Part 4 out of 5
There was a short silence. Then, gathering together all his
strength, the Captain went on quite steadily,--
"It won't be so very long, Ethel. I am sorry. I liked to live. I
have had a good time, and I had no idea that my good times were so
nearly over. Not that it would have made much difference, though.
And yet, when one comes to the end, all of a sudden, one finds a
great many things that are left unfinished."
She made no attempt to answer.
Gently he urged the final words upon her attention.
"There are always so many things left unfinished," he repeated.
"Yes," she said faintly.
Slowly, as if its weight dragged sorely upon his failing strength,
he raised her hand to the pillow and rested his cheek upon it.
"Don't cry, Ethel," he said then. "Of course, if I had lived, it
might have meant so much to us both."
Involuntarily she caught her breath and made a swift gesture, as if
to withdraw her hand. Then, with a hasty glance at Weldon, leaning
against the opposite wall, she controlled herself and allowed her
hand to rest where it was.
"It would have meant so much to all of us, Captain Frazer."
"Perhaps. But to you and me--Ethel, I can't go out of life and give
you up!" Pitifully, longingly, the blue eyes stared up at her face
through the growing shadows of waning day and waning life.
Longingly, although the questioning look had left them. In its place
was an infinite, contented love, an absolute trust.
The girl nerved herself to meet his eyes. Then she drew her own eyes
away, to give another hasty, appealing glance up into Weldon's
paling face. For him, as for her, the moment was all unexpected. For
him, as for her, there was need of all the reserve strength in life
to go through it honorably and without flinching.
Up to that very hour, no thought of Leo Frazer's love had crossed
the mind of Ethel Dent. They had been friends, good comrades,
meeting often and always with much pleasure. She had acknowledged to
herself, long since, that he was a man among men; she honored him,
admired him, cared for him as she might have cared for an only
brother. Beyond that, she could not go. Moreover, it had never
occurred to her that Captain Frazer could mistake her attitude to
himself, could differentiate her light, bright cordiality from the
cordiality she showed to other men. When she had met him first, she
had been a mere girl in character and experience; love had had scant
place in her girlish dreams. Later, Weldon had come into her life.
His coming had changed many things for her; but it had made no
change in her attitude to the Captain. She was now, as always, his
loyal, admiring friend, no less, no more. She had supposed that he
had felt the same loyal friendship for her. Too late, she realized
"You must have known it all, Ethel," the Captain was saying
steadily; "how my whole life has seemed to go into yours. I have
never told you. I was sure you knew it, without any telling, and I
have been waiting until the war was over, before asking you to go
home with me, as my wife. The--" he caught his breath sharply, "the
war is over for me now, dearest. I can't ask you to go home with me;
but--Tell me, Ethel, I have not been mistaken, all these months? You
have cared for me, as I have cared for you?" The last words came out
with the roundness of tone he had used in health; but there was a
weary drag to the hand that drew her hand still nearer to his cheek.
Ethel faltered. Then, soldier-like, she braced herself to fight to a
finish. It was not her fault that the man had mistaken her friendly,
cordial liking for something deeper, infinitely more lasting. She
had never consciously played with him, never sought to win his love.
Blame there was none; it was all only a mistake, albeit a terrible
Desperately she glanced up from the blue eyes, still so wishfully
fixed upon her own, up to the drawn, white face of the haggard man
on the farther side of the bed. In that instant, the girl fought
madly with herself. Then her eyes dropped back to the bed once more.
Eternity and time; a final short, comforting word to the one, a long
explanation to the other. The mistake, if mistake there were, had
been all of her doing. Bravely she would take the bitter
consequences. Captain Frazer's day was passing fast. The night
remained for her talk with Weldon. Her eyes dropped back to the bed,
and her hand yielded itself to the pressure of the ice-cold fingers.
"Yes," she said slowly and so faintly that Weldon, standing
breathless, could scarcely hear the words; "I have cared for you, as
you have cared for me."
The fingers tightened over her hand; but the lids drooped heavily
above the dark blue eyes.
"Dearest--girl." Then, smiling to himself, Captain Leo Frazer fell
asleep. The next moment counted itself out by slow seconds. Then
Ethel raised her head and turned to smile drearily up at Weldon.
Instead, she found herself smiling up at an empty wall. Harvard
Weldon had vanished and had left for her no word of farewell.
Up Commissioner Street and down Commissioner Street and around and
around Market Square tramped a haggard man in khaki who surveyed all
things with dull, unseeing eyes. On his cheek, an inch or so above
his stubbly beard, was a wide cross of plaster, and his left wrist
wore a narrow bandage. He walked with quick, nervous strides; yet
every now and then he halted to rest for a moment. Then he hurried
on again, as if pursued by some unseen, but malignant foe.
Twice he turned northward and paused before the hospital, staring
irresolutely up at the lighted windows. Then, facing about abruptly,
he moved on, swiftly, but with the mechanical tread of a man in a
dream. Once he found himself resting on the steps of the Jewish
synagogue. The next time he roused himself to take note of his
surroundings, he was at the Berea Estate, following Hospital Hill
straight to the eastward. It was then that he had turned about and
faced back to the hospital. A scant half-dozen hours before, that
hospital had held what was all the world to him. Now, without
warning, that all had proved to be naught.
The blow had come crashing upon him, straight between the eyes and
so suddenly that there had been no time for him to brace himself to
meet it. From the moment of his facing Ethel in the doorway of the
hospital, that noon, he had been sure that the talk which he would
have with her, that evening, could bring but the one ending. At
sight of the soiled and haggard man before her, her blue eyes had
lighted with something far more than pleased surprise. His appearing
had been quite unexpected; her meeting with him had been the naked
impulse of her girlish heart. And, all that endless day, her grief
for the Captain had in no way hidden her evident pleasure in his own
presence. And then, all at once, had come the end, unexpected and
hence doubly crushing. His young, newborn happiness was as little
strong to bear the blow as were his exhausted body and his shattered
nerve. Like a wild beast wounded to the death, he had crept silently
away, to go through his agony, unseen.
Standing under the fierce glare of the electric light by the
hospital gate, his appearance would wellnigh have baffled the
recognition of his mother. Soiled and stained and tattered, his head
sunk between his shoulders, he looked a feeble man of middle years.
Dark shadows lay around his heavy gray eyes, and the corners of his
mouth drooped pitifully. And, somewhere inside that building, was
the girl who had snatched away from him what was dearer than life
itself. For six long months she had been the incentive to all of his
best work; it had been her influence which finally had led him to
come back into the firing line; it had been in the hope for the
future, a hope growing less and less vague as the months passed by,
that he had been willing and glad to prolong his stay through one
more torrid African summer. And to what end?
Strange to say, it never once occurred to him to try to win her love
now, after all that bad passed. Still less did it occur to him to
doubt the truth of her final words to the Captain. Weldon had missed
the look of appealing anguish in the blue eyes which she had lifted
to his; but he had heard the low, steady voice, had seen the
pressure of the living fingers answer to the slight movement of the
hand already growing cold. He had heard, and seen. It was enough.
Always he had believed implicitly in Ethel's truth. There was no
reason he should distrust her now. It was only that he had been an
egregious ass to think that be could win her love, in the face of a
man like Captain Leo Frazer. With a mighty effort, he straightened
his shoulders, faced the wing where he knew the Captain would now be
lying and reverently removed his hat. Then, for one last time, his
eyes swept over the building and, turning away, he crawled off
towards the railway station.
And, meanwhile, alone in a room behind one of those brightly-lighted
windows, a girl sat huddled together, her crossed arms on her knees
and her face buried in her arms, while she wailed to herself over
and over again,--
"He might have waited! He might have waited! My God in heaven, what
have I done? But at least he might have waited!"
A commissariat train was leaving Johannesburg at two o'clock the
next morning. His pass in his hand, Weldon clambered drearily on the
train for the long ride back to Kroonstad. Motion of any kind was
better than remaining longer in Johannesburg. Nevertheless, the
jolting of the train was wellnigh unbearable. His shoulder throbbed,
and the dull pain in his head was maddening. He had passed the stage
of weariness, however, where one is conscious of exhaustion. An
ever-tightening strain was upon him. He could not rest now; he must
go on, and on, and on, faster and ever faster, until at last
something should snap and quiet perforce should overtake him.
Early dawn found him at Kroonstad. Sleep had been impossible for
him; he had no appetite for food, and it took an ever-increasing
effort for him to pull himself together. Like a man mounting a
steep, pathless hill, he tried to drag himself up above the
consciousness of his aching head and throbbing wounds; but it was
not to be done. At the station he halted irresolutely. Then of a
sudden he faced towards the great hospital tent.
"I want something to steady me a bit," he said briefly to the first
doctor he met there. "I have two or three scratches, and I am
feeling fagged. Give me something to help me get a grip on myself
again, for I can't spend time to be ill."
The doctor remonstrated; but Weldon's answer was peremptory.
"I tell you, I can't stop. Give me something and let me go. I've
work at Lindley that must be done, and a convoy leaves in an hour."
An hour later he was trudging over the veldt in the direction of
Lindley. Lindley was forty miles away; the roads were dusty, and the
sun of early February struck down upon him with the heat of a
belated summer. Nevertheless, at Lindley was his squadron, and with
his squadron would be work. Never in all his past life had Weldon
known this imperative need for work. In it now, and in its
accompanying excitement and in its inevitable risk, would lie his
ultimate salvation. For him, the future held but one plain duty, and
that duty was to forget.
The experienced eye of the doctor had told him that the gaunt
trooper was a sick man; it had also told him that the trooper's
determination would outweigh his sickness, at least for the present
crisis. He made no effort to penetrate the cause of that
determination. He merely yielded to it. A doctor less wise would
have ordered Weldon into bed. This one saw further. He knew that a
delicately adjusted machine often receives its worst damage from the
friction needed to stop the whirring wheels. Better to wait and let
them run down, untouched.
