Martine then planned his departure so that he would arrive at Alton in the evening—the evening of the day on which he was to have been married. He felt that Mr. Kemble should see Nichol first and hear the strange story; also that the father must break the news to the daughter, for he could not. It was a terrible journey to the poor fellow, for during the long hours of inaction he was compelled to face the probable results of his discovery. The sight of Nichol and his manner was intolerable; and in addition, he was almost as much care as a child. Everything struck him as new and strange, and he was disposed to ask numberless questions. His vernacular, his alternations of amusement and irritation, and the oddity of his ignorance concerning things which should be simple or familiar to a grown man, attracted the attention of his fellow-passengers. It was with difficulty that Martine, by his stern, sad face and a cold, repelling manner, kept curiosity from intruding at every point.
At last, with heart beating thickly, he saw the lights of Alton gleaming in the distance. It was a train not often used by the villagers, and fortunately no one had entered the car who knew him; even the conductor was a stranger. Alighting at the depot, he hastily took a carriage, and with his charge was driven to the private entrance of the hotel. Having given the hackman an extra dollar not to mention his arrival till morning, he took Nichol into the dimly-lighted and deserted parlor and sent for the well-known landlord. Mr. Jackson, a bustling little man, who, between the gossip of the place and his few guests, never seemed to have a moment’s quiet, soon entered. “Why, Mr. Martine,” he exclaimed, “we wasn’t a-lookin’ for you yet. News got around somehow that your cousin was dyin’ in Washington and that your weddin’ was put off too—Why! you look like a ghost, even in this light,” and he turned up the lamp.
Martine had told Nichol to stand by a window with his back to the door. He now turned the key, pulled down the curtain, then drew his charge forward where the light fell clear upon his face, and asked, “Jackson, who is that?”
The landlord stared, his jaw fell from sheer astonishment, as he faltered, “Captain Nichol!”
“Yes,” said Nichol, with a pleased grin, “that’s my new name! Jes’ got it, like this new suit o’ clo’s, bes’ I ever had, doggoned ef they ain’t. My old name was Yankee Blank.”
“Great Scott!” ejaculated Jackson; “is he crazy?”
“Look yere,” cried Nichol; “don’ yer call me crazy or I’ll light on yer so yer won’t fergit it.”
“There, there!” said Martine, soothingly, “Mr. Jackson doesn’t mean any harm. He’s only surprised to see you home again.”
“Is this home? What’s home?”
“It’s the town where you were brought up. We’ll make you understand about it all before long. Now you shall have some supper. Mr. Jackson is a warm friend of yours, and will see that you have a good one.”