Part 1 out of 5
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ON THE FIRING LINE
by Anna Chapin Ray and Hamilton Brock Fuller
Six feet one in his stockings, broad-shouldered and without an ounce
of extra flesh, Harvard Weldon suddenly halted before one of a line
of deck chairs.
"I usually get what I want, Miss Dent," he observed suggestively.
"You are more fortunate than most people." Her answering tone was dry.
Most men would have been baffled by her apparent indifference.
Not so was Weldon. Secure in the possession of a good tailor and
an equally good digestion, he was willing to await the leisurely
course of events.
"My doctor always advises mild exercise after lunch," he continued.
"You are in the care of a physician?" she queried, with a whimsical
glance up at his brown face and athletic figure.
"Not just now. I was once, however." She raised her brows in polite
interrogation. Her involuntary thawing of a moment before had given
place to absolute conventionality. Weldon smiled to himself, as he
noted the change. He had been at sea for three days now, and those
three days had been chiefly spent in trying to penetrate the social
shell of his next neighbor at table. It was not so much that Ethel
Dent was undeniably pretty as that he had been piqued by her frosty
reception of his efforts to supplement the services of a careless waiter.
Now, uninvited, he dropped into the empty chair next her own.
"If I may?" he said questioningly, as he raised his cap. "Yes, I
have had a doctor twice. Once was measles, once a collar bone broken
in football. Both times, I was urged to take a walk after luncheon.
Is Miss Arthur--?"
He hesitated for the right word. Still ignoring his obvious hint,
Ethel Dent supplied the word, without charity for her luckless
chaperon. "Horridly seasick." She pointed out to the level steely-
gray sea. "And on this duck-pond," she added.
Her accent was expressive. Weldon laughed.
"Perhaps she isn't as used to the duck-pond as you are."
The girl brushed a lock of vivid gold hair from her eyes; then she
sat up, to add emphasis to her words. "Miss Arthur has been to
America and back seven times and to Australia once," she said
"As globe-trotter, or as commercial traveller?"
"Neither. As professional chaperon. When she applied for me, she stated--"
The girl caught her breath and stopped short.
"Well?" he asked encouragingly. She shook her head. Again, for an
instant, Weldon could see the humanity beneath the veneering.
Moreover, he liked what he saw. The blue eyes were honest and
steady. One mocking dimple belied the gravity of the firm lips.
"What did she state?" he asked again.
"It's not manners to tell tales about one's companion," she demurred.
"Not if you spell it with a little c. With a capital, it becomes
professional, and you can say what you choose. Miss Arthur is
a righteous lady; nevertheless, she is a bit professional.
And you were saying that the lady stated--"
"That she never had been seasick in her life."
"Oh. And did she also produce certificates as to her moral
character? Or is fibbing merely bad form nowadays?"
With swift inconsequence, the girl shifted to the other side of the
"Of course, this may be a first attack."
"Of course," Weldon assented gravely. But again she shifted her
ground. "Only," she continued, with her eyes thoughtfully fixed on
the distant, impersonal point where sea and sky met; "only it is a
little strange that, yesterday, I heard her tell the stewardess she
never took beeftea when she was seasick."
"Oh." Weldon's eyes joined hers on the sky-line. "I have heard of
similar cases before."
"She offered to come on deck," Ethel went on quietly. "It was
generous of her, for she knew I was left entirely alone.
Nevertheless, I persuaded her that she was better off in her berth."
Leaning back in the chair of the absent invalid, Weldon watched his
companion out of the corners of his eyes and rejoiced at the change
in her. Even while he rejoiced, he marvelled. A Canadian by birth
and education, he had rarely come in contact with English girls. At
first, he had been totally at a loss to account for the haughty
chill in the manner of this one. Grown accustomed to that, he was
still more at a loss to account for this sudden awakening into
humanity. He had as yet to learn that two days of having her only
companion seasick, coupled with a sparkling sun and a crisp breeze,
can rouse even a duenna-led English girl to the point of expressing
her opinions pithily and with vigor.
As the Dunottar Castle had slid away from Southampton, three days
before, Weldon had tramped briskly up and down the crowded deck,
taking mental note of his companions for the next two weeks. Among
the caped and capped throng leaning over the rail and staring after
the receding shore with homesick eyes, he saw little to interest
him. Neither did the shore interest him in the least. His own
partings had come, two weeks before, when the steam yacht had put
back from Sandy Hook. Now, accordingly, he went in search of the
dining-room steward to whom he gave much gold and instruction. Then
he betook himself to his stateroom where his mates were already busy
settling their belongings.
The luncheon hour disclosed the fact that the dining-room steward
had earned his money and had digested his instruction. A short pause
on the threshold informed Weldon that the Dunottar Castle held
exactly one pretty girl; the steward informed Weldon that the vacant
chair beside her was his own. Weldon picked up his napkin with a
brief prayer of thanksgiving. What if he was going out to Africa in
search of Boers and glory? There was no especial reason he should
not enjoy himself on the way.
Weldon had gained a wide experience of American girls. well-bred,
well-chaperoned, nevertheless they offered possible points of
contact to the strangers with whom they were thrown. To all seeming,
Ethel Dent was as accessible as the outer wall of an ice palace.
Beside her decorous ignoring of his existence, Miss Arthur, lean and
spectacled and sniffy, appeared to be of maternal kindliness, albeit
her only advances had been a muffled request for the salt. The next
morning, Miss Arthur's chair had been empty, and her charge, left to
herself, had been more glacially circumspect than ever. Whatever
skittish traits the pair might develop, Weldon felt assured that
they would be solely upon the side of Miss Ophelia Arthur.
Now, however, he was giving himself praise for his own astute
generalship. It was no slight matter, at the end of the third day,
to find himself sitting next to Miss Dent in the line of steamer
chairs and even bending over to pick up the novel she had dropped.
In his elation, Weldon neglected to give credit to Miss Arthur whose
digestive woes were the cause of the whole situation. Only the riper
Christianity which comes with declining years can make one wholly
loyal to a seasick comrade.
He gave himself yet more praise, next morning at sunrise, when he
found himself pacing the deck at Ethel Dent's side. As a rule, he
and his mates rose betimes and, clad in slippers and pajamas, raced
up and down the decks to keep their muscles in hard order, before
descending for the tubbing which is the matin duty of every self-
respecting British subject. This morning, instead of the deserted
decks and the pajama-clad athletes, the passengers were out early to
catch the first glimpse of Madeira, and Weldon, starchy and glowing
with much cold water, was on deck to catch the first glimpse of
Miss Arthur was still invisible, and the girl was discreetly late
about appearing. The deck was full, when at last she came in sight;
and it seemed, to her first glance, that she was the only unattended
person abroad, that morning. Her chin rose a little aggressively as
she moved forward. Then her eyes lighted. Cap in hand, Weldon stood
in her direct path.
"Good morning," he said. "We've just passed the lighthouse and are
nearly opposite Canical. If you come over here, you can see it."
His tone was matter-of-course, yet masterful. At the very beginning
of her fourth solitary day, Ethel admitted to herself that it was
good to have some one take possession of her in this summary
"Is Miss Arthur still unhappy?" he asked, as he swung into step at
"Yes. She has taken to her hymnal, this morning, in search of
consolation. I tried to coax her to get up and go ashore; but she
said there was no use in experiencing the same woe twice."
"I am afraid I do not quite catch the lady's line of argument,"
Weldon remarked doubtfully.
The girl laughed. Then she decorously checked her laugh and
endeavored to turn sympathetic once more.
"She means to make one prolonged illness. Else she will only recover
in order to fall ill again." "Oh." Weldon's tone was still blank.
"And shall you go ashore?"
She shook her head.
"I am sorry. You would find any amount to see."
"I am sorry, too," she said frankly. "Still, I don't see how I can,
without Miss Arthur."
His hands in his pockets, Weldon took a dozen steps in doubtful
"I'll tell you what we can do, Miss Dent: Harry Carew, one of the
fellows going out with me, had a note of introduction to Colonel
Scott and his wife. He is the pompous old Englishman across the
table. I'll get Carew to introduce us, and perhaps they will let us
go ashore with them."
"But are they going?" she asked irresolutely.
"Surely. We have three hours here. I know Carew's mother well; she
and Mrs. Scott were schoolmates at Madame Prather's in London."
She looked up with sudden interest.
"Madame Prather's? That is where I have been, for the past five
"Then we are all right," Weldon said coolly. "The arrangement is
made. Carew is the only missing link. Excuse me, and I will go in
search of him."
It was high noon when the Dunottar Castle finally weighed anchor at
Funchal and started on her long, unbroken voyage to the southward.
Side by side in the stern, Weldon and Ethel looked back at the blue
harbor dotted with the myriad little boats, at the quaint town
backed with its amphitheatre of sunlit hills and, poised on the
summit, the church where Nossa Senhora do Monte keeps watch and ward
over the town beneath. Ethel's experience was the broader for her
hilarious ride in a bullock-drawn palanquin. Weldon's experience was
more instructive. It taught him that, her hat awry and her yellow
hair loosened about her laughing face, Ethel Dent was tenfold more
attractive than when she made her usual decorous entrance to the
Mrs. Scott had been a willing chaperon and an efficient one.