The forty miles from Kroonstad to Lindley were reducing themselves
from a geographical fact to a matter of physical and mental anguish.
There had been no rain for days, and under the burning sun, the
dusty veldt seemed dancing up and down before Weldon's tired,
feverish eyes. Now he passed through a stretch of bare and burned-
out sand; now he tramped over patches of tall dry grass; now he
plodded wearily around a heap of smooth black stones. Brick-red ant-
hills higher than his knees dotted themselves over the veldt, their
shell-like surface shielding a crowded insect colony within. Ant-
bear holes lurked unseen in his pathway, tripping his heedless
steps; and an occasional partridge went whirring upward, making him
start aside in causeless terror at the unwonted sound. And over it
all rested the glaring, shimmering, blinding light, laden with
myriad particles of dazzling red-brown dust. Later still, the red-
brown color vanished, and he walked for weary leagues over the fire-
blackened veldt where the black rocks offered no contrast to the
eye, and where the air was heavy with ashes caught up and scattered
by the light breeze which heralded the coming night. And it was all
so lonely, so hostile, so limitless. But no more lonely and hostile
and limitless than the desolate future which stretched away and away
before his gaze.
As yet he dared not trust his mind to rest too much upon the past.
The future demanded his whole attention. It was a far cry for him
from the present up to his limit of threescore years and ten. Still,
he would not funk it now. That was the part of a sneak. Now, as
always, he would stand by his young resolution to play out the game,
to abide by the rules and to take the consequences. Nevertheless, it
would be weary work to play out the game to its end, when the end
held nothing for him in its keeping. His mind trailed off upon all
sorts or vague corollaries scarcely connected with the fact. He
recalled it with a jerk.
The Captain was dead. Ethel had loved the Captain. She had told the
Captain of her love. As consequence, she could not love himself,
Harvard Weldon. But he loved her. He had loved her for thirteen
months and twenty-one days. Carefully he reckoned up the time; then,
to make sure, he counted it off upon his fingers. Yes, he had loved
her ever since that first lunch on the steamer, when she had snubbed
him so roundly. He did not know it then. Looking backward, he knew
it now. And there had been Cape Town, and Johannesburg, and Cape
Town again. He stumbled into the open mouth of an ant-bear's hole
and came down with a crash, full upon his wounded shoulder. Strange
that his step should be so uncertain! Strange that he should feel so
little inclination to swear! As he picked himself up, he wondered
vaguely whether his pipe would be refreshing; but his wonder
stopped, impotent to lead his dangling hand in the direction of his
pocket. Then his mind took up its interrupted story, its record of
brief, categorical facts.
He had meant to go home, that winter. Instead, Ethel had fanned the
flame of his desire to go back to the front. He had left her, one
evening, to pass a sleepless night, and, the next morning, to take
himself out to enlist for another six months of service. The six
months were nearly ended. Only three weeks remained. And then?
The second night found him still far from Lindley. He had plodded on
mechanically, stumbling often, but halting never, while his mind
went whirling on and on, over and over the same old questions. His
lips were feverish, and his eyes burned hotly, so it was almost with
a sense of relief that he greeted the swift chill which followed the
dropping of the sun. Over his head, the great arch of the sky shaded
from east to west through every tint of purple and blue and
turquoise and emerald-green, down to the golden band of the
afterglow. Then the stars began to dot the purple, their tiny points
of light serving only to emphasize its darkness, until the full moon
swept up across the heavens, throwing its mystic silver light over
all the land and adding tenfold to the empty loneliness of the
veldt. Sleep was out of the question. He could only snuggle more
closely into his blankets and wait for morning with what grace he
could. The stopping of his physical action only increased the
swiftness of his swirling thoughts which chased each other round and
round in circling eddies about one fixed point. That point was
Across the veldt at his left hand, he had watched the chain of
blockhouses which lay along the country between Kroonstad and
Lindley. Their squat outlines and the shining blue of their
corrugated iron roofs had caught his wandering attention, held it,
pinned it to other associations with those same blockhouses and, of
a sudden, had brought him to a full realization that griefs did not
come singly. He had left Johannesburg, to face a future apart from
Ethel. He was coming back to Lindley, to face a future bereft of the
It was full noon, the next day, when the camp came into view.
Leaving the convoy to follow in his wake, he headed straight for the
rise where he had so often sat with Carew and gossiped of all things
under the light of the sun. Then, as the round tents lay under his
eyes like rows of dots punched into relief above the surface of the
plain, he sank down on the coarse, parched grass and hid his eyes in
his shaking hands. Yet even then the pitiless circle of tragic
thoughts refused to stop their ceaseless round.
He roused himself at a touch on his arm. Kruger Bobs, at a distance,
was eying him with a look of chastened welcome; but Carew stood
beside him, one thin, sun-tanned hand on Weldon's shoulder.
"It's all right, old man," he was saying. "Don't try to tell me
anything about it. Kruger Bobs saw you coming, and we rode out to
meet you. Come in and rest. You look utterly done up."
Half way back to the camp, Carew spoke again; but it was only once.
"I told the fellows you were coming, and that you would be tired.
They will keep out of your way, till you have had time to rest up a
bit. Paddy is waiting to look out for you; but you needn't worry. He
knows when to hold his tongue. If you need anything, or if you care
to talk, send him out to look for me. Meanwhile, you need some
"For God's sake, Weldon, how long is this going to last?"
Weldon raised his eyes from the seven-weeks-old Times in his hand,
and looked at Carew in surprise.
"What last?" he questioned blankly.
Carew sprang to his feet and began to pace up and down with
impatient, nervous steps.
"This. Everything," he said.
Weldon's smile, though it went no deeper than his lips, was half
sarcastic, wholly sad.
"Specify," he advised languidly. "My mind can't grasp your
Carew took a few more turns. Then he came back to Weldon's side.
"It's this way, Harvey," he said slowly, for the moment lapsing into
the name by which he had called his friend in their childhood;
"since you came back from Johannesburg, you've not been the same
man. What has done it?"
Weldon's lips shut with a tightness which curled the corners
downward. Then, as he looked into the questioning eyes and anxious
face of his companion, his own eyes softened, and he changed his
mind in regard to keeping silence.
"It was a hard journey," he said evasively, yet with a kindly accent
to the words. "Such days take it out of a man, Carew. I shall brace
up in time."
Carew shook his head.
"That is just what you must not do. You have braced too long, as it
is. Your wounds were nothing but scratches. They healed up easily
enough, and you say, yourself, that they don't trouble you; but you
"Well?" "As if things had ended for you," Carew blurted out
Slowly, wearily, Weldon lifted his eyes to his friend's face.
"Well, they have," he said, with an intonation of dreary finality.
"Rot!" Carew observed profanely. "Look here, Weldon, you've no
business to funk in this fashion. It's not like you, either."
The word stung Weldon. He scrambled to his feet and stood to
"Carew, no other man could say that to me," he said slowly.
Carew maintained his ground.
"No other man cares for you as I do, Harvey. We've been like
brothers, and I have been too proud of your record to be willing to
sit by, quiet, and see you spoil the last round of the game. There
is too much at stake." Weldon raised his brows.
"What is at stake?" he asked coldly.
"Your whole army record. Your manhood. Your--" Carew hesitated; then
he nerved himself to speak out plainly; "your love for Miss Dent."
Weldon shut his teeth and drew in his breath between them, while the
dark red blood rushed across his face, and then died away, to leave
in its place a grayish pallor. He put out his hand, as if to ward
"For God's sake, don't!" he said huskily.
Carew watched him for an instant. Then he stepped forward and linked
his arm through that of Weldon.
"There's nothing doing now," he said quietly. "Let's go for a walk.
We can talk better, while we're moving, you know."
"But what is the use of talking?" Weldon objected listlessly.
Carew looked into the heavy eyes, the overcast face of his friend.
Not once during the past three weeks since Weldon's return from
Johannesburg had the cloud lifted.
"You must talk, Weldon," he said firmly. "If you don't talk, you'll
go mad. I've watched you, day after day, hoping you would speak of
your own free will. I have hated to urge you. It seemed rather
beastly to drive you into telling me things that are none of my
business. But they are my business, in a sense. There's nobody in
all South Africa who can go back farther with you into the past.
That alone ought to count for something."
Handsome still, in spite of his dark sunburn and his time-stained
khaki, Carew's face was wonderfully attractive, as it looked into
that of his friend. Weldon felt the attraction, even while he was
wondering why it was so powerless to move him. He liked Carew; since
the death of the Captain, no other man was linked more closely with
his life. Nevertheless, Carew's words left him cold. All things did
leave him cold of late. It was as if, in the fierce conflagration of
that one hour in the Johannesburg hospital, the fires of his nature
had burned themselves out beyond the possibility of being rekindled.
His intellect told him that Carew was in the right of it, that his
alternatives were speech or madness; but he faced the alternatives
with an absolute indifference. His intellect also told him that, for
the past three weeks, Carew's kindness had been unremitting; that
his care had served as a buffer between himself and the clumsy
tactlessness of their mates; that his sympathy now was leading him
to try to storm the barrier of his own reserve; but he met Carew's
advances with an icy front which could be thawed neither from
outside nor from within. It was not his will to be ungrateful; it
was beyond his present power to show the gratitude which he really
felt. And Carew, with the supreme insight which marks the friendship
of men at times, interpreted Weldon's mood aright and forebode to
Nevertheless, watching his friend closely, Carew had judged the case
to be serious. He had felt no surprise at the state of collapse in
which Weldon had struggled back into camp. The battle, the half-
dressed wounds, the nerve-racking journey, the watching the slow
approach of death and the accepting the fact of the loss of a valued
friend: all these were enough to wreck the vitality of a man. With
an almost womanish tenderness, Carew had brought his friend back to
the tent, and made him over to the care of Paddy who gave up all
things else, for the sake of his little Canuck. All that afternoon
and night, Weldon lay passive, inert, while Paddy bathed him, fed
him, poured cool, soft things over his wounds, fed him again, and
then sat down beside him with his own stubby hand resting against
Weldon's limp fingers. But, the next morning, Weldon rose, buttoned
and belted himself with elaborate care. Then, disregarding the
implorings of Carew and Paddy, who were terrified at the steady,
unseeing look in his gray eyes and at the tense lines about his
lips, he went to his captain and demanded his old position of
regimental rough rider.
