Slowly labouring, at last, through a long heavy dream of confused time and place, presenting faint glimpses of army surgeons whom he knew, and of faces that had been familiar to his youth,--dearest and kindest among them, Mary Marshall's, with a solicitude upon it more like reality than anything he could discern,--Lieutenant Richard Doubledick came back to life. To the beautiful life of a calm autumn evening sunset, to the peaceful life of a fresh quiet room with a large window standing open; a balcony beyond, in which were moving leaves and sweet-smelling flowers; beyond, again, the clear sky, with the sun full in his sight, pouring its golden radiance on his bed.
It was so tranquil and so lovely that he thought he had passed into another world. And he said in a faint voice, "Taunton, are you near me?"
A face bent over him. Not his, his mother's.
"I came to nurse you. We have nursed you many weeks. You were moved here long ago. Do you remember nothing?"
The lady kissed his cheek, and held his hand, soothing him.
"Where is the regiment? What has happened? Let me call you mother. What has happened, mother?"
"A great victory, dear. The war is over, and the regiment was the bravest in the field."
His eyes kindled, his lips trembled, he sobbed, and the tears ran down his face. He was very weak, too weak to move his hand.
"Was it dark just now?" he asked presently.
"It was only dark to me? Something passed away, like a black shadow. But as it went, and the sun--O the blessed sun, how beautiful it is!--touched my face, I thought I saw a light white cloud pass out at the door. Was there nothing that went out?"
She shook her head, and in a little while he fell asleep, she still holding his hand, and soothing him.
From that time, he recovered. Slowly, for he had been desperately wounded in the head, and had been shot in the body, but making some little advance every day. When he had gained sufficient strength to converse as he lay in bed, he soon began to remark that Mrs. Taunton always brought him back to his own history. Then he recalled his preserver's dying words, and thought, "It comforts her."
One day he awoke out of a sleep, refreshed, and asked her to read to him. But the curtain of the bed, softening the light, which she always drew back when he awoke, that she might see him from her table at the bedside where she sat at work, was held undrawn; and a woman's voice spoke, which was not hers.
"Can you bear to see a stranger?" it said softly. "Will you like to see a stranger?"
"Stranger!" he repeated. The voice awoke old memories, before the days of Private Richard Doubledick.
"A stranger now, but not a stranger once," it said in tones that thrilled him. "Richard, dear Richard, lost through so many years, my name--"
He cried out her name, "Mary," and she held him in her arms, and his head lay on her bosom.
"I am not breaking a rash vow, Richard. These are not Mary Marshall's lips that speak. I have another name."
She was married.
"I have another name, Richard. Did you ever hear it?"
He looked into her face, so pensively beautiful, and wondered at the smile upon it through her tears.
"Think again, Richard. Are you sure you never heard my altered name?"
"Don't move your head to look at me, dear Richard. Let it lie here, while I tell my story.