“I must, Helen.”
“I know how hard it is for you. Can you think I forget this for a moment? Yet I send for you to help, to sustain me in a purpose which changes our future so greatly. Do you not remember what you said once about accepting the conditions of life as they are? We must do this again, and make the best of them.”
“But if—suppose his memory does not come back. Is there to be no hope?”
“Hobart, you must put that thought from you as far as you can. Do you not see whither it might lead? You would not wish Captain Nichol to remain as he is?”
“Oh,” he cried desperately, “I’m put in a position that would tax any saint in the calendar.”
“Yes, you are. The future is not in our hands. I can only appeal to you to help me do what I think is right now.”
He thought a few moments, took his resolve, then gave her his hand silently. She understood him without a word.
The news of the officer’s return and of his strange condition was soon generally known in the village; but his parents, aided by the physician, quickly repressed those inclined to call from mere curiosity. At first Jim Wetherby scouted the idea that his old captain would not know him, but later had to admit the fact with a wonder which no explanations satisfied. Nichol immediately took a fancy to the one-armed veteran, who was glad to talk by the hour about soldiers and hospitals.
Before any matured plan for treatment could be adopted Nichol became ill, and soon passed into the delirium of fever. “The trouble is now clear enough,” Dr. Barnes explained. “The captain has lived in hospitals and breathed a tainted atmosphere so long that his system is poisoned. This radical change of air has developed the disease.”
Indeed, the typhoid symptoms progressed so rapidly as to show that the robust look of health had been in appearance only. The injured, weakened brain was the organ which suffered most, and in spite of the physician’s best efforts his patient speedily entered into a condition of stupor, relieved only by low, unintelligible mutterings. Jim Wetherby became a tireless watcher, and greatly relieved the grief-stricken parents. Helen earnestly entreated that she might act the part of nurse also, but the doctor firmly forbade her useless exposure to contagion. She drove daily to the house, yet Mrs. Nichol’s sad face and words could scarcely dissipate the girl’s impression that the whole strange episode was a dream.
At last it was feared that the end was near. One night Dr. Barnes, Mr. and Mrs. Nichol, and Jim Wetherby were watching in the hope of a gleam of intelligence. He was very low, scarcely more than breathing, and they dreaded lest there might be no sign before the glimmer of life faded out utterly.
Suddenly the captain seemed to awake, his glassy eyes kindled, and a noble yet stern expression dignified his visage. In a thick voice he said, “For—” Then, as if all the remaining forces of life asserted themselves, he rose in his bed and exclaimed loudly, “Forward! Company A. Guide right. Ah!” He fell back, now dead in very truth.