Nevertheless, as they stood together in the stern, looking out
across the gold-flecked sea, Weldon felt that he had made a long
stride, that morning, towards acquaintance with his companion. And,
even now, the voyage was nearly all before them.
As if in answer to his thoughts, she lifted her eyes to his face.
"Twelve more days!" she said slowly.
"Are you sorry?"
She shook her head.
"Glad and sorry both. I love the sea; but home is at the end of it."
"You live out there?" he asked.
She smiled at the question. "Yes, if out there means Cape Town. At
least, my parents live there."
"How long have you been in England?" he queried, while, abandoning
all pretence of interest in the fast-vanishing town, he turned his
back to the rail in order to face his companion more directly.
"Always, except for one year, six years ago, and a summer--summer in
England, I mean--two years later."
Rather inconsequently, Weldon attacked the side issue suggested by
"How does it seem to have one's seasons standing on their heads?"
She answered question with question. "Haven't you been out before?"
"I supposed you had taken the voyage any number of times. But about
the seasons, it doesn't count for much until you come to Christmas.
No England-born mortal can hang up his stocking in mid-summer
without a pang of regretful homesickness."
"Do you substitute a refrigerator for a chimney corner?" he asked.
"But are you England-born?"
"Yes. My father went out only seven years ago. The 'home' tradition
is so strong that I was sent back to school and for a year of social
life. My little brother goes to Harrow in two years. Even in Cape
Town, a few people still hold true to the tradition of the public
Weldon nodded assent.
"We meet it in Canada, now and then; not too often, though. So in
reality you are almost as much a stranger to Cape Town as I am."
"Quite. My father says it is all changed now. It used to be a lazy
little place; now it is pandemonium, soldiers and supplies going
out, time-expired men and invalids coming in. Mr. Weldon--"
His questioning smile answered the pause in her sentence.
"Well?" he asked, after a prolonged interval.
Her teeth shut on her lower lip, she stared at the wide blue sea
with wide blue eyes. Something in its restless tossing, in the
changing lights that darted back to her from the crests of the
waves, seemed to be holding her in an hypnotic trance. Out of the
midst of the trance she spoke again, and it was plain to Weldon, as
he listened to her low, intent voice, that her thoughts were not
upon the sea nor yet upon him.
"It ought to terrify me," she said. "I mean the war, of course. I
ought to dread the going out into the atmosphere of it. I don't.
Sometimes I think I must have fighting blood in my veins. Instead of
being frightened at what my father writes me, I feel stirred by it
all, as if I were ready for anything. I went out to Aldershot, one
day last year; but that was only so many dainty frills, so much
playing soldier. That's not what I mean at all." Turning suddenly,
she looked up directly into Weldon's dark gray eyes. "One of my
cousins wants to be a nurse. She lives at Piquetberg Road, but she
has been visiting friends who live in Natal on the edge of the
fighting, where she has seen things as they happen. In her last
letter, she told me that she was only waiting for my uncle's
permission to go out as a nurse."
"Is that what you would do?"
Her head lifted itself proudly.
"No. She can take care of the wounded men, if she chooses. For my
part, I'd rather cheer on the men who are starting for the front. If
I could know that one man, one single man, fought the better for
having known me, I should feel as if I had done my share."
She spoke with fiery vigor; then her eyes dropped again to the
dancing waves. When at length she spoke again, she was once more the
level-voiced English girl who sat next him at the table.
"You are going out to Cape Town to stay, Mr. Weldon?" she asked,
with an accent so utterly conventional that Weldon almost doubted
his own ears.
"To stay until the war ends," he replied, in an accent as
conventional as her own.
"In Cape Town?" Then she felt her eyes drawn to meet his eyes, as he
"I shall do my best to make myself a place in the firing line."
Again her conventionality vanished, and she gave him her hand, as if
to seal a compact.
"I hope you will win it and hold it," she responded slowly. "I can
wish you nothing better."
A berugged, bedraggled bundle of apologies, Miss Ophelia Arthur lay
prone in her steamer chair, her cheeks pale, her eyes closed. Her
conscience, directed towards the interests of her charge, demanded
her presence on deck. Once on deck and apparently on guard, Miss
Arthur limply subsided into a species of coma. Her charge,
meanwhile, rosy and alert, sat in the lee of a friendly ventilating
shaft. Beside her, also in the lee of the ventilating shaft, sat Mr.
The past week had been full of the petty events which make up life
on shipboard. The trail of smoke from a passing steamer, the first
shoal of flying fish, the inevitable dance, the equally inevitable
concert and, most inevitable of all, the Sabbatic contest between
the captain and the fresh-water clergyman who insists upon reading
service: all these are old details, yet ever new. Throughout them
all, Weldon had sturdily maintained his place at Ethel's side. By
tacit consent, the girl had been transferred to the motherly care of
Mrs. Scott who, after a keen inspection of Weldon, had decided that
it was safe to take upon trust this clean-eyed, long-legged Canadian
who was so obviously well-born and well-bred.
Now and then Carew joined the group; but the handsome, dashing young
fellow had no mind to play the part of second violin. He would be
concertmaster or nothing. Accordingly, he withdrew to the rival
corner where a swarthy little French girl maintained her court
without help from any apparent chaperonage whatsoever. Left in
possession of the field, Weldon made the most of his chances. The
acknowledged attendant of Ethel, his jovial ministrations overflowed
to Mrs. Scott, until the sedate colonel's wife admitted to herself
that no such pleasant voyage had fallen to her lot since the days
when she had started for India on her wedding journey. Weldon had
the consummate tact to keep the taint of the filial from his
chivalry. His attentions to Mrs. Scott and Ethel differed in degree,
but not in kind, and Mrs. Scott adored him accordingly. One by one,
the languid days dropped into the past. Neptune had duly escorted
them over the Line, to the boredom of the first-class passengers and
the strident mirth of the rest of the ship's colony. Winter was
already behind them, and the late December days took on more and
more of the guise of summer, as the log marked their passing to the
southward. To many on board, the idle passage was a winter holiday;
but to Weldon and Carew and a dozen more stalwart fellows, those
quiet days were the hush before the breaking of the storm. Home,
school, the university were behind them; before them lay the crash
of war. And afterwards? Glory, or death. Their healthy, boyish
optimism could see no third alternative.
For ten long days, Miss Ophelia Arthur lay prone in her berth. Her
hymnal and her Imitation lay beside her; but she read less than she
pondered, and she invariably pondered with her eyes closed and her
mouth ajar. On the eleventh day, however, she gathered herself
together and went on deck. With anxious care Weldon tucked the rugs
about her elderly frame. Then he exchanged a glance with Ethel and
together they sought the shelter of the ventilating shaft.
Nothing shows the temperature more surely than the tint of the gray
sea. It was a warm gray, that morning, and the bowl-like sky above
was gray from the horizon far towards the blue zenith. From the
other end of the ship, they could hear the plaudits that accompanied
an impromptu athletic tournament; but the inhabitants of the nearest
chairs were reading or dozing, and the deck about them was very
still. Only the throbbing of the mighty screw and the hiss of the
cleft waves broke the hush.
Out of the hush, Ethel spoke abruptly.
"Do you know, Mr. Weldon, you have never told me what brings you out
He had been sitting, chin on his fists, staring out across the gray,
foam-flecked water. Now he looked up at her in surprise.
"I thought you knew. The war, of course."
"Yes; but where are you going?"
"To somewhere on the firing line. Beyond that I've not the least
"Where is your regiment now?"
"I haven't any."
She frowned in perplexity.
"I think I don't quite understand."
"I mean I haven't enlisted yet."
"But your commission?" she urged.
"I have no commission, Miss Dent."
"Not--any commission!" she said blankly.
In site of himself, he laughed at her tone.
"Certainly not. I am going as a soldier."
She sat staring at him in thoughtful silence.
"But you are a gentleman," she said slowly at length.
Weldon's mouth twitched at the corners.
"I hope so," he assented.
"Then how can you go as soldier, for I suppose you mean private?"
Dictated by generations-old tradition, the question was eloquent.
Weldon's one purpose, however, was to combat that tradition; and he
"Because--because it isn't neat," she responded unexpectedly.
This time, Weldon laughed outright. Trained in the wider, more open-
air school of Canadian life, he found her insular point of view
"I have a portable tub somewhere among my luggage," he reassured
She shook her head.
"No; that's not what I mean. But you won't be thrown with men of
your own class. The private is a distinct race; you'll find him
unbearable, when you are really in close quarters with him."
Deliberately Weldon rose and stood looking down at her. His lips
were smiling; his eyes were direct and grave. His mother could have
told the girl, just then, that some one had touched him on the raw.
"Miss Dent," he asked slowly; "is this the way you cheer on the
She flushed under his rebuke and, for a moment, her blue eyes showed
an angry light.
"I beg your pardon. I was referring to the men whom I am likely to
"And omitting myself?" he inquired.
"You are the exception which proves the rule," she answered a little
shortly. "Of course, I wish you all good; but I don't see how it is
to be gained, if you bury yourself in the ranks."
