The days and weeks which followed were filled with divine enchantment; the prosaic world was transfigured; the intricacies of the law were luminous with the sheen of gold, becoming the quartz veins from which he would mine wealth for Helen; the plants in his little rose-house were cared for with caressing tenderness because they gave buds which would be worn over the heart now throbbing for him. Never did mortal know such unalloyed happiness as blessed Martine, as he became daily more convinced that Helen was not giving herself to him merely from the promptings of compassion.
At times, when she did not know he was listening, he heard her low, sweet laugh; and it had a joyous ring and melody which repeated itself like a haunting refrain of music. He would say smilingly, “It is circumstantial evidence, equivalent to direct proof.”
Helen and her mother almost took possession of his house while he was absent at his office, refurnishing and transforming it, yet retaining with reverent memory what was essentially associated with Mrs. Martine. The changing aspects of the house did not banish the old sense of familiarity, but were rather like the apple-tree in the corner of the garden when budding into new foliage and flower. The banker’s purse was ever open for all this renovation, but Martine jealously persisted in his resolve to meet every expense himself. Witnessing his gladness and satisfaction, they let him have his way, he meanwhile exulting over Helen’s absorbed interest in the adornment of her future home.
The entire village had a friendly concern in the approaching wedding; and the aged gossips never tired of saying, “I told you so,” believing that they understood precisely how it had all come about. Even Mrs. Nichol aquiesced with a few deep sighs, assuring herself, “I suppose it’s natural. I’d rather it was Bart Martine than anybody else.”
A few days before the 1st of December, Martine received a telegram from an aged uncle residing in a distant State. It conveyed a request hard to comply with, yet he did not see how it could be evaded. The despatch was delivered in the evening while he was at the Kembles’, and its effect upon the little group was like a bolt out of a clear sky. It ran:
“Your cousin dangerously ill at——Hospital, Washington. Go to him at once, if possible, and telegraph me to come, if necessary.”
Hobart explained that this cousin had remained in the army from choice, and that his father, old and feeble, naturally shrank from a journey to which he was scarcely equal. “My hospital experience,” he concluded, “leads him to think that I am just the one to go, especially as I can get there much sooner than he. I suppose he is right. Indeed, I do not know of any one else whom he could call upon. It certainly is a very painful duty at this time.”
“I can’t endure to think of it,” Helen exclaimed.