“No, Robert is at home; I have just come from there, and he told me—oh! Helen, can you bear it?—Mark is dead—shot twice as he jumped from the train taking him to another prison, Robert saw it, and knew that he was dead.”
Bell could get no further, for Helen, who had never fainted in her life, did so now, lying senseless so long that the physician began to think it would be a mercy if she never came back to life, for her reason, he fancied, had fled. But Helen did come back to life with reason unimpaired, and insisted upon hearing every detail of the dreadful story, both from Bell and Tom. The latter confirmed all Lieutenant Reynolds had said, besides adding many items of his own. Mark was dead, there could be no doubt of it; but with the tenacity of a strong, hopeful nature, the mother clung to the illusion that possibly the ball stunned, instead of killing—that he would yet come back; and many a time, as the days went by, that mother started at a step upon the walk or ring of the bell, which she fancied might be his, hearing him sometimes calling in the night storm for her to let him in, and hurrying down to the door only to be disappointed, and go back to her lonely room to weep the dark night through.
With Helen there were no such illusions. After talking calmly and rationally with both Robert and Tom, she knew her husband was dead, and never watched and waited for him as his mother did. She had heard from Mark’s companions in suffering all they had to tell, of his captivity, and his love for her which manifested itself in so many different ways. Passionately she had wept over the tress of faded hair which Tom Tubbs brought to her, saying: “He cut it from his head just before we left the prison, and told me if he never got home and I did, to give the lock to you, and say that all was well between him and God—that your prayers had saved him. He wanted you to know that, because, he said, it would comfort you most of all.”
And it did comfort her, so that she could almost say with a full heart: “Thy will be done,” when she looked up at the clear, wintry heavens and thought that her lost one was there. It was her first real trial, and it crushed her with its magnitude so that she could not submit at once, and many a cry of desolate agony broke the silence of her room, where the whole night through she sat musing of the past, and raining kisses upon the little lock of hair which from the Southern prison had come to her, sole relic of the husband so dearly loved and truly mourned. How faded it was from the rich brown she remembered so well, and Helen gazing at it could realize in part the suffering and want which had worn so many precious lives away. It was strange she never dreamed of him. She often prayed that she might, so as to drive from her mind, if possible, the picture of the prostrate form upon the low, damp field, and the blood-stained face turned in its mortal agony toward the Southern sky and the pitiless foe above it. So she always saw him, shuddering as she wondered if the foe had buried him decently or left his bones to bleach upon the open plain.