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not exerting myself in the least to give you a pleasant time. I am just
selfishly and lazily content."

"That fact gives me so much more than content that it makes me happy."

"Hobart, you are the most unselfish man I ever knew."

"Nonsense!"

They had reached their picnic-ground - the edge of a grove whose
bright-hued foliage still afforded a grateful shade. The horse was
unharnessed and picketed so that he might have a long range for
grazing. Then Martine brought the provision basket to the foot of a
great oak, and sat down to wait for Helen, who had wandered away in
search of wild flowers. At last she came with a handful of
late-blooming closed gentians.

"I thought these would make an agreeable feature in your lunch."

"Oh, you are beginning to exert yourself."

"Yes, I have concluded to, a little. So must you, to the extent of
making a fire. The rest will be woman's work. I propose to drink your
health in a cup of coffee."

"Ah, this is unalloyed," he cried, sipping it later on.

"The coffee?"

"Yes, and everything. We don't foresee the bright days any more than
the dark ones. I did not dream of this in Virginia."

"You are easily satisfied. The coffee is smoky, the lunch is cold,
winter is coming, and - "

"And I am very happy," he said.

"It would be a pity to disturb your serenity."

"Nothing shall disturb it to-day. Peace is one of the rarest
experiences in this world. I mean only to remember that our armies are
disbanded and that you are at rest, like Nature."

She had brought a little book of autumn poems, and after lunch read to
him for an hour, he listening with the same expression of quiet
satisfaction. As the day declined, she shivered slightly in the shade.
He immediately arose and put a shawl around her.

"You are always shielding me," she said gently.

"One can do so little of that kind of thing," he replied, "not much
more than show intent."

"Now you do yourself injustice." After a moment's hesitancy she added,
"I am not quite in your mood to-day, and even Nature, as your ally,
cannot make me forget or even wish to forget."

"I do not wish you to forget, but merely cease to remember for a little
while. You say Nature is my ally. Listen: already the wind is beginning
to sigh in the branches overhead. The sound is low and mournful, as if
full of regret for the past and forebodings for the future. There is a
change coming. All that I wished or could expect in you was that this
serene, quiet day would give you a respite - that complete repose in
which the wounded spirit is more rapidly healed and strengthened for
the future."

"Have you been strengthened? Have you no fears for the future?"

"No fears, Helen. My life is strong in its negation. The man who is
agitated by hopes and fears, who is doomed to disappointments, is the
one who has not recognized his limitations, who has not accepted
well-defined conditions."

"Hobart, I'm going to put you on your honor now. Remember, and do not
answer hastily," and her gaze into his face was searching. Although
quiet and perfectly self-controlled, the rich color mounted to her very
brow.

"Well, Helen," he asked wonderingly.

"Imagine it possible," she continued with the same earnest gaze, "that
you were a woman who has loved as I have loved, and lost as I have. The
circumstances are all known, and you have only to recall them. If a man
had loved you as you have loved me - "

"But, Helen, can you not believe in a love so strong that it does not
ask - "

By a gesture she checked him and repeated, "But if a man had loved you
as you have loved me - remember now, on your honor - would you permit him
to love with no better reward than the consciousness of being a solace,
a help, a sort of buffer between you and the ills of life?"

"But, Helen, I am more than that: I am your friend."

"Indeed you are, the best a woman ever had, or I could not speak as I
am doing. Yet what I say is true. From the first it has been your
sleepless aim to stand between me and trouble. What have I ever done
for you?"

"In giving me your friendship - "

Again she interrupted him, saying, "That virtually means giving you the
chance for continued self-sacrifice. Any man or woman in the land would
give you friendship on such terms, YOUR terms with me. But you do not
answer my question; yet you have answered it over and over again. Were
you in my place with your unselfish nature, you could not take so very
much without an inevitable longing to return all in your power."

He was deeply agitated. Burying his face in his hands, he said
hoarsely, "I must not look at you, or my duty may be too hard. Ah, you
are banishing peace and serenity now with a vengeance! I recognize your
motive - whither your thoughts are tending. Your conscience, your pity,
your exaggerated gratitude are driving you to contemplate a
self-sacrifice compared with which mine is as nothing. Yet the
possibility of what you suggest is so sweet, so - oh, it is like the
reward of heaven for a brief life!" Then he bowed his head lower and
added slowly, as if the words were forced from him, "No, Helen, you
shall not reward me. I cannot take as pay, or 'return,' as you express
it, the reward that you are meditating. I must not remember in after
years that my efforts in your behalf piled up such a burdensome sense
of obligation that there was but one escape from it."

