He took it unhesitatingly, saying with a pleased wonder, “Well, I reckon I’m comin’ round. Yer the young lady I give this picture to?”
“I’m Helen,” she breathed, with an indescribable accent of tenderness and gladness.
“Why, cert’ny. The doctor tole me ’bout you.”
“But you remember me yourself?” she pleaded. “You remember what you said to me when you gave me this picture?” and she looked into his eyes with an expression which kindled even his dull senses.
“Oh, shucks!” he said slowly, “I wish I could. I’d like ter ’blige yer, fer ye’re right purty, en I am a-tryin’ ter mind the doctor.”
Such a sigh escaped her that one might think her heart and hope were going with it. The supreme moment of meeting had come and gone, and he did not know her; she saw and felt in her inmost soul that he did not. The brief and illusive gleam into the past was projected only from the present, resulting from what he had been told, not from what he recalled.
She withdrew her hand, turned away, and for a moment or two her form shook with sobs she could not wholly stifle. He looked on perplexed and troubled, then broke out, “I jes’ feels ez ef I’d split my blamed ole haid open—”
She checked him by a gesture. “Wait,” she cried, “sit down.” She took a chair near him and hastily wiped her eyes. “Perhaps I can help you remember me. You will listen closely, will you not?”
“I be dog—oh, I forgot,” and he looked toward the back parlor apprehensively. “Yes, mees, I’ll do anythin’ yer sez.”
“Well, once you were a little boy only so high, and I was a little girl only so high. We both lived in this village and we went to school together. We studied out of the same books together. At three o’clock in the afternoon school was out, and then we put our books in our desks and the teacher let us go and play. There was a pond of water, and it often froze over with smooth black ice. You and I used to go together to that pond; and you would fasten my skates on my feet—”
“Hanged ef I wouldn’t do it agin,” he cried, greatly pleased. “Yer beats ’em all. Stid o’ astin’ questions, yer tells me all ’bout what happened. Why, I kin reckerlect it all ef I’m tole often anuff.”
With a sinking heart she faltered on, “Then you grew older and went away to school, and I went away to school. We had vacations; we rode on horseback together. Well, you grew to be as tall as you are now; and then came a war and you wore a captain’s uniform, like—like that you see in your likeness, and—and—” she stopped. Her rising color became a vivid flush; she slowly rose as the thought burned its way into her consciousness that she was virtually speaking to a stranger. Her words were bringing no gleams of intelligence into his face; they were throwing no better, no stronger light upon the past than if she were telling the story to a great boy. Yet he was not a boy. A man’s face was merely