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went to the war, long before you got hurt, you gave this likeness of
yourself to a young lady that you thought a great deal of. Can't you
recall something about it?"

Nichol wrinkled his scarred forehead, scratched his head, and hitched
uneasily in his chair, evidently making a vain effort to penetrate the
gloom back of that vague awakening in the Southern hospital. At last he
broke out in his usual irritation, "Naw, I kyant, doggon - "

"Hush! you must not use that word here. Don't be discouraged. You are
trying; that's all I ask," and the doctor laid a soothing hand on his
shoulder. "Now, Captain, I'll just step in the next room. You think
quietly as you can about the young lady to whom you gave that picture
of yourself."

Nichol was immensely pleased with his photograph, and looked at it in
all its lights. While thus gratifying a sort of childish vanity, Helen
entered noiselessly, her blue eyes, doubly luminous from the pallor of
her face, shining like sapphires. So intent was her gaze that one might
think it would "kindle a soul under the ribs of death."

At last Nichol became conscious of her presence and started,
exclaiming, "Why, there she is herself."

"OH, Albert, you DO know me," cried the girl, rushing toward him with
outstretched hand.

He took it unhesitatingly, saying with a pleased wonder, "Well, I
reckon I'm comin' round. Yer the young lady I give this picture to?"

"I'm Helen," she breathed, with an indescribable accent of tenderness
and gladness.

"Why, cert'ny. The doctor tole me 'bout you."

"But you remember me yourself?" she pleaded. "You remember what you
said to me when you gave me this picture?" and she looked into his eyes
with an expression which kindled even his dull senses.

"Oh, shucks!" he said slowly, "I wish I could. I'd like ter 'blige yer,
fer ye're right purty, en I am a-tryin' ter mind the doctor."

Such a sigh escaped her that one might think her heart and hope were
going with it. The supreme moment of meeting had come and gone, and he
did not know her; she saw and felt in her inmost soul that he did not.
The brief and illusive gleam into the past was projected only from the
present, resulting from what he had been told, not from what he
recalled.

She withdrew her hand, turned away, and for a moment or two her form
shook with sobs she could not wholly stifle. He looked on perplexed and
troubled, then broke out, "I jes' feels ez ef I'd split my blamed ole
haid open - "

She checked him by a gesture. "Wait," she cried, "sit down." She took a
chair near him and hastily wiped her eyes. "Perhaps I can help you
remember me. You will listen closely, will you not?"

"I be dog - oh, I forgot," and he looked toward the back parlor
apprehensively. "Yes, mees, I'll do anythin' yer sez."

"Well, once you were a little boy only so high, and I was a little girl
only so high. We both lived in this village and we went to school
together. We studied out of the same books together. At three o'clock
in the afternoon school was out, and then we put our books in our desks
and the teacher let us go and play. There was a pond of water, and it
often froze over with smooth black ice. You and I used to go together
to that pond; and you would fasten my skates on my feet - "

"Hanged ef I wouldn't do it agin," he cried, greatly pleased. "Yer
beats 'em all. Stid o' astin' questions, yer tells me all 'bout what
happened. Why, I kin reckerlect it all ef I'm tole often anuff."

With a sinking heart she faltered on, "Then you grew older and went
away to school, and I went away to school. We had vacations; we rode on
horseback together. Well, you grew to be as tall as you are now; and
then came a war and you wore a captain's uniform, like - like that you
see in your likeness, and - and - " she stopped. Her rising color became
a vivid flush; she slowly rose as the thought burned its way into her
consciousness that she was virtually speaking to a stranger. Her words
were bringing no gleams of intelligence into his face; they were
throwing no better, no stronger light upon the past than if she were
telling the story to a great boy. Yet he was not a boy. A man's face
was merely disfigured (to her eyes) by a grin of pleasure instead of a
pleased smile; and a man's eyes were regarding her with an unwinking
stare of admiration. She was not facing her old playmate, her old
friend and lover, but a being whose only consciousness reached back but
months, through scenes, associations coarse and vulgar like himself.
She felt this with an intuition that was overwhelming. She could not
utter another syllable, much less speak of the sacred love of the past.
"O God!" she moaned in her heart, "the man has become a living grave in
which his old self is buried. Oh, this is terrible, terrible!"