She came to his side, and removing his hands from his face, retained
one of them as she said, gently, "Hobart, I am no longer a shy girl. I
have suffered too deeply, I have learned too thoroughly how life may be
robbed of happiness, and for a time, almost of hope, not to see the
folly of letting the years slip away, unproductive of half what they
might yield to you and me. I understand you; you do not understand me,
probably because your ideal is too high. You employed an illustration
in the narrowest meaning. Is heaven given only as a reward? Is not
every true gift an expression of something back of the gift, more than
the gift?"

"Helen!"

"Yes, Hobart, in my wish to make you happier I am not bent on
unredeemed self-sacrifice. You have been the most skilful of wooers."

"And you are the divinest of mysteries. How have I wooed you?"

"By not wooing at all, by taking a course which compelled my heart to
plead your cause, by giving unselfish devotion so unstintedly that like
the rain and dew of heaven, it has fostered a new life in my heart,
different from the old, yet sweet, real, and precious. I have learned
that I can be happier in making you happy. Oh, I shall be no martyr. Am
I inconstant because time and your ministry have healed the old
wound - because the steady warmth and glow of your love has kindled
mine?"

He regarded her with a gaze so rapt, so reverent, so expressive of
immeasurable gratitude that her eyes filled with tears. "I think you do
understand me," she whispered.

He kissed her hand in homage as he replied, "A joy like this is almost
as hard to comprehend at first as an equally great sorrow. My garden
teaches me to understand you. A perfect flower-stalk is suddenly and
rudely broken. Instead of dying, it eventually sends out a little
side-shoot which gives what bloom it can."

"And you will be content with what it can give?"

"I shall be glad with a happiness which almost terrifies me. Only God
knows how I have longed for this."

That evening the old banker scarcely ceased rubbing his hands in
general felicitation, while practical, housewifely Mrs. Kemble already
began to plan what she intended to do toward establishing Helen in the
adjoining cottage.

Now that Martine believed his great happiness possible, he was eager
for its consummation. At his request the 1st of December was named as
the wedding day. "The best that a fireside and evening lamp ever
suggested will then come true to me," ha urged. "Since this can be,
life is too short that it should not be soon."

Helen readily yielded. Indeed, they were all so absorbed in planning
for his happiness as to be oblivious of the rising storm. When at last
the girl went to her room, the wind sighed and wailed so mournfully
around the house as to produce a feeling of depression and foreboding.




CHAPTER VII

YANKEE BLANK


The wild night storm which followed the most memorable day of his life
had no power to depress Martine. In the wavy flames and glowing coals
of his open fire he saw heavenly pictures of the future. He drew his
mother's low chair to the hearth, and his kindled fancy placed Helen in
it. Memory could so reproduce her lovely and familiar features that her
presence became almost a reality. In a sense he watched her changing
expression and heard her low, mellow tones. The truth that both would
express an affection akin to his own grew upon his consciousness like
the incoming of a sun-lighted tide. The darkness and storm without
became only the background of his pictures, enhancing every prophetic
representation. The night passed in ecstatic waking dreams of all that
the word "home" suggests when a woman, loved as he loved Helen, was its
architect.

The days and weeks which followed were filled with divine enchantment;
the prosaic world was transfigured; the intricacies of the law were
luminous with the sheen of gold, becoming the quartz veins from which
he would mine wealth for Helen; the plants in his little rose-house
were cared for with caressing tenderness because they gave buds which
would be worn over the heart now throbbing for him. Never did mortal
know such unalloyed happiness as blessed Martine, as he became daily
more convinced that Helen was not giving herself to him merely from the
promptings of compassion.

At times, when she did not know he was listening, he heard her low,
sweet laugh; and it had a joyous ring and melody which repeated itself
like a haunting refrain of music. He would say smilingly, "It is
circumstantial evidence, equivalent to direct proof."