He obtained it. In fact, it was given, not only freely, but with
joy. In all the regiment, no one else had been able to subdue such
wild mounts as Weldon. In former days, he had stopped at little. Now
he stopped at nothing. Horse-sickness, the scourge of South Africa,
was in the land; and the underfed, overworked mounts yielded to it
with pitiful ease. And, meanwhile, the need for horses was greater
than ever. Drive after drive through the country about Kroonstad was
bringing in the hostile Boers; but it was also bringing down the
horses. The call for new mounts was limitless; limitless, too, the
hours and the strength and the skill which Trooper Weldon put forth
to the supplying that call. He was utterly untiring; but he was
utterly reckless as well. Checked by no risk, sobered by no danger,
he rushed into risk and danger as rushes the man whose one wish is
to escape from a future of which he is in mortal, agonizing dread.
Carew said little; he watched much, and he meditated more. At first,
he hoped all things from the healthy, outdoor life. He watched
Weldon's muscles harden, saw his appetite return and welcomed with
happy anticipations all the signs of his returning rugged strength.
Then, as the time passed by, his anxiety came back upon him in full
measure. Long days in the saddle were followed by sleepless nights;
the shadow never came out of Weldon's eyes, the alertness never came
back into his step. Lean, gaunt as a greyhound, he went about his
work with a silent, dogged endurance which took no note of the other
life about him. For Trooper Weldon, his profession had dropped to a
dull, plodding routine of danger lapping close upon the heels of
danger. And still he spoke no word of the sorrow which had brought
him to this end.
And Carew, meanwhile, could not fail to note the increasing anxiety
with which Alice Mellen wrote of her cousin. From Alice's letters,
it appeared that Ethel, totally unnerved by the death of Captain
Frazer, had begged so piteously to be released from her hospital
work that she had finally been sent home to Cape Town. She had
seemed to be far from well, when she had left Johannesburg;
nevertheless, she had no sooner reached home than she had plunged
into the midst of the whirlpool of social life where she was said to
be the gayest of the gay.
Cape Town, that fall, was facing the end of the war and the
consequent departure of the swarm of young Englishmen who had made
their headquarters there during the past two years. Accordingly, it
resolved to make the most of the short time remaining to it; and the
early weeks of the year saw the little city neglecting all other
things for the sake of making merry with her fast-vanishing heroes.
And, in all the round of merry-making, Ethel Dent was in evidence,
bright and flashing as the diamonds that blazed on her shoulder, and
as soft. Her wit was ceaseless, her energy untiring. Always the
middle of a group, she yet always held herself within range of her
father's protection. He watched her proudly; yet his pride was
sometimes mingled with alarm, as he saw the waxy whiteness of her
ears and the dark shadows which lay beneath her eyes. It was plain
to him that all was not well with the girl; yet he was wholly at a
loss as to the cause of the trouble.
Strange to say, he never once thought of Weldon; neither did his
mind linger long upon the Captain. True, Ethel and Captain Frazer
had been good friends; but so had Ethel been good friends with many
another man. The secret of that last hour of the Captain's life was
buried in two hearts. Weldon could not speak of it; Ethel would not.
And so, in the eyes of her friends, Ethel's experience had been
sorrowful, but scarcely touched with tragedy. The heroic passing of
a casual friend is no cause for a lasting change in the nature of a
However, Alice had noted the change and, quite unable to account for
it, she had commented upon it to Carew. Her letter, coming that same
morning, had quickened his slow-forming resolution to speak. Taken
quite by itself, her account of Ethel would have made scant
impression upon him. Taken in connection with what he had seen of
Weldon, it forced him to draw certain conclusions which, though
wrong in detail, were comparatively accurate in their main outlines.
He and Weldon came back from their walk, wrapped in the silence of
perfect understanding. Carew had asked few questions; Weldon had
made even fewer replies, and those replies had been brief. Ethel's
name had scarcely been mentioned between them. Their talk had mainly
concerned itself with Captain Frazer, his life, his passing, the
void he had left behind him. Only one sentence had related to the
scene in the hospital; but its brief, tragic summing up of the
situation had been sufficient. Carew had made no answer, save to
walk on for a few steps in silence, with his hand resting on the
shoulder of his friend.
That night, he wrote to Alice. The letter was long and full of
detail. It told what he knew, what he had inferred and what he
feared. It begged her, in the name of their own sacred happiness, to
help him win the same happiness for these two who, longing to come
together, were straying always farther apart; and it ended with the
words with which he had begun his talk with Weldon, that noon,--
"For God's sake, how long is this going to last?"
Paddy waved his thumb disrespectfully towards the rear of the
"And what can you expect of a man that goes to the wars in a fancy
petticoat, let alone a khaki apron to cover up the front of it?" he
demanded. "And look at the bare knees of 'em, for all the world like
knots in the branches of an oak-tree! They may be trained to believe
it's comfortable to walk round in public with their kneepans in
plain sight; but no man can ever make me think it's either beautiful
to the eye, or respectful in the presence of one's betters."
"But their officers wear the same uniform, Paddy," Weldon objected.
"Who are their betters?"
"Myself, little Canuck, and yourself, too," Paddy answered calmly.
"The maple and the shamrock, severally and together, can knock the
spots out of all the thistles that's growing."
"Until it comes to a fight," Carew suggested, from Paddy's other
side. "The Highlanders have made their record, this time."
But Paddy shook his head. "Wait then till the end of the chapter,"
he predicted. "My turn hasn't come yet. Belike I'll be the hero of
them all. I was minding my pots and my kettles, while the Black
Watch was slinging lead up on the road into Kimberley. But, faith,
if I was one of them, with the choice before me between a glorious
death and the having to live in the sound of the bagpipes, I'd mount
a Red Cross and take a white flag in my hand and sally forth to be
seen and shot by the Boers."
"You don't like the bagpipes, Paddy?"
Paddy's reply was sententious.
"Did you ever hear a pig soliloquizing to himself, just as he
crossed the tracks between the wheels of an express train? Well
"Meanwhile," Carew observed thoughtfully; "I wonder why we are out
on this trek."
"To escort the little Canuck with his mounts, and to study the
surface of the land, to be sure."
Carew's eye swept the barren, desolate expanse about them.
"It is a bit monotonous, though."
"It's monotony that's healthy. You can't make a whole dinner off
from red pepper, and you can't make a whole campaign off from
smokeless powder. In either case, you get too much heated up, for
the show it all makes. Strike hard and eat hot at long intervals and
with exceeding unction; and, meanwhile, pause and let it soak in.
It's not the hottest fire that gives off the most blazes. And where
is that nigger of a Kruger Bobs?"
"In among the wagons with The Nig." "Just for all the world like the
deuce of spades! The Black Watch would better adopt the two of 'em
for their colors. The Nig is a pretty bit of property; but this is
the brute for me." And Paddy bent over in the saddle to stroke the
neck of Piggie who snapped back at him testily.
However, in all truth, the little gray broncho deserved all of
Paddy's praise. Scarred from muzzle to pastern by errant bullets,
limping slightly on one fore leg, she still had borne her master
bravely over weary miles of veldt, into many a skirmish and through
the kicking, squealing throngs of her kindred which crowded the
Lindley kraal. Long since, Weldon had discovered that the
thoroughbred Nig was an ornament; but that Piggie was a necessity.
Again and yet again, her flying feet and gritty temper had brought
him, unscathed, through perilous plights. She read his mind as by
instinct; left unguided, she guided herself with exceeding
discretion; and, upon more than one occasion, she had endured the
nervous strain of feeling a human body dangling limply above the
saddle bow, held in place by main strength of her master who,
crouching forward beneath the heavy fire, could only indicate the
way of safety by the pressure of this heel and then that against her
heaving flanks. Surely, if ever honors could be given to a faithful,
plucky little broncho, Piggie should have been gazetted for the
Distinguished Service Order. Not to the men alone is due all the
honor of victory.
But now Piggie, fresh from a prolonged interval of resting in the
care of Kruger Bobs, felt that she was out on an excursion of pure
pleasure. Behind her trailed a long column of men and mounts and
wagons; around her was a knot of horses whom she knew well; and
before her stretched away the dry and level veldt, broken at the
sky-line by a range of hills that rose sharply in a jagged line
which culminated in one peak lifted far above all the others.
In the very front of the column rode a score or more of the South
African Light Horse, with Weldon, for the moment, in command. The
man was showing, just then, something of the temper of his mount. It
would have been good to leave behind him the slow-moving column and
go dashing away alone, far across the level plain. A spirit of
restlessness was upon him; Paddy's utterances grew vague in his
ears, and he cast longing glances towards the range of hills to the
southward, as if eager to explore them and find what secrets, if
any, lay within their keeping. Then he reined in his broncho and
forced his mind back to Paddy's conversation, still upon the deeds
of the kilted heroes of the Black Watch.
"And they do say," he was observing; "that Wauchope was light in his
mind--fey, them piping, petticoated Scotchmen calls it--the night
before his death. Now that's something that's beyond my thinking. No
dead man ever knows he's going to die. Witness the last words of
most of 'em! They make up their death-bed speeches, and then they
turn thrifty and save up the speeches till next time. Little Canuck
dear, what would you say, if you was hit?"
Weldon laughed shortly.
"I should probably say 'Thank God,'" he answered.
Paddy crossed himself.
"And might heaven forgive you then, little one!" he said gravely.
