Part 3 out of 5
altogether normal, however, and there was a dust-colored tint to
most assemblages. During the past months, the Dents' house had come
to be one of the focal points of society, and there were few men of
note who had failed to mount the wide white steps and pass between
the flanking pillars at the top, on their way to the drawing-room
beyond. Once there, they usually came again, immediately, if they
lingered in Cape Town; on their way back from the front, if no
quicker opportunity offered itself. Many a bullet-interrupted
conversation was resumed there; many a boy, just out from home,
confided his mingled homesickness and aspirations to dainty, white-
haired Mrs. Dent in her easy-chair; many a seasoned officer forgot
his ambitions and his disappointments and even his still sensitive
wounds in the gay talk of the golden-haired girl by the tray. As a
rule, Ethel talked shop with no man. She merely looked sympathetic,
and left him to do the talking, which he did unhesitatingly and
without reservation. From the first hour of their meeting, Weldon
had been the one exception. Even in the hospital at Johannesburg,
she had gone over with him in detail his experiences in camp and
field, and it had been Weldon by no means who had done all the
To-day, as she had welcomed the tall Canadian in his irreproachable
frock-coat, she had known a sudden pang of regret. Undeniably, his
tailor was an artist. Nevertheless, she liked him better as she had
seen him last, in his stained khaki and his well-worn shoes, bending
over her hand in farewell, then taking The Nig's bridle from the
waiting Kruger Bobs, to leap into the tarnished saddle, lift his hat
and ride away out of sight. No one but Ethel herself had known that
it was not distance alone which had rendered him invisible to her.
And the next week in the hospital had dragged perceptibly. At the
end of that time, she had been quite ready to say good by to
Johannesburg and all that it contained. But, meanwhile, her smile
gave no clue to her memories, as she offered her hand to Weldon.
"I knew you were here," she said cordially; "and I have any number
of things to talk over with you. There is no talking for me now,
though, with all these people on my hands. Can't you stay on and
dine with us? That will give us an hour to gossip comfortably, and
Captain Frazer is to be the only other guest. I asked him, on the
chance of your appearing. Oh, good afternoon, Colonel Douglas!"
And Weldon found himself swept on out of her radius.
He took refuge beside Mrs. Dent and, from that safe slack-water, he
made a thorough survey of the room. It was the first time he had
been present at one of the Dents' reception days, and he
acknowledged himself surprised at what he saw. Here and there an
acquaintance nodded to him; but, for the most part, he was a
stranger to the guests, save for the dozen whom he knew well by
sight and better still by reputation. Moreover, while he watched
her, he began to wonder whether he were not something of a stranger
to Ethel herself. This stately girl was not the comrade with whom he
had tramped the deck of the Dunottar Castle, nor yet the friend of
his early days in Cape Town, nor yet again the blithe companion of
his last tedious hours of convalescence. This girl was altogether
admirable; but a bit awe-inspiring withal. He watched the non-
chalant ease with which she provided a white-haired veteran of many
wars and many orders with a cup of steaming tea, and then sat and
chatted with him while he drank it. He felt himself a bashful boy,
as he watched her, and, like any other bashful boy, he fell to
talking to Mrs. Dent about his mother.
Then the last visitor made a reluctant exit, and Ethel crossed the
room to his side. With the passing of the little throng of guests
her assured manners had passed, and she met him with the same
informal manner which had marked those last days at Johannesburg.
"Now," she said, as she dropped down beside her mother's chair; "you
must tell me all about everything, Mr. Weldon. And, first of all,
are you quite strong again?"
Question had followed question, eager, girlish and sincere, until
Weldon's answers had covered all the interval since they last had
met. At length, the delicate little mother had gone away to rest
before time for dinner. Weldon's strong arm had half-supported,
half-carried her up the staircase. Then, returning to the drawing-
room, he had joined Ethel beside the deserted tea-table.
"After six months of the billy and the fryingpan, it is wonderfully
good to handle china again," he said, as he halted on the hearth rug
and stood smiling down at her.
She smiled back at him in full approval. Weldon looked very much the
lord of creation, as he stood there with his back to the fire and
one elbow resting on the mantel beside him. The position suited him,
and, speaking in quite another sense, it suited her also.
"Then a taste of civilization is pleasant now and then, even to a
grizzled warrior like yourself?" she questioned lightly.
"Yes, for the time being. One never knows, though, how long that
time being will last."
"What shall you do, when the war ends?"
"Go home, take up a share in the pater's business, and grow stout
and lazy," he answered her unsmilingly.
"An alluring prospect."
"Yes; but there will be other things: an occasional dinner, and even
a tea now and then."
Leaning back in her chair, she looked up at him through her long
"And shall you never remember to miss Africa?" she asked indolently.
His eyes rested upon her gravely.
"Yes, often. Moreover forgive my bluntness, but it is one of the
privileges of a soldier--moreover, Miss Dent, I shall miss you."
Her color came; but she made no effort to ignore his words.
"Thank you," she said, with equal gravity. "I am glad to have you
say so. But I hope it may be long before that day comes." "I can't
tell. I had expected to sail for home, in a week or two. Now I am
not so sure."
"Whether you wish to?"
"Whether I ought. When I left the Transvaal, the work seemed nearly
done. Down here, the stories are less promising." He paused; then he
added thoughtfully, "But it leaves me a good deal puzzled in my
Coffee was served in the drawing-room, that night. Ethel roused
herself from a reverie as Weldon and Captain Frazer joined her. To
their half-mocking questions, she admitted the fact of her
thoughtfulness. To neither one did she see fit to acknowledge its
cause. The mood passed swiftly, however, and it left her more
brilliantly gay than either man had ever seen her until then. Each
frankly confessed himself dazzled; each one of them, more grave by
nature than she often showed herself, was secretly uneasy lest her
sudden overflow of spirits was in some fashion directed towards his
companion; yet so skilfully did she lead the conversation that, at
the evening's end, neither Weldon nor the Captain could produce any
valid claim to being considered the favored guest.
"It has been good to have you here," she said gayly, as she gave
them each a hand at parting. "Even if I was not present at your
meeting, I have always felt that I had a finger-tip, at least, in
your friendship." Then, as she dropped their hands, she faced the
Captain with sudden seriousness. "Captain Frazer," she said slowly;
"Mr. Weldon's time is over, and he has left the service. He thinks
the fighting is all done. I am only a woman; I can't explain things
very clearly, and so," she hesitated a little; "and so I think I
shall leave his soul in your hands. There are plenty of people still
in South Africa; there are never too many men." And, with a grave
little nod, half intent, half girlish, she turned away from the
door, leaving the heavy drapery to sway to and fro behind her.
Three days later, Weldon ran lightly up the stone steps and rang at
the Dents' door.
"Is Miss Dent in?" he asked the maid. "I know it isn't her day; but
tell her I am leaving town almost immediately, and I wish to say
Notwithstanding his message, Ethel was long about appearing, and her
face and manner, when she halted on the threshold, were a bit
unapproachable. Then, as her eyes lighted on the brown uniform and
the wide slouch hat, her whole expression changed, and she came
forward with an eagerness which she was at no pains to conceal.
He bowed in mock humility.
"Trooper Weldon, if you please."
"I am delighted. Is it your old troop?"
He shook his head.
"No. I know the Transvaal and all its resources by heart. I have
chosen the Orange Free State. It is a new country; and, besides, all
the best of the fighting is going to be there, on the heels of De
"Are you a prophet?" she asked, while she dropped into a chair and
motioned to him to be seated.
"No; but I suspect that Captain Frazer is," he answered, as he
She raised her brows questioningly.
"Does he go, too?"
"Not now. His staff work holds him here among the fleshpots," he
replied." Later, he may be able to come up to us."
"The South African Light Horse."
"Why did you choose them?"
"Because they are to operate in the Orange River country, and
because they would have me."
"Is that a matter to consider?"
Weldon laughed while, placing his hat on the floor, he settled
himself more comfortably in his chair. His face was unusually
animated, that day, and his trim new uniform and his carefully-wound
putties added inches to his height and showed his lithe, lean figure
at its very best.
"I considered it," he answered then. "It is a trick of mine, as soon
as I decide I want a thing, to be in living terror of losing it.
However, the ordeal was short and not too severe. Captain Frazer
introduced me to a little lieutenant who looked me over, asked me if
I could ride, if I could shoot a rifle and if I had had any
experience. I fancy the matter was settled beforehand. Then I went
out and treated The Nig and Piggie to some new shoes, and myself to
a new uniform, and the deed was done."
"Are you glad, or sorry?" she asked slowly.
"That there was no more red tape?"
"That you decided as you did?"
He stared at her thoughtfully for a minute. Then he answered,--
"But I imagine it rather decided itself. I spoke of it to you once
before, I remember, when we were up in hospital, how there never
seemed to be much choice open to me. I fancy I am deciding things; I
mull over them till I am disgusted with the whole matter. Then,
after I have made up my mind what I am going to do, I suddenly
realize that there was never any question about it from the start. I
have simply said 'yes' to an irresistible force."
"Perhaps," she assented slowly. "I am not so sure." Then she turned
to the tangible fact. "But when do you go?"
"I am sorry it must be so soon," she said quietly. "Still, I am glad
you are going. You never would have been satisfied to sail for home
"No," he answered. "I should not."
Then the talk halted again.
"Where is Mr. Carew?" she asked abruptly at length, less from
interest in Carew than from a desire to escape so insistent a pause.
