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(If some of this Waters recap seems a bit hurried, that's because finally I can see the end in sight! Take me home!)

As we reach Book 2, Chapter 8, the final step in our long ordeal, Sherman Elliott has finally noticed that envelope on his desk, the one that has “Important—to be read at once” written across it. He opens it, reads it, puts it down, and asks his private secretary to summon Westmore immediately. Oh, you couldn't possibly think we were done with the concentrated evil of Old Man Westmore? The evil so monumental that the author can't even bear to talk about it? And since Helen left him, he'd managed to regain some of his old hubris in the interim.

Westmore would have gladly have delayed this meeting as long as possible. Yet he did not apprehend any great difficulty; Mr. Elliott could not afford to break with him and create a scandal, having his family and his editorial position to maintain, and no money of any consequence. The first rude shock, when Helen had imparted the condition of things to him, had stunned him terribly—making him fear that his reputation and great power were hopelessly lost. However, he had spent several hours considering the matter, and had decided that through its financial side he would be able to settle the whole thing satisfactorily and finally. Bracing himself, therefore, for the unpleasant interview which he could not avoid, he presented himself in the private office of the editor about eleven o'clock at night.

“He will die game!” Mr. Elliott commented mentally, when he saw Westmore. The two men sat down opposite one another. (pp. 302-3)

Elliot cuts to the point immediately, that Helen has spilled the beans on everything, and when Westmore tries his “that wily temptress” gambit for the first time (“I suppose you think, Elliott, that a man is to remain immaculate before every kind of temptation.”), the editor lowers the boom. “I do not believe for a moment that Mrs Galbraith tempted you. Nothing you say will make me believe it.” In addition, he makes it clear that he's become increasingly aware of the whiff of brimstone that Westmore's character puts out when the wind is right. The fate of Helen Galbraith was just the cherry on the cow chip sundae.

Well, what is to be done? Elliott has that decided, too; the present business associations between the two men must come to an end. Although he puts up a token fight, he seems perfectly fine with it, if that's the bullheaded direction his associate wants to go. Get on your bike and pedal your overprincipled ass out of here, Sherman. Oh, but Elliott isn't planning on going anywhere.

Wait, what?

“I am going to speak to you very plainly, Mr. Westmore,” said Mr. Elliott, “and I do not wish to be misunderstood. The association must end, but you are the one who must go. You have no right to hold the place you hold. Your character in no way justifies the influence you can exert whenever you wish to do so. This paper is a great paper—its power is unlimited—it should be in the hands of true-hearted men who will exercise their power at all times as it should be exercised. When I came to you I did not know what kind of man you were; but now that I know, I consider myself bound so far as I can to restrict your power—to force you to retire from the situation. You must accept the terms I have to offer—for I intend to remain.”

“I do not understand you—what do you mean?—what are you aiming at?” asked Mr. Westmore anxiously, beginning to fear that after all he might be beaten.

“I mean this,” replied Mr. Elliott, still speaking quietly. “There was a time when I could not have commanded capital; but to-day that is different—no man in New York can command it more readily than I can, and from a high class of men. I propose to buy this paper, and run it entirely myself. You can put your own price upon it—but all the world knows what its stock is worth.”

“But suppose I do not consent to sell,” Westmore stood directly before Mr. Elliott—he spoke as quietly as the later had done,—but it could be seen that he was furiously angry.

“Then your whole character is revealed to the town.”

“And you would also expose your dear friend, Mrs. Galbraith?” he asked contemptuously.

“I do not need this last piece of wickedness to undo you; the reputation of Mrs. Galbraith is safe in my hands. That deal of last fall in connection with those western mines—that, you know, would be sufficient.” Mr. Elliott spoke very slowly watching the effect of his words. The effect was instantaneous. Westmore started, his face turning very pale. (pp. 306-7)

Well, since you put it that way...