"The Lord and the Holy Virgin may send the bullets to kill you,
unless it's from the Boers who is guided by the Father of Lies; but
it's small thanks in return they will be asking. Take the benefits
of Providence with a shout of thanksgiving; but swallow hard and
keep a stiff upper lip, when it smacks you over the head with a
shillalegh." Then, of a sudden, he bent over in the saddle once more
and rested his hand on Weldon's fingers which lay on the broncho's
neck. "And, if I mistake not, little one, it is what you have been
doing, these late days, so forgive me teaching you a lesson you've
already learned by heart."
Two nights before this, Carew's letter to Alice had ended with the
"For God's sake, how long is this going to last?"
And now the end was almost in sight. Early the next day, there had
come a call for remounts for a column halted on the veldt near
Reitz, and Weldon, with a score of others from his squadron, had
been sent out with the mounts to join the column for the trek to the
southward. As a matter of course, Weldon had asked that the score
might include Paddy and Carew; and now, with them at his side, he
was at the head of the column which trailed away far towards the
southward, twelve hundred poorly mounted men riding in leisurely
fashion towards Harrismith and the chance of rounding up an
Dusk of the second day had brought the hills on the sky-line close
to their eyes, and had sharpened the ragged peaks into threatening
crests of bare, black rock. Already the hills were but three miles
distant, and the hour for halt almost at hand, when scouts came
flying back to the column, breathless with haste and with the
consciousness of tidings to impart. The colonel received the tidings
with outward calm.
"A laager of fifteen hundred Boers? And a mile and a half to the
south of us? We must attack." His eyes swept the faces of his men.
At the word, Weldon rode forward and saluted.
"That highest hill is the key to the position. It is the one we must
hold. Can you and your men ride around to the west of the laager,
get that hill and hold it at all costs until I can send
reinforcements to you? The reinforcements will start as soon as you
reach the top of the hill. Keep out of sight, while you can. Then
rush it. You understand?"
Weldon nodded; then, his head erect, his eyes flashing, he saluted
for a second time and, with his men at his heels, dashed off into
the thickening dusk.
Like foothills beside a mountain range, so the veldt before him was
already broken and crumpled into a series of irregular ridges,
opening in their midst to form a tiny plain where the Boer laager
lay spread out before them. The dusk of the plain was dotted with
scattered camp fires; but, beyond the ridges, it lay heavy, and in
that heaviness Weldon placed his trust. For two thirds of his whole
distance, he could keep below a ridge to the westward of the laager.
The final third lay full in view of the enemy, full up the
increasing steepness of the mountain side, where, horses failing, it
would be necessary to creep by stealth and upon the hands and knees.
And, where the shelter ended, there lay before them a short defile
between walls of naked rock, and the defile was narrow.
Half the way to the defile was already accomplished when Weldon
heard, from the crest of the ridge above him, the double crack of a
Mauser rifle, and then the sound of scurrying, unshod feet. He shut
his teeth, and his chin rose a bit higher. "A picket! And now the
brute has run in to tell tales," he said shortly. "Quick, men, it's
a race between us now."
Answering to the touch of the spur, the gray broncho went leaping
forward, with Paddy's horse neck and neck at her side. From beyond
the ridge, the trio of guns could be heard, barking ceaselessly,
while their shells dropped thick into the laager, scarcely eight
hundred yards away. And now the defile, short, but narrow, was close
From the mouth of the tiny pass, a rain of bullets swept down upon
them. A horse dropped, shot through the knee; another, hit in the
neck, bolted, threw its wounded rider and then, mad with pain,
hurled itself straight into the ranks of the enemy. A second shot,
almost at arm's length, threw it to the earth; but not until it had
done its work. The half-broken Boer ponies, fat from much feeding
and totally unaccustomed to this species of missile, swerved at its
approach and destroyed the aim of the second volley, which was
answered by a fire that sent a full quarter of the twoscore Boers
sprawling heavily groundward.
A scant ten minutes sufficed for the rest. Five troopers lay
helpless on the dusty soil. Five dead Boers blocked the trail at the
entrance of the narrow pass. It was a drawn game; but the end was
not yet. From beyond the ridge, Weldon could hear the guns still
pounding ceaselessly. He knew that, half a mile in the rear, his
colonel was watching for him to come to the crest of the hill; that,
in a sense, the whole game was waiting upon his moves. Whirling
himself about, he gave a short, sharp order. Scarcely a moment
later, he was astonished to see the Boers in the pass giving way
before the mad rush of his paltry fifteen men. The narrow pass was
Beyond the pass were more ridges, some parallel with his course,
some crossing it. Far to the eastward, he could see a moving spot,
black even in the increasing darkness of the night. Leaving Piggie
to pick her own way along the rocky ridge, he rose in his stirrups,
shaded his eyes with his hands and peered anxiously towards the
spot. At last his straining eyes could make out eight Boer horsemen,
riding furiously towards the peak which he was in honor bound to
hold. And their course was the chord of the arc of his own circle.
He dropped back to the saddle where he bent low, yielding his whole
body to the flying body of his horse.
The crest was sharp. To the east, its approach was more easy; but on
the west it offered a wall of blank, black rock. The fat Boer ponies
were still at some distance from the eastern slope, when Weldon
flung himself from his panting broncho. Carew protested, as they
told off by fours and he was left, the third man, with Paddy's
mount, the gray broncho and a huge brown Argentine horse on his
"Sorry, old man!" Weldon said briefly. "It's luck, and dead against
you. Still, it may save Miss Mellen a bad half-hour. Look out for
Piggie. She deserves it." And, turning, he led the way up the wall
of rock, with thirteen men, breathless, grim and eager, scrambling
at his heels.
For moments, it seemed to him that Fate was idly tossing the dice to
and fro, before allowing herself to make the final, decisive cast.
From the farther side of the hill, he heard a sudden terrified snort
from one of the Boer ponies, then the thud of feet, as they charged
up the approaches of the long slope. From behind him, there arose a
groan, as one of the men, missing his foothold in the deepening
dusk, crashed back against the loose rocks at the bottom of the
hill. Then a shot and a whinnying moan told him that Carew and his
three comrades had edged around the base of the hill into range of
the enemy above them. The man might be wounded, too, as well as the
mount. Seven Boers, and they were thirteen in all. The cast was all
A dash of light! A rattle of firing! Three of his men dropped
backwards. The other ten looked up to face a second flash from the
summit. Only eight heard the answering echoes which came rolling
back to them from the encircling hills. Then Paddy's voice came in
his ears, low, but as unconcerned as ever.
"Remember the fellow who was rejected on account of his teeth,
little Canuck? 'Faith,' he said; 'it's shooting the damned Boers I
want to be, not eating them.' But, by the holy Virgin Mary, in
another ten minutes we'll be shaking 'em between our teeth."
The next flash but one showed only five men on the steep rocky wall;
but those five men were close to the summit. Once on the top, their
rifles could come into play. It was maddening to be picked off, like
stuffed crows resting on a tree branch; maddening to listen to the
low sounds from beneath which told them that some one of their
comrades was facing the end of his fight. Then, just as they reached
the summit, one of their five dropped, with a bullet shattering the
bone of his ankle.
"Go on, boys! You'll get there," he said, as the next in line dashed
past him. "The hill is Weldon's. Mind you hold it for him. The devil
is in him, and he's bound to win."
On top of the hill, six Boers were huddled in the scant shelter of a
few low, scattered rocks tufted with a bunch of brush whose bleached
stalks marked the darkness with a pale line of range for their fire.
The next volley went astray. It was answered by the crack of Paddy's
rifle. Paddy's chuckle followed close on the crack. "I rolled him
over like a sausage in the hot fat," he commented, as he took a
second aim. "Here goes for another, and may his bed in heaven have a
valance to hide his sins!" A second Boer vanished behind the rocks.
Four Boers in shelter, four Britons in the open; and, on the plain
beneath, twenty-seven hundred men were waiting to see the outcome of
The tension of the eight men increased. It rendered their aim
unsteady. Under its influence, seven men fell to wasting their
ammunition. The eighth was Paddy. Firing rarely, his rare bullets
told. Now a finger was shattered, now an ear was grazed.
"I'm not doing much killing; but, faith, I'm warming 'em up a bit,"
he said, as he halted to cool his rifle. "It's keeping the ball a-
rolling, and them busy. Else, belike they'd find Satan filling the
idle hands of them with bad deeds. Little Canuck dear, this is hot
work for a boy."
Weldon nodded. His hat had been lost in the scramble up the hill,
his putties were dragged into heaps of khaki about his knees, the
shoulder of his coat was torn by a passing bullet and a scarlet
trickle lined his cheek; but his face was alert and eager, his lips
parted in a half-smile which brought back to Paddy's mind a dim
picture of the boyish trooper he had known and loved at Piquetberg
Road. Then another man in khaki dropped at their feet. The lines of
Weldon's mouth straightened.
"No go," he said briefly. "We must charge. It's our only chance."
Paddy took one last, hasty shot. Then, gripping his rifle, he turned
"True, little Canuck," he answered loyally. "Go on, and be sure
Paddy will follow you to the other edge of the grave!"
He spoke truthfully. The reinforcements came rushing up the eastern
slope of the hill, to find their pathway encumbered with bearded men
in frock-coats and bandoliers. On top of the crest, surrounded by
the wounded and the dying, sat a single man in khaki, the light of
victory in his gleaming eyes, and Paddy's lifeless body clasped in
his weary arms.
"Yes," Carew said meditatively; "I wish there had been glory enough
to go around. As long as there wasn't, though, I am glad it was
fated to fall to your share."
Weldon hurled a little black stone at a great black rock.
"Not so much glory, after all."
Carew raised his eyes and apostrophized the dark gray clouds rushing
across the paler gray arch of the sky.
"Just listen to the man! What can he be wanting? 'Not so much
glory!' And he recommended for a V. C.!"
Weldon shook his head.
"What does it profit a man," he paraphrased; "if he gain the V. C.
and lose one of his best friends? Besides, I didn't gain it; it was
fated. Paddy was as brave as I, and so were half a dozen more of
them. It was only chance that brought me through the bullets."