Helen and her mother almost took possession of his house while he was
absent at his office, refurnishing and transforming it, yet retaining
with reverent memory what was essentially associated with Mrs. Martine.
The changing aspects of the house did not banish the old sense of
familiarity, but were rather like the apple-tree in the corner of the
garden when budding into new foliage and flower. The banker's purse was
ever open for all this renovation, but Martine jealously persisted in
his resolve to meet every expense himself. Witnessing his gladness and
satisfaction, they let him have his way, he meanwhile exulting over
Helen's absorbed interest in the adornment of her future home.

The entire village had a friendly concern in the approaching wedding;
and the aged gossips never tired of saying, "I told you so," believing
that they understood precisely how it had all come about. Even Mrs.
Nichol aquiesced with a few deep sighs, assuring herself, "I suppose
it's natural. I'd rather it was Bart Martine than anybody else."

A few days before the 1st of December, Martine received a telegram from
an aged uncle residing in a distant State. It conveyed a request hard
to comply with, yet he did not see how it could be evaded. The despatch
was delivered in the evening while he was at the Kembles', and its
effect upon the little group was like a bolt out of a clear sky. It ran:

"Your cousin dangerously ill at - - Hospital, Washington. Go to him at
once, if possible, and telegraph me to come, if necessary."

Hobart explained that this cousin had remained in the army from choice,
and that his father, old and feeble, naturally shrank from a journey to
which he was scarcely equal. "My hospital experience," he concluded,
"leads him to think that I am just the one to go, especially as I can
get there much sooner than he. I suppose he is right. Indeed, I do not
know of any one else whom he could call upon. It certainly is a very
painful duty at this time."

"I can't endure to think of it," Helen exclaimed.

"It's a clear question of conscience, Helen," he replied gently. "Many
years have passed since I saw this cousin, yet he, and still more
strongly his father, have the claims of kinship. If anything should
happen which my presence could avert, you know we should both feel bad.
It would be a cloud upon our happiness. If this request had come before
you had changed everything for me, you know I would have gone without a
moment's hesitation. Very gratitude should make me more ready for
duty;" yet he signed deeply.

"But it may delay the wedding, for which the invitations have gone
out," protested Mrs. Kemble.

"Possibly it may, if my cousin's life is in danger." Then, brightening
up, he added: "Perhaps I shall find that I can leave him in good care
for a short time, and then we can go to Washington on our wedding trip.
I would like to gain associations with that city different from those I
now have."

"Come now," said the banker, hopefully, "if we must face this thing, we
must. The probabilities are that it will turn out as Hobart says. At
worst it can only be a sad interruption and episode. Hobart will be
better satisfied in the end if he does what he now thinks his duty."

"Yours is the right view," assented the young man, firmly. "I shall
take the midnight train, and telegraph as soon as I have seen my cousin
and the hospital surgeon."

He went home and hastily made his preparations; then, with valise in
hand, returned to the Kembles'. The old people bade him Godspeed on his
journey, and considerately left him with his affianced.

"Hobart," Helen entreated, as they were parting, "be more than
ordinarily prudent. Do not take any risks, even the most trivial,
unless you feel you must. Perhaps I'm weak and foolish, but I'm
possessed with a strange, nervous dread. This sudden call of duty - for
so I suppose I must look upon it - seems so inopportune;" and she hid
her tears on his shoulder.

"You are taking it much too seriously, darling," he said, gently
drawing her closer to him.

"Yes, my reason tells me that I am. You are only going on a brief
journey, facing nothing that can be called danger. Yet I speak as I
feel - I cannot help feeling. Give me glad reassurance by returning
quickly and safely. Then hereafter I will laugh at forebodings."

"There, you need not wait till I reach Washington. You shall hear from
me in the morning, and I will also telegraph when I have opportunity on
my journey."

"Please do so, and remember that I could not endure to have my life
impoverished again."

Late the following evening, Martine inquired his way to the bedside of
his cousin, and was glad indeed to find him convalescent. His own
experienced eyes, together with the statement of the sick man and
wardmaster, convinced him that the danger point was well passed. In
immense relief of mind he said cheerily, "I will watch to-night"; and
so it was arranged.

