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Title: The Dop Doctor
Author: Dehan, Richard, 1863-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dop Doctor" ***

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THE DOP DOCTOR

by

RICHARD DEHAN

Author of
  "Between Two Thieves," "The Headquarter Recruit,"
  "The Cost of Wings"



Popular Edition

London: William Heinemann Ltd.

First printed 6s. Edition, April, 1910.

New Impressions, May (three times), July, August, September, October,
November, 1910; January, July, October, 1911; New Edition, May, 1912; New
Impressions, September, October, December, 1912; February, May, 1913.

Popular Edition, July, August, September, 1913; April, 1914; June, 1915;
July, September, 1916; September, 1917; February, October, 1918; January,
1920; January, 1922; July, 1924; January, 1927; February, 1930; May, 1932;
March, 1934, March 1936

Printed in Great Britain
The Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey



TO ONE ACROSS THE SEA


_What have the long years brought me since first, with this pen for
pickaxe, I bowed my loins to quarry from the living rock of my world about
me, bread and a home where Love should smile beside the hearthplace, and
chiefly for Love's dear sake, that men should honour you who, above all on
earth, I hold most in honour--a name among the writers of books that
live!_

_What have the long years brought me! Well, not the things I hoped. Just
bread and clothing, fire, and a little roof-tree; the purchased soil to
make a grave, and a space of leisure, before that grave be needed, to
write, myself, this book for me and for you. Hope has spread her
iridescent Psyche-wings and left me; Ambition long ago shed hers to become
a working-ant. Love never came to sit in the chair beside the ingle. An
ocean heaves between us, only for nightly dreams and waking thoughts to
span. Were those dear eyes to see me as I am to-day, I wonder whether they
would know me? For I grow grey, and furrows deepen in the forehead the
dear hand will never smooth again. Remember me, then, only as I used to
be; my heart is the same always; in it the long, long years have wrought
no change._

_But what have the long years brought me? Experience, that savoury salt,
left where old tears have dried upon the shores of Time. Knowledge of my
fellow men and women, of all sorts and conditions, and the love of them.
Patience to bear what may yet have to be borne. Courage to encounter what
may yet have to be encountered. Fortitude to meet the end, where faith
holds up the Cross. Much have the long years brought me--besides your
first smile and your last kiss. For your next, I look past Death, God
aiding me, to the Eternal Life beyond...._

SOUTH WALES,

_April 22, 1909._



I


Upon a day near the end of August, one long, brilliant South African
winter, when the old Vierkleur waved over the Transvaal, and what is now
the Orange River Colony was the Orange Free State, with the Dutch canton
still showing on the staff-head corner of its tribarred flag, two large,
heavily-laden waggons rolled over the grass-veld, only now thinking about
changing from yellow into green. Many years previously the wheels of the
old voortrekkers had passed that way, bringing from Cape Colony, with the
household gods, goods and chattels, language and customs of the Dutch, the
slips of the pomegranate and peach and orange trees, whose abundant
blossoming dressed the orchards of the farms tucked away here and there in
the lap of the veld, with bridal white and pink, and hung their girdling
pomegranate hedges with stars of ruby red. But days and days, and nights
and nights of billowing, spreading, lonely sky-arched veld intervened
between each homestead.

The flat-topped bills were draped and folded in the opal haze of distance;
the sky was perfect turquoise; the rounded kopjes shone like pink topaz,
unclothed as yet with the young pale green bush. To the south there was a
veld fire leaping and dancing, with swirling columns of white smoke edged
with flame. But it was many miles away, and the north-west wind blew
strongly, driving some puffs of gold cloud before it. Perhaps there would
be rain ere long. There had been rain already in the foremost waggon, not
from the clouds, but from human eyes.

The broad wheels crashed on, rolling over the yellow grass and the dry
bushes. Lizards and other creeping creatures scuttled across their wide
tracks. The patient oxen toiled under the yoke, their dappled nostrils
widespread, their great dewy eyes strained and dim with weariness. They
dumbly wondered why they must labour in the daytime when all night long
they had travelled without rest. The glorious sunrise had flamed in
crimson and gold behind the eastern ranges full five hours before. They
were weary to death, and no dorp or farm was yet in sight. The Cape boys
who tramped, each leading a fore-ox by the green reim bound about the
creature's wide horns, had no energy left even to swear at their beasts.

The Boer driver was wearied like the ox-team and the Cape boys. His
bestial face was drawn, and his eyes were red-rimmed for lack of sleep.
The long whip, with the fourteen-foot stock and the lash of twenty-three
feet, had not smacked for a long time; the sjambok had not been used upon
the long-suffering wheelers. Huddled up in his ill-fitting clothes of tan
cord, he sat on the waggon-box and slept, his head nodding, his elbows on
his knees. He was dreaming of the bad Cape brandy that had been in the
bottle, and would be, with luck, again, when the waggon reached a tavern
or a store.

A Kaffir drove the second waggon. It held stores and goods in bales, and
some trunks and other baggage belonging to the Englishman, for you would
have set down the tall, thin, high-featured, reddish-bearded,
soft-speaking man who owned the waggons as English, even though he had
called himself by a Dutch name. The child of three years was his. And his
had been the dead body of the woman lying on the waggon-bed, covered with
a new white sheet, with a stillborn boy baby lying on her breast.

For this the man who had loved and taken her, and made her his, had wept
such bitter, scalding tears. For this his dead love, with Love's blighted
bud of fruit upon her bosom, had given up her world, her friends, her
family--her husband, first and last of all. They had played the straight
game, and gone away openly together, to the immense scandal of Society
that is so willing to wink at things done cleverly under the rose. They
were to be married the instant the injured husband obtained his decree
absolute. The State sanctioned the re-marriage of the divorced if the
Churches did not. Their church should thenceforwards be the State. But
there was no _decree nisi_ even, the injured husband possessing a legal
heir by a previously-deceased wife. Besides, in a cold way it gave him
pleasure to think of that purpose foiled. He soon knew that his wife's
lover had sold his commission in the Army, and he learned, later, through
a communication forwarded through a London firm of solicitors, that
although he had chosen to ignore a certain appointment offered upon the
opposite side of the Channel, the other man would merely consider it
deferred until a suitable opportunity should occur. Meanwhile the writer
was travelling in South Africa, not alone.

Never to be alone again, she had promised him that not quite four years
ago. And to-day he sat on a box beside the waggon-bed where she lay dead
with her dead boy, and the only thing left to him that had the dear living
fragrance and sweet warmth of her slept smiling on his knees--their
daughter.

The long fine beard that he had grown swept the soft flushed cheek of the
little creature, and mingled with her yellow curls. Within the last few
hours--hours packed with the anguish of a lifetime for him--there were
sprinklings of white upon his high temples, where the hair had grown thin
under the pressure of the Hussar's furred busby, the khaki-covered helmet
of foreign service, or the forage-cap, before these had given place to the
Colonial smasher of felt, and the silky reddish-brown beard had in it
wide, ragged streaks of grey. He had worshipped the woman who had given up
all for him; they had lived only for, and in one another during four
wonderful years. Hardly a passing twinge of regret, never a scorpion-sting
of remorse, spoiled their union.

But they never stayed long in any town or even in any village. Some sound
or shape from the old unforgotten world beyond the barrier, some English
voice that had the indefinable tone and accent of high breeding, some
figure of Englishman or Englishwoman whose rough, careless clothing had
the unmistakable cut of Bond Street, some face recognised under the grey
felt or the white Panama, would spur them to the desire of leaving it
behind them. Then the valises would be repacked, the oxen would be hastily
inspanned, and their owners would start again upon that never-ending
journey in search of something that the woman was to be the first to find.

At last, when the sun was high and the worn-out beasts were almost
sinking, a group of low buildings came in sight a few miles away beyond a
kloof edged with a few poplar-like trees and the kameelthorn. A square,
one-storey house of corrugated iron, with a mud-walled hovel or two near
it, had a sprawling painted board across its front, signifying that the
place was the Free State Hotel. Behind it were an orchard and some fields
under rude cultivation, and a quarter of a mile to the north were the
native kraals.

At the sight the Boer shook himself fully awake, and sent the long lash
cracking over the thin, sweat-drenched backs of the ox-team. They laboured
with desperation at the yoke, and the waggon rumbled on.

The Englishman, hidden with his sorrow under the canvas waggon-tilt,
roused himself at the accelerated motion. He rose, and, holding the
sleeping child upon one arm, pushed back the front flap and looked out. He
spoke to the taciturn driver, who shook his head. How did he, Smoots
Beste, know whether a minister of the Church of England, or even a Dutch
predikant, was to be found at the place beyond? All he hoped for was that
he would be able to buy there tobacco and brandy cheap, and sleep drunken,
to wake and drink again.

The waggon halted on the brink of the kloof. Little birds of gay and
brilliant plumage, blue and crimson and emerald-green, rose in flocks from
the bush and grasses that clothed the sides of the coomb; the hollows were
full of the tree-fern; the grass had little white and purple flowers in
it. At the valley-bottom a little stream, that would be a river after the
first rains, wimpled over sandstone boulders, the barbel rose at flies.
There was a drift lower down. It was all the goaded, worn-out oxen could
do to stay the huge creaking waggons down the steep bank, and drag them
over the river-bed of sand and boulders, through the muddied, churned-up
water that they were dying for, yet not allowed to taste, and toil with
them up the farther side.

The Englishman was not cruel. He was usually humane and merciful to man
and beast, but just now he was deaf and blind. Beside him there was her
corpse, beyond him was her grave, beyond that....

Both he and she, in that world that lay beyond the barrier had observed
the outward forms of Christianity. They had first met in the Park, one May
morning, after a church parade. They sat on a couple of green-painted
chairs while Society, conscious of the ever-present newspaper-reporter,
paraded past them in plumage as gorgeous as that of the gay-coloured birds
that flocked among the tree-fern or rose in frightened clouds as the
waggons crashed by. And they discussed--together with the chances of the
runners entered for the second Spring Meeting at Newmarket, and the merits
of the problem play, and the newest farcical comedy--the Immortality of
the Soul.

She wore a brown velvet gown and an ostrich-feather boa in delicate shades
of cream and brown, and a cavalier hat with sweeping white plumes. Her
hair was the colour of autumn leaves, or a squirrel's back in the
sunshine, and she had grey eyes and piquant, irregular features, ears like
shells, and a delicate, softly-tinted skin undefiled by cosmetics. She
thought it wicked to doubt that one waked up again after dying,
Somewhere--a vague Somewhere, with all the nice people of one's set about
one. He said that Agnosticism and all that kind of thing was bad form. Men
who had religion made the best soldiers. Like the Presbyterian Highlanders
of the Black Watch and the "Royal Irish" Catholics--but, of course, she
knew that. And she said yes, she knew; meeting his admiring eyes with her
own, that were so grey and sweet and friendly, the little gloved hand that
held the ivory and gold-bound Church Service lying in her lap. He longed
to take that little white, delicate hand. Later on he took it, and a
little later the heart that throbbed in its pulses, and the frail,
beautiful body out of which the something that had been she had gone with
a brief gasping struggle and a long shuddering sigh....

He kept the beloved husk and shell of her steady on the waggon-bed with
one arm thrown over it, and held the awakened, fretting child against his
breast with the other, as the sinking oxen floundered up the farther side
of the kloof. Amidst the shouting and cursing of the native voor-loopers
and the Boer and Kaffir drivers, the rain of blows on tortured, struggling
bodies, and the creaking of the teak-built waggon-frames, he only heard
her weakly asking to be buried properly in some churchyard, or cemetery,
with a clergyman to read the Service for the Dead.

Before his field-glass showed him the sprawling hotel-sign he had hoped
that the buildings in sight might prove to mask the outskirts of a native
village with an English missionary station, or a Dutch settlement
important enough to own a corrugated iron Dopper church and an
oak-scrub-hedged or boulder-dyked graveyard, in charge of a pastor whose
loathing of the Briton should yield to the mollifying of poured-out gold.

But Fate had brought him to this lonely veld tavern. He watched it growing
into ugly, sordid shape as the waggon drew nearer. To this horrible place,
miscalled the Free State Hotel--a mere jumble of corrugated-iron
buildings, wattle and mud-walled stables for horses, and a barbed-wire
waggon-enclosure--he had brought his beloved at the end of their last
journey together. He shuddered at the thought.

The waggons were halted and outspanned before the tavern. The drivers went
in to get drink, and Bough, the man who sold it, leaving the women to
serve them, came forth. He ordinarily gave himself out as an Afrikander.
You see in him a whiskered, dark-complexioned, good-looking man of
twenty-six, but looking older, whose regard was either insolent or
cringing, according to circumstances, and whose smile was an evil leer.
The owner of the waggons stood waiting near the closed-up foremost one,
the yellow-haired child on his arm. He looked keenly at the landlord,
Bough, and the man's hand went involuntarily up in the salute, to its
owner's secret rage. Did he want every English officer to recognise him as
an old deserter from the Cape Mounted Police? Not he--and yet the cursed
habit stuck. But he looked the stranger squarely in the face with that
frank look that masked such depth of guile, and greeted him with the
simple manner that concealed so much, and the English officer lifted his
left hand, as though it raised a sword, and began to talk. Presently
Bough called someone, and a smart, slatternly young woman came out and
carried the child, who leaned away from her rouged face, resisting, into
the house.

The English traveller would take no refreshment. He needed nothing but to
know of a graveyard and men to dig a grave, and a minister or priest to
read the Burial Service. He would pay all that was asked. He learned that
the nearest village-town might be reached in three days' trek across the
veld, and that the landlord did not know whether it had a pastor or not.

Three days' trek! He waved the twinkling-eyed, curious landlord back, and
went up into the foremost waggon, drawing the canvas close. He faced the
truth in there, and realized with a throe of mortal anguish that the
burial must be soon--very soon. To prison what remained of her in a
hastily knocked-together coffin, and drag it over the veld, looking for
some plot of consecrated earth to put it in, was desecration, horror. He
would bury her, and fetch the minister or clergyman or priest to read
prayers. Later, if it cost him all he had, the spot should be consecrated
for Christian burial. He came forth from the waggon and held parley with
the landlord of the tavern. There was a wire-fenced patch of sandy red
earth a hundred yards from the house, a patch wherein the white woman who
was mistress at the tavern had tried to grow a few common English
flower-seeds out of a gaily-covered packet left by a drummer who had
passed that way. She had grown tired of the trouble of watering and
tending them, so that some of them had withered, and the lean fowls had
flown over the fence and scratched the rest up.

That patch of sandy earth brought a handsome price, paid down in good
English sovereigns--the coinage that is welcome in every corner of the
earth, save among the scattered islands of the Aleutian Archipelago, where
gin, tobacco, and coffee are more willingly taken in exchange for goods or
souls.

The Englishman was business-like. He fetched pen and ink and paper out of
that jealously closed-up waggon, drew up the deed of sale, and had it
witnessed by the Boer driver and the white woman at the hotel.

He had made up his mind. He would bury her, since it must be, and then
fetch the clergyman. Knowing him on the road, or returning to the
fulfilment of his promise, she would not mind lying there unblessed and
waiting for six lonely days and nights. He whispered in her deaf ears how
it was going to be, and that she could not doubt him. He swore--not
dreaming how soon he should keep one vow--to visit the grave often, often,
with his child and hers, and to lie there beside her when kind Death
should call him too.

Then he left her for a moment, and sent for the Kaffir driver and the Boer
to come, and, with him, dig her grave....

But Smoots Beste was already in hog-paradise, lying grunting on a bench in
the bar, and the Kaffir had gone to the kraals with the Cape boys. The
English officer looked at the rowdy landlord and the loafing men about the
tavern, and made up his mind. No hands other than his own should prepare a
last bed for her, his dearest.

So, all through the remainder of the long day, streaming and drenched with
perspiration, which the cold wind dried upon him, he wrought at a grave
for her with spade and pick.

It should be deep, because of the wild-cat and the hungry Kaffir dogs. It
should be wide, to leave room for him. The ground was hard, with boulders
of ironstone embedded in it. What did that matter? All the day through,
and all through the night of wind-driven mists and faint moonlight, he
wrought like a giant possessed, whilst his child, lulled with the
condensed milk and water, in which biscuits had been sopped, lay sleeping
in the tavern upon a little iron bed.



He had had the waggon brought close up to the wired enclosure. All the
time he worked he kept a watch upon it. Did claws scrape the wide wheels
or scurrying feet patter across the shadows, he left off work until the
voracious creatures of the night were driven away.

The pale dawn came, and the east showed a lake of yellow.... When the
great South African sun rose and flooded the veld with miraculous liquid
ambers and flaming, melted rubies, the deep, wide grave at last was done.

He climbed out of it by the waggon ladder, struggling under the weight of
the last great basketful of stones and sandy earth. He dumped that down
by the graveside, and went to the waggon and removed all stains of toil,
and then set about making the last toilette of the beautiful woman who had
so loved that everything that touched her should be pure, and dainty, and
sweet.

He had dressed her silken, plentiful, squirrel-brown hair many times, for
the sheer love of its loveliness. With what care he now combed and brushed
and arranged the perfumed locks! He laid reverent kisses on the sealed
eyelids that his own hands had closed for ever; he whispered words of
passionate love, vows of undying gratitude and remembrance, in the
shell-like ears. He bathed with fresh water and reclad in fragrant linen
the exquisite body, upon which faint discolouring patches already heralded
the inevitable end. When he had done, he swathed her in a sheet, and
fetched a bolt of new white canvas from the store-waggon, and lined the
grave with that.

And then he placed a narrow mattress in it, and freshly covered pillows,
and brought her from the waggon, and to the grave, and carried her down
the light wooden ladder, and laid her in her last earthly home, with a
kiss from the lips that had never been her husband's. It was so cruel to
think of that. It was so hard to cover up the cold, sweet face again, but
he did it, and lapped the sheet over her and brought the canvas down.
Remained now to fill in her grave and fetch the man whose mouth should
speak over it the words that are of God.

But first--fill in the grave.

The cold sweat drenched him at the thought of heaping back those tons of
earth and stone above her, crushing with a frightful weight of inert
matter the bodily beauty that he adored. He felt as though her soul
hovered about him, wailing to him not to be so cruel, tugging at his
garments with imploring, impalpable hands.

The thing must be done, though, before the sordid life stirred again under
the roof of the tavern, before the vulgar faces, with their greedy, prying
eyes, should be there to snigger and spy.

He loaded a great basket with fine gravelly sand, and carried it down and
laid it on her by handfuls. What were his livid, parched lips muttering?
Over and over, only this:

"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust ..."

Soon the white swathed-up form was hidden with the sandy gravel. That was
a terrible pang. It wrenched the first groan from him, but he worked on.

More and more of the sandy gravel, but for precaution the stones must lie
above. Should the voracious creatures of the night come, they must find
the treasure in impregnable security. That thought helped him to lay in
the first, and the second, and then greater and greater stones. He was
spent and breathless, but still he laboured. He tottered, and at times the
tavern and the veld, and the waggons on it, and the flat-topped distant
mountains that merged in the horizon, swung round him in a wild, mad
dance. Then the warm salt taste of blood was in his mouth, and he gasped
and panted, but he never rested until the grave was filled in.

Then he built up over it an oblong cairn of the ironstone boulders, made a
rude temporary cross out of a spare waggon-pole, working quite
methodically with saw and hammer and nails, and set it up, under the
curious eyes he hated so, and wedged it fast and sure. Then he knelt down
stiffly, and made, with rusty, long unpractised fingers, the sacred sign
upon his face and breast. He heard her still, asking him in that nearly
extinguished voice of hers, to pray for her.



"Dicky!..."

Ah! the tragedy of the foolish little nickname, faltered by stiffening
lips upon the bed of death!

"Catholics pray for the souls of dead people, don't they? Pray for mine
by-and-by. It will comfort me to know you are praying, darling, even if
God is too angry with us to hear!"

He held her to his bursting heart, groaning.

"If He is angry, it cannot be with you. The sin was mine--all mine. He
must know!"

Later she awakened from a troubled sleep to murmur:

"Richard, I dreamed of Bridget-Mary. She was all in black, but there was
white linen about her face and neck, and it was dabbled dreadfully with
blood." The weak, slight body shuddered in his embrace. "She said our
wickedness had brought her death, but that she would plead for us in
Heaven."

"She is not dead, my beloved; I heard of her before we left Cape Colony.
She has taken the veil. She is well, and will be happy in her religion, as
those good women always are."

"I was not one of those good women, Richard----"

He strained her to him in silence. She panted presently:

"You might have been happy--with her--if I had never come between you!"

He found some words to tell her that these things were meant to be. From
the beginning ...

"Was it meant that I should die on these wild, wide, desolate plains, and
leave you, Richard?"

He cried out frantically that he would die too, and follow her. Her dying
whisper fluttered at his lips:

"You cannot! Think!--the child!"

He had forgotten the child, and now, with a great stabbing pang,
remembered it. She asked for it, and he brought it, and she tried to kiss
it; and even in that Death foiled her, and her head fell back and her eyes
rolled up, and she died.

He remembered all this as he tried to say the prayer, without which she
could not have borne to have him leave her.

The curious, mocking faces crowded at the tavern door to see him
praying--a strange, haggard scarecrow kneeling there in the face of day.

But he was not the kind of scarecrow they would have dared to jeer at
openly. Too rich, with all that money in the valise in the locked-up
waggon-chest; too strong, with that sharp hunting-knife, the Winchester
repeating-rifle, and the revolver he carried at his hip.

"_Our Father Who art in Heaven...._"

He knew, the man who repeated the words, that there was no One beyond the
burning blue vault of ether Who heard ... and yet, for her sake,
supposing, after all, some great Unseen Ear listened, was listening even
now....

_"Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come...."_

And if it came, should those have any part in it who had lived together
unwed in open sin?

_"Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven...."_

The words stuck in his dried throat. Be done, that Will that left him
desolate and laid her away, a still fair, fast-corrupting thing, under the
red earth and the great ironstone boulders!

_"Give us this day our daily bread...."_

Her love, her presence, her voice, her touch, had been the daily bread of
life to him, her fellow-sinner. Oh, how many base, sordid, loveless
marriages had not that illicit bond of theirs put to shame! And yet as a
boy he had learned the Seventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not commit
adultery." Had she not believed all along that the price of such sweet
sinning must be paid, if not in this life, then in the life hereafter, and
could it--could it be that her soul was even now writhing in fires
unquenchable, whither he, who would have gladly died in torment to save
her from outrage or death, had thrust her?

_"Forgive us our trespasses...."_

O Man of Sorrows, pitying Son of Mary, before Whom the Scribes and
Pharisees brought the woman taken in adultery, forgive her, pardon her! If
a soul must writhe in those eternal fires they preach of, in justice let
it be mine! Thou Who didst pity that woman of old time, standing white and
shameful in the midst of the evil, jeering crowd, with the wicked fingers
pointing at her, say to this other woman, lifting up Thyself before her
terrified, desperate soul, confronted with the awful mystery that lies
behind the Veil....

_"Neither do I condemn thee...."_

And do with me what Thou wilt!

The ragged, wild-eyed man who had been kneeling rigid and immovable before
the wooden symbol reared upon the new-raised cairn of boulders swayed a
little. His head fell forward heavily upon his breast. His eyes closed in
spite of his desperate effort to shake off the deadly, sickening collapse
of will and brain and body that was mastering him. He fell sideways, and
lay in a heap upon the ground.



II


They went to him, and took up and carried him into the tavern, and laid
him down upon a frowzy bed in the room where the child lay upon the
iron-framed cot.

He lay there groaning in the fierce clutches of rheumatic fever. They
tended him in a rude way. A valise and an iron-bound leather lady's trunk
had been brought from the waggon by his orders, and set in the room where
he was in his sight. These contained her clothes and jewels, and he
guarded them jealously even in delirium. About his wasted body was buckled
a heavy money-belt. Bough could feel that when he helped the woman of the
tavern to lift the patient. He winked to her pleasantly across the bed.
But the time was not ripe yet. They must wait awhile. The English
traveller was not always delirious. There were intervals of consciousness,
and though he seemed at death's door, who knew? That strong purpose of his
might even yet lift him from the soiled and comfortless bed, and send him
on the trek again. Meanwhile the oxen were hired out to work for a farmer
fifty miles away. That was called sending them to graze and gain strength
for more work; and there was the keep of two Cape boys, and the Kaffir and
the Boer driver, and the cost of nursing and sick man's diet, and the care
of the child. A heavy bill of charges was mounting up against the English
traveller. Much of what the belt contained would honestly be Bough's.

There was no doctor and no medicine save the few drugs the sick man had
carried, as all travellers do. The milk for which he asked for himself and
the child, which was procured from the native cattle-kraals for a tikkie a
pint, and for which Bough charged at the price of champagne, kept him
alive. Broth or eggs he sickened at and turned from, and, indeed, the one
was greasy and salt, the others of appalling mustiness. He would regularly
swallow the tabloids of quinine or lithia, and fall back on the hard,
coarse pillow, exhausted by the mere effort of unscrewing the nickel-cap
of the little phial, and tell himself that he was getting stronger.
Sometimes he really was so, and then the child sat on his wide hollow
chest, and played with the beard that was now all grey and unkempt and
matted, until some word in her baby prattle, some look of wondering
inquiry in the innocent eyes, golden-hazel and black-lashed, like his own,
that were almost too beautiful to be a man's, people used to say, like the
weak, passionate, gentle mouth under the heavy moustache, would bring back
all the anguish of his loss, and waken anew that torturing voice that
accused him of being false to his compact with the dead. Then he would
call, and send the child away, borne in the arms of the Hottentot
chambermaid to breathe the fresh air upon the veld. And, left alone, he
would draw up the rough sheets over his head, with gaunt clutching
fingers, and weep, though sometimes no tears came to moisten his haggard,
staring eyes.

One night, while the flat gold hunting-watch ticked above his head in the
little embroidered chamois-leather pouch dead hands had worked, Knowledge
came to him with a sudden rigor of the muscles of the wasted body, and a
bursting forth from every pore of the dank, dark-hued sweat of coming
dissolution.

He was not ever going to get well, and fetch the clergyman to pray over
and bless her resting-place. He was going to die and lie beside her there,
under the red earth topped by the boulder-cairn. He smiled. What an easy
solution of the problem! He had been too intent upon gratifying her last
desire to entertain for a moment the thought of suicide. He had always
held self-destruction as the last resource of the coward and the criminal,
and besides there was the child.

The child!...

With a pang of dread and terror unfelt by him before, he raised his gaunt
head with an effort from the uneasy pillow, and looked towards where she
lay, with staring, haunted eyes. The window was open a little way at the
top, and for fear of the night-chill his fine leopard-skin kaross had been
spread over her.... One dimpled, rounded, bare arm lay upon the soft
dappled fur, the babyish fingers curled one upon the other. Rosy human
tendrils that should never twine again in a mother's hair. Her child, her
daughter!... Born of her body, sharing her nature and her sex, soon to be
orphaned. For he who could not even lift himself from bed, and drag his
body across the floor to cover that lovely babyish arm, would soon be no
better protector than the restless ghost that tugged at his heart with its
unseen hands. He knew now why it could not rest.

What would become of the child! Another fiery scourge, wielded by the Hand
Unseen, bit deep into his shrinking conscience, into his writhing soul.
His own act had brought this about. Be a cur, and accuse Destiny, blame
Fate, lay the onus upon God, as so many defaulters do--he could not. He
lay looking his deed in the foul face until the dawn crept up the sky, and
learning how it may be that the sins of their fathers are visited on the
children.

He called for ink and paper as soon as the house was awake, and with
infinite labour and many pauses to recover spent strength and breath, for
he was greedy of life now, for the reason that we know--he wrote a letter
home to England, to a relative who was the head of his family, and bore a
great historic title--so great that those who spelled it out upon the
envelope were half afraid to slip the heated knife under the crested seal.
But Bough did it, and opened, and read.

It was not going to be the soft snap he had thought, but it would be good
enough. Wires might be pulled from Downing Street that would set the
Government at Cape Town working to trace the tall thin Englishman who had
travelled up with two waggons from Cape Colony in the company of a child
and the woman now dead, and for whose sake he had given up those almighty
swell connections. What a fool--what a thundering, juicy, damned fool the
man had been! whose gaunt eyes were even now making out the landfall of
Kingdom Come through the gathering mists of death.

The letter worried Bough. To have the English Government smelling at your
heels is no joke, thought he. Any moment the mastiff may grip, and then,
if you happen to be an ex-convict and deserter from their Colonial Police,
and supposing you have one or two other little things against you ... the
most honest of speculators being occasionally compelled to dirty his
hands, if only to tone down those immaculate extremities to something
approaching the colour of other people's--then what becomes of the risky
but profitable business of gun-running from the English ports through to
the Transvaal?

For by men like Bough and his associates vast supplies of munitions and
engines of war were wormed through. The machine-guns in carefully numbered
parts came in cases as "agricultural implements," the big guns travelled
in the boilers of locomotives, the empty cases of the shells, large and
small, were packed in piano-cases, or in straw-filled crates as
"hardware"; the black powder and the cordite and the lyddite came in round
wooden American cheese-boxes, with a special mark; and the Mauser
cartridges were soldered in tins like preserved meat. How handsomely that
business paid only Bough and his merry men, and Oom Paul and his burghers
of the Volksraad, knew.

But Her Majesty's Government, bound about with red-tape, hoodwinked by
Dutch Assistant-Commissioners of British Colonies, and deceived by
traitorous English officials, were blind and deaf to the huge traffic in
arms and munitions. Not that there were no warnings. To the very end they
were shouted in deaf ears.

What of that letter sent from the Resident Commissioner's office at
Gueldersdorp, that little frontier hamlet on the north-east corner of
British Baraland, September 4, 1899, little more than a month before the
war broke out, the war that was to leave Britain and her Colonies bleeding
at every vein?

The Boers were in laager over the Border. A desperate appeal for help had
been made to the Powers that were, and the reply received to the now
historic telegram, through the Resident Commissioner, has equally become a
matter of history.

"All that was possible" was being done by the Imperial authorities, His
Excellency assured the inquirer, to safeguard the lives and property of
the inhabitants of the Gold-Reef Town in the event of an attack by a
hostile force.

Also the military armament of the place was about to be materially
increased.

And yet up to the little frontier town upon which so much depended not a
single modern gun had been despatched.

An easy prey had the little town upon the flat-topped hill, set in the
middle of a basin, proved to the Boer General and his commandos but for
one thing. For weeks after the bursting of the first shell over
Gueldersdorp three sides of the beleaguered town were so many open doors
for the enemy. Only upon the threshold of each door stood Fear, and
guarded and held the citadel.



III


That hard taskmaster, Satan, is sometimes wonderfully indulgent to those
who serve him well. While Bough, the keeper of the tavern, was yet turning
about the open letter in his thick, short, hairy hands, weighing the
chances attending the sending of it against the chances of keeping it
back, the woman who served as mistress of the place thrust her
coarsely-waved head of yellow bleached hair and rouge-ruddled face in at
the room door, and called to him:

"Boss, the sick toff is doing a croak. Giving up the ghost for all he's
worth--he is. Better come and take a look for yourself if you don't
believe me."

Bough swore with relief and surprise, delayed only to lock away the
letter, and went to take a look. It was as he hoped, a real stroke of luck
for a man who knew how to work it.

Richard Mildare--for Bough knew now what had been the name of the
Englishman: Captain the Hon. Richard Mildare, late of the Grey
Hussars--was dead. No hand made murderous by the lust of gold had helped
him to his death. Sudden failure of the heart is common in aggravated
cases of rheumatic fever, and with one suffocating struggle, one brief
final pang, he had gone to join her he loved. But his dead face did not
look at rest. There was some reflection in it of the terror that had come
upon him in the watches of that last night.

Bough stayed some time alone in the room of death. When he came out he was
extremely affable and gentle. The woman, who knew him, chuckled to herself
when he met the Kaffir serving-maid bringing back the child from an airing
in the sun, and told her to take it to the mistress. Then he went into the
bar-room to speak to the Englishman's Boer driver.

Leaning easily upon the zinc-covered counter he spoke to the man in the
Taal, with which he was perfectly familiar:

"Your Baas has gone in, as my wife and I expected."

Smoots Beste growled in his throat:

"He was no Baas of mine, the verdoemte rooinek! I drove for him for pay,
that is all. There is wage owing me still, for the matter of that--and
where am I to get it now that the heathen has gone to the burning?"

Smoots, who was all of a heathen himself, and regularly got drunk, not
only on week days, but on Sabbaths, felt virtuously certain that the
Englishman had gone to Hell.

Bough smiled and poured out a four-finger swig of bad Cape brandy, and
pushed it across the counter.

"You shall get the money, every tikkie. Only listen to me."

Smoots Beste tossed off the fiery liquid, and returned in a tone less
surly:

"I am listening, Baas."

Said Bough, speaking with the thickish lisp and slurring of the consonants
that distinguished his utterance when he sought to appear more simple and
candid than usual:

"This dead toff, with his flash waggon and fine team, and Winchester
repeating-rifles, had very little money. He has died in my debt for the
room and the nursing, and the good nourishment, for which I trusted him
all these three weeks, and I am a poor man. The dollars I have paid you
and the Kaffir and the Cape boys on his account came out of my own pocket.
Rotten soft have I behaved over him, that's the God's truth, and when I
shall get back my own there's no knowing. But, of course, I shall act
square."

The Boer's thick lips parted in a grin, showing his dirty, greenish-yellow
teeth. He scratched his shaggy head, and said, his tongue lubricated to
incautiousness by the potent liquor:

"The waggons, and the oxen, and the guns and ammunition, and the stores in
the second waggon are worth good money. And the woman that is dead had
jewels--I have seen them on her--diamonds and rubies in rings and
bracelets fit for the vrouw of King Solomon himself. The Englishman did
not bury them with her under that verdoemte kopje that he built with his
two hands, and they are not in the boxes in the living-waggon."

"Did he not?" asked Bough, looking the Boer driver full in the face with a
pleasant smile. "Are they not?"

Smoots Beste's piggish eyes twinkled round the bar-room, looked up at the
ceiling, down at the floor, anywhere but into Bough's. He spat, and said
in a much more docile tone:

"What do you want me to do?"

Bough leaned over the counter, and said confidentially:

"Just this, friend. I want you to inspan, and take one of the waggons up
to Gueldersdorp, with a letter from me to the Civil Commissioner. I will
tell him how the man is dead, and he will send down a magistrate's clerk
to put a seal on the boxes and cases, and then he will go through the
letters and papers in the pocket-book, and write to the people of the dead
man over in England, supposing he has any, for I have heard him tell my
wife there was not a living soul of his name now, except the child----"

"But what good will all this do you and me, Baas?" asked the Boer
subserviently.

Bough spread his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

"Why, when the magistrates and lawyers have hunted up the man's family,
there will be an order to sell the waggons and oxen and other property to
pay the expenses of his burying, and the child's keep here and passage
from Cape Town, if she is to be sent to England ... and what is left over,
see you, after the law expenses have been paid, will go to the settlement
of our just claims. They will never let honest men suffer for behaving
square, sure no, they'll not do that!"

But though Bough's words were full of faith in the fair dealing of the
lawyers and magistrates, his tone implied doubt.

"Boer lawyers are slim rogues at best, and Engelsch lawyers are duyvels as
well as rogues," said Smoots Beste, with a dull flash of originality.

Bough nodded, and pushed another glass of liquor across the bar.

"And that's true enough. I've a score to settle with one or two of 'em. By
gum! I call myself lucky to be in this with a square man like you. There's
the waggon, brand-new--you know what it cost at Cape Town--and the team, I
trust you to take up to Gueldersdorp, and who's to hinder a man who hasn't
the fear of the Lord in him from heading north-east instead of north-west,
selling the waggon and the beasts at Kreilstad or Schoenbroon, and living
on a snug farm of your own for the rest of your life under another man's
name, where the English magistrates and the police will never find you,
though their noses were keener than the wild dogs?"

"Alamachtig!" gasped Smoots Beste, rendered breathless by the alluring,
tempting prospect. Surely the devil spoke with the voice of the
tavern-keeper Bough, when, in human form, he tempted children of men.
Sweat glistened on Smoots' flabby features, his thick hands trembled, and
his bowels were as water. But his purpose was solidifying in his brain as
he said innocently, looking over Bough's left shoulder at the wooden
partition that divided off the bar from the landlord's dwelling-room:

"Aye, I am no dirty schelm that cannot be trusted. Therefore would it not
be better if I took both teams and waggons, and all the rooinek's goods
with me up to Gueldersdorp, and handed it over to the Engelsch landrost
there?"

The fish was hooked. Bough said, steadily avoiding those twirling eyes:

"A good notion, but the lawyer chaps at Gueldersdorp will want to look at
the Englishman's dead body to be able to satisfy his people that he did
not die of a gunshot, or of a knife-thrust; we must bury him, of course,
but not too deep for them to dig him up again. And they will want to
ferret in all the corners of the room where he died, and make sure that
his bags and boxes have not been tampered with--and then there is the
child. In a way"--he spoke slowly and apologetically--"the kid and the
goods are my security for getting my own back again--if ever I do. So you
will inspan one of the waggons--the best if you like, with a team of six
beasts, and you will trek up to Gueldersdorp--you will travel light enough
with only the grub you will need, and the Cape boys, and you will hand
over the letter to the Resident Magistrate, and bring back the man who
will act as his deputy."

But at this point Smoots Beste set down his splay foot. He would undertake
to deliver the letter, but he objected to the company of the coloured
voor-loopers or the Kaffir driver. He was firm upon that and, finding his
most honeyed persuasions of no avail, Bough said no more. He would pay off
the niggers and dismiss them, or get rid of them without paying; there
were ways and means. He sent up country, and the team came down, six thin,
overworked creatures, with new scars upon their slack and baggy hides, and
hollow flanks, and ribs that showed painfully. Smoots Beste was about to
grumble, but he changed his mind, and took the letter, buttoning it up in
the flapped pocket of his tan-cord jacket, and the long whip cracked like
a revolver as the lash hissed out over the backs of the wincing oxen, and
the white tilt rocked over the veld, heading to the nor'-west.

"When will the Dutchy be back, boss?" asked the woman, with a knowing
look.

Bough played the game up to her. He answered quite seriously: "In three
weeks' time."

Then he strolled out, smoking a cigar, his hat tilted at an angle that
spoke of satisfaction. His walk led him past the oblong cairn of ironstone
boulders in the middle of the sandy patch of ground enclosed with zinc
wire-netting. At the foot of the cairn was a new grave.

For the lover did not even lie beside his beloved, as he had vowed once,
promised and planned, but couched below her feet, waiting, like some
faithful hound that could not live without the touch of the worshipped
hand, for the dead to rise again.

Why is it that Failure is the inevitable fate of some men and women?
Despite brilliant prospects, positions that seem assured, commanding
talents nobly used, splendid opportunities that are multiplied as though
in mockery, the result is Nothing from first to last; while the bad
flourish and the evil prosper, and the world honours the stealer of the
fruit of the brains that have been scattered in frenzied despair, or have
become so worn out from the constant effort of creation that the worker
has sunk into hopeless apathy and died.

Bough was not one of those men whose plans come to nothing. He had
prospered as a rogue of old in England, really his native country, though
he called himself an Afrikander. Reared in the gutters of the Irish
quarter of Liverpool, he had early learned to pilfer for a living, had
prospered in prison as sharp young gaol-birds may prosper, and returned to
it again and again, until, having served out part of a sentence for
burglary and obtained his ticket-of-leave, he had shifted his convict's
skin, and made his way out to Cape Colony under a false name and
character. He had made a mistake, it was true, enlisting as a trooper of
Colonial Police, but the step had been forced upon him by circumstances.
Then he had deserted, and had since been successful as a white-slave
dealer at Port Elizabeth, and as a gold-miner in the Transvaal, and he had
done better and better still at that ticklish trade of gun-running for Oom
Paul. Though, get caught--only once get caught--and the Imperial
Government authorities, under whose noses you had been playing the game
with impunity for years, made it as hot as Hell for you. Bough, however,
did not mean ever to get caught. There was always another man, a
semi-innocent dupe, who would appear to have been responsible for
everything, and who would get pinched.

Such a dupe now trudged at the head of the meagre three-span ox-team.
When, after a hard day's toil, he at length outspanned, the waggon-pole
still faithfully pointed to the north-west. But before it was yet day the
waggon began to move again, and it was to the north-east that the
waggon-pole pointed thenceforwards, and the letter Bough had given Smoots
Beste for the Chief Resident Magistrate at Gueldersdorp was saved from the
kindling of the camp-fire by a mere accident.

The cat's-paw could not read, or the illegible, meaningless ink scrawl
upon the sheet within the boldly-addressed envelope would have aroused his
suspicions at the outset. So well had Bough, that expert in human frailty,
understood his subject, that the letter was a bogus letter, a fraud, not
elaborate--a mere stage property, nothing more. But yet he gave it in full
belief that it would be burned, and that, the boats of Smoots Beste being
consumed with it, according to the thick judgment of the said Smoots, it
would be as a pillar of fire behind that slim child of the old
voortrekkers, hastening his journey north-eastwards. It is typical of the
class of Smoots that it never once occurred to him to go north.

But Smoots Beste never bought a farm with the price of the oxen and the
high-bulwarked, teak-built, waterproof-canvas tilted waggon that had cost
such a good round sum. There was a big rainfall on the third day. It began
with the typical African thunderstorm--deafening, continuous rolls and
crashes of heavy cloud-artillery, and lightning that blazed and darted
without intermission, and ran zigzagging in a horrible, deadly, playful
fashion over the veld, as though looking for dishonest folks to shrivel.
One terrible flash struck the wheel-oxen, a thin double tongue of blue
flame sped flickering from ridge to ridge of the six gaunt backs ... there
was a smell of burning hair--a reek of sulphur. The team lay outstretched
dead on the veld, the heavy yoke across their patient necks, the long
horns curving, the thin starved bodies already beginning to bloat and
swell in the swift decomposition that follows death by the electric fluid.

Smoots Beste crawled under the waggon, and, remembering all he had heard
his father spell out from the Dutch Bible about the Judgment Day, and the
punishment of sinners in everlasting flame, felt very ill at ease. The
storm passed over, and the rain poured all through the night, but dawn
brought in a clear blue day; and with it a train of eight
transport-waggons, and several wearied, muddy droves of sheep and cattle,
the property of the Imperial Government Commissariat Department,
Gueldersdorp, being taken from Basutoland East up to Gueldersdorp, under
convoy of an escort of B.S.A. Police. To the non-commissioned officer in
command Smoots Beste, resigned to the discharge of a trust, handed the
letter for the Civil Commissioner.

The sergeant, sitting easily in the saddle, looked at the boldly-written
direction on the envelope, and smelt no rats--at least until he coolly
opened the supposed letter. The scrawled sheet of paper it contained was a
surprise, but he did not let Smoots see that. Then the following brief
dialogue took place:

"You were trekking up to Gueldersdorp," he said to the decidedly nervous
Smoots, "to fetch down a Deputy Civil Commissioner to deal with the
effects of a dead English traveller, at a house kept by the man who wrote
this letter--that is, three days' trek over the veld to the southward, and
called the Free State Hotel?"

Smoots nodded heavily. The dapper sergeant cocked his felt smasher hat,
and turned between pleasantly smiling lips the cigar he was smoking. Then
he pointed with his riding-whip, a neatly varnished sjambok, with a smart
silver top, to the north-west.

"There lies Gueldersdorp. Rum that when the lightning killed the ox-team
you should have been trekking north-east, isn't it?"

Smoots Beste agreed that it was decidedly rum.

The sergeant said, without a change in his agreeable smile:

"All right; you can inspan six of our drove-bullocks, and drive the waggon
with us to Gueldersdorp."

"Thank you, Baas!" said Smoots, without enthusiasm.

"If you like to take the risk," added the sergeant, who had not quite
finished. He ended with an irrepressible outburst of honest indignation:
"Why, you blasted, thieving Dutch scum, do you think I don't _know_ you
were stealing that span and waggon?"

And as Smoots, sweating freely, unyoked the dead oxen, he decided in his
heavy mind that he would be missing long before the convoy got to
Gueldersdorp.

Nine waggons rolled on where only eight had been before. The mounted men
hurried on the daubed and wearied droves of Commissariat beasts. Smoots
Beste drove the scratch team of bullocks, but his heart was as water
within his belly, and there was no resonance in the smack of his whip.
When the convoy came to a town, he vanished, and the story thenceforth
knows him no more. The discreet sergeant of police did not even notice
that he was missing until several days later, when the end of the journey
was near at hand. He was a sober, careful man, and a good husband. He
shortly afterwards made quite a liberal remittance to his wife, and his
troopers pushed Kruger half-sovereigns across most of the bars in
Gueldersdorp shortly after the purchase by a Dopper farmer of a teak-built
Cape waggon that a particular friend of the sergeant's had got to sell.
And they were careful, at first, not to wag loose tongues. But as time
went on the story of the English traveller who had brought the body of the
woman to the Free State Hotel, so many days' trek to the southwards from
Gueldersdorp, trickled from lip to lip. And years later, years too late,
it came to the ears of a friend of dead Richard Mildare.

The sergeant maintained silence. He was a careful officer, and a discreet
man, and, what is more, religious. In controversial arguments with the
godless he would sometimes employ a paraphrase of the story of Smoots
Beste to strengthen his side.

"A chap's a blamed fool that doesn't believe in God, I tell you. I was
once after a bung-nosed Dutch thief of a transport-driver, that had
waltzed away with a brand-new Cape cart and a team of first-class mules.
Taking 'em up to Pretoria on the quiet, to sell 'em to Oom Paul's
burghers, he was. Ay, they were worth a tidy lump! A storm came on--a
regular Vaal display of sky-fireworks. The rain came down like
gun-barrels, the veld turned into a swamp, but we kept on after the
Dutchman, who drove like gay old Hell. Presently comes a blue blaze and a
splitting crack, as if a comet had come shouldering into the map of South
Africa, and knocked its head in. We pushed on, smelling sulphur, burnt
flesh, and hair. 'By gum!' said I; 'something's got it'; and I was to
rights. The Cape cart stood on the veld, without a scratch on the
paintwork. The four mules lay in their traces, deader than pork. The
Dutchman sat on the box, holding the lines and his voorslag, and grinning.
He was dead, too--struck by the lightning in the act of stealing
those mules and that Cape cart. Don't let any fellow waste hot air after
that trying to persuade me that there isn't such a thing as an overruling
Providence!"

Thus the sergeant: and his audience, whether Free-thinkers, Agnostics, or
believers, would break up, feeling that one who has the courage of his
opinions is a respectable man.

As for Bough, in whose hands even the astute sergeant had been as a peeled
rush, we may go back and find him counting money in gold and notes that
had been taken from the belt of the dead English traveller.