"It may depend a little upon what you mean by good," he returned,
with a dignity which, notwithstanding her momentary petulance, won
her full respect. "I am not going out in search of the path to a
generalship. Fighting isn't my real profession."
"Then what are you going for?" she demanded sharply. With no
consciousness of dramatic effect, his eyes turned to the Union Jack
fluttering above them.
"Because I couldn't stay away," he answered simply. "From
Magersfontein to Nooitdedacht, the pull on me has been growing
stronger. I am not needed at home; I can shoot a little and ride a
good deal. I am taking out my own horse; I shall draw no pay. I can
do no harm; and, somewhere or other, I may do a little good. For the
rest, I prefer the ranks. It's not always the broadest man who lives
entirely with his own class. For a while, I am willing to meet some
one outside. As soon as I get to Cape Town, I shall enlist in a
regiment of horse, put on the khaki and learn to wind myself up in
my putties. Then it will remain to be seen whether my old friends
will accept Trooper Weldon on their list of acquaintances."
"One of them will," the girl said quickly. "If only for the sake of
novelty, I shall be glad to know a man in the ranks."
He shook his head.
"No novelty, Miss Dent. I know any number of fellows who are doing
the same thing. We can't all be officers; a few of us must take
orders. Out in the hunting field, we say it is the thoroughbred dog
who answers to call most quickly."
She ignored his last words.
"And you don't even know where you are going?" she asked. "To Cape
"But after that?"
"To my banker. After that, to the nearest recruiting station."
"So you'll not stop in Cape Town?"
Weldon's quick ear caught the little note of regret in her voice.
"Not long. Long enough, however, to pull any latch-string that
offers itself to me."
Her eyes dropped to the shining sea.
"My mother will offer ours to you," she said quietly. Then she
added, with a swift flash of merriment, "And you will wish to see
Miss Arthur again."
Weldon cast a mocking glance over his shoulder at the recumbent,
"Is the lady going to stop long with you?" he queried.
"Long enough to recover from her invalidism."
"To judge from her greeny-yellow cast of countenance, that may take
some time. But tell me, Miss Dent, does she always sleep out loud
"Not always. It usually comes when she is taking what she calls
"Then may a merciful heaven prevent her from taking eighty," Weldon
observed piously. "Still, the sleeping cat--"
"Fox," she corrected him promptly.
"Fox be it, then. Miss Arthur seems to me to be feline, rather than
vulpine, though." Bending forward, the girl studied her chaperon
"She really isn't so bad, Mr. Weldon. She means well. It is only
that I don't like tight frizzles and a hymn-book in combination.
People should always have one point of absolute worldliness."
"Aren't fizzles--that is what you called the thatch over her
eyebrows; isn't it?--aren't they worldly?"
Ethel Dent laughed with the consciousness of a woman's superior
"It depends upon the season," she replied enigmatically, as she
It was five days later that Ethel closed and locked her steamer
trunk. Leaving Miss Arthur to grapple alone with the cabin bags, the
girl went out on deck. Regardless of the glaring sunshine of New
Year morning, groups of people were dotted along the rail, staring
up at the flat top and seamy face of cloud-capped Table Mountain. In
the very midst of a knot of eager, excited men, Weldon was leaning
on the rail, talking so earnestly to Carew that he was quite
unconscious of the girl, twenty paces behind him. She hesitated for
a moment. Then, as she walked away to the farther end of the deck,
she told herself that Weldon was like all other men, regardful of
women only when no more vital interest presented itself. Already she
regretted the girlish vanity which had dictated the choice of the
gown in which she was to go ashore. For all the young Canadian was
likely to know to the contrary, she might be clad in a calico
wrapper and a blanket shawl, rather than the masterpiece of a London
The Dunottar Castle was forging steadily ahead through the blue
waters of Table Bay. Beyond the bay, Cape Town nestled in its bed of
living green, backed by the sinister face of Table Mountain, and
fringed with a thicket of funnels and of raking masts. To the girl,
familiar with the harbor when Cape Town had been a peaceful seaport,
it seemed that the navies of the world were gathered there before
her eyes. It seemed to her, too, that the low, squat town never
looked half so fair as it did now, viewed from a softening distance
and ringed about with its summer setting of verdure.
Already the docks were in sight and, far to her left at the other
end of the long curve of the water front, her keen eyes could make
out the roof which, six years before, she had learned to call home.
She could imagine the stir and excitement in that home: the
controlled eagerness of her busy father, the gentle flurry of her
invalid mother, and the tempestuous bulletins issued by the small
brother whose occasional letters, full of incoherent affection and
quaint bits of orthography, had added interest to the last years of
her English life. One and all, they were loyally intent upon her
coming. And she, ingrate that she was, could spare thought from the
dear home circle to waste it upon the forgetful young Canadian who
was talking horse and politics by the rail.
She turned sharply, as Weldon's voice fell upon her ears.
"Happy New Year, Miss Dent! It is an odd wish to be giving, with the
mercury at ninety."
With her London gown, she had also donned her London manner, and her
answer was banal.
"But none the less welcome, for all its being so warm. May I return
He laughed, like the great, overgrown boy that he so often showed
"I decline to take it back. And where have you been, all the
"Packing my steamer trunk. I have been on deck for nearly an hour,
"I'm sorry I missed so much of the time. I don't see why I didn't
see you," he said regretfully. "I was over there by the rail with
Carew and a lot of the other fellows, watching the town show up. It
was mighty interesting, too, this getting one's first glimpse of a
new corner of the earth."
Most men would have seemed penitent over their absorption in other
things. Weldon merely acknowledged it as a matter of course, and
allowed the girl to draw her own conclusions. She drew them
accordingly. At first, they antagonized her. Later on, she admitted
their justice. Meanwhile, she kept her momentary antagonism quite to
herself, as she looked up into the face of her companion, an
earnest, manly face, in spite of its boyish outlines.
"It is hard for me to realize that you are a stranger here," she
answered him. "All the way out, you have given the impression of
having made the voyage any number of times."
"In what way?"
"In the way of getting what you wish in an utterly matter-of-course
fashion." Her laugh belied her London exterior and belonged to the
broad felt hat and the soft blouse of the past two weeks.
"That is the one compliment I most value, Miss Dent."
"See that you continue to live up to it, Mr. Weldon."
For an instant, they faced each other, a merry boy and girl. Then
Weldon's lips straightened resolutely, and he bowed.
"I will do my best," he answered slowly.
Half an hour later, he joined her at the gangway and took forcible
possession of her hand luggage.
"Surely," he said, in answer to her objections; "you will let me do
you this one last little service."
"Not if you call it that," she said quietly. "Our acquaintance is
only just beginning. If you are to be in Cape Town for a day or two,
come and let my mother thank you for your kindness to me, all the
He took her hand, outstretched in farewell.
"Even if I come as Trooper Weldon?" he asked with a smile.
And she answered, with a prophecy of whose truth she was as yet in
"Trooper Weldon will always be a welcome guest in our home."
Then her father came to claim her. When she emerged from his
welcoming embrace, she saw Weldon, cap in hand, bowing to her from
what appeared a most unseemly distance. The next moment, he had
vanished in the crowd.
According to one's individual point of view, Cape Town, on that New
Year morning of nineteen hundred and one, was either a point of
departure for the front, or a city of refuge for the sleek and
portly Uitlanders who thronged the hotels and made too audible
mourning for their imperiled possessions. Viewed in either light, it
was hot, crowded and unclean. From his caricature of a hansom,
Weldon registered his swift impression that he wished to get off to
the front as speedily as possible. The hansom contributed to this
impression no less than did the city. Out of a multitude of similar
vehicles, he had chosen this for its name, painted across its
curving front. The Lady of the Snows had obviously been christened
as a welcome to the scores of his fellow colonials who had gone that
way before; and he and Carew had dashed past Killarney and The
Scotch Thistle, to take possession of its padded interior.
It was almost noon, as they drove through the Dock Gates, past the
Amsterdam Battery, and turned eastward towards Adderley Street and
the Grand Hotel. It was nightfall before their luggage was safe
through the custom house and in their room. Carew eyed his boxes
askance. Weldon attacked the straps of his nearest trunk.
"Wherefore?" Carew queried languidly from the midst of a haze of
"To take account of stock."
"What's the use?"
"To find out what we need, of course."
"But we don't need anything. We've tobacco for our pipes and quinine
for our stomachs and fuller's earth for our feet. What more can a
man need?" As he spoke, Carew hooked his toe around a second chair,
drew it towards him and promptly converted it into a foot-rest.
"Besides," he added tranquilly; "to-morrow is Boxing Day, and the
bank won't be open until the day after. You know you can't buy
anything more than a pink-bordered handkerchief out of your present
"Don't be too sure I can make out even that," he said, as he dived
into the trunk and pulled out a Klondyke sleeping-bag.
Carew watched him from between half-closed lids.
"Going beddy?" he inquired.
"Confound it, no! I thought my calling kit was in there." A pair of
dark gray blankets landed in the corner on top of the sleeping-bag.