"Poor Paddy!" Carew's tone was full of thoughtful regret.
"Not poor at all. He had the end we all are wishing for. He died
with his boots on, and fighting pluckily for a forlorn hope. We
can't mourn a man that we envy."
Half way to the distant sky-line, the horses of the squadron were
grazing peacefully over the stubbly grass. The corporal and the
third of the troopers appointed to guard them were far away towards
the crest of a ridge to the westward, and Carew and Weldon were
alone. Carew sat silent for a moment, his eyes on the scattered
groups of horses. Then he turned and looked directly at his friend.
"Perhaps," he assented. "I was sorry to be out of the scrimmage. It
took all my grit to obey you, old man; but it was an order. Now it
"Well?" Weldon prompted him.
"Now it is over, I am less sorry than I was. The fact is, the future
holds a good deal for us."
"For you, perhaps."
"For you, too. The whole future of a man doesn't go to wreck in an
hour. There are other crises later on, and some of them are bound to
come out well. Save yourself for those, Weldon. There is no especial
use in throwing yourself away."
"I'm not. But, when the order comes, I must obey it," Weldon said
"It depends something on the order; but it depends a good sight more
on the way you obey it. When a man comes into collision with a
bulldog, it's generally wise to grapple with him back of his teeth;
else, you may lose a thumb or two. It's the same way with your
orders here. Because you don't funk, there is no reason you should
flirt with an early death."
"But I don't."
"What about now?"
"What do you mean?"
"That you ought to be in hospital."
Weldon threw back his head and laughed, but mirthlessly.
Without speaking, Carew took out his pipe, filled it and began
fumbling in his pocket.
"Have you a match?" he asked.
Weldon nodded, produced the match, lighted it and held it to the
extended pipe. Carew's eyes, drooped to the bowl, watched the bit of
"Do you call that a steady hand?" he asked then. "Man, you're ill, I
tell you. Your face is hot and your hands are cold, and your nerves
are worn to shoestrings, frayed shoestrings at that. If you keep on,
you'll be down flatter than you like. You ought to have stopped four
Weldon crossed his arms at the nape of his neck and lay back at his
ease on the ground.
"Then what would have become of my V. C.?" he queried, with languid
"But I thought you claimed not to care for your V. C."
"I don't. My friends may, however." "As a legacy? I think your
friends may possibly choose you to the V. C."
"Foolish of them," Weldon commented. "Still, 'If we could choose the
time, and choose aright, 'T were best to die, our honor at the
height.' I learned that when I was a small boy; but I've only just
found out what it means."
With scoffing lips, but eyes full of unspoken love, Carew turned on
"Don't dodder, Weldon," he counselled him. "That's canting drivvle,
made to console the unsuccessful. No man knows when he has reached
his high-water mark. Yours may have come on the day you licked
Stevie Ballard for gilding the tailless cat; it may not come till
you are ninety."
"No." The syllable was quiet, deliberate. Then Weldon roused himself
and sat up to speak with sudden energy. "Promise me this, Carew,
that while the matter is hanging fire, you won't mention this V. C.
business to any one."
Carew stared at him in unmixed surprise.
"What's the matter now?" he asked blankly.
"Nothing, only that I want you to promise."
"Not to a living soul."
"Why? What's the use?"
"No use, but my wish. If it comes off, let it be as a joyous
surprise. If it misses fire, as it quite well may, then there'll be
no harm done. In either case, it is best to keep still. My own
notion is that I'll not get it. As a rule, one doesn't get the V. C.
for shinning up the side of a hill, no matter how steep it is."
Carew made no attempt to discuss the chances. Instead, he merely
"Mayn't I tell Miss Mellen?"
Weldon shook his head. It was exactly to prevent the inevitable
consequences of Alice Mellen's knowing the story that he was seeking
to extort the promise from Carew. To protect his motive, however, he
took a sudden resolution.
"I shall not even tell my mother," he answered, with slow emphasis.
Carew raised his brows.
"Then I suppose that ties my tongue. I am sorry. What's the use of
being so confoundedly modest, Weldon?"
"Do you promise?"
"I suppose I must."
"On your honor?"
"On my honor."
Weldon stretched himself out at full length once more.
"So be it. Give me a light. You took my last match," he said as
unconcernedly as if they had merely been talking of the weather.
Indeed, the weather might well have been the subject of their talk.
The earth was baked until it cracked beneath the parching sun and
wind. There had been no rain for weeks; but, to-day, the raw wind
sent the lead-colored clouds flying over the sky, and the lead-
colored clouds were heavy with rain. All the morning and till mid-
afternoon, the column had been camping not far away, while their
weary, hungry mounts had been turned out on the veldt to graze. For
men and mounts, the halt was needed.
The fight about the laager had been no easy victory. Twelve hundred
half-starved Britons are no match for fifteen hundred Boers fat with
easy living. Weldon's hold on the crest had decided the game; but
the game had not played itself out without wounds for some and utter
weariness for all. War mad, yet half-dazed in all other respects,
Weldon had watched the reinforcements come swarming up the hill to
his relief, had heard their cheers mingling themselves with the
sound of his name. Then, listless, but with his arm still about
Paddy's shoulders, he had seen the fight move to its destined
finish. He came down from the hilltop, feeling that something had
taken yet one more turn in the evertightening coil of his brain. For
one instant, as they were laying Paddy into the narrow grave scooped
out of the veldt, the coil relaxed. Then, as the lumps of earth
closed over his plucky, loyal little comrade, it tightened again and
pressed on him more closely than ever.
And that was a week ago; and the week between had been one long trek
in search of errant Boers. Weldon still rode in the front of the
column. He had been ordered into hospital; but, bracing himself, he
had looked the doctor steadily between the eyes and had refused to
obey. The hospital was not for him--as yet. "By Jove!" Carew was
remarking deliberately. "Look at the horses!"
Noses in air, tails lashing and eyes staring wildly, the frightened
groups had swept together and were rushing down upon them in one mad
stampede. Straight towards the two troopers they came dashing along,
swerved slightly and went sweeping past them, wrapped in a thick
column of dust which parted, just as the horde rushed by, before the
fierce impact of the breaking storm. From zenith to horizon, the
leaden sky was marked with wavering lines of golden fire; but the
shock of the thunder was outborne by the clash of falling hail. Half
a mile away, the tents were riddled by the egg-sized lumps of ice;
and, out on the open veldt, Carew threw himself on the earth, face
downward, and buried his head in his sheltering arms. But Weldon
staggered to his feet. In the thick of the flying troop of horses,
he had seen the little gray broncho, and now, before she swept on
out of hearing, he turned his back to the gale and gave a high,
shrill whistle. It was months, now, since Piggie had learned that
call. Again and again she had come trotting up to him, to rub her
muzzle against his neck in token that she had heard and understood.
There was scant chance that the call would be carried to her by the
boisterous wind, scanter chance still that, hearing it now in that
mad rout, she would heed. Nevertheless, Weldon took the chance.
Obviously stampeded by the enemy, the missing horses would leave the
column powerless to repel the attack which was imminent. If Piggie
could be recalled, there was still a chance to regain the other
mounts. Yet, even while he was weighing all the chances, he smiled
to himself as he recalled the ineffectual little whistle that had
gone out on the whistling wind. The chance was gone. Like Carew, he
would lie down and seek what shelter he could get from the earth and
from his own clasping arms.
The hail, falling thickly, shut down about the troop of horses and
took them from his sight. If his eyes could have followed them, he
would have seen one little gray head toss itself upward from the
heart of the throng, one sturdy little gray back move more and more
slowly, turn slightly, then weave its patient way in and out between
its frightened companions until, free from the press of the crowd,
it stood alone on the hail-lashed plain. Ten minutes later, Weldon
felt a soft, wet muzzle poking its way between his tight-locked
arms. The rest was simple. It amounted to riding back to the column
to give warning of the enemy who rode close in the rear, to
summoning Kruger Bobs and The Nig, and then, without stopping for a
saddle, to go galloping away to the sky-line to round up the
stampeded herd. The first dash of hail over, the rain fell fast upon
them; but, above its roar, they could hear the steady firing of the
pom pom behind them and the crackle of musketry mingled with the
Four o'clock had brought the stampede and the storm. Seven o'clock
brought Weldon and Kruger Bobs, drenched to the skin, back into a
demoralized camp. Nine o'clock found Weldon still in the saddle, his
teeth chattering, his brown cheeks ablaze and his eyes hot with
fever, while he waited for the pitching of his tattered tent. Then,
even before its soggy, torn folds were stretched and pegged into
position, he turned and rode off in search of a doctor.
"Sorry," he said briefly; "but I think I've a touch of fever. Can
you put me to bed somewhere?"
The next morning, he greeted Kruger Bobs by the name of a girl
cousin who had died, ten years before.
For two weeks, the fever held Weldon in its grip. For two weeks, he
was prostrate, first with the halting column, then at the base
hospital at Kroonstad. The fever was never very high, nor was it
intermittent. It merely hung about him and ate away his strength.
For the time being, he was content to lie quiet and stare up at the
electric lights scattered through the tent and wonder about Ethel.
Now and then some sight in the hospital set him to thinking about
the Captain, wondering if he were happy in his new life of rest and
peace, he who had so often been in the thick of the fiercest fight.
Or he thought of Paddy, brave, merry little Irishman who, fighting
like an angry wolf, had died with a joke still hanging on his lips.
Then his mind went back again to Ethel.
In vain they urged him to sleep; in vain they gave him bromides. The
body was at rest; but the wheels of the brain whirred as busily as
ever, and as logically. No hint of delirium mingled with his thought
processes. It might have saved something if there had.
Then, one day, Weldon sat up for an hour. The next day, he was put
into his clothes and, three days later, supported on the strong arm
of Kruger Bobs, he crawled into a hospital train bound for Cape
Town. It was an order, and he obeyed. Nevertheless, he shrank from
the very mention of Cape Town. It had been the core of his universe;
but now the core had gone bad. But his time of service had expired.