As Helen before him, Mr. Elliott makes it clear that he didn't do this out of spite or personal interest. In fact, in doing this, he anticipated taking on a debt that he'd never live to completely pay off, but when you're the editor of a great metropolitan newspaper, you have a moral obligation to do the right thing. (Are you listening, New York Post? Oh sorry, that was “great metropolitan newspaper.” And I see I already did a Post snipe during this book, so never mind.) With that, the matter was settled, although Westmore, unreflective to the bitter bloody end, never forgave Helen Galbraith for her part in his ignominious fall from influence.

The next morning, fully recharged from his chore, Mr. Elliott shares Helen's letter with the missus, who is so shaken that she reads the sorry history twice. Obviously something must be done, so Sherman sets out alone to make it clear that the Elliotts have her back. He arrives not a moment too soon, as there's now a dead body in the parlor. Gradually, Helen unburdens herself completely, and in response, Elliott gives her a small sampling of Eternal Truths. This is what the author has been building to through the whole book, so we might as well take it at full blast...

“'Expect a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.' This, it seems to me,” he said, “is what you must learn. You started forth in life confident of the promise of eternal youth, of eternal success. But this is never to be in any life. Youth must go—success must give way—we must learn to die to our own ambitions—even to what often seem to be our aspirations. We may try to escape a personal knowledge of the deeper truths, of the more searching and awful lessons of life; but if it be necessary for our own development that we learn them, God will surely bring us face to face with them—will instruct us, if even by severe methods, where we need instruction. There is no food which the soul needs but truth, and when once it is fed upon truth, all that is material, all that is physical will fade away, and the spiritual will come into our lives with clear and compelling dedication. I know, Mrs. Galbraith, that these things are true.

“One must often wait long,” he continued, “for the hour that he is strong enough to grapple with and master the weakness, or the wilfulness, or the rebelliousness, of his own nature. But when that hour is come, as will surely be the case, if one is not 'disobedient unto the heavenly vision,' there will come a transformation like the descent of the heavens upon the earth, and the whole world will not be fuller of unspeakable splendors than is the human soul that has endured, and pressed forward, and achieved the entire conquest of self.”

He saw that Helen followed his words with attention, and that they seemed to bring some kind of help, or light to her.

“Possibly,” he went on, feeling that something concerning his own experience might draw her nearer to him, and add impressiveness and value to what he had already said, “possibly, no man comes closer to the heart of a people in modern life than does the editor of a great daily in a city like New York. In such a position a man stands shoulder to shoulder with all the great movements of his time, and with all the men who are behind these movements. If the editor will observe closely he will see that one great law works through every grade and every development of life. For a time, often, men, who are purely self-seeking, who aim to lift themselves by means of association with a great cause, seem to succeed, but only for a time. Those that crave great positions, rather than true greatness—those who undertake tremendous labor for the fame attached to it rather than for the sake of adding a finer and more enduring quality to human labor—these become often popular heroes—but also only for a time. I have seen it repeat itself over and over. My own career has taught me that the only men who, at the final count, are the winners in public life, as in private life, are those who learn to seek other things than the gratification of their own ambitions, or their own wills. In saying this, I am not seeking to point you to a state of self-abnegation where life is barren and cold and fruitless. Such, however, would not be the result of the kind of self-surrender of which I am speaking. The life which I have in my thoughts is one filled with labor and righteousness and the pursuit of truth—and you will find in it what you will find in no other life—no matter what has seemed its promise at the start—you will find in it happiness and eternal hope.” (pp. 313-5)

Oddly enough, this was the first passage in the book that I could genuinely get behind, because finally we've reached a section that doesn't feel as artificial as a wind-up toy, even if it is still a trifle stiff. I'll touch on this fully in the post-game report, since it deserves revisiting, but for the moment I'll say this excerpt deserves to be in a far better book than this one. It definitely hammers home the Book of Job vibe I got from all that “sit still and suffer” talk.

On Mr. Elliott's pledge that friendship is a sacred bond (“not even love is more sacred than friendship”...oooooo-kay), Mrs. Elliott soon takes charge of the household for the duration of the funeral preparations. Eventually the Elliotts remove Helen from her cottage completely, allowing her to finally catch her breath and mend body and soul. Turns out she really needed it, because after Alex is buried in his hometown, she slides into an exhausted torpor.

