“It’s over and they’re safe!” Matthew Wheeler announced joyfully, hanging up the telephone. The crowd gathered in his large living room allowed themselves a few moments of relief and jubilation before peppering him with questions. Amid the happy chaos, he held up a hand. “Molinson said that they seem unharmed, but he’s having them go to the hospital to make sure. He just doesn’t want to take any chances.”
As Matthew tried in vain to explain that everyone didn’t need to go to the hospital, Peter Belden suddenly realized that he should hurry home to tell Helen the good news. He was reluctant to do so, knowing that she would still be upset over the way that he had yelled at her earlier. He expected her histrionics to be even worse since he had forced her to come against her will. He still remembered how upset she had been after he made her witness their daughter’s marriage, crying until she had made herself sick. He was fully expecting a repeat performance when he did make it home. He regretfully slipped away from the joyous crowd, walking slowly to the car he had parked at the end of the drive.
He arrived at the Farm several short moments later, surprised to find the house in complete darkness. Helen had stormed off from the Manor House over two hours ago, certainly she had had plenty of time to get home. He tried to tell himself that she had probably fallen asleep while it was still light and simply not yet awakened. He quietly unlocked the door, not wanting to scare her if she woke to the noises of someone coming in. Still, a vague feeling of uneasiness erased most of the relief he felt at Trixie’s rescue.
A quick check of the downstairs confirmed that it was empty. He quickly climbed the stairs, thankful to find their bedroom door closed. He was used to coming upstairs to find that she had shut him out of the room. On those occasions, he would sleep in the guest room, assuming that she simply needed to be alone for a while. He tried his best to be patient with her, knowing that her health had become fragile over the past few years.
He knocked gently on the door, gradually increasing the force behind it as Helen was silent. He tried the door, not too surprised when he found it locked. It was only when he began to call loudly through the door that he suspected that something might truly be wrong. He began to plead with her to answer, gradually realizing that his efforts were futile.
Peter walked up the stairs to the attic. He quickly found the lock pick kit that someone had given to Trixie as a joke years earlier. Having confiscated it immediately, he was now thankful that he hadn’t thrown it away. He made his way through the jumble of boxes, noticing immediately that the ones containing Trixie’s pictures had been moved. Reaching the door, he was stunned to find that one of the albums was missing.
Realizing that Helen must have taken it, he rushed down the stairs. He stumbled once, catching himself before he actually fell. Hurrying to unlock the door to which they had never had a key, he felt a chill as the tumblers moved allowing the door to open.
Stepping inside, he looked around nervously. In one glance, he spotted the missing album, two notes on the night stand, and Helen’s still body stretched across the bed. With a desperate cry, he began to try to awaken her. Unable to do so, he called for an ambulance. He felt as if his heart were breaking again.
While he waited on the ambulance, he tried again to make her wake up. Knowing he was helpless, he remembered old Mr. Frayne telling him how horrible it had been to sit on that lonely road while his wife died in his arms. Peter had always been sympathetic, but for the first time, he truly understood exactly what his former neighbor had gone through. As hard as it was for him to wait for the ambulance, he had no choice. He kept telling himself that once it arrived, Helen could get care on the way to the hospital. He just prayed that they would be in time.
Picking up the note addressed to him, he began to cry as he read. “Why, Helen? Why? Don’t you see that it’s not too late?”
Hoping desperately that even now it wasn’t too late, he pocketed the other note without reading it. Holding on to his wife’s hands, he pleaded with her to wake up. He was still talking to her silent form as the wails of the ambulance pierced the night’s silence.
Peter rushed downstairs, meeting them as they entered the driveway. Shock had set in and he silently led the paramedics up the stairs to where she was.
“Mr. Belden? What exactly happened?” a young man asked.
“I…, I…, here!” he stammered, shoving the suicide note into his hands. “I came in and found her like this and found this and…” his words ran together as tears ran down his cheeks.
“Calm down, sir, we’ll do all we can,” he tried to assure him, looking around the room. Without asking permission, he began to look around the room as his partners moved Helen to a stretcher. He walked into the adjoining bathroom.
Peter heard noises that sounded like cabinets were being opened. The young man re-emerged, holding an empty bottle.
“Sir, is your wife in the habit of taking these?” he asked.
“No, she bought them a few weeks ago, but never opened them. She hasn’t been sleeping well, so I assumed….”
“Are you certain that this bottle was never opened?”
“Yes…,” Peter said. Suddenly a look of sheer horror crossed his face. He began to wring his hands. “How could I have been so blind? I didn’t know, I DIDN’T KNOW!!”
He was already in shock and the sudden realization that Helen must have been planning this for some time didn’t help. He blamed himself, thinking that he could somehow have prevented it. He knew that she had been deeply hurt when she had realized that he had been seeing Trixie. He had convinced himself that it was in her own best interest not to tell her, but now he wasn’t so sure. He remembered his own thoughts earlier that day, when he had contributed her illness to manipulative motives. He truly did love her and the feeling that he was responsible was more than he could bear. He began to sob loudly, following the paramedics as they placed Helen’s too still body in the back of the ambulance.
During the brief ride to Sleepyside, Peter clung to his wife’s cold hand, moving only when forced to do so. They arrived at Sleepyside General Hospital with lights flashing and sirens sounding. He trailed along behind them as emergency room workers flung the doors open to rush her inside. At the door that led down the hall from the lobby, he was stopped by a doctor. “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ve got to wait here. I can’t allow you to go back with her.”
He tried to protest, but sank wearily into a chair in the waiting room. His head in his hands, he felt as if all hope had gone. Moments later, he stared blankly at the people gathered around him. He had forgotten that they would be there. “Dad, what happened? What’s wrong with Moms?” Brian was saying.
“She…, I…,” Peter couldn’t seem to manage to speak. His eyes were glazed as he tried to focus on his oldest son. “I… I… I killed her.”
Go on to Part Three