As the truth grew upon her she sprang away, wringing her hands and
looking upon him with an indescribable expression of pity and dread.
"Oh," she now moaned aloud, "if he had only come back to me mutilated
in body, helpless! but this change - "

She fled from the room, and Nichol stared after her in perplexed
consternation.




CHAPTER XIV

"FORWARD! COMPANY A"


When Mrs. Kemble was left alone with Captain Nichol's parents in the
sitting-room, she told them of Helen's plan of employing the photograph
in trying to recall their son to himself. It struck them as an
unusually effective method. Mrs. Kemble saw that their anxiety was so
intense that it was torture for them to remain in suspense away from
the scene of action. It may be added that her own feelings also led her
to go with them into the back parlor, where all that was said by Nichol
and her daughter could be heard. Her solicitude for Helen was not less
than theirs for their son; and she felt the girl might need both
motherly care and counsel. She was opposed even more strenuously than
her husband to any committal on the daughter's part to her old lover
unless he should become beyond all doubt his former self. At best, it
would be a heavy cross to give up Martine, who had won her entire
affection. Helen's heart presented a problem too deep for solution.
What would - what could - Captain Nichol be to her child in his present
condition, should it continue?

It was but natural, therefore, that she and her husband should listen
to Helen's effort to awaken memories of the past with profound anxiety.
How far would she go? If Nichol were able to respond with no more
appreciative intelligence than he had thus far manifested, would a
sentiment of pity and obligation carry her to the point of accepting
him as he was, of devoting herself to one who, in spite of all their
commiseration and endeavors to tolerate, might become a sort of horror
in their household! It was with immense relief that they heard her
falter in her story, for they quickly divined that there was nothing in
him which responded to her effort. When they heard her rise and moan,
"If he had only come back to me mutilated in body, helpless! but this
change - " they believed that she was meeting the disappointment as they
could wish.

Mr. and Mrs. Nichol heard the words also, and while in a measure
compelled to recognize their force, they conveyed a meaning hard to
accept. The appeal upon which so much hope had been built had failed.
In bitterness of soul, the conviction grew stronger that their once
brave, keen-minded son would never be much better than an idiot.

Then Helen appeared among them as pale, trembling, and overwhelmed as
if she had seen a spectre. In strong reaction from her effort and
blighted hope she was almost in a fainting condition. Her mother's arms
received her and supported her to a lounge; Mrs. Nichol gave way to
bitter weeping; Mr. Kemble wrung the father's hand in sympathy, and
then at his wife's request went for restoratives. Dr. Barnes closed the
sliding-doors and prudently reassured Nichol: "You have done your best,
Captain, and that is all I asked of you. Remain here quietly and look
at your picture for a little while, and then you shall have a good long
rest."

"I did try, Doctor," protested Nichol, anxiously. "Gee wiz! I reckon a
feller orter try ter please sech a purty gyurl. She tole me lots. Look
yere, Doctor, why kyan't I be tole over en over till I reckerlect it
all?"

"Well, we'll see, Captain. It's late now, and we must all have a rest.
Stay here till I come for you."

Nichol was so pleased with his photograph that he was well content in
its contemplation. The physician now gave his attention to Helen, who
was soon so far restored as to comprehend her utter failure. Her
distress was great indeed, and for a few moments diverted the thoughts
of even Mr. and Mrs. Nichol from their own sad share in the
disappointment.

"Oh, oh!" sobbed Helen, "this is the bitterest sorrow the war has
brought us yet."

"Well, now, friends," said Dr. Barnes, "it's time I had my say and gave
my orders. You must remember that I have not shared very fully in your
confidence that the captain could be restored by the appeals you have
made; neither do I share in this abandonment to grief now. As the
captain says, he is yet simply unable to respond. We must patiently
wait and see what time and medical skill can do for him. There is no
reason whatever for giving up hope. Mrs. Kemble, I would advise you to
take Miss Helen to her room, and you, Mr. Nichol, to take your wife and
son home. I will call in the morning, and then we can advise further."

His counsel was followed, the captain readily obeying when told to go
with his parents. Then the physician stepped over to Martine's cottage
and found, as he supposed, that the opiate and exhausted nature had
brought merciful oblivion.