Seventeen hundred pounds, hard cash--a pretty windfall for an honest man.
The honest man whistled softly, handling the white crackling notes, and
feeling the smooth, heavy English sovereigns slip between his fingers.

There were certificates of Rand stock, also a goodly number of Colonial
Railway shares, and some foreign bonds, all of which could be realised on,
but at a distance, and by a skilled hand. There were jewels, as the Boer
waggon-driver had said, that had belonged to the dead woman--diamond
rings, and a bracelet or two; and there were silk dresses of lovely hues
and texture, and cambric and linen dresses, and tweed dresses, in the
trunks; and a great cloak of sables, trimmed with many tails, and
beautiful underclothing of silk and linen, trimmed with real lace, over
which the mouth of the woman of the tavern watered. She got some of the
dresses and all the undergarments when Bough had dexterously picked out
the embroidered initials. He knew diamonds and rubies, but he had never
been a judge of lace.

There was a coronet upon one or two handkerchiefs that had been overlooked
when the dead woman had burned the others four years previously. Bough
picked this out too, working deftly with a needle.

He was clever, very clever. He could take to pieces a steam-engine or a
watch, and put it together again. He knew all there is to know about
locks, and how they may best be opened without their keys. He could alter
plate-marks with graving tools and the jeweller's blow-pipe, and test
metals with acids, and make plaster-cast moulds that would turn out
dollars and other coins, remarkably like the real thing. He was not a
clever forger; he had learned to write somewhat late in life, and the
large, bold round hand, with the capital letters that invariably began
with the wrong quirk or twirl, was too characteristic, though he wrote
anonymous letters sometimes, risking detection in the enjoyment of what
was to him a dear delight, only smaller than that other pleasure of
moulding bodies to his own purposes, of malice, or gain, or lust.



IV


There was a child in the tavern on the veld; it lay in an old orange-box,
half-filled with shavings, covered with a thin, worn blanket, in the
daub-and-wattle outhouse, where the Hottentot woman, called the
chambermaid, and the Kaffir woman, who was cook, slept together on one
filthy pallet. Sometimes they stayed up at the tavern, drinking and
carousing with the Dutch travellers who brought the supplies of Hollands
and Cape brandy and lager beer, and the American or English gold-miners
and German drummers who put up there from time to time. Then the child lay
in the outhouse alone. It was a frail, puny creature, always frightened
and silent. It lived on a little mealie pap and odd bits of roaster-cakes
that were thrown to it as though it were a dog. When the coloured women
forgot to feed it, they said: "It does not matter. Anyhow, the thing will
die soon!" But it lived on when another child would have died.... There
was something uncanny about its great-eyed silence and its tenacious hold
on life.

It had only been able to toddle when brought to the tavern. The rains and
thunderstorms of spring went by, the summer passed, and it could walk
about. It was a weakly little creature, with great frightened eyes,
amber-brown, with violet flecks in their black-banded irises, and dark,
thick lashes; and the delicately-drawn eyebrows were dark too, though its
hair was soft yellow--just the colour of a chicken's down. Many a cuff it
got, and many a hard word, when its straying feet brought it into the way
of the rough life up at the tavern. But still the scrap of food was tossed
to it, and the worn-out petticoat roughly cobbled into a garment for its
little body; for Bough was a charitable man.

It was a poor orphan, he explained to people, the child of a consumptive
emigrant Englishman who had worked for the landlord of the tavern, and
left this burden for other shoulders when he died. Charitable travellers
frequently left benefactions towards the little one's clothing and keep.
Bough willingly took charge of the money. The child strayed here, there,
and everywhere. It was often lost, but nobody looked for it, and it always
came back. It liked to climb the cairn of boulders, or to sit on the long,
low hillock at the cairn's foot. The wire fencing had long been removed
from the enclosure; it had gone to make a chicken-pen in a more suitable
spot. The cross had been taken down when a prop was wanted for the
clothes-line.

The child, often beaten by Bough and the woman of the tavern, might have
been even worse treated by the coloured servants but for those two graves
out on the veld. Black blood flows thick with superstition, and both the
Kaffir cook and the snuff-coloured Hottentot chambermaid nourished a
wholesome dread of spooks. Who knew but that the white woman's ghost would
rise out of the kopje there, some dark night, and pinch and cuff and thump
and beat people who had ill-used her bantling? As for the dead man buried
at her feet, his dim shape had often been seen by one of the Barala
stablemen, keeping guard before the heap of boulders, in the white blaze
of the moon-rays, or the paler radiance of a starry night, or more often
of a night of mist and rain; not moving as a sentry moves, but upright and
still, with shining fiery eyes in his shadowy face, and with teeth that
showed, as the dead grin. After that none of the servants would pass near
these two graves later than sundown, and Bough welted the Barala boy with
an ox-reim for scaring silly jades of women with lying tales. But then
Bough avoided the spot by day as well as by night. Therefore, it became a
constant place of refuge for the child, who now slept in the outhouse
alone.

In the long, brilliant winter nights she would leave the straw-stuffed
sack that had been her bed ever since the orange-box had been broken up,
and climb the stone-heaps, and look over the lonely veld, and stare up at
the great glowing constellation of the Southern Cross. In spring, when
pools and river-beds were full of foaming beer-coloured water, and every
kloof and donga was brimmed with flowers and ferns, she would be drawn
away by these, would return, trailing after her armfuls of rare blooms,
and thenceforward, until these faded, the ridgy grave-mound and the heaped
cairn of boulders would be gay with them. She never took them to the
house. It might have meant a beating--so many things did.

Late in November, when the apricots and plums and peaches were ripening on
the laden, starling-haunted boughs, she would wander in the orchard
belonging to the house, while the heavy drenching rains drummed on the
leaves overhead, and sudden furious thunderstorms rent the livid-coloured
clouds above with jagged scythes and reaping-hooks of white electric fire,
or leaping, dancing, playing, vanishing tongues of thin blue. Once this
fire struck a krantz, under the lee of which the child was sheltering, and
made a black scorched mark all down the cliff-face, but left the child
unscathed.

No one had ever taught her anything; no one had ever laid a gentle hand
upon her. When she first saw mother and daughter, friend and friend,
sweetheart and sweetheart kiss, it seemed to her that they licked each
other, as friendly dogs do. She had no name that she knew of.

"You kid, go there. You kid, fetch this or bring that. You kid, go to the
drift for water, or take the besom and sweep the stoep, or scrub out the
room there--do you hear, you kid?" These orders came thick and fast when
at last she was old enough to work; and she was old enough when she was
very young, and did work like a little beast of burden. A real mother's
heart--all mothers are not real ones--would have ached to see the dirt and
bruises on the delicate childish limbs, and the vermin that crawled under
the yellow rings of hair. How to be clean and tidy nobody had ever shown
her, though she had learned by instinct other things.

That it was best to bear hunger and pain in silence, lest worse befell.
That a truth for which one suffers is not as good as a lie for which one
gets a bigger roaster-cake, or the scrapings of the syrup-can. That to
little, weak, and feeble creatures of their race grown human beings can be
marvellously cruel. That the devil lived down in the kraals with the
natives, and that God was a swear. It is a wonder that she had not sunk
into idiocy, or hopelessly sickened and died, neglected, ill-used,
half-starved as she was. But when the little one might have been six years
of age, the Lady began coming. And after the first time, with very brief
intervals of absence, she came every night.



V


As soon as you lay down on the sack of straw in the corner of the
outhouse, slipping out of the ragged frock if the weather were hot, or
pulling the thin old horse-blanket over you if the night were a cold one,
keeping your eyes tight shut, for this was quite indispensable, you looked
into the thick dark, shot with gleams of lovely colours, sometimes with
whirling rings of stars, and gradually, as you looked, all these
concentrated into two stars, large and not twinkling, but softly radiant,
and you were happy, for you knew that the Lady was coming.

For she always came, even when you had been most wicked: when you were
sent to bed without even the supper-crust to gnaw, and when your body and
arms and legs were bruised and aching from the beating they told you you
deserved. The stars would go a long way off, and while you tingled and
trembled and panted with expectation, would come back again as eyes.
Looking up into them, you saw them clearly; the rest of the person they
belonged to arrived quite a little while after her eyes were there. Such
eyes--neither grey, nor brown, nor violet, but a mingling of all these
colours, and deepening as you gazed up into them into bottomless lakes of
love.

Then her face, framed in a soft darkness, which was hair--the Kid never
knew of what colour--her face formed itself out of the darkness that
framed those eyes, and a warm, balmy breath came nearer, and you were
kissed. No other lips, in your short remembrance, had ever touched you.
You had learned the meaning of a kiss only from her, and hers was so long
and close that your heart left off beating, and only began again when it
was over. Then arms that were soft and warm, and strong and beautiful,
came round you and gathered you in, and you fell asleep folded closely in
them, or you lay awake, and the Lady talked to you in a voice that was
mellow as honey and soft as velvet, and sounded like the cooing of the
wild pigeons that nested in the krantzes, or the sighing of the wind among
the high veld grasses, and the murmur of the little river playing among
the boulders and gurgling between the roots of the tree-fern. You talked,
too, and told her everything. And no matter how bad you had been, though
she was sorry, because she hated badness, she loved you just as dearly as
she did when you were good. And oh! how you loved her--how you loved her!

"Please," you said that night when she came first--you remember it quite
well, though it is so long ago--"please, why did you never come before?"

And she answered, with her cool, sweet, fragrant lips upon your eyelids,
and your head upon her breast:

"Because you never wanted me so much as now."

"Please take me back home with you," you begged, holding her fast. And she
answered in the voice that is always like the sigh of the wind amongst the
tree-tops and the murmur of the river:

"I cannot yet--but I will come again."

And she does come, and again and again. By degrees, though she comes to
you only at night, when the outhouse is dark, or lighted only by the stars
or the moonshine, you learn exactly what the Lady is like.

She wears a silken, softly-rustling gown that is of any lovely colour you
choose. The hue of the blue overarching sky at midday, or the tender rose
of dawn, or of the violet clouds that bar the flaming orange-ruby of the
sunset: or the mysterious robe of twilight drapes her, or her garment is
sable as the Night. The grand sweep of her shoulders and the splendid
pillar of her throat reveal the beauty of her form even to the eyes of an
untaught, neglected child. Her face is pale, but as full of sunlight as of
shadow, and her eyes are really grey and deep as mountain lakes. The
sorrow of all the world and all its joy seem to have rolled over her like
many waters, and when she smiles the sweetness of it is always almost more
than the Kid can bear.

Who is the Lady!

She has no other name than that. She is very, very good, as well as
beautiful, and you can bear to tell her when you have been most wicked,
because she is so sorry for you. She can play with you, and laugh so
softly and clearly and gaily that you, who have never learned but to dread
grown people's cruel merriment, join in and laugh too. When she laughs the
corners of her eyes crinkle so like the corners of her lips that you have
to kiss them, and there are dimples that come with the laughter, and make
her dearer than ever.

Who is the Lady, tall, and strong, and tender? That dead woman lying out
there under the Little Kopje was small, and slight, and frail. Who may the
Lady be? Is she a dream or a mere illusion born of loneliness and
starvation, physical and mental? Or has Mary, the Mother of Pity, laid
aside her girdle of decades of golden roses, her mantle of glory, and her
diadem of stars, and come stepping fair-footed down the stairway that
Night builds between Earth and Heaven, to comfort a desolate child lying
in a stable who never heard the story of the Christ-Babe of Bethlehem?

You ask no questions--you to whom she comes. You call her softly at night,
stretching out your arms, and the clasp of her arms answers at once. You
whisper how you love her, with your face hidden in her neck. The great
kind dark that brings her is your real, real daytime in which you live and
are glad. Each morning to which you waken, bringing its stint of hunger
and abuse and blows renewed, is only a dreadful dream, you say to
yourself, and so can face your world.

Oh, deep beyond fathoming, mysterious beyond comprehension is the hidden
heart of a child!



VI


One afternoon when the Kid was quite as tall as the broom she swept the
stoep with she had gone to the drift for water. It was a still, bright,
hot day. Little puffs of rosy cloud hung motionless under the burning blue
sky-arch; small, gaily-plumaged birds twittered in the bushes; the tiny
black ants scurried to and fro in the pinkish sand of the river beach. She
waded into the now clear, sherry-pale water to cool her hot bare limbs,
and, bending over, stared down into the reflected eyes that looked back
out of the pool.

Such a dirty little, large-eyed, wistful face, crowned by a curling tousle
of matted, reddish-brown-gold hair. Such a neglected, sordid little
figure, with thin drab shoulders sticking out of a ragged calico frock.
She was quite startled. She had never seen herself in any glass before,
though a cheap, square, wooden-framed mirror hung on the wall of the
bar-room, with a dirty clothes-brush on a hook underneath, and there were
swing toilet-glasses in the tawdry bedrooms at the inn. Something stirred
in her, whispering in the grimy little ear, "_It is good to be clean_,"
and with the awakening of the maidenly instinct the womanly purpose
framed.

She put off her horrible rags, and washed herself from head to foot in the
warm clear water. She took fine sand, and scrubbed her head. She dipped
and wrung and rinsed her foul tatters of garments, standing naked in the
shallows, the hot sunshine drying her red-gold curls, and warming her
slight girlish body through and through as she spread her washed rags to
dry on the big hot stones.

There was a man's step on the bank above her, there was a rustling sound
among the green bushes. She had never heard of modesty, but she cowered
down among the boulders, and the heavy footstep passed by. She hid among
the fern while her clothes were drying, put them on tidily, and went back
with her filled water-bucket to the hotel. How could she know what injury
the kind peremptory voice, bidding her be foul no longer, had done her!
But thenceforwards a new cruelty, a fresh peril, attended her steps.

Bough and the white woman of the inn had quarrels often. She was no wife
of his. He had not brought her from Cape Colony. When the hotel was built
he had gone up to Johannesburg on business and on pleasure, and brought
her back with him from an establishment he knew. He was generally not
brutal to her except when she was ailing, when he gave her medicine that
made her worse, much worse--so very ill that she would lie groaning upon a
foul neglected bed for weeks, while Bough caroused with the coloured women
and the customers in the bar. Then, still groaning, she would drag herself
up and be about her work again. She did not want to go back to the house
at Johannesburg. She loved the man Bough in her fashion, poor bought
wretch.

She had quarrelled with him many times for many things, and been silenced
with blows, or curses, or even caresses, were he in the mood. But she had
never quarrelled with him about the Kid before. Now when he bought some
coloured print and a Boer sunbonnet, and some shifts and stockings of a
traveller in drapery and hosiery, and ordered her thenceforwards to see
that the girl went properly clothed, a new terror, a fresh torture, was
added to the young life. The woman had ignored, neglected, sometimes
ill-used her, but she had never hated her until now.

And Bough, the big, burly, dark-skinned man with the strange light eyes,
and the bold, cruel, red mouth, and the bushy brown whiskers, why did he
follow her about with those strange eyes, and smile secretly to himself?
She was no longer fed on scraps; she must sit and eat at table with the
man and his mistress, and learn to use knife and fork.

She outgrew the dress Bough had bought her, and another, and another, and
this did not make Bough angry; he only smiled. A man having some secret
luxury or treasure locked away in a private cupboard will smile so. He
knows it is there, and he means to go to the hiding-place one day, but in
the meantime he waits, licking his lips.

The girl had always feared Bough, and shrunk from his anger with
unutterable terror. But the blow of his heavy hand was more bearable than
his smile and his jesting amiability. Now, when she went down to the
kraals on an errand, or to the orchard or garden for fruit or vegetables,
or to the river for water as of old, she heard his light, cautious,
padding footsteps coming after her, and would turn and pass him with
downcast eyes, and go back to the inn, and take a beating for not having
done her errand. Beating she comprehended, but this mysterious change in
the man Bough filled her with sick, secret loathing and dread. She did not
know why she bolted the door of the outhouse now when she crept to her
miserable bed.

Once Bough dropped into her lap a silver dollar, saying with a smile that
she was getting to be quite a little woman of late. She leaped to her feet
as though a scorpion had stung her, and stood white to the very lips, and
speechless, while the big silver coin rolled merrily away into a distant
corner, and lay there. The frowzy woman with the bleached hair happened to
come in at that moment; or had she been spying through a crack of the
door? Bough pretended he had accidentally dropped the coin, picked it up,
and went away.



That night he and the woman quarrelled fiercely. She could hear them
raging at each other as she lay trembling. Then came shrieks, and the dull
sound of the sjambok cutting soft human flesh. In the morning the woman
had a black eye; there were livid weals on her tear-blurred face. She
packed her boxes, snivelling. She was going back along up to Johannesburg
by the next thither-bound transport-waggon-train that should halt at the
hotel--thrown off like an old shoe after all these years. And she was not
young enough for the old life, what with hard work and hard usage and
worry, and she knew to whom she owed her dismissal....

Ay, and if she could have throttled or poisoned the little sly devil she
would have done it! Only--there would have been Bough to reckon with
afterwards. For of God she made a jest, and the devil was an old friend of
hers, but she was horribly afraid of the man with the brown bushy whiskers
and the light, steely eyes. Yet she threw herself upon him to kiss him,
blubbering freely, when at the week's end the Johannesburg
transport-rider's waggons returning from the district town not yet linked
up to the north by the railway came in sight.

Bough poured her out a big glass of liquor, his universal panacea, and
another for the transport-rider, with many a jovial word. He would be
running up to Johannesburg before she had well shaken down after the
journey. Then they would have a rare old time, going round the bars and
doing the shows. Though, perhaps if she had got fixed up with a new
friend, some flash young fellow with pots of money, she would not be
wanting old faces around?

Then he turned aside to pay the transport-rider, and the exile dabbed her
swollen face with a rouge-stained, lace-edged handkerchief, and went out
to get into the waggon.

The girl stood by the stoep, staring, puzzled, overwhelmed, afraid. A
piece of her world was breaking off. As long as she could remember
anything she had known this woman. She had never received any kindness
from her; of late she had been malignant in her hate, but--she wished she
was not going. Instinctively she had felt that her presence was some
slight protection. Keeping close in the shadow of this creature's frowzy
skirts, she had not so feared and dreaded those light eyes of Bough's, and
the padding, following footsteps had kept aloof. As the woman passed her
now, a rage of unspeakable, agonising fear rose in her bosom. She cried
out to her, and clutched at her shabby gay mantle.

The woman snatched the garment from her hold. Her distorted mouth and
blazing eyes were close to the white young face. She could have spat upon
it. But she snarled at her three words ... no more, and passed her, and
got into the waggon.

"Halloa, there!" said Bough, coming forward threateningly, "what you
rowing about, eh?" But no one answered. The girl had fled to the
boulder-cairn, and the woman sat silent in the waggon, until the weary,
goaded teams moved on, and the transport-train of heavy, broad-beamed
vehicles lumbered away.

But the little figure on the cairn of boulders covering the dust of the
bosom from whence it had first drunk life sat there immovable until the
sun went down, pondering.

"_Missis now, eh!_"

What did those three words mean?

Then Bough called her, and she had to run. She served as waitress of the
bar that day, and the men who drove or rode by and stopped for drinks,
chatting in the dirty saloon, or sitting in the bare front room, with the
Dutch stove, and the wooden forms and tables in it, that they called the
coffee-room, to discuss matters relative to the sale of cattle, or sheep,
or merchandise, stared at her, and several made her coarse compliments.
She refused to touch the loathly-smelling liquor they offered her. Her
heart beat like a little terrified bird's. And she was horribly conscious
of those light eyes of Bough's following, following her, with that
inscrutable look.

When the crowd had thinned he came to her. He caught her arm, and pulled
her near him, and said between his teeth:

"You will sleep in the mistress's room to-night."

Then he went away chuckling to himself, thinking of that frightened look
in her eyes. Later, he went out on horseback, and did not return.

The slatternly bedchamber, with its red turkey twill window-curtains and
cheap gaudy wallpaper, which had belonged to the ruddled woman with the
bleached hair, was a palace to the little one. But she could not breathe
there. Late that night she rose from the big feather bed, and unfastened
the inner window shutters, and drew the cotton blind and opened the
window, though the paint had stuck, and looked out upon the veld. The
great stars throbbed in the purple velvet darkness overhead. The falling
dew wetted the hand she stretched out into the cool night air. She drew
back the hand and touched her cheek with it, and started, for the fresh,
cool, fragrant touch seemed like that of some other hand whose touch she
once had known. She thought for the first time that if the woman who had
been her mother, and who slept out there in the dark under the
boulder-cairn, had lived, she might have touched her child so. Then she
closed the window quickly, for she heard, afar off, the gallop of a
hard-ridden horse drawing nearer--nearer. And she knew that Bough was
coming back.

He came.

She heard him dismount before the door, give the horse to the sleepy
Barala ostler, and let himself into the bar. She heard him clink among the
glasses and bottles. She heard his foot upon the three-step stair, and on
the landing. It did not pass by. It stopped at the locked door of the room
where she was.

Then his voice bade her rise and open the door. She could not speak or
move.

She was dumb and paralysed with deadly terror. She heard his coaxing voice
turn angry; she listened in helpless terrified silence to his oaths and
threats; then she heard him laugh softly, and the laugh was followed by
the jingle of a bunch of skeleton keys. He always carried them; they saved
trouble, he used to say.

They saved him trouble now. When the bent wire rattled in the lock, and
the key fell out upon the floor, she screamed, and his coarse chuckle
answered. She was cowering against the wall in a corner of the room when
he came in and picked up the key and locked the door. But when his
stretched-out, grasping hand came down upon her slight shoulder, she
turned and bit it like some savage, desperate little animal, drawing the
blood. Bough swore at the sudden sting of the sharp white teeth. So the
little beast showed fight, eh? Well, he would teach her that the master
will have his way.

There was no one else in the house, and if there had been it would have
served her not at all. God sat in timeless Eternity beyond these mists of
earth, and saw, and made no sign. It was not until the man Bough slept the
heavy sleep of liquor and satiety that the thought of flight was born in
her with desperate courage to escape him. The shutters had been left
unbolted, and the window was yet a little way open. She sprang up and
threw it wide, leaped out upon the stoep, and from thence to the ground,
and fled blindly, breathlessly over the veld into the night.



VII


Bough, as soon as it was dawn, sent three of the Kaffirs from the kraals,
in different directions, to search for her, and, mounted on a fresh pony,
took the fourth line of search himself.

He had chosen the right direction for riding down the quarry. At broad
high noon he came upon her, in a bare, stony place tufted with milk-bush.
She was crouching under a prickly-pear shrub, that threw a distorted blue
shadow on the sun-baked, sun-bleached ground, trying to eat the fruit in
the native way with two sticks. But she had no knife, and her mouth was
bleeding. Bough gave the tired pony both spurs when the prey he hunted
came in sight. She leaped up like a wild cat when the mounted man rode
down upon her, and ran, doubling like a hare. When overtaken, she fell
upon her face in the sand, and lay still, only shaken by her long pants.
Bough dismounted and caught her by the wrist and dragged her up with his
bandaged right hand. He beat her about her cheeks with his hard, open
left. Then he threw her across his saddle, but she writhed down, and lay
under the pony's feet.

He kicked her then, for giving so much trouble, lifted her again, and
tried to mount, holding her in one arm. But the frightened pony swerved
and backed, and the girl writhed, and struggled, and scratched like a wild
cat. She did not know what mercy meant, but she saw by the look that came
into those light eyes that this man would have none upon her. She fought
and bit and screamed.

Bough took an ox-reim then, that was coiled behind his saddle, and bound
her hands. He tied the end of the leather rope to the iron ring behind his
saddle, and remounted, and spurred his weary beast into a canter. The
little one was forced to run behind. Again and again she fell, and each
time she was jerked up and forced to run again upon her bleeding feet,
leaving rags of her garments upon the karroo-bushes and blood-marks on the
stones. And at last she fell, and rose no more, showing no sign of life
under the whip and the spur-rowel. Then Bough bent over and drew his long
hunting-knife and cut the reim, leaving her hands still bound. If any
spark of life remained in he girl, he could not tell. Her knees were drawn
in towards her body; her eyes were open, and rolled upwards; there was
foam upon her torn and bleeding mouth. She was as good as dead, anyway,
and the wild dogs would be sure to come by-and-by. Already an aasvogel
was hovering above; a mere speck, the great bird poised upon widespread
wings, high up in the illimitable blue.

Presently there would be a flock of these carrion feeders, that are not
averse to fresh-killed meat when it is to be had.

Bough remounted, and, humming a dance tune that was often on his lips,
rode away over the veld.

The great vulture wheeled. Then he dropped like a falling stone for a
thousand yards or so, and hovered and dropped again, getting nearer--ever
so much nearer--with each descent. And where he had hovered at the first
were now a dozen specks of black upon the hot, bright blue.

A wild dog crept down from a cone-topped spitzkop, and stood, sniffing the
blood-tainted air eagerly, whining a little in its throat.

The great vulture dropped lower. His comrades of the flock, eagerly
following his gyrations and descents, had begun to wheel and drop also.
Another wild dog appeared on the cone-shaped kop. Other furry, sharp-eared
heads, with eager, sniffing noses, could be seen amongst the grass and
bush.

Then suddenly the higher vultures rose. They wheeled and soared and flew,
a bevy of winged black specks hurrying to the north. They had seen
something approaching over the veld. The great bird hanging motionless,
purposeful, lower down, became aware of his comrades' change of tactics.
With one downward stroke of his powerful wings, he shot upwards, and with
a hoarse, croaking cry took flight after the rest.

The wild dogs stole back, hungry, to covert, as a big light blue waggon,
drawn by a well-fed team of eight span, came lumbering over the veld.

Would the ox-team veer in another direction? Would the big blue waggon
with the new white tilt roll by?

The Hottentot driver cracked his giant whip, and, turning on the box-seat,
spoke to a figure that sat beside him. It was a woman in loose black
garments, with a starched white coif like a Dutchwoman's kapje, covered
with a floating black veil. At her side dangled and clashed a long rosary
of brown wooden beads, with a copper crucifix attached. There were two
other women in the big waggon, dressed in the same way. They were Roman
Catholic nuns--Sisters of Mercy coming up from Natal, by the order of the
Bishop of Bellmina, Vicar-Apostolic, at the request of the Bishop of
Paracos, suffragan to North-East Baraland, to swell the numbers of the
Community already established in Gueldersdorp at the Convent of the Holy
Way.

The oxen halted some fifty yards from that inanimate ragged little body,
lying prone, face downwards, among the scrubby bushes that sprouted in the
hot sand. Little crowding tiny ants already blackened the bloodstains on
the ground, and the wild dogs would not have stayed long from the feast if
the waggon had passed on.

One white-coifed, tall, black-clad figure sprang lightly down from the
waggon-box, and hurried across to where the body was lying. A mellow,
womanly cry of pity came from under the starched coif. She turned and
beckoned. Then she knelt down by the girl's side, opened the torn
garments, and felt with compassionate, kindly touches about the still
heart.

The other two black figures came hurrying over then, stumbling amongst the
stones and karroo-bushes in their haste. Lifting her, they turned the
white, bloodless young face to the blue sky. It was cut and scratched, but
not otherwise disfigured. Her bound arms, dragged upwards before it, had
shielded it from the thorns and the sharp stones. They were raw from the
elbows to the wrists.

They listened at the torn childish bosom with anxious ears. They got a few
drops of brandy between the clenched little teeth. The sealed lips
quivered; the heart fluttered feebly, like a dying bird. They gave her
more stimulant, and waited, while the Hottentot driver dozed, and the
sleek, well-fed oxen chewed the cud patiently, standing in the sun.

Then the Sisters lifted her, with infinite care, and carried her to the
waggon. The twenty-four-foot whip-lash cracked, and the patient beasts
moved on. Very soon the big white tilt was a mere retreating speck upon
the veld. The ants were still busy when the wild dogs came out and
sniffed regretfully at those traces on the ground.

Coincidence, did you say, lifting your eyebrows over the book, as the blue
waggon of the Sisters rolled lumberingly into the story? The long arm of
coincidence stretched to aching tenuity by the dramatist and the novelist!
Nay! but the thing happened, just as I have told.

What is the thing we are agreed to call coincidence?

Once I was passing over one of the bridges that span the unclean London
ditch called the Regent's Canal. I had walked all the way from Piccadilly
Circus to Gloucester Crescent, haunted by the memory of a man I had once
known. He was the broken-down, drunken, studio-drudge of a great artist, a
splendid Bohemian, who had died some years before. Why did the thought of
the palette-scraper, the errand-goer, the drunken creature with the
cultivated voice and the ingratiating, gentlemanly manners, possess me as
I went? I recalled his high, intellectual, pimply forehead, and large
benevolent nose, in a chronic state of inflammation, and seedy
semi-clerical garb, for the thing had been an ordained clergyman of the
Church of England, and I grinned, remembering how, when a Royal visitor
was expected at the great man's studio, the factotum had been bidden to
wash his face, and had washed one half of it, leaving the other half in
drab eclipse, like the picture-restorers' trade-advertisement of a canvas
partially cleansed.

Idly I tossed the butt of a finished cigar over the bridge balustrade.
Idly my eye followed it down to the filthy, sluggishly-creeping water that
flows round the bend, under the damp rear-garden walls below.

A policeman and a bargeman were just taking the body of an old man out of
that turbid canal-stream. It was dressed in pauper's garments, and its
stiffened knees were bent, and its rigid elbows crooked, and a
dishonoured, dripping beard of grey hung over the soulless breast.

The dreadful eyes were open, staring up at the leaden March sky. His face,
with the dread pallor of Death upon it, and the mud-stains wiped away by a
rough but not unkindly hand, was cleaner than I had ever seen it in life.

Nevertheless, I recognised in the soaked body in its workhouse livery the
very man the thought of whom had haunted me, the great Bohemian painter's
drunken studio-drudge.



VIII


School at the Convent of the Holy Way at Gueldersdorp was breaking up,
suddenly and without warning, very soon after the beginning of the
Christmas term. Many of the pupils had already left in obedience to urgent
telegrams from relatives in Cape Colony or in the Transvaal, and every
Dutch girl among the sixty knew the reason why, but was too astute to hint
of it, and every English girl was at least as wise, but pride kept her
silent, and the Americans and the Germans exchanged glances of
intelligence, and whispered in corners of impending war between John Bull
and Oom Paul.

That deep and festering political hatreds, fierce enthusiasms, inherited
pride of race, and instilled pride in nationality, were covered by worked
apron-bibs, and even childish pinafores, is anyone likely to doubt?
Schoolgirls can be patriots as well as rebels, and the seminary can vie
with the college, or possibly outdo it, occasion given. Ask Juliette Adam
whether the bread-and-butter misses of France in the year 1847 did not
squabble over the obstinacy of King Louis Philippe and the greed of M.
Guizot, the claims of Louis Napoleon and the theories of Louis Blanc, of
Odilon Barrot, and Ledru-Rollin? And I who write, have I not seen a North
Antrim Sunday-school wrecked in a faction-fight between the Orange and the
Green? Lord! how the red-edged hymnals and shiny-covered S.P.G. books
hurtled through the air, to burst like hand-grenades upon the texted
walls. In vain the panting, crimson clergyman mounted the superintendent's
platform, and strove to shed the oil of peace upon those seething waters.
Even the class-teachers had broken the rails out of the Windsor
chair-backs, and joined the hideous fray, irrespective of age or sex.

"Miss Maloney--Miss Geoghegan--I am shocked--appalled! In the name of
decency I command yees to desist!"

"Hit him again, Moggy Lenahan, a taste lower down!"

"Serve you right, Mulcahy! why would you march wid the Green?"

Thirty years ago. As I gaped in affright at the horrid scene of strife,
small revengeful fingers twisted themselves viciously in my auburn curls,
and wresting from my grasp a "Child's Own Bible Concordance," a birthday
outrage received from an Evangelical aunt, Julia Dolan, aged twelve, began
to pound me about the face with it. As a snub-nosed urchin, gifted with a
marvellous capacity for the cold storage and quick delivery of Scripture
genealogies and Hebrew proper and improper names, I had often reduced my
mild, long-legged girl-neighbour to tearful confusion. Now meek Julia
seemed as though possessed by seven devils. I had been taught the
elementary rule that boys must not hurt girls, but the code had no precept
helpful in the present instance, when a girl was hurting me. Casting
chivalry to the winds, I remember that I kicked Julia's shins, and she
fled howling; but not before she had reduced my leading feature to a state
of ruin, which created a tremendous sensation when they led me home.
Later, during the election riots, two young women fought in the Market
Place, stripped to the waist, and wielding boards wrenched from the side
of a packing-case, heavy, jagged, and full of nails. And when the soldiers
were called out, we know how many a saddle was emptied by the stones the
children threw....

Only a day previously the centipede-like procession of girls of all ages,
in charge of nuns and pupil-teachers, in passing over the Gueldersdorp
Recreation-Ground, had sustained an experience with which every maiden
bosom would have been still vibrating had not an event even more exciting
occurred between the early morning roll-call and prayers-muster and
breakfast.

Greta Du Taine had had another love-letter!

The news darted from class-room to class-room more quickly than little
Monsieur Pilotell, the French literature professor; it spread like the
measles, and magnified like the mumps.

The Red Class, composed of the elder girls, "young ladies" who were
undergoing the process of finishing, surged with volcanic excitement,
hidden, but not in the least repressed. The White Class, their juniors,
who were chiefly employed in preparing for Confirmation, should have been
immersed in graver things, but were not. They waited on mental tiptoe for
details, and a peep at the delicious document. The Blue Class, as became
mere infants ranging from six to ten years old, remained phlegmatically
indifferent to the missive, yet avid for samples of the chocolates that
had accompanied the declaration, made to eighty girls of all ages by one
undersized, pasty, freckled young man employed as junior clerk and
chain-assistant in a surveyor's office, and who signed at the end of a
long row of symbolistic crosses the unheroic name of Billy Keyse.

He had seen and been helplessly stunned by the vision of Greta Du Taine
out walking at the head of the long winding procession of English, German,
Dutch, Dutch-French, Dutch-American, and Jewish girls. They are sent now
to be taught in Europe, those daughters of the Rand millionaires, the
Stock Exchange speculators, the wealthy fruit-farmers, or cereal-growers,
or cattle and sheep breeders, who are descended themselves from the old
pioneers and voortrekkers, but they do not get a better education than was
to be had at the Convent school at Gueldersdorp, where the Sisters of
Mercy took in and taught and trained coltish girl-children, born in a
strongly stimulating climate, and accustomed to lord it over Kaffir and
Hottentot servants to their hearts' content. These they tamed, these they
transformed into refined, cultivated, accomplished young women, stamped
with the indefinable seal of high breeding, possessed of the tone and
manner that belongs to the upper world.

What shall I say of the Sisters of the Convent of the Holy Way at
Gueldersdorp, I who know but little of any Order of Religious? They are a
Community, chiefly of ladies of high breeding and ancient family, vowed to
feed the hungry, clothe the naked, nurse the sick, comfort the dying, and
instruct the ignorant. Like the Fathers of the Society of Jesuits, those
skilled, patient, wise tillers in the soil of the human mind, their daily
task is to hoe and tend, and prune and train, and water the young green
things growing in what to them is the Garden of God, and to other good and
even holy people, the vineyard of the devil. Possibly both are right?

I have heard the habit of the Order called ugly. But upon the stately
person of the Mother Superior the garb was regal. The sweeping black folds
were as imposing as imperial purple, and the starched guimpe framed a
beauty that was grave, stern, almost severe until she smiled, and then you
caught your breath, because you had seen what great poets write of, and
great painters try to render, and only great musicians by their
impalpable, mysterious tone-art can come nearest to conveying--the earthly
beauty that has been purged of all grosser particles of dross in the white
fires of the Divine Love. She was not altogether perfect, or one could not
have loved her so. Her scorn of any baseness was bitterly scathing; the
point of her sarcasm was keen as any thrusting blade of tempered steel;
her will was to be obeyed, and was obeyed as sovereign law, else woe
betide the disobedient. Also, though kind and gracious to all, tenderly
solicitous for, and incessantly watchful of, the welfare of the least of
her charges, she never feigned where she could not feel regard or love.
Her rare kiss was coveted in the little world of the Convent school as the
jewel of an Imperial Order was coveted in the bigger world outside it, and
the most rebellious of the pupils held her in respect mingled with fear.
The head-mistresses of the classes had their followers and admirers. It
was for the Mother Superior to command enthusiasm, and to sway ambition,
and to govern the hearts and minds of children with the personal charm and
the intellectual powers that could have ruled a nation from a throne.



Well, she has gone to God. It is good for many souls that she lived upon
earth a little. There was nothing sentimental, visionary, or hysterical in
her character. Nor, in giving her great heart with her pure soul to her
Saviour, did she ever quite learn to despise the sweetness of earthly
love. Not all a Saint. Yet the children of those women who most were
swayed by her influence in youth are taught to hold her Saint as well as
Martyr. And there is One Who knows.

It was not until recess after the midday dinner that Greta Du Taine could
exhibit her love-letter. She was a Transvaal Dutch girl with old French
blood in her, a vivacious, sparkling Gallic champagne mingling with the
Dopper in her dainty blue veins. Nothing could be prettier than Greta in a
good temper, unless it might be Greta in a rage. She was in a good temper
now, as, tossing back her superb golden hair plait, as thick as a child's
arm, and nearly four feet long, she drew a smeary envelope from the front
of her black alpaca school-dress, and, delicately withdrawing the epistle
enclosed, yielded the envelope for the inspection of the Red Class.

"What niggly writing!" objected Nellie Bliecker, wrinkling her snub nose
in the disgust that masks the gnawing tooth of envy.

"And the envelope is all over sticky brown," said another carping critic.

"That's because _he_ put the letter inside the chocolate-box," explained
Greta, "instead of outside. And the best chocolates--the expensive
ones--always go squashy. Only the cheap ones don't melt--because they have
got stuff like chalk inside. But wait till I show you as much as the
envelope of my next letter--that's all, Julia K. Shaw!"

Julia K. wilted. Greta proceeded:

"It's directed 'To My Fair Addored One,' because, of course, he didn't
know my name. I don't object to his putting a d too much in adored; I
rather prefer it. His own name is simple, and rather pretty." She made
haste to say that, because she felt doubtful about it. "Billy Keyse."

"_Billy?_"

"Billy Keyse?"

"B-i-l-l-y K-e-y-s-e!"

The name went the round of the Red Class. Nobody liked it.

"He must, of course, have been christened William. Shakespeare was a
William. The Emperor of Germany," stated Greta loftily, "is a William.
Mr. Pitt and Mr. Gladstone were both Williams. Many other great men have
been Williams."

"But not Billies," said Christine Silber, provoking a giggle from the
greedily-listening White Class.

Greta scorched them into silence with a look, and continued:

"He is by profession a surveyor, not exactly a partner in the firm of Gadd
and Saxby, on Market Square, but something very near it." (Do you who read
see W. Keyse carrying the chain and spirit-level, and sweeping out the
office when the Kaffir boy forgets?). "He saw me walking in the Stad with
the Centipede," Greta added.

This was a fanciful name for the whole school of eighty pupils promenading
upon its hundred and sixty legs of various nationalities in search of
exercise and fresh air.

"Go on!" said the Red Class in a breath, as the White Class giggled and
nudged each other, and the Blue Class opened eyes and ears.

"He was knocked dumb-foolish at once, he says, by my eyes and my figure
and my hair. He is not long up from Cape Colony: came out from London
through chest-trouble, to catch heart-trouble in Gueldersdorp" (do you
hear hectic, coughing Billy Keyse cracking his stupid joke?). "And if I'll
only be engaged to him, he promises to get rich, become as big a swell on
the Rand as Marks or Du Taine--isn't that funny, his not knowing Du Taine
is my father?--and drive me to race-meetings on a first-class English
drag, with a team of bays in silver-mounted harness, with rosettes the
colour of my eyes."

Greta threw her golden head back and laughed, displaying a double row of
enviable pearls.

"But I've got to wait for all these things until Billy Keyse strikes
pay-reef. Poor Billy! Hand over those chocolates, you greedy things!"

Somebody wanted to know how the package had been smuggled into the
Convent. Those lay-Sisters were so sharp....

"They're perfect needles--Sister Tarsesias particularly, and Sister
Tobias. But there's a new Emigration Jane among the housemaids. You've
seen her--the sallow thing with the greasy light-coloured fringe in
curlers, who walks flat-footed like a wader on the mud. I keep expecting
to hear her quack.... Well, Billy got hold of her. She didn't know my
name, being new, but she recognised me by Billy's description, and
sympathised with him, having a young man herself, who doesn't speak a word
of English, except 'damn' and 'Three of Scotch, please.' I've promised to
translate her letters; he writes them in the Taal. And Billy gave her two
dollars, and I've given her a hat. It's the big red one mother brought
back from Paris--she paid a hundred francs for it at the Maison Cluny--and
Emigration Jane thinks, though it's a bit too quiet for her taste, it'll
do her a fair old treat when she trims it up with a bit more colour and
one or two 'imitation ostridge' tips.... I'd give another hundred francs
for the Maison Cluny _modiste_ to hear." Again the birdlike laugh rang
out. "Now you know everything there is in the letter, girls, except the
bit of poetry at the end, which only my most intimate friends may be
permitted to read. Lynette Mildare!"

Lynette, bending over a separate table-desk in the light of the north
window of the long deal match-boarded class-room, looked up from her work
of tooling leather, the delicate steel instrument in her hand, a little
gilding-brush between her white teeth, a little fold of concentrated
attention between her slender brown eyebrows.

"Yes. Did you want anything?"

Greta jumped up, leaving the rest of the box of chocolates to dissolve
among the White Class, and came over, threading her way between the long
rows of desk-stalls.

"Of course I want something."

"What is it?" asked Lynette, laying down the little tool.

"What everyone has a right to expect from the person who is her dearest
friend--sympathy," said Greta, jumping up and sitting on the corner of the
desk, and biting the thick end of her long flaxen pigtail.

"You have it--when there is anything to sympathise about."

Greta tapped the letter, trying to frown.

"Do you call this nothing?"

"You have saved me from doing so."

"Lynette Mildare, have you a heart inside you?"

"Certainly; I can feel it beating, and it does its work very well."

"Am I, then, nothing to you?"

Lynette smiled, looking up at the piquant, charming face.

"You are a great deal to me."

"And I regard you as a bosom-friend. And the duty of a bosom-friend,
besides rushing off at once to tell you if she hears anybody say anything
nasty of you behind your back--a thing which you never do--is to
sympathise with you in all your love-affairs--a thing which you do even
seldomer."

Greta stamped with the toe of the dainty little shoe that rested on the
beeswaxed boards of the class-room, and kicked the leg of the desk with
the heel of the other.

"Please don't spill the white of egg, or upset the gold-leaf. And as I
shall be pupil-teacher of the youngest class next term, I suppose I ought
to tell you that 'seldomer' isn't in the English dictionary."

"I'm glad of it. I like my own words to belong to me, my own self. I
should be ashamed to owe everything I say to silly Nuttall or stupid old
Webster. You're artful, Lynette Mildare, trying to change the
conversation. I say you don't sympathise with me properly in my affairs of
the heart--and you never, never tell me about yours."

The beautiful black-rimmed, golden-tawny eyes laughed as some eyes can,
though there was no quiver of a smile about the purely-modelled,
close-folded lips.

"Don't tell me you never have, or never had, any," scolded Greta. "You're
too lovely by half. Don't try to scowl me down--you are! I'm pretty enough
to make the Billy Keyses stand on their silly heads if I told them to, but
you're a great deal more. Also, you have style and grace and breeding.
Anybody could tell that you came of tremendously swell people over away in
England, where the Dukes and Marquesses and Earls began fencing in the
veld somewhere about the eleventh century, to keep common people from
killing the deer, or carving their vulgar names on the castle walls, and
coming between the wind and their nobility. There's a quotation from your
dear Shakespeare for you! He does come in handy sometimes."

"Doesn't he!" agreed Lynette, with an ardent flush.

"And you're descended from some of the people he wrote about," pressed
Greta. "Own it!"

There was a faint line of sarcasm about the lovely lips.

"Shakespeare wrote of clowns and churls as well as of Kings and noblemen."

"If you were a clown, you wouldn't be what you are. The very shape of your
head, and ears, and nails, bespeaks a Princess, disguised as a finished
head-pupil, going to take over a class of grubby-fingered little
ones--pah!--next term. And don't we all know that an English Duchess sends
you your Christmas and Easter and birthday gifts! Come, you might as well
speak out, when this is my last term, and we have always been such dear
friends, and always will be," coaxed Greta, "because the Duchess lets you
out, you know!"

She said it so quaintly that Lynette laughed, though there was a pained
contraction between the delicate eyebrows and a vexed and sorrowful shadow
on her face. Greta went on:

"We have all of us always known that you were--a mystery. Has it got
anything to do with the Duchess?"

The round, shallow blue eyes were too greedily curious to be pretty at the
moment. Lynette met them with a full, grave, answering denial.

"No; I am nothing to the Duchess of Broads, or she to me. She is sister to
the Mother-Superior, and she sends to me at Christmas and Easter, and on
birthdays, by the Mother's wish. Doesn't the Mother's second sister, the
Princesse de Dignmont-Veziers, send Katie"--Katie was a little Irish
novice--"presents from Paris twice a year?"

Greta's pretty eyebrows went up. Her blue greedy eyes became circular with
surprise.

"Yes, of course--out of charity, because Katie was a foundling, picked up
in the Irish quarter in Cape Town."

Lynette went on steadily, but, looking out of the window at the great
wistaria that climbed upon the angle of the Convent wing in which were the
nuns' cells.

"If Katie was a foundling, I am nothing better."

"Lynette Mildare, you're never in earnest?"

The shocked tone and the scandalised disgust on Greta's pretty face stung
and hurt. But Lynette went on:

"I speak the truth. The Mother and the Sisters, who have always known it,
have kept the secret. In their great considerate kindness, they have never
once let me feel there was any difference between me and the other
girls--not once in all these years. And I can never thank them
enough--never be grateful enough for their great goodness--especially
_hers_." The steady voice shook a little.

"We all know that you have always been the Mother's favourite." There was
a little cool inflection of contempt in Greta's high, sweet, birdlike
tones that had been lacking before. "And she is the niece of a great
English Cardinal, and the sister of a Duchess and a Princess, and her
step-brother is an Earl." The inflection added for Greta: "_And yet she
turns to the charity child!_"

Lynette said in a low voice:

"It is because she is perfect in the way of humility. She is beyond all
pride ... greater than all prejudice ... she has been more to me than I
can say, since she and Sister Ignatius and Sister Tobias found me on the
veld seven years ago, when they were trekking up from Natal to join the
Sisters who were already working here."

Greta's face dimpled, and the bright, cold eyes grew greedy again. There
was a romance, after all.

