The latter had found the right antidote. Not a moment was left for morbid brooding. On every side were sharp physical distress, deadly peril to life and limb, pathetic efforts to hold ground against diseases or sloughing wounds. In aiding such endeavor, in giving moral support and physical care, Martine forgot himself. Helen’s letters also were an increasing inspiration. He could scarcely take up one of them and say, “Here her words begin to have a warmer tinge of feeling;” but as spring advanced, imperceptibly yet surely, in spite of pauses and apparent retrogressions, just so surely she revealed a certain warmth of sympathy. He was engaged in a work which made it easy for her to idealize him. His unselfish effort to help men live, to keep bitter tears from the eyes of their relatives, appealed most powerfully to all that was unselfish in her nature, and she was beginning to ask, “If I can make this man happier, why should I not do so?” Nichol’s letter gained a new meaning in the light of events: “I do not ask you to forget me—that would be worse than death—but I ask you to try to be happy and to make others happy.”
“A noble, generous nature prompted those words,” she now often mused. “How can I obey their spirit better than in rewarding the man who not only has done so much for me, but also at every cost sought to rescue him?”
In this growing disposition she had no innate repugnance to overcome, nor the shrinking which can neither be defined nor reasoned against. Accustomed to see him almost daily from childhood, conscious for years that he was giving her a love that was virtually homage, she found her heart growing very compassionate and ready to yield the strong, quiet affection which she believed might satisfy him. This had come about through no effort on her part, from no seeking on his, but was the result of circumstances, the outgrowth of her best and most unselfish feelings.
But the effect began to separate itself in character from its causes. All that had gone before might explain why she was learning to love him, and be sufficient reason for this affection, but a woman’s love, even that quiet phase developing in Helen’s heart, is not like a man’s conviction, for which he can give his clear-cut reasons. It is a tenderness for its object—a wish to serve and give all in return for what it receives.
Martine vaguely felt this change in Helen long before he understood it. He saw only a warmer glow of sisterly affection, too high a valuation of his self-denying work, and a more generous attempt to give him all the solace and support within her power.
One day in July, when the war was well over and the field hospitals long since broken up, he wrote from Washington, where he was still pursuing his labors: