Mr. and Mrs. Nichol heard the words also, and while in a measure compelled to recognize their force, they conveyed a meaning hard to accept. The appeal upon which so much hope had been built had failed. In bitterness of soul, the conviction grew stronger that their once brave, keen-minded son would never be much better than an idiot.
Then Helen appeared among them as pale, trembling, and overwhelmed as if she had seen a spectre. In strong reaction from her effort and blighted hope she was almost in a fainting condition. Her mother’s arms received her and supported her to a lounge; Mrs. Nichol gave way to bitter weeping; Mr. Kemble wrung the father’s hand in sympathy, and then at his wife’s request went for restoratives. Dr. Barnes closed the sliding-doors and prudently reassured Nichol: “You have done your best, Captain, and that is all I asked of you. Remain here quietly and look at your picture for a little while, and then you shall have a good long rest.”
“I did try, Doctor,” protested Nichol, anxiously. “Gee wiz! I reckon a feller orter try ter please sech a purty gyurl. She tole me lots. Look yere, Doctor, why kyan’t I be tole over en over till I reckerlect it all?”
“Well, we’ll see, Captain. It’s late now, and we must all have a rest. Stay here till I come for you.”
Nichol was so pleased with his photograph that he was well content in its contemplation. The physician now gave his attention to Helen, who was soon so far restored as to comprehend her utter failure. Her distress was great indeed, and for a few moments diverted the thoughts of even Mr. and Mrs. Nichol from their own sad share in the disappointment.
“Oh, oh!” sobbed Helen, “this is the bitterest sorrow the war has brought us yet.”
“Well, now, friends,” said Dr. Barnes, “it’s time I had my say and gave my orders. You must remember that I have not shared very fully in your confidence that the captain could be restored by the appeals you have made; neither do I share in this abandonment to grief now. As the captain says, he is yet simply unable to respond. We must patiently wait and see what time and medical skill can do for him. There is no reason whatever for giving up hope. Mrs. Kemble, I would advise you to take Miss Helen to her room, and you, Mr. Nichol, to take your wife and son home. I will call in the morning, and then we can advise further.”
His counsel was followed, the captain readily obeying when told to go with his parents. Then the physician stepped over to Martine’s cottage and found, as he supposed, that the opiate and exhausted nature had brought merciful oblivion.
It was long before Helen slept, nor would she take anything to induce sleep. She soon became quiet, kissed her mother, and said she wished to be alone. Then she tried to look at the problem in all its aspects, and earnestly asked for divine guidance. The decision reached in the gray dawn brought repose of mind and body.