"My gracious! How did you get there? Did your people lose you, or had you
run away from home?"

The delicate wild-rose colour sank out of Lynette's cheeks. Her eyes sank
under those bold, curious, blue ones of Greta's. She said, with a painful
effort:

"I--had run away from the place that was called my home. I don't remember
ever having lived anywhere else before."

"My! And ...?"

"It was a--dreadful place." A little convulsive shudder rippled through
the girl's slight frame. Little points of moisture showed upon the
delicate white temples, where clung the little stray rings and tendrils of
the red-brown hair. "I wore worse rags than the children at the native
kraals, and was worse fed. I scrubbed floors, and fetched water, and was
beaten every day. Then"--she drew a deep, quivering breath--"I ran
away--and--and ran until I could run no more, and fell down.... I don't
remember being picked up. I woke up one day here at the Convent; and I was
in bed, and my hair was cut short, and there was ice upon my head. I said,
'Where am I?' and the Mother-Superior stooped down and looked into my
eyes, and said, 'You are at home.' And the Convent has been my home ever
since, and I hope with all my heart it always will be!"

Greta descended from the desk. She drew her embroidered cambric skirts
primly about her, and said in a shocked voice:

"And I asked you to visit me--to come and stay with us at our place near
Johannesburg--you who are not even respectable!"

Lynette grew burning red. One moment her eyes wavered and fell. Then she
lifted them and looked back bravely into the pretty, shallow, blue ones.

"That is why I have told you--what you know now."

"Of course," Greta said patronisingly, "if you wish it, I shall not tell
the class."

Lynette deliberately put away her tools and the calf-bound volume she had
been working on, and shut and locked her desk. Then she rose. Her eyes
swept over the long room, its lower end packed with giggling, whispering,
squabbling, listening, gossiping, or reading girls. She said very clearly:

"It will be best that you should tell the class. Do it now. The girls can
think it over while they are away, and make up their minds whether they
will speak to me or not when they come back. Make no delay."

Then she went, moving with the long, smooth, light step and upright,
graceful carriage that she had somehow caught from the Mother-Superior,
out of the room. Curious eyes followed her; sharp ears, that had caught
fragments of the colloquy, wanted the rest; eager tongues plied Greta with
questions, as she stood reticent, knowing, bursting with information
withheld, in the middle of the class-room, where honours she coveted had
been won and prizes gained by the charity-bred foundling.

You may be sure that Greta told the story. It lost nothing by her telling,
be equally sure. But all that heard it did not take it in Greta's way. The
stamp of the woman who ruled this place was upon many minds and intellects
and hearts here, and her teaching was to bear fruit in bitter, stormy,
bloodstained years of days that were waiting at the very threshold.

"I tell you," said Christine Silber, the handsome Jewess, with a fierce
flash of her black Oriental eyes, "foundling or charity girl, or whatever
else you choose to call her, Lynette Mildare is the pride of the school."

Silber's father was President of the Groenfontein Legislative Council. A
hum of assent followed on her utterance, and an English girl got up upon a
form. She was the niece of a High Commissioner, daughter of a Secretary of
Imperial Government, at Cape Town, who wrote K.C.M.G. after his name.

"Silber speaks the truth. Not a girl here is a patch on the shoes of
Lynette Mildare. I am going home to London next winter to be presented,
and we shall have a house in Chesterfield Gardens for the season, and if
Lynette will come and visit us, I can tell her that she will be treated as
an honoured guest. As for you, Greta Du Taine, who are always bragging
about your father and his money, tell me which three letters of the
alphabet you would find tattooed upon his conscience--if the strongest
microscope ever made could find his conscience out? Shall _I_ tell you
them?" She held up her finger. "Shall I tell you how he bought those
orange-groves at Rustenburg--and the country seat near Johannesburg--and
the drag with the silver-mounted harness and the team of blood bays?"

"No, please!" begged Greta, flinching from the torture.

But the English girl was pitiless. She checked the letters off upon her
fingers:

"I. D. B."

A shout went up from the Red Class.

Greta turned and ran.



IX


The cell was a large, light, airy room on the first-floor of the big
two-storied Convent building that stood in its spacious, tree-shaded,
high-fenced gardens beyond the Hospital at the north end of the town. Tall
stained-wood presses full of papers and account-files covered the wall
upon one side. There also stood a great iron safe, with heavy ledgers
piled upon it. Upon the other three sides of the room were bookshelves,
doubly and trebly laden, with Latin tomes of the Fathers of the Church,
and the works and writings of modern theologians, many of them categorised
upon the "Index Expurgatorius." Rows there were of English, French,
German, Italian, and Spanish classical authors, and many volumes of
recently-published scientific works. It might have been the room of a
business man who was at the same time a priest and a scholar. There were
roller maps upon the walls, and two or three engravings, Bougereau's
"Virgin of Consolation," the "Madonna dei Ansidei" of Raffaelle, and a
"Crucifixion" over the chimneypiece, which had three little statuettes in
tinted alabaster--a St. Ignatius at one end, a St. Anthony of Padua at the
other; in the middle, the Virgin bearing the Child.

The Mother-Superior sat writing at a bare solid deal table of the kitchen
kind, with stained legs to add to its ugliness, and stained black-knobbed
fronts to the drawers in it. Her pen flew over the paper.

Seated though she was, you could see her to be of noble figure, tall and
finely proportioned. The habit of the nun does not hide everything that
makes for beauty and for grace. The pure outlines of the small,
perfectly-shaped head showed through the thin black veil that fell over
the white starched coif. The small, high-instepped foot could not be
hidden in walking; the make of the thick shoe might not disguise its form.
The delicate whiteness and smooth, supple beauty of her hands, larger than
the hands of ordinary women, their owner being of more heroic build, as of
ampler mind and keener intellect, betrayed her to be a woman not yet old,
though there were some deep lines and many fine ones on the attentive
face that bent over the large square sheet of paper.

It was a curious face; its olive skin bleached to dull whiteness, its
expression stern almost to severity. I have heard it likened to a
Westmoreland hill-landscape. Lonely tarns lie under the black brows of the
precipice; one feels chilly, and a little afraid. But the sun shines out
suddenly from behind concealing mists, and everything is transformed to
loveliness. I can in no other words describe the change wrought in her by
her rare, sudden, illuminating smile. Her voice was the softest and the
clearest I ever heard, a sigh made most audible speech; but in her just
anger, only turned to wrath by the baser faults, the fouler vices, it
could roll in organ-tones of thunder, or ring like a silver trumpet. And
her eye made the lightning for such thunder, and the sword-thrust that
followed the clarion-note of war.

She could have ruled an empire or a court, this woman who managed the
thronged, buzzing Convent with the lifting of her finger, with the softest
tone of her soft West of Ireland voice, devoid of all trace of the
unbeautiful brogue, cultured, elegant, refined. As I have said, the
lessons that she taught bore great fruit during that red time of war that
was coming, and will bear greater fruit hereafter.

A little is known to me of the personal history of Lady Bridget-Mary
Bawne--in religion known as Mother Mary of Bethlehem--that may be here set
down. Some twenty-three years previously that devout Irish Catholic
nobleman, the Right Honourable James Dominic Bawne, tenth Earl of
Castleclare, Baron Kilhail, Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and D.L. for
West Connemara, not contented with the possession of three very tall, very
handsome, very popular daughters--the Right Honourable Ladies
Bridget-Mary, Alyse, and Alethea Bawne--consulted his favourite spiritual
director, and, as advised, offered his thin white hand and piously
regulated affections to Miss Nancy McIleevy, niece and heiress of McIleevy
of McIleevystown, the eminent County Down brewer, so celebrated for his
old Irish ales and nourishing bottled porter.

This lady, being sufficiently youthful, of good education and manners,
and of like faith with her elderly wooer, undertook, in return for an
ancient name and the title of Countess of Castleclare, to find the widower
in conjugal affection for the rest of his mortified life, and to do her
best to supply him with the grievously-needed heir. There was no wicked
fairy at Lord Castleclare's wedding, distinguished by the black-browed
beauty of the three bridesmaids, his daughters; and two years later saw
the beacons at the entrance of Ballybawne Harbour, on the West Connemara
coast, illuminated by the Castleclare tenants in honour of the arrival of
the desired heir, upon whom before his birth so much wealth had been
expended by Lord Castleclare in pilgrimages, donations, foundations, and
endowments that, some months after it, his lordship conveyed to his three
daughters that, in the interests of the Viscount, to whose swollen gums a
gold-set pebble enclosing a pious relic of an early Christian martyr was
at that moment affording miraculous relief, he, their father, would be
obliged by their providing themselves as soon as possible with husbands of
suitable rank, corresponding religion, and sufficient means to dispense
with the customary marriage portion.

Lady Alyse saw the justice of her father's views, and married the Duke of
Broads, an English Catholic peer; her younger sister, Alethea, went
obediently to the altar with the aged and enormously wealthy Prince de
Dignmont-Veziers. Lady Bridget-Mary Bawne, eldest and handsomest of the
three, pleaded--if a creature so stormy and imperious could be said to
plead--a previous engagement to an Ineligible.

"We have all heard of Captain Mildare of the Grey Hussars, my dear child,"
said Lord Castleclare, going to the door to make sure that those shrieks
that had proceeded from the Viscount's sumptuous suite of apartments,
situated at the top of the staircase rising at the end of the corridor
leading from his father's library, were stilled at the maternal fountain.
Finding that it was so, he ambled back to the centre of the worn Bokhara
rug that had been under the _prie-Dieu_ in the oratory of James II. at
Dublin Castle, and resumed. "We have all heard of Captain Mildare. At the
taking of Ali Musjid--arah!--at Futtehabad, with Gough--arah!--and at
Ahmed Khel, where Stewart cut up the Afghans so tremendously, Mildare
earned great distinction as well as the Victoria Cross, which I am
delighted to see, in glancing through the _Army and Navy Gazette_, Her
Majesty has been pleased to confer upon him. As a gentleman and a soldier
he presents all that is desirable; as a member of an old Catholic family,
he certainly commands my suffrages. But as the husband of my eldest
daughter I cannot look upon a younger son with--arah!--toleration.
Honourable reputation is much, bravery is much, but my son-in-law must
possess--arah!--other--other qualifications." The old gentleman stuttered
pitiably.

"_One_ other qualification, you mean, father, if that term can be given to
the possession of a certain amount of money," said Lady Bridget-Mary,
standing very straight and looking very proudly at her father. "Will you
object to telling me plainly for how much you would be content to sell
your stock, with goodwill?"

Lord Castleclare was a thin, courtly old gentleman, who had conquered, he
humbly trusted, all his passions, except the passion for early Catholic
Theological Fathers and the passion for Spanish snuff. But he was stung by
the irony. He spilt quite a quantity of choice mixture over the long,
ivory-yellow nail of his lean, delicate thumb as he looked consciously
aside from the great scornful grey eyes that judged and questioned and
condemned him as a mercenary old gentleman. And he caught himself wishing
that this fine fiery creature had been born a boy. He looked back again at
his eldest daughter. Her white arms were folded upon her bosom, her
pearl-coloured silk evening gown was swept aside from the fire, to whose
warmth she held an arched and exquisite foot. Her noble head, with its
rich coronet of silken black coils, was bent; her broad brows had ceased
to be stormy. With a half-dreamy smile upon her beautiful firm mouth, she
was looking at a green flashing ring she wore on the third finger of her
left hand. And the sight of her so sent a sudden pang of remembrance
leaping through the old man's heart. He forgot his spoiled pinch of snuff,
and stepped over to her, and took the hand, and looked at the emerald ring
with her in silence.

"My dear daughter," he said, more simply and more sweetly than Lady
Bridget-Mary had ever heard him speak before, "I think you love this brave
gentleman sincerely?"

His daughter's large, beautifully-shaped hand closed strongly over the old
ivory fingers. The great brilliant dark grey eyes looked at him through a
sudden mist of tears, though she lifted her head and held it high. She
said in a low, clear voice:

"Father, you remember how my mother loved you? And Richard is as dear to
me as you were to her. I want words when it comes to speaking of so great
a thing as the love I feel for him. But it is my life.... I seem to
breathe with his breath, and think his thoughts, and speak with his voice,
since we found out our secret, and we are each other's for Time and for
Eternity." Then she added, with a lovely smile that had a touch of humour
in it: "And he will be quite content to take me with only my share of
mother's money."

"Tschah!" said the old father. "Nonsense! Of course, St. Barre will be
delighted to provide for you. Excuse me ... I must go."

St. Barre, in the Castleclare nursery, had set up another squeal.

Thenceforwards the course of true love might have been expected to run
smoothly for Lady Bridget-Mary and her gallant lover. But she had
reckoned, not without her host, but without her Grey Hussar. In love there
is always one who loves the more, and Lady Bridget-Mary, that fine,
enthusiastic, tempestuous creature, was far from realising that she was
less to her Richard than he was to her. The reason was not farther to seek
than a few doors off in London, when the Ladies Bawne occupied their
sombre old corner-house in Grosvenor Square. It was Lady Bridget-Mary's
dearest Lucy and bosom-friend, who had married that handsome,
grey-moustached martinet, Richard's Colonel. In Lady Lucy Hawting's
drawing-room Lord Castleclare's elder daughter had met Captain Mildare,
the hero of Futtehabad and Ahmed Khel. The Colonel's wife was a pretty,
delicate, graceful creature, some three years older than her black-browed
handsome friend, and much more learned, as, of course, befitted a married
woman, in the ways of the world. And Lady Lucy saw the budding of young
passion in the heart of her junior ... and it occurred to her that it
would furnish a very excellent excuse for the constant presence of Captain
Mildare, if ...! the sweetest and most limpid women have their turbid
depths, their muddy secrets--and she had confided everything to dearest
Bridget-Mary, except the one thing that mattered!

Well! We all know for what reason Le Roi Soleil addressed himself to the
wooing of La Vallière. Louis fell genuinely in love with the decoy, not
quite so Richard. But sometimes, when those proud lips meekly gave back
his kisses, and that lofty beauty humbled itself to obey his will, he
almost wished that he had never met the other. A day came when the secret
orchard he had joyed in with that other was threaded with a golden clue,
and the hidden bower unveiled to the cold-eyed staring day.

Captain Mildare and Lady Lucy Hawting went away together, and from Paris
Richard wrote and broke to the girl who loved him, and had been his
betrothed wife, the common, vulgar, horrible little truth. Bridget-Mary
had been deceived by both of them from the very beginning. Estimate the
numbing, overwhelming weight of that blow, delivered by a hand so
worshipped, upon so proud a heart. Those who saw her, and should have
honoured her great grief with decent reticence, say that she was mad for a
while; that she grovelled on the earth in her abandonment, calling upon
God and man to be merciful and kill her. Pass over this. I cannot bear to
think that the mere love of a Richard Mildare should bring that lofty head
so low.

While the scandal lived in the mouths of Society, Lady Bridget-Mary Bawne
remained unseen. She was pitied--oh, burning, intolerable shame! She was
commiserated as a catspaw, and sneered at as a dupe. Her sisters and her
stepmother, her father and her seven aunts, her relatives, innumerable as
stars in the Milky Way, found infinite relish in the comfortable
conviction that every one of them had said from the very outset that
Bridget-Mary would regret the step she had taken in engaging herself to
that Captain Mildare. Sharp claws of steel were added to her scourge of
humiliation by a thousand petty liberties taken with this, her great,
sacred sorrow, as by letters of sympathy from friends, who wrote as if she
had suffered the loss of a pet hunter, or a prize Persian cat.

A suitor ventured to propose for that white rejected hand, addressing
himself with stammering diffidence to Lord Castleclare. A young man, the
son of an industrious father who had consolidated the sweat of his brow
into three millions and a Peerage, hideously conscious of the raw newness
of his title, painfully burdened with the bosom-weight of a genuine, if
incoherent love, he seemed to Lady Bridget-Mary's family tolerable, almost
desirable, nearly quite the thing....

"He has boiled jam into sweetness for the whole civilised world," said the
most influential and awful of Lord Castleclare's seven sisters, a
Dowager-Duchess who was Lady-in-Waiting, and exhaled the choicest essence
of the Middle Victorian era. She still adhered to the mushroom-shaped
straw hats of her youth, trimmed with black velvet rosettes, in the centre
of each of which reposed a cut jet button. She went always voluminously
clad in black or shot-silk gowns, their skirts so swelled out by a
multiplicity of starched cambric petticoats, adorned with tambour-work,
that she was credited with the existence of a crinoline. She had, in
marrying her now defunct Scots Duke, embraced Presbyterianism, and though
her brother believed her, as far as the next world was concerned, to be
lost beyond redemption, he entertained for her judgment in the matters of
this planet a great esteem.

"He has boiled jam enough to spread over the surface of the civilised
globe, and now proposes to hive its concentrated extract for the benefit
of our dearest girl, in the shape of a settlement that a Princess of the
Blood might envy. I call the whole thing pretty," pronounced the Dowager,
"almost romantic, or it might be made to sound so if a person of superior
intelligence and tact would undertake to plead for the young man. His
terrible title has quite escaped me. Lord Plumbanks? Thank you! It might
have been Strawberrybeds, and that would have increased our difficulty. No
time should be lost. Therefore, as you, dear Castleclare, with your wife
and the boy, who, I am gratified to hear, has cut another, are going to
Rome for Holy Week, perhaps you would wish me in your absence to break the
ice with Bridget-Mary?"



Lord Castleclare's long, solemn face and arched, lugubrious eyebrows bore
no little resemblance to the well-known portrait of the conscientious but
unlucky Stuart in whose service his ancestor had shed blood and money,
receiving in lieu of both, a great many Royal promises, the Eastern carpet
that had belonged to the monarch's Irish oratory, and the fine sard
intaglio, brilliant-set, and representing a Calvary, that loyal servant's
descendant wore upon his thin ivory middle finger. He twiddled the ring
nervously as he said:

"She has gone into Lenten Retreat at a Convent in Kensington. I--arah!--I
do not think it would be advisable to disturb salutary and seasonable
meditations with--arah!--worldly matters at this present moment."

"Fiddle-faddle!" said the Dowager-Duchess sharply.

Lord Castleclare lifted his melancholy arched eyebrows.

"'Fiddle-faddle,' my dear Constantia?"

"You have the expression!" said she. "Young women of Bridget-Mary's age
and temperament will think of marriage in convents as much as outside
them. Further, I dread delay, entertaining as I do the very certain
conviction that this weak-minded man who has thrown your daughter over
will be back, begging Bridget-Mary to forgive him and reinstate him in the
possession of her affections before another two months are over our heads.
That little cat-eyed, squirrel-haired woman he has run away with, and
against whom I have warned our poor dear girl times out of number"--she
really believed this--"is the sort of pussy, purring creature to make a
man feel her claws, once she has got him. Therefore, although my family
may not thank me for it, I shall continue to repeat, 'No time is to be
lost!' Still, in deference to your religious prejudices, and although I
never heard that the Catholic Church prohibited jam as an article of
Lenten diet, we will defer from offering Bridget-Mary the pot until
Easter."



But Easter brought the news that Lady Bridget-Mary had decided upon taking
the veil, and begged her father not to oppose her wishes. The
Dowager-Duchess rushed to the Kensington Convent.... All the little
straw-mats on the slippery floor of the parlour were swept like chaff
before the hurricane of her advancing petticoats as she bore down upon the
most disappointing, erratic, and self-willed niece that ever brought the
grey hairs of a solicitous and devoted aunt in sorrow to the grave,
demanding in Heaven's name what Bridget-Mary meant by this maniacal
decision? Then she drew back, for at first she hardly credited that this
tall, pale, quiet woman in the plain, close-fitting, black woollen gown
could be Bridget-Mary at all. Realising that it could be nobody else, she
began to cry quite hysterically, subsiding upon a Berlin woolwork covered
sofa, while her niece rang the bell for that customary Convent
restorative, a teaspoonful of essence of orange-flower in a glass of
water, and returning to the side of her agitated relative, took her hand,
encased in a tight one-button puce glove, saying:

"Dear Aunt Constantia, what is the use of crying? I have done with it for
good."

"You are so dreadfully changed and so awfully composed, and I always was
sensitive. And, besides, to find you like this when I expected you to beat
your head upon the floor--or was it against the wall, they said?--and pray
to be put out of your misery by poison, or revolver, or knife, as though
anybody would be wicked enough to do it ..."

A faint stain of colour crept into Lady Bridget-Mary's white cheeks.

"All that is over, Aunt Constantia. Forget it, as I have done, and drink a
little of this. The Sisters believe it to be calming to the nerves."

"To naturally calm nerves, I suppose." The Dowager accepted the tumbler.
"What a nice, thick, old-fashioned glass!" She sipped. "You hear how my
teeth are chattering against the rim. That is because I have flown here in
such a hurry of agitation upon hearing from your father that you have
decided to enter the Novitiate at once."

"It is true," said Lady Bridget-Mary, standing very tall and dark and
straight against the background of the parlour window, that was filled in
with ground-glass, and veiled with snowy curtains of starched
thread-lace.

"True! When not ten months ago you declared to me that you would not be a
nun for all the world.... You begged me to befriend you in the matter of
Captain Mildare. I undertook, alas! that office...."

The Dowager-Duchess blew her nose.

"A little more of the orange-flower water, dear aunt?"

"'Dear aunt,' when you are trampling upon my very heart-strings! And let
me tell you, Bridget-Mary, you have always been my favourite niece. '_For
all the world,_' you said with your own lips, '_I would not be a nun!_'
Three millions will buy, if not the world, at least a good slice of it....
Figuratively, I offer them to you in this outstretched hand!" The Dowager
extended a puce kid glove. "The husband who goes with them is a good
creature. I have seen and spoken with him, and the dear Queen regards me
as a judge of men. 'Consie,' she has said, 'you have perception....' What
my Sovereign credits may not my niece believe?"

Lady Bridget-Mary's black brows were stern over the great joyless eyes
that looked out of their sculptured caves upon the world she had bidden
good-bye to. But the fine lines of humour about the wings of the sensitive
nostrils and the corners of the large finely-modelled mouth quivered a
little.

"Drink a little more orange-flower water, dear, and never tell me who the
man is. I do not wish to hear. I decline to hear."

The Dowager-Duchess lost her temper.

"That is because you know already, and despise money that is made of jam.
Yet coal and beer are swallowed with avidity by young women who have not
forfeited the right to be fastidious. That is the last thing I wished to
say, but you have wrung it from me. Have you no pride? Do you want Society
to say that you have embraced the profession of a Religious, and intend
henceforth to employ your talents in teaching sniffy-nosed schoolgirls
Greek and Algebra and Mathematics, because this Mildare has jilted you?
Again, have you no pride?" She agitated the Britannia-metal teaspoon
furiously in the empty tumbler.

Lady Bridget-Mary took the tumbler away. Why should the humble property
of the Sisters be broken because this kind, fussy woman chose to upbraid?

"You ask, Have I no pride?" she said. "Why should I have pride when Our
Lord is so humble that He does not disdain to take for His bride the woman
Richard Mildare has rejected?"

"You are incorrigible, dearest," said the sobbing Dowager-Duchess, as she
kissed her, "and Castleclare must use all his influence with the Holy
Father to induce the Comtesse de Lutetia to give you the veil. All of you
think I am damned, and possibly I may be, but if so I shall be afforded an
opportunity (which will not be mine in this life) of giving Captain
Mildare a piece of my mind!"

So the Dowager-Duchess melted out of the story, and Lady Bridget-Mary
Bawne became a nun.



X


This is what the Mother-Superior wrote to her kinswoman, with her mobile,
eloquent lips folded closely together as she thought, and her grave eyes
following the swift journey of the pen as it formed the sentences:

    _"Now let me speak to you of Lynette Mildare. I have never
    thought it necessary to make the slightest disguise of my
    great partiality for this, the dearest of all the many
    children given me by Our Lord since I resigned my crown of
    earthly motherhood to Him."_

She stopped, remembering what another great lady, also a relative of hers,
had remarked when it was first made public that she intended to enter the
Novitiate:

"Indeed! It would seem, then, that you are devoid of ambition, my dear,
unlike the other people of your house."

She had said, paraphrasing a retort previously made:

"Does it strike you as lack of ambition that one of our family should
prefer Christ before any earthly spouse?"

What a base utterance that had seemed to her afterwards! How devoid of the
true spirit of the religious, how hateful, petty, profane! But the great
lady had been greatly struck by it, and had gone about quoting the words
everywhere. She, who had spoken them, repented them with tears, and set
the memory of them between her and ill-considered, worldly speech, for
ever.

She wrote on now:

    _"She has no vocation for the life of a religious. I doubt
    her being happy or successful as a teacher here, were I
    removed from my post by supreme earthly authority, or by
    death, either contingency being the expression of the Will
    of God. She has a reserved, sensitive nature, quick to feel,
    and eager to hide what she feels, indifferent to praise or
    popularity among the many, anxiously desirous to please,
    passionately devoted where she gives her love...."_

The firm mouth quivered, and a mist stole before her eyes. Being human,
she took the handkerchief that lay amongst her papers and wiped the
crowding tears away, and went on:

    _"I could wish, in anticipation of either eventuality named,
    that provision might now be made for her. Those who love
    me--yourself I know to be among the number--will not, I feel
    assured, be indifferent to my wish that she should be placed
    beyond the reach of want."_

She wrote on, knowing that the implied wish would be observed as a
command:

    _"We have never been able to trace any persons who might
    have been her parents--we have never even known her real
    name.--Those among whom her childhood was spent called her
    by none. As you know, I gave her in Holy Baptism one that
    was our dear dead mother's, together with the surname of a
    lost friend. She is, and must be always, known as Lynette
    Mildare."_

Her eyes were tearless, and her hand quite steady as she continued:

    _"You must not be at all alarmed or shaken by this letter. I
    am perfectly well in health, be quite assured; I trust I may
    be spared to carry on my work here for many long years to
    come. But in case it should be otherwise, I write thus:_

    _"The country is greatly disturbed, in spite of the
    reassuring reports that have been disseminated by the Home
    Authorities. I do not, and cannot, imagine what the official
    view may be in London at this moment, but it is certain that
    the Transvaal and Free State are preparing for war. Every
    hour the enmity between the Boers and the English deepens in
    intensity. It will be to many minds a relief when the storm
    bursts. The War Office may think meanly of the Africanised
    Dutchman as a fighting force, but the opinion of every loyal
    Briton in this country is that he is not a foe to be
    despised, and that he will shed the last drop of his own
    blood and his children's for the sake of his independence._

    _"Above the petty interests of greedy capitalists looms the
    wider question: Shall the Briton or the Dutchman rule in
    South Africa? Here in this insignificant frontier town we
    wait the sounding of the tocsin. The Orange Free State has
    openly allied itself with the Transvaal Government. There
    are said to be several commandos in laager on the Border. A
    public meeting of citizens of this town has been held, at
    which a vote of 'No confidence' in the Dutch Ministers has
    been passed, and an appeal for help has been made to the
    Government at Cape Town. It is not yet publicly known what
    the response has been, if there is any. I think it ominous
    that all of our Dutch pupils, save one, should have been
    hurriedly sent for by their parents before the ending of the
    term. Knowing my responsibility, I am sending all home,
    except the few who happen to be resident in this town, and
    the school will remain closed, at all events, until the
    outlook assumes a less threatening aspect. It is a relief to
    many that a Military Commandant has been appointed by the
    authorities at Cape Town, and that he arrived here a week
    ago. He is reported to be an officer of energy and decision,
    and as he has already set the troops under his command to
    work at putting the town into a condition of defence, and is
    organising the civil male population into a regiment of
    armed----"_

There was a light knock at the door. She responded with the permission to
enter, and a tall, slight girl, with red-brown hair, came in and closed
the door, dropping her little curtsy to the Mother-Superior. She wore the
plain black alpaca uniform of the Convent, with the ribbon of the Headship
of the Red Class, to be resigned when she should become a pupil-teacher
at the opening of the next term; and the rare and beautiful smile broke
over the face of the elder woman as the younger came to her side.

"Are you busy, Reverend Mother? Do you want me to go away?"

"I shall have finished in another five minutes, and then there will be no
more letters to write, my child. Sit where you choose; take a book, and be
quiet; I shall not keep you waiting long."

The words were few; the Mother-Superior's manner a little curt in speaking
them. But where Lynette chose to sit was on the cheap drugget that covered
the beeswaxed boards, with her squirrel-coloured hair and soft cheek
pressed against the black serge habit.

The Mother-Superior wrote on, apparently absorbed, and with knitted brows
of attention, but her large, white, beautiful left hand dropped half
unconsciously to the silken hair and the velvet cheek, and stayed there.

There is a type of woman the lightest touch of whose hand is subtler and
more sweet than the most honeyed kisses of others. And the Mother-Superior
was not liberal of caresses. When Lynette turned her lips to the hand, the
face that bent over the paper remained as stern and as absorbed as ever.
She went on writing, directed, closed, and stamped her letter, and set it
aside under a pebble of white quartz, lined and streaked with the faint
silvery green of gold.

"Now, my child?"

The girl said, flushing scarlet:

"Reverend Mother, I have told the Red Class the truth about me!"

The Mother-Superior started; dismay was in her face.

"Why, child?"

"I--I mean"--the scarlet flush gave place to paleness--"that I have no
name and no family, and no friends except you, dearest, and the Sisters.
That you found me, and took me in, and have kept me out of charity."

"Was it necessary to have told--anything whatever?"

"I think so, Mother, and I am glad now that I have done it. There will be
no need for deception any more."

"My daughter, there has never been the slightest deception of any kind
whatsoever upon your part, or the part of anyone else who knew. No
interests suffered by your keeping your own secret. Who first solicited
your confidence in this matter?"

"Greta Du Taine."

"Greta Du Taine." Very cold was the tone of the Mother-Superior. "May I
ask how she received the information she had the bad taste to seek?"

"Mother--she took it--not quite as I expected."

"Yet she and you have always been friends, my child."

Lynette rose up upon her knees. The long arm of the Mother-Superior went
round the slight figure that leaned against her, and in the sudden gesture
was a passion of protecting motherhood.

"Mother, she does not wish to be my friend any longer. She was quite
horrified to remember that she had invited me to stay with her at the Du
Taine place near Johannesburg. But she said that if I liked she would not
tell the class."

"I have no fear of the rest of the class. They have honour, and good
feeling, and warm hearts. What was your reply to Greta's obliging
proposition?"

"I told her that the sooner everybody knew the better; and I went out of
the room, and came to you--as I always do--as I always have done, ever
since----"

Her voice broke in the first sob.

"_Ah!_" cried the voice of the mother-heart she crept to, as the long arms
in the loose black serge sleeves went out and folded her close, "_ah, if I
might be always here for you to run to! But God knows best!_"

She said aloud, gently putting the girl away:

"Well, the ordeal is over, and will not have to be gone through again. And
for the future, bear in mind that every human being has a right to regard
his own business--or hers--as private, and to exclude the curious from
affairs which do not concern them." She reached out quick tender hands,
and framed the wistful, sensitive face in them, and added, in a lower
tone: "For a little told may beget in them the desire to know more. And
always remember this: that the only just claim to your perfect confidence
in all that concerns your past life, and I say _all_ with meaning"--the
girl's white eyelids fell under her earnest gaze, and the delicate lips
began to quiver--"will rest in the man--the honourable and brave and
worthy gentleman--who I pray may one day be your husband."

"No!" she cried out sharply as if in terror, and the slight figure was
shaken by a sudden spasm of trembling. "Oh, Mother, no! Never, never!"

With a gesture of infinite pity and tenderness the Mother drew her close,
and hid the shame-dyed face upon her bosom, and whispered, with her lips
upon the red-brown hair:

"My lamb, my dearest, my poor, poor child! It shall be never if you
choose, Lynette. But make no rash vows, no determinations that you think
irrevocable. Leave the future to God. Now dry these dear eyes, and put old
thoughts and memories of sorrow and of wrong most resolutely away from
you. Be happy, as Our Lord meant all innocent creatures of His to be. And
do not be tempted to magnify Greta's offence against friendship. She has
acted according to her lights, and if they are of the kind that shine in
marshy places, a better Light will shine upon her path one day. I know
that you have real affection for her ... though I must own I have always
wondered in what lay the secret of her popularity in the school?"

"She is so amusing--and so pretty, Mother."

"She is exquisitely pretty. And beauty is one of the most excellent among
all the gifts of God. Our sense of what is beautiful and the delight we
have in the perception of it must linger with us from those days when
Angels walked visibly on earth, and talked with the children of men. A
lovely soul in a lovely body, nothing can be more excellent, but such a
body does not always cage what St. Columb called 'the bird of beauty.' And
we must not be swayed or led by outward and perishable things, that are
illusions, and deceits, and snares."

The Mother-Superior reached out a long arm, and took a solid
leather-bound, red-edged volume from the table, and opened it at a page
marked by a flamingo's feather, whose delicate pink faded at the tip into
rosy-white.

"I was reading this a little while before you came in. If you were not a
little dunce at Greek, you would be able to construe the classic author
for yourself."

"But I am a dunce, dear, and so I leave you to read him to me," said
Lynette triumphantly.

"Well, balance this heavy book, and listen."

She read:

    _"'When first the Father of the Immortals fashioned with his
    divine hands the human shape:_

    _"'An image first he made of red clay from Idâ, tempered
    with pure water from the stream of Xanthos, and wine from
    the golden kylix borne by beautiful Ganymede, and it was
    godlike to look upon as a thing fashioned by the hands of
    the god. But the clay was not tempered sufficiently and
    warped in the drying. Then Zeus Patêr fashioned another
    shape with more cunning, and this was tempered well and
    warped not. And he bent down to breathe between its lips the
    living soul. But as he stooped, Hephaistos, jealous of the
    divine gift about to be conferred upon the mortal race, sent
    from his forges smoke and vapour, which obscured the vision
    of the Almighty Workman. So that the imperfect image
    received that which was meant for the perfect one._

    _"'And Zeus Patêr, being angered, said: "See what thy malice
    has wrought. Behold, a beautiful soul has been set in a body
    unbeauteous and through thine act, and god though I be, I
    cannot take back the gift that I have given." Then into the
    other image of Man the divine maker breathed a soul. But
    Zeus being wearied with his labours, and angered by the
    craft of Hephaistos, it was less pure than the first. And so
    two men came into being._

    _"'And he whose body had been fashioned perfectly and
    without flaw by the hands of the divine craftsman, walked
    the earth with gracious mien. Fair-eyed was he, with locks
    like clustering vine-tendrils, and cheeks rosy as the apples
    of Love; but the soul of this man was cunning, and he
    rejoiced in evils and cruelties, and deceits and mockeries
    were upon his lips._

    _"'And he whose image had warped in the drying was
    unbeautiful in body and swart to look upon, as though
    blackened by the forge-fires of Hephaistos, but he dealt
    uprightly and hated evil, and on his lips there was no
    guile, but faithfulness and truth._

    _"'And he who was imperfect in body was yet fairer in the
    eyes of Zeus Patêr than his brother; because there dwelt
    within him a beauteous soul.'"_

"And yet, Mother, if your beautiful soul had not been given beautiful
windows to look out at, and a beautiful mouth to kiss me or scold me with,
and beautiful hands to hold, it would have been a beastly shame!"

Is there a woman living who can resist such sweet daughterly flatteries?
This was very much a woman, and very much a mother, if very much a nun.
She kissed the mouth distilling such dear honey.

"This, not for the compliment, but because it is seven years to-day since
I found you, lying like some poor little strayed lamb on the veld, under
the burning sun."

"That was my real birthday, dearest, dearest...."

The girl pressed closer to her with dumb, vehement affection, as though
she would have grown to the bosom that had been her shield since then.

"On that day a little later, when I looked down and you looked up with big
eyes that begged for love, I knew that we had found each other. And we
have never lost each other since, I think?"

She smiled radiantly into the loving eyes.

"Never, my Mother. But if we did ... if we are ever to be estranged or
parted, it would be better ... oh! it would be better if you had passed by
in the waggon, and left me lying, and the aasvogels and the wild-dogs had
done the rest."

The Mother-Superior said, loosening the clinging arms, and speaking
sternly:

"Never, my daughter. You do gravely wrong to say so. Holy Baptism has been
yours, and Confirmation, and you have shared with His Faithful in the Body
of Christ.... Never let me hear you say that again!"

"Mother, I promise you, you never shall. But I had a dream last night that
was most vivid and strange and awful. It has haunted me ever since."

The Mother-Superior started, for she also had had a strange dream. Of that
vision had been born the written letter that now lay under the quartz
paper-weight--the letter that was to be sent, with others, by the next
English mail that should go out from Gueldersdorp, which said mail, being
intercepted by the Boers, was not for many months to reach its
destination. Supposing it had, this story need never have been written,
or else another would have been written in its place.

"Dear heart, I do not think that it is good or useful to brood upon such
things, or to relate them. And the Church forbids us to take account of
mere dreams, or in any way be swayed by them."

"That has always puzzled me. Because, you know ... supposing St. Joseph
had refused to credit a dream?..."

"There are dreams and dreams, my dear. And the heavenly visions of the
Saints are not to be confounded with our trivial subconscious memories.
Besides, sweets and fruits and pastry consumed in the seniors' dormitory
at night are not only an infringement of school rules, but an insult to
the digestion."

"Mother, how did you find out?" cried Lynette. There was something very
like a dimple in the bleached olive of the sweet worn cheek, lurking near
the edge of the close coif, and a twinkle of laughter in the deep grey
eyes that you thought were black until you had learned better.

"Well, though you may not find it easy to believe, I was once a girl at a
boarding-school, and I possibly remember how we usually celebrated a
breaking-up. There is the washing-bell; the pupils' tea-bell will ring
directly; you must hurry, or you will be late. One moment. What of this
unpleasant incident that took place during the afternoon walk yesterday?
Sister Cleophée and Sister Francis-Clare have not given me a very definite
account."

Lynette's fair skin flushed poppy-red.

"Mother, they hooted us on the road to the Recreation Ground."

Upon the great brows of the Mother-Superior sat the majesty of coming
tempest. Her white hand clenched, her tone was awfully stern:

"Who were 'they'?"

"Some drunken Boers and store-boys--at least, I think they were drunk--and
some Dutch railway-men. They cried shame on the Dutch girls for learning
from vile English idolaters. Then more men came up and joined them. They
threw stones, and threatened to duck Sister Cleophée and the two other
Sisters in the river. And they might have tried to, though we senior girls
got round them--at least, some of us did--and said they should try that
on us first----"

"That was courageous."

"We"--Lynette laughed a little nervously--"we were awfully frightened, all
the same."

"My dear, without fear there would have been no courage. Then I am told an
English officer interposed?"

"He was coming from the direction of the Hospital--a tall thin man in
Service khâki, with a riding-sjambok under his arm. But it would have been
as good as a sword if he had used it on those men. When he lifted it in
speaking to them they huddled together like sheep."

"You have no idea who he was, of course?"

"I do not know his name, but I heard one of the Boers say, 'That slim
duyvel with the sjambok is the new Military Commandant.' Another officer
was with him, much younger, taller, and with fair hair. He----"

"I hope I shall soon have an opportunity of thanking the Commandant
personally. As it is, I shall write. Now go, my dear."

Lynette took her familiar kiss, and dropped her formal curtsy, and went
with the red sunset touching her squirrel-coloured hair to flame. The
tea-bell rang as she shut the door behind her, and directly afterwards the
gate-bell clanged, sending an iron shout echoing through the whitewashed,
tile-paved passages, as if heralding a visitor who would not be denied. An
Irish novice who was on duty with the Sister attendant on the gate came
shortly afterwards to the room of the Mother-Superior, bringing a card on
a little wooden tray.

The Mother, the opening sentences of her note of thanks wet upon the sheet
before her, took the card, and knew that the letter need not be sent.

"This gentleman desired to see me?"

"He did so, Reverend Mother," whispered the timid Irish girl, who stood in
overwhelming awe of the majestic personality before her. "'Ask the
Mother-Superior will she consent to receive me?' says he. 'If she won't,
say that she must.' Says I: 'Sir, I'd not drame to presume give Herself a
message that bowld, but if you'll please to wait, I'll tell her what
you're after saying.'"

"Quite right, Katie. Now go and tell Sister Tobias to show him into the
parlour. I will be there directly."

Katie bobbed and vanished. When the Mother-Superior came into the parlour,
the visitor was standing near the fireplace, with his hands behind his
back. One wore a shabby dogskin riding-glove. The other, lean and brown
and knotty, held his riding-cane and the other glove, and a grey "smasher"
hat. He was looking up quietly and intently at a framed oil-painting that
hung above.

It represented a Syrian desert landscape, pale and ghastly, under the
light of a great white moon, with one lonely Figure standing like a
sentinel against a towering fang of rock. Lurking forms of fierce beasts
of prey were dimly to be distinguished amongst the shadows, and by the
side of the patient, lonely watcher brooded with outspread bat-wings, a
Shadow infinitely more terrible than any of these. It was rather a poor
copy of a modern picture, but the truth and force and inspiration of the
original had made of the copyist an artist for the time. The pure dignity
and lofty faith and patience of the Christ-eyes, haggard with bodily
sleeplessness and spiritual battle, the indomitable resistance breathing
in the lines of the Christ figure, wan and gaunt with physical famine as
with the nobler hunger of the soul, were rendered with fidelity and power.

The stranger's keen ear caught the Mother's long, swift step, and the
sweep of her woollen draperies over the shiny beeswaxed floor. He wheeled
sharply, brought his heels together, and bowed. She returned his
salutation with her inimitable dignity and grace. With his eyes on the
pure, still calmness of the face framed in the white close coif, the
Colonel commented mentally:

"What a noble-looking woman!"

The Mother-Superior thought, as her composed eyes swept over the tall,
spare, broad-shouldered figure and the strong, lean, tanned face, with its
alert, hazel eyes, nose of the falcon-beak order, and firm straight mouth
unconcealed by the short-clipped moustache:

"This is a brave man."



XI


The great of soul are not slow to find each other out. These two
recognised each other at meeting. Before he had explained his errand, she
had thanked him cordially, directly, and simply, for his timely
interference of the previous day.

"One of the lesser reasons of my visit, which I must explain is official
in character," he said, "was to advise you that your pupils and the ladies
in charge of them will not henceforth be safe from insult except in those
parts of the town most frequented by our countrymen, and rarely even
there. It would be wise of you under existing circumstances, which I shall
explain as fully and as briefly as I may, to send your pupils without
delay to their homes."

"All that have not already left," she assured him, "with the exception of
those whose parents reside in the town, or who have no living relatives,
and therefore do not leave us, go North and South by early trains
to-morrow."

"Ma'am," he said, "I am heartily glad to hear it." He added, as she
invited him to be seated: "Thank you, but I have been in the saddle since
five this morning, and if you have no objection I should prefer to stand.
And for another reason, I explain things better on my legs. But you will
allow me to find you a seat, if--any of these may be moved?" His glance,
with some perturbation in it, reviewed the stiff ranks of chairs severely
marshalled in Convent fashion against the varnished skirting-board.

"They are not fixtures," she said, with quiet amusement at his evident
relief, and he got her a chair, the largest and most solid that the room
offered, and planted himself opposite her, standing on the hearthrug, with
one hand resting on the corner of the high mantelshelf, and the toe of a
spurred riding-boot on the plain brick kerb.

"I may as well say ..."--he ran a finger round the inside of the collar
that showed above the khâki jacket--"that, though I have often had the
pleasure, and I will add, the great advantage, of meeting ladies of--of
your religious profession before, this is the first time that I ever was
inside a Convent."

"Or a boarding-school?" she asked, and her rare, sudden smile irradiated
her. His hand dropped from his collar. He looked at her with a sudden
warmth of admiration there was no mistaking. But her beauty went as
suddenly as it had come, and her arched, black brows frowned slightly as
she said, in tones that were very cold and very clear, and rather
ironical:

"Sir, you are good enough to waste valuable time in trying to break, with
due consideration for the nerves of a large household of unprotected
women, the news we have expected daily for months. You have come here to
announce to us the bursting of the cloud of War. Is it not so?"

He was taken aback, but hid it like a diplomat.

"Ma'am, it is so. The public notice was posted in the town this morning.
Forces of Boers are massed on the West Natal and East Baraland borders,
waiting until the British fire a shot. Their secret orders are to wait
that signal, but some unlooked-for event may cause them to anticipate
these.... And we shall be wise to prepare for eventualities. For myself,
having been despatched by the British Government on special service to
report to the Home Authorities upon our defences in the North--it is an
open secret now--I have been sent down here to put the town into a
condition to withstand siege. And frankly, without apology for necessary
and inevitable bluntness, one of the most important of those conditions
is--that the women and children should be got out of it."

The blow had been delivered. The angry blush that he had expected did not
invade the pale olive of her cheeks.

He added:

"I hope you will understand that I say this because it is my duty. I am
not naturally unsociable, or bearish, or a surly misogynist. Rather the
contrary. Quite the contrary."

She remembered a slim, boyish, young lieutenant of Hussars with whom she
had danced in a famous London ball-room more than twenty years back. That
boy a woman hater! Struggle as she would the Mother-Superior could not
keep Lady Bridget-Mary Bawne from coming to the surface for an instant.
But she went under directly, and left nothing but a spark of laughter in
the beautiful grave eyes.

"I understand," she said. "Woman in time of peace may add a certain
welcome pleasantness to life. In time of war she is nothing but a helpless
incubus."

"Let me point out, ma'am, that I did not say so. But she possesses a
capacity for being killed equal in ratio to that of the human male,
without being equally able to defend herself. In addition to this, she
eats; and I shall require all the rations that may be available to keep
alive the combatant members of the community."

"Eating is a habit," agreed the Mother-Superior, "which even the most
rigid disciplinarians of the body have found difficult to break."

His mouth straightened sternly under the short-clipped brown moustache.
Here was a woman who dared to bandy words with the Officer Commanding the
Garrison. He drew a shabby notebook from a breast-pocket, and consulted
it.

"On the eleventh, the day after to-morrow, a special train, leaving No. 2
platform of the railway-station, will be placed by the British Government
at the disposal of those married women, spinsters, and children who wish
to follow the example of those who left to-day, and go down to Cape Town.
Those who prefer to go North are advised to leave for Malamye Siding or
Johnstown, places at a certain distance from the Transvaal Border, where
they will be almost certain to find safety. Those who insist upon
remaining in the town I cannot, of course, remove by force. I will make
all possible arrangements to laager them safely, but this will entail
heavy extra labour upon the forces at my command, and inevitable
discomfort--possibly severe suffering and privation--upon themselves. To
you, madam, I appeal to set a high example. Your Community numbers, unless
I am incorrectly informed, twelve religious. Consent to take the step I
urge upon you, retreat with your nuns to Cape Town while the opportunity
is yours."