"That looks jolly comfortable. You'd better bunk in there, and leave
the bed to me," Carew advised him. "You're in the wrong trunk for
your calling clothes, anyway. What under heaven do you want of them,
"I don't want them to lie all in a heap."
"They'll lie in heaps for a good long time, before you are out of
this country," Carew predicted cheerfully. "Moreover, from the look
of the place, you could make calls in either pajamas or khaki, and
it would pass muster. I saw one fellow, this noon, in evening
clothes and a collar button. Besides, there isn't anybody for us to
Weldon smiled contentedly, as he drew out a frock-coat and inspected
its satin-faced lapels.
"Not for you, perhaps," he observed quietly.
"Oh, I see." Carew puffed vigorously. "So you have a bidding to call
upon Miss Dent."
Weldon dislodged Carew's feet from the extra chair and utilized the
chairback as a temporary coat-rack.
"No; quite the contrary," he replied. "I am invited to call upon
Miss Ophelia Arthur. Now you will please to keep quiet, for I think
I shall go to bed."
In silence, Carew watched him half through the process of
undressing. Then, emptying his pipe and snapping open its case, he
rose and faced his friend.
"Weldon," he said sententiously; "we don't care to hang around this
place longer than we must; and we shall have all we can do to get
ourselves enlisted and our horses into condition. We haven't time
for much else. I hope you will remember that you came out here, not
to fuss the girls, but for the fuss with the Boers."
From his seat on the edge of the bed, Weldon eyed him amicably.
"Don't preach, Carew," he answered coolly. "It doesn't do my soul
any good, and it only renders you a bore. It has always been a
clause of my creed that two good things are better than one."
Nevertheless, in spite of his haste to unpack his calling clothes,
it was full three days later that Weldon turned his face eastward in
search of the home of Ethel Dent. Moreover, in all those three days,
he had given scarcely a thought to the companion of his voyage.
Notwithstanding his first impressions, Weldon had found much to
interest him in Cape Town. The streets, albeit unlovely, were full
of novel sights and the patter of novel tongues. Cape carts and
Kaffirs, traction engines and troopers, khaki everywhere and yet
more khaki, and, rising grimly behind it all, the naked face of
Table Mountain covered with its cloth of clouds! It was all a tumult
of busy change, bounded by the unchanging and the eternal. For one
entire morning, Weldon loitered about the streets, viewing all
things with his straightforward Canadian gaze, jostling and jostled
by turns. War had ceased to be a myth, and, of a sudden, was become
a grim reality; yet in the face of it all his courage never
faltered. His sole misgivings concerned themselves with the contrast
between the seasoned regulars marching to their station, and his
boyish self, full of eager enthusiasm, but trained only in the
hunting field, the polo ground and the gymnasium. Then, gripping his
hope in both hands, he resolutely shouldered his way into the
nearest recruiting office. He went into the office as Harvard
Weldon, amateur athlete and society darling of his own home city. He
came out as Trooper Weldon of the First Regiment of Scottish Horse.
He spent the next morning in sorting over his miscellaneous luggage.
In the light of Cape Town and the practical advice which had been
his for the asking, his outfit appeared comically complete. Two
thirds of it must be stored in Cape Town; of the other third, one
full half must be left with the negro servants at the hotel. His
toilet fixtures would have been adequate for a Paris season; his
superfluous rugs would have warmed him during a winter on the apex
of the North Pole. It was with something between a smile and a sigh
that he stowed away the greater part of his waistcoats and neckties,
in company with the silver-mounted medicine chest by which his
mother had set such store. It was as Carew had said: quinine and
tobacco were the main essentials.
Then, for the last time in many months, he arrayed himself in black
cloth and fine linen, chose his stick and gloves with care, and,
leaving Adderley Street behind him, turned eastward towards the home
of the Dents.
He found Ethel on the broad veranda, bordered with flower-boxes and
overlooking the garden and the blue waters of Table Bay. Dressed in
a thin white gown which, to Weldon's mind, was curiously out of
keeping with all his preconceived notions of January weather, she
rose and came forward to greet him at the top of the steps.
"At last," she said cordially, while she gave him her hand. "I began
to fear you had already gone to the front."
"Not without seeing you again," he answered, as he followed her back
to the bamboo chairs at the shaded western end of the veranda. "In
fact, I began to be rather afraid I should never see the front at
"What do you mean?" she asked quickly. "Has something happened since
I saw you?"
"A great deal has happened. The thing I referred to was my first
sight of British regulars."
Her face cleared.
"Oh, is that all?"
"It is a good deal," he assured her, as he sat down. "I came out
here with all sorts of high notions regarding volunteers."
"Well?" she questioned smilingly.
"Well, they have been taken out of me. An untrained man isn't worth
much in any line, least of all in the firing line. Still, it would
be very ignominious to go back home again."
Her eyes swept over his alert, well-groomed figure.
"And when do you start for the front, Trooper Weldon?"
"How do you know I start at all?"
"How do I know you are sitting opposite me?" she asked lightly.
"Having eyes, I use them."
"And they tell you--?" he responded.
"That you are looking content with life."
The laughter died out of his eyes.
"I am," he said gravely; "perfectly content. I am enrolled in the
Scottish Horse, and I go tomorrow."
"The Scottish Horse?" she asked quickly. "Which squadron?"
"Do you know anything of it?"
"A little," she answered; "but that little is good. Then it is to
Maitland that you are going?"
"Are you omniscient, Miss Dent?"
"No; merely an inquisitive girl who remembers the answers to the
questions that she asks. My father, you know, is in the thick of
things, and it seems to me I have met half the British army, in the
four days I have been at home."
"Officers, or Tommies?" he reminded her.
She laughed at the recollection of her former prejudice.
"You told the truth, Mr. Weldon. One of the men I danced with, last
season, is riding across Natal in the same squadron with his groom.
In my one London season, I met only officers. Out here, I find Lord
Thomas turned into Tommy Atkins, and I meet him every day. But,
aside from the war, what do you think of Cape Town?"
"What would I think of Table Mountain without its tablecloth?" he
parried. "In both cases, the two things seem inseparable."
"Wait till you know the place better, then," she advised him. "It
really does have a life of its own, apart from its military
"I am afraid there's not much chance of my knowing it better," he
answered a little regretfully.
"Maitland is only three miles away, and you've not met my mother
yet," she suggested.
"Is she at home now?" Weldon asked, with the conscious air of a man
suddenly recalled to his social duty.
"Not this afternoon. She has taken Miss Arthur for a drive through
Rondebosch. That is quite one of the things to do, you know."
"I didn't know. Is the redoubtable Miss Arthur well?"
The dimple beside the girl's firm lips displayed itself suddenly,
and her eyes lighted.
"Wonderfully. Her convalescence has been remarkably short. More
remarkable still is the fact that she has neglected to mention her
illness to any one."
"How soon does she go back?"
The blue eyes met his eyes in frank merriment.
"Not until she has finished informing my mother of the present
London code of chaperonage."
Weldon raised his brows.
"Then I shall find her here, when I come back at the end of the
She made no pretence of misunderstanding him.
"Are you so much less strict in Canada?"
"We are--different," he confessed. "Miss Arthur's lorgnette would be
impossible with us. I don't mean the lorgnette itself; but the acute
accent which she contrives to give to it. Mrs. Scott is more of a
"Dear little lady! Have you seen her since she landed?"
"Once. They are at the Mount Nelson, and Carew and I called on them
there. They are leaving for De Aar, Monday."
"And what about Mr. Carew?"
"He goes with me to Maitland. He is Trooper Carew now."
The girl sat staring thoughtfully out across the lawn.
"I wonder what sort of a soldier he will make," she said, half to
herself. Weldon faced her sharply.
"Because life is an embodied joke to him."
Weldon rose a little stiffly. His call had lasted its allotted time;
nevertheless, under other conditions, it might have lasted even
longer. He liked Ethel Dent absolutely; yet now and then she had a
curious fashion of antagonizing him. The alternations of her cordial
moments with her formal ones were no more marked than were the
alternations of her viewpoint. As a rule, she looked on life with
the impartial eyes of a healthy-minded boy; occasionally, however,
she showed herself hidebound by the fetters of tradition, and, worst
of all, she wore the fetters as if they lay loosely upon her. At
such moments, he longed acutely to impress her with his own point of
view, as the only just one possible.
"I think perhaps you don't fully understand Carew, Miss Dent," he
said courteously, yet with a slight accent of finality. "He laughs
at life like a child; but he lives it like a man. I have known him
since we were boys together; I have never known him to shirk or to
funk a difficult point. If the Scottish Horse ever sees the firing
line, it will hold no better trooper than Harry Carew."
He bowed in farewell and turned away. Looking after him, Ethel Dent
told herself that Weldon's simple words had been descriptive, not
only of his friend, but of his loyal, honest self.
Half-way across the heart-shaped bit of lawn enclosed within the
curve of the drive, Weldon met another guest going towards the
steps. There was no need of the trim uniform of khaki serge to
assure him that the man was also a soldier. The starred shoulder
straps were needless to show him that here was one born to command.
