and she supported it vigorously. After dinner they all went back to their old station. It was a glorious night that last one on the ship. They lay on the deck the stars bright overhead and the wind-colored sea following fast behind the ploughing screw. Helen continued silent, and Adele all through her long discourse on the superior quality of California starlight and the incidents of her childhood with which she was regaling Mable, all through this talk she still wondered if Helen really cared.
“Was I brutal this afternoon?” she thought it in definite words “and does she really care? If she does it would be only decent of me to give some sign of contrition for is she does care I am most woefully ashamed of my levity, but if she doesn’t and is just playing with me then I don’t want to apologise.” Her mind slowly alternated between these two possibilities. She was beginning to decide in favor of the more generous one, when she felt Helen’s hand pressing gently over her eyes. At once the baser interpretation left her mind quite completely. She felt convinced of Helen’s rare intensity and generosity of feeling. It was the first recognition of mutual dependence.