He folded his arms, having spoken this curtly and crisply. The
Mother-Superior rose up out of her chair. It seemed to him as though she
would never have done rising, but at last she stood before him, very
straight and awfully tall, with her great stern eyes an inch above the
level of his own, and her white hands folded in her black serge sleeves.

"Sir," she said, "we are here under the episcopal jurisdiction of the
Catholic Bishop of the Diocese. We have received no order from His
Eminence to quit our post--and until we receive it, give me leave to tell
you, with all respect for your high official authority, that we shall
remain in Gueldersdorp."

Their looks crossed like swords. He grew crimson over the white
unsunburned line upon his forehead, and his moustache straightened like a
bar of rusty-red iron across his thin, tanned face. But he respected moral
power and determination when he encountered them, and this salient woman
provoked his respect.

"Let us keep cool----" he began.

"I assure you that I have never been otherwise," she said, "since the
beginning of this interview."

"Ma'am," he said, "you state the fact. Let me keep cool, and point out to
you a few of the--peculiarities in which the present situation
unfortunately abounds."

He laid down, with a look that asked permission, his hat and cane and the
odd glove upon the round, shining walnut-table that stood, adorned with
mild little religious works, in the geometrical centre of the Convent
parlour, and checked the various points off upon the fingers of the gloved
hand with the lean, brown, bare one.

"I anticipate very shortly the outbreak of hostilities." He had quite
forgotten that he was talking to a member of the squeaking sex. "I have
begun immediately upon my arrival here to prepare for them. The nucleus of
a sand-bag fort-system has been formed already, mines are being laid down
far in the front, and every male of the population who has a pair of
capable hands has had a rifle put into them."

She looked at him, and approved the male type of energy and action. "If I
had been a man," she thought, "I should have wished to be one like this."
But she bent her head silently, and he went on.

"We have an armoured train in the railway-yard, with a Maxim and a
Hotchkiss. We have a Nordenfeldt, a couple of Maxims more, four
seven-pounder guns of almost prehistoric date, slow of fire, uncertain as
regards the elevating-gear, and, I tell you plainly, as dangerous, some of
'em, to be behind as to be in front of! One or two more we've got that
were grey-headed in the seventies. By the Lord! I wish one or two
Whitehall heads I know were mopping 'em out this minute. Ahem! Ahem!"

He coughed, and grew red under his sun-tan. Her eyes were elsewhere.

"Ma'am, you must try to recollect that the Boer forces are armed with the
newest Krupps and other guns, and that it is more than possible they may
attempt to shell the town. In that case artillery of tremendous range, and
a flight almost equal to that of sound itself--I won't be too technical, I
assure you!--will be mustered against our crazy pieces, only fit for the
scrap-heap, or for gate ornaments. Understand, I tell you what is common
knowledge among our friends--common jest among our enemies. And another
thing I will tell you, ma'am. Those enemies shall never enter
Gueldersdorp!"

She was radiant now, with that smile upon her lips, and that glow in the
great eyes that met his with such frank approval. Confound it, what
business had a nun to be anything like so beautiful? Would she pale, would
she tremble, when he told her the last truth of all?

"Your Convent, ma'am, unluckily for your Community, happens to be, if not
the biggest, at least the most conspicuously situated building in the
place, lying as it does at a distance of four hundred yards from the town,
on the north-east side. Like the Hospital, of course, it will be under the
protection of the Red-Cross Flag. But the Boer is not chivalrous. He does
not object to killing women or sick people, nor does he observe with any
standing scrupulousness the Geneva Convention. Any object that shows up
nicely on the skyline is good enough to pound away at, and the Red-Cross
Flag has often helped him to get a satisfactory range. If they bombard us,
as I have reason to believe they will, you'll have iron and lead in tons
poured through these walls."

She said:

"When they fall about our ears, Colonel, it will be time to leave them!"

He adored a gallant spirit, and here was one indeed.

"Ma'am, I am disarmed, since you take things in this way."

"It is the only way in which to take them," she said. "There should be no
panic in the hearts of those who wait on the Divine Will. Moreover, I
should wish you to understand in case of siege, and an extra demand upon
the staffs of the Town and Field Hospitals, that we are all--or nearly
all--certificated nurses, and would willingly place our services at your
disposal. Let me hope that you will call upon us without hesitation if the
necessity should arise."

He thanked her, and had taken leave, when he asked with diffidence if he
might be permitted to see the Convent chapel. She consented willingly, and
passed on before, tall and stately, and moving with long, light, even
steps, her flowing serge draperies whispering over the tiled passages. The
chapel was at the end of a long whitewashed corridor upon the airy floor
above. His keen glance took in every feature of the simple, spotless
little sanctuary as the tall, black-clad figure swept noiselessly to the
upper end of the aisle between the rows of rush-seated chairs, and knelt
for an instant in veneration of the Divine Presence hidden in the
Tabernacle.

"Unfortunately situated!" he muttered, standing stiffly by the west door.
Then he glanced right and left, a thumb and finger in the breast-pocket of
his jacket, feeling for a worn little pigskin purse. As he passed out
before her at the motion, and she mechanically dipped her fingers in the
holy-water font, and made the Sign of the Cross before she closed the
chapel door, she saw that he held out to her a five-pound note.

"Ma'am, I am not a Roman Catholic, but ..."

"There is no box for alms," she said, pausing outside the shut door, while
the lay-Sister waited at the passage end, "as this is only a private
chapel."

"I observed that, ma'am. I am, as I have said, a Protestant. But in the
behalf of a dear friend of mine, a British officer, of your own faith,
who I have reason to believe died without benefit of his clergy, perhaps
with this you would arrange that a service should be held in memory of the
dead?"

"I understand," said the Mother-Superior. "You suggest that Holy Mass
should be offered for the repose of your friend's soul? Well, I will
convey your offering to our chaplain, Father Wix, since you desire it."

"I do desire it--or, rather, poor Mildare would."

An awful sensation as of sinking down through the solid floors, through
the foundations of the Convent, into unfathomable deeps possessed her. Her
eyes closed; she forced them open, and made a desperate rally of her
sinking forces. Unseen she put out one hand behind her, and leaned it for
support against the iron-studded oak timbers of the chapel door. But his
eyes were not upon her as he went on, unconsciously, to deal the last,
worst blow.

"I said, ma'am, that my dead friend ... the name is Richard Mildare,
Captain, late of the Grey Hussars.... You are ill, ma'am. I have been
inconsiderate, and over-tired you." He had become aware that great dark
circles had drawn themselves round her eyes, and that even her lips were
colourless. She said, with a valiant effort:

"I assure you, with thanks, that you have been most considerate, and that
I am perfectly well. Are you at liberty to tell me, sir, the date of
Captain Mildare's death? For I know one who was also his friend, and
would"--a spasm passed over her face--"take an interest in hearing the
particulars."

"Ma'am, you shall know what I know myself. About twenty years ago Captain
Mildare, owing to certain unhappy circumstances, social, and not pecuniary
ones, sent in his papers, sold his Commission, and left England."

She waited.

"I heard of him in Paris. Then, later, I heard from him. He was with her
here in South Africa. She was a woman for whom he had given up everything.
They travelled continually, never resting long anywhere, he, and she,
and--their child. She died on the trek and he buried her."

"Yes?"

The voice was curiously toneless.

"Where he buried her has only recently come to my knowledge. It was at a
kind of veld tavern in the Orange Free State, a shanty in the
grass-country between Driepoort and Kroonfontein, where travellers can get
a bad lodging, and bad liquor, and worse company. 'Trekkers Plaats' they
call the place now. But when my friend was there it was known as the 'Free
State Hotel.'"

Her lips shut as if to keep out bitter, drowning waters; her face was
white as wax within the starched blue-white of the nun's coif; his slow
sentences fell one by one upon her naked heart, and ate their way in like
vitriol. Quite well, too well, she knew what was coming.

"He dug her grave with his own hands. He meant to have a clergyman read
the Burial Service over it, but before that could be arranged for he also
died--of fever, I gather, though nothing is very clear, except that the
two graves are there. I have seen them, and have also ascertained that
whatever property he left was appropriated by the scoundrel who kept the
hotel, and afterwards sold it, and cleared out of South Africa; and that
the child is not to be found. God knows what has become of her! The man
who robbed her father may have murdered or sold her--or taken her to
England. A man bearing his name was mixed up in a notorious case tried at
the Central Criminal Court five years ago. And the case, which ruined a
well-known West End surgeon, involved the death of a young woman. I trust
the victim may not have been the unhappy girl herself. My solicitors in
London have been instructed to make inquiries towards the removal of that
doubt...."

If those keen eyes of his had not been averted, he must have seen the
strong shuddering that convulsed the woman's frame, and the spasm of agony
that wrung the lips she pressed together, and the glistening damps of
anguish that broke out upon the broad white forehead. To save her life she
could not have said to him, "She whom you seek is here!" But a voice
wailed in her heart, more piercingly than Rachel's, and it cried:
"Richard's daughter! She is Richard's daughter! The homeless thing, the
blighted child I found upon the veld, and nursed back to life and
happiness and forgetfulness of a hideous past; whom I took into my empty
heart, and taught to call me Mother.... She is the fruit of my own
betrayal! the offspring of the friend who deceived and the man who
deserted me!"

The visitor was going on, his grave gaze still turned aside. "Of course,
the age of the unhappy girl whose death brought about the trial I speak
of--everything depends upon that. Mildare's daughter was a child of three
years old when she lost father and mother. If alive to-day she would be
nineteen years of age. I wish it had been my great good fortune to trace
and find her. She should have had the opportunity of growing up to be a
noble woman. In this place, if it might have been, and with an example
like yours before her eyes ... ma'am, good-afternoon."

He bowed to her, and went away with short, quick, even steps, following
the lay-Sister who was to take him to the gate.

She tottered into the chapel, and sank down before the altar, and strove
to pray. Her mind was an eddying blackness shot with the livid glare of
electric fires. Her faith rocked like a palm in the tempest; her soul was
tossed across raging billows like a vessel in the grip of the cyclone.
Being so great, she suffered greatly; being so strong, she had strong
passions to wrestle with and to subdue. Awhile, like that other Mary, who,
unlike her, was a fleshly sinner, she strove, rent as it seemed to her, by
seven devils. And then she fell down prone at her Master's nail-pierced
Feet, and found there at last the healing gift of tears.



XII


Emigration Jane, the new under-housemaid on trial at the Convent, had a
gathering on the top joint of the first finger of the hand that burned to
wear Walt Slabberts' betrothal-ring, and the abscess being ripe for the
lancet, she had an extra afternoon in the week to get it attended to. She
found Walt waiting at the street-corner under the lamp-post, and her heart
bounded, for by their punctuality at the trysting-place you know whether
they are serious in their intentions towards you, or merely carrying on,
and her other young men had invariably kept her waiting. This new one was
class, and no mistake.

"Watto, Walt!" she hailed joyously.

Her Walt uttered a guttural greeting in the Taal, and displayed
uncared-for and moss-grown teeth in the smile that Emigration Jane found
strangely fascinating. To the eye that did not survey Walt through the
rose-coloured glasses of affection he appeared merely as a
high-shouldered, slab-sided young Boer, whose cheap store-clothes bagged
where they did not crease, and whose boots curled upwards at the toes with
mediæval effect. His cravat, of a lively green, patterned with yellow
rockets, warred with his tallowy complexion; his drab-coloured hair hung
in clumps; he was growing a beard that sprouted in reddish tufts from the
tough hide of his jaws, leaving bare patches between, like the karroo. The
Slabberts was an assistant-clerk at the Gueldersdorp Railway-Station
Parcels-Office, and his widowed mother, the Tante Slabberts, took in
washing from Uitlanders, who are mad enough to change their underwear with
frequency, and did the cleaning at the Gerevormed Kerk at Rustenberg, a
duty which involves the emptying of spittoons. Her boy was her joy and
pride.

Young Walt, the true Boer's son that he was, did not entertain the idea of
marrying Emigration Jane. The child of the Amalekite might never be
brought home as bride to the Slabberts roof. But all the same, her style,
which was that of the Alexandra Crescent, Kentish Town, London, N.W., and
her manners, which were easy, and her taste in dress, which was dazzling,
attracted him. As regards their spoken intercourse, it had been hampered
by the Slabbertian habit of pretending only a limited acquaintance with
the barbarous dialect of England. But a young man who conversed chiefly by
grunts, nudges, and signs was infinitely more welcome than no young man at
all, and Emigration Jane knew that the language of love is universal. She
had sent him a lovely letter in the Taal making this appointment, causing
his pachydermatous hide to know the needle-prick of curiosity. For only
last Sabbath she had spoken nothing but the English, and a young woman
capable of mastering Boer Dutch in a week might be made useful in a
variety of ways--some of them tortuous, all of them secret, as the
Slabbertian ways were wont to be.

He advanced to her, without the needless ceremony of touching his hat,
eagerly asking how she had acquired her new accomplishment?

But the brain crowned by the big red hat that had come from the Maison
Cluny, and cost a hundred francs, and had been smartened up with a bunch
of pink and yellow artificial roses, and three imitation ostrich-tips of a
cheerful blue, did not comprehend. Someone who spoke the Taal had written
for her. The bilingual young woman who was to be of such use to Walt had
only existed in his dreams. And yet--the disappointing creature was
exceeding fair.

"Pity you left your eyes be'ind you, Dutchy!" giggled Emigration Jane,
deliciously conscious that those rather muddy orbs were glued on her
admiringly.

The hair crowned by the screaming hat was waved and rolled over the
horsehair frame she had learned to call a "Pompydore"; the front locks,
usually confined in the iron cages called "curlers," frizzled wonderfully
about her moist, crimson face. She had on a "voylet" delaine skirt, with
three bias bands round the bottom, and a "blowse" of transparent muslin
stamped with floral devices. Her shoes were of white canvas; her stockings
pink and open-worked; her gloves were of white thread, and had grown grey
in the palms with agitation. One of them firmly grasped a crimson
"sunshyde," with green and scarlet cherries growing out of the end of the
stick.

The young Dopper warmly grasped the other, provoking a squeal from the
enchantress.

"Mind me bad finger! Lumme! you did give us a squeeze an' a' arf."

"If I shall to hurt you I been sorry, Miss!" apologized the Slabbert.

"All righto, Dutchy!" smiled Emigration Jane. "Don't tear your features."
She bestowed a glance of almost vocal disdain upon a Kaffir girl in
turkey-red cotton twill, with a green hat savagely pinned upon her woolly
hair. At another ebony female who advanced along the sidewalk pushing a
white baby in a perambulator she tossed her head. "Funny," she observed,
"when I was 'ome I used to swaller all the tales what parsons kep'
pitchin' about that black lot 'aving souls like me an' you. When I got out
'ere, an' took my fust place at Cape Town, an' 'eard the Missis and the
Master continual sayin', 'Don't do this or that, it ain't Englishwomen's
work; leave it to the Caffy,' or 'Call the 'Ottintot gal,' I felt quite
'urt for 'em. Upon me natural, I did! But when I knoo these blackies a bit
better, I didn't make no more bones. Monkeys, they are, rigged up in brown
'olland an' red braid, wot 'ave immytated 'uman beings till they've come
to talk langwidge wot we can understand, and tumble to our meanings. 'Ow
do you like me dress, Walty dear? An' me 'at? That chap what passed with
the red mustash said to 'is friend as I looked a bit of fair all right,
and no mistake. But I'd rather 'ear you say so nor 'im if you 'ad enough
English to do it with. Wot do I care about the perisher along of you?"

It was hard work to talk for two, and keep the ball of courtship rolling
after the approved fashion of Kentish Town, when the slouching young Boer
would only grunt in reply, or twinkle at her out of his piggish eyes. But
Emigration Jane had come out to South Africa, hearing that places at five
shillings a day were offered you by employers, literally upon their knees,
and that husbands were thick as orange-peel and programmes on the
pit-floor of the Britanniar Theayter, 'Oxton, or the Camden Varieties on
the morning after a Bank Holiday. She had left her first situation at Cape
Town, being a girl of spirit, because her mistress had neglected to
introduce her to eligible gentlemen acquaintances, as the pleasant-spoken
agent at the Emigrants' Information Office in Cheapside, the young
gentleman of Hebrew strain, whose dark eyes, waxed moustache, and diamond
tie-pin had made a deep impression upon the susceptible heart of his
client, had assured Jane the South African employer would take an early
opportunity of doing. The reality had not corresponded with the glowing
picture. The employer had failed in duty, the husbands-aspirant had not
appeared. Ephemeral flirtations there had been, with a postman, with a
trooper of the Cape Mounted Police, with an American bar-tender. But not
one of these had breathed of indissoluble union, though each had wanted to
borrow her savings. And Emigration Jane had "bin 'ad" in that way before,
and gone with her bleeding heart and depleted Post Office Savings-book
before the fat, sallow magistrate at the Regent's Road County Court, and
winced and smarted under his brutal waggeries, only to learn that the
appropriator of her womanly affections and her fifteen sovereigns had
already three wives.

The brute, the 'artless beast! Emigration Jane wondered at herself, she
did, as 'ad bin such a reg'ler soft as to be took in by one to whom she
never referred in speech except as "That There Green." That she softened
to him in her weaker moments, in spite of his remembered appetite for
savings and his regrettable multiplicity of wives, gave her the fair hump.
That something in the expression of this new one's muddy eyes recalled the
loving leer of "That There Green," she admitted to herself. Womanly
anxiety throbbed in the bosom, not too coyly hidden by the pneumonia
blouse, as the couple passed the gilded portals of a public bar, and the
Slabberts' elbow was thrust painfully into her side, as its owner said
heavily:

"Have you thirst?"

She coyly owned to aridity, and they entered the saloon, kept by a
Dutchman who spoke English. Two ginger-beers with a stick of Hollands were
supplied, and the stick of Slabberts was as the rod of Moses to the other
stick for strength and power. But as Emigration Jane daintily sipped the
cooling beverage, giggling at the soapy bubbles that snapped at her nose,
the restless worm of anxiety kept on gnawing under the flowery "blowse."
Too well did she know the ways of young men who hospitably ask you if
you're thirsty, and 'ave you in, whether or no, and order drinks as
liberal as lords, and then discover that they're short of the bob, and
borrow from you in a joking way.... Her heart bounded as the Slabberts put
his hand in his pocket, saying:

"Wat kost het?"

The Dutch bar-keeper, who seemed to know Slabberts, answered in English,
looking at Emigration Jane:

"Half a dollar."

Half a dollar is South African for eighteenpence. Slabberts rattled
something metallic in his trousers-pocket, and said something rapidly in
the Taal. The Dutch bar-keeper leaned across the counter, and said to
Emigration Jane:

"Your young man has not got the money."

They were all, all alike. A tear rose to her eye. She bravely dried it
with a finger of a white cotton glove, and produced her purse, an
imitation crocodile-leather and sham-silver affair, bought in Kentish
Town, where you may walk through odorous groves of dried haddocks that are
really whiting, and Yarmouth bloaters that never were at Yarmouth, and
purchase whole Rambler roses, the latest Paris style, for threepence, and
try on feather-boas at two-and-eleven-three, plucked from the defunct
carcase of the domestic fowl. She paid for the drinks with a florin, and
it was quite like old times when Slabberts calmly pocketed the sixpence of
change. The bar-keeper leaned over to her again, and said, surrounding her
with a confidential atmosphere of tobacco and schnaps:

"He is a good man, that young man of yours, and gets much money. He means
to give you a nice present by-and-by."

Her grateful heart overflowed to this friendly patronage. She showed the
bar-keeper her gathered finger, and said it did 'urt a treat. She expected
it would 'urt worse before Dr. de Boursy-Williams--"'adn't 'e got a toff's
name?"--'ad done with it.

"You go to that Engelsch doktor on Harris Street, eh?" said the
bar-keeper, spitting dexterously.

"Sister Tobias--that's the nun wot 'ousekeeps at the Convent--give me a
order to see 'im, to 'ave me finger larnced," explained Emigration Jane.
"Ain't 'e all right?"

"Right enough," said the bar-keeper, winking at the Slabberts, and adding
something in the Taal, that provoked chuckles among the bystanders and
called forth a fine display of neglected teeth on the part of the
personage addressed. "There are plenty other Engelsch will be wishing to
be as right, oh, very soon! For De Boursy-Williams, he has sent his wife
and his two daughters away on the train for Cape Town yesterday morning,
and he has gone after them that same night, and he has left all his
patients to the Dop Doctor."

"Some red-necked baboons are wiser than others," said the Slabberts in the
Taal, and there was a hoarse laugh, and the humorist turned his big heavy
body away, and became one of a crowd of other Dutchmen, who were, in
veiled hints and crooked allusions, discussing the situation across the
Border. Emigration Jane was not sensitive to the electricity in the
atmosphere. She knew no Dutch, and was perfect in the etiquette of the
outing, which, when the young woman has been supplied with the one
regulation drink, stands her up in the corner like an umbrella in dry
weather as long as her young man is a-talking to 'is pals.

"So," the bar-keeper went on, "if you shall want that bad finger of yours
looked to, you will have to wait until the Dop Doctor wakes up. He is a
big man, who can drink as much as three Boers.... He came in this morning
to get drunk, and you shall not wake him now if you fire off a rifle at
his ear. But he will get up presently and shake himself, and then he will
be quite steady; you would not guess how drunk he had been unless you had
seen.... He is over there, sleeping on that table in the corner, and it
will be very bad for the man who shall wake him up. For, look you, that
Dop Doctor is a duyvel. I have seen him break a man like a stick between
his hands for nothing but cutting up a thieving monkey of a little Kaffir
with the sjambok. And he took the verdoemte thing home where he lives,
they say, and strapped up its black hide with plaster, and set its arm as
if it had been a child of Christians. But every Engelschman is mad. Groot
Brittanje breeds a nation of madmen."

The saloon got fuller and fuller. The air solidified with the Taal and the
tobacco, and other things less pleasant. It was not the hour for a crowd
of customers, but nobody had seemed to be working much of late. They were
all Transvaalers and Free Staters, tradesmen of the town, or Boers from
outlying farms, and not a man there but was waiting a certain signal to
clear out and leave Gueldersdorp to her fate, or remain in the place on a
salary paid by the Republics as a spy. The English customer who came in
knew at one whiff of the thick atmosphere that it was unhealthy, and if
the man happened to be alone, he ordered, and paid, and drank, and went
out quickly. If he happened to be with friends, he pointedly addressed his
conversation to his countrymen, and left with a certain degree of swagger,
and without the appearance of undue haste.

Once the swing-doors of the saloon opened to admit a short, spare,
hollow-chested, dapper young Englishman, whose insignificant Cockney
countenance was splashed with orange-coloured freckles of immense size.
Between his thin anæmic lips dangled the inevitable cigarette. And
Emigration Jane, toying with the dregs of her tumbler, recognized the
pert, sharp, sallow face seen over the sleeve of a large burgher's
outstretched arm. With some trouble she caught the eye of the short, pale
young man, and he instantly became a red one. To reach her was difficult,
but he dived and wriggled his way across the saloon, wedging his frail
person between the blockish bodies with a cool address that reminded her
of the first night of a "noo show" at the Camden "Theayter," and the queue
outside the gallery door.

"'Ullo, 'ullo! Thought I reckonised you, Miss." He touched his cheap
imitation Panama with swaggering gallantry, and winked. "But seeing you
eight sizes more of a toff than what you were when I previously 'ad the
pleasure, I 'esitated to tip you the 'Ow Do."

She tossed her imitation ostrich plumes in joyous coquetry.

"As if I didn't know wot you're after. Garn! You only wants to know if I
acted on the stryte about ..."

His projecting ears burned crimson.

"Well, an' suppose I do. Did she----"

"Did she wot?"

"You pipe well enough. Did she 'ave it?"

"Ain't you anxious?"

"Tyke it I am anxious. Did she? No cod?"

"Did she git your letter wot you put in the box o' choc's? O' course she
did, Mister. Wot do you tyke me for? A silly looney or a sneakin' thief?"

"I'll tell you what I tyke you for. A jolly little bit of English All
Right. Say! Do you think ..." The prominent Adam's apple jutting over the
edge of the guillotining double collar worked emotionally. "Think she'll
send an answer, eh?"

"Reckon she will; you watch out an' see!"

"You fust-clarss little brick!"

"Garn!"

"I mean it. Stryte. Next door to a angel--that's wot you are. She's the
angel. Tell 'er I said so--that's if you can, you twig? And say that when
I 'eard that nearly all the gay old crowd o' pupils 'ad gone away, day
before yesterday, I could 'a blooming well cut me throat, thinkin' she'd
gone too. Becos' when I swore in for the Town Guard, it was with the
idear--mind you rub that in!--of strikin' a blow for Beauty as well as for
Britanniar, twig?" The thin elbow in the tweed sleeve nudged her,
provoking a joyous giggle.

"I'm fly, no fear. Are you to 'ave a uniform, an' all like that?"

His face fell. "The kit don't run to much beyond a smasher 'at an'
puttees, but they're the regular Service kind, an' then there's the
bandolier--an' the gun. She ain't the newest rifle served out to Her
Majesty's Army, not by twenty years. Condemned Martini, a chap says, who's
in the know--an' kicks like a mule when I let 'er off--made me nose bleed
fust time I tried with blank. But when we gets a bit more used to each
other, it 'll be a case of bloomin' Doppers rollin' over in the dust, like
rock-rabbits. Don't forget to tell 'er as wot I said so."

"Why ... ain't she a Dutchy 'erself? She wrote a letter for me in their
rummy lingo to my young man!"

"Cripps!" He stared in dismay. "Blessed if I 'adn't forgot. But if an
Englishman marries a foreigner," he swelled heroic, "that puts 'er in the
stryte runnin'. And 'art an' 'and I'm 'ers, whenever she'll 'ave me! Tell
'er THAT--with a double row of crosses from W. Keyse! And--can you
remember a bit o' poetry?" He recited with shamefaced rapidity:

    "It is my sentry-go to-night,
    And when I watch the moon so bright,
    Shining o'er South Africa plain,
    I'll think of thee, sweet Greta Du Taine."

Her eyes were full of awe and wonder. "Lor! you don't mean to say you made
up that by yourself?"

The poet nodded. "Reckon about as much. Like it?"

"It's perfect lovely! Better than they 'ave in the penny books."

"Where Coralline and the Marquis are playin' the spooney game, and 'im
with a Lady Reginer up 'is dirty sleeve. An' there's another thing I want
you to let 'er know." His eyes were on hers, his breath fanned her hot
cheeks. "There isn't another woman on the earth but her for me. Dessay
there may be others; wot I say is--I don't see 'em!" He waved his hand,
dismissing the ardent creatures.

A pang transpierced the conscience hiding under the cheap flowery blouse.
Emigration Jane hesitated, biting the dog's-eared finger-ends of a cotton
glove. Should she tell this ardent, chivalrous lover that the Convent roof
no longer sheltered the magnificent fair hair-plait and the mischievous
blue eyes of his adored? That Miss Greta Du Taine had left for
Johannesburg with the latest batch of departing pupils! If she told, W.
Keyse would vanish out of her life, it might be for ever; or, if by chance
encountered on the street, pass by with a casual greeting and a touch of
the cheap Panama. Emigration Jane was no heroine, only a daughter of Eve.
Arithmetic and what was termed the "tonic sofa" had been more sternly
inculcated than the moral virtues at the Board School in Kentish Town. And
she was not long in making up her mind that she would not tell him--not
just yet, anyway.

What was he saying, in the Cockney that cut like a knife through the thick
gutturals of the Taal? "I shall walk past the Convent to-morrer in kit and
'cetras, on the charnce of 'Er seein' me. Two sharp. And, look 'ere, Miss,
you've done me a good turn. And--no larks!--if ever I can do you
another--trust me. Stryte--I mean it! You ask chaps 'oo know me if Billy
Keyse ever went back on a pal?"

She swayed her hips, and disclaimed all obligation. But, garn! he was
gittin' at 'er, she knew!

"I ain't; I mean it! You should 'ave 'arf me 'eredittary estates--if I 'ad
any. As I 'aven't, say wot you'll drink? Do, Miss, to oblige yours truly,
W. Keyse, Esquire."

W. Keyse plunged a royal, reckless hand into the pocket of his tweed
riding-breeches, bought against the time when he should bestride something
nobler than a bicycle, and produced a half-sovereign. He owed it to his
landlady and the rest, the coin that he threw down so magnificently on the
shiny counter, but you do not treat your good angel every day....
Emigration Jane bridled, and swayed her hips still more. His largeness was
intoxicating. One had dreamed of meeting such young men.

"Port or sherry? Or a glass of cham, with a lump o' ice in for a cooler?
They keep the stuff on draught 'ere, and not bad by 'arf for South Africa.
'Ere, you, Mister! Two chams for self and the young lydy, an' look
slippy!"

The brimming glasses of sparkling, creaming fluid, juice of vines that
never grew in the historic soil of France, were passed over the bar. A
miniature berg clinked in each, the coldness of its contact with the
glowing lip forcing slight rapturous shrieks from Emigration Jane.

"We'll drink 'Er 'ealth!" W. Keyse raised his goblet. "And Friends at 'Ome
in our Isle across the Sea!"

He drank, pleased with the sentiment, and set down the empty glass.

The Dutch bar-keeper leaned across the counter, and tapped him on the arm
with a thick, stubby forefinger.

"Mister Engelschman, I think you shall best go out of here."

"Me? Go out? 'Oo are you gettin' at, Myn'eer Van Dunck?" swaggered W.
Keyse. And he slipped one thin, freckled hand ostentatiously under his
coat of shoddy summer tweed. A very cheap revolver lurked in the
hip-pocket of which Billy was so proud. In his third-floor back
bed-sitting-room in Judd Street, London, W.C., he had promised himself a
moment when that hip-pocket should be referred to, just in that way. It
was a cheap bit of theatrical swagger, but the saloon was full, not of
harmless theatrical pretences, but bitter racial antagonisms, seething
animosities, fanged and venomed hatreds, only waiting the prearranged
signal to strike and slay.

Emigration Jane tugged at the hero's sleeve, as he felt for an almost
invisible moustache, scanning the piled-up, serried faces with pert, pale,
hardy eyes.

"'E ain't coddin'. See 'ow black they're lookin'."

"I see 'em, plyne enough. Waxworks only fit for the Chamber of 'Orrors,
ain't 'em?"

"It's a young woman wot arsks you to go, not a bloke! Please! For my syke,
if you won't for your own!"

Billy Keyse, with a flourish, offered the thin, boyish arm in the tweed
sleeve.

"Righto! Will you allow me, Miss?"

She faltered:

"I--I can't, deer. I--I'm wiv my young man."

"Looks after you a proper lot, I don't think. Which is 'im? Where's 'e 'id
'isself? There's only one other English-lookin' feller 'ere, an' 'e's
drunk, lyin' over the table there in the corner. That ain't 'im, is it?"

"Nah, that isn't 'im. That big Dutchy, lookin' this way, showin' 'is teeth
as 'e smiles. That's my young man."

She indicated the Slabberts, heavily observant of the couple with the
muddy eyes under the tow-coloured thatch.

"'Strewth!" W. Keyse whistled depreciatively between his teeth, and
elevated his scanty eyebrows. "That tow-'eaded, bung-nosed, 'ulking, big
Dopper. An' you a daughter of the Empire!"

Oh! the thrice-retorted scorn in the sharp-edged Cockney voice! The
scorching contempt in the pale, ugly little eyes of W. Keyse! She wilted
to her tallest feather, and the tears came crowding, stinging the back of
her throat, compelling a miserable sniff. Yet Emigration Jane was not
destitute of spirit.

"I ... I took 'im to please meself ... not you, nor the Hempire neither."

"Reckon you was precious 'ard up for a chap. Good-afternoon, Miss."

He touched the cheap Panama, and swung theatrically round on his heel.
Between him and the saloon-door there was a solid barricade of heavy
Dutch bodies, in moleskin, tan-cord, and greasy homespun, topped by
lowering Dutch faces. Brawny right hands that could have choked the reedy
crow out of the little bantam gamecock, clenched in the baggy pockets of
old shooting-jackets. Others gripped leaded sjamboks, and others crept to
hip-pockets, where German army revolvers were. The bar-keeper and the
Slabberts exchanged a meaning wink.

"Gents, I'll trouble you. By your leave?..."

Nobody moved. And suddenly W. Keyse became conscious that these were
enemies, and that he was alone. A little hooliganism, a few street-fights,
one scuffle with the police, some rows in music-halls constituted all his
experience. In the midst of these men, burly, brutal, strong, used to shed
blood of beast and human, his cheap swagger failed him with his stock of
breath. He was no longer the hero in an East End melodrama; his heroic
mood had gone, and there was a feel of tragedy in the air. The Boers
waited sluggishly for the next move. It would come when there should be a
step forward on the part of the little Englishman. Then a clumsy foot in a
cow-leather boot or heavy wooden-pegged veldschoen would be thrust out,
and the boy would be tripped up and go down, and the crowd would
deliberately kick and trample the life out of him, and no one would be
able to say how or by whom the thing had been done. And, reading in the
hard eyes set in the stolid yellow and drab faces that he was "up against
it," and no mistake, W. Keyse felt singularly small and lonely.

Then something happened.

The drunken Englishman who had been lying in a hoggish stupor over the
little iron table in the corner of the saloon hiccoughed, and lifted a
crimson, puffy face, with bleary eyes in it that were startlingly blue. He
drew back the great arms that had been hanging over the edge of his
impromptu pillow, and heaved up his massive stooping shoulders, and got
slowly upon his feet. Then, lurching in his walk, but not stumbling, he
moved across the little space of saw-dusted, hard-beaten earth that
divided him from W. Keyse, and drew up beside that insignificant minority.
The action was not purposeless or unimpressive. The alcoholic wastrel had
suddenly become protagonist in the common little drama that was veering
towards tragedy. Beside the man, Billy Keyse dwindled to a stunted boy, a
steam-pinnace bobbing under the quarter of an armoured battle-ship, its
huge mailed bulk pregnant with possibilities of destruction, its barbettes
full of unseen, watchful eyes, and hands powerful to manipulate the levers
of Titanic death-machines.

Let it be understood that the intervener did not present the aspect of a
hero. He had been drunk, and would be again, unless some miraculous
quickening of the alcohol-drugged brain-centres should rouse and revivify
the dormant will. His square face, with the heavy smudge of bushy black
eyebrows over the fierce blue eyes, and the short, blunt, hooked nose, and
grim-lipped yet tender mouth, from the corner of which an extinct and
forgotten cigar-butt absurdly jutted, bore, like his great gaunt frame,
the ravaging traces of the consuming drink-lust. His well-cut,
loosely-fitting grey morning-coat and trousers were soiled and slovenly;
his blue linen shirt was collarless and unbuttoned at the neck. His grey
felt smasher hat was crammed on awry. But there was a thick lanyard round
the muscular neck, ending in a leather revolver-pouch that was attached to
his stout belt of webbing. A boy with a fifteen-and-sixpenny toy revolver
you can laugh at and squelch; but, Alamachtig! a big man with a Webley and
Scott was another thing. And the frowy barrier of thick, coarsely-clad,
bulky bodies and scowling, yellow-tan faces, began to melt away.

When a clear lane showed to the saloon door, the Dop Doctor took it,
walking with a lurch in his long stride, but with the square head held
upright on his great gaunt shoulders. W. Keyse, Esquire, moved in the
shadow of him, taking two steps to one of his. The swing doors opened,
thudded to behind them....

"Outside.... Time, too!"

The wide, thin-lipped Cockney mouth grinned a little consciously as W.
Keyse jerked his thumb towards the still vibrating doors of the saloon.
"Reg'ler 'ornets' nest o' Dutchies. And I was up agynst it, an' no
mistyke, when you rallied up. An', Mister, you're a Fair Old Brick, an' if
you've no objection to shykin' 'ands ...?"

But the big man did not seem to see the little Cockney's offered hand. He
nodded, looking with the bloodshot and extremely blue eyes that were set
under his heavy straight black brows, not at W. Keyse, but over the boy's
head, and with a surly noise in his throat that stopped short of being
speech, swung heavily round and went down the dusty street, that was
grilling in the full blaze of the afternoon heat, lurching a little in his
walk.

Then, suddenly, running figures of men came round the corner. Voices
shouted, and houses and shops and saloons emptied themselves of their
human contents. The news flew from kerb to kerb, and jumped from windows
to windows, out of which women, European and coloured, thrust eager,
questioning heads.

The Cape Town train that had started at midday had returned to
Gueldersdorp, having been held up by a force of armed and mounted Boers
twenty miles down the line. And a London newspaper correspondent had
handed in a cable at the post-office, and the operator's instrument, after
a futile click or so, had failed to work any more.

The telegraphic wire was cut. Hostilities had commenced in earnest, and
Gueldersdorp, severed from the South by this opening act of war, must find
her salvation thenceforwards in the cool brains and steady nerves of the
handful of defenders behind her sand-bags, when the hour of need should
come.

History has it written in her imperishable record, that is not only
printed upon paper, and graven upon brass, and cut in marble, but stamped
into the minds and hearts of millions of men and women of the British
race, how, when that hour came, the hero-spirit in their countrymen rose
up to meet it. And for such undying memories as these, and not for the
mere word of suzerainty, it is worth while to have paid as Britain has
paid, in gold, and blood, and tears.



XIII


"Dop," being the native name for the cheapest and most villainous of Cape
brandies, has come to signify alcoholic drinks in general to men of many
nations dwelling under the subtropical South African sun. Thus,
apple-brandy, and peach liqueur, "Old Squareface," in the squat,
four-sided bottles beloved no less by Dutchman and Afrikander, American
and Briton, Paddy from Cork, and Heinrich from the German Fatherland, than
by John Chinkey--in default of arrack--and the swart and woolly-headed
descendant of Ham, may be signified under the all-embracing designation.

It did not matter what the liquor was, the bar-tenders were aware who
served the Dop Doctor, as long as the stuff scorched the throat and
stupefied the brain, and you got enough of it for your money.

His eyes were blood-red with brutal debauch now, as he neared the De
Boursy-Williams dwelling, a one-storied, soft brick-built,
corrugated-iron-roofed house on Harris Street, behind the Market Square.
It had been a store, but green and white paint and an iron garden-fence
had turned it into a gentlemanly residence for a medical practitioner.
Mrs. De Boursy-Williams, a lady of refinement, stamped with the
ineffaceable cachet of Bayswater, had hung cheap lace curtains in all the
windows, tying them up with silk sashes of Transvaal green. Between the
wooden pillars of the stoep dangled curtains yet other, of chopped, dyed,
and threaded bamboo, while whitewashed drain-pipes, packed with earth and
set on end, overflowed with Indian cress, flowering now in extravagant,
gorgeous hues of red and brown, sulphur and orange.

The Dop Doctor, left to maintain the inviolate sanctity of this English
Colonial home, hiccoughed as he stumbled up the stately flight of three
cement steps that led between white-painted railings, enclosing on the
left hand a narrow strip of garden with some dusty mimosa shrubs growing
in it, to the green door that bore the brass plate, and had the red lamp
fitted in the hall-light above it. The plate bore this comprehensive
inscription:

  G. DE BOURSY-WILLIAMS, M.D., F.R.C.S. Lond.

  CONSULTING-ROOM HOURS: 10 A.M. TO 12 A.M.; 6 P.M. TO 8 P.M.

  MODERN DENTISTRY IN ALL ITS BRANCHES.

And, scanning the inscription for perhaps the thousandth time, the grim,
tender mouth under the ragged black moustache took a satirical twist at
the corners, for nobody knew better than Owen Saxham, called of men in
Gueldersdorp the "Dop Doctor," what a brazen lie it proclaimed. He heard
the town-clock on the stad square strike five as he pulled out the
latchkey from his pocket and let himself in, shouting:

"Koets!"

A glazed door at the end of the passage, advertised in letters of black
paint upon the ground-glass as "Dispensary," opened, and a long, thin
Dutchman, dressed in respectable black, looked out. He had been hoping
that the drunken Englishman had been shot or stabbed in a saloon-brawl, or
had fallen down in apoplexy in a liquor-bout, and had been brought home
dead on a shutter at last. His long ginger-coloured face showed his cruel
disappointment. But he said, as though the question had been asked:

"No, there is no telegram from Cape Town."

Then he shut the glazed door, and returned to the very congenial
occupation in which he had been engaged, and Owen Saxham went heavily to
the bedroom placed at the disposal of the _locum tenens_. The single
window looked out upon a square garden with a tennis-ground, where the De
Boursy-Williams girls had been used to play. The apricot on the south wall
was laden with the as yet immature fruit, an abandoned household cat
slept, unconscious of impending starvation, upon a bench under a
pepper-tree.

It was a small, sordid, shabby chamber, with a fly-spotted paper, a chest
of drawers lacking knobs, a greenish swing looking-glass, and a narrow
iron bedstead. His scanty belongings were scattered about. There were no
medical books or surgical instruments. The Dop Doctor had sold all the
tools of his trade years before. He turned to Williams's books, standard
works which had been bought at his recommendation, when he wished to
refresh his excellent memory; the instruments he used when to the
entreaties of a fatherly friend Williams added the alluring chink of gold
belonged also to that generous patron. There were some old clothes in the
ramshackle deal wardrobe; there was some linen and underclothing in the
knobless chest of drawers. With the exception of a Winchester
repeating-rifle in excellent condition, a bandolier and ammunition-pouch,
a hunting-knife and a Colt's revolver of large calibre, in addition to
the weapon he carried, there was not an article of property of any value
in the room. Old riding-boots with dusty spurs and a pair of veldschoens
stood by the wall; a pair of trodden-down carpet slippers lay beside a big
cheap zinc bath that stood there, full of cold water; some well-used pipes
were on the chest of drawers, with a tin of Virginia; and an old brown
camel's-hair dressing-gown hung over a castorless, shabby,
American-cloth-covered armchair. And an empty whisky-bottle stood upon the
washstand, melancholy witness to the drunkard's passion.

Yet there were a few poor little toilet articles upon the dressing-table
that betokened the dainty personal habits of cleanliness and care that
from lifelong use become instinctive. The hands of the untidy, slovenly,
big man with the drink-swollen features were exquisitely kept; and when
the dark-red colour should go out of the square face, the skin would show
wonderfully unblemished and healthy for a drunkard, and the blue eyes
would be steady and clear. Excess had not injured a splendid constitution
as yet. But Saxham knew that by-and-by ...

What did he care? He pulled off his soiled, untidy garments, and soused
his aching head in the cold, fresh water, and bathed and changed. Six
o'clock struck, and found Dr. Owen Saxham reclothed and in his right mind,
if a little haggard about the eyes and twitchy about the mouth, and
sitting calmly waiting for patients in the respectably-appointed
consulting-room of De Boursy-Williams, M.D., F.R.C.S. Lond.

Usually he sat in the adjoining study, near enough to the
carefully-curtained door to hear the patient describe in the artless
vernacular of the ignorant, or the more cultivated phraseology of the
educated, the symptoms, his or hers.

Because the cultured man of science, the real M.D. of Cambridge University
and owner of those other letters of attainment, was the drunken wastrel
who had sunk low enough to serve as the impostor's ghost. If G. de
Boursy-Williams, of all those lying capitals, were a member of the London
Pharmaceutical Society and properly-qualified dentist, which perhaps might
be the case, he certainly possessed no other claim upon the confidence of
his fellow-creatures, sick or well. Yet even before the Dop Doctor
brought his great unhealed sorrow and his quenchless thirst to
Gueldersdorp, the smug, plump, grey-haired, pink-faced, neatly-dressed
little humbug possessed an enviable practice.

If you got well, he rubbed his hands and chuckled over you; if you died,
he bleated about the Will of Providence, and his daughters sent flowery,
home-made wreaths to place upon your grave, and it all went down, adding
to the python-length of the bill for medical attendance.

This world is thick with De Boursy-Williamses, throwing in bromides with a
liberal hand, ungrudging of strychnine, happily at home with quinine and
cathartics, ready at a case of simple rubeola; hideously, secretly,
helplessly perplexed between the false diphtheria and the true; treating
internal cancer and fibrous tumours as digestive derangements for happy,
profitable years, until the specialist comes by, and dissipates with a
brief examination and with half a dozen trenchant words the victim's faith
in the quack.

Three years before, when the Dop Doctor, coming up from Kimberley by
transport-waggon, had stumbled in upon Gueldersdorp, the verdict of a
specialist consulted by one of his patients, much lacking in the desirable
article of faith, had given De Boursy-Williams's self-confidence a
considerable shock.

Does it matter how De Boursy, much reduced in bulk by a considerable
leakage of conceit, came across the Dop Doctor? In a drink-saloon, in a
music-hall, in a gaming-house or an opium-den, at any other of the places
of recreation where, after consulting and visiting hours, that exemplary
father and serious-minded Established Churchman, was to be found? It is
enough that the bargain was proposed and accepted. Four sovereigns a week
secured to De Boursy-Williams the stored and applied knowledge, the wide
experience, and the unerring diagnosis of the rising young London
practitioner, who had had a brilliant career before him when a Hand had
reached forth from the clouds to topple down the castle of his labours and
his hopes. For Owen Saxham the money would purchase forgetfulness. You can
buy a great deal of his kind of forgetfulness with four pounds, and drink
was all the Dop Doctor wanted.



Now, as the red South African sunset burned beyond the flattened western
ridge of the semicircle of irregular hills that fence in the unpretending
hamlet town that lies on the low central rise, Owen Saxham sat, as for his
miserable weekly wage he must sit, twice daily for two hours at a stretch,
enduring torments akin to those of the damned in Hell.

For these were the hours when he remembered most all that he had lost.

Remembrance, like the magic carpet of the Eastern story, carried him back
to a rambling old grey mansion, clothed with a great magnolia and many
roses, standing in old-time gardens, and shrubberies of laurel and ilex
and Spanish chestnut, and rhododendron, upon the South Dorset cliffs, that
are vanishing so slowly yet so surely in the maw of the rapacious sea.

Boom! In the heart of a still, foggy night, following a day of lashing
rain, and the boy Owen Saxham, whom the Dop Doctor remembered, would wake
upon his lavender-scented pillow in the low-pitched room with the heavy
ceiling-beams and the shallow diamond-paned casements, and call out to
David, dreaming in the other white bed, to plan an excursion with the
breaking of the day, to see how much more of their kingdom had toppled
over on those wave-smoothed rock-pavements far below, that were studded
with great and little fossils, as the schoolroom suet-pudding with the
frequent raisin.

