“I believe you will die.”
There was a bitter moan, as all his misspent life came up before him, followed closely by the dark future, where there shone no ray of hope, and then with the desperate thought, “It’s too late now for regrets. I’ll meet it like a man,” he said:
“It may as well be I as any one, though it’s hard even for me to die; harder than you imagine;” then, growing excited as he talked, he raised himself upon his elbow, and continued: “Major Stanley, tell me truly, do you love the woman you know as Maria Gordon?”
“I did love her once, before I knew I must not—but now—I—yes, Dr. Richards, my heart tells me that never was she so dear to me as now when her husband lies dying at my side.”
Irving Stanley hardly knew what he was saying, but the doctor—the husband, understood, and almost shrieked out the words:
“You know then that she is Adah, a wife, a mother, and that I am her lawful husband?”
“I know the whole,” was the reply, as with his hand Irving dipped water from the brook and laved the feverish brow of the dying man, who went on to speak of Adah as she was when he first knew her, and of the few happy months spent with her in those humble lodgings.
“You don’t know my darling,” he whispered. “She’s an angel, and I might have been so happy with her. Oh, if I could only live, but that can’t be now, and it is well. Come close to me, Major Stanley, and listen while I tell you that Adah promised if I would do my duty to my country faithfully, she would live with me again, and all the while she promised, her heart was breaking, for she did not love me. It had all died out for me. It had been given to another; can you guess to whom?”
Irving made no reply, except to chafe the hands which clasped his so tightly, and the doctor continued:
“I am surely dying—I shall never see her more, or my boy, my beautiful boy. I was a brute in the cars; you remember the time. That was Adah, and those little feet resting on my lap were Willie’s, baby Willie’s, Adah’s baby.”
The doctor’s mind was wandering now, and he kept on disconnectedly:
“She’s been to Europe with him. She’s changed from the shy girl into a queenly woman. Even the Richards line might be proud of her bearing, and when I’m gone, tell her I said you might have Willie, and—and—it grows very dark; the noise of the battle drowns my voice, but come nearer to me, nearer—tell her—tell Adah, you may have her. She needn’t mourn, nor wait; but carry me back to Snowdon. There’s no soldier’s grave there yet. I never thought mine would be the first. Anna will cry, and mother and Asenath and Eudora; but Adah, oh Lily, darling. She’s coming to me now. Don’t you hear that rustle in the grass?” and the doctor listened intently to a sound which also caught Irving’s ear, a sound of a horse’s neigh in the distance, followed by the tramp of feet.