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- Taken Alive - 30/66 -
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
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