More faces came. The boys' father, fair and florid, bluff, handsome, and
kindly, an English country gentleman of simple affectionate nature and
upright life. He came in weather-stained velveteen and low-crowned felt,
with the red setter-bitch at his heels, and the old sporting Manton
carried in the crook of his elbow, where the mother used to sew a leather
patch, always cut out of the palm-piece of one of the right-hand gloves
that were never worn out, never being put on. A dark-eyed, black-haired
Welsh mother, hot-tempered, keen-witted, humorous, sarcastic, passionately
devoted to her husband and his boys, David and Owen.

David and Owen. David was the elder, fair like the father, destined for
Harrow, Sandhurst, and the Army. Owen had dreamed of the Merchant Service,
until, having succeeded in giving the Persian kitten, overfed to repletion
by an admiring cook, a dose of castor-oil, and being allowed to aid the
local veterinary in setting the fox-terrier's broken leg, the revelation
of the hidden gift was vouchsafed to this boy. How he begged off Harrow,
much to the disgust of the Squire, and went to Westward Ho, faithfully
plodded the course laid down by the Council of Medical Education, became a
graduate of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and took his degree brilliantly;
registered as a student at St. Stephen's Hospital; won an Entrance
Scholarship in Science, and secured the William Brown Exhibition in his
second year. Thenceforward the world was an oyster, to be opened with
scalpel and with bistoury by Owen Saxham.

Oh, the good days! the delectable years of intellectual development, and
arduous study, and high hope, and patient, strenuous endeavour! The man
sitting with knitted hands and tense brain and staring eyes there in the
darkening room groaned aloud as he looked back. Nobody envied that
broad-shouldered, lean-flanked, bright-eyed young fellow his successes.
Companions shared his triumphs, lecturers and professors came down from
their high pedestals of dignity to help him on. When he obtained his
London University diploma with honours for a thesis of exceptional merit,
he had already held the post of principal anæsthetist at St. Stephen's
Hospital for a year. Now, a vacancy occurring upon the Junior staff of
surgeons to the Hospital's in-patient Department, Owen Saxham, M.D., was
chosen to fill it. This brought Mildred very near.

For he was very much in love. The hot red blood in his veins had carried
him away sometimes upon a mad race for pleasure, but he was clean of soul
and free from the taint of vice, inherited or acquired, and the Briton's
love of home was strong in him. And wedded love had always seemed to him a
beautiful and gracious thing; and fatherhood a glorious privilege. Stern
as he seemed, grave and quiet and undemonstrative as he was, the youngest
and shyest children did not shrink from him. The pink rose-leaf tongue
peeped from between the budding rows of teeth, and the innocent
considering eyes questioned him only a moment before the smile came. To be
the father of Mildred's children seemed the lofty end of all desire that
was not mere worldly ambition.

Mildred was the elder daughter of a county neighbour down in Dorsetshire.
She had known Owen Saxham from her school-days, but never until he took to
calling at the house in Pont Street, to which Mildred, with her
family--mere satellites revolving in the orbit of that shining star of
Love--migrated in the Season. She was tall, slight, and willowy, with a
sweet head that drooped a little, and round brown eyes that were extremely
pretty and wore a perpetual expression of surprise. She was rather anæmic,
preferred croquet to lawn-tennis--then the rage--and kept a journal, after
the style of an American model. But the space which Mary McMullins cribbed
from Mary McMullins to devote to a description of the bathroom in which
the ablutions of her family were performed, and a vivid word-picture of
their tooth-brushes ranged in a row, and their recently wrung-out garments
in the act of taking the air upon the back-garden clothes-line, was all
devoted to Mildred in Mildred's journal. In it Owen found a place. He was
described as a blend between "Rochester" in "Jane Eyre" and "Bazarov" in
Turgenev's "Fathers and Children." In one specially high-flown passage he
was referred to as a grim granite rock, to which the delicate
clematis-like nature of Mildred, clinging, was to envelop it with leaf and
blossom. She read him the passage one day. Their faces were very close
together as they sat upon the sofa in the pretty Pont Street drawing-room,
and his newly-bought engagement-ring gleamed on her long white hand....
The remembrance of that day made the Dop Doctor laugh out harshly in the
midst of his anguish. So trivial and so weak a thing had been that love of
hers on which he had founded the castle of his hopes and desires.

Now the aspiring young man bought a practice with some thousands advanced
by his father out of the younger son's portion that should be his one day.
It lay just where Hyde Park merges into Paddington. Here a medical man may
feel the pulse of Dives for gold, and look at the tongue of Lazarus for
nothing, and supply medicine into the bargain, if he be of kindly soul,
and this hopeful, rising surgeon and physician had an open hand and an
unsuspecting nature.

God! how much the worse for him. The sweat-drops ran down into the Dop
Doctor's eyes as he remembered that.

He set up his bachelor tent in Chilworth Street, furnishing the rooms he
meant to inhabit with a certain sober luxury. By-and-by the house could be
made pretty, unless Mildred should insist upon his moving to Wigmore
Street, or to Harley Street, that Mecca of the ambitious young
practitioner. Probably Mildred's people would insist upon Harley Street.
They were wealthy; their daughter would be quite an heiress, "another
instance of Owen's luck," as David, long ago gazetted to a crack Cavalry
regiment, would say, and Owen would laugh, and admit that, though he would
have been glad enough to take his young fair love without dower and
plenishing, it was pleasant enough to know that his wife would have an
independent fortune of her own. It was one of David's best jokes that Owen
was marrying Mildred for her money. David's ideas of humour were crude and
elemental. On the other hand, his manners were admirable, and his physical
beauty perfect of its type, though men and women turned oftenest to look
at the younger brother, whom the women called "plain, but so interesting,"
and the men "an uncommonly attractive sort of fellow, and as clever as
they make them." When the great crash came Owen Saxham, M.D., F.R.C.S.,
was about twenty-nine.

Do you care for a description of the man at his prime?

He was probably five feet ten in height, but his scholar's stoop robbed
him of an inch or more. The great breadth of the slightly-bowed shoulders,
the immense depth and thickness of the chest, gave his upper figure a
false air of clumsiness. His arms were long and powerful, terminating in
strong, supple, white hands, the hands of the skilled surgical operator;
his thick, smooth, opaque, white skin covered an admirable structure of
bone, knit with tough muscles, clothed with healthful flesh. One noticed,
seeing him walk, that his legs were bowed a little, because he had been
accustomed to the saddle from earliest childhood, though he rode but
seldom now, and one saw also that his small muscular feet gripped the
ground vigorously, through the glove-thin boots he liked to wear. He
showed no tendency to dandyism. His loosely-cut suits of fine, silky black
cloth were invariably of the same fashion. In abhorring jewellery, in
preferring white cashmere shirts, and strictly limiting the amount of
starch in the thin linen cuffs and collars, perhaps he showed a tendency
to faddism. David told him that he dressed himself like a septuagenarian
Professor. Mildred would have preferred dear Owen to pay a little more
attention to style and cut, and all that, though one did not, of course,
expect a man of science to look like a man of fashion. One couldn't have
everything, at least, not in this world....

She said that one day, standing beside the writing-table in the Chilworth
Street study, with David's portrait in her hand. It usually stood there,
in a silver frame--a coloured photograph of a young man of thirty, stupid,
and beautiful as the Praxitelean Hermes, resplendent in the gold and blue
and scarlet of a crack Dragoon Regiment. Owen stood upon the hearthrug,
for once in Mildred's company, and not thinking of Mildred. And with tears
rising in her round, pretty, foolish eyes the girl looked from the face
and figure enclosed within the silver frame, to the face and bust that had
for background the high mantel-mirror in its carved frame of Spanish oak.

There was the square black head bending forwards--"poking," she termed
it--upon the massive, bowed shoulders; the white face, square too, with
its short, blunt, hooked nose and grim, determined mouth and jaws, showing
the bluish grain of the strong beard and moustache that Owen kept closely
shaven. The heavy forehead, the smutty brows overshadowing eyes of clear,
vivid, startling Alpine blue, the close small ears, the thick white
throat, were very, very unattractive in Mildred's eyes--at least, in
comparison with the three-volume-novel charms of the grey-eyed,
golden-moustached, classically-featured, swaggering young military dandy
in the coloured photograph. David had been with his regiment in India when
Owen had first seemed to be a good deal attracted to Pont Street. He had
wooed Mildred with dogged persistency, and won her without perceptible
triumph, and Mildred had been immensely flattered at first by the conquest
of this man, whom everybody said was going to be famous, great,
distinguished ... and now ... the wedding-day was coming awfully near. And
how on earth was it possible for a girl to tell a man with Owen's
dreadfully grim, sarcastic mouth, and those terrible blue eyes that
sometimes looked through and through you--that she preferred his brother?

Poor, dear, beautiful, devoted David! so honourable, so shocked at the
discovery that his passion was reciprocated, so very romantically in love.
Only the day previously, calling in at Pont Street at an hour unusual for
him, Owen had found them together, Mildred and David, who, having been
unexpectedly relieved of duty by an accommodating brother-officer, had, as
he rather laboriously explained, run up from Spurhambury for the day. It
was an awfully near thing, the guilty ones agreed afterwards, but Owen had
suspected nothing. These swell scientific men were often a little bit slow
in the uptake....

But to-day--to-day their dupe saw clearly. He recalled the Pont Street
incident, and the flushed faces of the couple. He saw once more the
silver-framed photograph in the girl's hand, he felt the mute
disparagement of her glance, and was conscious of the relief with which it
left him to settle on the portrait again. Ah, how unsuspicious he had been
whom they were duping! Doubtless Mildred would not have had the courage to
own the truth, doubtless she would have married him but for the scandal of
the Trial. He wrenched his knitted hands together until the joints
cracked. She would have married him, and forgotten David. He, the man of
will, and power, and patience would have possessed her, stamped himself
like a seal upon her heart and mind, given her other interests, other
hopes, other desires, children, and happiness. But for the Trial the
little germinating seed of treachery would never have grown up and borne
fruit.

Had it been treachery, after all? Far, far too grand the word. Who would
expect a modern woman to practise the obsolete virtue of Fidelity? Fool,
do you expect your miniature French bulldog or your toy-terrier to dive in
and swim out to you, and hold your drowning carcase up, should you happen
to become cramped while bathing in the sea? The little, feeble, pretty,
feather-brained thing, what can it do but whimper on the shore while you
are sinking, perhaps be consoled upon a friendly stranger's lap while your
last bubbles are taking upward flight, and your knees are drawing inwards
in the final contraction? Happy for the little creature if the kindly
stranger carry it away!

Poor, pretty, foolish Mildred, whose gentle predilections were as threads
of gossamer compared with the cable-ropes of stronger women's passions!
She had nestled into the strong protecting arm, and dried her tears for
the old master on the sleeve of the new one, whimpering a little, gently,
just like the toy-terrier bitch or the miniature bull.

And yet he had once seen a creature tinier and feebler than either of
these, a mere handful of yellow floss-silk curls, defend its insensible
master with frenzy, as the sick man lay in the deadly stupor of cerebral
congestion, from those who sought to aid. Valet and nurse and doctor were
held at bay until that snapping, foaming, raging speck of love and
devotion and fidelity had been whelmed in a travelling-rug, and borne away
to a distant room, from whence its shrill, defiant, imploring barks and
yelps could be heard night and day until, its owner being at last
conscious and out of danger, the tiny creature was set free.

Ergo, there are small things and small things. Beside that epic atom
Mildred dwindled inconceivably.

And David ... David, who had shaken his handsome head sorrowfully over his
brother's ruined career, who had been horribly sick at the scandal,
shudderingly alive to the disgrace, sorrowfully, regretfully compelled to
admit that the evidence of guilt was overwhelming ... he did not trust
himself to think of David overmuch. That way of thought led to Cain's
portion in the very pit of Hell. For six months subsequently to the
finding of the Jury in the well-known criminal case, The Crown _v._
Saxham, David had married Mildred. If she had been innocent of actual
treachery, here was the smooth, brotherly betrayer, unmasked and loathly
in the sight of the betrayed.

How quietly the storm-clouds had piled up on his bright horizon at the
close of his second year of active, brilliant, successful work!

The first lightning-flash, the first faint mutter of thunder, had passed
almost unnoticed. Then the tempest broke, and the building wrought by a
strong man's labours, and toils, and hopes, and joys, and dolours had been
lifted, and torn, and rent, and scattered as a hill-bothy of poles and
straw-bundles, or a moorland shelter of heather and bushes is scattered by
the fury of a northern mountain-blast.

His practice had become a large and, despite the many claims of Lazarus at
the gates, a lucrative one by the commencement of his third year of
residence in Chilworth Street. It was the end of April. He was to be
married to Mildred in July. That move to Harley Street had been decided
upon, the house taken and beautified. Though his love for her was not
demonstrative or romantic, it was deep, and tender, and strong, and
hopeful, and Life to this man had seemed very sweet--five years ago. He
was successful professionally and socially. He had been chosen to assist a
surgeon of great eminence in the performance of a critical operation upon
a semi-Royalty. He had written, and publishers had published, a remarkable
work. "The Diseases of Civilisation" had been greeted by the scientific
reviewers with a chorus of praise, passed through four or five
editions--had been translated into several European languages; and his
"Text-Book of Clinical Surgery" had been recommended to advanced students
by the leading professors of the Medical Schools when the horrible thing
befell.



XIV


It was in '94, when even the electro-motor was not in general use, and the
petrol-driven machine was slowly convincing Paris and New York of its
magnificent possibilities. Saxham used a smart, well-horsed, hired
brougham for day-visits, and for night work a motor-tricycle. There were
no stables to the house in Chilworth Street. He left the motor-tricycle at
the place where he had bought it second-hand. The machine was cleaned and
kept in order, and brought to his door by one of the employés at a certain
hour, for a fixed weekly sum paid to the proprietor of the establishment,
Bough by name, an Englishman born in the Transvaal, who had quite
recently, or so he gave out, emigrated from South Africa, and set up in
London as a cycle-seller and repairer, though there were not many cycles
at the shop. Heavy packing-cases and crates were always being delivered
there, and always being despatched from thence, via Cape Town and Port
Elizabeth and Delagoa Bay to the Transvaal, Bough being agent, or so he
said, for several South African firms engaged in the transport of
agricultural machines. Bough had a wife, a large-eyed, delicate-looking,
pretty little woman, who seemed afraid of the big, muscular, tanned fellow
of thirty-eight or so, with the odd light eyes, and the smooth manner, and
the ready smile, and the short, expert, hairy, cruel-looking hands. He had
seen life, had Bough, at the goldfields and at the diamond-mines, and as a
trooper through the Zulu and Matabele campaigns, and he was ready to talk
about what he had seen. Still there were reservations about Bough, and
mysteries. The Doctor suspected him of being brutal to his wife, and would
not have been surprised any morning upon receiving the news of the man's
arrest as one of a gang of forgers, or coiners, or burglars. But he lived
and let live, and whatever else the big Afrikander may have been, he was
an excellent workman at his trade.

One evening Bough rode round on the motor-tricycle himself, and mentioned
casually that his wife was ailing. The Doctor, in the act of mounting the
machine, put a brief question or two, registered the replies in the
automatic sub-memory he kept for business, and told the man to send her
round at ten o'clock upon the following morning.

She came, punctual to the hour, and was shown into Owen's
consulting-room--a little woman with beautiful, melancholy eyes and a
pretty figure. Illiterate, common, affected, and vain to a degree,
hideously misusing the English language in that low, dulcet voice of hers,
ludicrous in her application of the debatable aspirate to words in the
spelling of which it has no part.

Rather an absurd little person, Mrs. Bough. Yet, a tragic little person,
in Saxham's eyes at least, by the time she had made her errand plain.

He heard her tell the tale that was not new to him. Cultured, highly-bred
women had made such appeals to him before, and without shame. How should
this little vulgar creature be expected to have more conscience than they?

They beat about the bush longer, they put the thing more prettily. They
spoke of their frail physical health and their husbands' great anxiety,
and quoted the long-ago expressed opinion of ancient family physicians,
who possibly turned uneasily in their decent graves. But the gist of the
whole was, that they did not want children, and Dr. Saxham had such a
great and justly-earned reputation in skilful and delicate operations ...
and, in short, would he not be compliant and oblige? They would pay
anything. Money was positively no object.

How many such tempting sirens sing in the ears of young, rising
professional men, who are hampered by honourable debts which threaten to
impede and drag them down; who are possessed of high ideals and moral
scruples, which, not being essentially, fundamentally embedded and
ingrained in the conscience of the man, may possibly be argued away; who
have not implanted in their souls and hearts the high reverence for
motherhood and the deep tenderness for helpless infancy that distinguished
Owen Saxham!

He heard this woman out, as he had heard all the others. He began as he
had begun with every one of them--the delicate, titled aristocrats, the
ambitious Society beauties, the popular actresses, the women who envied
these and read about them in the illustrated interviews published in the
fashion-papers, and sighed to be interviewed also--to not one of these had
he weighed out one drachm less of the bitter salutary medicine that he now
administered to Mrs. Bough.

He invariably began with the personal peril and the inevitable risk.
Strange how they ignored it, blinded themselves to it, thrust it, the
grinning, threatening Death's-head, on one side. Of course, he talked like
that! It was most candid of him, and most conscientious. But if they were
willing to take the risk--and antiseptic surgery had made such _huge_
strides in these days that the risk was a mere nothing.... Besides, there
was not really need for anything like an operation, was there? He could
prescribe the kind of dose that ought to be taken, and everything would
then be all right.

He would open that grim mouth of his yet again, and speak even more to the
purpose. To these mothers who did not wish to be mothers, who threw the
gift of Heaven back in the face of Heaven, preferring artificial
barrenness to natural fecundity, and who made of their bodies, that should
have brought forth healthy, wholesome sons and daughters of their race,
tombs and sepulchres--to these he told the truth, in swift, sharp,
trenchant sentences, that, like the keen sterilised blade of the surgical
knife, cut to heal. When they argued with him, saying that the thing was
done, that everybody knew it was done, and that it always would be done,
by other men as brilliant as, and less scrupulous than, the homilist; he
admitted the force of their arguments. Let other men of his great calling
pile up and amass wealth, if they chose, by tampering with the unclean
thing. Owen Saxham would none of it. At this juncture the woman would have
hysterics of the weeping or the scolding kind, or would be convinced of
the righteousness of the forlorn cause he championed, or would pretend the
hysterics or the conviction. Generally she pretended to the latter, and
swam or stumbled out, pulling down her veil to mask the rage and hatred in
her haggard eyes, and went to that other man. Then, after a brief absence
accounted for as a "rest cure," she would shine forth again upon her
world, smiling, triumphant, prettier than ever, since she had begun to
make up a little more. Or, as a woman who had passed through the Valley of
the Shadow, with only her own rod and staff of vanity and pride to comfort
her, she would emerge from that seclusion a nervous wreck, and take to
pegging or chloral or spiritualism. Most rarely she would not emerge at
all, and then her women friends would send wreaths for the coffin and
carriages to the funeral, and would whisper mysteriously together in their
boudoirs, and look askance upon the doctor who had attended her. For of
course he had bungled shockingly, or everything would have gone off as
right as rain for that poor dear thing!

Little Mrs. Bough was of the type of woman that pretends to be convinced.
She had cried bitterly in the beginning, as she confessed to Saxham that
she was not really married to Bough, and that the said Bough, whom Saxham
had always suspected of being a scoundrel, would certainly go off with
"one of them other women and leave her if she went and 'ad a byby." She
cried even more bitterly afterwards, as she wondered how she ever could 'a
dreamed o' being that wicked! Bough might kill her--that he might!--or go
back to South Africa without her; she never would give in, not now. Never
now--the Doctor might depend upon that, she assured him, drying her
swollen eyes with a cheap lace-edged handkerchief loaded with patchouli.
She was shaken and nervous, and in need of a sedative, and Saxham, having
the drugs at hand, made her up a simple draught, unluckily omitting to
make a memorandum of the prescription in his pocket-book, and gave her the
first dose of it before she went away, profuse in thanks, and carrying the
bottle.

And he saw his waiting patients, and stepped into his waiting brougham,
and, having for once no urgent call upon his professional attention, dined
with Mildred at Pont Street, and was coaxed into promising to take her to
the opening performance of a classic play which was to be revived three
nights later at a fashionable West End theatre. Mildred had set her heart
upon being seen in a box at this particular function, and Saxham had had
some trouble to gratify her wish.

He remembered with startling clearness every remote detail of that night
at the theatre. Mildred had looked exquisitely fair and girlish in her
white dress, with a necklace of pearls he had given her rising and falling
on the lovely virginal bosom, where the lover's eyes dwelt and lingered in
the masterful hunger of his heart. Soon, soon, that hunger of his for
possession would be gratified! It was April, and at the end of July, when
work was growing slack, they would be married. They were going North for
the honeymoon. A wealthy and grateful patient of Saxham's had placed at
his disposal a grey, historic Scotch turret-mansion, standing upon mossy
lawns, with woods of larch and birch and ancient Spanish chestnuts all
about it, looking over the silver Tweed. In the heat and hurry of his
daily round of work, Saxham, who had spent an autumn holiday at this
place, would find himself dreaming about it. The smell of the heather
would spice the air that was no longer hot and sickly with the effluvia of
the city, and the hum of the drowsy black bees, and the cooing of the
wood-pigeons would replace the din of the London traffic, and Mildred's
eyes would be looking into his, and her cool, fragrant lips would be
freely yielded, and her arms would be about his neck, and all those secret
aspirations and yearnings and dreams of wedded joy would be realised at
last.

He grinned to himself sitting there in the hot darkness of the South
African night, the great white stars and the vast purple dome they
throbbed in shut out of sight by the miserable little gaily-papered
ceiling with its cornice of gilt wood, remembering that everything had
ended there. Thenceforth no more hopes, no dreams, for the man whom Fate
and Destiny, hitherto propitious and obliging, had conspired to lash with
scourges, and drive with goads, and hound with despairs and horrors to the
sheer brink where Madness waits to hurl the desperate over upon the jagged
rocks below.

He supped with them at Pont Street. Mildred came down to say good-night at
the door.

"Have you been happy?" he had asked, framing the sweet young face in
tender hands, and looking in the pretty, gentle brown eyes.

"You have been so very dear and kind to-night," she had answered, "how
could I have helped being happy? And He"--she meant the Semitic
actor-manager, whom she romantically adored; whose thick, flabby features
and pale gooseberry orbs, thickly outlined in blue pencil, eyebrowed with
brown grease-paint; whose long, shapeless body, eloquent, expressive
hands, and legs that were very good as legs go, taking them separately,
but did not match, had been that night, his admirers declared, moved and
possessed by the very spirit of Shakespearean Tragedy--"He was so great!
Don't you agree with me--marvellously great?"

Saxham had laughed and kissed the enthusiast. It had appeared to him a
dreary performance enough, or it would have, had it not been for Mildred
and the dear glamour with which her presence had invested the great
gilded auditorium, with its rows of bored, familiar, notable faces in the
stalls, representing Society, Art, Literature, Music, and Finance; its pit
and gallery crowded with organised bodies of theatre-goers, one party
certain to boo where the other applauded, riot and disorder the inevitable
result, unless by a coincidence rare as snow at Midsummer the rival
associations might be won upon to display a unanimity of approval, upon
which the dramatic Press-critics would rapturously descant in the
newspapers next morning.



XV


Saxham said his lingering sweet good-night, and shut Mildred into the
warm, lighted hall, and ran down the steps, and hailed a passing hansom,
and was driven back to Chilworth Street. It had rained, and the heat,
excessive for April, had abated, and the wise, experienced stars looked
down between drifting veils of greyish vapour upon the little human lives
passing below.

As he jumped down at his door and paid his cabman, his quick eye noticed a
bicycle leaning against the area-railings. One of his poorer patients was
waiting for the Doctor. Or a messenger had been sent to summon him. He let
himself into the lighted hall, whistling the pretty plaintive melody of
Ophelia's song.

A woman sat on the oak bench under the electric globe, her little
huddled-up figure making rather a sordid blotch of drab against the
strong, rich background of the wall, coloured Pompeian red, and hung with
fine old prints in black frames. Her tawdry hat lay beside her, her
haggard eyes were set, staring at the opposite wall; her lower jaw hung
lax; the saliva dribbled from the corner of her underlip; her yellow,
rigid hands gripped the edge of the bench. It was the woman who passed as
the wife of the man Bough. And in instant, vivid, wrathful realisation of
the desperate reason of her being there, Saxham cried out so loudly that
the servant who had let her in and was waiting up for his master in the
basement heard the words:

"Are you mad? What do you mean by coming here? Haven't I told you that I
will have nothing to do with you and your affairs...."

The voice that issued from her blue lips might have been a scream, judging
by the wrung anguish of the awful face she turned upon him; but it was no
more than a dry, clicking whisper that the now listening servant could
barely hear:

"Don't be 'ard on a woman ... hin trouble, Doctor."

"Hard on you.... On the contrary, I have been too considerate," he said,
steeling his heart against pity. "You must go home to your husband, Mrs.
Bough, or apply elsewhere for medical advice. I have none to give you."

His square face was very stern as he took the cab-whistle from the
hall-salver, that was packed with cards and notes, and letters that had
come by the last post, and a telegram or two. She moaned as he laid his
hand on the knob of the hall-door.

"It wasn't my doings, Doctor.... Hi told Bough what you said. Hi did,
faithful ... an' 'e swore if you wasn't the man to do what 'e wanted, 'e'd
be damned but 'e'd find a woman as would! And she come next night--a
little, shabby, white-faced, rat-nosed hold thing, shiverin' an' shakin'.
Five pounds she 'ad of Bough, shakin' an' shiverin'. An' he wasn't to send
no more to the haddress he knew, because she wouldn't be there. Always
move hout ... she says, after a fresh job! Oh, my Gawd! An' Bough, he
hordered me, an' Hi 'ad to give in. An' to-night Hi reckoned Hi was dyin'
an' 'e said Hi best harsk you, 'e was about fed up with women an' their
blooming sicknesses. So Hi biked 'ere because Hi couldn't walk. An'
now!..." She groaned: "Hi _ham_ dyin', aren't Hi?"

Even to an observation less skilled than that of the expert medical
practitioner the signs of swift and speedy dissolution were written on the
insignificant, once pretty, little face. Dying, the miserable little
creature had ridden to Chilworth Street, hastening her own inevitable end
by the stupendous act of folly, and ensuring Saxham's. That certainty had
pierced him, even as the first horrible convulsion seized her and wrenched
her sideways off the bench. He caught her, and shouted for his man, and
they carried her into the consulting-room, and laid her on a sofa, and he
did what might be done, knowing that his mercy on her involved swift and
pitiless retribution upon himself. Mrs. Bough died three hours later, as
the grey dawn straggled through the blinds, and the men with the district
ambulance waited at the door, and Dr. Owen Saxham went about his work that
day with a strange sensation of expecting some heavy blow that was about
to fall. It fell upon the day following the Coroner's Inquest. He was
sitting down to breakfast when a Superintendent of Police arrested him
upon a warrant from Scotland Yard.

His servant, very pale, had announced that the Superintendent wished to
see the Doctor. The Superintendent was in the room, courteously saluting
Saxham, before the man had fairly got out the words.

"Good-morning, sir. A pleasant day!"

"Unlike the business that brings you here, I think, Mr. Superintendent?"
said Saxham, with his square jaw set. His man spilt the coffee and hot
milk over the cloth in trying to fill his master's cup. "You are nervous,
Tait. You had better go downstairs, I think, unless----" Saxham looked
interrogatively at the burly, officially-clad figure of the Law.

"No, sir, thank you. We do not at present require your man, but it is my
duty to tell him that he had better not be out of the way, in case his
testimony is wanted."

"You hear?" said Saxham; and as white-faced Tait fled, trembling, to the
lower regions: "Of course, you are here," he went on, pouring out the
coffee himself with a firm hand, and looking steadily at the
Superintendent, "with regard to the case of Mrs. Bough? I have expected
that a magistrate's inquiry would follow the Inquest. It seemed only
natural----"

The Superintendent interrupted, holding up a large hand.

"It is my duty to tell you, Dr. Saxham, that everything you say will be
taken down and used against you in evidence."

"Naturally," said Saxham, putting sugar in his coffee. The sugar was used
against him. It amused him now to remember that. The Superintendent had
never seen a gentleman more cool, he told the magistrate.

"You see, sir, this Case has been fully considered by the authorities, and
it has an ugly look; and it has therefore been decided to charge you with
causing the death of the woman Bough by an illegal act, performed here, in
your consulting-room, on the twentieth instant, when she visited you ..."

"For the first time," put in Saxham quietly.

"That may be or may not be," said the Superintendent. "You were often at
her husband's place of business, you know, and may have seen her or not
seen her."

"As she used to be in Bough's shop, it is possible that a great many of
the man's customers besides myself did see her," Saxham went on, eating
his breakfast.

"One of my men out there in the hall--I've noticed you looking towards the
door----" began the Superintendent.

"Wondering what the shuffling and breathing at the keyhole meant?" said
Saxham quietly. "Thank you for explaining."

"One of my men will fetch a cab when you have finished breakfast, and
then, sir," said the Superintendent, "I am afraid I must trouble you to
come with me to Paddington Police Station."

"Very well," said Saxham, frowning, "unless you object to using my
brougham, which will be at the door"--he looked at his silver table-clock,
a present from a grateful patient--"in ten minutes' time."

"I don't at all mind that, sir," agreed the obliging Superintendent; "and
the men can follow in the cab. Any objection?"

Saxham had winced and flushed scarlet to the hair.

"For God's sake, don't make a procession of it! Let things be kept as
quiet as possible for the sake of my--family--and--my friends." He thought
with agony of Mildred. They were to be married in July, unless----

The Superintendent coughed behind his glove. "The question of Bail will
rest with the magistrate, of course," he said. "But I should expect that
it would be admitted, upon responsible persons entering into the customary
recognisances."

Saxham rose. He had drunk the coffee, but he could not eat. "Like all the
rest of them, in spite of his show of coolness," thought the
Superintendent.

"I will ask you for time to telephone to some friends who will, I have no
doubt, be willing to give the required undertaking, and arrange for a
colleague to visit my patients. You will take a glass of wine while I step
into the next room? The telephone is there, on the writing-table."

"And a loaded revolver in the drawer underneath, and poisons of all kinds
handy on the shelves of a neat little cabinet," thought the
Superintendent. But he said: "With pleasure, sir, only I must trouble you
to put up with my company."

A tingling thrill of revulsion ran through Saxham. He set his teeth, and
conquered the furious, momentary impulse to knock down this big, burly,
smooth-spoken blue-uniformed official.

"Ah, very well. The usual procedure in cases of this kind. Please come
this way. But take a glass of wine first. There are glasses on the
sideboard there, and claret and port in those decanters."

"To your very good health, Dr. Saxham, sir, and a speedy and favourable
ending to--the present--difficulty." The Superintendent emptied a bumper
neatly, and with discreet relish, and followed Saxham into the
consulting-room, and once more, at the sound of the measured footfall
padding behind him over the thick carpet, the suspect's blood surged madly
to his temples, and his hands clenched until the nails drove deep into the
palms. For from that moment began the long, slow torture of watching and
following, and dogging by the suspicious, vigilant, observant Man In Blue.

A Treasury Prosecution succeeded the Police-Court Inquiry, and the accused
was formally arrested upon the criminal charge, and committed to Holloway
pending the Trial. The Trial took place before Mr. Justice Bodmin in the
following July, occupying five days of oppressive heat in the thrashing
out of that vexed question, the guilt or innocence of Owen Saxham, M.D.,
F.R.C.S. who for airless, stifling years of weeks had eaten and drunk and
slept and waked in the Valley of the Shadow of Penal Servitude. Who was
conveyed from the dock to the cell and from the cell to the dock by
warders and policemen, rumbling through back streets and unfrequented ways
in a shiny prison-van. Who came at last to look upon the Owen Saxham of
this hideous prison nightmare, the man of whom the Counsel for the Crown
reared up, day by day, a monstrously-distorted figure, as quite a
different person from the other innocent man whom the defending advocate
described in flowery, pathetic sentences as a martyr and the victim of an
unheard-of combination of adverse circumstances.

Things went badly. The case against the prisoner looked extremely black.
That monstrous figure of Owen Saxham, based upon an ingenious hypothesis
of guilt, and plastered over with a marvellous mixture of truths and
falsities, facts and conjectures, grew uglier and more sinister every day.

The principal witness, the bereaved husband of the hapless victim, dressed
in deep mourning and neatly handled by Counsel, evoked a display of
handkerchiefs upon his every appearance in the witness-box, from the smart
Society women seated near the Bench. Many of them had been Saxham's
patients. Several had made love to him, nearly all of them had made much
of him, and quite an appreciable number of them had asked him to be
accommodating, and render them temporarily immune against the menace of
Maternity. These had received a curt refusal, accompanied with wholesome
advice, for which they revenged themselves now, in graceful womanly
fashion, by being quite sure the wretched man was guilty. More than
possible, was it not? they whispered behind their palm-leaf fans: it was
sultry weather, and the vendors of these made little fortunes, hawking
them outside. Was it not more than possible that he had been the dead
woman's lover? The Crown Counsel improved on this idea. Wretched little
Mrs. Bough, of infinitesimal account in Life, had become through Death a
person of importance. Much was made out of the fact that she had gone to
Chilworth Street some days previously to her deplorable ending, and
remained closeted with Dr. Saxham for some time. He had supplied her with
a bottle of medicine upon her leaving--medicine of which no memorandum was
to be found in his notes for the day. She had taken the first dose then
and there. According to the testimony of the Accused, the bottle had
contained a harmless bromide sedative. Upon the oath of the Public
Analyst, the same bottle, handed by the husband of the deceased woman to
the Police upon the night of her death, and now produced in Court with two
or three doses of dark liquid remaining in it, contained a powerful
solution of ergotoxine--a much less innocent drug. Who should presume to
doubt its administration by the Prisoner, when the label bore directions
in his own characteristic handwriting? Who should dare to affirm his
innocence, seeing that to him his victim had hastened, almost in the act
of death, begging him, with her expiring breath, "not to be hard on a
woman," who had ignorantly trusted him, Gentlemen of the Jury! only to
find, too late, the deceptive nature of his specious promises? A whip,
cried the Bard of Avon, England's glorious, immortal Shakespeare, should
be placed in every honest hand to lash such scoundrels naked through the
world! Let that whip, in the honest hands of twelve good Britons, be--the
verdict of guilt! The Counsel for the Crown, red-hot and perspiring, sat
down mopping his streaming face, for it was tropical weather, with the
white handkerchief of a blameless life. Irrepressible applause followed,
round upon round thudding against the dingy yellow-white walls, beating
against the dirty barred skylight of the stifling, close-packed Court.
Then the Judge interposed, and the clapping of hands and thumping of stick
and sunshade ferrules upon the dirty floor died down, and the Counsel for
the Defence got up to plead for his man, who, by the way, he firmly
believed to be guilty.

That remembrance made the Dop Doctor merry again, this scorching night in
Gueldersdorp, five years later. But it was ugly mirth, especially when he
recalled his agony of sympathy upon hearing, through her mother, that
Mildred was ill in bed. Ah! how he hated the simpering, whispering,
sneering, giggling women in Court when he pictured her, his innocent
darling, his sweet girl, suffering for love of him and sorrow for him.
David, detained by onerous duties at Regimental Headquarters throughout
the whole of the Case, wrote chilly but fraternally expressed letters on
blue official paper. Of his mother, of his father, Owen dared not think.
Innocent as he was, the shame of his position, the obloquy of the Trial,
must be a branding shame to them for ever.

It had killed them, the Dop Doctor remembered, within a few years of each
other--the hale old Squire and Madam, his Welsh wife, feared by the South
Dorset village folks for her caustic tongue, beloved for her generous
heart, her liberal nature. It was Mildred who he had believed would die if
the Verdict went against him--Mildred, who had consoled herself so quickly
and so well--Mildred, whom he had held a spotless blossom of Paradise, a
young saint in purity and singleness of heart, in comparison with those
other women.

Bah! what a besotted idiot he had been! She was as they were. The nodding
of their towering hats was before his eyes; the subdued titter that
accompanied their whispered comments was in his ears; the lavender, white
rose, and violet essences with which they perfumed their baths and
sprinkled their clothes were in his nostrils; suffocatingly, as his
Counsel went on pleading. The intention of his trenchant cross-questioning
of Bough, who had lied from the beginning, like a true son of the Devil,
his father, showed plainly now. Little by little the evidence accumulated.

Here, free and unsuspect and doing his best to send another man to Penal
Servitude, was the man who had all to gain by fixing the guilt upon the
Accused. He had sent the woman, his mistress, to the prisoner; he had
resented the prisoner's refusal to commit or to abet a dangerous and
illegal operation. He had compelled his hapless victim to submit herself
to the hands of a wretch who lived by such deeds. Possibly he had sickened
of his poor toy--he had told her as much. Possibly he had determined, by a
bold and daring stroke, to free himself of a wearisome burden, and let
another man pay the penalty for his own crime. The substitution of the
lethal drug found in the bottle for the harmless bromide mixture given to
Mrs. Bough by Dr. Saxham would naturally suggest itself to such a wretch,
whose calculating cleverness had been crowned with success by the
culminating masterstroke, admirable in its simplicity, damnable in its
fiendish cunning, of sending the unhappy woman whose deliberate murder he
had really planned and carried out, to die upon the threshold of the
innocent victim of this diabolical plot. Let those who heard hesitate
before they played into the hands of a villain by condemning the blameless
to suffer! Let them look at the young man before them, whose hard work had
won him, early in life, his brilliant position as one of the recognised
pioneers of the new School of Surgery, as an admitted authority on
Clinical Medicine, whose wedding-bells--the handkerchiefs came out at
this--had rung to-morrow but for this harrowing and bitter stroke of
adverse Destiny. Which would they have? Let the Jury decide for Christ or
Barabbas! He spoke in all reverence, because the upright, innocent,
charitable, self-denying life of a diligent healer of men would support
the analogy of Christ-likeness beside that of the principal witness in
this Case, the evil liver, the slanderer, the ex-thief and burglar, the
English ticket-of-leave man who had emigrated to South Africa eighteen
years previously, had enlisted under a false name in the Cape Mounted
Police, had deserted, been traced to Kimberley, and there lost sight of,
and who, under the name of Bough, had recently returned to England, giving
himself out as an Afrikander, and setting up in business in London upon
the accumulated savings of a career most probably in keeping with his
abominable record.

Warders from Wormwood Scrubbs and Portland Prisons were there to swear to
the identity of Abraham Brake, _alias_ Lister, _alias_ Bough, whose
photographs, thumb-prints, and measurements an official from the Criminal
Identification Department of Scotland Yard was prepared to place before
the Court, for whose re-arrest, as a ticket-of-leave man who had failed to
keep in proper touch with the Police, an officer with a warrant waited.
What, then, was to be the Verdict of the Jury? Was Dr. Owen Saxham
innocent or guilty? If innocent, then, in the name of God, let him go
forth from bondage, to the unutterable relief of those who waited in
anguish for the Verdict. His father, his mother, and the fair young
girl--the Court was drowned in tears at this last touching reference,
even his Lordship the Judge being observed to remove and wipe eyeglasses
that were gemmy with emotion, as Counsel dwelt upon the touching picture
of the sorrowing bride-elect, whose orange-blossoms had been blighted by
the breath of this hideous, this unbearable, this most unfounded
charge....



XVI


The Judge summed up, with an evident bias in favour of the Accused. An old
advocate in criminal causes, his Lordship had formed his own opinion of
the principal witness for the Crown, though there was no evidence to prove
the guilt of the astute Mr. Abraham Brake, _alias_ Lister, _alias_ Bough.

The Jury retired, to return immediately. The Verdict "Not Guilty" was
received with applause and cheers. Bough departed, to pay the prison
penalty of not keeping in touch with the Police.... More cheers, strongly
deprecated by the Judge. The Dop Doctor could hear that ironical clapping
and braying five years off. It was over, over! He was free! Oh, the
mockery of the word!

His Counsel shook his hand warmly, and several old friends and colleagues
pressed round him with hearty congratulations. Then a telegram was handed
to him.

"No bad news, I hope," said the advocate who had defended, seeing Saxham's
lips blanch. "You have had enough trouble to last for some time, I
imagine?"

"It appears as if my measure was not quite full enough," said Saxham
quietly. "My father died suddenly last night, down at our place in South
Dorset. The wire says, 'An attack of cerebral hæmorrhage,' probably
brought on by worry and distress of mind over this damned affair of mine."
He ground his teeth together, and went on: "I must go to my mother without
delay. How soon can I get away from here?"

It was oddly difficult to realise that all the doors were open, and that
the following shadow of the Man In Blue would no longer dog his footsteps.
It was strange to drive home in the brougham of a friend to Chilworth
Street, and let himself into the dusty, neglected, close-smelling, shut-up
house. All the servants were out; probably they had been making holiday
through all the weeks that had preceded the Trial. His man returned as the
master finished packing a portmanteau for that journey down to
Dorsetshire. Saxham left him to finish while he changed his clothes and
scrawled a letter to Mildred. Nothing else but this death could have kept
him from hurrying to the embrace of those dear arms. As it was, he half
expected her to rush in upon him, stammering, weeping, clinging to him in
her overwhelming relief and gladness.... At every rumble and stoppage of
wheels in the street, at every ring, he made sure that she was coming. But
she did not come, and he sent his man to Pont Street with his letter, and
went down into Dorsetshire by special train from Waterloo, and found the
dead man's dogcart waiting for him, with the old bay cob in harness, and
the old coachman who had taught him to ride his pony, waiting, with a band
of crape about his sleeve, and drove through the deep, ferny lanes to the
old home standing in its mantle of midsummer leafage and blossom in the
wide gardens whose myrtle and lavender hedges overhung the beach below.
There was a little, old, bent, white-haired woman in a shabby black gown
and white India shawl waiting for him on the threshold, and only by the
indomitable, unquailing spirit that looked out of her bright black eyes
did Owen Saxham recognise his mother. She called him her David's dearest
son, and her own boy, and took both his hands, and drew his head down, and
kissed him solemnly upon the forehead.

"That is for your father, my dear," she said. "He never doubted you for
one moment, Owen. And this is for myself. We have both believed in you
implicitly throughout. We would not even write and tell you so. It would
have seemed, your father thought, like admitting, tacitly, that we doubted
our son. But other people believed you guilty, and oh! Owen, I think it
killed him!"

"I know that it has killed him," Owen Saxham said simply. The early
morning light showed to the mother's eyes the ravages wrought in her
son's face by the mental anguish and the physical strain of those terrible
weeks that were over, and Mrs. Saxham, for the first time since the
Squire's death, burst into a passion of weeping. Owen's eyes were dry,
even when he stooped to kiss the high, broad forehead of the grand old
grey head that lay upon the snowy, lavender-scented pillow in the cool,
airy death-chamber, where the perfume of the climbing roses that flowered
about the open casements came in drifts across the sharp, clean odour of
disinfectant.

Captain Saxham arrived late that night. His greeting of his brother was
stiff and constrained; his grey eyes avoided Owen's blue ones; he did not
refer to the events of the past ten weeks. He had always had a habit of
twisting and biting at one of the short, thick ends of his frizzy light
brown moustache. Now he wrenched and gnawed at it incessantly, and his
usually florid complexion had deteriorated to a muddy pallor. Black mufti
did not suit the handsome martial figure, and there is no dwelling so
wearisome as a house of mourning, when the servants move about on tiptoe,
wearing faces of funereal solemnity, and the afternoon tea-tray is carried
in in state, like the corpse of a domestic usage on its way to the
cemetery, with the silver spirit-kettle bubbling behind it as chief
mourner. But, as the elder son, there was plenty to occupy Captain Saxham.
There was business to be transacted with the Squire's solicitor, with his
bailiff, with one or two of the principal tenants. There were the
arrangements to be made for the Funeral, and for the extension of
hospitality to relatives and friends who came from a distance to attend
it. When it was over and the long string of County carriages had driven
home to their respective coach-houses, Owen Saxham returned to town.

"Give my dear love to Mildred. Tell her, if she grudged the first sight of
you to me, she will forgive me when she has a son of her own," his mother
said.

"You talk as though she were my wife!" he said, the bitter lines about his
set mouth softening in a smile.

"She would be but for what is past," said Mrs. Saxham. "She must be soon,
for your sake. Your father would have wished that there should be as
little delay as possible. Marry quietly at once, and take her abroad. If
she loves you, as I know she does, and must, she will not regret the
wedding-gown from Paquin's and the six bridesmaids in Directoire hats."



For that deferred wedding was to have been a gorgeous and impressive
function at St. George's, Hanover Square, with a Bishop in lawn sleeves to
pronounce the nuptial benediction, palms, Japanese lilies, smilax, and
white Rambler roses everywhere, while the celebrated "Non Angli sed
Angeli" choir of boy-choristers had been specially engaged to render the
anthem with proper fervour and give due effect to "The Voice that
Breathed."

Owen promised and went back to London. There were cards and envelopes upon
the salver in the hall, but not one from Mildred. That stabbed him to the
heart.... Not a line, O God!--not a written line, in answer to that letter
in which he told her of the acquittal, and of his father's death, and of
his own anguish at having to answer the stern call of filial duty, and
leave dear Love uncomforted by even one kiss after all these weeks of
famine, and hurry away to lay that grand grey head in the vault that
covered so many Saxhams. Not a line. But here was the letter, which his
idiot of a servant, demoralised by the recent catastrophe, had forgotten
to send on lying waiting upon the writing-table in his study. He snatched
at it in desperate haste, and tore the envelope open.



Her letter bore the date of that day. She said she had written before and
torn the confession up ... it was so difficult to be just to him and true
to herself.... It was a roundabout, involved, youthfully grandiloquent
epistle in which Mildred announced that her love for Owen was dead, that
nothing could ever resuscitate it; that she could not, would not, ever
marry him, and that she had returned in an accompanying packet his ring,
and presents, and letters, and would ever remain _his friend_ (underlined)
Mildred. In a rather wobbly postscript, she begged him not to write or to
attempt to see her, because her decision was irrevocable. She spelt the
word with only one _r_.

Saxham read the letter three times deliberately. The walls of the castle
he had built, and fondly believed to be a work of Cyclopean masonry, had
come tumbling about his ears, and lo! the huge blocks were only bits of
painted card, and the Lady of the Castle, his true love, was the false
Queen, after all. He folded up the letter and put it away in his
pocket-book, and went over to the mantel-glass and looked steadily at the
reflection of his own square face, haggard and drawn and ghastly, with
eyes of startling blue flaring out from under a scowling smudge of meeting
black eyebrows. He laughed harshly, and a mocking devil looked out of
those desperate eyes, and laughed back. He unlocked an oak-carved,
silver-mounted cellaret, and got out a decanter of brandy, and filled a
tumbler, and drank the liquor off. It numbed the unbearable mental agony,
though it had apparently no other effect. But probably he was drunk when
he rang the bell and said quietly to his man:

"Tait, do you believe there is a God?"