"At the Mount Nelson." "Here in Cape Town?"
"Yes. He came down with me. We volunteered together, you know, and
his time was ended, too."
"Does he go home?"
"No; not Harry Carew. We had decided to keep together in our plans;
in fact, it was one of the conditions of our coming out. But, from
the start, he has hated the idea of going back home as long as there
was an armed Boer left in the field."
"And he goes with you?"
"Yes, to Springfontein. We have our headquarters there for the
present. For Carew's sake, I hope it will be more riding and
scouting than actual fighting. The man is made of some material that
draws all the bullets in sight."
"Don't let him stop near you, then," she advised.
"Why not? He is as good as a shield. It is hard on him, though. He
was hit four or five times before Vlaakfontein, and has had one
"What is the trouble? Is he foolhardy?"
"Foolhardy in war, Miss Dent?"
"Yes, just that. There is no sense in taking needless risks."
"But it is mighty hard to draw the line between avoiding needless
risks and funking necessary ones," he answered. "But Carew isn't
reckless. He is plucky, but very level-headed, and he means to take
care of himself, when he can. One can't always, you know. And then
he is wonderfully unlucky."
"You believe in luck, then?"
"Yes, or Fate. What else makes a man move out of the way, just in
time for the bullet to graze his cheek? He doesn't see the bullet
coming; neither does the man who stops it. Both of them are busy
about something else. For the man who escapes it, it is Providence;
for the man who gets killed, it is Fate."
She tried to rouse him from his sudden gravity.
"And for both, it is mere chance."
"If you call it that. Miss Dent--" He hesitated.
"Yes," she assented gravely.
"It was only a chance, but a strange one," he went on, with his eyes
fixed on the topmost ridge of his brown puttie. "We were climbing
the face of a kopje, one day. It was very steep, and we crawled up a
narrow trail in single file. Two days before, our guns had been
shelling the whole kopje, and they must have cracked it up badly.
All at once, the man above me loosened a great lump of rock. I was
exactly underneath it. It gave a little bound outward, went
completely over me and struck full on the head of the next man in
The girl sat, bending forward in her chair, her strong, quiet hands
clasped loosely in her lap.
"And he?" she asked quite low.
"He dropped to the foot of the kopje, dead. In his fall, he dragged
down the next man after him, and his leg was crushed."
"And you were saved!" she said a bit breathlessly.
"Doesn't it make you feel a vague responsibility, as if you must
live up to something that you couldn't quite understand?"
Without looking up, he bowed in assent.
"Yes," he said then. "Don't think me foolishly superstitious, Miss
Dent, or too egotistic. I try not to pay much attention to it. Once
in a while, though, not too often, it all comes back over me, and I
feel then as if my life might have been kept for something that is
still ahead of me."
"And doesn't it leave you feeling anxious about making all your
decisions?" she asked slowly, as she leaned back again in her chair.
"At first. Then I remember how that, and some other things have been
settled for me."
"Then I shut my teeth and face forward. All one can do, is to forget
the future and take the present as it comes, making the best of each
minute and leaving the hour to look out for itself," he answered
simply. "Sometimes one makes better progress by drifting than he
does by punting against the current."
She bit her lip.
"Sometimes I think, though--" Suddenly she roused herself and gave a
nervous little laugh. "Captain Frazer is coming up the steps," she
"You think?" Weldon reminded her, as she rose.
But she shook her head and laughed again, this time more in her
"I think that I wish you would bring Mr. Carew to call on me, next
time you come," she said evasively.
"Thank you. He will be glad to come. The only question is when the
next time will arrive."
"You said Captain Frazer was a prophet," she said, as she moved
towards the door. "Ask him."
Tall, alert, eager, the Captain entered the room in time to catch
"A prophet of what and to whom, Miss Dent?" he asked, as he bowed
over her outstretched hand.
"To Mr. Weldon, in regard to the future fighting," she answered
"You here, Weldon?"
"Yes, to say good by."
Captain Frazer nodded.
"I saw Mitchell, this morning. He spoke well of you; of Carew, too,
for the matter of that. He told me your troop would be off in the
morning, and asked me to diagnose ,your best points."
"Could you find any?" Weldon asked imperturbably. "A few. I told him
you could sit tight and shoot straight," the Captain answered,
laughing. Then he added gravely, "And I also told him you could ride
the fiend incarnate, and that, as far as I knew, you didn't lose
your head when you were under fire."
For the instant, Weldon forgot his hostess, as he looked up to meet
the Captain's blue eyes squarely.
"Thank you. But it is more than I deserve."
"Then you must try to live up to it," Ethel advised him languidly.
"It merely increases your responsibilities, for now you have two
reputations to support, your own for pluck and the Captain's for
being a judge of his fellowmen. It is an awful weight that you are
carrying on your shoulders, Mr. Weldon."
"If it grows too heavy, I will slide some of it off on your own," he
returned, as he picked up his hat and rose to his feet. "Your
responsibility is back of mine, Miss Dent. It was you who advised me
to stay in South Africa."
"Not at all. I presented the case and kept my advice to myself," she
"Certain presentments are stronger than much advising."
"Perhaps. But in the end, you remember, I commended your soul to
Captain Frazer's keeping."
He bowed with the odd, old-fashioned deference which it pleased him
to assume at times. "Captain Frazer may have saved it; but it may
have been you who made it worth his efforts at salvation."
She laughed again. Nevertheless, her eyes showed her pleasure.
"Then we, Captain Frazer and I, must divide the responsibility for
your future," she replied. "In any case, may it be all good!"
The drapery fell backward over his departing figure, and, for an
instant, Ethel stood staring at the swaying folds. Then, turning,
she walked back to the fire.
"All good," she repeated. "I know you echo the wish, Captain Frazer.
But--isn't it hard to say good by?"
"In these days most of all," he assented slowly. "And one never can
tell when his own turn may come."
"Nor what its end may be," she added. Then impetuously she rose
again and moved up and down the room. "Look at that sunshine
outside, Captain Frazer," she said restlessly. "It ought to forbid
any such gloomy moods. I believe all this war and so many partings
are spoiling my nerve. I really feel quite blue, to-day; and Mr.
Weldon made it worse."
"By saying good by?"
Glancing up, she was astonished at the wishful, hungry look in the
blue eyes before her. "Yes, a little," she said lightly; "for I hate
the very word. But, if it must be spoken, it should always be short
and staccato. Instead, he sat here, and we talked about Fate and
wounds and all sorts of direful things." She shook herself and
shivered slightly. Then she sat down in the chair which Weldon had
just left vacant. "It is bad manners to have nerves, Captain Frazer.
Forgive me first, and then tell me something altogether flippant, to
make me forget things."
But her mood had caught the Captain in its grasp.
"Are you sure you want to forget?" he asked her gravely.
"Yes," she made vehement answer. "Always!"
But not even her decided answer brought back the eager light into
his dark blue eyes.
Nevertheless, an hour later found him still sitting there. Ethel's
depression had vanished, to be followed by a mood of wayward
merriment for which the honest, straightforward soldier was totally
at a loss to account. Sincere himself, he looked for sincerity in
others. If Ethel's gravity had been unfeigned, how could it so soon
give place to her present buoyancy? Not the strictest code of
hospitality could demand that a hostess should straightway toss
aside the thought of the parting guest who had gone away to battle
and, perhaps, to sudden death. And, if the girl had been insincere
in her parting from Weldon, why should she be sincere in her present
absorption in his own interests? And, if her regrets for Weldon were
as great as they had seemed to be, then what was the use of his
remaining by her side any longer? The horns of the dilemma extended
themselves to infinity and branched again and again as they
extended. Meanwhile, his eyes were full of trouble, and his answers
to her questions were vague and faltering. Until her sudden trip to
Johannesburg, Captain Frazer had taken the girl as a matter of
course. Since then, he had begun to doubt, and the doubts were
But, after all, there was no real reason for doubt. During her one
short season in London, the Captain had met Ethel constantly, he had
been quite obviously the favorite of the old aunt who had presided
over the girl's introduction to society, and his later meetings with
Ethel at sundry week-end gatherings had convinced him that he had no
serious rival. Then had come the war; and Ethel's absence from town
had made a farewell impossible. Captain Frazer had sailed away,
leaving the past behind him; but the future was still his, to be
lost or won, according to the use he made of his manhood's chances.
And then, on the dazzling summer morning which had ushered in the
new century, he had caught a glimpse of Ethel riding towards home.
Three days later, as he had gone away down the broad white steps, he
had felt convinced that the future already lay in his grasp. It had
been the selfsame Ethel, unchanged and changeless to his loyal mind,
who had met him with smiling, eager cordiality. The year of
separation was cast aside; their friendship began again at the
precise spot where it had been broken off.
Since then, he had seen her often, occasionally alone, sometimes
with her mother, sometimes the central figure of a little crowd who
were obviously striving to win her favor. Her father's fortune was
in part the cause of this; but the greater, surer cause lay within
the girl's own personality. Ethel Dent was no negative character.
However, Captain Frazer had never found her too absorbed in her
other companions to be able to give him a share of her attention
which differed from all other shares that she bestowed, in being a
bit more personal in its cordiality. His black-fringed blue eyes
were keen and far-sighted. They assured him that, whatever her
regard for him, at least it was true that, in all her Cape Town
life, there was no man for whom Ethel Dent had a sincerer liking.