It was long before Helen slept, nor would she take anything to induce
sleep. She soon became quiet, kissed her mother, and said she wished to
be alone. Then she tried to look at the problem in all its aspects, and
earnestly asked for divine guidance. The decision reached in the gray
dawn brought repose of mind and body.

It was late in the afternoon when Martine awoke with a dull pain in his
head and heart. As the consciousness of all that had happened returned,
he remembered that there was good reason for both. His faithful old
domestic soon prepared a dainty meal, which aided in giving tone to his
exhausted system. Then he sat down by his fire to brace himself for the
tidings he expected to hear. Helen's chair was empty. It would always
be hers, but hope was gone that she would smile from it upon him during
the long winter evenings. Already the room was darkening toward the
early December twilight, and he felt that his life was darkening in
like manner. He was no longer eager to hear what had occurred. The
mental and physical sluggishness which possessed him was better than
sharp pain; he would learn all soon enough - the recognition, the
beginning of a new life which inevitably would drift further and
further from him. His best hope was to get through the time, to endure
patiently and shape his life so as to permit as little of its shadow as
possible to fall upon hers. But as he looked around the apartment and
saw on every side the preparations for one who had been his, yet could
be no longer, his fortitude gave way, and he buried his face in his
hands.

So deep was his painful revery that he did not hear the entrance of Dr.
Barnes and Mr. Kemble. The latter laid a hand upon his shoulder and
said kindly, "Hobart, my friend, it is just as I told you it would be.
Helen needs you and wishes to see you."

Martine started up, exclaiming, "He must have remembered her."

Mr. Kemble shook his head. "No, Hobart," said the doctor, "she was as
much of a stranger to him as you were. There were, of course, grounds
for your expectation and hers also, but we prosaic physiologists have
some reason for our doubtings as well as you for your beliefs. It's
going to be a question of time with Nichol. How are you yourself? Ah, I
see," he added, with his finger on his patient's pulse. "With you it's
going to be a question of tonics."

"Yes, I admit that," Martine replied, "but perhaps of tonics other than
those you have in mind. You said, sir [to Mr. Kemble], that Helen
wished to see me?"

"Yes, when you feel well enough."

"I trust you will make yourselves at home," said Martine, hastily
preparing to go out.

"But don't you wish to hear more about Nichol?" asked the doctor,
laughing.

"Not at present. Good-by."

Yet he was perplexed how to meet the girl who should now have been his
wife; and he trembled with strange embarrassment as he entered the
familiar room in which he had parted from her almost on the eve of
their wedding. She was neither perplexed nor embarrassed, for she had
the calmness of a fixed purpose. She went swiftly to him, took his
hand, led him to a chair, then sat down beside him. He looked at her
wonderingly and listened sadly as she asked, "Hobart, will you be
patient with me again?"

"Yes," he replied after a moment, yet he sighed deeply in foreboding.

Tears came into her eyes, yet her voice did not falter as she
continued: "I said last night that you would understand me better than
any one else; so I believe you will now. You will sustain and
strengthen me in what I believe to be duty."

"Yes, Helen, up to the point of such endurance as I have. One can't go
beyond that."

"No, Hobart, but you will not fail me, nor let me fail. I cannot marry
Captain Nichol as he now is" - there was an irrepressible flash of joy
in his dark eyes - "nor can I," she added slowly and sadly, "marry you."
He was about to speak, but she checked him and resumed. "Listen
patiently to me first. I have thought and thought long hours, and I
think I am right. You, better than I, know Captain Nichol's
condition - its sad contrast to his former noble self. The man we once
knew is veiled, hidden, lost - how can we express it? But he exists, and
at any time may find and reveal himself. No one, not even I, can revolt
at what he is now as he will revolt at it all when his true
consciousness returns. He has met with an immeasurable misfortune. He
is infinitely worse off than if helpless - worse off than if he were
dead, if this condition is to last; but it may not last. What would he
think of me if I should desert him now and leave him nothing to
remember but a condition of which he could only think with loathing? I
will hide nothing from you, Hobart, my brave, true friend - you who have
taught me what patience means. If you had brought him back utterly
helpless, yet his old self in mind, I could have loved him and married
him, and you would have sustained me in that course. Now I don't know.
My future, in this respect, is hidden like his. The shock I received
last night, the revulsion of feeling which followed, leaves only one
thing clear. I must try to do what is right by him; it will not be
easy. I hope you will understand. While I have the deepest pity that a
woman can feel, I shrink from him NOW, for the contrast between his
former self and his present is so terrible. Oh, it is such a horrible
mystery! All Dr. Barnes's explanations do not make it one bit less
mysterious and dreadful. Albert took the risk of this; he has suffered
this for his country. I must suffer for him; I must not desert him in
his sad extremity. I must not permit him to awake some day and learn
from others what he now is, and that I, the woman he loved, of all
others, left him to his degradation. The consequences might be more
fatal than the injury which so changed him. Such action on my part
might destroy him morally. Now his old self is buried as truly as if he
had died. I could never look him in the face again if I left him to
take his chances in life with no help from me, still less if I did that
which he could scarcely forgive. He could not understand all that has
happened since we thought him dead. He would only remember that I
deserted him in his present pitiable plight. Do you understand me,
Hobart?"