After several weeks of recharging, she becomes conscious of a desire: “Yes, I want the sea! that is it!” Obviously the sea wasn't coming to Grammercy Park any time soon—global warming hadn't even been invented yet. So they make the arrangements for a quiet cottage on White Island in the Isles of Shoals, which seems to do the trick in spades.

Alone now, except for the eternal sound of the sea, Helen gave herself up to the welcome loneliness and freedom of her life. During these days she seemed to be always awake and out of doors, and the sunrise became as familiar to her as the sunset. She began to feel that for the first time in her life she was brought face to face with the vast powers of nature, and that she was gaining a new sense of the relations of man to his Creator. Often in the soft, moonlit summer nights, while she was leading this sea-bound, solitary life, she would go alone down to the water's edge and sit there in silent awe and wonder at the majesty of the solemn sea and of the great forces of the universe. At such times as these, the mingled mysteries of human pain and human grief were unfolded to her vision; and then it was she began to feel that the future might yet hold sacred duties for her. The thought of Galbraith was always with her; but principally as he had been in his young manhood, stretching forth his strong, willing hands towards the work which he longed to do. At times the thought of him in that different life—bereft of his arms, succumbing day by day to the miseries and agonies of a slow death—this thought would come; and when it came she felt it was more than she could bear in her solitude. But as the days went by, and the influence of sky and sea wrought upon her, the lesson which all of this was meant to teach commenced to be learned by her; and the life of which Mr. Elliott had spoken—the life filled with labor and righteousness and the pursuit of truth—this life commenced to seem possible to her.

[...]Now she saw that up to this time, even in those days of fiercest battle before Galbraith's death when she sought to surrender entirely her own will, that up to this time, through all the past, her life had been but a struggling, rebellious one. Never had she been willing to sit still and suffer, never submissive to accept what had come to her; but always fighting to alter the condition of things, always striving to find a way of her own. (pp. 318-9)

Not long after, the Elliotts made an unannounced visit to see how Helen was coming along, and in their conversation by the shore, Helen makes clear that she's ready to go back, to find that world of “labor and righteousness and the pursuit of truth.”

[“]My aim now is to redeem the time—to find again the way which I have lost—in fact, so to live that I may prove myself worthy to have been the chosen companion of so large and beneficent a soul as was Alex Galbraith's.”

“Then you are ready to go back with us?” asked Mrs. Elliott, gathering Helen's hands in her own as she spoke, and pressing them against her heart.

“Yes, my friend, if you will have me,” Helen replied.

“Now and always,” said Mrs. Elliott. “We need you—your work needs you—no woman in the world has a place more ready for her than you have.”

“You are too good! You are too good!” Helen's tears could no longer be held in check.

“We are not good, dear; we only love you,” said Mrs. Elliott, putting her arms about Helen's shoulders and drawing her closely to herself. (pp. 320-21)

“Then, I have a plan, dear,” said Mrs. Elliott. “There are my girls on the East Side. Some one must help me about them.”

“And I—am I to be that one?” Helen asked eagerly.

“Yes, my dear, if you will.”

“Ah, I thank you, that is what I want—it will bring me what I seek.”

“Then the future has hope in it already,” said Mr. Elliott.

And so it came to pass that to-day there goes in and out among the homes of sin and degradation in New York city a tall, pale woman of wonderful grace and beauty, who, clad in a simple robe of black, is looked upon by many weary, fainting souls as their Vierge Consolatrice. The sympathies and merciful kindnesses of this woman knows no limitations. Her life is dedicated—the seal of a great cause has been put upon it—and at last she walks steadily onward, her heart purified and subject to the will of God. (p. 322)

Sure, that makes it sound like she became a non-Catholic version of an nun, but nothing can kill this moment for me. The glory shines all around my keyboard, not just because Helen Galbraith has discovered redemption through helping others, but because this dire, interminable book has finally ended! Huzzah!

Next: Post-game or post-mortem? Either way, once again I try to make sense of it all. Say a prayer, light a candle...


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