Glancing up, Weldon looked into a pair of keen blue eyes exactly on
a level with his own, took swift note of the full, broad forehead,
of the black lashes contrasting with the yellow hair and of the
resolute lines of the shaven chin. Then, mindful of his frock-coat
and shining silk hat, he repressed his inclination to salute, and
walked steadily on, quite unconscious of the part in his life which
the stranger was destined to play, during the coming months.
Sitting in the lee of the picket fence which bounded Maitland Camp
on the west, Paddy the cook communed with himself, and Weldon and
Carew communed with him.
"Oh, it's long and long yet before a good many of these ones will be
soldiers," he, observed, with a disrespectful wave of his thumb
towards the awkward squad still manoeuvering its way about over the
barren stretch of the parade ground. "They ride like tailors
squatting on their press-boards, and they salute like a parrot
scratching his head with his hind paw. A soldier is like a poet,
born, not made."
In leisurely fashion, Weldon stretched himself at full length and
drew out a slender pipe.
"Paddy, if you keep on, I'll fire a kopje at you," he threatened.
Paddy disdained the threat.
"Glory be, the kopjes be riveted down on the bottom end of them! But
it's the truth I'm telling. Half of these men is afraid of their
lives, when they're on a horse."
"The horses of South Africa are divided into two classes," Carew
observed sententiously; "the American ones that merely buck, and the
cross-eyed Argentine ones that grin at you like a Cheshire cat,
after they have done it. Both are bad for the nerves. Still, I'd
rather be respectfully bucked, than bucked and then laughed at,
after the catastrophe occurs. Paddy, my knife has been splitting
open its handle. What's to be done about it?"
Bending forward, Carew drew the black-handled knife and fork from
the coils of his putties. In the orderly surroundings of Maitland
Camp, there was no especial need of his adopting the storage methods
of the trek; nevertheless, he had taken to the new idea with prompt
enthusiasm. Up to that time, it had never occurred to him to bandage
his legs with khaki, and then convert the bandages into a species of
"Paddy," Weldon remonstrated; "don't stop to play with his knife. No
matter if it is cracked. So is he, for the matter of that. Go and
tell your menial troop to remember to put a little beef in the soup,
this noon. I am tired of sipping warm water and onion juice."
"What time is it, then?"
"My watch says eleven; but my stomach declares it is half-past two.
Trot along, there's a good Paddy. And don't forget to tie a pink
string to my piece of meat, when you give it to the orderly. Else I
may not know it's the best one." With a reluctant yawn and a glance
upward towards the sun, Paddy scrambled to his feet and brushed
himself off with the outspread palms of his stubby hands. Then he
turned to the men behind him.
"Stick your fork back in your putties, Mr. Carew, and I'll send you
a knife to go with it. As long as Paddy manages the cooking tent,
the cracked knives shall go to the dunderheads. The best isn't any
too good for them as rides like you and Mr. Weldon, and drinks no
rum at all."
Weldon eyed him mockingly.
"And gives their ration of rum to Paddy," he added. "Go along, man,
and set your kettles to boiling, while you return thanks that you
know a good thing when you see it."
"Paddy is a great boy," Carew observed, as the little Irishman
saluted them in farewell, then turned and strolled away in the
direction of his quarters.
"And, what's more, a most outrageously good cook," Weldon assented.
"If Paddy's ambition to shoot a gun should ever be fulfilled,
England might gain a soldier; but it would lose a chef of the cordon
"If I were to choose, I'd sacrifice his sense of taste for the sake
of keeping his sense of humor," Carew returned. "Not even war can
With a disdainful gesture, Weldon pointed out across the sun-baked
parade ground with the stem of his pipe.
"War! This?" he protested. "It is nothing in this world but a Sunday
And Carew, as his eyes followed the pointing pipe-stem, was forced
to give his assent.
It was now five days since, with scores of their mates, Weldon and
Carew had been passed from their medical examination to the double
test of their riding and their shooting. Elated by their threefold
recommendation, they had lost no time in donning their khaki and
taking up their quarters under the fraction of canvas allotted to
them. The days that followed were busy and slid past with a certain
monotony, notwithstanding their varied routine. From morning stables
at seven until evening stables at six, each hour held its duty, for
in that regular, clock-marked life, recreation was counted a duty
just as surely as were the daily drills.
Carew, trained on the football field, took to the foot drill as a
duck takes to water. Weldon was in his glory on mounted parade. One
summer spent on an Alberta ranch had taught him the tricks of the
broncho-buster, and five o'clock invariably found him pirouetting
across the parade ground on the back of the most vicious mount to be
found within the limits of Maitland. More than once there had been a
breathless pause while the entire squadron had waited to watch the
killing of Trooper Weldon; more than once there had been an utterly
profane pause while the officers had waited for Trooper Weldon to
bring his bolting steed back into some semblance of alignment. The
pause always ended with Weldon upright in his saddle, his face
beaming with jovial smiles and his horse ranged up with mathematical
precision. The delays were by no means helpful to discipline.
Nevertheless, the officers yielded to the inevitable with the better
grace, inasmuch as no one else would voluntarily trust life and limb
to the vicious beasts in which Weldon's soul delighted.
Twice already, during the past five days, Weldon had handed over to
the authorities a chastened and obedient pony, and had made petition
to select a fresh and untrammelled spirit. The one of the afternoon
before had been the most untrammelled he had as yet attempted. The
contest had begun with the first touch of the saddle. It had
continued with Weldon's being borne across the camp on the back of a
little gray broncho who was making tentative motions towards a
complete handspring. By the time the pony was convinced of the
proper function of her own hind legs, Weldon found himself being
driven from the door of the cooking tent by Paddy and a volley of
potatoes. The broncho surveyed Paddy with scorn, rose to her hind
legs and strolled towards the corner of the camp sacred to visitors.
There she delivered herself of one final, mighty buck. When Weldon
regained the perpendicular, he found himself directly facing the
merry, admiring eyes of Ethel Dent. By Ethel's side, mounted on a
huge khaki-colored horse, sat the man he had met, only the week
before, in the driveway of the Dents' home.
Scarlet with his exertions, grimly aware that his sleeve was pulled
from its armhole and his left puttie was strained out of its usual
compact folds, nevertheless Weldon saluted her smilingly and, his
mount well in hand, galloped off in search of his squadron. That
night, however, his clear baritone voice was missing from the usual
chorus about the camp fire; and, as he thoughtfully drained his tin
billy of coffee, next morning, he was revolving in mind the relative
merits of his banker and a dead mother-in-law, as excuses for
demanding a pass to town, that afternoon.
However, afternoon found him moodily riding about the camp. His body
was on a subdued gray broncho; his mind was solely upon Ethel and
her companion. He liked the girl for herself, as well as for the
fact that, in this remote corner of the world, she represented the
sole bit of feminine companionship which is the rightful heritage of
every son of Eve. True, there was Miss Arthur; but Miss Arthur was
antediluvian. Under these conditions, it was galling to Weldon to
see Ethel absorbed by a comrade who, he frankly admitted to himself,
was far the more personable man of the two. And the girl's blue eyes
had laughed up into the eyes of the stranger just exactly as, two
short weeks before, they had laughed up into his own. Then the
little gray broncho jumped cornerwise, and Weldon had difficulty in
impressing upon her that handsprings were not an approved form of
cavalry tactics. Nevertheless, he did it with a word of apology. For
the moment, the broncho was not wholly responsible for her return to
Over their breakfast, next morning, his five tentmates fell to
catechising him as to his pensive mood, and their catechism was
largely intermingled with chaff.
"Paddy's compliments, and roll up for your tucker," the mess orderly
proclaimed, as he came into the tent, brandishing a coffee pot in
one hand, the frying pan in the other.
Fork in hand, Carew nevertheless paused to take exception to the
"I confess I can't see why Tucker, when it is supposed to untuck the
creases of us," he observed. "Hermit, shall I serve you in the
corner; or will you deign to join us about the festive frying pan?"
"What's the matter with Weldon, anyhow?" another of the group
queried, as dispassionately as if the subject of discussion had been
absent in Rhodesia. "His face is a yard long, and his lips hang down
in the slack of the corners."
"Brace up, man, and get over your grouch," a third adjured him. "You
are worse than O'Brien was, the morning after he was shoved in kink.
Were you in Cape Town, last night?"
"Not a bit of it," Carew put in hastily, while he buried his knife-
blade in the nearest pot of jam. "My left ear can prove an alibi for
him. From taps till midnight, Weldon discoursed of all the grewsome
things in the human calendar."
The smallest of the group turned himself about and peered up into
"Homesick, man?" he queried.
"Sure," Weldon replied imperturbably.
"Oh. Then get over it. Just dream of the days when the bronchos
cease from bucking and the Stringies shoot no more. Meanwhile, if
you could look pleasant, as the photographers say, it would help on
But the mess orderly interrupted. He had tidings to impart, and they
burned upon his tongue.
"Have you heard about Eaton-Hill?" he asked, in the first pause that
Five faces turned to him with gratifying expectancy. Eaton-Hill had
come out on the Dunottar Castle. He was known to them all as the
acknowledged exquisite of the entire camp.
