This is part two of “A Double Wound”.
Part one was featured in last week’s Fiction newsletter.
Nearly a month had elapsed before Jack had sufficiently recovered to take an intelligent interest in things around him and recall the past, for his wound had produced an attack of brain fever.
One day, however, as he lay in the British Hospital at Hong Kong, he remembered the fact that just before the attack on the junk he had received a letter in Isa’s familiar handwriting, that he had thrust unopened into the breast pocket of his blouse.
Eagerly he now asked for information concerning it from the sweet-faced Scottish girl who was chief of the nursing staff in the ward where he lay, and with a roughish smile she produced it, saying —
“Perhaps it’s the best medicine we could possibly give you.”
She had already noted the graceful feminine hand in which it was addressed, and suspected that it was from a sweetheart.
With all a lover’s eager haste, Jack tore open the envelope, and began to devour the contents, while with a kindly, yet sad, expression in her eyes, Nurse Seaton stood by watching him.
Suddenly he gave a cry of pain, and the letter was convulsively crumpled in his hand has he fell back on the pillow, his features drawn as if he suffered terrible agony.
“Would God,” he groaned, “that the Chinese giant had drawn a truer stroke, and I had never known the contents of that letter.”
He made an effort to rise again, but the soft white hand of Nurse Seaton was now lying on his brow, gently keeping his head pressed to the pillow.
“No! No” she said. “God knows best. I am ignorant of what makes you suffer now, but I have learned that present woe may be future peace.”
“Had I only known what that letter contained,” continued Jack, his voice hoarse with anguish, “before we boarded the junk, I would have made sure of death.”
“What does the letter contain?” The nurse asked, gravely and gently.
“Read and learn,” cried Jack, holding the letter towards her.
Nurse Seaton read —
“Dear Mr Armstrong,”
“Circumstances have arisen that show I was wise for both our sakes in refusing to marry you before you left for China.
“There is no doubt that at that time no one stood higher in my esteem, and commanded more of my affection, than you did, but I have found one recently whom my heart tells me has a much greater claim upon me than yourself; and, at the same time, my parents consider it a more eligible match, as the gentleman in question has a good going business in the city.
“He declared his love last night, and I had to confess that it was returned. I trust you will soon find someone who will make you as happy, and much happier, than I could have done.
“I believe, from what I know of you, that you are too manly and noble to take any advantage, or press unduly, whatever may have passed between us in those days when I mistook esteem for love.
“Your most earnest well-wisher,
Tears of sympathy filled the eyes of Nurse Seaton as she again bent her gaze on the wretched man, who had watched her while she read this heartless epistle.
“I know what your pain is,” she murmered, “for I, too, have known
‘how grand a thing is love,
How grand, how sweet a thing, and how divine;
More than the pouring out of choicest wine;
More than the whiteness of the whitest dove;
More than the glittering of the stars above;’
“— But the cup of happiness was dashed from my hand even as rudely as it has been dashed from yours, and I too longed for death, even as you long for it.
“God, however, has helped me to rise above such utter selfishness, and He has taught me to rise above such utter selfishness, and He has taught me that in His service, which is simply living for the sick, sorrowing, and sinning these is fullness of joy.
“To be ground in the crucible of sorrow ourselves is the best preparation for the Christ-like life of helping others, for often the sweetest music is made by the voices of the sad.”
Jack gazed in astonishment on the woman before him.
Her words fell like balm on his wounded spirit, and if there was a recruit kept back that day from the ranks of those who regard women with cynical aversion, it was due to the presence and power of Nurse Seaton by Jack Armstrong’s sick bed.
“Burn the letter, nurse,” he said, “and if you pray (who can doubt it), pray for me.
“A sailor’s life is apt to make a lad forget how to do that sort of thing; but maybe you’ll help me by and by.”
Jack turned his face away from Nurse Seaton, who thought it best to leave him to his own reflections just then.
Many a pleasant and profitable conversation the two — nurse and patient — had after that as Jack approached convalescence.
Isa’s heartlessness did not retard that so much as might have been expected.
When at last he was able to leave the hospital, Captain Graham would have had him invalided home, but Jack remonstrated.
He had no desire to return, and Captain Graham did not press the matter, but the report he transmitted of Jack’s bravery brought for him that much-coveted decoration — the Victoria Cross.
As Jack has been for some time a non-commissioned officer, and was very steady, he had already saved a goodly sum, and as he was possessed of sufficient knowledge to have secured a Captain’s certificate for a river steamer, it had been his intention when his time expired, if Isa has married him, to forsake the navy and secure the command of a steamer on the Clyde.
Now, however, his views were changed. He was determined to remain in the Queen’s Navy.
When Lieutenant Rowse learned this, being a gentleman of large private means, he purchased a Lieutenant’s commission for Jack, and a vacancy existing at the time on board the War Cloud, a cutter also cruising in Chinese waters, Jack was appointed to it amid the hearty congratulations of his old messmates and to his own great satisfaction.
It soon became noticeable that whenever the War Cloud was in the vicinity of Hong Kong, Lieutenant Armstrong was a frequent visitor to the English hospital, and no one was surprised when nearly two years after, and immediately prior to the expiry of the War Cloud’s term of foreign service, the marriage of Lieutenant Armstrong and Nurse Seaton should be announced.
There was nothing to marvel at in this. Sympathy is said to be akin to love, and the acquaintanceship of these two began under the best of circumstances for the development of either sympathy or love.
They had both learned the unworthiness of their former idol, and the temple of each soul was vacant; they had a common sorrow; and while Nurse Seaton had all that purity and tenderness that is woman’s special power, Lieutenant Armstrong had all the manly graces that woman most readily admires.
But what of Isa Dick, you ask?
Hers was the fate of many another fickle and heartless woman. As he had sown, so she reaped.
When Jack brought his bride home to Scotland, it was to find that she in turn had been jilted, and the man for whose sake and superior position she had spurned him had not only married another woman, but was in the Bankruptcy Court, and while his old sweetheart remained a lonely and disappointed woman, fighting her own way through life, Jack had no reason to regret his double wound.
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