The old banker came out to meet him, shaking his gray head and holding the paper in his trembling hand. “Ah!” he groaned, “I’ve feared it, I’ve feared it all along, but hoped that it would not be. You’ve seen Nichol’s name—” but he could not finish the sentence.
“No, I have seen nothing; I only heard Helen’s cry. That told the whole story.”
“Yes. Well, her mother’s with her. Poor girl! poor girl! God grant it isn’t her death-blow too. She has suffered too much under this long strain of anxiety.”
A generous resolve was forming in Martine’s mind, and he said earnestly, “We must tide her through this terrible shock. There may be some mistake; he may be only wounded. Do not let her give up hope absolutely. I’ll drop everything and go to the battlefield at once. If the worst has in truth happened, I can bring home his remains, and that would be a comfort to her. A newspaper report, made up hastily in the field, is not final. Let this hope break the cruel force of the blow, for it is hard to live without hope.”
“Well, Hobart, you are a true friend. God bless and reward you! If nothing comes of it for poor Nichol, as I fear nothing will, your journey and effort will give a faint hope to Nellie, and, as you say, break the force of the blow. I’ll go and tell her.”
Martine went into the parlor, which Helen had decorated with mementoes of her soldier lover. He was alone but a few moments before he heard hasty steps. Helen entered with hot, tearless eyes and an agonized, imploring expression.
“What!” she cried, “is it true that you’ll go?”
“Yes, Helen, immediately. I do not think there’s reason for despair.”
“Oh, God bless you! friend, friend! I never knew what the word meant before. Oh, Hobart, no sister ever lavished love on a brother as I will love you if you bring back my Albert;” and in the impulse of her overwhelming gratitude she buried her face on his shoulder and sobbed aloud. Hope already brought the relief of tears.
He stroked the bowed head gently, saying, “God is my witness, Helen, that I will spare no pains and shrink from no danger in trying to find Captain Nichol. I have known of many instances where the first reports of battles proved incorrect;” and he led her to a chair.
“It is asking so much of you,” she faltered.
“You have asked nothing, Helen. I have offered to go, and I am going. It is a little thing for me to do. You know that my lameness only kept me from joining Captain Nichol’s company. Now try to control your natural feelings like a brave girl, while I explain my plans as far as I have formed them.”
“Yes, yes! Wait a few moments. Oh, this pain at my heart! I think it would have broken if you hadn’t come. I couldn’t breathe; I just felt as if sinking under a weight.”
“Take courage, Helen. Remember Albert is a soldier.”
“Is, is! Oh, thanks for that little word! You do not believe that he is gone and lost to me?”