And then, all at once, a doubt had assailed his mind, and the doubt
had centered itself in this long, lean Canadian with the grave,
steady face and the boyish manner. Worst of all, the doubt had
scarcely arisen before he himself had become aware of his own
growing liking for the young Canadian. Captain Leo Frazer was
strictly just. He admitted to himself that Weldon was in every way
worthy to be chosen by Ethel Dent. However, he was determined as
well as just, and he had no mind at all to allow Ethel Dent to
choose any man but one, and that one was himself, Leo Frazer.
And now he was sitting moodily by her fireside, listening to her
light, easy flow of talk and asking himself certain questions, which
he was powerless to answer.
As he rose at last, some sudden impulse made him speak from the very
midst of his train of thought.
"Did you know he had refused a commission?" he asked, regardless of
She made no pretence of misunderstanding him.
"No. Did he?"
"Yes. Mitchell told me, this morning."
"I wonder why."
"He said he had pledged himself to stay with the rank and file, that
it was easier to take orders than to give them."
"Strange!" she said thoughtfully.
"Strange that he should feel so?"
She shook her head.
"No. He told me about that, coming out. I am not surprised. But it
is strange that he shouldn't have spoken of the matter now."
"It was like him. He doesn't tell all his best deeds," Captain
Frazer said, with direct frankness "Still, I thought it was fairer
that you should know."
Her color came, as she met his eyes; but she offered no question in
regard to the meaning of his final phrase.
"Good reason they call them kopjes," Carew grumbled scornfully, as
he swept his arm about the encircling landscape. "Every flat-top
hill is an exact copy of every other flat-top hill, and they all are
more or less hideous to behold. My one source of rejoicement lies in
the fact that the pattern was worn out down here, instead of being
sent up to make our mountains by. I hate a bobtail horse; but it's
nothing so bad as these everlasting bobtail hills. And, by Jove,
there comes another dust devil!"
Far away across the veldt, a tiny spurt of dust twirled up into the
air and came spinning towards them like a huge, translucent top.
Gaining momentum as it spun along and picking up more dust as it
advanced, it came whirling onward, rising high and higher until it
swept down on them, a huge, khaki-colored, balloon-like mass. It
caught them in its whirl, ground its stinging, sifting particles
into their clothing, their skin and even into their shut eyes. Then
it passed them by, and went spinning away in its course. Carew swore
softly, as he wiped the dust from his lashes.
"Beastly things! There really ought to be a society formed for the
suppression of dust devils in their infancy. What do you suppose
becomes of the things, Weldon? There's no stopping them, once they
get under way; and, at their rate of growth, they could bury a
township in their old age."
"Granted they could find one to bury," Weldon returned. "Meanwhile,
observe your bath tub."
Carew glanced down at the dust-filled buckets at his feet.
"Oh, hang!" he said concisely. "And I was about to prink."
"One would think you needed it now more than ever," Weldon answered,
as he shook himself free from the thickest of the dust. "What's the
use of trying to keep clean, Carew?"
"Precious little. I used to talk about I 'the un-tubbed.' Now I
mean, merely for the sake of example, to shave twice in the month,
and swab myself off between whiles. It's not for comfort, I assure
you. It's my belief that an occasional bath is worse than none. It
merely stirs up memories of the buried past, and aspirations that
can't be fulfilled. However--" And Carew, the quondam exquisite,
pulled off his socks and shirt, punched them down into one of the
buckets and then did his British best to wash himself in the other.
His lamentations rose again, however, when he put on his time-
stained uniform once more.
"I now understand why Brother Boer sleeps in his clothes," he
observed grimly. "Cleanliness, may be next to godliness; but it is
mighty near the edge of the diabolical to put yourself back into
clothes that are only fit for the dust bin. When I am field marshal
of a long campaign, my first act will be to establish swimming tanks
and laundries as a branch of the Army Service Corps. Meanwhile, see
here!" His open hand came down on his dust-colored coat. Ten minutes
later, the print of every finger was still distinctly visible.
Weldon watched him sympathetically. Thanks to the efforts of Kruger
Bobs, his own clothing was slightly less filled with dust, and his
abandoned socks came back to him in a state of comparative
cleanliness. Satisfied with the fact, he made no effort to inquire
into the method of its achievement.
Carew, meanwhile, his coat off, his sleeves rolled to his elbows,
was grappling with his efforts to produce laundry effect from a
wooden bucket and a few quarts of dingy water. Beyond splashing his
putties and giving himself a pain in the hinges of his back, he
accomplished little. The garments were very wet; but their griminess
was increased, rather than diminished. Carew's face fell, as he
lifted them one by one. Then he shook his head.
"They certainly aren't cleaner; but they may be a bit fresher for
being irrigated," he observed hopefully. "Look out!"
Weldon dodged out of range, as a sock, squeezed from the ankle
downward, yielded up its irrigation in a sudden spurt through the
"Hold on, Carew; I'm no candidate for baptism," he adjured his
friend. "Let your things soak for a while, and I'll send Kruger Bobs
over to take them in hand, as soon as he gets through polishing off
Carew straightened his aching back.
"I'll change work with him," he suggested promptly. "A horse is on
your own level; it's degrading to run a Chinese laundry."
Weldon glanced from the wooden bucket to the soaked wrists and
splashed putties of his companion.
"I wish Miss Mellen could see you now, Carew," he remarked unkindly.
With unexpected suddenness, Carew mounted his dignity.
"Unfortunately Miss Mellen is at Johannesburg. Moreover, Miss Mellen
has probably seen men in this mess before now," he answered a little
"Doubtless. She may have been in a similar fix, herself. If she
were, I suspect she would put it through and come out on top,"
Weldon replied, with an accent of hearty and respectful admiration
which mollified his companion. "There's my call. I must go to
inspect my day nursery." And, leaving Carew beside his amateur wash-
tub, he went striding away to the farther side of the camp where a
hollow between the hills had been converted into a monstrous kraal.
Involuntarily he smiled, as he walked off to his duty. Carew had
been an edifying spectacle, as he had sacrificed himself upon the
altar of cleanliness. He had been neither deft, dignified nor
devout; and, in all truth, Alice Mellen would have found it hard to
recognize her finical patient in the dusty, unshaven man whose hair
bore unmistakable signs of having been pruned with a pair of pocket
scissors. Little of Carew's past month had been spent in the base
camp at Springfontein. With hundreds of other men, he had gone
galloping up and down the Free State on the slippery heels of De
Wet, now being shot at by prowling Boers, now engaged in a lively
skirmish from which he never made his exit totally unscathed, now
riding for weary, dusty miles upon a scent which ultimately proved
to be a false one. And, meanwhile, not a postbag came into camp
without a letter for Carew, bearing the mark of Johannesburg. It was
not altogether resultless that Carew's foot had been obstinately
slow in its healing.
To Weldon, a fixture in camp, fell the care of receiving Carew's
mail. At last, when one day the bag brought in two letters addressed
in the same dashing, angular handwriting, he forsook his principles
and made open comment.
"There is a slight monotony about your mail, in these latter days,
Carew," he observed dispassionately. And Carew had answered, with
"Yes, in view of my chronic trick of being potted at, I find it wise
to keep on good terms with my nurse. It may prove handy in case of
accident, like an insurance policy, you know. Is that all?" And,
cramming the letters into his pocket, he walked away to his tent.
And Weldon, as he watched him, nodded contentedly to himself. He
liked Carew; he also liked Alice Mellen. Beyond that, he made no
effort to go. Just now, he cared to penetrate the thoughts of but
one woman. The others he was willing to take on trust. Nevertheless,
it would have caused him some surprise, could he have reviewed all
the mental processes of Alice Mellen, during the past ten months.
For Weldon, the days at Springfontein differed not one whit, one
from another, yet each day was full of an excitement which sent his
blood stinging through his veins. Every man in the regiment could
ride a broken horse; but, for many of them their attainments stopped
there, and broken horses were few and far between. With the
increasing need of troopers for the guerrilla raiding into which the
war was degenerating, with the inevitable losses of a long campaign,
mounts of any kind were scarce. Nevertheless, consternation had
descended upon the camp, one day, when three hundred kicking,
squealing American bronchos had been detrained and placed at their
service. The next day, casualties were frequent; on the day after
that, there was made announcement that mounted parade would be
omitted. Weldon read the notice, smiled and went in search of his
captain. He was tired of inaction, and he felt his muscles growing
soft. They hardened speedily, however.
Day after day, he went striding into the kraal whence, after a
skirmish which was more or less prolonged, he emerged astride a
mount which, with shrieking voice and rampant hoofs, gave notice to
all that such a liberty could not be permitted. Nevertheless, it was
permitted. Sometimes, the final contest took place miles away from
the point of its beginning. Sometimes horse and rider settled the
matter in the course of a few concentric circles of an hundred-yard
radius; sometimes it bucked; sometimes it rolled, and sometimes it
merely sat down upon its haunches, dog-wise, and refused to budge.
Almost invariably, it came out from the contest, unscarred save for
its dignity and its temper. Weldon's lips shut tight; but his eyes
rarely blazed. These wild, frightened creatures taxed his patience
and his resource; but they hardly touched his temper in the least.
"What's the use of thrashing a beast that's mad with terror?" he
answered one critical amateur who had watched the game from a safe
distance. "The creature is in a funk, as it is; there's no use in
adding to it. All I'm after is to teach 'em that saddles and bridles
don't bite. Treat 'em decently and sit tight, and they'll come right
and learn to trust you in the end."