Red tape demanded that he receive the papers for his discharge from
the Cape Town citadel. That done, he would take the first outgoing
steamer for London. Afterwards, he would leave his life in the hands
of Fate. He took no note of the fact that Fate might step into the
game earlier than he then foresaw.
For full seven hundred miles, the train lumbered on to the
southward. It was tedious, exhausting; yet Weldon found a certain
interest in the jar of the rolling wheels to which he fitted the
measure of his whirring thoughts. As long as the rhythm of the
wheels lasted, his thoughts slowed down to meet their time. When the
train halted, his thoughts dashed off again; but they resumed their
slower course as soon as the wheels began once more. He took no note
of the country about him, as they passed from veldt to karroo, from
karroo to the coast plateau, and from the coast plateau down across
the Cape Flats, sparsely covered with pipe grass and acacias. Then,
as Table Mountain and the Devil's Peak lifted themselves on his
right hand, he knew that Cape Town was near, and he braced himself
to go through what was before him.
Kruger Bobs eyed him anxiously.
"Boss sick," he announced for the dozenth time, as the train drew in
at the Adderley Street station. "Boss berry sick mans. Boss go hotel
But Weldon shook his head. Even now, rest had scant space in his
plans, least of all, rest in Cape Town.
"I can do it," he asserted resolutely. "Steady me till I get
started, Kruger Bobs. Then I shall astonish you by my agility."
"Boss go hotel," Kruger Bobs muttered in low-voiced mutiny. "Boss
too sick to trek."
"No fear. Did you ever know me to give out, when there was something
still to be done, Kruger Bobs?"
"What Boss do?"
"My discharge. My banker. My passage home."
The arm of Kruger Bobs tightened about the bony figure of his
master, but the pressure of his strong arm was only gentle and
reassuring, and the great, white-ringed eyes glittered wet. This was
not the boy master to whom Kruger Bobs had sworn allegiance. This
was an older man, and weak withal. But the weaker grew the master,
the stronger grew the loyal, loving allegiance of the man.
After the wide, deserted stretches of open veldt, the roar of
Adderley Street seemed to Weldon like the maddening tumult of
Piccadilly. The noise stunned him; the hurrying crowd filled him
with terror. Even inside the cab, he still clung to the arm of the
faithful Kruger Bobs. Still clinging to that faithful arm, he came
out from the citadel, no longer Trooper Weldon, but Mr. Harvard
Weldon once more, honorably discharged from the South African Light
Horse. Kruger Bobs was invisible behind the spreading limits of his
smile; but Weldon had scarcely heeded the words which had been
addressed to him. All at once, like a watch about to run down, the
wheels of his brain were moving slowly and ever more slowly. His
whole resolution now centered in keeping them in motion long enough
to go to his banker and to the office of the steamship company. Once
on the steamer and sliding out across Table Bay, he could leave the
rest to the ship's doctor and to Fate.
Even in the multitude of strangers who had passed through Cape Town,
in those latter months, he was remembered at the bank and greeted
with a word of congratulation on his record in the field. At the
word, a man beside him, hearing, turned to look, looked again, and
then held out his hand. It was the father of Ethel Dent.
That night, the Dents dined alone. Over the roast, Mr. Dent looked
"Whom do you think I saw, to-day, Ethel?"
"Who now?" she asked, smiling. "You can't expect me to guess, when
you are constantly running up against the most impossible people."
"Not this time. It was quite possible; but it gave me a shock. It
was Mr. Weldon."
The smile died from her lips. Nevertheless, she asked, with a forced
"What shocked you?"
"His looks. He was ghastly, thin to a shadow and burning up with
fever. I was in the bank, and I heard some one speak his name; but I
had to look at him for a second time, before I could recognize him.
The man is a wreck. He looked sixty years old, as he went crawling
off, on the arm of his Kaffir boy. I'm sorry. I always liked
A bit of bread lay by Ethel's plate. For an instant, her finger tips
vanished inside its yielding surface. Then she looked up.
"Too bad! He was a good fellow," she said quietly. Then she lifted
her hand to her throat. "Dear me! Have I lost my diamond pin?" she
added hastily. "I was sure I put it on. Please excuse me, while I
see if I left it in my room." And she ran swiftly out of the room.
Mrs. Dent broke the pause.
"Where was Mr. Weldon going?"
"To his hotel. I came out, just as they drove away, and I heard the
boy give the order to the driver."
"Which hotel was it?"
"I--Really, I don't remember. He used to go to the Grand."
"He seemed ill?"
"He seemed--" For an instant, Mr. Dent held the word in suspension.
Then he let it drop with a slow quietness which added tenfold to its
His wife's gentle eyes clouded.
"I am sorry. I liked the boy. He was good to me."
"I had thought Ethel liked him, too," her husband added a little
"So she did in a way. But there have been so many others." The
mother sighed slightly. In her young days, there had been but one.
Now, remembering that one and watching him in the present, she found
it hard to comprehend Ethel's free-handed distribution of social
favors among so great a throng of admirers. There had always been
many; now, since her recent return from Johannesburg, the many had
become a multitude, and each of the multitude could show proof of
her liking. But Mrs. Dent recurred to the fact of Weldon's illness.
"Poor boy! Fancy being really ill, so far from home and in a hotel!"
she added slowly.
"It is one of the risks of a soldier," her husband reminded her.
"Yes, and the soldiers fought for us. Where would your mines have
been without them?" she suggested in return. "I really wish you
would telephone to the hotel and find out something more definite
Her husband looked covetously at the entree, just appearing in
"Now?" he asked.
She ignored the mockery of his tone.
"Yes, please," she assented quietly. "It will only take you a
It took him ten. When he came back into the room, his hat was in his
"I think I will go over to the Grand for a minute," he explained. "I
don't quite like what I hear."
"What did you hear?"
In the dim upper hallway, a girlish figure leaned far over the
railing and strained her ears for the reply. Then, noiselessly, the
door of her room shut again behind her.
"They tell me," Mr. Dent was saying; "that Weldon is there,
unconscious in his room. The boy brought him into the house in his
arms, and they have sent for Dr. Wright. It is a bad case of
enteric, mixed with some trouble with the brain. He appears to be
suffering from nervous shock, they say, increased by a long strain
Half an hour later, he was called from Weldon's room to speak to his
wife at the telephone.
"Yes," he answered her. "It is as bad as I heard, as bad as it can
be. You think so? Are you strong enough? Sure? Hold the wire, then,
till I ask the doctor." The interval was short; and he went on
again, "The doctor says he can be moved now, but not later. It may
be a matter of weeks. How soon can you be ready? Very well. Will you
be sure to save yourself all you can? In an hour, then. And the
doctor will have a nurse waiting there? And can you put the boy into
some corner? He would be frantic, if we tried to leave him behind.
Very well. Yes." And the telephone rang off.
It was midnight before the Dent household was fully reconstructed.
Upstairs in the great eastern front room, a white-capped nurse was
bending above the unconscious man in the bed; downstairs in the
kitchen, the tears of Kruger Bobs were mingling with the cold roast
beef on the table before him. The doctor had just gone away, and in
the room underneath the sickroom, Mr. Dent and his wife were quietly
laying plans to meet the needs of the changed routine which had
fallen upon their home. He looked up, as Ethel came slowly into the
"By the way, Ethel, I forgot to ask you before; but did you find
She looked at him wonderingly. Her face was pale and drawn; but her
eyes were shining like the gems she had professed to miss.
"What pin do you mean?" she asked blankly.
"Don't wait any longer, Carew. Really, it's not worth while."
"Too late for us to part company now," Carew answered serenely.
"I know. You've stood by me like a good fellow; but it will be some
time yet before I can sail. And you know you are in a hurry to get
"Don't be too sure of that," Carew advised him. "All my good things
aren't at one end of the world."
Weldon's lips curled into the ghost of his old smile.
"Then take one of them along with you," he suggested.
Elbows on knees and chin on fists joined knuckle to knuckle, Carew
turned and smiled blandly down at the face on the pillow.
"Weldon, for a man who has been off his head for a month, you do
have singularly wise ideas. But do you suppose she'd go?"
"Miss Mellen, of course. It's a question of ages. Young Mahomet is
easier to move than the everlasting hills."
"Meaning your mother? She would thank you." "She will thank me, when
she sees Alice," Carew responded hopefully. "But, honor bright, do
you suppose Miss Mellen would go back with me?"
"I thought she promised."
"Yes, but now," Carew persisted, with the eagerness of a boy. "Right
off, next month."
"There's only one way to tell; ask her," Weldon answered. "If she is
the girl I think she is, she will say yes."
"You do like her; don't you, Weldon?" The eagerness was still in his
"Intensely," Weldon replied quietly. "I have seen few women I have
liked as well."
"What larks we'll be having, this time next year, talking it all
over together," Carew said, in a sudden, thoughtful burst of
prophecy. "By the time we get home, we shall forget the blood and
the dog-biscuit, and only remember the skittles and beer. If only--"
"What?" Weldon looked up at him without flinching.
Carew did flinch, however.
"Nothing," he said hastily. "One is never quite content, you know."
Weldon drew a deep, slow breath.
"No," he echoed. "One is never quite content."
Carew crossed his legs, as he settled back in his chair.
"Mayhap. Some of us ought to be, though."
"Yes. You're a lucky fellow, Carew."
"So are you. The trouble is, one never knows when he is well off."
"But we all know when we aren't," Weldon replied succinctly.
Carew's glance was expressive, as it roved about the luxurious room,
with the bed drawn up near the window which looked out, between the
branches of an ancient oak tree, on the blue waters of Table Bay and
on the fringe of shipping by the Docks far to the eastward. Faintly
from the room below came the sound of a piano and of a hushed
girlish voice singing softly to itself.