"I must, Helen."

"I know how hard it is for you. Can you think I forget this for a
moment? Yet I send for you to help, to sustain me in a purpose which
changes our future so greatly. Do you not remember what you said once
about accepting the conditions of life as they are? We must do this
again, and make the best of them."

"But if - suppose his memory does not come back. Is there to be no hope?"

"Hobart, you must put that thought from you as far as you can. Do you
not see whither it might lead? You would not wish Captain Nichol to
remain as he is?"

"Oh," he cried desperately, "I'm put in a position that would tax any
saint in the calendar."

"Yes, you are. The future is not in our hands. I can only appeal to you
to help me do what I think is right NOW."

He thought a few moments, took his resolve, then gave her his hand
silently. She understood him without a word.

The news of the officer's return and of his strange condition was soon
generally known in the village; but his parents, aided by the
physician, quickly repressed those inclined to call from mere
curiosity. At first Jim Wetherby scouted the idea that his old captain
would not know him, but later had to admit the fact with a wonder which
no explanations satisfied. Nichol immediately took a fancy to the
one-armed veteran, who was glad to talk by the hour about soldiers and
hospitals.

Before any matured plan for treatment could be adopted Nichol became
ill, and soon passed into the delirium of fever. "The trouble is now
clear enough," Dr. Barnes explained. "The captain has lived in
hospitals and breathed a tainted atmosphere so long that his system is
poisoned. This radical change of air has developed the disease."

Indeed, the typhoid symptoms progressed so rapidly as to show that the
robust look of health had been in appearance only. The injured,
weakened brain was the organ which suffered most, and in spite of the
physician's best efforts his patient speedily entered into a condition
of stupor, relieved only by low, unintelligible mutterings. Jim
Wetherby became a tireless watcher, and greatly relieved the
grief-stricken parents. Helen earnestly entreated that she might act
the part of nurse also, but the doctor firmly forbade her useless
exposure to contagion. She drove daily to the house, yet Mrs. Nichol's
sad face and words could scarcely dissipate the girl's impression that
the whole strange episode was a dream.

At last it was feared that the end was near. One night Dr. Barnes, Mr.
and Mrs. Nichol, and Jim Wetherby were watching in the hope of a gleam
of intelligence. He was very low, scarcely more than breathing, and
they dreaded lest there might be no sign before the glimmer of life
faded out utterly.

Suddenly the captain seemed to awake, his glassy eyes kindled, and a
noble yet stern expression dignified his visage. In a thick voice he
said, "For - " Then, as if all the remaining forces of life asserted
themselves, he rose in his bed and exclaimed loudly, "Forward! Company
A. Guide right. Ah!" He fell back, now dead in very truth.

"Oh!" cried Jim Wetherby, excitedly, "them was the last words I heard
from him just before the shell burst, and he looks now just as he did
then."

"Yes," said Dr. Barnes, sadly and gravely, "memory came back to him at
the point where he lost it. He has died as we thought at first - a brave
soldier leading a charge."

The stern, grand impress of battle remained upon the officer's
countenance. Friends and neighbors looked upon his ennobled visage with
awe, and preserved in honored remembrance the real man that temporarily
had been obscured. Helen's eyes, when taking her farewell look, were
not so blinded with tears but that she recognized his restored manhood.
Death's touch had been more potent than love's appeal.