And, as mount after mount was delivered over to the waiting
authorities, it came to be a matter of general belief that the
regimental rough-rider knew his business, albeit he accomplished it
more by dint of urging than by many blows. Six weeks of this work
had told upon him, told in the right direction. Under the brown
skin, the muscles stood out like knotted cords; his nerves were
steady; he ate like a wolf and slept the dreamless sleep of a
healthy child. To the outward eye, his face changed but little. Its
outlines were more rugged, the curves of his lips a bit more
resolute; but that was all.
Now and then, amid the merry group at the camp fire, he sat silent,
while he let his mind range away to the southward. Somewhere there,
in the green-ringed town in the mountain's shelter, was a tall girl
with yellow hair and eyes which matched the zenith when it darkens
after the dropping of the sun. His fancy painted her in every
conceivable situation: walking, riding, resting at noonday in the
shaded western end of the veranda, or pouring tea for relays of
thirsty guests. As a rule, the Captain's figure was in the
background of these pictures, and Weldon was content to have it so.
In all South Africa, these were his two best friends; it was good
that they could be together. And the Captain was an older man, much
older. When one lives in the open air during twenty-four hours of
every day, jealousy has scant place in his mind. The smaller vices
are for the cramped town, not for the limitless, unbroken veldt.
And now and then a day brought with it a letter, frank, friendly and
full of news. Those days Weldon marked with a white stone; but his
sleep, on those nights, was as quiet and dreamless as ever. Facts
were facts. Theories and hopes were for the future; and no man looks
much to the future in a time of war.
Besides the letters, there were minor events, too, events which went
to fill up the letters of reply. Now it was a hospital train which
halted at the camp on the way southward, and each red-taped nurse
had reminded him of Alice Mellen, and of those last days in
Johannesburg. Now it was a two-day trek, as escort for a convoy
train whose long lines of bullock-drawn wagons marked the brown
veldt with a wavering stripe of duller brown. Again a wounded picket
came straying back to camp, bleeding and dazed, to report the
inevitable sniping which furnished the running accompaniment to most
other events; or an angry squad came riding in, to tell of the shots
which had followed close upon the raising of the white flag, or of
the score of armed men who had suddenly leaped out from the safe
shelter of a Red-Cross ambulance. And, on one occasion, he had been
in the thick of a similar fray. Hand to hand, he had fought on the
doorsteps of a farmhouse to which he and his five comrades had been
bidden by a sprightly Boer in gown and sunbonnet. At the door, the
bonnet had been cast from the cropped head, and the gown had been
pushed back to give access to the bandolier beneath, while a dozen
shots from an upper window had driven them from the dooryard into
the comparative shelter of the lower rooms. The skirmish had ended
with a charge up the stairway. Weldon, that same night, had written
to Ethel a wholly humorous account of the whole affair, and it was
not until long afterwards that she had learned from Carew, who had
been of the party, which was the trooper who had mounted guard over
the room where the aged grandmother had tucked herself away under
her bed. The old Dutch vrouw had bidden him to share her shelter;
but he had taken note of her dimensions, and had declined her
hospitality. Later on, when the fight was over and she had painfully
wriggled her way out from her trap, he had also declined certain of
her manifestations of gratitude. Even chivalry to the aged possesses
its humorous side.
Then, one November night, Weldon came into his tent with alert step
and glowing eyes. He found Carew going through his camp outfit in
detail, and, squatting on the floor in the corner, Kruger Bobs was
cleaning accoutrements as if his life depended on it.
"You look as if events were about to happen," he observed, from the
dispassionate distance of the doorway.
"Ask them to include me, then."
"What do you need of events, you regimental broncho-buster?"
"One gets sick of even the best horseflesh in time," he answered
"Sorry, for you are doomed to more of it."
"Another herd of bronchos?" Weldon's voice showed that the idea
"No; but a two-hundred-mile trek across country."
"Good. I am tired of being cooped up, and a spin of that kind will
be a boon."
Carew settled back on his heels and looked up at him.
"Spin is it! Your only spin will be on your own axis. We are to act
as escort for a convoy train of fifty wagons and ten times fifty
mules. We shall make six miles a day, and our tongues will be wholly
corrupted by the language of the mule-drivers. And, in the end, we
shall get to--"
"A glorious fight, I trust," Weldon supplemented.
Gloomily Carew shook his head. "No; merely to Winburg. We are going
to provision Weppener and Ladybrand, and then make for the railroad
again. We'll strike it at Winburg most likely. It is an unholy sort
of hole, and I hear that the hotel serves watered ink and currant
jelly under the name of claret. We shall sit there and sip it, until
the train arrives, and then we shall entrain and come back again.
And this," he emphasized his words by plumping forward on his knees
once more; "and this is war!"
"Yes; but it lets us out on a longer leash than I have had for some
time," Weldon said serenely. "Anyway, it is well for you that it is
not likely to be a bloody campaign, for you'll be headed straight
away from Johannesburg, and I misdoubt me if Winburg holds a
"Judging from my past records, it will have to found one, then,"
Carew answered composedly. "If I have to go through two hundred
miles of the enemy's country, they might as well open up, in
readiness for my coming. But what is the letter, old man?"
"News. Yours had knocked it out of my mind, though. Mine comes off
later. Captain Frazer has been transferred to the South African
Light Horse, and will come up here as adjutant, on the first."
Carew's face brightened.
"That's good hearing. He will be higher still, before De Wet is
taken." "I hope so. Anyway, he is coming to us. Think of having him
"Much good will it do us! An adjutant doesn't mess with the
"Frazer will stick to his friends."
"Mayhap. Still, better men than he have gone dizzy, as they went up
the ladder, and dizziness makes people look at what's above them,
rather than at what is below," Carew answered oracularly. "Frazer's
influence will be sound, and we shall feel it from one end of things
to the other. Aside From that, we aren't likely to be much affected
by his coming. Did Miss Dent tell any other news?"
"As it happens, Miss Dent didn't tell me this."
"Captain Frazer, himself," Weldon answered, with a quiet relish of
his own victory. "He sends messages and all that to you." Then he
added, "And who else do you think is coming?"
Carew shook his head.
"I've no idea, unless Lord Kitchener is about to pay us a visit.
There were rumors of it, a week or so ago."
"Guess again. It's a mightier than Lord Kitchener, this time."
Weldon laughed. "It is, for it is a man trained to two weapons, who
has beaten his kettles into a helmet and his pepper-pot into a
"Yes, Paddy. The Captain writes that he is thirsting for gore and
glory, and that he has learned to ride anything from a clotheshorse
to a nightmare."
"Paddy all over. He never could take things as they came."
"Except Parrott's horse," Weldon suggested.
"How did he get out of that scrape?"
"Went out. There was talk of official vengeance; but Paddy vanished,
that same night. A week later, he turned up at the Captain's room in
Cape Town, with a bundle of clothes and a story that was as leaky as
a sieve. The Captain sent him out to Maitland to be licked into
shape, and this is the result."
"No," Carew objected in a sudden burst of prophecy. "Mind my words,
Paddy has not resulted yet. That will come, later on in the game."
Winburg may have all the elements of greatness; but greatness itself
is lacking. Nevertheless, after watching a convoy train tool along
over the green-flecked yellow veldt at the rate of six miles a day,
after seeing nothing but an occasional isolated farmhouse, the
little town appeared like a centre of civilization and excitement to
the bored troopers, as they rode up the main street and pitched camp
on the western edge of the town. There they sat and idly wondered
behind which particular hill was the largest commando. No type of
boredom is more acute than that which links itself with periods of
inaction in the army. Fifteen minutes would have sufficed to exhaust
the resources of Winburg; the troopers remained there for fifteen
days. Only Kruger Bobs was fully in his element. His daily grooming
of the broncho and his master once over, his time was his own, and
he employed it to the best of his ability. Fate had endowed Kruger
Bobs with a smile which won instant liking and gained instant
fulfilment of his wishes. Just as, months before, he had sat on the
river bank at Piquetberg Road, and grinned persuasively at the jam
tins, so now he ranged up and down among the farms scattered about
Winburg, and grinned himself into possession of manifold eggs and
plump fowls and even of soft wheat bread, the final luxury of the
biscuit-sated trooper who owned his fealty.
"'Is thy servant a dog?'" Carew had quoted gravely at sight of his
first army biscuit.
And Weldon had made answer,--
"Not if he knows it. I have always had full sympathy with my hound
who leaves his dog-bread in favor of a bit of oak planking gnawed
out from his kennel floor."
But Carew was less dainty. Nevertheless, he attacked the biscuit
with two flat stones, and mixed the debris with his coffee.
Now, however, thanks to the efforts of Kruger Bobs, they were living
thriftily and upon the fat of the land.
"How do you get it all, Kruger Bobs? "Weldon had demanded, one day.
"To my sure knowledge, you've no money, and people hereabouts don't
love the British. What is your secret?"
Kruger Bobs ducked his bristly head into his ragged hat, and gave an
explosive chuckle. Then he raised his head and scratched it
"Kruger Bobs just gits it, Boss," he explained comprehensively.
He came in, the next night, his pockets stuffed, his mouth wide ajar
and the very whites of his eyes full of mystery. Carew and Weldon,
sitting together, glanced up as he appeared. Instantly, as he caught
sight of Carew, Kruger Bobs veiled his emotion and sought to become
properly nonchalant. Nevertheless, it was plain that he had tidings
to impart; and at length, over the top of Carew's head, he fell to
making graphic, yet totally unintelligible, signs to his master.