"It all depends on one's point of view," Carew said, after an
interval. "I am living in a seven-by-nine room in a hotel, and Miss
Mellen is seventy-two miles and three quarters away. Weldon, you are
a lucky dog, if you did but know it."
Weldon shut his teeth for a moment. Then he said quietly,--
"Carew, it is five weeks that I have been in this house. Mr. Dent
and dear little Mother Dent have been angel-good to me. Miss Dent--"
"Has been an archangel?" Carew supplemented calmly.
"Has never once come into my sight."
Deliberately, forcefully, the next words dropped from Carew's
Then Weldon waited for Carew to speak; but Carew merely sat and
stared at his friend in speechless stupefaction.
"Oh, Lord!" he blurted out at last. "Then you haven't made it up?"
"There was nothing to make up," Weldon said drearily.
Again Carew's elbows came down on his knees with a bump.
"There was, too!" he contradicted, with an explosiveness which
irresistibly reminded Weldon of their kindergarten days.
"What makes you think so?"
"I don't think. I know."
"How do you know?" Weldon asked listlessly.
"Alice Mellen told me," Carew replied conclusively.
"Told you what?"
"That Cooee Dent is in love with you."
From his superior knowledge, Weldon stared disdainfully up at him.
"Then there is one thing that Alice Mellen doesn't know."
"She does, then. She told me about it, when you went off on your
feed, up at Lindley," Carew explained hurriedly. "I was worried
about you, and she was worried about Miss Dent, and we compared
notes. You hadn't said a word of any kind; we could only guess at
things, so we wrote to each other about it. She told me then about
Miss Dent's dashing up to Johannesburg after Vlaakfontein."
"She went to see her cousin."
"She also went to see you."
Carew's emphatic pause was broken by the coming of the nurse, who
bent over the bed, raising her brows inquiringly, as she laid two
fingers on Weldon's wrist. Carew took the obvious hint.
"I hope I've not stopped too long," he said, as he rose. "It has
been good to see Mr. Weldon. May I come again?"
The nurse was a true woman. Therefore she smiled back into his
happy, handsome face.
"I think you may," she answered. "Mr. Weldon is tired now, but you
evidently have done him good."
Carew meditated aloud, as he went away down the walk.
"Out of every five women, three are cats," he observed tranquilly to
himself. "I've cornered the fourth. It remains to be seen whether
Weldon is cornered by the fifth, or only the third. Hasn't been to
see him! Little beast! But I'll bet any amount of gold money that
she has done endless messing for him on the sly."
Carew's words showed that it is usually not the man in love with a
woman who is the shrewdest judge of the hidden recesses of that
woman's nature. The fact was, Ethel had slaved unceasingly, but
unseen, for the patient above stairs. See him she would not. Day
after day, she invented fresh excuses to ward off her mother's
suggestions of a call on the invalid; but also, day by day, she
invented fresh delicacies to tempt the appetite dulled by months of
army biscuit and bully beef. And, meanwhile, she was waiting.
Rather to her surprise, no message came down to her from the
invalid's room. She had supposed as a matter of course that Weldon
would intuitively recognize the source of the dainties which reached
him anonymously. Man-fashion, however, he could see no reason that
his beef tea and his wine jelly should be the work of different
hands. He devoured them both, and reflected thankfully upon the
skill of the Kaffir cook. Mr. Dent had been scrupulously literal in
carrying out the commands laid upon him by his daughter. He had left
in Weldon's mind no doubt whatsoever about the truth of his
statement that Mrs. Dent alone had been responsible for the
invalid's present quarters. Weldon had lavished thanks upon Mrs.
Dent, and she had received them without demur, as her own lawful
property. Even now, he was at a loss whether his recovery was more
owing to Mrs. Dent or to the nurse. Each had given to him a large
share of her vitality.
From a distance, he could follow Ethel's doings, could assure
himself that his presence was no apparent check upon her happiness.
Now it was the muffled whirr of the bell, followed by low voices
from the room beneath. Now it was the roll of the carriage, bearing
her away to dine or to dance, and leaving Weldon to lie and count
the minutes until she returned. Now it was her light footstep on the
stairs, or, but this was only at long intervals, her hushed voice in
the hallway outside his door. At first, he used to lie and hold his
breath, while he waited for her to open the door of his room. By
degrees, however, he ceased to expect her. And, as the expectation
died away, he chafed increasingly at the slowness of his recovery.
Anything to get out of that house! She treated him as he would have
scorned to treat an invalid dog who had taken refuge in his stable.
All this came slowly. For two endless weeks, Weldon lay unconscious.
For two more endless weeks, he raved in delirium. Happily, his nurse
was a discreet woman. She discouraged the visits of Mrs. Dent and
her husband, offered the excuse that strange faces excited the
invalid, and only admitted them during his brief intervals of sleep.
Meanwhile, she used all her professional principles to keep herself
from trying to solve the problem before her eyes. Upstairs was a man
sick unto death, a man who raved ceaselessly of the daughter of the
house. Downstairs, the daughter of the house was going her
accustomed way, with never a question in regard to the man above.
What had happened? How, if anything had happened, how did he chance
to be in that home, with Mrs. Dent as his devoted and anxious slave?
Resolutely, she fell to studying her temperature charts. Her
specialty was fever, not heart disease.
A week after the tide had turned, Carew had been allowed to spend a
short half-hour with the invalid. The next day, by advice of the
nurse, Mr. Dent telephoned to him to come again. Something, whether
in his personality or in his talk, had been of tonic power over
Weldon. It seemed wise to repeat the experiment.
Carew came on the heels of his own voice through the telephone; and
his face was smiling broadly, as he went leaping up the stairs.
After all, it had not been in vain, his quixotic lingering in Cape
Town for a weary month after receiving his discharge. Weldon and he
had been good friends through thick and thin; it would have been
beastly to leave him. And now, after all these useless weeks, he
could at least do something to lighten the convalescence. Moreover,
Carew's pocket held three letters, received that very noon; one of
grudging approval from his son-sick mother, one of chaotic, but
heartfelt thanks from Mrs. Weldon, and the third one an affirmative
answer to a telegram he had sent to Alice Mellen, only the night
before. He went into Weldon's room, looking, as he felt, the
embodiment of happiness and health.
He hailed Weldon from the threshold. Tidings like his could wait
during no interchange of mere conventional greetings. Weldon heard
him to the end, congratulated him, demanded the repetition of all
the details. Then, when Carew's excitement had quite spent itself,
Weldon drew a letter from underneath his pillow.
"It came, this morning," he added laconically.
Carew seized the letter and ran his eye down the page. Then his face
"Nunc dimittis!" he said piously. "It's sure to be yours! Have you
told Miss Dent?"
"I've not seen Miss Dent."
Carew's face fell.
"Not yet? But you will. And then you will tell her?"
Weldon's lips straightened into a thin line. He shook his head.
"But she ought to know."
"It is her right."
"Why?" Weldon asked again.
"Because--it is. It might make some difference in--"
Weldon stopped him abruptly.
"It could make no difference, Carew. In facing the main question,
such things as that don't count. Even if they did, though," he rose
on his elbow and faced his friend steadily; "even if they did, I
would never consent to try to bribe a girl into loving me, by
telling her I had won the V. C. It will be time enough for Miss Dent
to hear of it, when it is given."
"But you will be in England then," Carew objected practically.
Weldon lay down again and drew the sheet upward till its shadow lay
across his lips.
"What matter?" he answered slowly. "And, besides, Miss Dent isn't
the girl to be won in any such way as that. Hers is a love to be
given, not bought."
Half an hour later, Carew met Ethel on the stairs. As he halted to
speak to her, he was shocked at the look in her face. The lips were
smiling; but the eyes were the eyes of a hunted animal.
"So long since we have met!" he said, as he took her hand. "And so
much has happened."
"Yes. I have been hoping to congratulate you," she answered.
"It was a stunning letter you wrote me," he said boyishly. "I
suppose we are cousins now."
Then there came a little pause. Before either of them quite realized
it, the pause had lengthened until it was hard to break.
"I have been up to see the invalid," he blurted out at last.
"How is he?" the girl inquired courteously.
"Better." Then a sudden note of resentment crept into Carew's honest
voice. "He is counting the days now before he can be moved. He says
your mother has been wonderfully good to him."
The girl stood aside to let Carew pass her by.
"She is good to everybody," she assented quietly. "I hope Mr. Weldon
won't think of going away until he can be moved with perfect safety.
It is really no trouble to have him here, and the nurse is very
And Carew bowed in agreement. Once outside the door, however, he
freed his mind, tersely and with vigor.
"Damn the nurse!" he said to the oak tree, as he passed it.
"There's a true Heart in the West World, that is beating
still for me,
Ever praying in the twilight once again my face to see.
Oh, the World is good and gladsome, with its Love both
East and West,
But there's ever one love only that is still the First and Best."
The low voice died away. A moment later, Ethel Dent pushed open one
of the long windows of the drawing-room and stepped out on the
veranda. The flower-boxes were filled with limp stalks, chilled by
the frost of the previous night; but the sun lay warm over the wide,
white steps, over the lawn and over the bay beyond. She stood for a
moment, staring thoughtfully out across the bay; then she moved on
to the western end of the veranda, looked up at Table Mountain with
its cloth of cloud, and then dropped down into one of the chairs
which still remained in the sunny corner.
That corner held many memories for her. She had sought it now
unconsciously; yet, once there, she lingered, although for weeks
past she had been seeking to banish those memories from her life.
Why keep them? They belonged to a chapter that was dead and gone.