In the Wilderness, upon a day fatal to him and so many thousands,
Captain Nichol had prophesied of the happy days of peace. They came,
and he was not forgotten.

One evening Dr. Barnes was sitting with Martine and Helen at their
fireside. They had been talking about Nichol, and Helen remarked
thoughtfully, "It was so very strange that he should have regained his
memory in the way and at the time he did."

"No," replied the physician, "that part of his experience does not
strike me as so very strange. In typhoid cases a lucid interval is apt
to precede death. His brain, like his body, was depleted, shrunken
slightly by disease. This impoverishment probably removed the cerebral
obstruction, and the organ of memory renewed its action at the point
where it had been arrested. My theory explains his last ejaculation,
'Ah!' It was his involuntary exclamation as he again heard the shell
burst. The reproduction in his mind of this explosion killed him
instantly after all. He was too enfeebled to bear the shock. If he had
passed from delirium into quiet sleep - ah, well! he is dead, and that
is all we can know with certainty."

"Well," said Martine, with a deep breath, "I am glad he had every
chance that it was possible for us to give him."

"Yes, Hobart," added his wife, gently, "you did your whole duty, and I
do not forget what it cost you."






QUEEN OF SPADES


"Mother," remarked Farmer Banning, discontentedly, "Susie is making a
long visit."

"She is coming home next week," said his cheery wife. She had drawn her
low chair close to the air-tight stove, for a late March snowstorm was
raging without.

"It seems to me that I miss her more and more."

"Well, I'm not jealous."

"Oh, come, wife, you needn't be. The idea! But I'd be jealous if our
little girl was sorter weaned away from us by this visit in town."

"Now, see here, father, you beat all the men I ever heard of in
scolding about farmers borrowing, and here you are borrowing trouble."

"Well, I hope I won't have to pay soon. But I've been thinking that the
old farmhouse may look small and appear lonely after her gay winter.
When she is away, it's too big for me, and a suspicion lonely for us
both. I've seen that you've missed her more than I have."

"I guess you're right. Well, she's coming home, as I said, and we must
make home seem home to her. The child's growing up. Why, she'll be
eighteen week after next. You must give her something nice on her
birthday."

"I will," said the farmer, his rugged, weather-beaten face softening
with memories. "Is our little girl as old as that? Why, only the other
day I was carrying her on my shoulder to the barn and tossing her into
the haymow. Sure enough, the 10th of April will be her birthday. Well,
she shall choose her own present."

On the afternoon of the 5th of April he went down the long bill to the
station, and was almost like a lover in his eagerness to see his child.
He had come long before the train's schedule time, but was rewarded at
last. When Susie appeared, she gave him a kiss before every one, and a
glad greeting which might have satisfied the most exacting of lovers.
He watched her furtively as they rode at a smart trot up the hill.
Farmer Banning kept no old nags for his driving, but strong, well-fed,
spirited horses that sometimes drew a light vehicle almost by the
reins. "Yes," he thought, "she has grown a little citified. She's
paler, and has a certain air or style that don't seem just natural to
the hill. Well, thank the Lord! she doesn't seem sorry to go up the
hill once more."

"There's the old place, Susie, waiting for you," he said. "It doesn't
look so very bleak, does it, after all the fine city houses you've
seen?"

"Yes, father, it does. It never appeared so bleak before."

He looked at his home, and in the late gray afternoon, saw it in a
measure with her eyes - the long brown, bare slopes, a few gaunt old
trees about the house, and the top boughs of the apple-orchard behind a
sheltering hill in the rear of the dwelling.

"Father," resumed the girl, "we ought to call our place the Bleak
House. I never so realized before how bare and desolate it looks,
standing there right in the teeth of the north wind."

His countenance fell, but he had no time for comment. A moment later
Susie was in her mother's arms. The farmer lifted the trunk to the
horse-block and drove to the barn. "I guess it will be the old story,"
he muttered. "Home has become 'Bleak House.' I suppose it did look
bleak to her eyes, especially at this season. Well, well, some day
Susie will go to the city to stay, and then it will be Bleak House sure
enough."

"Oh, father," cried his daughter when, after doing his evening work, he
entered with the shadow of his thoughts still upon his face - "oh,
father, mother says I can choose my birthday present!"

"Yes, Sue; I've passed my word."


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