"What in thunder do you want, Kruger Bobs?" Weldon demanded.
Kruger Bobs heaved an ostentatious sigh, cast at Weldon one flashing
grin, and then asked dolorously,--
"Me speak Boss out dere?"
"What under heaven is the matter with you, Kruger Bobs?" Weldon
asked, as he departed on the heels of his serving man.
Kruger Bobs slapped his thigh noiselessly, vanished behind his
smile, then reappeared to put his lips to Weldon's ear and whisper
in raucous triumph--"Syb down dere Winburg."
"What? Who is Syb?" Weldon queried blankly.
Kruger Bobs straightened, in dignified resentment at his master's
"Syb be my vrouw soon."
"Oh, I see. No wonder you look elated, you rascal. So you have been
The grin reappeared. "Ya, Boss. More, too."
"What now?" "Kruger Bobs got despatch from Syb for Boss."
Weldon's face expressed his amusement.
"Much obliged to the lady. Give her mine." "Syb say--" Again the
thick black lips approached Weldon's ear, and the bristly head
nodded energetically in time to the moving lips.
"Who?" Weldon said incredulously. "Miss Mellen?"
"How does Syb--Is that what you call her?--how does she know? Oh, I
remember now. It is the girl who served at Miss Mellen's home,"
Weldon said, as light began to dawn.
"Ya, Boss; dat Syb."
"And she is here with Miss Mellen?"
Kruger Bobs nodded.
"What are they doing?"
"Dey is nurses sick mens." "How long have they been here?"
"One, tree, five day."
"Five days," Weldon translated to himself. "It was an odd chance,
your running on her so soon. Did she know we were here?"
"She tink ya," Kruger Bobs replied. "Syb no tell." "But why not?"
The matter-of-course question appeared to fill Kruger Bobs with
"Boss make night march," he answered. "She may not care to have me.
Still, we'll ride out there with you in the morning."
"Mr. Carew and myself."
Kruger Bobs looked hurt. In hot excitement, the black fingers closed
on a fold of the brown sleeve.
"Kruger Bobs go, too?"
"What makes you want to go?"
"Syb dere, Boss."
"I don't see what difference that makes," Weldon said reflectively.
Once more Kruger Bobs turned coy.
"Boss go see his vrouw; me go see Syb," he explained briefly.
Weldon's laugh astonished him; still more Weldon's answer.
"Oh, Kruger Bobs, you love-struck calf! Because you're in love with
Syb, do you think it follows that I am in love with Miss Mellen?"
Kruger Bobs plotted geometrical problems with his left toe.
"Syb say," he replied at length. Then he raised his eyes from his
problem. "Boss vrouw good," he ventured persuasively.
Weldon laughed again.
"So we all think. Mr. Carew knows her much better than I do, though,
and Miss Mellen would be hurt, if he didn't go out to see her."
But Kruger Bobs stood his ground. "Boss Weldon go see his vrouw;
Kruger Bobs go see his vrouw; Boss Carew no vrouw."
However, in spite of the advice of Kruger Bobs, Carew was at
Weldon's side, as they rode through Winburg, the next morning.
Already the country was taking on the look of summer, and the dusty
stretches of veldt were tinged here and there with thin patches of
growing green. Over the hills nearest the town were scattered the
lines of ruined trenches, still littered here and there with rusty
tools dropped there by the Boers when, long months before, they had
caught sight of the advancing armies of French and Hutton. As they
drew nearer, Weldon could make out the familiar details of a field
hospital: the low white tents in their circle of whitewashed stones,
the Red-Cross nurses hurrying to and fro and the blue-coated
convalescents strolling leisurely about the enclosure. Carew,
meanwhile, had pushed forward. Above the P. M. O.'s tent fluttered
the Red Cross, and he had caught sight of a white apron and a
scarlet cape in the open door.
"Miss Mellen! Alice!"
In the still air of a summer noon, Carew's voice carried distinctly
back to Weldon. He glanced towards the tent. Then, beckoning to
Kruger Bobs, he turned and rode away to inspect the distant
An hour later, Kruger Bobs was squatting on the ground, a heaped
plate on his knees and a smile of rapture surrounding his smacking
lips. Near him, the three horses munched contentedly, stamping
lightly now and then and whisking their tails to drive off the
buzzing flies. Outside the door of the tent, Alice Mellen sat on a
bench, with Carew at her side and Weldon sprawling lazily on the
ground at her feet.
"Twenty-seven inside," she told them. "It is mostly enteric and S.
C., men who have been sent here from Bloemfontein. Their hospitals
are overcrowded. We have both sorts here, you know."
"Nursing Boers?" Carew asked, disapprovingly.
"Why not? They are men, plucky men, too, some of them. I rather like
the race. Anyway, it makes an interesting mixture. We have had to
put them all together, and they get on capitally, exchanging stories
and gossip and sympathy like men of the same company. One of them, a
Boer,--" she hesitated for the right word; then she adopted the
vernacular of the service--"went out, the other day; and, among his
mourners, the sincerest ones were the two London Tommies in the two
next beds. War isn't all hatred, by any means. Turn nurse for a
month and you'll find it out."
"Or else turn patient," Carew interpolated quietly.
Her color came; but she only turned more directly to Weldon.
"I was glad to come here for a change," she added. "Shall you stay
"It is impossible to tell. The other nurses here are younger at it
than I, and there are some hard cases. If it were not for Syb, I
should be at my wits' end sometimes."
"Then ought you to stay here?" Carew urged, with a sudden assumption
of proprietorship which sat well upon him.
She faced him with a smile.
"Oh, but this is nothing in comparison with Johannesburg. There the
work is agonizing. Between wounds and enteric, the place is crammed,
and we can't get the nurses we absolutely need. My mother thought I
was growing too tired, and she sent Syb up here to take care of me.
Instead, I have pressed her into the service and trained her until
she is one of the best nurses I have ever had under me. The men
adore her, she is so strong and so full of her queer, jolly fun."
With his head pillowed on his arms, Weldon lay watching her
thoughtfully. Under her piles of inky hair, her face looked thin,
and the shadows lay heavy around her eyes. Nevertheless, the eyes
were shining and the curves of the lips were all upward. Plainly the
day had brought her a tonic; yet the past six months had told upon
the girl pitilessly.
"But, for God's sake, when is it all to end?" he burst out suddenly.
"Tired of the service, Mr. Weldon?" she asked gravely, but with no
accent of reproach.
"Not tired of my own. But the worst of it all comes back on you
women, and that is maddening."
She smiled down at him, and the light in her eyes deepened and grew
yet more womanly.
"It is all we can do to help, Mr. Weldon. Let us take what share we
can. The work is hard, hard and discouraging; but--" involuntarily
she glanced at Carew's happy, handsome face; "but now and then it
brings its own reward."
The short silence was broken only by Kruger Bobs, scraping his spoon
along his fast-emptying plate. Then Alice spoke again.
"You hear often from Cooee, Mr. Weldon?"
"Now and then. Not often."
"Did you know that she may come to us, after Christmas?"
"No," he said alertly. "To Johannesburg?"
"We need her, and my aunt has almost given her consent. The need
grows greater, every day; we can't hold out much longer, unless we
can have more help. Cooee isn't trained at all; but she has endless
tact and she knows how to take orders. Unless January brings us
fewer patients, I think she will come north for a month." "Does she
"As a matter of mere conscience. Cooee hates lint and disinfectants
and the hush of things; but she begins to see the need before her.
She makes all manner of fun of me, and of the whole hospital scheme
of things; but still I think she will come. My aunt opposes it; but
we are trying to compromise on a month. That won't wear Cooee out,
and the novelty will last for that length of time, and help keep up
"Did you know Captain Frazer is coming up, in a week or two?"
For an instant, Alice's eyes clouded.
"No. When did you hear?"
"Just as I left camp. The appointment took him quite by surprise,
and he wrote to me at once," Weldon answered with quiet dignity, for
he was not slow to read the question in the girl's mind.
Her face cleared.
"I hadn't heard. Cooee's last letter is three weeks old, so it
couldn't bring the news." Then she glanced over her shoulder, as one
of the doctors halted on the threshold. "Am I needed?"
"Young Walpole is just going," he said gravely. "He has asked for
Both men rose to their feet. It was Carew, however, who lingered.
"We are leaving Winburg, to-morrow, so this is good by," he said
regretfully. "Take care of yourself, Alice, and bless you!" And,
underneath its happiness, his boyish face was unusually grave, as he
mounted and rode away at Weldon's side.
Christmas morning found the camp at Lindley wakening to a general
atmosphere of peace and good will to man. Scarcely fifty miles away
at Tweefontein, De Wet's midnight charge had left behind it sixty
men sleeping their last grim sleep in defiance of the peace ordained
for the Christmas dawn. And, midway between the camp of the living
and the line of the dead, there lay the little town of Bethlehem.
After the frosty night, the day came, hot and clear, with the sun
beating down from a cloudless sky and the mirage dancing upon the
distant horizon. To the men from the north, it was a bit of a shock
to exchange Christmas greetings, while the thermometer went sliding
up to the mark of one hundred degrees. Nevertheless, they hailed one
another lustily, and threw themselves into the spirit of the holiday
feast with the zest of schoolboys.
For full three months now, the greater number of the troopers had
been dodging up and down over the surface of the Orange River Colony
on the heels of the tireless De Wet. After accomplishing forty
futile miles a day, after subsisting chiefly upon army biscuits and
bully beef, they had earned their right to rest. This, at least, was
the opinion of their adjutant.
