“I shall be present, Helen. I suppose my mind has been weak like my body; but the time has come when I must take up life again and accept its conditions as others are doing. You certainly are setting me a good example. I admit that my illness has left a peculiar repugnance to hearing and thinking about the war; it all seemed so very horrible. But if our brave men can face the thing itself, I should be weak indeed if I could not listen to a eulogy of their deeds.”
“I am coming to think,” resumed Helen, thoughtfully, “that the battle line extends from Maine to the Gulf, and that quiet people like you and me are upon it as truly as the soldiers in the field. I have thought that perhaps the most merciful wounds are often those which kill outright.”
“I can easily believe that,” he said.
His quiet tone and manner did not deceive her, and she looked at him wistfully as she resumed, “But if they do not kill, the pain must be borne patiently, even though we are in a measure disabled.”
“Yes, Helen; and you are disabled in your power to give me what I can never help giving you. I know that. I will not misjudge or presume upon your kindness. We are too good friends to affect any concealments from each other.”
“You have expressed my very thought. When you spoke of accepting the conditions of life, I hoped you had in mind what you have said—the conditions of life as they are, as we cannot help or change them. We both have got to take up life under new conditions.”
“You have; not I, Helen.”
Tears rushed to her eyes as she faltered, “I would be transparently false should I affect not to know. What I wish you to feel through the coming months and years is that I cannot—that I am disabled by my wound.”
“I understand, Helen. We can go on as we have begun. You have lost, as I have not, for I have never possessed. You will be the greater sufferer; and it will be my dear privilege to cheer and sustain you in such ways as are possible to a simple friend.”
She regarded him gratefully, and for the first time since that terrible May morning the semblance of a smile briefly illumined her face.
MARTINE SEEKS AN ANTIDOTE
It can readily be understood that Martine in his expedition to the South had not limited his efforts solely to his search for Captain Nichol. Wherever it had been within his power he had learned all that he could of other officers and men who had come from his native region; and his letters to their relatives had been in some instances sources of unspeakable comfort. In his visit to the front he had also seen and conversed with his fellow-townsmen, some of whom had since perished or had been wounded. As he grew stronger, Helen wrote out at his dictation all that he could remember concerning these interviews; and these accounts became precious heirlooms in many families.