Still, there was no effort on her part to escape sad memories or the acts and duties which revived them. A noble monument had been erected to Captain Nichol, and one of her chief pleasures was to decorate it with the flowers grown under her own care. Few days passed on which she did not visit one of the families who were or had been represented at the front, while Mrs. Nichol felt that if she had lost a son she had in a measure gained a daughter. As the months passed and winter was wellnigh spent, the wise gossips of the village again began to shake their heads and remark, “Helen Kemble and Bart Martine are very good friends; but I guess that’s all it will amount to—all, at any rate, for a long time.”
All, for all time, Helen had honestly thought. It might easily have been for all time had another lover sought her, or if Martine himself had become a wooer and so put her on her guard. It was his patient acceptance of what she had said could not be helped, his self-forgetfulness, which caused her to remember his need—a need greatly increased by a sad event. In the breaking up of winter his mother took a heavy cold which ended in pneumonia and death.
The gossips made many plans for him and indulged in many surmises as to what he would do; but he merely engaged the services of an old woman as domestic, and lived on quietly as before. Perhaps he grew a little morbid after this bereavement and clung more closely to his lonely hearth.
This would not be strange. Those who dwell among shadows become ill at ease away from them. Helen was the first to discover this tendency, and to note that he was not rallying as she had hoped he would. He rarely sought their house except by invitation, and then often lapsed into silences which he broke with an evident effort. He never uttered a word of complaint or consciously appealed for sympathy, but was slowly yielding to the steady pressure of sadness which had almost been his heritage. She would have been less than woman if, recalling the past and knowing so well the unsatisfied love in his heart, she had not felt for him daily a larger and deeper commiseration. When the early March winds rattled the casements, or drove the sleety rain against the windows, she saw him in fancy sitting alone brooding, always brooding.
One day she asked abruptly, “Hobart, what are you thinking about so deeply when you are looking at the fire?”
A slow, deep flush came into his face, and he hesitated in his answer. At last he said, “I fear I’m getting into a bad mood, and think I must do something decided. Well, for one thing, the continuance of this war weighs upon my spirit. Men are getting so scarce that I believe they will take me in some capacity. Now that mother is not here, I think I ought to go.”
“Oh, Hobart, we would miss you so!” she faltered.
He looked up with a smile. “Yes, Helen, I think you would—not many others, though. You have become so brave and strong that you do not need me any more.”