All the day before, there had been flying rumors of a forced march
on the following morning; but no orders had been given, and just at
nightfall had come the definite announcement that no move would be
made until after Christmas. Those who had seen their adjutant going
away from the colonel's tent, half an hour before, were able to draw
their own conclusions. The rest accepted the fact as it stood, and
made no effort to account for the change in their plans. It was
enough for them that two thousand sheep were to be roasted, to the
end that every man might eat his fill; and they took an eager hand,
next morning, in scooping out the ant-hill and kindling the fires
inside. Then, seated on the ground, they spun their yarns while they
waited until the white-hot earth on top of the hill gave notice that
the oven was ready for the roast.
Carew, meanwhile, was unpacking the neat little parcel which had
come to him with Christmas greeting from the Daughters of the
Empire. Lined up for inspection before breakfast, every trooper had
received an exactly similar parcel; every one had given expression
to his thankful heart; then every one had gone away to inspect the
"This is kind of the ladies, very kind," Carew was observing, with a
perfectly grave face, as he drew out a handkerchief of spotty red
cotton and a khaki-colored nightcap. "Look, Weldon! These fit my
complexion to a charm, and will be wonderfully warm and comfortable.
What is in your grab bag?"
"Ditto, apparently," Weldon answered. "I think I shall keep these to
sport about at home in."
Carew shook his head.
"Oh, no. The kind ladies wish us to use them now, and you should
accept the gift according to the spirit in which it is given."
Taking off his wide felt hat, he replaced it with the wool nightcap,
covered the nightcap with the handkerchief and then put on the hat
over all the rest. "And what have we here?" he continued. "A pipe?
Oh, the naughty ladies! Cigarettes?" He smelled at them gingerly,
then sneezed into a corner of the scarlet kerchief. "Matches,
shoelaces, and, by George, a cake of soap! Now, if we only had a
farmer's almanac and a flannel chest-protector, we'd be quite
Weldon laughed. Then he beckoned to a little trooper standing beside
the nearest ant-hill.
"Paddy," he said gravely; "these toys are excellent toys. If
anything should happen to me, I'll will them to you."
Paddy thrust his hand into his pocket, drew out his own nightcap and
dangled it by its khaki-colored tip.
"And look at it!" he said slowly. "The spirit is willing and full of
peace; but what would I be doing with that thing, I who never had a
hat on my head till I was ten years old, let alone a cap?"
"Wrap your feet in it, then," Carew suggested. "It's large enough
for them both. Paddy, who eats at your ant-hill?"
The little Irishman winked knowingly.
"Them as invites theirselves, first off. If it's you and Mr. Weldon,
so much the better for Paddy. The rum ration is doubled, the day;
knowing the habits of you both, I'm thinking I see my way to getting
six times gloriously drunk. There's beer by the hogshead, too. It'll
be a mighty Christmas dinner, the first in years I've eaten without
"You generally eat it raw?" Carew questioned blandly.
"Praised be Patrick, no; but it's Paddy who has done the cooking.
This year, I am free from my pots and kettles, and can eat with the
best of them. Little Canuck dear, don't ever enlist as a cook.
Nothing spoils the stomach of you like the smell of the warming
"You like the change, then, Paddy?" Weldon asked, as he thriftily
packed up his parcel and stowed it away in his pocket, with an eye
to the gratitude of Kruger Bobs.
"Like, is it? I rejoice greatly and shout, as the Book bids us. It's
a man's work I'm doing now; it's with men that I am doing that work,
and it's a man who leads me on to do that work, meaning Captain
"Where is the Captain now?"
Paddy dropped down on the ground, midway between his friends and his
"Over yonder, doing the work of an honest man and a warrior."
"That goes without saying. What now?"
But Paddy chose to speak in metaphors.
"He's thrown down his sword and picked up his bottle," he responded
"Not drinking?" Weldon asked incredulously.
"No, little one; not doing, but doing by. He's administering advice
and physic to them cormyrants of Queenslanders. The Colonials are a
hard race to manage and a greedy." Paddy spoke with an accent of
"What have the poor Queenslanders done?"
"Poor it is; not poor in spirit, but poor in judgment. They've
converted the top course of their dinner into the bottom course of
their breakfast, and now they're suffering according. Next time,
when their kyind officers order them up, each a little Crosse and
Blackwell plum pudding, they'll know enough to eat them up hot on a
full stomach, not bolt them down cold on top of a lone layer of dog-
bread. Man is permitted to make such errors but once in his life,
without having Providence get after him and slay him. Little
"The top of the ant-hill is white with heat, and the lambie must
enter the roasting tomb. Will you and Mr. Carew eat with me?"
"We've no intention of eating anywhere else, Paddy. We know your
cooking of old."
"It's an honor you'll be doing me, then. And, moreover--" Paddy
hesitated, with the words sticking to his lips.
"Think you the Captain--I mean the Adjutant; but he'll always be the
Captain to me--would he take it amiss, think you, little one, if I
sent him a bit of the joint, for the sake of old times? He'll like
be eating truffled ostrich and locust sauce at the mess; but Paddy'd
like to have a hand in his Christmas dinner. It's all I can do for
him, and he's done much for me."
"Try him and see, Paddy," Weldon advised. "If I know Captain Frazer,
he'll have nothing to-day that will please him more."
With feasting and story-telling and the inevitable letters to wife
and sweetheart, the sunshiny day lost itself in twilight and the
twilight in the chill of night. Along the line of the blockhouses
for miles away, lights began to twinkle out from the narrow
loopholes. Throughout the camp, answering lights twinkled back at
them till the night was spotted thick with dots of yellow, winking
up at the yellow stars above. And around the camp and the
blockhouses lay the dark, measureless veldt, and the veldt was very
Stillness was not in the camp, however. Even the gluttonous
Queenslanders had recovered from their woes of the morning; and,
from end to end of the great enclosure, there was a spirit of
merrymaking born of the feast day, the dinner and the unwonted
allowance of rum. In the groups scattered about the camp fires,
tongues wagged freely of home, of boyhood, of adventures in past
years. War talk was tabooed that night. According to his custom,
Tommy ignored the present and ranged at large over the remote past
and yet remoter future.
Carew, with the easy adaptability which marked him, was the central
figure of one of the groups where he acted as a species of
toastmaster, to direct the trend of the stories and lead the
singing. Weldon sat slightly apart, watching the firelit group
before him, while his mind trailed lazily to and fro, from home,
with its holly wreaths in the windows, to Cape Town where the
flower-boxes edging a wide veranda would be a mass of geranium
blossoms now, and where, in the shady western end, would sit a tall
girl with hair the color of the yellow flame. Strangely enough, to
his honest, straightforward mind it never occurred to doubt that she
was thinking of him, sending a Christmas wish in his direction. More
than once she had given proof of her liking for him, her interest in
his concerns. Her blue eyes had met his eyes steadily, kindly.
Weldon had certain old-fashioned notions of womanhood which not all
of his social life had been able to beat out of him. Far back in his
boyhood, his mother, still a social leader at home, had told him it
was unmanly to flirt. A good and loyal woman would have no share in
flirtation; women of the other sort could have no share in his life.
Weldon was no Galahad. He had danced and dined with many women, had
given sympathy to some, chaff to others; nevertheless, his relations
with them had been curiously direct and simple. Quite unconsciously
to himself, his mother's code had become ingrained in the very fibre
of his being. And now he was ready to stand or fall by his judgment
that Ethel Dent, Cooee as he called her in his secret heart, was as
good and loyal as a woman could be. The future seemed to him so
obvious that he made no effort to forecast it. He was content to
"Christmas is nearly over, Weldon."
He roused himself abruptly, as Captain Frazer dropped down at his
"Yes; but the revel will outlast the day," he answered, laughing.
"Tommy is in his glory now, and it will take more than taps to make
"Perhaps. He has rioted most joyously. Christmas has been no empty
mockery to him." Weldon's quick ear detected a ring of melancholy in
the Captain's voice.
"Has it to you?"
The Captain sat silent for a moment, his eyes fixed on the winking
"Not really. Of course, we all have been a bit homesick, and I can
see no shame in confessing it. Besides, after one gets out of his
windsor-tie stage of life, these especial holidays seem to mark time
so. One thinks back to this time, last year; and one has to wonder a
bit where he will be, a year from now. A good deal can happen in a
"For better, or for worse," Weldon added.
The words caught the Captain's ear.
"Yes, for better or for worse," he repeated; "in sickness and in
health. A year is a long time. Tell me, have you heard lately from
Long afterwards, the question came back to Weldon, with the obvious
association of ideas. Now he answered, with perfect unconcern,--
"Not for three or four weeks."
"I have heard since you, then. She wrote, last week, and sent
greeting to you and Mr. Carew."
"Thank you. Give mine back to her; that is, if you are writing."
"I shall write, to-night," the Captain said briefly.
"Then please send her my wishes for Christmas and New Year's both.
You might also remind her to write to me. She writes wonderfully
good letters." Turning his eyes from the fire, the Captain watched
him steadily for a moment. Unconscious of his companion's gaze,
Weldon was staring out across the camp, his lips framed to a
noiseless whistling, his face full of dreamy content. The Captain
studied the happy, resolute young face, drew a deep breath and then
turned to the fire once more.