Better to seal its pages and never break the seal. Better never to
reread what had been written there. If she had been mistaken in
giving her love where it was not desired, not only should the world
never be aware of the fact; but she herself would ignore the
existence of that mistake. She had loved Weldon with all the energy
of her headstrong, girlish nature. She had supposed that he had
loved her in return. Instead of that, he had gone away and left her
without a word, just when her need for him was the greatest. No man
in his senses could have seen the agony of that last hour she had
spent with Captain Frazer, and failed to understand the pitiful,
appealing look she had cast upon him. Unable to escape the agony,
she had given this tacit call to Weldon to share it with her, to
understand, and to forgive. She had been sure she could trust him;
but it was evident that she had trusted him in vain. In the hour of
her supremest need, he had gone away and left her alone. No man who
cared for her could have forsaken her in such a crisis as that. Her
lips curved into a hard little smile, as she sat rocking to and fro
in the sunshine, and, going back over a past which she had rarely
allowed herself to reopen.
And afterwards? Afterwards Fate had been all against her. It had
been easy to escape from her engagement at Johannesburg,
comparatively easy to shut the past experience into the inner places
of her mind, to close her lips with the show of a smile, and to
plunge into a whirl of social life which should leave her no time
for quiet thought. So long as she kept her secret to herself, it
mattered nothing to the girl that it was eating pitilessly at her
vitality, that it was ever hard and harder for her to keep up her
ceaseless round of gayety.
And then, all at once, their home life had been invaded by the man
who was never absent from her thoughts. In a sense, she was glad of
the invasion. It proved to her, more surely than any words could
have done, that she had kept her secret well and beyond suspicion.
Had her mother gained any inkling of the true state of the case,
Harvard Weldon would never have been brought away from the room at
the Grand. For so much surety, Ethel Dent could rejoice with a
thankful heart. Nevertheless, as the days passed by, Weldon's
presence in the house increased the strain tenfold. Night after
night, Ethel had crept noiselessly from her room across the hallway
and crouched outside his door, listening for any sounds from within
which might tell her that all was well with the man whom she would
not see. Day after day, she forced her life to run along in its
usual grooves, going out of the house with a laugh on her lips and,
in her heart, the sickening dread of the tidings which might greet
her upon her return. Again and again, as she passed the door left
open during the nurse's temporary absence from the room, she put
forth all her strength to keep herself from stealing in, to look
just once on the unconscious face of the man who had made her
whole life. But she held herself in check, and never once yielded to
the temptation. Well she might hold herself in check. She realized
only too keenly that, once face to face with Weldon, she would have
to do over again all the weary work of those weeks of self-
Then the stupor had given place to delirium; and, even in her room
and behind her closed door, she could hear the low, muttering voice.
After that, she crouched no more outside his room. It would have
been impossible for her to say just what it was that she dreaded to
hear. Nevertheless, she closed her ears as resolutely as she closed
her door; but, when she met the nurse on the stairs, she hurried
onward with her face turned away and her cheeks ablaze.
And then in its turn the delirium had ended. From that time forward,
Ethel went out more constantly than ever. When she was in the house,
she started and grew red or pale at every unexpected step. Now, at
any hour, there might come a summons for her to go to the invalid's
room. She went over in detail every possible reply she could make to
every possible word which Weldon might say. She held herself ready
for any emergency. But the days dragged away, and no emergency had
And then, as it had chanced, she had been away from home, when
Weldon had finally left the house. It had been the fulfilment of an
old promise which had taken her to spend two days with a friend in
Newlands. She had had no notion that the time for Weldon's going
away was at hand. Neither, on the other hand, had Weldon any idea
that Ethel was absent from home. He had merely taken advantage of
the first day when the doctor had ceased to oppose his removal. It
had been to him a cruel disappointment that Mrs. Dent had stood
alone on the steps to watch his departure.
That was three weeks before. Ethel had supposed that Weldon would
sail for home at once. He had supposed so, too, until all at once he
had found it impossible to turn his back upon Cape Town and all it
held. Deep down in his heart was the memory of Carew's words,
assuring him of the reason of Ethel's sudden journey to Johannesburg
after the fight at Vlaakfontein. The episode was now far away in the
past. It might chance, however, that something of the old mood might
linger in her mind. Carew had felt sure of her love for him. Perhaps
she had loved him once, before the Captain had won the first place
in her heart. Perhaps--He had grown dizzy and had grasped the edge
of the pillow to steady himself, the first time the idea had dawned
upon him--Perhaps, now that the Captain had gone beyond the reach of
human love, he might win her to care for himself once more. The
chance appeared to him to be wellnigh impossible; yet, while it
lingered in his mind, he could not force himself to go away from
The worst of his convalescence was ended, before he was allowed to
leave the Dents' home. He strained every nerve to hasten his full
recovery. The path of Ethel Dent was not parallel to the course of
any semi-invalid. If he were to meet her at all, it must be as a man
in full health. By degrees, the color came back to his face, his
lean figure lost something of its lankness, his tread grew firmer
and more alert. But the old shadow still lingered in his eyes; the
strained lines about his lips did not relax. Weldon's mental healing
kept no pace with his physical one.
By degrees, too, his table littered itself with cards of invitation.
As yet, he felt himself too weak for any but the most informal
functions; and Carew, always at his elbow, assured him from his own
experience that informality, just then, was an unknown word in the
social vocabulary of Cape Town. Carew, bidden on all sides, was
dividing his time between his convalescent friend and the gayeties
of early winter. He dined and danced almost without ceasing; and, in
the intervals of his dining and dancing, he told over to Weldon all
the details of his social career. And these details largely
concerned themselves with Ethel Dent: how she looked, what she wore,
what she said, with whom she danced and with whom she sat it out.
And, as he listened, Weldon made up his mind that, for him, the time
for resting at home was ended. It was better, easier to go to see
for himself than it was to sit at home and imagine things, or to
hear about them, after they had happened. There was to be a
reception at the Citadel, next week. He would begin with that.
One resolution led to the next. Only two days after he had
determined upon the reception, he ordered Kruger Bobs to saddle the
gray broncho and to attend him upon The Nig. Then, when the noon sun
lay warm over the city, he mounted and, with Kruger Bobs behind him,
he rode slowly down Adderley Street to the water front, and turned
eastward to the home of the Dents.
The wide veranda and the great white pillars seemed like home to
him, in all truth. That house had been the scene of some of his best
hours, as of his worst ones, and his heart pounded madly against his
ribs as he caught sight of its familiar outlines. Then he drew in
his breath sharply and bore down hard in his stirrups, while his
face went white to the lips. From the western end of the veranda a
girlish figure had risen, halted for a moment with the sun beating
full upon her vivid hair; then, heedless of the distant riders, it
had turned and disappeared within the doorway.
The maid's face brightened, as she met Weldon at the door. "But Mrs.
Dent is not at home," she said, with honest regret in her voice.
"She has gone out of town."
Weldon controlled his own voice as best he might.
"And Miss Dent?" he asked.
However, the maid had just broken the Baden-Powell tea-cup. Its
fragments were still upon the floor, and she had no mind, just then,
to face her young mistress.
"Miss Dent is not at home," she answered, with glib mendacity. And
then she wondered why it was that Weldon's pallor turned from white
to gray, as he went away down the steps.
Nevertheless, he fulfilled his resolution of going to the reception
at the Citadel. For one reason, he had given his word to Carew.
Moreover, he felt that, for the honor of his manhood, he must accept
his fate like a man. Four months before that time, Ethel Dent had
stabbed him almost to the death. Now, with delicate precision, she
had struck him full across the face. The touch had hurt him far more
than the deeper wound had done; but, at least, she should never be
aware of it. To his mind, she had forfeited all right to the
He dressed with careful precision. More than once he was forced to
sit down for a moment; more than once his fingers refused to do his
bidding and his hands dropped inertly at his side. However, Carew
found him waiting, hat in hand, and together they drove away to the
Already, when they reached the door, the reception was nearing its
highest tide. The rooms were bright with uniforms and with trailing
gowns, gay with the hum of voices; and the lilt of a waltz came
softly to them from across the distance. As they halted on the
threshold, Weldon lifted his eyes and suddenly found them resting
full upon Ethel Dent. The girl was quite at the farther end of the
long room, the central figure of a little throng, and wholly
unconscious of their presence. Her back was towards Weldon. He could
only see the sweep of her shimmering gown, the heavy coils of yellow
hair and the curve of one rounding cheek; yet, even in that partial
view, he felt himself astounded at her vitality. It flashed until it
dazzled him, and the dazzle hurt. He bowed to the governor and
turned away into another room, striving, as he went, to account for
the sudden depression which had fallen upon him. He had not expected
to find Ethel Dent moping alone in a corner; neither had he looked
for a radiant alertness such as he had never seen in her before.
During the long weeks of his illness, his mental picture of her had
been colored by the sadness of their last meeting. Now the picture
was torn aside and a new one thrust into its place, and the new one
seemed garish to his weary nerves.
"Weldon! Have you risen from the grave?"
He turned sharply, to find himself face to face with the captain of
his former troop.
"Merely from hospital," he answered. "I have been lying up for
The other man nodded.
"I know; and thereby adding to the glamour which surrounds a man
elect for the V. C. Are you all right again?"
Weldon's voice hardened to match the strain he was putting upon his
"Absolutely. I am sailing for home, next week."
"And taking a farewell view of the place, before you go? Then come
to meet the prettiest girl in Cape Town."
For an instant, Weldon hesitated. Then, reassured by the direction
taken by his guide, he followed, while the strains of the waltz came
ever more distinctly to his ears. His companion craned his neck to
"She is dancing now; but she will be through in a moment. There," he
added, as the music rose to a crashing finale; "that is over, and,
by George, here she is! Miss Dent, may I introduce another war-worn
veteran, Mr. Weldon?"
The shock came so suddenly that neither of them had an opportunity
to prepare to resist it. It was Weldon who spoke first, however, and
his voice was level, for he was generous enough to take none of the
advantage which so plainly was all upon his side.
"Miss Dent and I are old acquaintances," he said quietly.
Fortunately the captain was garrulous.
"Another proof of the smallness of the world," he said jovially. "In
time, I shall learn the futility of introductions. One is always
pointing out next-door neighbors to each other's notice. By the way,
Weldon, didn't you know Frazer rather well? I used to meet him at