But he could not wait till morning; he could not control himself five minutes. He felt that he must banish that horrible semblance of Nichol from his mind by convincing himself of its absurdity.
He waited a few moments in order to compose his nerves, and then returned. The man had evidently gone to sleep.
“What a fool I am!” Martine again muttered. “Let the poor fellow sleep. The fact that he doesn’t know me is proof enough. The idea of wanting any proof! I can investigate his case in the morning, and, no doubt, in broad light that astonishing suggestion of Nichol will disappear.”
He was about to turn away when the patient who had called for water groaned slightly. As if his ears were as sensitive to such sounds as those of a mother who hears her child even when it stirs, the man arose. Seeing Martine standing by him, he asked in slight irritation, “What yer want? Why kyant yer say what yer want en have done ’th it? Lemme ‘tend ter that feller yander firs’. We uns don’t want no mo’ stiffs;” and he shuffled with a peculiar, noiseless tread to the patient whose case seemed on his mind. Martine followed, his very hair rising at the well-remembered tones, and the mysterious principle of identity again revealed within the circle of light.
“This is simply horrible!” he groaned inwardly, “and I must have that man account for himself instantly.”
“Now I’ll ’tend ter yer, but yer mout let a feller sleep when he kin.”
“Don’t you know me?” faltered Martine, overpowered.
“Please tell me your real name, not your nickname.”
“Ain’ got no name ’cept Yankee Blank. What’s the matter with yer, anyhow?”
“Didn’t you ever hear of Captain Nichol?”
“Reckon not. Mout have. I’ve nussed mo’ cap’ins than I kin reckerlect.”
“Are you a hospital nurse?”
“Sorter ’spect I am. That’s what I does, anyhow. Have you anything agin it? Don’t yer come ‘ferin’ round with me less yer a doctor, astin’ no end o’ questions. Air you a new doctor?”
“My name is Hobart Martine,” the speaker forced himself to say, expecting fearfully a sign of recognition, for the impression that it was Nichol grew upon him every moment, in spite of apparent proof to the contrary.
“Hump! Hob’t Ma’tine. Never yeared on yer. Ef yer want ter chin mo’ in the mawnin’, I’ll be yere.”
“Wait a moment, Yan—”
“Yankee Blank, I tole yer.”
“Well, here’s a dollar for the trouble I’m making you,” and Martine’s face flushed with shame at the act, so divided was his impression about the man.
Yankee Blank took the money readily, grinned, and said, “Now I’ll chin till mawnin’ ef yer wants hit.”
“I won’t keep you long. You remind me of—of—well, of Captain Nichol.”
“He must ‘a’ been a cur’ous chap. Folks all say I’m a cur’ous chap.”
“Won’t you please tell me all that you can remember about yourself?”