"Yes," he assented. "But you would know that, from hearing her
Suddenly, Weldon's lips straightened, and he faced the Captain
"I like Miss Dent," he said frankly. "Of course, you know that. But,
moreover, I have always felt I owed her a debt of gratitude for
introducing me to you. I know one doesn't usually say such things,
Captain Frazer," he laughed, in sudden boyish embarrassment; "but it
is a little different on Christmas night, you know. Next year, we
may be miles apart, and so, if you don't mind, I'd like to say that
you have been wonderfully good to me, this year, and that I
Captain Frazer took the outstretched hand, slim, but hard now, and a
bit stubby about the nails.
"Thank you, Weldon," he answered. "This may be our only Christmas
together, and I am glad you told me."
The silence about them was broken by the voices of the soldiers
singing around the camp fires and by the bagpipes playing somewhere
across the distance. Then, after a little, they fell to talking of
other things, with the natural antipathy of healthy men to any
recurrence of a momentary outburst of sentiment.
Around them, the fires flared and flamed across the darkness; beyond
them, the veldt stretched away, sinister, mysterious; and from above
the stars twinkled down upon them, smiling a Christmas blessing
alike on those who were doomed to glory and those who were doomed to
death. For an instant, the sudden pause in the singing and laughter
seemed typical of the short, sudden pause in their active lives.
Then, as the Captain rose, the singing broke out once more, Carew's
"Good-night, Weldon. I must go back to my quarters."
"And to your letters?"
"Yes, to my letters. And may next Christmas be good to us both!"
Weldon rose and saluted, then stood looking after his companion as
he walked away, head and shoulders erect and his lips smiling
slightly, as if in anticipation of the task before him. And,
meanwhile, from the fire near by came the lusty chorus,--
"A little brown cot, a shady green spot,
No happier home I find.
My heart's fairly gone, for I love only one,
She's the gi-irl I le-eft behind."
The voices, rollicking even in their sentimentality, dropped away
into silence; the fire flared up and then suddenly died away into
darkness. But, even in the darkness, Weldon could see the dim
outline of the Captain's figure, moving steadily forward along his
Lord Kitchener, one night in early February, was sitting on the apex
of a vast triangle in the northern end of the Orange River Colony.
Two sides of the triangle were made up of long lines of blockhouses,
strung on a chain of barbed-wire fencing. The blockhouses were of
loop-holed stone or iron with iron roofs, and they were separated
from each other by only a few hundred yards. The barbed-wire chain
which strung together these zigzag lines was five strands wide, and
it was edged with a five-foot trench and now and then with an
additional length of stone wall. Beyond the fences were the railroad
lines, and up and down over the tracks armored trains carrying
search-lights were running to and fro, to shed all possible light
upon the fences and upon the enclosure beyond. The third side of the
triangle consisted of an infinite number of men in khaki, and its
density varied entirely according to its position. At first, it
opened out to a thin line of troopers scattered over the arc of an
immense circle; then it drew in until an army stood in fighting
array straight across the veldt from Heilbron to Kroonstad. And
Wolvehoek was the apex of the triangle.
Experience had taught the master brain of the British army that it
was useless longer to chase De Wet up and down over the face of the
earth. The Boer general was familiar with every crack and cranny of
that earth. He knew where to hide, where to dodge, where to scurry
away as fast as his convoy train could bear him company. Behind him,
plucky, but totally in ignorance of the natural advantages of the
country, toiled and perspired and skirmished the British army.
Horses were exhausted, men were killed and supply wagons were
captured, all to little or no purpose. If the quarry could not be
taken by direct pursuit, it was needful to have recourse to the
methods of the ranch. Pursuit failing, it was time for a round-up.
To this end, the Orange River Colony had been marked off into
sections by the rows of blockhouses strung upon barbed wire. Drive
after drive had been made into these enclosures; and every drive had
brought its bag of game. But still the general himself had eluded
them. Early in February, however, a giant drive had been planned,
directed away from the enclosure in order that, once De Wet took
refuge in his usual trick of doubling back upon his pursuers, he
should find himself caught in the open trap. And, secure in the
ultimate success of his plan, Lord Kitchener waited at Wolvehoek in
expectation of its end.
The drive had been made, De Wet had doubled, and now the base of the
triangle was flowing in upon him, fully confident of success at
last. And the base was in part made up of the South African Light
Horse, and Carew and Weldon were of that Horse, and they rejoiced
Nightfall of the sixth found the quarry well inside the triangle,
and the South African Light Horse drawn up in a straight line
running westward from Lindley. The officers slept in their boots,
that night, and every trooper held himself tense in his blankets,
ready to cease snoring at an instant's notice. And far away to the
northward, the moving search-lights carved the frosty darkness with
their blinding cones of light.
Weldon was ordered out on picket duty, that night. All day long, he
had ridden hard, until even the zeal of Piggie had begun to flag.
Nevertheless, as the broad stripe of yellow reluctantly died out of
the western sky, his excited brain denied to his tired muscles the
sleep which they demanded. Accordingly, it was a relief when his
orders came, and he found himself advancing cautiously out into the
Contrary to his usual mood when on picket, Weldon had no sense of
loneliness, that night. Reaching away from him on either hand was
the huge enclosing wall of humanity, pacing to and fro on picket
duty, guarding the blockhouses, patrolling the wire fences between.
Every man was alert to his duty; every nerve was taut with the
consciousness that somewhere within the cordon was the leader who
heretofore had escaped them, that each man was a link forged in the
endless chain which was stretched around the invisible enemy. And,
meanwhile, the starless sky and the waiting chain were equally
silent and equally freighted with mystery. And the future seemed
full of portent and very near.
Then, as the midnight hour swung past him, Weldon heard the rustle
of a quiet footfall. It was Captain Frazer's voice that answered his
"I was looking for you, Weldon," he added.
"For anything especial?"
"No. I felt restless and couldn't sleep, so I thought I would go the
round of the pickets. They said you were out here. Where is Carew?"
"In my sleeping-bag. I don't encourage him for a neighbor just now.
He draws too much fire."
The Captain laughed softly.
"He is an unlucky beggar. Eight, nine, how many times is it that he
has been hit? He ought to engage a private nurse."
"He has." And Weldon explained the little scene at the door of the
"Happy fellow! He deserves her, though. But it is an ideal
combination, that of nurse and soldier," the Captain answered
lightly. Then he asked, "What sort of a day have you had?"
"Rousing. Now the question is: what sort of a night are we going to
"The night of our lives, I suspect," the Captain replied, still in
the low tone in which all their talk had been made. "The orders are
to close in at daylight, and work the game up towards Wolvehoek;
but, if I know anything at all of De Wet, he won't wait till
"You think he will fight?"
"If he does, it will be a fight to the finish," the Captain said
Weldon's grip tightened on his rifle.
"When will it come?"
"Heaven only knows. Probably just before light. He will take this
end of things, on account of avoiding the railroads and--"
Weldon's hand shut on his arm.
"Hush! What's that?"
Swiftly the Captain's gravity vanished, and he laughed.
"By George, here they are!" he exclaimed.
From the veldt to the northward, there came a confused din of
rushing, trampling feet; a cloud of dust, lifted on the night
breeze, swept down upon them; and then a herd of stampeding cattle
dashed madly past, noses to earth and tails lashing in furious fear.
An instant later, the darkness to the left was shattered by dots of
light, and the air snapped with the double crack of Mauser rifles.
Far to the northward, though muffled by distance, there was more
firing, and yet more; and ever the moving searchlights carved their
way to and fro through the inky night.
Like a dog on the scent and ready for the plunge, Captain Frazer had
straightened to the full of his height and stood tense, waiting an
instant to measure the scope of the coming fight.
"It's a row, sure enough; and thank God, I'm in it!" he said quietly
then. "Come back to the line, Weldon. There'll be work for us all,
in a few minutes."
Even as he spoke, and while they were hurrying back to the squadron,
a random shot pierced the darkness just before them, and a bullet
whirred close above their heads. Another shot tossed up a spray of
dust at their feet, and a third fell full in the tent where Carew
was swiftly tightening his belts and assuring himself that his
bandoliers were full.
They found the camp already humming like a hive of angry bees. A
small matter of forty miles a day counted for nothing to men wakened
from heavy sleep to face the firing of an invisible foe. There was
no need of the murmured report that De Wet had bidden his followers
break through the British chain wherever its links were weakest.
Instinctively each man threw himself into fighting array, convinced
that the present minute marked the climax of the past days.
And, meanwhile, the limitless darkness shut down over the determined
cordon of British men facing steadily inward towards the foe which
they could not see; over the scattered knots of Boer horsemen,
secure in their full knowledge of every yard of the ground, riding
forward to fight their way through the chain into the veldt beyond.
And, far to the northward, De Wet was lurking in shadow long enough
to cut the wires and then ride away with his trio of faithful
To Weldon, fresh from the darkness and silence of the open veldt, it
seemed as if, of a sudden, the frosty night were tattered into
shreds. As the fight waxed hot about him, he lost all memory of the
intermediate stages. At one instant, all had been still and dim; at
another, the air before him was thick with vivid rifle flashes, his
ears were full of the strident din of flying bullets, of shouting
men, of squealing, moaning horses. For a time, he could see nothing
of the enemy but the flashing dots of fire. Then the dots drew
nearer, closed up, and the din was increased by the rattle of fixing
bayonets, by the dull, sucking sound of steel prodded into soft
masses, and by the thud of falling bodies. And always from the outer
circle the pitiless rain of bullets came splashing down upon them,
striking impartially on friend and on foe.