Tait's smooth, waxy countenance did not easily express surprise. He
answered, as though the question had been the most commonplace and
ordinary of queries:

"Can't say I do, sir. I reckon the parsons are responsible for floating
'Im, and that they made a precious good thing out of bearin' stock in
Heaven until the purchasers began to ask for delivery, and after that...."
He chuckled dryly. "I've lived with one or two of 'em, and, if I may say
so, sir--I know the breed!"

"He knows ... the breed ..." repeated Saxham heavily.

He asked another question, in the same thick, hesitating way, as he moved
across the carpet to the oak-and-silver cellaret.

"Tait, when things went damned badly with you, when that other man let you
in for the bill you backed for him, and that girl you were to have married
went off with someone else, what did you do to keep yourself from
brooding? Because you must have done something, man, as you're alive
to-day!"

Tait looked at his master dubiously as he poured out more brandy, and went
over and stood upon the hearthrug with his back to the empty fireplace,
drinking it in gulps. "I did what you're doing now, sir: I took a sight of
drink to keep the trouble down. And----" He hesitated.

"Go on," said Saxham, nodding over the tumbler.

"You're not like other gentlemen in your ways, sir," said smooth Tait,
"and that makes me 'esitate in saying it. But I took on a gay, agreeable
young woman of the free-and-easy sort, and went in for a bit o' pleasure,
and more drink along with it. One nail drives out another, you know, sir.
And if the young lady have thrown you hover----"

"Why, you damned, white-gilled, prying brute! you must have been reading
my correspondence," said Saxham thickly, as he lifted the tumbler to his
mouth.

Tait grinned. He could venture to tell his master, drunk, what he would
not have dared to tell him sober.

"No need for that, sir. I've come and gone between this house and Pont
Street too often not to know what was in the wind. Why, Captain Saxham was
there with her often and often when you never suspected...."

The tumbler fell from Saxham's hand, and struck the fender, and smashed
into a hundred glittering bits.

"Go!" said Tait's master, perfectly, suddenly, dangerously sober, and
pointing to the door. The man delayed to finish his sentence.

"While you were in Holloway, sir, and all through the Trial...."

The door, contrary to Tait's discreet, usual habit, had been left open. He
vanished through it with harlequin-like agility as a terrible, white-faced
black figure seemed to leap upon him....

"I've 'ad an escape for my life!" he said, having reached in a series of
bounds the safer regions below stairs.

"Of the Doctor?... Go on with your rubbishing nonsense!" said the cook.

"What did you go and do to upset 'im, pore dear?" demanded the housemaid,
who was more imaginative, and cherished the buddings of a romantic passion
for one who should be for ever nameless:

"Her at Pont Street has wrote to give 'im the go-by--that's what she've
done," said pale-faced Tait, wiping his dewy brow. "And seeing the Doctor
for the first time since I've been in his service a bit overtook with
liquor, and more free and easy like than customary--being a gentleman you
or me would 'esitate to take a liberty with in the ordinary way o'
things--I thought I'd let 'im know about the Goings On."

"Of them two...." interpolated the cook--"Her and the Captain?"

"Shameless, I call 'em!" exclaimed the incandescent housemaid as Tait
signified assent.

"'Aven't they kep' it dark, though!" wondered the cook.

"They're what I call," stated Tait, who had not quite got over the
desertion of the young woman he was to have married, and who had gone off
with somebody else, "a precious downy couple. And what I say is--it's a
Riddance!"

"How did 'e take it, pore dear?" gulped the housemaid.

"Like he's took everythink--that is, up to the present moment," admitted
Tait. "But this is about the last straw."

The housemaid dissolved in tears.

"He'll get another young lady," said the cook confidently. "And him so
'andsome an' so clever, an' with such heaps of carriage-swells for
patients."

Tait shook his prim, respectable head.

"The swells'll show their tongues to another man now, my gal, who 'asn't
the dirt of the Old Bailey on his coat-sleeve. Whistle for patients now,
that's what the doctor may. Why, every one of 'em has paid their bills,
and them that haven't have asked for their accounts to be sent in. And
it's 'Lady So-and-so presents her compliments,' instead of 'Dear Dr.
Saxham.' Done for, he is, at least as far as the West End's concerned....
Mind, I don't set up to be infallible, but experience justifies a certain
amount of cocksureness, and what I say is--Done for! Best he can do
is--sell the practice, and lease, and plate, and pictures, furniture, and
so on, for whatever he can get--the movables would have provoked spirited
biddin' at auction if the verdict had been Guilty, but, under the
circumstances, they won't bring a twentieth part of their valoo--and go
Abroad." Tait's gesture was large and vague.

"Foreign parts. Pore dear, it do seem cruel!" sighed the cook.

"And 'is young lady false to 'im, and all. I wonder he don't do away with
hisself," sobbed the housemaid. "I do, reely!"

"With all them wicked knives and deadly bottles handy," added the cook.

"Not him!" said Tait. "I'm ready to lay any man the sporting odd against
him committing sooicide. He's not the sort. Lord! what was that?"

That was only the oversetting of a chair upstairs.



XVII


While the servants talked in the kitchen the master had been sitting
quietly in the darkening study. All without and within the man was
eddying, swirling blackness. Heat beat and glowed upon his forehead, like
the radiation from molten metal; there was a winnowing and fanning as of
giant wings or leaping of furnace-fires. The blood in his throbbing
temples sang a dull, tuneless song. But presently he became aware of
another kind of singing.

It was a little hissing voice that came from the inside of the
oak-and-silver cellaret. And it sang a song that the man who sat near had
never heard before.

"Why think of the sharp lancet or the keen razor, why long for the swift
dismissing pang of the fragrant acid, or the leap down upon the
railway-track under the crushing, pulping iron wheels?" sang the little
voice. "I can give you Forgetfulness. I can bring you Death. Not that
death of the body which, for all you know, may mean a keener, more perfect
capability to live and suffer on the part of the Soul, stripped from the
earthly husk that has burdened and deadened it. The Death that is Death in
Life.... Here am I, ready to be your minister. Drink deep, and die!"

The man who heard lifted his white, wild, desperate face. The song came
more clearly.

"Wronged, outraged, betrayed of the God you blindly believed in and the
man and the woman who had your passionate love, your absolute faith, have
your revenge upon the One--as upon those two others. Degrade, cast down,
deface, the image of your Maker in you. Hurl back every gift of His,
prostitute and debase every faculty. Cease to believe, denying His Being
with the Will He forged and freed. Your Body, is it not your own, to do
with as you choose? Your Soul, is it not your helpless prisoner, while you
keep it in its cage of clay? Revenge, revenge, through the body and the
soul, upon Him who has mocked you! Do you not hear Him laugh as you sit
there desolate in the darkness--poor, broken reed that thought itself an
oak of might--alone, while your brother kisses the sweet lips that were
yours. David and Mildred are laughing too, at you. Hasten to efface every
memory of the lying kisses she has given you upon the bosoms of the
Daughters of Pleasure! Love, revel, drink! Drink, I say, and you will be
able to laugh at the One and the two...."

The little hissing voice drove Saxham mad. He leaped up, frenzied,
oversetting the chair. He tore open and threw wide the doors of the
oak-and-silver cellaret, and sought in it with shaking hands. He found a
bottle of champagne and the brandy-decanter, and a long tumbler, and
knocked off the wired neck of the bottle against the chimneypiece, and
crashed the foaming wine into the crystal, and filled up the glass with
brandy, and tossed off the stinging, bubbling, hissing mixture, and
laughed as he set the tumbler down.

The thing inside the oak-and-silver cellaret laughed too.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hall-door shut heavily as Tait and the women in the kitchen sat and
listened. They had not spoken since the crash of the falling chair in the
room overhead. The area-door was open to the hot, sickly night air of
London in midsummer. Tait slid noiselessly out and listened as his master
hailed a passing hansom and jumped lightly in. The flaps banged together,
the driver pulled open the roof-trap and leaned down to catch the shouted
address. Tait's sharp ear caught it too, and the knowing grin that
decorated the features of the cabman was reflected upon his decent smug
countenance. His tongue was in his cheek as he returned to the kitchen.
For his master had given the direction of a house of ill-fame.

Thenceforwards the door would have shut for ever upon the strenuous,
honourable, cleanly, useful life of Owen Saxham, were it not that the For
Ever of humanity means only a little space of years with God--sometimes
only a little space of hours. Saxham did not need the evidence of the
shower of cheques from people who hated paying, the request from the
Committee of his Club that he would resign membership, the averted faces
of his acquaintances, the elaborate cordiality of his friends, to tell him
what he knew already. As the astute Tait had said, as Society knew
already, he was a ruined man. He had made money, but the enormous expenses
of the Defence swallowed up thousands. By bringing an action against the
Treasury he might have recovered a portion of the costs--so he was told,
but he had had enough of Law. He resigned his post at the Hospital, in
spite of a thinly-worded remonstrance from the Senior Physician. He
dismissed his servants generously. He disposed of his lease and furniture
and other property through a firm of auctioneers who robbed him, and sold
what stocks he had not realised upon, and wrote a farewell letter to his
mother, and sailed for South Africa. Thenceforwards he was to build his
nest with the birds of night, and rise from the stertorous sleep that is
born of drunkenness only to drink himself drunk again.

From assiduous letter-writing friends David heard reports of his brother
that grieved him deeply. He told these things to Mildred, and they shook
their heads over them and sighed together. Poor Owen! It was most
fortunate for his family that the Jury had taken so lenient a view of the
case ... otherwise ...! They were quite certain in their own minds that
poor Owen had been culpable, if not guilty. They were married six months
later. The Directoire hats were out of date, of course, but Louis Quinze,
with Watteau trimmings suited the six bridesmaids marvellously, and the
"Non Angli sed Angeli" choir rendered the Anthem and the "Voice that
Breathed" to perfection.

And Mildred, who never omitted her nightly prayers, made a special
petition for the reformation of poor misguided Owen upon her
wedding-night.

"Because we are so happy," she told David, who had found her kneeling,
white and exquisitely virginal in her lace and cambric draperies by the
bedside. "And _he_ must be so miserable. And you know, though I never
_really_ cared for him, he was perfectly devoted to me."

"Who could help it?" cooed enamoured David, and knelt and kissed his
bride's white feet. The white feet would show no ugly stains, although to
reach the bridal bed, towards which her husband now drew her, they must
tread upon his brother's bleeding heart.



XVIII


The Dop Doctor lifted his head as the bell of the front door rang loudly
at the back passage-end. Two mounted officers of the Military Staff at
Gueldersdorp had trotted up the street with an orderly behind them a
moment before. The elder of the two had pulled sharply up in front of the
green door whose brass-plate flamed in the last rays of sunset. He had
dismounted lightly and gone up the steps and rung, saying something to his
companion. The other officer had saluted and ridden on, as though to carry
out some order: the orderly had come up and got off his horse and taken
the bridle of the officer's, as the Dutch dispensary-attendant, Koets, had
plodded heavily along the passage and opened the door, and now slouched
heavily back, ushering in a presumable patient.

"Light the lamp," said the Dop Doctor in Dutch to the factotum, as he rose
up heavily out of his chair. "It will be dark directly."

"There is no need of more light, I am obliged to you," said the stranger,
cool, alert, brown of face as of dress: a thin man, distinct of speech,
quiet of manner, and with singularly vivid eyes of light hazel. "In the
actual dark I can see quite clearly. A matter of training and habit,
because I began life as a short-sighted lad. Do we need your assistant
further?"

In indirect answer to the pointed question, the Dop Doctor turned to the
Dutch dispensary-assistant, and said curtly:

"Ga uit!"

Koets went, not without a scowl at the visitor.

"A sulky man and a surly master," thought the stranger, scanning with
those observant eyes of his the gaunt figure in the shabby tweed suit.
"Has seen trouble and lived hard," he added, mentally noting the haggard
lines of the square face under the massive forehead, over which a plume of
badly-brushed hair, black with threads of grey in it, fell awkwardly.

"English and a University man, I should say. Those clothes were cut by a
Bond Street tailor in the height of fashion about five years ago. And the
man is in the second stage of recovery from a bout of drunkenness--unless
he drugs?" But even while the visitor was taking these memoranda, he was
saying in the customary tone of polite inquiry:

"I have, I think, the pleasure of speaking to Dr. Williams?"

"Sir, you have not. Dr. De Boursy-Williams has left for Cape Town with his
family. You are speaking to his temporary substitute." The bloodshot blue
eyes met his own indifferently.

"Indeed! Well, I do not grudge the family if, as I believe is the case, it
chiefly ranks upon the distaff side. But the Doctor will miss a good deal
of interesting practice. As to yourself, you will allow the inquiry....
Are you a surgeon as well as a medical practitioner?"

"If I were not, I should not be here."

"I will put my question differently. I trust you will not consider its
repetition offensive. Have you an extensive experience in dealing with
gunshot wounds?"

Saxham said roughly:

"I have experience to a certain extent. I will go no further than to say
so. I am not undergoing examination as to my professional capabilities
that I am aware of, and if you doubt them you are perfectly at liberty to
seek medical advice elsewhere."

"My good sir, I _have_ been elsewhere, and the other doctor, when he
learned the purport of my visit, relished it as little as your principal
is likely to do. With the imminent prospect of a siege before us, we are
making ..." The speaker, slipping one hand behind him, moved a step
backwards and nearer to the room-door. "As I said, sir, with the imminent
prospect of a siege before us, we are making a house-to-house
requisition.... Ah, I thought as much!"

The door-knob had been quietly turned, the door suddenly pulled open,
bringing with it Koets, the Dutch dispensary-attendant, whose large red
ear had been glued to the outer keyhole.

"Your Dutch factotum has been listening. Pick yourself off the mat, Jan,
and take yourself out of earshot." The stranger whistled the beginning of
a pleasant little tune, with a flavour of Savoy Opera about it.

"Ik heb not the neem of Jan," snarled the detected Koets, retiring in
disorder.

The whistler left off in the middle of a deftly-executed embellishment to
say: "Unfortunate; because I don't know the Dutch word for spy." The keen
hazel eyes and the haggard blue ones met, and there was the faint
semblance of a smile on the grim mouth of the Dop Doctor. Keeping the door
open, the visitor went on:

"I have some notes here--entries copied from the Railway freight-books.
Three weeks ago twenty carboys of carbolic acid, with a considerable
consignment of other antiseptics, surgical necessaries, drugs, and so
forth were delivered to Dr. Williams' order at this address. Frankly, as
the officer commanding Her Majesty's troops on this border, I am here to
make a sequestration of the things I have mentioned, with all other
medical and surgical requisites stored upon the premises, that are likely
to be of use to us at the Hospital. In the name of the Imperial
Government."

The smile died out on the grim mouth. A sombre anger burned in the blue
eyes of the haggard man in shabby tweeds.

"Damn the Imperial Government!" said the Dop Doctor.

The stranger nodded in serious assent. "Certainly, damn it! It is your
privilege and mine, shared in common with all other Britons, to damn our
Government, as long as we remain loyal to our Queen and country."

The other man quivered with a sudden uncontrollable spasm of hate, rage,
and loathing. He clenched his hand and shook it in the air as he cried:

"You employ the stock phrases of your profession. They have long ceased to
mean anything to me. I have been the victim and the sacrifice of British
laws. I have been formally pardoned by the State for a crime I never
committed. I have been robbed, plundered, ruined, betrayed, by the
monstrous thing that bears the name of British Justice. And as I loathe
and hate it, so do I cast off and repudiate the name of Englishman. You
speak of the imminent prospect of a siege. What other causes have operated
to bring it about but British greed, and the British lust for paramountcy
and suzerainty and possession? Liberal, or Conservative, or Radical, or
Unionist, the diplomats and lawyers and financiers who urge on your
political machinery by bombast and bribes and catchwords and lying
promises, are swayed by one motive--governed by one desire--lands and
diamonds and gold. Wealth that is the property of other men, soil that has
been fertilised by the sweat of a nation of agriculturists, whom Great
Britain despised until she learned that gold lay under their orchards and
cornfields." He broke into a jarring laugh. "And it is for these, the
robbers and desperadoes, that the British Army is to do its duty, and for
them that De Boursy-Williams is to help pay the piper. As for his
property, which you are about to commandeer in the name of the British
Imperial Government, I suppose I am legally responsible, being left here
in charge. Well, be it so!... I can only protest against what I am free to
regard as an act of brigandage, reflecting small credit upon your Service,
and leave you, sir, to discover the whereabouts of the carboys for
yourself!"

He waved his hand contemptuously, and swung towards the door.

"A moment," said the other man, "in which to assure you that the fullest
acknowledgments will be given in the case of the stores, and that their
owner will be paid for them liberally and ungrudgingly. And, granting
that much of what you have said is true, and that the leaven of
self-seeking is to be found in every man's nature, and that greed is the
predominating motive with those men who, more than others, work for the
building-up of an Empire and the profitable union of Britain with her
Colonies, don't you think that there may be something in the good old
footballer's motto, 'Play the game, that your side may win'?"

The Dop Doctor made a slight sound that might have been of indifferent
assent or of contradiction. The other chose to take it as assent.

"Take the present situation, purely as football. They have picked me as a
forward player. And I mean--to play the game!"

The Dop Doctor might or might not have heard. His square, impassive face
looked as if carved in stone.

"To play the game, Doctor. Perhaps I have my bone or two to pick
with--several of the Institutions of my country. Possibly, but I mean to
play the game. Fate has ridden me on a saddle-gall or two, and mixed too
much chopped straw in proportion to the beans, but--there's the game, and
I'm going to play it for all I'm worth. As an old University man, that way
of looking at things ought to appeal to you."

Still no answer from the big, sullen, black-haired man in the shabby worn
clothes. But his breathing was a little quickened, and a faint,
smouldering glow of something not yet quenched in him showed in the
haggard blue eyes.

"It's a confoundedly handicapped game, too, on the defending side. Doesn't
that fact rather appeal to the sportsman in you, Doctor?"

The other said slowly:

"I gather that the struggle will be unequal. It was stated in my hearing
yesterday afternoon that a considerable force of Boers were advancing on
Gueldersdorp from the direction of Geitfontein, and, later, that another
large body of them were on the march along the river-valley from the west.
I did not attempt to verify what I had heard from my own observation. I
was--otherwise engaged." The half-incredulous surprise that the other man
could not keep out of his eyes stung him into adding: "Frankly, I did not
care to trouble. It did not interest me."

The Colonel said, with a dry chuckle:

"No? But it will presently, though! And, seen through the glass even now,
it's an instructive spectacle. Masses of Dutchmen, well-weaponed and
thoroughly fed if insufficiently washed, gathering in all
quarters--marching to the assembly points, dismounting, unlimbering, going
into laager. Ten thousand Boers, at a rough estimate, not counting the
blacks they have armed against us.... And, behind our railway-sleepers and
sand-bags, eight hundred fighting European units, twenty per cent, of them
raw civilians; and seven thousand neutral Barala and Kaffirs and Zulus in
the native Stad--an element of danger lying dormant, waiting the spark
that may hurry us all sky-high.... By God, Doctor, the game's worth
playing, except by cowards and curs!"

The smouldering glow in the Dop Doctor's eyes had been fanned into a fire.
The visitor saw the flame leap, and went on:

"There's a native proverb--I wonder whether you know it?--a kind of Zulu
version of the regimental motto, _Vestigia nulla retrorsum_. It runs like
this: '_If we go forward, we die; if we go backward, we die. Better go
forward and die._'" He reached out a long, lean, brown right hand. "Come
forward with us, Doctor. We can do with a man like you!"

The impassive face broke up. Saxham gripped the offered hand as a drowning
man might have done. He cried out hoarsely:

"You don't know the sort of man I am, Colonel. But everybody else in this
cursed place knows, or should know. They call me the Dop Doctor. You
understand what that nickname implies?" He held out his shaking hands.
"Look at these! They would tell you the truth, even if I lied. What use
can a man like me be to you, or men like you? I am a drunkard, sir. I have
not gone to bed sober one night in the last five years!"

There was a pause before the Colonel answered, filled up in the odd way
characteristic of the man by a softly-whistled repetition of the opening
bars of the pleasant little tune. Then he said quietly and dryly:

"There is another proverb, not Latin nor Zulu, but English, which
impresses on us that it is never too late to mend!" He looked at a
tarnished Waterbury watch, worn on a horse's lip-strap. "I am due to
inspect the Hospital tomorrow at ten o'clock sharp. If you will meet me
there punctually at the half-hour, I shall have the pleasure of
introducing you to--your Colleagues of the Medical Staff. And now, if you
please, as I have just five minutes left to spare, we will have a look at
those carboys of carbolic."

"They are in the old Chinese godown at the bottom of the garden," said
Saxham. He felt in one of the baggy pockets of the old tweed coat, pulled
out a key, and offered it silently to the conqueror, who motioned it back.



"Keep it, if you'll be so good. We'll send a waggon and a careful man or
two round from the Army Service Stores Department within an hour; for that
stuff in your friend's carboys is more precious than rubies to us just
now--a man's life in every teaspoonful. And if, as you tell me, there is
some mercurial perchloride, Taggart and the Medical Staff will jump for
joy. What we owe to Lister, Koch, and those fellows! You'd say so if you'd
ever seen gangrene on War Hospital scale--in Afghanistan, in 1880, even as
recently as the Zululand Campaign of 1888. The Pathan and the Zulu are
slim, and the Boer is even slimmer, but the wiliest customer of 'em all is
the Microbe. No wonder Wellington's old campaigners used to slit the
throats of badly-wounded soldiers, or that the ambulance-men of Soult and
Bonaparte were merciful enough to knock on the head every poor beggar who
had been bayonetted in the body. They knew there was not the atom of a
chance. But to-day we know how to deal with the invisible enemy. Thanks to
Antiseptic Surgery, that younger daughter of Science and Genius, as some
smart fellow puts it in the _National Review_."

And the pleasant little tune was whistled through to its final grace-note
as the two men went down the house-passage and crossed the garden. Verily,
to some other men that have lived since Peter of the Nets has it been
given to be fishers of their kind! This man said that night to an officer
of the Staff:



XIX


"I landed twenty carboys of carbolic to-day, and a lot of other Hospital
stores, by talking football to a man who knows the game, chiefly from the
ball's point of view."

"That counts to you, Colonel," called out Beauvayse, the Chief's fair,
boyish junior aide-de-camp, from the bottom of the table, "against the
awful failure you were grousing about this morning."

"Ah! you mean when I tried to frighten some Sisters of Mercy into leaving
the town by painting them a luridly-coloured verbal picture of the perils
of the present situation," said the Colonel. His keen hazel eyes twinkled,
though his mouth was grave. "I ought to have remembered that you can't
scare a religious, be he or she Roman Catholic, Buddhist, or Mohammedan,
by pointing to the King of Terrors. He does to frighten lay-folk, but for
the others Death's grisly skeleton-hand holds out the Keys of Heaven."

"What will it hold for some of us others, I wonder," said one of the
dinner-guests, a moody-looking civilian, of Semitic features, whose
evening clothes made a dull contrast with the mess-dress of the Staff
officers gathered about their Chief's table in his quarters at Nixey's
Hotel on the Market Square, "before this month is out?"

The host leaned forward to reply:

"My dear Mr. Levison ... special mention in Despatches Above, with honours
and promotion for those of us who have been approved worthy. For others,
who have tried and failed, a merciful overlooking of blunders, a generous
acceptance of the intention where the performance came short.... And for
the rest ... a grave on the yellow veld in the shadow of a rock or
thorn-bush, with the turquoise sky of day overhead, shimmering in the
white-hot sunshine; or an ocean of purple ether, ridden by what old Lucian
called 'the golden galley of the regnant Moon.' That in South Africa; and
at home in England, one's memory kept warm and living in, say, three
hearts that recognised the best in one, and loved it. A mother's heart,
the heart of a friend--and _hers_!"

There was no insincerity of flattery in the hum of applauding comment that
ensued. All earnest original thought has beauty; and this man could not
only think, but clothe his thoughts in direct and simple language, and add
to it the charm of well-modulated and musical utterance.

"I call that good enough," said the senior Staff Officer, a dark,
handsome, eagle-faced Guardsman, who bore a great historic name, "for you
or me or any other fellow here--we're not taking into account the living
dead ones."

The Chief leaned forward in his characteristic attitude, and spoke, a
long, lean brown forefinger emphasising the sentences, his hawk-keen
glance driving them home. "I tell you, Leighbury, that some of those, the
rottenest corpses among 'em, will shed their grave-clothes, and rise up
and do the deeds of living men before, to quote Levison, this month is
out. Never take it for granted that a man is dead until the grass is
growing high over his bare bones, and don't make too sure even then!
Because to-day I saw such dry bones move--and it's an instructive if an
uncanny sight."

"Whose were the bones, Colonel?" called out the handsome young aide at the
bottom of the table.

The host, his thin, brown fingers busy at the clipped moustache, was
listening to the Mayor of Gueldersdorp, who sat upon his right. He
withdrew his attentive eyes from that stalwart sportsman's broad, ruddy
countenance, to glance smilingly at the fair, handsome face, and reply:

"Whose? Well, up to the present they have belonged to the Dop Doctor."

"That man!" The Mayor, in the act of taking another slice of the roast,
looked round as at the mention of a name familiar, shrugging his portly
shoulders. "Surely you know who the fellow is, Colonel? He drifted up here
from Cape Colony three years ago. A capable--confoundedly capable man,
handicapped by a severe muscular strain," the Mayor's twinkling eye
heralded the resurrection of an ancient jest--"contracted in lifting a
cask of whisky--a glass at a time!"

White teeth flashed in alert tanned faces. The schoolboy laugh went round
the table; then the Babel of talk rose up again. Most of these men were
quite young ... their seniors barely middle-aged, not a man but was what
they themselves would have termed both "fit" and "keen." They had wrought
for many days in the erection of sand-bag defences, in the digging of
trenches, in the drilling of Baraland Irregulars and Rifle Volunteers and
the newly-enrolled Town Guard. This was the pleasant social time of lull
before the storm, and they were not to get many more good dinners or
peaceful nights in bed for a long siege to come. They did not show
outwardly the tension of strung nerves that waited, as the whole world
waited, for the echo of the first shot, rattling amongst the low hills to
the south. Nor did it occur to them that there was anything heroic or
dramatic in their quiet unaffected pose. Gathered together upon one little
spot of border earth destined to be the vital, tragic, throbbing centre of
great events and tremendous issues, actions glorious, and deeds scarce
paralleled upon the page of History, let us look upon them, well-groomed,
well-bred, easy-mannered, cheery, demolishing the good dishes furnished by
the _chef_ of Nixey's Hotel, with the hungry zest of schoolboys,
exchanging fusillades of not very brilliant chaff.

Scraps of scientific and technical conversation with reference to
telephonic and telegraphic installations between outlying forts and
headquarters, electric communication with mines, automatic
warning-apparatus, the most effective methods of constructing bomb-proof
shelters, the comparative merits of Maxim and Nordenfeldt, crossed in the
air like fragments of bursting projectiles, impelled by those admirable
engines of destruction. Mingled with reminiscences of cricket, golf,
tennis, polo, and motoring, then in its infancy; anecdotes new and old,
and conjectures as to what the fellows at home were doing? Hurlingham and
Ranelagh, Maidenhead and Henley, Eton and Oxford, Sandhurst and Aldershot,
Piccadilly in the season, Simla in the heats, the results for Kempton Park
and Newmarket Races--of all these they talked, with rhino and elephant
shooting and the big battues of pheasants now taking place in the Home
Midlands and up North. But though the watch-fires of their pickets burned
upon the veld, and though the Boer lay in laager over the Border, of him
they said not one word. That reticence upon the vital point was
characteristically English. The excitable Gaul would have wept, kneaded
his manly bosom, and alluded to his mother; the stolid Muscovite would
have wept also, referring to his Little Father, the Czar; the Teuton would
have poured forth oceans of turgid sentiment about the Fatherland; the
dignified Spaniard would have recognised himself as a warrior upon the
verge of a Homeric struggle, and said so candidly; the hysterical American
would have sung "Hail, Columbia!" and waved pocket-handkerchief-sized
replicas of the Star-Spangled Banner until too exhausted to agitate or
vocalise. But to these men indulgence in sentiment was "bad form," and
unrestrained patriotic utterance merely "gas," tainting the air with an
odour as of election-eggs or sulphuretted hydrogen. Therefore were many
words to be avoided.

A pose, if you will, an affectation, this studied avoidance of all
appearance of enthusiasm or excitement; showing the weak spot in the
armour of these heroes, henceforth to be of epic fame. But Man is
essentially a weak being. It is only when the immortal spirit of him
nerves the frame of perishable bone and muscle that he rises to heights
that are sublime. Such souls of fire burned within these men, that when
the Wind of Death blew coldest and the lead-and-iron hail beat hardest,
they only glowed more fiercely radiant; and Want and Privation, instead of
weakening, only seemed to make them more strong;--strong to endure, strong
to foresee plots and avert perils and oppose wit to cunning, and strategy
to deceit; so strong that, by reason of their strength, that little
frontier town became a fortress of Titans. And their names, other than
those I have given them in this story, shall go ringing down the grooves
of Time, until Time itself shall be no more.



XX


While they ate and drank, laughed, and chatted, the man who was to be
their comrade, sharer in all those perils and privations yet to come, was
tramping up and down the bare boards of the dingy bedchamber in Harris
Street, wrestling desperately with his tragic thirst.

"Why did he come and look at me, and take me by the hand, and awaken my
deadened senses to the sting of anguish that has no name? Why could he not
have left me alone in this living death I had attained!" he cried. "When
first I took to the infernal, blessed liquor, it was for the sake of
respite from mental pain, torture unbearable. Then I was a man, only
unhappy. Now I am lower than the lowest of the sensible, cleanly, decent
brutes, because I desire the drink for its own sake, and find
gratification in physical degradation. O God, if Thou indeed art, and I
must perforce return to live the life of a man amongst men, help to burst
the chains that fetter me! Help me to be free!"

He swallowed a great draught of water, and stumbled to the unused bed, and
threw himself across it, raging and panting, and defiant of the very Power
he invoked. And then, against hope, sleep came to him, drowning memory and
obliterating thought, and relieving physical suffering. The lines smoothed
out of the heavy forehead, and the grim mouth relaxed in the smile that
his dead mother had kissed, coming in with the shaded candle to look at
her sleeping boy.

Just as the Mayor of Gueldersdorp, that stalwart Yorkshireman, mighty
hunter of elephant, rhino, giraffe, and lion in the reckless days of
bloodshed that were before the introduction of the Game Laws into South
Africa, was saying to the Colonel:

"Irreclaimable, sir. Hopeless! A confirmed drunkard, who has soaked away
all self-respect, who has been cautioned and warned and fined a score of
times, by myself and other magistrates. Dr. de Boursy-Williams, our
leading practitioner here, has taken the fellow under his wing, in a
manner--bails him out when it is necessary, and, I believe, when the man
is sober enough, gives him work in his dispensary and allows him to
administer the anæsthetic when it's a question of a surgical operation.
Wonder he trusts him, for my part! Yet De Boursy-Williams is a remarkably
successful operator, and hardly ever loses a case. It is unfortunate that
he should have been called away to Cape Town at this juncture."

"He has left Dr. Saxham as _locum tenens_, I understand."

The Mayor shrugged his portly shoulders

"As to his qualifications, there's no doubt. Ranked high at one time as a
London West End specialist. I have seen his name myself in a British
Medical Directory of some years back as principal visiting-surgeon to St.
Stephen's and the Ludgate Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. Has written
books--scientific works that are quoted now. Must have been making money
hand-over-hand when the collapse came. The usual thing--one slip--and a
Police-court Inquiry follows, and down goes the unlucky wretch with the
Crown on top of him, and all the Press pack yelping for soft snaps. True,
the finding of the Jury was 'Not Guilty,' but the fact of there having
been a prosecution was enough to ruin Saxham professionally. Ah, I thought
you must have heard the name!"

For the listener had moved suddenly. He did remember the name of the
distinguished London practitioner who had been discreditably mixed up in
the case of Mrs. Bough, the young, miserable, murdered creature, who might
possibly have been the daughter of Richard Mildare. Tough and cool as his
tried nerves were, he shuddered at the thought, and a sickly heat made the
points of perspiration stand out upon his forehead. But the Mayor, good
man, was prosing on:

"I can't say the facts of the case are very clear in my recollection, but
I have a file of the _Daily Wire_ at home, extending over six years back,
so the Criminal Court proceedings must be reported in it. The woman's
name, I do remember, was Bough. As regards her age, now you ask me"--for
the Colonel had put a quick question--"I fancy she must have been
twenty-two or three. Indeed, I am almost certain that was the age as
stated by the Medical Witness for the Prosecution.... However, I'll go
into the reports and let you know for certain."

"Thank you, Mr. Mayor. And, in case those _Daily Wire_ files are
bomb-proof, possibly it would be better to take the family with you--and
stop until times improve."

"Not bad, not half bad, Colonel! But to tell the truth, I wouldn't miss
what we used to call the shindy, and these boys of yours term the 'scrap'
for a pile of Kruger sovereigns. And--I can shoot better than most men, if
I am in the sere and yellow sixties." The Mayor was slightly ruffled; the
diplomatic touch smoothed him down.

"My money is on you, Mr. Mayor, when it comes to stopping a Boer with a
rifle-bullet at four hundred yards. By the way, I have a little confidence
to repose in you. When you meet--as I am convinced you will meet--Dr.
Saxham at the Hospital or elsewhere, metaphorically clothed and in his
right mind, and in the active discharge of duties which no man, judging by
your own testimony, is better fitted to perform, let him down gently."

The Mayor, conscious of civic dignity and magisterial warnings from the
Bench ignored, swelled obviously.

"My dear sir, you can't let the Dop Doctor down anyhow. He is--just about
as low as a man can get--short of being underground."

"Lend him a hand up--in the first instance--by forgetting that confounded
nickname which I was clumsy enough to blurt out just now. Be oblivious of
what he is, because of what he has been in the past, and will be in the
future. For there is tremendous stuff in the fellow even now--or I am a
bad judge of men."

"Colonel, you're a thundering bad judge of drunkards, from the Bench's
point of view, but you'd be a damned good special pleader for a client in
need of all the excuses that could be trumped up for him."

"We all have something we'd like to have an excuse for, Mr. Mayor." The
keen hawk-eyes held a twinkle in reserve. "There was a man I knew, a
mighty hunter before the Lord--and before the Game Laws." The thin brown
fingers of the muscular hard-palmed hand played with the stem of a
wineglass as the sentences came out, crisp and pointed. "Well, this is the
story of a mistake, and an old _shikari_ of your experience can find even
more excuses for it than I can ... but perhaps I bore you?"

"On the contrary--on the contrary, sir."

The fish had taken the bait, remained to play the quivering captive until
his last swirling struggle brought him within reach of the skilful dip and
lift of the angler's net.

"It was about four years ago, in the Portuguese coast-lands, South of the
Zambesi, where elephants are to be had, and rhino, particularly the
Keitloa variety with the long posterior horn, and a bad habit of charging
the man behind the 600 bore...."

Mr. Mayor's capacious white waistcoat was agitated by a subterranean
chuckle. His double chin shook merrily. "A side shot through the
head--solid bullet--is the best cure for that, Colonel. But you had to
wait in the high swamp-grass and keep the wind of him, and make sure of
your aim."

"Quite so. This man, from the shelter of a rock, waited to make sure of
his aim. The rhino was feeding tsetse as he dozed in the high swamp-grass.
His biggest horn showed, and a bit of his shiny black skin. One forward
lunge of the brute's head--and the hunter could get that side-shot. For
that he waited, patience being, as we know, a virtue to be cultivated by
the successful stalker of big game----"

The Mayor, boiled prawn-pink to the receding boundary-line of his upright
white hair, coughed awkwardly.

"The man waited two hours. Then the unclad and obese native lady, carrying
a long pointed grass-basket on her back, who had squatted down in the high
grass to smoke a pipe and administer maternal refreshment to a shiny black
piccannin of three or four----!"

The Mayor, purple now, burst out:

"Got up and went on! And, if these boys of yours get wind of that story, I
shall be roasted within an inch of my life. Whoever told you? For the love
of Heaven, don't give me away!"

The keen eyes, were dancing now--the big fish had fairly got the gaff.

"I promise, Mr. Mayor, upon the understanding that you don't give away my
man.... It's a compact? Thanks tremendously! And here comes the Manager
to be congratulated upon the haunch. I never tasted better venison, Mr.
Nixey, though, as you say, this is rather far North for koodoo. And the
quail were beyond praise. Waiter, a glass for Mr. Nixey.... Port--and
we're going to ask you to join us in drinking a toast...."

The beautiful, flushed boy rose solemnly, glass in hand. About the long
board, adorned with a fine epergne full of roses, Cape jessamine and
purple bougainvillea, spread with Nixey's best plate and linen, crystal,
and dishes of Staffordshire china piled with golden mandarins, and
loquats, the fruit of October; there was a great uprising of those
phlegmatic, self-contained Britons. Straight as the flames of unblown
torches, they burned about the table. And with a simultaneous movement all
those eyes of varied colours turned to the lean brown face of the Chief,
as the sweet young clarion rang out:

"Gentlemen--the Queen!"

The brimming glasses rose high,--one crystal wave with the crimson of
blood in it. The resonant English and the thinner Colonial voices answered
together with a crash. As of the wave breaking on white cliffs northwards,
and a great surge of love and loyalty went out from all those hearts to
England, throbbing to the steps of the Throne where She sat, bowed with
great griefs and great joys and great triumphs and glories, and
white-haired with the full burden of her venerable years.

"The Queen!"



XXI


They lingered not long over wine and cigars. Lady Hannah Wrynche,
entertaining what she disdainfully termed a "hen party" in her private
rooms at Nixey's, vacated in her honour by the landlord's wife--expected
them to coffee. Much to the relief of the military authorities at Cape
Town, Milady, most erratic of Society meteors, had quitted that centre of
painstaking official misinformation, for the throbbing spot of debatable
land whence events might be gathered as they sprang. Shooting across the
orbit of the reddening, low-hanging War-planet, she had descended upon
Gueldersdorp in a shower of baggage-trunks, fox-terriers, and
interrogations. For one thing, she explained to everybody, she had
undertaken to supply a London Daily with a series of articles, written
from the Seat of Hostilities, and for another, Bingo was on the Staff, and
it would be so nice for him, poor dear, to have his wife near him in case
he happened to get ... was "chipped" the proper technical term, or
"potted"? The articles were intended to be the real thing--racy of the
soil, don't you know? and full of "go" and atmosphere. Let it be said here
that they achieved raciness. The London print in which they appeared came
to be christened by the scoffer and the incredulous the _Daily Whale_--it
swallowed and disgorged so many of the Jonahs rejected by other editors.
But the profits increased, and the proprietors could afford to smile at
envy.

Just now the insatiable gold fountain-pen from whence our indefatigable
Lady Correspondent derived her literary pseudonym, was employed in
recording merest gossip, in the absence of the longed-for opportunity for
its wielder to prove herself the equal, if not the superior, of Dora Corr.
Dora was the woman Lady Hannah admired and envied above all others.
Colonial Editor to _The Thunderbolt_, War Correspondent, financial expert,
political leader-writer, and diplomatic go-between when Cabinet Ministers
and Empire-builders would arrive at understandings, the serfdom of sex,
the trammels of the petticoat, may have been said to weigh as lightly upon
this thrice-fortunate spinster as though it were no drawback to be a
daughter of Eve.

Oh! prayed Lady Hannah, for the chance of proving that another woman can
equal this brilliant feminine Phoenix! Meanwhile her bright eyes and quick
sense of humour took note of the toilettes of some of her guests, wives
and daughters of notable citizens who had not hurried South at the first
mutterings of the storm. The purple satin worn by the Mayoress tickled her
no less than the unfeigned horror of its wearer when offered from her
hostess's châtelaine cigarette-case the choicest of Sobranies. Lady
Hannah's laugh was the rattling of a mischievous boy's stick across his
sister's piano-wires, and the metallic jangle preceded her assurance that
everybody did it--all women in Society, at least, and you were thought
odd if you didn't. After dinner, in the most exclusive houses, the most
rigid of hostesses invariably allowed their women guests to smoke. They
knew people worth having wouldn't come if they weren't allowed to.

"Never beneath my roof!" gasped the shocked and scandalised wearer of the
purple splendours demanded of the wife of a Chief Magistrate. "Never at my
table!" Of course, the agitated Mayoress went on to say, one had heard of
the doings of the Smart Set. But one had hoped it wasn't true, or, at
least, had been very much exaggerated by "writing-people." The Mayoress,
though a mild woman, had her sting.

Lady Hannah, immensely tickled to find the morals of Bayswater rampant, as
she afterwards expressed it, in the centre of South Africa, cackled as she
helped herself to a second liqueur-glass of Nixey's excellent
apricot-brandy. Small, thin, restless, she presented a parched appearance,
with bright, round, beady eyes continually roving in search of information
from beneath the straggling fringe of a crumpled Pompadour transformation,
for those horrors had recently become fashionable, and the whole world of
women were vying with one another in the simulation of the criminal type
of skull, with the Dolichocephalic Bulge.

"My dear lady, tobacco-ash is an excellent thing for killing moth in
carpets, and Time,--when one is compelled to bestow it upon dull people;
and a perfectly healthy, Nonconformist conscience must be a comfortable
lodger. But as regards the sacred roof, and the defended table, it's a
question how long both British institutions remain intact, with those big
guns getting into position round us...." She waved her small hand, its
once well-tended nails superbly ignored, its sun-cracks neglected, its
load of South African diamonds coruscating magnificently in the light of
Nixey's electric bulbs, and shrugged her thin, vivacious shoulders.

The entrance of the gentlemen relieved the situation. Lady Hannah jumped
up and rushed at the Colonel. "As if she meant to eat the man," the
Mayoress said afterwards, in the shadow of that threatened roof. But,
impervious to the entreaty of the bright black eyes and the glittering
hand that gesticulated with the urgent fan, he bowed, smiled, said a few
pleasant words to his hostess, and walked "straight across"--as the
Mayoress afterwards confided to the Mayor--to take a seat beside the
large, placid, matronly figure palpitating in purple satin on an imported
Maple sofa.

Pleased and flattered, she made room for him, while Lady Hannah became the
gossip-centre of a knot of Mess uniforms....

"Both babies well?" It would have been unlike him not to have remembered
that he had seen children at her house. "Hammy and Berta made great
friends with me the other day.... Tell them I haven't forgotten the
promise to rummage up some odd native toys I picked up in Rhodesia--made
of mud and feathers and bits of fur and queerly-shaped seed-pods--the most
enchanting collection of birds and beasts that ever came out of the Ark.
And the Makalaka have a legend about a big flood and a wise old man who
built a house of reeds and skins that floated.... The North American
Indians will tell you that it was a Big Medicine Canoe, and amongst the
tribes of the Nilghiri Hills you find exactly the same story that the
Chaldean scribes wrote on their tablets of clay. To-day in Eastern
Kurdistan they'll point you out the peak on which the Ark grounded. The
Armenians hold it was Ararat.... It's curious how the root-legend crops up
everywhere...."

"But of course it must." Her good, calm eyes showed surprise, and her
broad, white, matronly bosom was a little fluttered. "Doesn't the Bible
teach us that the Deluge covered the whole earth? Even Hammy and Berta can
tell you the whole story about Noah, and the raven--and the dove."

He smoothed his moustache with a palm that wiped the smile out.

"I must get them to tell it me one of these days." The twinkle in his eye
was not to be repressed. "It would save such a deal of trouble to believe
there was only one Noah, and only one Ark, don't you know?"

Her motherly bosom panted.

"_My_ children shall _never_ believe anything else!"

He was grave and sympathetic, though a muscle in his thin cheek twitched.

"I believe the toy Ark of our happy childish memories is built, if not of
gopher-wood, at least upon the lines laid down in Scripture. Has Hammy
ever tried to get his to float? Mine invariably used to sink--straight to
the bottom of the bath. Perhaps that continually-recurrent catastrophe had
something to do with the sapping of my infant faith, or the establishment
of a sinking-fund of doubt regarding the veracity of the Noachian
reporter?"

She leaned towards him, her placid grey eyes dilating with pity for this
man.

"You ought to come and sit under our minister Mr. Oddris, on Sundays. Pray
do. He would convince you if anybody could. Such an eloquent, able,
well-informed man, and so _truly pious_ and _brave_!"

The laugh perforce escaped him. The convincing Apostle Oddris had called
on him at official headquarters that day, to inquire whether, as the said
Oddris's wife and children were going to the Women's Laager, his place as
a husband and father was not by their side? Being informed that
able-bodied male beings were not included in the list of the defenceless,
he had become importunate in the matter of at least a bomb-proof shelter
to be erected in his back-yard.

"I had rather sit under Hammy and hear about Noah, with Berta on the other
knee."

Her heart went out wholly to him.... 'Out of the mouths of babes.' ...
Wasn't _that_ one of the texts with promise?...

"You love children?"

"Bless the little beggars!" he said heartily, "they're the jolliest
company in the world."

She leaned towards him, palpitating between her shyness of the Commander
of the Garrison and her womanly curiosity to know more about the man.

"Hammond--the Mayor has told me--I hope it is not indiscreet to mention
it--that the first thing you did, on joining your regiment in India as a
young subaltern, was to gather all the European children in cantonments
together and march them through the place, playing 'The Girl I Left Behind
Me' on the flute."

His brow grew black as thunder. The utterance came, terse and sharp.

"Ma'am, you have been gravely misinformed."

She jumped in terror.

"Oh!... Can it be?... Colonel, I do so beg you to forgive me! Let me
assure you that neither the Mayor nor myself will ever again repeat the
story."

"Ma'am, if you do ..."

"But I promise, never ..."

"Ma'am, if you never do, at least remember that the flute was an ocarina."

He left the good soul in an ecstasy of giggles, and crossed to Lady
Hannah. She welcomed him with a glitter of eyes and teeth and discovered
the reserve-chair that had been covered by her somewhat fatigued and
wilted draperies of maize Liberty-silk, veiled with black Maltese lace.

"What it is to be a man of tact! You've made that purple creature
perfectly happy. Don't say you're going to be less kind to another woman!"

She tapped with a reproachful fan the scarlet sleeve of his thin serge
mess-jacket, her appraising eye busy with the badges worn on the dark
green roll-collar and the miniature medals and star. If a clever woman
could be the confidante of a Cabinet Minister, the post of right-hand to
the Officer Commanding H.M. Forces in Gueldersdorp might be won. And then
the world would know what Hannah Wrynche was born for. What was he saying?

"I never warn my victims beforehand."

"Sphinx! and I hoped to find you in the relenting mood!"