His cousin, soothed and hushed in his desire to talk, soon dropped into
quiet slumber, while Martine's thronging thoughts banished the sense of
drowsiness. A shaded lamp burned near, making a circle of light and
leaving the rest of the ward dim and shadowy. The scene was very
familiar, and it was an easy effort for his imagination to place in the
adjoining cots the patients with whom, months before, he had fought the
winning or losing battle of life. While memory sometimes went back
compassionately to those sufferers, his thoughts dwelt chiefly upon the
near future, with its certainty of happiness - a happiness doubly
appreciated because his renewed experience in the old conditions of his
life made the home which awaited him all the sweeter from contrast. He
could scarcely believe that he was the same man who in places like this
had sought to forget the pain of bereavement and of denial of his
dearest wish - he who in the morning would telegraph Helen that the
wedding need not even be postponed, or any change made in their plans.

The hours were passing almost unnoted, when a patient beyond the circle
of light feebly called for water. Almost mechanically Hobart rose to
get it, when a man wearing carpet slippers and an old dressing-gown
shuffled noiselessly into view.

"Captain Nichol!" gasped Martine, sinking back, faint and trembling, in
his chair.

The man paid no attention, but passed through the circle of light to
the patient, gave him a drink, and turned. Martine stared with the
paralysis of one looking upon an apparition.

When the figure was opposite to him, he again ejaculated hoarsely,
"Captain Nichol!"

The form in slippers and gray ghostly dressing-gown turned sleepy eyes
upon him without the slightest sign of recognition, passed on, and
disappeared among the shadows near the wardmaster's room.

A blending of relief and fearful doubt agitated Martine. He knew he had
been wide awake and in the possession of every faculty - that his
imagination had been playing him no tricks. He was not even thinking of
Nichol at the time; yet the impression that he had looked upon and
spoken to his old schoolmate, to Helen's dead lover, had been as strong
as it was instantaneous. When the man had turned, there had been an
unnatural expression, which in a measure dispelled the illusion. After
a moment of thought which scorched his brain, he rose and followed the
man's steps, and was in time to see him rolling himself in his blanket
on the cot nearest the door. From violent agitation, Martine
unconsciously shook the figure outlined in the blanket roughly, as he
asked, "What's your name?"

"Yankee Blank, doggone yer! Kyant you wake a feller 'thout yankin' 'im
out o' baid? What yer want?"

"Great God!" muttered Hobart, tottering back to his seat beside his
sleeping cousin, "was there ever such a horrible, mocking suggestion of
one man in another? Yankee Blank - what a name! Southern accent and
vernacular, yet Nichol's voice! Such similarity combined with such
dissimilarity is like a nightmare. Of course it's not Nichol. He was
killed nearly two years ago. I'd be more than human if I could wish him
back now; but never in my life have I been so shocked and startled.
This apparition must account for itself in the morning."

But he could not wait till morning; he could not control himself five
minutes. He felt that he must banish that horrible semblance of Nichol
from his mind by convincing himself of its absurdity.

He waited a few moments in order to compose his nerves, and then
returned. The man had evidently gone to sleep.

"What a fool I am!" Martine again muttered. "Let the poor fellow sleep.
The fact that he doesn't know me is proof enough. The idea of wanting
any proof! I can investigate his case in the morning, and, no doubt, in
broad light that astonishing suggestion of Nichol will disappear."

He was about to turn away when the patient who had called for water
groaned slightly. As if his ears were as sensitive to such sounds as
those of a mother who hears her child even when it stirs, the man
arose. Seeing Martine standing by him, he asked in slight irritation,
"What yer want? Why kyant yer say what yer want en have done 'th it?
Lemme 'tend ter that feller yander firs'. We uns don't want no mo'
stiffs;" and he shuffled with a peculiar, noiseless tread to the
patient whose case seemed on his mind. Martine followed, his very hair
rising at the well-remembered tones, and the mysterious principle of
identity again revealed within the circle of light.

"This is simply horrible!" he groaned inwardly, "and I must have that
man account for himself instantly."

"Now I'll 'tend ter yer, but yer mout let a feller sleep when he kin."

"Don't you know me?" faltered Martine, overpowered.

"Naw."

"Please tell me your real name, not your nickname."

"Ain' got no name 'cept Yankee Blank. What's the matter with yer,
anyhow?"

"Didn't you ever hear of Captain Nichol?"

"Reckon not. Mout have. I've nussed mo' cap'ins than I kin reckerlect."

"Are you a hospital nurse?"

"Sorter 'spect I am. That's what I does, anyhow. Have you anything agin
it? Don't yer come 'ferin' round with me less yer a doctor, astin' no
end o' questions. Air you a new doctor?"