"What about him?"
"C. B. I met him coming out of the orderly room."
"Hm! Camp scavenger. Eaton-Hill will like that," Weldon commented
dryly. "What's the row about?"
"Cupid apparently. He went calling in Cape Town, last night, without
leave, stayed till past eleven and undertook to come in by sea. He
shipped in a leaky boat with a crew composed of one Kaffir boy; the
Kaffir funked the surf; they had an upset and Eaton-Hill waked up
the picket by the fervor of his swearing at the half-drowned
"Poor Eaton-Hill! Both his morals and his clothes must have
suffered," Carew suggested. "Weldon, take warning. Next time you go
to call on Miss Arthur, start early and be sure you have your pass
pinned to the lining of your coat."
"Who is Miss Arthur?" demanded the chorus.
Deliberately Carew helped himself to the last of the bacon. Then he
made answer, with equal deliberation,--
"Miss Arthur is Weldon's lawful chaperon."
At four o'clock, that afternoon, Weldon arose reluctantly from his
seat on the western end of the Dents' veranda.
"Parade at five, Miss Dent, and Maitland Camp is four miles away."
Without rising, she smiled up into his waiting eyes.
"You made more than four miles an hour, when Captain Frazer and I
were watching you, the other day, Mr. Weldon."
"Yes, twenty at least. Still, as you may have noticed, my mount
doesn't always choose the straightest course. If she elects to go to
Maitland by way of Durban, it will take me all of the hour to make
She laughed at his words. Then of a sudden her face grew grave.
"They've no right to give you such a horse, Mr. Weldon."
"Right? Oh, I beg pardon. I chose it."
"Is your life so unhappy?" she questioned, in mocking rebuke.
"It is no suicidal mania, Miss Dent," he reassured her. "I like the
rush and excitement of it all; but I had a summer on a ranch, and I
learned the trick of sitting tight until the beast tires itself out.
Broncho-busting is only a concrete form of philosophy, after all."
"And must you really go?" she asked him.
He lingered and hesitated. Then, with a glance at the horse fastened
to a post in the drive below, he straightened his shoulders.
She rose to her feet.
"Good afternoon, then."
"And good by," he added.
"What does that mean?"
"That we leave Maitland Camp in the morning."
"I am sorry," she said, and her voice showed her regret. "Where are
"To Maitland station. Then into a train. Beyond that, I do not
"I am sorry," she repeated; "but very glad. It is time you were
doing something. I know you didn't take all this journey out here
for the sake of being drilled in Maitland Camp until the end of
time. We shall miss you; but you will come back to us, some day, and
tell us all the story of your deeds. Success to you, Trooper
She gave him her hand; then stood looking after him, as he went down
the steps. Once in the saddle, he turned back to wave a farewell to
the tall girl framed in the arching greenery that sheltered the
broad veranda. Then, urging on his horse, he went galloping away,
his boyish face turned resolutely towards the front.
Careless of the oldtime superstition, the girl watched him out of
sight. Then slowly she moved back to their deserted corner where she
sat long, her elbows on the arms of her chair and her chin resting
on her hands. Her eyes were held steadily on Table Bay; but her
thoughts followed along the road to Maitland Camp--and beyond.
That January had brought the second irruption of Boers into Cape
Colony. In reality, they were near Calvinia; but, by the middle of
the month, rumor had so far out-stripped fact that certain refugee
Uitlanders were ready to affirm that Table Mountain was held by an
invading army who patrolled the summit, coffee pot in one hand and
Bible in the other. Under these conditions, the little Dutch church
at Piquetberg Road had become, in all truth, the abiding-place of
the Church Militant.
In deference to tradition, the altar had been promptly pulled down
and its ornaments stowed away to be safe from possible desecration.
The altar rail was left, however, and Weldon sat leaning against it,
his eyes vaguely turned upwards to the organ in the farther end of
the church. From the open floor between, the buzz of many voices and
the smoke of many pipes rose to the roof; from the vestry room
behind him, he heard the cleaner-cut accent of the officers.
Outside, above the light spatter of rain on the windows, he could
hear the horses stamping contentedly in the leafy avenue without the
churchyard wall, and the brawl of the stream beyond. The twilight
lay heavy over the church, heaviest of all over the distant organ
gallery, where Weldon could barely make out a single figure moving
towards the bench. There was a rattle of stops, a tentative chord or
two and then a few notes of this or that melody, as if the player,
albeit a musician, found himself continually thwarted by the
darkness and the absence of any printed notes.
"Who is up there, Weldon?" Carew asked, as he peered up into the
"Shut up; can't you?" Weldon ordered him abruptly.
And Carew subsided, just as the unseen organist, apparently
abandoning his more ambitious efforts, with sure touch swept into
the familiar harmonies of the Eventide Hymn, and then, still with
his hymnal in mind, jerked out the dozen stops and set the air
rocking to the steady beat of Onward, Christian Soldiers.
As he listened, Weldon's mind went backward to his last Sunday
evening in the cathedral at home. He had known why the old rector
had chosen that time-worn hymn for a recessional; he could still
feel the stir of the congregation as he passed them, still see the
scarlet blot of color made by his own hymnal against his stiffly
starched cotta, still see his mother, erect and pale, staring at him
with a resolute bravery which matched his own. Since then, he had
been inside no church until to-day. It was a far cry from
worshipping in the Gothic cathedral to camping in the simple little
Dutch church; but in each the air was vibrating to the same martial
Little by little, the groups scattered over the floor fell into
silence. Here and there, one took up the refrain, now humming it
softly, now singing it with full voice. Then the refrain died away;
there was an instant's hush, an instant's modulation; and, as a man,
the crowd beneath rose to their feet and stood, pipe in hand, while
slowly, steadily from the organ came rolling down the familiar notes
of God Save the Queen.
The organ was closed with a muffled clatter, the organist rose and
slowly came down to the floor. With a friendly word here and there,
he passed among the troopers who saluted him and then settled
themselves again for comfort and their pipes. Last of all, he paused
"It is good to put my fingers on the keys again," he said, as he sat
down for a moment on the low rail. "We had an organ at home, and I
miss it. I builded better than I knew, when I chose this place for
our barracks. One rarely finds an organ out here."
Just then an orderly lighted the chancel where they stood. The
organist gave a slight exclamation of surprise.
"Isn't this Trooper Weldon?"
The speaker's face was in shadow. Only the starred shoulder straps
gave Weldon any clue to the rank of his companion.
"It is," he answered briefly.
"Miss Dent has spoken of you. In fact, we were together at Maitland
Camp, last week, when you tried issues with the little gray
As he spoke, he moved slightly, and the light fell full upon his
yellow hair and on his blue eyes, dark and fringed with long black
lashes. Weldon looked up at him with a smile of recognition.
"It is Captain Frazer, then?"
"Yes. I am congratulating you on having won your way into Miss
Dent's good graces. She tells me you were most thoughtful for her,
all the way out."
"You have known Miss Dent for a long time?" Weldon queried.
Captain Frazer answered the question as frankly as it was asked. For
the moment, they were man and man. In a moment more, they could
resume their formal relations of captain and soldier.
"I knew her well in England. We met at one or two house parties, a
year ago last fall. I was at her coming-out function, too." Then he
rose. "I shall see you again," he added formally. "Now I wish to
make my round of the guards." And, turning, he went striding away
towards his own quarters in the vestry.
Weldon looked after him thoughtfully. Then he uttered terse
"Carew, that's a man," he said.
"Quite likely," Carew assented. "Women don't usually wear khaki.
Shall we go in search of Paddy?"
They found him smoking tranquilly by the churchyard gate. The old
stone wall towering above his head made good shelter from the
drizzle; and Paddy, his day's labor done, was leaning back at his
ease, exchanging adverse compliments with the half-dozen sentries
who patrolled the wall. He hailed Weldon with cordiality.
"Come along here, little Canuck," he called. "There's room for the
two of us and fine smoking. Mr. Carew can stay out in the rain. It's
worth his while, even then, for the sake of watching that pigeon-
toed cockney in the oilskins, him as is stubbing his toes in the
sand, this blessed minute."
"Shut up, Paddy," his victim retorted hotly.
"It's you that should shut up and teach the toes of you to walk
hushlike. If you go on like this, you living watchman's rattle, the
Boers can hear you, clear up in the Transvaal. Tell me, little one,
have you seen your captain yet?"
"Yes, Captain Leo Frazer, sure as you're a trooper of C. Squadron.
You're in luck, boy. There's not a better soldier nor a finer
Christian, this side the line. Neptune must have give him an extry
scrubbing, when he come over, for he's white he is, all white.
Boys!" Paddy spoke in a portentous whisper.
"Let her go," Weldon advised him calmly.
"It goes without letting. Once let Paddy get free of his skillets,
once let him have a rifle in place of his spoon, and you'll see war.
The Kingdom of Heaven is a spot of everlasting peace. All I ask of
Saint Peter is a place in front of a line of Boers and Captain
Frazer beside me to give the orders."
"Here he is, Paddy." The low-pitched voice was full of mirth. "He
orders you inside your tent to plan up an extra good breakfast. Some
of these fellows must volunteer for a night guard out in the open,
and they will need a feast, when they come in."