"If possible, ma'am, my granite bosom is more unyielding than on the last
occasion when ..."

"Do go on!" said the fan.

"When you tried to tap it."

"You're all alike." She sighed. "That is, you give the keynote, and the
others take up the tune. Even Bingo--Bingo, whom I firmly believed
incapable of keeping a secret in which his dearest interests were
concerned longer than ten minutes--Bingo has sprung a surprise on me. I
shall end by falling in love with my own husband--such an indecent thing
to do after seven years of married life!"

"Fortunately, the scene of your lapse from the crooked path of custom is
distant from the West End of London nearly seven thousand miles. And you
can rely upon me for secrecy."

"Ah, that!... If only you _did_ leak a little information now and then."
Her eyebrows went up to the dry fringe of her Pompadour transformation.
"For the sake of the thirsting public at home, to say nothing of my
reputation as a Special Correspondent----"

"Drive over and call on General Brounckers at Head Laager, Geitfontein, on
the Border, early to-morrow. Perhaps he would oblige you with matter for a
paragraph, and forward the cable by private wire?"

Her birdlike eyes were bright on him.

"I would go if I thought I could get anything by going. Special
information--with reference to a Plan of Attack. Oh! if you knew how I'm
dying to be really under fire. To hear bullets zip-zip--isn't that the
sound?--as they strike the ground or walls, and shells scream overhead!"

She clasped her sunburnt little jewelled hands in affected ecstasy. His
eyes were stern, and the lines about his mouth deepened.

"Pray to-night that you may never hear those sounds you speak of!"

She struck an exaggerated attitude of horrified consternation.

"But no! Why am I here?"

"The Lord only knows. I've seen a hen peck at a lump of dynamite...."

"Ah, you never will take me seriously. But own in your secret heart you're
as much afraid as I am that a Relieving Column will be sent down
from----Do tell me again where Grumer is with the Brigade? Uli, in Upper
Rhodesia--thanks! Well, Grumer is quite a near friend of Bingo's, and an
old flame of mine. But--to burst our lovely peacock bubble of Siege and
let the whole situation down, _sans coup férir_, into muddy
commonplace--may Grumer never come!" She held up her coffee-cup, and drank
the toast.

"Only for the women and children here," he said, and his thin nostrils
moved to the measure of his quickened breathing, and a hot spark glowed
in his keen eyes, "I'd have joined you in that. But under the present
circumstances--I'd give five years of life--and I love life!--if our
lookouts could pick up Grumer's Advance by the time grey dawn creeps up
the east again."

She was incredulous.

"You, who said when you got orders to sail for South Africa--I have it on
the authority of your Henley hostess--'I hope they'll give me a warm
corner'!"

"I did say--just that. And I meant it."

His lips pursed in a soundless whistle. She went on:

"I've seen your preparations. The little old forts, put into such repair!
and the armoured train, with a Maxim and a Hotchkiss, standing in the
Railway siding, ready for business. And the earthworks! And the
trek-waggon barricades, and the shelters panelled and roofed with
corrugated iron. And your bomb-proof Headquarter Bureau, the iron skull
that's to hold the working brain of the place ... with underground
telegraphic and telephonic communications with all the forts and outposts.
It's colossal! A masterpiece of cool, deadly, lethal forethought.... I
thought I was incapable of the delicious shiver of expectation that the
schoolboy enjoys, sitting in the stalls of dear Old Drury, waiting for the
curtain to rise on the first act of the Autumn Drama. But you've given it
to me--you and our friends out there!" She waved the dry little glittering
hand. "And you can talk in cold blood of marching out--and leaving the
hive--and all the honey you might have had out of it. Sweet danger,
perilous sport, the great Game of War--played as a man like you knows how
to play it in this little sandy world-arena, with all the Powers and
Dominions looking on. Preserve us! Oh, to be in your shoes this minute, if
only for one week! But as I can't, it's you I hope to see riding the
whirlwind and directing the storm. Not only for my own sake and the
wretched paper's--though, mind you, I don't pretend to be anything but a
mercenary, calculating worldly creature ..."

His eyes were very kind.

"Bingo knows better!"

Her laugh did not jangle this time.

"Lady Grasby, that vitriol-tongued water-nymph, as somebody clever once
called her, said that if Bingo got killed by any chance, I should sit down
and write a gossipy descriptive article, dealing with his military career,
married life, and last moments, before I ordered my widow's-weepers.
Horrible things! They've come in again, too! Talking of gossip, which I
know you only pretend to despise, I found the son of a mutual acquaintance
dying in the Hospital here. You know the Bishop of H ...?"

"His eldest son, Major Fraithorn, was my senior when I was Assistant
Military Secretary at Gibraltar in '90. And the Bishop is quite a dear
crony of my mother's."

"The Bishop," she said, "was always a person of excellent good
taste--except when he cut off his second son, Julius, with two hundred a
year for turning Anglican, wearing a soft hat and Roman collars, and
joining the staff at that clerical posture shop in Wendish Street West as
Junior Curate."

"St. Margaret's. I know the church. Often go there when I'm at home."

"It's the Halfway House to Rome, according to the Bishop, who won't be
content with running at every red rag of Ritualism that flutters in his
own diocese, but keeps up the character of belligerent Broad Churchman by
writing pamphlets and asking questions in the House of Lords with
reference to affairs which are the business of other people. According to
him, the red cassocks of the acolytes at St. Margaret's are cut out of the
very skirts of the Woman of Babylon, and Father Turney and his
curates--they're all Fathers there, and celibates by choice--are wolves in
wool, and Mephistophelean plotters against the liberties of the Church.
_Punch_ published a cartoon of the Bishop shutting his eyes and charging
at a windmill in a cope and chasuble. He is sending out a string of
Protestant-Church-Integrity vans all over England, Scotland, and Wales
this season, with acetylene-lantern pictures from Foxe's 'Book of
Martyrs,' and a lecturer to point the morals and adorn the tales.... But
if he could see his Mary's boy to-day, he'd put up with any amount of
felt-basin hats and Roman collars, and incense and altar-genuflections
wouldn't count for a tikkie. Oh! it's been a sore with me this many a
year, but when I saw him to-day I said, 'Thank God I never had a child!'
Because to have seen a boy or girl grow up and wither away as that
beautiful young fellow is withering, is a thing that a mother must shudder
to look back upon, even when she has found her lost one again in Heaven."

There was genuine feeling in her voice, usually loud, harsh, and tuneless.
The bright black bird-eyes had a gleam as of tears. He turned to her with
sympathetic interest.

"The Bishop will be obliged to you for finding this out. No hint of it had
reached me. I am due at the Hospital in the morning, and we'll see if
something can't be done for the boy."

She shook her head.

"It's a case of tuberculous lung-disease. He developed it in the Clergy
House at St. Margaret's, and made light of it, supposing or pretending
that the cough and wasting and difficulty of breathing meant bronchial
trouble, the result of London fogs. These young people who don't value
Life--glorious gift that it is! When he broke down utterly, at the end of
a rampant campaign against Intemperance--he wouldn't be the Bishop's son
if he didn't gall the withers of some hobby-horse or other--the doctors
agreed there was nothing for him but South Africa."

He frowned, knowing how many sufferers had died of that deadly
prescription. She went on:

"So he came out--alone--upon the advice of the well-intentioned wiseacres,
knowing nothing of the country, to live on his two hundred a year until
the end. And the end is coming--in Gueldersdorp Hospital--with giant
strides." She blinked. "They've isolated him in a small detached ward. He
has a kind friend in the Matron, and the chart-nurse is in love with him,
unless I'm mistaken in the symptoms of the complaint. And he looks like
St. Francis of Assisi, wedded to Death instead of Poverty--and coughs--fit
to tear your heart. B'rrh!" she shuddered.

He repeated: "I'll see what can be done to-morrow. These cases are
deceptive. There may be a gleam of hope."

"There is one doubt about the case which might infer a hope. I don't know
what discoveries the London doctors made, but I wormed out of the
chart-nurse, who plainly adores him, that the doctors in Gueldersdorp
can't scare up a bacillus for the life of them."

His eyes lightened involuntary admiration, though his tone was jesting.

"You're thrown away on mere journalism. Criminal Investigation or Secret
Intelligence would offer wider fields for your abilities."

"Wait!" she said, her beady eyes black diamonds. "I shall hope to prove
one day that an English woman-journalist can be as useful as a Boer spy in
the matter of useful information. Why, why am I not a man? You only don't
trust me because I am a woman."

He had touched the rankling point in her ambition. He applied balm as he
knew how.

"Your being a woman may have made all the difference--for Fraithorn. I
shall set Taggart of the R.A.M.C. at him to-morrow; the Major's a bit of a
crack at pulmonary cases. And he shall consult with Saxham, and----"

"Saxham." Her eyebrows were knitted. "I thought I knew the names of your
Medical Staff men. But I can't recall a Saxham."

"This Saxham is Civilian--and rather a big pot--M.D., F.R.C.S., and lots
more. We're lucky to have got him."

She stiffened, scenting the paragraph.

"Can it be that you mean the Dr. Saxham of the Old Bailey Case?"

"The Jury acquitted, let me remind you."

"I believe so," she said; "but--he vanished afterwards. I think an
innocent man would have stopped and faced the music, and not beaten a
retreat with the Wedding March almost sounding in his ears. But--who
knows? You have met his brother, Captain Saxham, of the --th Dragoons? It
was he who stepped into the matrimonial breach, and married the young
woman."

"The young woman?"

"His brother's fiancée--an heiress of the Dorsetshire Lee-Haileys, and
rather a pretty-faced, silly person, with a penchant for French novels and
sulphonal tabloids. I always shall believe that she liked the handsome
Dragoon best, and took advantage of the Doctor's being--under the cloud of
acquittal by a British Jury, to give him what the dear Irish call 'the
back of her hand.'"

"The better luck for him!"

"It was mere instinct to let go when the man was dragging them both under
water," she asserted.

"A Newfoundland bitch would have risen above it."

"You hit back quick and hard."

"I'm a tennis-player and a polo-player and a cricketer."

"What game is there that you don't play?"

"I could tell you of one or two.... But I must really go and speak to some
of these ladies. One of them is an old friend."

"I know whom you mean. If I didn't, her glare of envy would have
enlightened me. Did I tell you that _I_ encountered an old friend--or, at
least, a friend of old--at the Hospital yesterday?"

"You mean poor Fraithorn?"

"Not at all. I'm only a friend of his mother. I had only heard of the boy,
not met him, until I tumbled over him here. But this face--severely framed
in a starched white _guimpe_ and floating black veil--belonged to my Past
in several ways."

He showed interest.

"Your friend is a nun? At the Convent here? How did you come across her?"

"She called to see the Bishop's son--while I was with him. It seems that,
judging by the poor dear boy's religious manuals and medals, and other
High Church contraptions, the Matron had got him on the Hospital books as
a Roman Catholic. And, consequently, when my friend looked in to visit a
day-scholar who was to be operated on for adenoids--I've no idea what they
are, but a thing with a name like that would naturally have to be cut out
of one--she was told of this poor fellow, and has shed the light of her
countenance on him occasionally since. Yesterday was one of the occasions,
and Heavens! what a countenance it is even now! What a voice, what eyes,
what a manner! I believed I gushed a bit.... She met me as though we'd
only parted last week. Nuns are wonderful creatures: _she's_ unique, even
as a nun."

He said: "I believe I had the honour of meeting the lady of whom you speak
when I called at the Convent yesterday afternoon. A remarkable, noble, and
most interesting personality."

Lady Hannah nodded. "All that. But you ought to have seen her at eighteen.
We were at the High-School, Kensington, together, I a brat of ten in the
Juniors' Division, she a Head Girl, cramming for Girton. She carried
everything before her there, and emerged with a B.A. Degree Certificate in
the days when it was thought hardly proper for a woman to go about with
such a thing tacked to her skirts. And all the students idolised her, and
the male lecturers worshipped the ground she trod. And when she was
presented--what a sensation! They called her the 'Irish Rose,' and
'Deirdre,' for her skin of cream and her grey eyes and billowing clouds of
black hair. Society raved of her for three seasons, until the fools went
even madder about that little Hawting woman--a stiff starched martinet's
frisky half--who bolted with the man my glorious Biddy had given her
beautiful hand to. And the result! She--who might have married an
Ambassador and queened it in Petersburg with the best of 'em--she's in a
whitewashed Convent, superintending the education of Dutch and Afrikander
schoolgirls in Greek, Latin, French, Algebra and Mathematics,
calisthenics, needlework, the torture of the piano, and the twiddle of the
globes. He has something to answer for, that old crony of yours!"

Lady Hannah stopped for breath, giving the listener his opportunity.

"My dear lady, you have told me a great deal without enlightening me in
the least. Who is my 'crony,' and who was your friend?"

Lady Hannah opened her round beady eyes in astonishment.

"Haven't I told you? She is--or was--Lady Bridget-Mary Bawne, sister of
that high-falutin' little donkey the present Earl of Castleclare, who came
into the title and married at eighteen. His wife has means, I understand.
The old Dowager Duchess of Strome, a bosom friend of my mother's, was
Biddy's aunt, and Cardinal Voisey, handsome being! is an uncle on the
distaff side. All the Catholic world and his wife were at her taking of
the veil of profession nineteen years ago. The Pope's Nuncio, the
Cardinal-Bishop of Mozella, officiated, and the Comtesse de Lutetia was
there with the Duc d'O.... They didn't cut off her beautiful black hair,
though we outsiders were on tiptoe to see the thing done. I don't think I
ever cried so much in my life. Had hysterics--real--when I got home, and
mother scolded fearfully. The Duke of C---- came with his equerry, and
after the cloister-gates had shut--crash--on beautiful Biddy in her bridal
laces, and white satin, and ropes of pearls, and we were all waiting,
breathless, for her to come back in the habit, I heard the Duke say, not
that the dear old thing ever meant to be profane: 'By God! General, I'm
damned if Captain Mildare hasn't made Heaven an uncommonly handsome
present!' And the man he said that to was the husband of the very woman
Dicky had run away with not quite twelve months before. Mercy on us!"

"Good Heavens!" the listener had cried and started to his feet, the dark
blood rushing to his forehead. The ivory-pale, mutely-suffering face
against the background of whitewashed wall flashed back upon his memory,
in a circle of dazzling light. He saw her again, leaning against the door
of the chapel as he told her the cruel news. He heard her saying:

"Are you at liberty to tell me the date of Captain Mildare's death? For I
know--one who was also his friend--and would take an interest in the
particulars."

The particulars! And he had bludgeoned the woman with them--stabbed her to
the heart, poor soul, unknowing....

He was blameless, but he could not forgive himself.... He drove his teeth
down savagely into his lower lip, and muttered an excuse, and went away
abruptly, leaving Lady Hannah staring. He took leave soon after, and went
to his own quarters with the D.A.A.G., while her ladyship, with infinite
relief, getting rid of her feminine guests, repaired with Captain Bingham
Wrynche, familiarly known to a wide circle of friends as "Bingo," and
several chosen spirits to the billiard-room, for snooker-pool, and
whisky-and-soda.

"The grey wolf is on the prowl to-night," said one of the chosen spirits,
as he chalked Lady Hannah's cue with fastidious care. He winked across the
table at Bingo, sunset-red with dinner, champagne, and stroke-play.

"S'st!" sibilated the Captain warningly, winking in the direction of his
wife. Lady Hannah, her little thumb cocked in the air, her round, birdlike
eyes scientifically calculating angles, paused before making a rapid
stroke, to say:

"Don't be cheaply mysterious, my dear man. Of course, the Colonel visits
the defences and outposts and so forth regularly after dark. It's part of
the routine, surely?"

"Of course. But you don't suppose he goes alone, do you, old lady?"
queried Captain Bingo.

"I suppose he takes his A.D.C.?"

"Not to mention a detachment of the B.S.A. Also a squad of the Town Guard
in red neckties, solar topees and bandoliers; with the Rifles' Band, and D
Squadron of the Baraland Irregular Horse. Isn't that the routine,
Beauvayse? You're more up in these things than me, and I fancy there was a
change in the order for the evenin'."

"Rather!" assented Beauvayse, continuing, to the rapture of winking Bingo.
"On reaching the earthworks where our obsoletes are mounted, the townies
will now fire a salute of blank, without falling down; and the Band have
instructions to play 'There's Death in the Old Guns Yet.' Those were the
only material changes, except that sentries will for the future wear
fly- and fever-belts outside instead of in."

"So that he can see at a glance," Lady Hannah said approvingly, "that all
precautions are being taken. Very sensible, I call it."

"Ha, ha, haw!" Bingo's joyous explosion revealed to the outraged woman the
fact that she had been "had." "Haw, haw! What a beggar you are to rot,
Beauvayse! and that makes five to us."

Lady Hannah, vibrating with womanly indignation, had made her long-delayed
stroke, missed the pyramid ball, and sent Pink spinning into the pocket.
She threw aside her cue and rubbed her fingers angrily. She hated losing,
and they were playing for shilling lives and half-a-crown on the game.

"You--schoolboys!" She threw them a glance of disdain, as Beauvayse, his
seraphic face agrin, screwed in his supererogatory eyeglass, and lounged
over the table. "You artless babes! Did you suppose I should be likely to
swallow such a _feuille de chou_ without even oil and vinegar? For pity's
sake, leave off winking, Bingo! It's a habit that dates back to the era
when women wore ringlets and white book-muslin, and men sported shaggy
white beaver hats and pegtop trousers, and all the world read the novels
of Lever and Dickens."

"Have Lever and Boz gone out?" asked Beauvayse, pocketing his pyramid
ball. "I play at Blue." He hit Blue scientifically off the cushion and
went on. "Read 'em myself over and over again, and find 'em give points in
the way of amusement to the piffle Mudie sends out. Not that I pretend to
be a judge of literature. Only know when I'm not bored, you know. You to
play, Lord Henry."

But the senior officer of the Staff, Lady Hannah's partner, had vanished.
Somebody passing the open window of the billiard-room had whistled a bar
or so of a particularly pleasant little tune. Another man took Lord
Henry's place, and the game went on, but never finished, for one by one,
after the same quiet, unobtrusive fashion, the male players melted
away.... Left alone, Lady Hannah, feeling uncommonly like the idle boy in
the nursery-story who asked the beasts and birds and insects to play with
him, betook herself to bed.

The arrogance of men! she thought as she hung her transformation Pompadour
coiffure on the looking-glass. How cool, how unshaken in their conviction
of superiority, in spite of all deference, courtesy, pretence of
consideration for Queen Dolt.... But she would show them all one of these
days, what could be achieved by a unit of the despised majority....

"I should like to see him at night-work," she said afterwards, when, very
late, her Bingo appeared in the shadow of the conjugal mosquito-curtains.

"You wouldn't," was her martial lord's reply.

"Wouldn't what?" asked Lady Hannah, sitting up in tropical sleeping
attire.

Bingo, applying her cold cream to a sun-cracked nose, replied to her
reflection in the looking-glass:

"You wouldn't see him. Like the flea in the American story, when you've
got your finger on him is the time he isn't there."

"But he is there for you?"

Bingo shook his head, holding the candle near the glass and regarding his
leading feature with interest.

"Not if he don't choose to be. By the living Tinker! if I go on brownin'
and chippin' at this rate, I shall do for the Etruscan Antiquity Room at
the British Museum. Piff, what a smell of burning! It's the hair-thing
hangin' on the lookin'-glass."

Male Society began to practise the shedding of its final g's, you will
remember, about the time that Female Society took to wearing
transformation coiffures. Lady Hannah, her active little figure rustling
in the thinnest of silk drapery, jumped nimbly out of bed, and rushed to
save her property.

"Idiot!" she shrieked.

"Frightfully sorry! But you're lumps prettier without," said Bingo.

"Don't pile insult on injury."

"Couldn't flatter for nuts!"

"I'll forgive you if you'll tell me how _he_ manages--to attain
invisibility?"

Bingo struck an attitude and began to declaim:

"As the sable shades of Night were broodin' over the beleaguered town of
Gueldersdorp, the manly form of a mysterious bearded stranger in grey
reach-me-downs and a felt slouch might have been observed directin' its
steps from one to the other of the various outlyin' pickets posted on the
veld ..."

"Once for all, I decline to believe such theatrical rubbish! A beard,
indeed! Why not a paper nose and a Pierrot's cap?"

"Why not?" acquiesced placid Bingo, getting into bed. But the eye
concealed by the pillow winked; for he had told her the absolute truth;
and woman-like, that was just what she wouldn't swallow, as he said to
Beauvayse next morning.



XXII


"The Town Guard," according to W. Keyse, Esquire, who kept a Betts'
Journal, one shilling net, including Rail and Ocean Accident Insurance,
was "a kind of amachoor copper, swore in to look after the dorp, stand
guard, and do sentry-go, and tumble to arms, just as the town dogs leave
off barkin', an' the old gal in the room next yours is startin' to snore
like a Kaffir sow."

Later on, even more was asked of the townie, and he rose to the demand.

The smasher hat was not unbecoming to the manly brow it shaded, when W.
Keyse put it on and anxiously consulted the small greenish swing
looking-glass that graced the chest of drawers, the most commanding
article of furniture in his room at Filliter's Boarding-House. It was Mrs.
Filliter who snored in the room on the other side of the thin partition.
Like the immortal Mrs. Todgers, she was harassed by the demands of her
resident gentlemen in connection with gravy; but, unlike Mrs. Todgers, she
never supplied even browned and heated water as an equivalent. And the
mutton was wonderfully lean, and the fowls, but for difference in size,
might have been ostriches, they were so wiry of muscle, especially as
regarded the legs. A time was to come when Mrs. Filliter was to cook
shrapnel-killed mule and exhausted cavalry charger for her gentlemen, and
when they were to bear up better than most sufferers from this tough and
lasting form of diet, because of not having previously been pampered, as
Mrs. Filliter expressed it, with delicacies and kickshaws.

The bandolier was heavy upon the thin shoulders and hollow chest of a pale
young Cockney, who had drifted down from Southampton in the steerage, and
roared and rattled up from Cape Town by the three foot six inch gauge
railway, eight hundred and seventy miles, to Gueldersdorp, that he might
find his crown of manhood waiting there. The second-hand Sam Browne belt
was distinctly good; the yellow puttees, worn with his own brown lace-up
boots, took trouble to adjust. And it was barely possible, even by
standing the small swing looking-glass on the floor, and tilting it
excessively, to see how one's legs looked. W. Keyse suffered from the
conviction that these limbs were over-thin. Behind the counter of a
fried-fish shop in High Street, Camden Town, serving slabs of browned
hake, and skate, and penn'orths of fried eels and chips to the hungry
customers who surge in tempestuously to be fed on their homeward way from
the Oxford or the Camden Hall of Varieties, or the theatre at the junction
of Gower Street and the Hampstead Road--one develops acuteness of
observation, one gains experience, there being always the bloke who cuts
and runs without paying, or eats and shows reversed trouser-pockets in
default of settlement, to deal with.... But one does not develop muscle,
the thing above all that W. Keyse most longed to possess. When he went
into the printing-business and bent all day over the formes of type in the
composing-room, hand-setting up the columns of the North London
_Half-penny Herald_, to the tune of three-and-eightpence a day, the hollow
chest grew hollower, and he developed a "corf." The physician in charge of
the out-patients' department at University College Hospital said there was
lung-trouble, and a man at the printing-office who had never been there,
said South Africa was the cure for that. And W. Keyse had thirty pounds in
the Post-Office Savings Bank, earned by the sweat of a brow which was his
best feature, and the steamships were advertising ten-pound third-class
single fares to Cape Town. One of the Societies for the Aid of Emigrants
would have helped him, but while W. Keyse 'ad a bit of 'is own, no
Blooming Paupery, said he, for him! His sole living relative, an aunt who
inhabited one of a row of ginger-brick Virginia-creeper-clad almshouses
"over aginst 'Ighgyte Cimitery," sniffled a little when he called to say
good-bye, bringing in a parting present of a half-pound of Liphook's
Luscious Tea and a screw of snuff.

"I shan't never see you no more, William."

"Ow yes, you will, mother! Don't be such a silly!" William's step cousin
'Melia, in service as general in Adelaide Road, Chalk Farm end, had said;
and she had looked coldly upon William immediately afterwards, bestowing
an amorous ogle upon Lobster, who sat well forward upon a backless Windsor
chair, sucking the silver top of his swagger cane,--Lobster, who was six
foot high and in the Grenadier Guards, and had supplanted William in
'Melia's affections, for they 'ad used to walk out regularly on Sundays
and holidays before Lobster came along.... How William loved Lobster now!
Why, but for him he might have been married to 'Melia to-day;--doomed to
tread in the ways of commonplace, ordinary married life, fated to live and
die without once having peeped into Paradise, without ever having looked
upon the 'only woman in the world!' Greta, of the glorious golden pigtail,
the entrancing figure and the bewitching, twinkling, teasing eyes of blue!

Suppose--only suppose--the silent threatening Thing across the border,
jewelled with the glowing Argus-eyes of many camp-fires, conjecturable in
dark masses flecked with the white of waggon-tilts, and sometimes giving
out the dull gleam of iron or the sparkle of steel, were to choose this,
W. Keyse's first night on guard, for an attack! Even to the inexperience
of W. K. the sand-bagged earthworks built about Gueldersdorp, the
barricades of trek-waggons and railway-trucks blocking up the roads
debouching on the veld, the extending lines of trenches, the watchdog
forts, the sentinelled pickets, the noiseless, continually moving patrols,
all the various parts of the marvellous machinery of defence, controlled
by one master-hand upon the levers, would count for nothing against that
overwhelming onrush of armed thousands, that flood of men dammed up above
the town, and waiting the signal to roll down and overwhelm her,
and----Cripps! what a chance to make a glorious, heroic splash in Greta's
sight! Die, perhaps, in saving her from them Dutchies. To be sure, she,
divine creature, was a Dutchy too. But no matter--a time would come ...

Confident in the coming of that time, W. Keyse took the brown rifle
tenderly from the corner, and replaced the meagre little looking-glass
upon the yellow chest of drawers. In the act of bestowing a final glance
of scrutiny upon his upper lip, whose manly crop had unaccountably
delayed, he caught sight of a cheap paper-covered book lying beside the
tin candlestick whose tallow dip had aided perusal of the volume o'
nights. The red surged up in his thin cheeks as he picked up the thing.
There were horrible woodcuts in it, coloured with liberal splashes of red
and blue and yellow, and the print contained matter more lurid still. Vice
mopped and mowed and slavered, obscene and hideous, within those gaudy
covers.

He looked round the mean, poor, ugly room, the volume in his hand; a
photograph of the dubious sort leered from the wall beside the bed....

"If they rushed us to-night, an' I got shot in the scrap, an' they brought
me back 'ere, dyin', and She came ... an' saw _that_ ...!" His ears were
scarlet as he dashed at the leering photograph and tore it down. Oh, W.
Keyse, it is pitiful to think you had to blush, but good to know you had
not forgotten how to. There was a little rusty fireplace in the room. W.
Keyse burned something in it that left nothing but a feathery pile of
ashes, and a little shameful heap of mud in the corner of a boy's memory,
before he hurried to the Town Guardhouse, where other bandoliers were
mustering, and fell in. As though the Powers deigned to reward an act of
virtue on the very night of its performance, he was posted by his picket
in the shadow of the high corrugated iron fence of the tree-bordered
tennis-ground behind the Convent, as "Lights Out" sounded from the camp of
the Irregulars, beyond the Railway-sheds and storehouses.

It was glorious to be there, taking care of Her, though it would have been
nicer if one had been allowed to smoke. The moon of William's
passion-inspired verse was not shining o'er South Africa's plain upon this
the very night for her. It was dark and close and stiflingly hot. A
dust-wind had blown that day, and the suspended particles thickened the
atmosphere, to the oppression of the lungs and the hiding of the stars. He
knew his picket posted a quarter of a mile away on the other side of the
Cemetery; his fellow-sentry was on the opposite flank of the Convent. He
was a stout, middle-aged tradesman, with a large wife and a corresponding
family, and it wrung the heart of W. Keyse to think that a tricky fate
might have placed that insensible man on the side where Her window was!
Through the boughs of the peach and orange trees, heavily burdened with
unripe fruit, you could get an occasional glimpse of whitewashed brick
walls, darkened by the outline of shuttered oblongs here and there. And
Imagination could blow her cloud of fragrant vapour, though tobacco were
denied you.

"They're all Her windows while she's there behind them walls," was the
reflection in which W. Keyse found comfort.

She was not there. She was at that moment being kissed on the stoep of the
Du Taine homestead near Johannesburg, by a young officer of Staats
Artillery, to whom she had agreed to be clandestinely engaged, though Papa
Du Taine had other views.

W. Keyse was spared this tragic knowledge. But if the moon, shining
beautifully over the Du Taine gardens and orange-groves, had chosen to
tell tales!

It was still--still and quiet; a blue radiance of electric light burned
here and there; at the Staff Office on the Market Square, and at other
centres of purposeful activity. Aromatic-beer cellars and whisky-saloons
gave out a yellow glare of gas-jets; the red lamp of an apothecary showed
a wakeful eye. Gueldersdorp sprawled in the outline of a sleeping turtle
on her squat hillock of gravelly earth and sand. In smoke-coloured folds,
closely matching the lowering dim canopy of vapour brooding overhead, the
prairie spread about her, deepening to a basined valley in the middle
distances, sweeping to a rise beyond, so that the edges of the basin
looked down upon the town. High on the hill-ranges in the South more
chains of red sparks burned ... he knew them for the watch-fires of the
Boer outposts, and the raised edges of the basin East and West were set
thickly with similar twinkling jewels where the laagers were; while
smaller groups shone nearer, marking the situation of isolated vedettes.
The sickly taint upon the faint breeze told of massed and clustered
humanity. 'Strewth, how they stunk, the brutes! He hoped there was enough
of 'em, lying doggo up there, waiting the word to roll down and swallow
the blooming dorp! His palate grew dry, as the sweat broke out upon his
temples and trickled down the back of his neck, and the palms of his hands
were moist and clammy. Also, under the buckle of the Sam Browne belt was a
sinking, all-gone sensation excessively unpleasant to feel. Perhaps its
wearer had a touch of fever! Then the stout tradesman on the other side of
the Convent sneezed suddenly, and W. Keyse, with every nerve in his body
jarring from the shock, knew that he was simply suffering from funk.

Staggering from the shock of the horrible self-revelation, he gritted his
teeth. There was a Billy Keyse who was a blooming coward inside the other
who was not. He told the sickening, white-gilled little skulker what he
thought of him. He only wished--that is, one of him only wished--that a
gang of the Dutchies would come along now!

He drew a lurid picture for the benefit of the trembler, and when the
young soldier had fired into the brown of them and seen the whites of
their eyes, and fallen, pierced by a hundred wounds, in the successful
defence of the Convent, he was carried in, and laid on a sofa, and nobody
could recognise him, along of all the blood, until She came, with her
white little feet peeping from the hem of a snowy nightgown, and her
unbraided pigtail swamping the white with gold, and knew that it was her
lover, and knelt by the hero's side. Soft music from the Orchestra,
please! as with his final breath W. Keyse implores a last, first kiss.
Even as William No. 1 thrilled to the rapture of that imagined osculation,
Billy No. 2 experienced a ghastly fright.

For out of the enfolding velvety darkness ahead of him, and looking
towards those firefly sparks shining on the heights, came the sound of
stealthy measured footsteps and muffled voices talking Dutch. The enemy
had made a sortie. The defences had been rushed, the town surrounded! Yet
there were only two of them--a big, slouching villain and a short thin
one, who wore a giant hat. The chirping sound of a kiss damped the fierce
martial ardour of William, and greatly reassured Billy. It was only a
townsman taking a night walk with his girl!

Crushed and discouraged, W. Keyse relaxed his grip upon the trusty rifle,
and slunk back into the shadow, as the tall and the short figures halted
at the angle of the fence.

"'Ain't it a 'eavenly night?" came from the short figure, who leaned
against the tall one affectionately. "An' me got to go in. A crooil shyme,
I call it. 'Ain't it, deer? Leggo me wyste, there's a love. You've no
notion 'ow I shall cop it for bein' lyte."

He sportively declined to release her. There was the sound of a soft slap,
followed by the smack of a kiss. She was very angry.

"Leggo, I tell you! Where's your manners, 'orlin' me abart! If that's the
way you be'ayve with your Dutch ones ...!"

He spat and asseverated:

"Neen! I no other girls but you heb got."

It was the Slabberts with Emigration Jane.

"Ho! So you _can_ talk English a bit--give you a charnce?"

"Ja, a little now and then when it is useful. But when we are to be
married, you shall only to me talk in my own moder Taal."

"Shan't I myke a gay old 'ash of it!" Recklessly she crushed the large hat
against the unwieldy shoulder. "There, good-night agyne, deer! Sister
Tobias--that's what they call the one that 'ousekeeps and manages the
kitchen--Sister Tobias 'll be sittin' up for me, thinkin' I've got meself
lost or bin run away with." She gurgled enjoyingly.

"Tell me again, before you shall go, about the Engelsch Commandant who
came to visit at the Convent to-day?"

"Lor! 'Aven't I told you a'ready? 'E stopped 'arf an 'our or more ... an'
She--that's the Reverend Mother, as they call her--She took 'im over the
'ouse, an' after 'e'd gone through the 'ouse, an' Sister Tobias--ain't
that a rummy name for a nun?--Sister Tobias, she showed 'im to the gyte,
an' 'e says to 'er as wot 'e's goin' to 'ave the flagstaff rigged up in
the gardin fust thing to-morrow mornin', an' 'e'll undertake that the
workin'-party detached for the purpose will know 'ow to be'ayve
theirselves respectful. An' then 'e touches 'is 'at an' gets on 'is 'orse
an' ..."

"Listen to me." The Slabbertian command of that barbaric language of the
Englanders evoked her surprise, but the painful squeeze he gave her arm
compelled attention. "Next time the English Commandant to the house shall
come, you to listen at the keyhole is."

"Wot for?"

"For what have you before at keyholes listened, little fool?"

"To find out when they was goin' to sack me, so's to git me own notice in
fust--see? Then you can say to the lydy at the Registry Office--and don't
they give theirselves hairs!--as wot you're leaving because the place
don't suit. Twiggy?"

"You for yourself did listen, then. Goed. Now it is for me you listen
will, if you a true Boer's vrouw wish to become by-and-by."

She rose to the immemorial allure that is never out of season in angling
for her simple kind.

"That word you said means--wife, don't it, deer?" Her voice trembled; the
joyous, longed-for haven of marriage--was it possible that it might be in
sight?

"It shall mean wife, if you obey me--ja!--otherwise it will be that I
shall marry the daughter of a good countryman of mine, who many sheep has,
and much land, and plenty of money to give his daughter when she a husband
gets!"

Her underlip dropped pitifully, and the tears welled up. It was too dark
to see her crying, but he heard her sob, and grinned, himself unseen.

"I'll do anything for you, deer! Only don't tyke an' 'ave the other One.
She may be a Dutchy, but she won't never care for you like wot I do. Don't
you know it, Walt?"

"I shall it know when I hear what you have found out," proclaimed the
Slabberts grimly.

There was a boiling W. Keyse in the deep shadow of the tall
corrugated-iron fence, who restrained with difficulty a snort of
indignation.

"On'y tell me, deer. I'll find out anythink you want me to." Before her
spread a lovely vista of floors--her own floors--to scrub, and a kitchen
range--hers, too--which should cook dinners nice enough to make any
husband adore you.

"You shall for me find out what that Commandant of the rooineks is up to
under his Flag of the Red Cross."

"He didn't say nothink about no Red Cross, darlin'."

"Stilte! They will the Red Cross Flag hoist, I tell you, and it will
cover more than a parcel of nuns and schoolgirls. That Commandant is so
verdoemte slim! Tell me, do you cartridges well know when you shall see
them? Little brown rolls with at one end a copper cap--and at the other a
bullet. And gunpowder--you have that seen also?"

She quavered.

"Yes; but you don't want me to touch the narsty, dreadful stuff, do you,
Walty deer?"

He scoffed.

"Afraid of gunpowder, Meisje, that like a whey-blooded Engelschwoman is. A
true Boer's daughter would know how to load a gun, look you, and shoot a
man--many men--if for the help of the Republic it should be! But you will
learn. Watch out, I tell you, for stores that Commandant will be sending
into the Convent. Square boxes and long boxes, and cases--some of them
heavy as if lined with iron; painted black with white letters, and others
stone-colour with black letters, and yet others grey with red letters; the
letters remember--'A.O.S.'"

"But wot'll be in the boxes, deer?"

His English, conned from recently published Imperial Army Service manuals,
grew severely technical:

"If you could their big screws unscrew, and their big locks unlock, you
would see, but you will not be able. What in them? Cakes! Black, square
cakes, with in them holes; and grey, square cakes, and red cakes, light
and crumbly, that dog-biscuits resemble; and long brown sticks, like
peppermint-candy, in bundles tied together with string and paper. Boxes of
stuff like the hair of horse, and packets of evil little electric
detonators in tubes of copper. Alamachtig! who knows what he has not
got--that Engelsch Commandant--both in the dorp and hidden in those
thrice-accursed mines that he has laid on the veld about her. Prismatic
powder and gun-cotton, dynamite and cordite enough to blow a dozen
commandos of honest Booren into dust--a small, fine dust of bones and
flesh that shall afterwards fall mingled with rain of blood. For I tell
you that man has the wickedness of the duyvel in him, and the cunning of
an old baboon!"

She babbled:

"'Ow pretty you talk English when you want to, Walty deer! 'Aven't you
bin gittin' at me all along, makin' out ..."

He swore at her savagely, and she held her tongue, worshipping this new
development of masterful brutality in a man whom she had regarded as a
"big softy."

He went on:

"Now you shall know what to look for, and when the verdoemte explosives
come, you will know them by the boxes and the letters 'A.O.S.'--and you
will tell me--and the guns of our Staats Artillery will not shoot that
way, for the sake of the little woman who is going to be a true Boer's
vrouw by-and-by."

She threw her arms about his rascally neck, and laid her head upon his
hulking shoulder, regardless of the hat she wrecked, and cried in ecstasy:

"I'll do it, deer! I'll do it, Walty! But why should there be any
shootin', lovey? At 'Ome I never could abear to see them theayter plays
what 'ad guns an' firin' in 'em; it made me 'art beat so crooil bad."

He grinned over the big hat into the darkness.

"All right! I will tell the men with the guns that you do not like to hear
them, and they will not perhaps shoot at all. But you will look out for
the boxes with the dynamite, and send me the message when it comes?"

"Course I will, deer! But 'ow am I to send the message?"

The shadowy right arm of Slabberts swept out, taking in the black and void
and formless veld with a large free gesture.

"Out to there. Stand in this place when it becomes dark, looking east.
Straight in front of us is east. The game is great fun, and very easy.
Strike a match, and count to ten before you blow it out, and you shall not
have done that three times before you shall see him answer."

"But oo's 'im?"

"He is my friend--out there upon the veld."

"Lor! but where'll you be? Didn't you say as I'd be talkin' to you? I
don't 'arf fancy wot you calls the gyme, not if I 'ave to play it with a
strynge bloke!"

The answer came, accompanied by a scraping, familiar sound.

The Slabberts was striking a match of the fizzling, spluttering,
Swedish-made non-safety kind, known to W. Keyse and his circle by the
familiar abbreviation of "stinkers."

"Voor den donder! Have I not told you I shall be there with him--after
to-night!"

Her womanly tenderness quickened at the hint of coming separation. She
clung fondly to his arm, and the match went out, extinguished by a
maiden's sigh. He shook her roughly off, and struck another.

"I shall go away--ja--and here is the only way for you to reach me!"

As the fresh match glimmered blue, he held it at arm's length in front of
him, counting silently up to ten, then blew it out, and set his heavy boot
upon the faintly-glowing spark, and did the thing again.

Endeavouring not to breathe so as to be heard, W. Keyse flattened himself
against the corrugated fence, and waited, looking ahead into the thick
velvet darkness, sensing the faint human taint upon the tell-tale breeze,
and counting with the Slabberts; and then, out in the blackness that
concealed so much that was sinister, sprang into sudden life an answering
bluish glimmer, and lasted for ten beats of the pulse, and went out as
suddenly as though a human breath had blown upon it.

"Is that your pal?" she whispered.

"That is my pal now." He struck another match, and flared it, and screened
it with his big hand, and showed the light again, and repeated the
manoeuvre three times. "That is my pal now--and I have said to him 'No
news to-night'; but to-morrow night and the night after, and so on for
many nights to come, I shall be out there where he is, and after you have
called me and I have answered, just as he has done, you will tell me what
there is to tell. Can you spell your language?"

"Pretty middlin', Walty deer, though not as I could wish, owin' to me
'avin' to leave Board School in the Fif' Stannard when father sold up the
'ome in drink after mother went orf wiv the young man lodger. Some'ow, try
all I could, I never ..."

"Hou jou smoel! With our Boer people, when men speak, the women listen;
but you English ones chatter and chatter! Remember that this match-talk
goes thus: For the letter A one flare, and hide the light as you saw me
do just now. For B, two flares, and hide the light; for C, three, and
hide; for D, four, and hide; and so on ... It is slow, of course, and
matches will blow out when you do not want them to, and a cycle-lamp or a
candle-lantern would be easier to deal with, but for the verdoemte
patrols. Do you understand? Say now what I say, after me. For the letter A
one flare and hide. For B ..."

He put her through the alphabet from end to end; she laboured faithfully,
and pleased her taskmaster. He grunted approvingly.

"Zeer goed! See that you do not forget. And remember, you are to listen
and watch, and tell me what you hear and see. If you are obedient, I will
marry you--by-and-by."

He gave her a clumsy hug in earnest of endearments to come.

"But if you do not please me"--the grip of his heavy hand bruised her
shoulder through the thin, flowery "blowse"--"I will punish you--yes, by
the Lord! I will marry a fine Boer maiden who is the daughter of a
landrost, and who has got much money and plenty of sheep. And you can give
yourself to any dirty verdoemte schelm of an Engelschman you please, for I
will have none of you! To-morrow you shall have a paper showing you how to
tell me very many things in match-talk, and earn much money to buy
presents for my nice little Boer vrouw. Alamachtig! what is this?"

"This" was the hard, cold, polished business-end of a condemned Martini
poked violently out of the blackness into the Slabbertian thorax.

"Not in such a 'urry by 'arf, you perishin' Dopper," spluttered the
ghastly little man in bandoliers behind the weapon. "Put up them dirty big
'ands o' yours, or, by Cripps! I'll let 'er off, you sneakin',
match-talkin' spy!"

The arms of Slabberts soared as the tongue of Slabberts wagged in
explanation.

"This is assault and battery, Meister, upon a peaceful burgher. You shall
answer to your officer for it, I tell you slap. Voor den donder! Is not a
young man to light his pipe as he talks to a young woman without being
called spy by a verdoemte sentry! Tell him, Jannje, that is all I did
do!"

W. Keyse felt a little awkward, and the rifle was uncommonly heavy. The
Slabberts felt it tremble, and thought about taking his hands down and
reaching for that Colts six-shooter he kept in his hip-pocket. But though
the finger wobbled, it was at the trigger, and Walt was not fond of risks.

"Tell him, Jannje!" he spluttered once more.

She had not needed a second bidding.

As the domestic hen in defence of her chicken will give battle to the
wilde-kat, so Emigration Jane, with ruffled plumage, blazing, defiant
eyes, and shrill objurgations, couched in the vernacular most familiar to
their object, hurled herself upon the enemy.

"You narsty little brute, you! To up and try an' murder my young man. With
your jor about spies! Sauce! I'd perish you, I would, if I was 'im! Off
the fyce o' the earth, an' charnce bein' 'ung for it! Take away that gun,
you silly little imitation sojer--d' you 'eer?"

The weapon was extremely weighty. W. Keyse's arms ached frightfully.
Perspiration trickled into his eyes from under the tilted smasher. He felt
damp and small, and desperately at a loss. And--as though in malice--the
moon looked out from behind a curtain of thick, dim vapour, as he said
with a lordly air:

"You be off, young woman, and don't interfere!"

Gawd! she knew him in spite of the smasher hat. Her rage burst the
flood-gates. She screeched:

"You!... It's you. 'Oo I done a good turn to--an' this is 'ow I gits it
back?" She gasped. "Because you're arter one young woman wot wouldn't be
seen dead in the syme street wi' you ..."

Pierced with the awful thought that the adored one might be listening, W.
Keyse lifted up his voice.

"Sentry.... 'Ere!... Mister!" he cried despairingly, "You on the other
side, can't you hear?"

In vain the call. The stout fellow-townsman of W. Keyse, comfortably
propped in an angle of the opposite fence, the bulk of the Convent and the
width of its garden and tennis-ground being between them, continued to
sleep and snore peacefully and undisturbed.

Emigration Jane continued:

"Because that sly cat wiv the yeller 'air-plait won't 'ear o' you, you try
to git a pore servant-gal's fancy bloke pinched! Yah, greedy! Boo! You
plate-faced, erring-backed, s'rimp-eyed little silly, with your
love-letters an' messages! Wait till I give 'er another o' your
screevin'--that's all!"

"Patrol!" cried W. Keyse in a despairing whimper.

She advanced upon him closer and closer, lashing herself as she came, to
frenzy. How often had W. Keyse seen it outside the big gaudy pubs in the
Tottenham Court Road, and the Britannia, Camden Town! Perhaps the
recollection staring, newly awakened, in the pale, moonlit eyes of the
little perspiring Town Guardsman stung her to equal memory, and provoked
the act. Who can tell? We may only know that she plucked the weapon of
lower-class London from her hat, and jabbed at the pale face viciously,
and heard the victim say "Owch!" as he winced, and knew herself, as her
Slabberts gripped the rifle-barrel, and wrested it with iron strength from
the failing hands of W. Keyse, the equal of those dauntless Boer women who
killed men when it was necessary. But, oh! the 'orrible, 'ideous feeling
of 'aving stuck something into live flesh! Sick and giddy, the heroine
shut her eyes, seeing behind their lids wondrous phantasmagoria of
coloured pyrotechny, rivalling the most marvellous triumphs of the
magician Brock....



W. Keyse's beheld, at the moment when his weapon was wrenched from him,
two long grey arms come out of the darkness and coil about the
largely-looming form of Slabberts. Enveloped in the neutral-tinted
tentacles of this mysterious embrace, the big Boer struggled impotently,
and a quick, imperative voice said, between the thick pants of striving
men:

"Get the gun from him, will you, and call up your picket. Don't fire; blow
your whistle instead!"

"_Pip-ip-ip-'r'r! Pip-ip-r'r!_"

The long, shrill call brought armed men hurrying out of the darkness on
the other side of the Cemetery, and considerably quickened the arrival of
the visiting patrol.

