Nichol paid no heed to him. He had been too long accustomed to see strangers coming and going to give them either thought or attention.
“I say, Hob’t Ma’tine,” he began, “don’ yer cuss me fer eatin’ all the supper. I ’lowed ter this Jackson, as yer call ’im, that yer’d get a bite somewhar else, en he ’lowed yer would.”
“All right, Nichol; I’m glad you had a good supper.”
“I say, Jackson, this Ma’tine’s a cur’ous chap—mo cur’ous than I be, I reckon. He’s been actin’ cur’ous ever since he seed me in the horspital. It’s all cur’ous. ’Fore he come, doctors en folks was trying ter fin’ out ’bout me, en this Ma’tine ’lows he knows all ’bout me. Ef he wuzn’t so orful glum, he’d be a good chap anuff, ef he is cur’ous. Hit’s all a-changin’ somehow, en yet’ tisn’t. Awhile ago nobody knowd ’bout me, en they wuz allus a-pesterin’ of me with questions. En now Ma’tine en you ’low you know ‘bout me, yet you ast questions jes’ the same. Like anuff this man yere,” pointing with his cigar to Mr. Kemble, who was listening with a deeply-troubled face, “knows ’bout me too, yet wants to ast questions. I don’ keer ef I do say it, I had better times with the Johnnies that call me Yankee Blank than I ever had sence. Well, ole duffer [to Mr. Kemble], ast away and git yer load off’n yer mind. I don’t like glum faces roun’ en folks jes’ nachelly bilin’ over with questions.”
“No, Captain Nichol,” said the banker, gravely and sadly, “I’ve no questions to ask. Good-by for the present.”
Nichol nodded a careless dismissal and resumed his reminiscences with Jackson, whose eager curiosity and readiness to laugh were much more to his mind.
Following the noise made by closing the door, Helen’s voice rang up from the hall below, “Papa!”
“Yes, I’m coming, dear,” he tried to answer cheerily. Then he wrung Martine’s hand and whispered, “Send for Dr. Barnes. God knows you should have relief. Tell Jackson also to have a carriage go for Mr. Nichol at once. After the doctor comes you may leave all in our hands. Good-by.”
Martine heard the rustle of a lady’s dress and retired precipitately.
“You cannot understand”
With an affectation of briskness he was far from feeling, Mr. Kemble came down the stairs and joined his daughter in the hall. He had taken pains to draw his hat well over his eyes, anticipating and dreading her keen scrutiny, but, strange to say, his troubled demeanor passed unnoticed. In the interval of waiting Helen’s thoughts had taken a new turn. “Well, papa,” she began, as they passed into the street, “I am curious to know about the sick man. You stayed an age, but all the same I’m glad I came with you. Forebodings, presentiments, and all that kind of thing seemed absurd the moment I saw Jackson’s keen, mousing little visage. His very voice is like a ray of garish light entering a dusky, haunted room. Things suggesting ghosts and hobgoblins become ridiculously prosaic, and you are ashamed of yourself and your fears.”