Weldon rose hastily.
"At your service, Captain," he said, just as Paddy, in nowise
daunted by the unexpected presence of his superior, responded,--
"Sure, Captain, I put a condition on the tail of it. If you'll
remember back a little, you'll see that I merely said, 'when I get a
rifle instead of a spoon.' It's a sorry day for an able-bodied man
to be tied to a frying pan all his days. Now and then he longs to
leap out and get into the fire."
Meanwhile, half of the men inside the church were volunteering for
the party of twenty guards demanded by the Captain. It was a surly
night, cold and raw with a drizzling rain. Nevertheless, this was
their first approach to anything even remotely resembling active
service, and the men sought it eagerly.
By dint of attaching himself to the Captain's elbow and assuming
that his going was an understood thing, Weldon accomplished his aim.
Eleven o'clock found him, wet to his skin, sneaking on the points of
his toes through the thick grass beyond the river, with nineteen
other men sneaking at his heels. There had been no especial pretext
of Boers in the neighborhood; tactical thoroughness merely demanded
a guard on the farther side of the river. Nevertheless, the
enthusiastic fellows threw themselves into the game with the same
spirit with which, twenty years before, they had faced the danger of
a runaway by the tandem of rampant hall chairs. A stray Boer or two
would have made an interesting diversion; but, even without the
Boers, a night guard in the open possessed its own interest.
By four in the morning, the interest had waned perceptibly. The
establishment of their force in a convenient hut and the placing of
pickets had served to occupy an hour or so. After that, nothing
happened. The storm was increasing. The rain beat ceaselessly on the
corrugated iron roof of their shelter and made a dreary bass
accompaniment to the strident tenor of the rising wind. Inside the
but the men yawned and whispered together by turns. Carew's best
jokes began to fall a little flat, and Weldon held his watch to his
ear, to assure himself that it was still in active service. Then
hastily he thrust the watch into his pocket, gathered up his
sleeping-bag and removed himself to a remote corner of the hut, with
Carew and a dozen more after him.
Not even the most enthusiastic champion of South African rights can
affirm that the South African citizen is heedful of the condition of
his lesser buildings. The rising wind had proved too much for the
hut. Its joints writhed a little, seesawed up and down a little,
then yawned like a weary old man. From a dozen points above, the
rain came pattering down, seeking with unerring instinct that
precise spot on each man's back where skin and collar meet.
"Whither?" Carew queried, as Weldon made his fifth move.
"Outside, to see what the pickets are about."
"But it rains," Carew protested lazily.
"So I observe. Still, I'd rather take it outside as it comes,
instead of having a gutter empty itself on me, when I am supposed to
be under cover."
"Better stay in," Carew advised him.
"No use. Sleep is out of the question, and I'd rather be moving; it
is less monotonous."
"Go along, then, and look out for Boers. Can I have your bag?"
"You're too wet; you'd soak up all the inside of it. If I am to get
a chill, I'd rather do it from my dampness than your own." Carew
laid hands on the bag.
"What a selfish beast you are, Weldon!" he observed tranquilly.
"This is no sack-race; you can't go out to walk in your bag. In
fact, it takes two to make a navigable pair. Then why not let me
"Why didn't you bring your own?"
Already Carew was arranging himself in his new covering.
"I mislaid mine in Cape Town," he replied sleepily. "Now please go
away. I need my beauty nap."
An hour later, he was roused by a sharp reversal of his normal
position. When he became fully awake, he was lying in a pool of
water in the middle of the hut, and Weldon was in possession of the
blankets and bag.
"What's the row?" he asked thickly. "I'm a Canadian, out here
shooting Boers. Oh, I say!" And he was on his feet, saluting the man
at Weldon's side.
"The only bag in the squadron, Captain Frazer," Weldon was
explaining. "The blankets are quite dry. Roll yourself up, and you
will be warm in a few minutes."
Carew surveyed the transfer with merry, impartial eyes.
"Well, I like that," he said, when the Captain's yellow head was all
that was visible above the encircling cocoon. "I thought you said
that you preferred to catch cold from your own wetness, Weldon. I
was merely damp; this man is a sponge."
Before Weldon could answer, the yellow head turned, and the blue
eyes looked up into Carew's eyes laughingly.
"Merely one of the privileges of rank, Carew," the Captain observed
as dryly as if he had not risen from his warm bed to swim the river
and walk a mile in the darkness and the downpour, in order to see
how the new boys were getting on.
Captain Leo Frazer, age thirty and an Englishman, had a trick of
looking Fate between the eyes with those black-fringed blue eyes of
his, of accepting its gifts with gratitude, its occasional knocks
with cheery optimism. At Rugby he had ultimately been captain of the
school; at Oxford he had been of equal prowess in rowing and
football. Since taking his degree, he had been a successful doctor
in the intervals of time allowed him by his membership in one of the
crack regiments at home. He had never seriously contemplated the
possibility of active service; but Colenso had been too strong a
pull upon him. Leaving some scores of sorrowing patients to bemoan
him as already dead, he had promptly shipped for Cape Town. The year
of grace nineteen hundred had found him on the scene at most of its
exciting events. Where Fate refused to take him, he asserted his
strong hand and took Fate, until that weary lady was forced to go
hopping about the map of South Africa with the agility of a sand
In battle, Frazer was always in the thickest spatter of bullets,
where he bowed himself to the inevitable and lay prone, though with
his face turned to one side to give free passage to the chaff which
carried his comrades through so many grim hours. In the presence of
danger, his humor never failed him. In those sorrowful hours which
followed the cessation of firing, no man was in greater demand than
he. Many a brave fellow had died with his hand shut fast over
Frazer's long, slim fingers; many a man's first, awful moments in
hospital had been soothed by the touch of those same firm, slim
hands. And in the singsongs around the camp fire, or at the mess
table, Frazer's voice was always heard, no matter how great the
tumult of a moment before.
Like many another of his countrymen, Captain Frazer had learned
lessons since he had left the ship at Cape Town, just a year before.
He had come out from England, trained to the inflexibly formal
tactics of the British army. Again and again he had seen those
tactics proved of no avail in the face of an invisible enemy and an
almost inexpugnable country. He had learned the nerve-racking
tension of being exposed to a storm of bullets that came apparently
from nowhere to cut down the British lines as the hail cuts down the
standing grain; he had learned the shock of seeing the level veldt,
over which he was marching, burst into a line of fire at his very
feet from a spot where it seemed that scarce a dozen men could lie
in hiding, to say nothing of a dozen scores. He had learned that,
under such fire, a man's first duty was to drop flat on his face, to
push up a tiny breastwork of earth and to fire from behind that
slender shelter. England could not afford to send her sons over seas
for the sake of having them slaughtered by needless obedience to the
laws of martial good form. Fighting a nation of hunters, they too
must adopt the methods of the hunt. And, most of all, Captain Frazer
had learned the imperative need of mounted riflemen. Two months
before, while lying up at Durban until his wrist had healed from a
Mauser bullet, he had come into close contact with the Marquis of
Tullibardine. As a result of that contact, January had found Captain
Frazer in Cape Town, ready to take command of the newly enlisted
Now, as he looked over his force at Piquetberg Road, he was
congratulating himself that his men were fit for service, very fit.
Frazer knew something of men. Experience had assured him that these
men were worth training and his months of service under the great
Field Marshal had taught him that an officer could be a man among
his men, yet lose not one jot of his dignity. Accordingly, Frazer
set himself to the task in band. By the time he had been at
Piquetberg Road for two days, he knew the name and face of every man
in his squadron. A week later he could tell to a nicety which of his
men were engaged to girls at home, which of them had heard of one
Rudyard Kipling, and which of them could be counted upon in an
emergency. The two latter counts Weldon filled absolutely. In regard
to the first, Frazer permitted himself a moment of acute uneasiness.
It had been in a spirit of unmitigated joy that Frazer had met Ethel
Dent in Cape Town, on the morning of New Year's day. In London he
had known the girl just well enough to admire her intensely, not
well enough, however, to have found out that she had any permanent
connection with South Africa. His joy had lasted until the hour of
his calling upon her, three days later; then it had received a
sudden check. Ethel had been as cordial as ever; nevertheless, her
talk had been full of the young Canadian whom he had met in the
drive. Frazer was intensely human. After a year of separation he
would have preferred to bound the talk by the experiences of their
As a natural consequence, he had developed a strong prejudice
against Weldon; but Weldon, all unconsciously, had done much to
remove that prejudice. Not every man could manage a crazy, bucking
broncho in any such fashion as that; fewer still could come out of
the scrimmage, unhurt, to bow to a young woman with a cordiality
quite untinged with boyish bravado. That day at Maitland, Frazer had
registered his mental approval of the long-legged, lean Canadian
with his keen gray eyes and his wrists of bronze. He had registered
a second note of approval, that first night at Piquetberg Road, when
Weldon, with no unnecessary words, had contrived to impress upon the
mind of his captain that he was to be included in the guard to cross
the river. Totally obedient and respectful, Weldon nevertheless had
given the impression of a man who intended to win his own way.