Side by side in the foremost rank, Weldon and Carew were fighting
like tigers. Carew's cheek was gashed by a passing bullet, and
Weldon's coat showed dark and wet over his left shoulder; but
neither man was conscious of pain, or of fear, or of anything else
than a surly determination to check the maddening rush before them.
Carew was slashing about him with all the strength of arm and
bayonet; but Weldon, disdaining his bayonet, was firing with a
steady aim which sent one man and then another to join the heap on
the ground at his feet.
A second bullet grazed his wrist, and a horseman swept down upon
him. For an instant, he wavered. Then he straightened his shoulders
and took careful aim. From ten feet away, he had heard a ringing
order, and the order had been given, not in the voice of his own
captain, but in that of Captain Frazer who, as ranking officer, had
taken command of the fight into which chance had led him. Weldon's
every nerve answered to the tonic of that voice. Not since
Vlaakfontein had he been under its command. Nevertheless, the old
spell was upon him, and he responded to its call. An instant before,
the rush towards him had seemed indomitable. Those furious, fighting
horsemen could not be stayed in their course. Now he braced himself
for the shock of their coming, while tired hand and blurring eye
roused themselves to do the bidding of his brain. He was dimly aware
that Paddy had struggled forward to his other side and, shoulder to
shoulder with him, was helping to beat back the iron-like force
pressing down upon them. Then, with the keen grasp of trifling
detail which often marks the supreme moment of mental exhaustion, he
became conscious that the hairy tail which brushed across his face
was unduly coarse and tangled, while a sudden cheer from around him
told that the Boers were turning in flight.
Dazed, he drew his hand across his face, and stared wonderingly at
the scarlet drops on his fingers. Then he turned and looked down at
Paddy with a whimsical, questioning smile. Paddy repeated his query.
"Are you hurt, little one?" he demanded, for the second time, as he
shook Weldon's arm.
Weldon steadied at the touch.
"No; only scratched a bit. It is nothing to last at all. Are you all
Paddy shut his hand over a shattered finger.
"Glory be! And the snakes of Boers is wriggling off to their holes.
And now, where's the Captain?"
They found him a little apart from the line, slightly to the front
and close beside a scattered heap of bearded men. His face was white
and the lines of his face were rigid and drawn; but he hailed them
just as he always had been used to do.
"My luck has changed," he added quietly. "They have taken my leg,
this time. Still, it's not so very painful. I'll fill my pipe first,
and then will you two fellows help me back, till we can find an
In a quiet corner of the crowded hospital at Johannesburg, one
narrow bed was screened away from its neighbors. Beside the bed sat
Ethel Dent, and Weldon leaned against the wall beyond. Both of them
were smiling bravely down into the dark-fringed blue eyes which met
their eyes with a steady wishfulness. With the end so plain in
sight, why keep up the pretence of being blind to its approach?
An operation had been the final chance, and the chance had failed.
Out from the stupor of ether, out from the hours of bewildering
pain, Captain Frazer had come back to an interval of full
consciousness, of fuller knowledge that, for him, this painless
interval was but the prelude to the final painless sleep.
Nevertheless, the man who had helped other men to die unflinchingly
was facing death with a grave, unflinching smile, albeit life to him
was good and full of promise. The interval was short. He would pass
through it in manlike fashion, and, meanwhile, give thanks that
beside his bed sat the one woman in whom his whole future so long
The slow moments passed by, unheeded. It was an hour since the
surgeons had gone away; it was nearly an hour since Alice Mellen had
followed the surgeons. Instinctively she realized that her place was
otherwhere. There was no need now for skilled nurses. Ethel could do
all the little which would be required, and it was Ethel's right to
Since Alice had left them, no word had been spoken. The Captain had
little strength for words as yet. It was taking all his energy and
courage to face the truth and to accept it. Only an hour before, his
crippled career had seemed to him unbearable. Now, as he lay with
his eyes fixed on the girl beside him, he realized how much of
potential sweetness that dreary alternative had held. And yet, Fate
had drawn him into the battle, and it was something that he had met
Fate bravely and in the foremost rank. So far, he had never funked a
fight; if it took his last bit of strength, he would go pluckily
through this last, worse fight which he was destined to face. He
stirred slightly, and shut his teeth on his lower lip; but his eyes
never dropped from Ethel's face. From the farther side of the bed,
Weldon, too, was watching Ethel. If he lived to full fivescore
years, he could never forget her face as he had met her at the
hospital door, that morning. Exhausted with the excitement of the
battle, stiff with his half-dressed wounds, soiled and untidy and
haggard, he had paused beside the ambulance while the attendants had
lifted the stretcher and borne the Captain up the low flight of
steps. Then, like a man in a dream, he had followed along behind
them until, on the very threshold, he had raised his heavy eyes to
see Ethel standing before him, a broad shaft of sunshine pouring
down upon her to rest in the locks of sunshiny hair which straggled
out from beneath her crisp white cap.
"Cooee!" he said huskily, as he took her hand. Then, for the first
time in all those terrible hours since the battle, his lips had
quivered, and two big, boyish tears had rolled out across his
Already the fight seemed to him to be months old. From the first, it
had been the Captain's wish that Weldon should go with him to the
hospital, and Weldon would have allowed no other man to go in his
place. Wounded and weak from loss of blood, nevertheless he forgot
his own weakness as he saw the leg, shattered by two bullets,
explosive bullets such as are denied to warfare of any but barbarous
nations. Young though he was, Weldon had seen many a man wounded
before now. He was not slow to realize the nature of the
alternatives which lay before the man who was at once his hero and
his friend. Mercifully, he had as yet no knowledge how soon the one
alternative must be taken from him.
The case was too grave a one for the surgeons of the field hospital.
In after years, that ambulance journey into Kroonstad seemed branded
upon Weldon's memory: the baking heat of the February sun, the
interminable miles of dusty road stretching away between other
interminable miles of grassy veldt, scarred and seamed here and
there with ridges of naked rock. And at last the ambulance had
jogged into Kroonstad, only to find that no help lay in the hospital
there, that the journey must be dragged onward through a night ride
If the jolting, crawling ambulance had been bad, the jarring train
was infinitely worse. The Captain made no complaints; he was
grateful for every slight attention; he even forced himself to joke
a little now and then. Nevertheless, Weldon, sitting beside him and
occasionally laying his own fingers across the steady hand on the
blanket, was maddened by the noise of the engine, by the ceaseless
thud, thud as the wheels took every new rail, by the roar, and the
rush, and the dust which filtered in upon them. There was nothing he
could do. He merely sat there beside his friend, and thought.
Occasionally, he thought of Ethel; but, for the most part, his mind
was on the man before him, the man whose active career all at once
had been cut in two. Now and then he thought of the one who had
chosen to fire those bullets, taboo of all but the most brutal
warfare. At such times, he rose and fell to pacing restlessly up and
down the car. Then he controlled himself and resumed his seat.
Moment by moment, almost second by second, the dreary night had worn
away. It was full morning when the train had halted inside the
familiar station. After his vigil, the healthy stir of the streets
appeared to Weldon like the confused picture of a dream, and it had
been like a man in a dream that he had been driven away to the
hospital. Then, on the steps, he had seen Ethel, and the dream had
been shattered, giving way, for the instant, to the perfect
happiness of reality.
But the surgeons at Johannesburg had shaken their heads. The delay,
although unavoidable, had been full of danger. One only chance
remained, and they would take that chance. Weldon had lingered until
he was ordered away; then, with Ethel beside him, he had gone to
find a doctor who could dress his own wounds and make him fit to
face the ordeal which he knew was awaiting him. For one short
moment, he had felt Ethel's hands busy about his shoulder and head
and wrist, had rejoiced in the quiet strength of their soothing
touch. For another moment, their eyes had met; but no word had been
spoken between them. Then Alice had come to them, bringing the
surgeon's verdict. That had been an hour before. Now they still were
there, watching the slow approach of the inevitable summons.
Slowly the day waxed--and waned. For the waning life, there was no
interval of waxing. Slowly, steadily, by infinitesimal degrees, Leo
Frazer was sinking down into the Valley of the Shadow. Once the head
surgeon had stepped behind the screens and bent over the bed. Only
Ethel had seen the brief contraction of his brows; but no one of
them was deceived by his cheery words of parting. And still the blue
eyes rested upon Ethel, as if seeking to gain from her the answer to
some unspoken question, as if begging her to share with him some
fraction of her quiet strength. Now and then Ethel wondered at her
own quiet. This was the second week of her promised month with her
cousin; but it was the first time she had come face to face with
death, the first time, too, that her work had taken on any hint of
personality. Now, suddenly confronted with these three, Death and
the two men who, during the past fourteen months, had played so
active parts in her life, she was surprised to find that she faced
them steadily and in silence. As yet, she felt no wish to make any
moan. That would come later, when her nerves had relaxed a little
from the stretching strain. And, meanwhile, as she sat watching the
face on the pillow, grieving for the waning life, now and then she
raised her eyes to the other face on the opposite side of the bed,
and told herself that Fate, harsh as it was, was yet not altogether
unpitying. Although wounded and worn and sick at heart, Weldon was
with her, and intensely alive.
Bending forward, she laid her strong, firm hand upon the hand of the
Captain, noting, as she did so, that the finger tips were cold to
her own warm touch.
"Yes?" she said gently.
"You are here? It troubles me to see. Stay with me to the end,
Ethel. It won't be so very long."
She bowed her head; but the answer came firmly.
"I will stay."