And then Martin—baby was constantly making me think of him. Devouring her with my eyes, I caught resemblances every day—in her eyes, her voice, her smile, and, above all, in that gurgling laugh that was like water bubbling out of a bottle.
I used to talk to her about him, pouring all my sentimental secrets into her ears, just as if she understood, telling her what a great man her father had been and how he loved both of us—would have done if he had lived longer.
I dare say it was very foolish. Yet I cannot think it was all foolishness. Many and many a time since I have wondered if the holy saints, who knew what had really happened to Martin, were whispering all this in my ear as a means of keeping my love for him as much alive as if he had been constantly by my side.
The climax came when Isabel was about five months old, for then the feeling about baby and Martin reached another and higher phase.
I hardly dare to speak of it, lest it should seem silly when it was really so sacred and so exalted.
The idea I had had before baby was born, that she was being sent to console me (to be a link between my lost one and me), developed into the startling and rapturous thought that the very soul of Martin had passed into my child.
“So Martin is not dead at all,” I thought, “not really dead, because he lives in baby.”
It is impossible to say how this thought stirred me; how it filled my heart with thankfulness; how I prayed that the little body in which the soul of my Martin had come to dwell might grow beautiful and strong and worthy of him; how I felt charged with another and still greater responsibility to guard and protect her with my life itself if need be.
“Yes, yes, my very life itself,” I thought.
Perhaps this was a sort of delirium, born of my great love, my hard work, and my failing strength. I did not know, I did not care.
All that mattered to me then was one thing only—that whereas hitherto I had thought Martin was so far gone from me that not Time but only Eternity would bring us together, now I felt that he was coming back and back to me—nearer and nearer and nearer every day.
My dear, noble little woman was right in more ways than she knew.
At that very time I was in literal truth hurrying home to her as fast as the fastest available vessel could carry me.
As soon as we had boarded the Scotia at the Cape and greeted our old shipmates, we shouted for our letters.
There were some for all of us and heaps for me, so I scuttled down to my cabin, where I sorted the envelopes like a pack of cards, looking for the small delicate hand that used to write my letters and speeches.
To my dismay it was not there, and realizing that fact I bundled the letters into a locker and never looked at them again until we were two days out—when I found they were chiefly congratulations from my committee, the proprietor of my newspaper, and the Royal Geographical Society, all welcome enough in their way, but Dead Sea fruit to a man with an empty, heaving heart.