Moreover, the direction of that way appeared to be straight towards
Meanwhile, peacefully unconscious of this diagnosis, Weldon was
sitting on the river bank, prosaically occupied in scooping out the
remaining taste left in an almost-empty jam tin. Beside him, Carew
was similarly occupied. Two more jam tins were between them and,
exactly opposite the pair of jam tins, there squatted a burly
Kaffir, young, alert and crowned with a thatch of hair which by
rights should have sprouted from the back of a sable pig. His mouth
was slightly open, and now and then his tongue licked out, like the
tongue of an eager dog. Aside from his hair, his costume consisted
of one black sock worn in lieu of muffler and a worn pair of khaki
Behind him, the river caught the sunset light and turned it to a
sheet of flowing copper; beyond stretched the open country in long,
waving lines that ended in the deep yellow band of the afterglow.
Above them, the sky was blue; but it dropped from the blue zenith to
the yellow horizon through every imaginable shade of emerald and
topaz until all other shades lost themselves in one vivid blaze of
burnt orange. It had been a day of intense heat. Already, however,
the falling twilight and the inevitable eastward shift of the wind
had brought the first hint of the evening chill.
Weldon shrugged his shoulders.
"Hurry up, Carew," he adjured his companion. "I am for leaving our
feast and hieing us back to the sanctuary."
"Right, oh!" Carew raised his jam tin and took careful aim at a rock
in mid stream.
Instantly the Kaffir hitched forward.
"Mine?" he demanded.
Carew stayed his arm.
"Eat. Um good."
"Nothing in there but atmosphere, sonny. You can get that out of any
box. Suppose I can hit that little black point, Weldon?"
"Not if I know it," Weldon said coolly, as he tossed his own tin to
the boy and, seizing that of Carew, threw it after its mate. "Let
the little coon have his lick, Carew. It's not pretty to watch him
go at it, tongue first; but we can't all be Chesterfields. What is
your name, sonny?"
The boy paused with suspended tongue, while he rolled the great
whites of his eyes up at the questioner. Then, the whites still
turned upon Weldon, he took one more hasty lick.
"Kruger Roberts," he said then, detaching himself for an instant
from his treasure. "Oh, I infer you like to sit on fences?" Weldon
"Which side do you intend to come down?"
"Me no come down," the boy answered nonchalantly, more from inherent
indifference than from any comprehension of Weldon's allegory.
"All right. Stop where you are. Meanwhile, I think I should call you
"Ya, Boss." The face vanished from sight behind the tilted tin. Then
it reappeared, and a huge finger pointed to the remaining tins.
But already the boy was forgotten. Weldon was following hard on the
heels of the sentry who had dashed through the gate in the
Four o'clock the next morning, that darkest hour which, by its very
darkness, heralds the coming dawn, found C. Squadron moving out from
the gray-walled churchyard, their faces set towards the eastern
mountains. All night long they had stood under arms, ready for the
attack which might be at hand. By dawn, they were well on their way
towards the laager, fifteen miles distant, whence had come the
scouting hand of Boers who, for two days past, had made leisurely
efforts to pick off their scattered sentinels. At the head of the
little troop rode Frazer. Behind him and as close to his heels as
military law allowed, came Weldon, mounted on the same little black
horse which had so often carried him to the hunt at home. Horse and
rider both sniffed the chilly dawn with eager anticipation. Each
knew that something was in store for them; each contrived to impress
upon the other his determination to make a record, whatever
happened. For one short minute, Weldon let his strong hand rest on
the satiny neck. He could feel the answering pressure of the muscles
beneath the shining skin. That was enough. He and The Nig were in
perfect understanding, one with another.
He spurred forward to the Captain's side and saluted.
"In the flurry, last night, I forgot to tell you that Miss Dent
comes to Piquetberg Road, to-day. She is to visit a cousin, Miss
Mellen; and she wished me to tell you that she hoped you could find
time to call upon her."
The Captain spoke low, his eyes, after the first moment, steadily
fixed upon the line of hills before them. Weldon answered in the
same low tone.
"You have heard from Miss Dent?"
"Yes. A note came, last night. She is to be here for a month, while
her uncle is in England on a business trip. Mr. Mellen is the mayor.
You probably know the house."
"I can easily find it. Please tell Miss Dent I shall be sure to call
A blinding flash ran along the line of hills close in the foreground
where, an instant before, had been only empty ground. There was a
sharp crackle, a strident hum and then the muffled plop of bullets
burying themselves in the earth six hundred feet in the rear. The
Nig grew taut in every muscle; then she edged slowly towards the
huge khaki-colored horse that bore the Captain, and, for an instant,
the two muzzles touched.
"Too long a range, man. Try it again," Frazer observed coolly, as
his glance swept the empty landscape, then, turning, swept the faces
of his men.
That last sight was to his liking. He nodded to himself and
straightened in his saddle, while the orders dropped from his lips,
swift, clean-cut and brooking no question nor delay. Ten men went
galloping off far to the southward, to vanish among the foothills
and reappear on the pass behind the enemy, while a dozen Boers,
springing up from the bowels of the earth, followed hard on their
heels. Ten more took the horses and fell back out of range of the
firing; and the remainder of the squadron stayed in their places and
helped to play out the game.
It was all quite simple, all a matter of course. Instead of the fuss
and fume and chaos of fighting, it had worked itself out like a
problem in mathematics, and Weldon, as he lay on the ground with his
Lee-Enfield cuddled into the curve of his shoulder, felt himself
reducing it to a pair of simultaneous equations: if X Britons equal
Y Boers on the firing line, and Y Britons draw off the fire of W
Boers, then how many Britons--But there came a second flash and a
second spatter, nearer, this time; and he lost his mathematics in a
sudden rush of bad temper which made him long to fly at the
invisible foe and beat him about the head with his clubbed rifle. It
was no especial satisfaction for a man in his position to climb up
on his elbow and help to discharge a volley at an empty landscape.
The war pictures he had been prone to study in his boyhood had been
full of twisty-necked prancing horses and bright-coated swaggering
men, all on their feet, and very hot and earnest. Here the picture
was made up of a row of brown-clothed forms lying flat on their
stomachs and, far before them, a single flat-topped hill and a few
heaps of scattered black rocks. And this was modern war.
There came a third blaze, a third hum of Mauser bullets. Then he
heard a swift intake of the breath, followed by Carew's voice, the
drawling, languid voice which Weldon had learned to associate with
moments of deep excitement.
"Say, Weldon, some beggar has hit me in the shoulder!"
Then of a sudden Weldon realized that at last he knew what it meant
to be under fire.
"Oh, truce! Truce!" Alice Mellen protested. "Don't talk shop,
"It's not shop; it is topics of the day," Ethel responded
tranquilly. "Besides, I want to hear about Mr. Carew. Is he
"No, for his wound; yes, for his temper. One was only a scratch; the
other way, he was horribly cut up."
"Did he swear?" Alice queried, while she distributed lumps of sugar
among the cups.
"Don't pretend to be shocked, Cooee. Even if you haven't been out
but one season, you ought to know what happens when a man turns
testy. Frankly, I think it is a healthy sign, if a man stops to
swear when he is hit. It shows there are no morbid secretions."
"You prefer superficial outbreaks, Miss Mellen?" Frazer inquired, as
he handed Ethel her cup.
"Yes. They are far less likely to produce mortification later on,"
she answered, laughing up into his steady eyes. "What do you do,
when you are hit, Captain Frazer?"
"They call me Lucky Frazer, you know," he replied. "I've been in no
end of scrimmages, and I was never hit but once."
Bending over, Ethel turned back the cloth and thumped on the under
side of the table.
"Unberufen and Absit omen," she said hastily. "Don't tempt
Providence too far, Captain Frazer. At my coming-out reception, I
met a man who boasted that he always broke everything within range,
from hearts to china. Ten minutes later, he tripped over a rug and
fell down on top of the plate of salad he was bringing me. And he
didn't break a thing--"
"Except his own record," Weldon supplemented unexpectedly. "I
suspect he also broke the third commandment. The keeping of that and
the falling down in public are totally incompatible."
"And that reminds me, you were going to tell what Mr. Carew did when
he was hit," Ethel reminded him.
"I never tell tales, Miss Dent."
"But, really, how does it feel to be under fire?" she persisted.
"Ask Captain Frazer. He has had more experience than I."
She barely turned her eyes towards Frazer's face.
"He is talking to my cousin and won't hear. Were you frightened?"
"Truly? But you wouldn't confess, if you were."
He blushed at the mockery in her tone.
"Yes. Why not? I expected to be desperately afraid; but I was only
"Nothing. That's the point. There was nothing in sight to be angry
at. Bullets came from nowhere in a pelting shower. Most of them
didn't hit anything; there was no cloud from which the shower could
come. One resented it, without knowing exactly why. It was being the
big fellow who can't hit back when the little one torments him."
The remonstrance was long-drawn and forceful. This time, Ethel
"What is it, Alice?"
"Do you remember that, this noon, we agreed not to mention the war?
These men fight almost without ceasing. When they aren't fighting,