"My name is Hobart Martine," the speaker forced himself to say,
expecting fearfully a sign of recognition, for the impression that it
was Nichol grew upon him every moment, in spite of apparent proof to
the contrary.

"Hump! Hob't Ma'tine. Never yeared on yer. Ef yer want ter chin mo' in
the mawnin', I'll be yere."

"Wait a moment, Yan - "

"Yankee Blank, I tole yer."

"Well, here's a dollar for the trouble I'm making you," and Martine's
face flushed with shame at the act, so divided was his impression about
the man.

Yankee Blank took the money readily, grinned, and said, "Now I'll chin
till mawnin' ef yer wants hit."

"I won't keep you long. You remind me of - of - well, of Captain Nichol."

"He must 'a' been a cur'ous chap. Folks all say I'm a cur'ous chap."

"Won't you please tell me all that you can remember about yourself?"

"'Tain't much. Short hoss soon curried. Allus ben in hospitals. Had
high ole jinks with a wound on my haid. Piece o' shell, they sez, cut
me yere," and he pointed to a scar across his forehead. "That's what
they tole me. Lor'! I couldn't mek much out o' the gibberish I firs'
year, en they sez I talked gibberish too. But I soon got the hang o'
the talk in the hospital. Well, ez I wuz sayin', I've allus been in
hospitals firs' one, then anuther. I got well, en the sojers call me
Yankee Blank en set me waitin' on sick uns en the wounded. That's what
I'm a-doin' now."

"You were in Southern hospitals?"

"I reckon. They called the place Richman."

"Why did you come here?"

"Kaze I wuz bro't yere. They said I was 'changed."

"Exchanged, wasn't it?"

"Reckon it was. Anyhow I wuz bro't yere with a lot o' sick fellers. I
wuzn't sick. For a long time the doctors kep' a-pesterin' me with
questions, but they lemme 'lone now. I 'spected you wuz a new doctor,
en at it agin."

"Don't you remember the village of Alton?"

The man shook his head.

"Don't you - " and Martine's voice grew husky - "don't you remember Helen
Kemble?"

"A woman?"

"Yes."

"Never yeared on her. I only reckerlect people I've seen in hospitals.
Women come foolin' roun' some days, but Lor'! I kin beat any on 'em
teekin' keer o' the patients; en wen they dies, I kin lay 'em out. You
ast the wardmaster ef I kant lay out a stiff with the best o' 'em."

"That will do. You can go to sleep now."

"All right, Doc. I call everybody doc who asts sech a lot o'
questions." He shuffled to his cot and was soon asleep.




CHAPTER VIII

"HOW CAN I?"


Martine sank into his chair again. Although the conversation had been
carried on in low tones, it was the voice of Nichol that he had heard.
Closer inspection of the slightly disfigured face proved that, apart
from the scar on the forehead, it was the countenance of Nichol. A
possible solution of the mystery was beginning to force itself in
Hobart's reluctant mind. When Nichol had fallen in the Wilderness, the
shock of his injury had rendered him senseless and caused him to appear
dead to the hasty scrutiny of Sam and Jim Wetherby. They were terribly
excited and had no time for close examination. Nichol might have
revived, have been gathered up with the Confederate wounded, and sent
to Richmond. There was dire and tremendous confusion at that period,
when within the space of two or three days tens of thousands were
either killed or disabled. In a Southern hospital Nichol might have
recovered physical health while, from injury to the brain, suffering
complete eclipse of memory. In this case he would have to begin life
anew, like a child, and so would pick up the vernacular and bearing of
the enlisted men with whom he would chiefly associate.

Because he remembered nothing and know nothing, he may at first have
been tolerated as a "cur'ous chap," then employed as he had explained.
He could take the place of a better man where men were greatly needed.

This theory could solve the problem; and Martine's hospital experience
prepared his mind to understand what would be a hopeless mystery to
many. He was so fearfully excited that he could not remain in the ward.
The very proximity to this strange being, who had virtually risen from
the dead and appeared to him of all others, was a sort of torture in
itself.

What effect would this discovery have on his relations to Helen? He
dared not think yet he must think. Already the temptation of his life
was forming in his mind. His cousin was sleeping; and with a wild
impatience to escape, to get away from all his kind, he stole



Online LibraryEdward Payson RoeTaken Alive → online text (page 8 of 26)