"Communicating with persons outside the defences by flashlight signals. We
can't shoot him for it just yet, but we _can_ gaol him on suspicion,"
said the Commander of the picket. And Slabberts, with a stalwart escort of
B.S.A. troopers, reluctantly moved off in the direction of the
guard-house.

"Who was the fellow who helped you, do you know?" asked the officer who
had ridden up with the patrol. "Threw him and sat on him until the picket
came up, you say," he commented, on hearing W. Keyse's version of the
story. "A tall man in civilian clothes, with a dark wideawake and short
pointed beard! H'm!"

"Coming from the veld, apparently, and not from town," said the picket
Commander. "Must have known the countersign, or the sentries out there
would have stopped him. I--see!"

He looked at the patrol-officer, who coughed again. The moonlight was
quite bright enough for the exchange of a wink. Then:

"Hold on, man, you're bleeding," said W. Keyse's Sergeant, an old Naval
Brigade man. "How did ye get that 'ere nasty prod under the eye?"

W. Keyse put up his hand, and gingerly felt the place that hurt. His
fingers were red when they came away.

"The young woman wot was with the Dutchman, she jabbed me with a 'at-pin,
to git me to let 'im go."

"There's a blindin' vixen for you!" commented the Sergeant. "Two inch
higher, and she'd have doused your light out. Where did she come from,
d'ye know?"

"Have you any idea who she was?" asked the Commander of the picket.

W. Keyse shook his head.

"'Aven't the least idear, sir. Never sor 'er before in my natural!" he
declared stoutly.

"Well, you'll know her again when you meet her--or she will you," said the
patrol-officer, about to move on, when a deplorable figure came staggering
into the circle, and the rider reined up his horse. "What's this? Hey,
Johnny, where's your gun?"

It was W. Keyse's fellow-sentry from the opposite flank of the Convent.

"And time you turned up, I don't think," commented W. Keyse. "Didn't you
'ear me sing out to you just now?"

"Come, now, what were you up to?" the Sergeant pressed. "Better up an' own
it if you've bin asleep on guard."

The eager faces crowded round. The object of interest and comment, not at
all sympathetic or polite, was a stout, respectable tradesman, with a
large, round, ghastly face, who saluted his officer with a trembling hand.

"I--I have been the victim of an outrage, sir!"

"Sorry to hear it; what's your name?"

"Brooker, sir," volunteered W. Keyse's Corporal. "The other sentry we put
on with Keyse here."

"Mr. Brooker, sir, General Stores, Market Square," babbled the citizen.

"Well, Private Brooker, what have you to say?"

"I have been drugged or hypnotised, sir, and robbed of my gun while in a
state of insensibility, sir--upon my honour as an Alderman and Magistrate
of this borough! Swear me, sir, if you have any doubt of my veracity!" He
flapped his hands like fins, and his bandolier heaved above a labouring
bosom.

The Commander of the picket looked preternaturally grave.

"Very sorry, Private Brooker, but unless the Sergeant has brought his
Testament along, you'll have to give your information in the ordinary way.
So they drugged you or hypnotised you--or both, was it?--and took away
your rifle. Of course you saw it done?"

"No, sir, I did not see it done. When I woke up ..."

"Ah, when you woke up! Please go on."

The crowding faces of B.S.A. men and Town Guardsmen were grinning now. The
patrol-officer was rocking in his saddle.

"When I revived, sir, from the swoon or trance ..."

"Very good, Private Brooker; we'll hear the rest of that in the morning.
Sergeant, relieve these sentries, and bring Private Keyse and the hypnotic
subject before me in the morning. Make this man Brooker a prisoner at
large for the present, and fall in the picket."

The Sergeant saluted. "Very good, sir."

The bubbling Brooker boiled over frothily as the sentries were changing.

"A prisoner! Good God! do they take me for a traitor? A Magistrate ... an
Alderman, the President of the Gas Committee ..."

"I should 'ave guessed you to be that if I 'adn't 'eard it, sonny," said
the Sergeant dryly, the implied sarcasm provoking a subdued guffaw. He
added, as the visiting patrol rode on and the picket marched back to the
Cemetery: "Can't relieve you of your rifle, because you 'aven't got 'er.
What in 'Eaven's name are they goin' to do to you? Well, you'll find out
to-morrow. Left face; quick march!"

Counting left-right, and keeping elbow-touch with the next man, W. Keyse
got in a whisper:

"I say, Sergeant, am I in for it as well as Ole Bulgy Weskit? You might as
well let me know and charnce it!"

The Sergeant answered with unfeeling indifference:

"Since you ask, I should say you was."

"That's a bit 'ard! Wot'll I git?"

"Ten to one, your skater."

"Wot is my skater?"

"Your Corporal's stripe, you suckin' innocent! Wot for? For takin' a Boer
spy pris'ner--that's wot for!"

"Cripps!" said W. Keyse, enlightened, illuminated and glowing in the
darkness. He added a moment later, in rather a depressed tone: "But it was
'im, the civilian bloke with the beard, 'oo downed the Dutchy, an' sat on
'im till the guard come up."

The Sergeant was ahead of the half-company, speaking to the officer in
charge. It was the Corporal who answered, across the man who marched upon
the left of W. Keyse:

"O' course it was. But you 'ad the Dopper fust, and," he cackled quietly,
"the Colonel won't be jealous."

The eyes and mouth of W. Keyse became circular.

"The who?"

"The Colonel, didn't you 'ear me say?"

"That wasn't never ... _'im_"?

"All right, since you know best. But him, for all that!"

"Great Jiminy Cripps!" gasped W. Keyse.



XXIII


You are to imagine Dawn, trailing weary-footed over the interminable
plain, to find Gueldersdorp, lonely before, and before threatened, now
isolated like some undaunted coral rock in mid-Pacific, crested with
screaming sea-birds, girt with roaring breakers, set in the midst of
waters haunted by myriads of hungry sharks. Ringed with silent menace, she
squatted on her low hill, doggedly waiting the event.

It was known that on the previous day the telegraph wires north of Beaton
had been cut, and this day was to sever the last link with Cape Town at
Maripo, some forty miles south. The railway bridge that crossed the Olopo
River might go next. Staat's Engineers had been busy there overnight.
Rumour had it, Heaven knows how, that the armoured train that had been
sent up from the Cape with two light guns of superseded pattern--a
generous contribution towards the collection of obsolete engines now
bristling from the sand-bagged ramparts--had been seized by a commando,
with the officer and the men in charge. This was to be confirmed later by
the arrival of an engine-driver minus five fingers and some faith in the
omnipotence of British arms. But at the beginning of this chapter he was
hiding in a sand-hole, chewing the cud of his experiences, in default of
other pabulum, and did not get in before dark of the long blazing day.

Crowds gathered on the barely-reclaimed veld at the northern end of the
town to see the Military Executive take over the Hospital. But that the
streets were barricaded with waggons and every able-bodied male citizen
carried a rifle, it might have been mistaken for an occasion of national
rejoicing or civic festivity. The leaves of the pepper-trees fringing the
thoroughfares and clumped in the Market Square rustled in the faint hot
breeze. By-and-by they were to stand scorched and seared and naked under
the iron hail that beat in blizzards upon them, and die in the noxious
lyddite fumes dispersed by bursting shells.

The variegated crowd cheered as the Staff dismounted at the white-painted
iron gates of the railed-in Hospital grounds. It was not the acclamation
of admiration, it was the cheer expectant. They wanted to know what the
Officer in Command was going to do? Intolerable suspense racked them.
Wherever it was known that he would be, there they followed at this
juncture--solid masses of humanity, bored with innumerable ear-holes, and
enamelled with patient, glittering, expectant eyes. His own keen, kindly
glance swept over them as he touched his grey felt hat in acknowledgment
of their dubious greeting, that half-hearted but well-meant cheer. He read
the mute question written upon all the faces. Part of his answer to the
interrogation was standing in the Railway-yard, but they would have to
wait a little while longer yet--just a little longer. He whistled his
pleasant melodious little tune as the porter hurried to open the gates.

One pair of pale, rather ugly eyes in the crowd were illumined with pure
hero-worship. "That's 'im," explained their owner, nudging a big man in
shabby white drill, who was shouldering a deliberate way through the
press.



"The Colonel--and ain't 'e a Regular Oner! Them along of 'im--with the red
shoulder-straps and brown leather leggin's, they're cav'l'ry Orficers o'
the Staff, they are. An' them others in khâki with puttees--syme as wot
I've got on--they're the Medical Swells. Military Saw-boneses--twig? You
can tell 'em, when you're near enough, by the bronze badges with a serpint
climbin' up a stick inside a wreath, wot they 'ave on the fronts o' their
caps an' on their jacket-collars, an' the instrument-cases wot they
carries in their bres' pockets. I'm a bit in the know about these things,
being a sort of Service man meself."

Thus delicately did W. Keyse invite comment. Splendid additions had
certainly been made to the martial outfit of the previous day. The tweed
Norfolk had been replaced by a khâki jacket, evidently second-hand, and
obligingly taken in by the lady of the boarding-house. A Corporal's
stripe, purchased from a trooper of the B.S.A., who, as the consequence of
over-indulgence in liquor and language, had one to sell, had been sewn
upon the sleeve. The original owner had charged an extra tikkie for doing
it, and it burned the arm that bore it like a vaccination-pustule on the
fifth day.

"Being a sort of Service man meself," repeated W. Keyse. He twitched the
stripe carelessly into sight. "C'manding orficer marked me down for this
to-day," he continued, with elaborate indifference, "along of a Favourable
Mention in the Cap'n's Guard Report. Nothin' much--little turn-up with a
'ulking big Dutch bloke, 'oo turned out to be a spy."

In the act of feeling for the invisible moustache, he recognised the face
under the Panama hat worn by the big neighbour in white drill, and blushes
swamped his yellow freckles. The owner of that square, powerful face, no
longer bloated and crimson, but pale and drawn, was the man who had
stepped in to the rescue at the Dutchman's saloon-bar on the previous day,
where Fate had stage-managed effects so badly that the heroic leading
attitude of W. Keyse had perforce given place to the minor rôle of the
juvenile walking-gentleman. "Watto!" he began. "It's you, Mister! I bin
wantin' to say thank----" But a surge of the crowd flattened W. Keyse
against the green-painted iron railings surrounding a municipal gum-tree,
and the big man was lost to view. Perhaps it was as well that the
acquaintance made under conditions remote from respectability should not
be renewed. But W. Keyse would have preferred to thank the rescuer.

The taking over of the Hospital was accomplished in a moment, to the
disappointment of the ceremony-loving Briton and the Colonial of British
race, to say nothing of the Kaffirs and the Barala, who anticipated a big
indaba. The little party of officers in khâki walked up the gravel-drive
between the carefully-tended grass plats to the stoep where the Mayor of
Gueldersdorp, with the matron, house-surgeon, secretary, and several
prominent members of the Committee--including Alderman Brooker,
puffy-cheeked and yellow-eyed for lack of a night's rest--waited. Military
Authority saluted Civic Dignity, shook hands, and the thing was done.
Inspection followed.

"The warr'ds, said ye?" The Chief Medical Officer, a tall raw-boned
personage, very evidently hailed from North of the Tweed. "I'm obliged to
ye, ma'am," he addressed the flustered matron, "but the warr'ds an' the
contents o' the beds in them are no' to say of the firr'st importance--at
least, whaur I'm concerr'ned. With your permeesion we'll tak' a look at
the Operating Theatre, and overhaul the sterileezing plant, and the
sanitary arrangements, and maybe, after a gliff at the kitchens, there
would be a moment to spend in ganging through the warr'ds. Unless the
Colonel would prefer to begin wi' them?" He turned a small, twinkling pair
of blue eyes set in dry wrinkles upon his Chief.

"Not I, Major. This is your department. But I shall ask five minutes more
grace in the interests of the friend I spoke of, Dr. Saxham; with whom I
made an appointment at the half-hour."

"You're no' by any chance meaning the Saxham that wrote 'The Diseases of
Civilisation,' are ye, Colonel? I mind a sentence in it that must have
been a douse of cauld watter--toch! vitriol would be the better worr'd--in
the faces o' some o' the dandy operators. '_Young men_,' he ca'ed them, as
if he was a greybeard himsel', 'young men who, led to take up Surgery by
the houp o' gains an' notoriety, have given themselves nae time to learn
its scienteefic principles--showy operators, who diagnose wi' the knife
an' endeavour to dictate to Nature and no' to assist her.' And yet Saxham
could daur! 'I shall prove that the gastric ulcer can be cured wi'out
exceesion,' he said, or they say he said in the _Lancet_ report o' the
operation on the Grand Duke Waldimir--I cam' across a reprint o' it no'
lang ago--when Sir Henry McGavell sent for him, wi' the sweat o' mortal
terror soakin' his Gladstone collar. He cut a hole in the Duke's stomach,
ye will understand, in front o' the ulcer, clipped off the smaller
intesteene, spliced the twa together wi' a Collins button, and by a
successful deveece o' plumbing--naething less--earned the eterr'nal
gratitude o' the autocrat an' the everlastin' currses o' the Nihilists.
All that, seven years ago, an' the thing is dune the day wi'oot a
hair's-breadth difference. For why? Ye canna paint the lily, or improve
upon perfection. Toch!... Colonel, that man would be worth the waitin'
for, if he stood in your friend's shoes the day!"

"Rejoice then, Major, and be exceeding glad, for I believe this is the
man who wrote the book and plugged--or was it plumbed--the potentate."

The Chief Medical Officer rubbed his hands. "I promise myself a crack or
twa wi' him, then.... But how is it a busy chiel like that can get awa'
from his private patients and his Hospital warr'ds in the London Winter
Season Ahem! ahem!"

By the haste the Medical Officer developed in changing the conversation,
it was plain that he had recalled the circumstances under which the "busy
chiel" had turned his back upon the private patients and the Hospital
wards. "Colonel," he went on, "I could be wishing this varry
creeditable-appearing institution--judging from the ootside o't--were
twice as big as it is, wi' maybe an Annexe or so to the back of that."

"My dear Major, I never knew you really satisfied and happy but once, and
that was when we had fifty men down with dysentery and fever in a
tin-roofed Railway goods-shed, and a hundred and seventy more under leaky
canvas, and you were out of chlorodyne and quinine, and could get no
milk."

"That goes to prove the eleementary difference between the male an' the
female character. A man will no' keep on dithering for what he kens he
canna' get. A woman, especially a young an' pretty----" He broke off to
say: "Toch! will ye hark to Beauvayse! The very name of the sex sets that
lad rampaging."

"Beautiful! I tell you, sir," the handsome, fair-haired young aide-de-camp
was emphatically assuring that stout, rubicund personage, the Mayor, "the
loveliest girl I ever saw in my life, or ever shall see--bar none! I saw
her first on the Recreation Ground, the day a gang of Boer blackguards
insulted some nuns who were in charge of a ladies' school, and to-day she
passed with two other Sisters of Mercy, and I touched my hat to her as the
Staff dismounted at the gate."

"Another _rara avis_, Beau?" the Colonel called across the intervening
group of talkers. The group of khâki-clad figures separated, and turned
first to the Chief, then to the bright-eyed, bright-faced enthusiast.
White teeth flashed in tanned faces, chaff began:

"In love again, for the first and only time, Toby?"

"Since he lost his heart to Miss What's-her-name, that pretty 'Jollity'
girl, with the double-barrelled repeating wink, and the postcard grin."

"Don't forget the velvet-voiced beauty of the dark, moonless night on the
Cape Town Hotel verandah!"

"_She_ turned out to be a Hottentot lady, didn't she?"

"Cavalry Problem No. 1. Put yourself in Lieutenant the Right Hon. the Lord
Viscount Beauvayse's place, and give in detail the precautions you would
have taken to insure the transport of your heart uninjured from the Staff
Headquarters to the Hospital Gate. Show on the map the disposition of the
enemy, whether desirous to enslave, or likely to be mashed...."

"She was neither," the crimson boy declared. "She was simply a lady, quiet
and high-bred and simple enough to have been a Princess of the blood, or
to look a fellow in the face and pass him by without the slightest
idea--I'd swear to it--that she'd fairly taken his breath away."

"My dear Lord!" The Mayor took a great deal of comfort out of a title.
"Attractive the young lady is, I certainly admit, and my wife is--I may
say the word--in her praise. But you go one, or half a dozen, better than
Mrs. Greening, who will be perfectly willing, I don't doubt, to introduce
you, unless the Colonel entertains objections ..."

"To Staff flirtations? Regard 'em as inevitable, Mr. Mayor, like Indian
prickly-heat, or fever here. And probably the best cure for the complaint
in the present instance would be to meet the cause of it."

"Judge for yourself, Colonel; you've first-class long-distance eyesight."
There was a ring of defiance in the boy's fresh voice. "You've seen her
before, and it isn't the kind of face one forgets. Here they are ... here
she is now, coming back, with the other ladies. The railing spoils one's
view, but the gates are open, and in another moment you'll see her pass
them."

The Chief moved to the front of the stoep where the Staff had congregated.
Men quietly fell aside, making place for him, so that he stood with
Beauvayse, in a clear half-circle of figures attired like his own, in
Service browns and drabs and umbers, waiting until the three approaching
feminine shapes should pass across the open space. One or two Staff
monocles went up. The Chief Medical Officer removed and wiped his
steel-rimmed eyeglasses before replacing them on his bony aquiline nose.

They came and passed--the white figure and the two black ones. Of these
one was very tall, one short and dumpy--veiled and mantled, their hands
hidden in their ample sleeves, they went by with their eyes upon the
ground. But the girl with them--a slight, willowy creature in a creamy
cambric dress, a wide hat of black transparent material, frilled and
bowed, upon her dead-leaf coloured hair, and tied by wide strings of
muslin under her delicate round chin--looked with innocent, candid
interest at the group of men outside the Hospital. The tanned faces, the
simple workman-like Service dress, setting off the well-knit, alert
figures, the quiet, soldierly bearing, even the distant sound of the
well-bred voices, pleased her, even as the whiff of cigars and Russian
leather that the breeze brought down from the stoep struck some latent
chord of subconscious memory, and brought a puzzled little frown between
the delicately-drawn dark eyebrows arching over black-lashed golden hazel
eyes. And cognisant of every fleeting change of expression in those lovely
eyes, the taller of her two companions thought, with a stab of pain:

"_Your father was that man's friend, and the comrade of others like him._"

"Now, then!" challenged Beauvayse, as the three figures moved out of
sight.

"The 'Girl With the Golden Eyes'?" said somebody.

"You wouldn't speak of her in the same breath with that brainless beast of
Balzac's, hang it all!" expostulated the champion. He turned eagerly to
the Colonel. "Now you've seen her, sir, would you?"

"Not exactly. And I'm bound to say, I regard your claim to the possession
of good taste as completely established.... 'Ware the horse, there! Look
out! look out!" His eyes had followed the tall figure of the
Mother-Superior, moving with the superlative grace and ease that comes of
perfect physical proportion, carrying the black nun's robes, wearing the
flowing veil of the nun with the dignity of an ideal queen. And the next
instant, his charger, held with some others by a mounted orderly before
the gates, and rendered nervous by the pressure of the crowd, shied at the
towering _panache_ of imitation grass-made ostrich feathers trailing from
the aged and crownless pot-hat worn by a headman of the Barala in holiday
attire, jerked the bridle from the hand of the trooper, and backed,
rearing, in the direction of the three women passing on the sidewalk. The
other horses shied, frustrating the efforts of the orderly to catch the
flying bridle, and the danger from the huge, towering brown body and
dangling iron-shod hoofs was very real, seemed inevitable, when a man in
white drill and wearing a Panama hat ran out of the crowd, sprang up and
deftly caught the loose bridoon-rein, mastered the frightened beast, and
dragged it back into the roadway, in time to avert harm.

"Cleverly done, but a close thing," the Chief said, as he turned away. "_I
wish I had had that fellow's chance!_" was written in Beauvayse's face. To
have won a look of gratitude from those wonderful black-fringed eyes,
brought a flush of admiration into those white-rose cheeks, would have
been worth while. The slight, tall, girlish figure in its dainty creamy
draperies had passed out of sight now between its two black-robed
guardians. And had not Luck, that mutable-minded deity, given the golden
chance to a hulking stranger in white drill, his, Beauvayse's, might have
been the hand to intervene in the matter of the Colonel's restive charger,
and his the ears to receive Beauty's acknowledgments.

If he had known that her eyes had been too full of his own resplendent,
virile, glowing young personality, to even see the man who had stepped in
between her and possible danger! The most innocent girl will have her
ideal of a lover and thrill at the imagined touch, and furnish the dumb
image with a dream-voice that woos her in impossible, elaborate,
impassioned sentences, very unlike the real utterances of Love when he
comes. The blue-eyed, ruddy-cheeked, golden-locked St. Michael portrayed
in celestial-martial splendour upon one of the panels of the triptych over
the altar in the Convent chapel, had, as he bent stern young brows over
the writhing demon with the vainly-enveloping snake-folds, something of
the young soldier's look, it seemed to Lynette. Ridiculous and profane,
Sister Cleophée or Sister Ruperta would have said, to liken a handsome,
stupid, young lieutenant of Hussars to the immortal Captain of the Armies
of Heaven.

But she knew another who would understand. There was no flaw in the
perfect sympathy that maintained between Lynette and the Mother-Superior,
though, certainly, since the Colonel's visit of the previous day, the
Mother had seemed strangely preoccupied and sad.... Her good-night kiss,
invariably so warm and tender, had been the merest brush of lips against
the girl's soft cheek; her good-morning had been even more perfunctory;
her eyes, those great maternal radiances, turned their light elsewhere.
Unloved and neglected, the Convent's spoiled darling hugged her
abandonment, weaving a very pretty, ineffably silly romance, in which a
noble and beautiful young Hussar lover, suddenly appearing over the
corrugated-iron fence of the tennis-ground, the foliage of its fringe of
pepper-trees waving in the night-breeze, strode towards the slender white
figure leaning from her chamber-casement, whispering, with outstretched
hands, and eyes that gleamed through the darkness:

"_Open the door! Do you hear, you Kid? Open the door!_"



Her heart beat once, heavily, and seemed to stop. A cold breath seemed to
blow upon the little silken hair-tendrils at the nape of her white neck,
spreading a creeping, stiffening horror through her body, deadening
sensation, paralysing every limb.

The close approach of any man, even the thought of such contact, turned
her deadly faint, checked her pulses, stopped her breath. At picnics and
parties and dances to which the Mayor's wife or the mothers of some of the
pupils would invite or chaperon her, her vivid, delicate, fragile beauty
would draw, first men's eyes, and then their owners, not all unhandsome or
undesirable; while showier girls looked in vain for partners or
companions. The little triumph, the consciousness of being admired and
sought after, would quicken Lynette's pulses, and heighten the radiance of
her eyes, and lend animation to her girlish chatter and gaiety to her
laughter--at first. Then some over-bold advance, some hot look or
whispered word, would bring quick recollection leaping into the lovely
eyes, and drive the vivid colour from the virginal transparent face, and
stamp the smiling mouth into pale, breathless lines of Fear. That night in
the tavern on the veld had branded a child with premature knowledge of the
ferocious, ravening, devouring Beast that lies in Man concealed. Again she
felt the scorching breath of lust upon her; she quailed under the
intolerable touch; she shook like a reed in the brutal hands of the evil,
dominating power that would brook no resistance and knew no mercy. The
horrible obsession came upon her now, all the stronger for those moments
of forgetfulness:

"_Clang--clang--clang!_"

The little Irish novice had rung the chapel bell for Sext and None. She
could hear, from the nuns' end of the big rambling, two-storied house, the
rustling habits sweeping along the passage. She hurried to the door, and
tore it open, frantically as though that ravening breath had been hot upon
her neck, saw the dear black figure of the Mother sweeping towards her,
and rushed into the arms that were held out, hiding from that burning,
scorching, hideous memory in the bosom that dead Richard Mildare had
turned from in his blindness.

Just as Beauvayse, stimulated by the recollection of the Mayor's promise
to introduce him to the loveliest girl he had ever seen in his life, or
ever should see, mentally registered a vow that he would keep the old
buffer up to that, by listening to his interminable hunting-stories, and
laughing at his venerable jokes, to tears if necessary. Love, like War,
sharpened a fellow's faculties....

"It's rum to reflect," Beauvayse said, conscious of perpetrating an
epigram, "that from time immemorial the fellow who wants to make up to a
young woman has always had to begin by getting round an old man!"

He looked round for the old man, whom the title would have estranged for
ever. He had buttonholed the Chief, and was gassing away--joy!--upon the
very subject.

"I fancy the ladies of the Convent, who occasionally visit the Hospital,
were coming in at this gate. The short nun, I noticed, had a little
basket in her hand. Probably they went round to the side entrance, seeing
the--ha, ha!--the stoep garrisoned by Her Majesty's Imperial Forces.
Certainly.... Without doubt. We respect the Mother-Superior highly. A most
gifted, most estimable person in every way, if rather stern and
reserved.... Unapproachable, my wife calls her. But Miss Mildare, her
ward----"



XXIV


"Miss Mildare!"

The Chief's keen eyes had lightened suddenly. The whole face had darkened
and narrowed, and the clipped brown moustache lost its smiling curve, and
straightened into a hard line.

"Miss _Mildare_?"

"Why, yes, that is her name.... An orphan, I have heard, and with no
living relatives. But she seems happy enough at the Convent, judging by
what Mrs. Greening says."

The hearer experienced a momentary feeling of relief and of anger--relief
to think that dead Dick Mildare's daughter should have found refuge in
such a woman's heart; anger that the woman should have concealed from him
the girl's identity, knowing her the object of his own anxious search.

Then he understood. His anger died as suddenly as it had been kindled. He
recalled something that he had seen when the rearing horse had inclined
perilously towards the footway--that protecting maternal gesture, that
swift interposition of the tall, active, black-robed figure between the
white-clad, flower-faced, girlish creature and those threatening iron-shod
hoofs....

"She loves the girl--Dick Mildare's daughter by the treacherous friend who
stole him from her. Is there a doubt? With poor little Lady Lucy Hawting's
willowy figure and the same nymph-like droop of the little head, with its
rich twists and coils of dead-leaf-coloured hair, shaded by the big black
hat. That woman has taken her to her heart, however she came by her; the
parting would be agony, stern, proud, tender creature that she is! I
suppose she will be doing thundering penance for not having told me, a
fellow who simply walked into the place and assegaied her with my
death-news. Here's a marrowy bone of gossip Lady Hannah shall never crack.
And yet I wouldn't swear there's not an angel husked inside that dried-up
little chrysalis. For God made all women, though He only turned out a few
of 'em perfect, and some only just a little better than the ruck."

He roused himself from the brown study that brought into relief many
lurking lines and furrows in the thin, keen face, as the Chief Medical
Officer, fixing him through suspicious eyeglasses, demanded:

"Ye got your full allowance o' sleep last nicht?"

He nodded.

"Thanks to a Cockney babe in bandoliers, who was born not only with eyes
and ears, like other infants, but with the capacity for using 'em."

"Ay. It's remarr'kable how many men will daudle complacently through life,
from the cradle to the grave, wi'out the remotest consciousness that
they're practically blind and no better than deaf, as far as regards real
seeing and hearing. But who's your prodeegy?"

"One of Panizzi's Town Guardsmen. They put him on at the Convent with
another sentry, their first experience of a night on guard. By not being
in a hurry to challenge, and keeping his ears open while a conversation of
the confidentially-affectionate kind was going on between a Dutchman--a
fellow employed in the booking-office at the railway, on whom I've had my
eye for some little time past--and his sweetheart, my townie found out for
himself something that most of us knew before, and something else that we
wanted to know particularly badly...."

"Namely?"

"For one thing, that the town is a hotbed of spies, and that our friends
in laager outside are nightly communicated with by means of
flash-signals."

"And that's an indeesputable fact. Toch!" No other combination of letters
may convey the guttural, "Have I no' seen the lamps at warr'k mysel',
after darr'k, at the end o' the roads that debouch upon the veld! The
Dutchman would be able to plead precedent, I'm thinking."

"He will have plenty of time to think where he is at present. When the
sentry interfered he was instructing the young woman in a simple but
effective code of match-flare signals, by means of which she was to
communicate with him when he had cleared out. And he had announced his
intention of doing that without delay."

"An' skipping to his freends upo' the Borr'der.... Toch!" The network of
wrinkles tightened about the sharp little blue-grey eyes of the Chief
Medical Officer. "That would gie a thochtfu' man a kind o' notion that a
reese in the temperature may be expectit shortly. An' so you--slept
soundly on the strength o' many wakeful nichts to come? Ay, that would be
the kind o' information ye were badly wanting!"

"You're wrong, Major. The bit of information was this--from the spy to his
friends outside: '_No--news--to-night._'" The keen hazel eyes conveyed
something into the Northern blue ones that was not said in words: "'No
news to-night.' And the sender of that message was a railway man!"

The wiry hairs of the Chief Medical Officer's red moustache bristled like
a cat's.

"Toch! Colonel, you will have reason to be considering me dull in the
uptake, but I see through the mud wall now. And so the knowledge that ye
have no equal at hiding your deeds o' darkness even in the licht o' the
railway-yard was as good to ye as Daffy's Elixir. And when micht we reckon
on getting notification from what I may presume to ca' your double
surpreese-packet?"

He looked at his watch--a well-used Waterbury, worn upon the silvered
steel lip-strap of a cavalry bridle, and said:

"Ten o'clock. At a quarter past eleven I think we may count upon
something. The driver of Engine 123 has given me the word of an Irishman
from County Kildare; and the stoker, a Cardiff man, and the guard, who
hails from Shoreditch, are quite as keen as Kildare."

"You're sending the stuff up North?"

"In the direction of the stretch of railway-line they're busy wrecking, in
the hope that it may come in useful."

"Weel, I will gie ye the guid wish that the affair may go off exactly as
ye are hoping."

"Thanks, Major! You could hardly word the sentence more happily."

They exchanged a laugh as the Mayor bustled up, rubicund, important, and
with a Member of the Committee to introduce.

"Colonel, you'll permit me to present Alderman Brooker, one of our most
energetic and valued townsmen, President of the Gas Committee, and an
Assistant Borough Magistrate. One of Major Panizzi's Town Guardsmen. Was
on sentry-go last night not far from here, and had a most extraordinary
experience. Worth your hearing, if you can spare time to listen to my
friend's account of it."

"With pleasure, Mr. Mayor."

Brooker, a stout and flabby man, with pouches under biliously tinged eyes,
bowed and broke into a violent perspiration, not wholly due to the shiny
black frock-coat suit of broadcloth donned for the occasion.

"Sir, I humbly venture to submit that I have been the victim of a
conspiracy!"

"Indeed? Step this way, Mr. Brooker."

Brooker, soothed by the courteous affability of the reception, his sense
of importance magnified by being led aside, apart from the others, into
the official privacy of the stoep-corner, began to be eloquent. He knew,
he said, that the story he had to relate would appear almost incredible,
but a soldier, a diplomat, a master of strategy, such as the personage to
whom he now addressed himself, would understand--none better--how to
unravel the tangled web, and follow up the clue to its ending in a den of
secret, black, and midnight conspiracy. A blob of foam appeared upon his
under-lip. He waved his hands, thick, short-fingered, clammy members....

"My story is as follows, sir...."

"I shall have pleasure in listening to it, Mr. Brooker, on condition that
you will do me first the favour of listening to a story of mine?"

Deferred Brooker protested willingness.

"Last night, Mr. Brooker, at about eleven-thirty to a quarter to twelve, I
was returning from a little tour of inspection"--the slight riding
sjambok the Chief carried pointed over the veld to the northward--"out
there, when, passing the south angle of the enclosure of the Convent,
where, by my special orders, a double sentry of the Town Guard had been
posted, I heard a sound that I will endeavour to reproduce:

"_Gr'rumph! Honk'k! Gr'rumph!_"

Brooker bounded in his Oxford shoes.

The face upon which he glued his bulging eyes was grave to sternness. He
stuttered, interrogated by the judicial glance:

"It--it sounds something like a snore."

"It was a snore, Mr. Brooker, and it proceeded from one of the sentries
upon guard."

"Sir ... I ... I can expl----"

"Oblige me by not interrupting, Mr. Brooker. This sentry sat upon a short
post, his back fitted comfortably into an angle of the Convent fence, his
head thrown back, and his mouth wide open. From it, or from the organ
immediately above, the snore proceeded. He was having a capital night's
rest--in the Service of his Country. And as I halted in front of him,
fixing upon him a gaze which was coldly observant, he shivered and ceased
to snore, and said":--the wretched Brooker heard his own voice, rendered
with marvellous fidelity, speaking in the muffled tone of the
sleeper--"'_Annie, it's damned cold to-night; and you've got all the
blanket._'"

"Sir ... sir!" The stricken Brooker babbled hideously.... "Colonel ... for
mercy's sake!..."

"I could not oblige the gentleman with a blanket, Mr. Brooker, but I
relieved him of his rifle and left him, to tell his picket a cock-and-bull
story of having been drugged and hypnotised by Boer spies. And--I will
overlook it upon the present occasion, but in War-time, Mr. Brooker, men
have been shot for less. I think I need not detain you further. Your rifle
has been sent to your headquarters--with my card and an explanation. One
word more, Mr. Brooker----"

Brooker, grey, streaky, and desperately wretched, was blind to the
laughter brimming the keen hazel eyes.

"I am entrusted by the Imperial Government with the preservation of Public
Morality in Gueldersdorp, as well as with the maintenance of the Public
Safety--and I should be glad of an assurance from you that Mrs. Brooker's
Christian name is really Annie?"

"I--I swear it, Colonel!"

Brooker fled, leaving the preserver of public morality to have his laugh
out before he rejoined the Staff, glancing at the Waterbury on the short
steel chain. Half-past ten. Would the Dop Doctor turn up to appointment,
or had the battle with habit and the deadly craving born of indulgence
ended in defeat? As his eyes moved from the dial, they lighted upon the
man:

"_Clothed and in his right mind...._"

His own words of the night before recurred to memory as he came forwards
with his long, light step, greeting the new-comer with the easy, cordial
grace of high-breeding.

"Ah, Dr. Saxham, obliged to you for being punctual. Let me introduce you
to Major Lord Henry Leighbury, D.S.O., Grenadier Guards, our D.A.A.G. Dr.
Saxham, Colonel Ware, Baraland Rifles, and Sir George Wendysh, Wessex
Regiment, commanding the Irregular Horse; Captain Bingham Wrynche, Royal
Bay Dragoons, my senior aide-de-camp, and his junior, Lieutenant Lord
Beauvayse, of the Grey Hussars. And Dr. Saxham, Major Taggart, R.A.M.C.,
our Chief Medical Officer."

He watched the man keenly as he made the introductions, saying to himself
that this was better than he had hoped. The ragged black moustache had
been shaved away; the frayed but spotless suit of white drill fitted the
heavy-shouldered, thin-flanked, muscular figure perfectly; the faded blue
flannel shirt, with the white double collar and narrow black tie; the
shabby black kamarband about his waist, the black-ribboned Panama,
maintaining respectability in extremest old age, as that expensive but
lasting headgear is wont to do, possessed, as worn by the Dop Doctor, a
certain _cachet_ of style. His slight, curt, almost frowning salutations
displayed a well-graduated recognition of the official status of each
individual to whom he was made known, betokening the man accustomed to
move in circles where such knowledge and the application of it was
indispensable, and who knew, too, that slight from him would have given
chagrin. But another moment, and the junior Medical Officer, a
black-avised little Irishman from County Meath, had gripped him by both
hands, and was exclaiming in his juicy brogue, real delight beaming in his
round, rosy face:

"Saxham! Saxham of St. Stephens, and the grand ould days! Deny me now, to
my face. Say, 'Tom McFadyen, I don't know you,' if you dare."

The blue eyes shone out vivid gentian-colour in the kindly smile that
illumined them, the stern lips parted in a laugh that showed the sound
white closely-set teeth.

"Tom McFadyen, I do know you. But if you offer to pay me that cab-fare you
owe me, I shall say I'm wrong, and that it's another man."

"Hould your tongue, jewel," drolled the little junior, who delighted in
exaggerating the brogue that tripped naturally off his Irish tongue.
"Don't be after giving me away to the Chief and the Senior that believe
me, by me own account, to be descended from Ollamh Fodla, that was King of
Tara, and owned the cow-grazing from Trim to Athboy, and ate boiled
turnips off shields of gold before potatoes were invented, when the
bog-oaks were growing as acorns on the tree. And as to the cab-fare, sure
I hailed the hansom out of politeness to your honour's glory, the day that
saw me going off to the Army Medical School at Netley, wid all my worldly
belongin's in wan ould hat-box and the half of a carpet-bag. Wirra, wirra!
but it's some folks have luck, says I, as the train took me out av'
Waterloo in a third-class smoker, while you were left on the platform
sheddin' half-crowns out av every pore for the newspaper boys an' porters
to pick up, and smilin' like a baby dhramin' av the bottle. You'd passed
your exam in Anatomy wid wan hand held behind you an' a glove on the
other, you'd got your London University Scholarship in Physiology, and
you'd fallen head over ears in love with the prettiest and sweetest girl
that ever wore out shoe-leather. You wrote to me two years later to say
you'd been appointed an in-surgeon on the Junior Staff, an' that you were
engaged to be married. But divil the taste of weddin'-cake did I ever get
off you. What----"

The little Irishman, thoughtlessly rattling on, pulled up in an instant,
seeing the ghastly unmistakable change upon the other's face. He
remembered the grim black reason for the change in Saxham, and for once,
his habitual tact deserted him. His rosy gills purpled, even as had the
Mayor's on the Dop Doctor's entrance. His eyes winced under the heavy
petrifying, unseeing stare of Saxham's blue ones....

"Sorry to stem the flood of your reminiscences, McFadyen, but we're going
to overhaul the Hospital now."

It was the voice of the visitor who had come to the Harris Street house on
the previous night, the tall, loosely-built, closely-knit figure in the
easily fitting Service-dress that now stepped across the gulf that had
suddenly opened between the two old friends, and laid a hand in pleasant,
familiar fashion upon Saxham's heavy, rather bowed shoulders. But for that
scholar's stoop they would have been of equal height. He went on: "You
will be able to give us points, Saxham, where they will be needed most.
Can't expect Colonial institutions, even at the best, to keep abreast of
London."

The blue eyes met his almost defiantly.

"As I think I remember telling you, sir, it is five years since I saw
London."

"Well, I don't blame you for taking a long holiday while it was
procurable. There are a few of us who would benefit by a gallop without
the halter, eh, Taggart?"

Saxham would not stoop even to benefit indirectly by the shrewd, kindly
tact. He drew himself to his full height, and the words were spoken with
such ringing clearness that they arrested the attention of every man
present.

"My holiday was compulsory. I underwent--innocently--a legal prosecution
for malpractice. The Crown Jury decided in my favour, but my West End
connection was ruined. I resigned my Hospital and other appointments, and
left England."

"Ay!" It was the Chief Medical Officer's broad Scots tongue that droned
out the bagpipe note. "Weel, Doctor, it's an ill wind blaws naebody guid,
and ye canna expect Captain McFadyen or mysel' to sympatheese overmuch wi'
the West End for a loss that is our gain. And, Colonel, it's in my memory
that ye had set your mind on beginnin' wi' the Operating Theatre?..."



XXV


The chart-nurse looked in to say that the Medical officers of the Garrison
Staff were making the rounds, and was stricken to the soul by the
discovery that the Reverend Julius Fraithorn had had no breakfast.
Occupying a small, single-cotted, electric-bell-less room in the outlying
ward--brick-lined and corrugated-iron-built like the greater building, and
reserved for infectious cases--the Reverend Julius might have been said to
be marooned, had not his dark-eyed, transparent, wasted young face created
such hot competition among the nurses for the privilege of attending on
him, that he had frequently received breakfast and dinner in duplicate,
and once three teas. Some of the probationers, reared in the outer
darkness of Dissent, knew no better than to term him "the minister." To
the matron, who was High Church, he existed as "Father Fraithorn." Julius
is hardly complete to the reader without an intimation that he very dearly
loved to be dubbed "Father." The matron had never failed in this.

A letter from Father Tatham, Julius's senior at St. Margaret's, lay under
the bony hand--a mere bunch of fleshless fingers, in which the
skin-covered stick that had been a man's arm ended. Father Tatham wrote to
say that, after a bright, enjoyable summer holiday, spent with a chosen
band of West-Central London barrow-boys at a Rest Home at
Cookham-on-Thames, he has started his Friday evening Confirmation classes
for young costermongers in Little Schoolhouse Court, and obtained a record
attendance by the simple plan of rewarding punctual attendance and
ultimate mastery gained over the Catechism and Athanasian Creed with pairs
of trousers. Julius had shaken his head over the trousers, knowing that
the first walk taken by the garments in company with the winners would be
as far as the pop-shop. But lying there in the clean-smelling, airy
Hospital ward, he yearned with a mighty yearning for the stuffy
West-Central classroom, and the rowdy crew of London roughs hulking and
hustling on the benches, learning per medium of "the dodger," that one's
duty to one's neighbour was not to abuse him foully without cause, to
refrain one's hands from pocket-picking, shop-raiding, hustling, and
jellying heads with brass-buckled belts or iron knuckle-dusters, and not
to get drunk before Saturday night.

He had come out to South Africa upon the advice of
physicians--honestly-meaning wiseacres--ignorant of the shifts, the
fatigues, the inevitable exertions and privations that the panting,
tottering invalid must inevitably undergo, in company with the hale
traveller and the sound emigrant; the rough, protracted journeys, the
neglect and discomfort of the inns and taverns and boarding-houses, where
Kaffirs are the servants, and dirt and discomfort reign. He bore them
because he must, and struggled on, learning by painful experience that
fever-patches are best avoided, and finding out what dust-winds mean to
the man who has got sick lungs, and sometimes thinking he was getting
better, and would be one day able to go back to the Clergy House, and take
up his mission in the West and West-Central districts, and begin work
again.

Now, lying panting on his pillows, raised high by the light chair slipped
in behind them, hospital-fashion, he looked beyond the whitewashed walls
northwards, to grimy London. He dreamed, while the chart-nurse was still
apologising about the forgotten breakfast, of the High Ritual in the
sacred place, and the solemn joy of the vested celebrant of the
Eucharistic Sacrifice. The incense rose in clouds to the gilded, diapered
roof, the organ pealed ... then the ward seemed to fill with men in khâki
Service dress, keen-eyed and tan-faced beings, of quiet movements and
well-bred gestures, obviously stamped with the _cachet_ of authority.
Upright, alert, well-knit, and strong, the visitors exhaled the compound
fragrance of healthy virility, clean linen, and excellent cigars; and the
poor sufferer yielded to a pang of envy as he looked at them, standing
about his bed, and thought of that resting-place even narrower, in which
his wasted body must soon lie. And then he mentally smote his breast and
repented. What was he, the unworthy servant of Heaven, that he should dare
to oppose the Holy Will?

"Weel now, and how are we the day?" said the Chief Medical Officer,
presented by the Resident Surgeon to the occupant of the bed. He read
approaching death in the sunken face against the pillows, and in the
feeble pulse as he touched the skeleton wrist, and the Resident Surgeon,
catching the Scotsman's eye, shook his head slightly, imparting
information that was not needed.

"It is not in my power, I am afraid, sir, to return you the conventional
answer," said Julius Fraithorn. "To be plain and brief, I am suffering
from tuberculous lung-disease, and I am advised that I have not many days
to live."

He smiled gratefully at the Resident Surgeon.

"Everything that can be done for me here is done. I cannot be too
thankful. But I should have liked--I should have wished to have been
spared to return to England, if not to live a little longer among my
friends, at least to ..." He broke off panting, and his rattling breaths
seemed to shake him. He sounded like Indian corn shaken in a gunny-bag; he
wheezed like the mildewed harmonium in the Hospital chapel, on which he
had once tried to play. When he had spoken, his voice had had the flat,
deadly softness of the exhausted phthisical sufferer's. When he had moved
he had suffered torture: the shoulder-blades and hip-bones had pierced the
wasted muscular tissues and projected through the skin.

"I can't!" he gasped out. "You see----"

A dizziness of deadly weakness seized him. His soft, muffled voice trailed
away into a whisper, blue shadows gathered about his large, mobile,
sensitive mouth, much like that of Keats as shown in the Death Cast, and
his head fell back upon the pillows. Julius had fainted.

"Poor beggar!" said a large, pink man, wearing the red shoulder-straps and
brown-leather leggings of the Staff, to another, a fair, handsome, young
giant who leaned against the opposite door-post, as the chart-nurse
hurried to take away the pillows, and lay the patient flat, and the
shorter of the two medical officers dropped brandy from a flask into a
glass with water in it, while the tall Scot, his finger on the pulse,
stooped over the pale figure on the bed;

"No doubt about his next address being the Cemetery. Should grouse myself
if I was in his shoes--or bed-socks would be the proper word--what?"

Beauvayse agreed. "He looks like a chap I saw once get into a coffin at
the Cabaret de l'Enfer--that shady restaurant place in the Boulevard de
Clichy. When they turned on the lights ..." He shrugged. "The women of the
party thought it simply ripping. I wanted to be sick."

Captain Bingo had also known the sensation of nausea during a similar
experience. "But women'll stand anything," he said, "particularly if
they've been told it's _chic_. My own part, I can stand any amount of dead
men--healthy dead men, don't you know? But--give you my word--a cadaverous
spectacle like that poor chap, bones stickin' out of his hide, and
breathin' as if he was stuffed with dry shavin's, or husks like the
Prodigal Son, gives me the downright horrors!"

Thus they conferred, supporting opposite door-posts with solid shoulders,
until the C.M.O., turning his head, addressed them brusquely, curtly:

"Wrynche, if you'd transfer yourself with Lord Beauvayse to the passage,
myself and my colleagues here would be the better obliged to ye."

"Pleasure!" They removed, with a simultaneous clink of scabbards and a
ring of spurred heels on the tiled pavement.

The Colonel remained, making those about the bed a group of five. The
chart-nurse stayed, pending the nod of dismissal, a rigid statue of capped
and aproned discipline, upright in the corner.

"Phew!" Captain Bingo blew a vast sigh of relief, and produced a
cigar-case. "Well out of that, my boy. All jumps this morning; wouldn't
take the odds you're not as bad?"

"Rather!" Beauvayse nodded, and drew the elder man's attention, with a
look, to the strong young hand that held a choice Havana just accepted
from the offered case. "Shaky, isn't it? and yet I didn't punish the
champagne much last night. It's sheer excitement, just what one feels
before riding a steeplechase, or going into Action early on a raw morning.
Not that I've been in anything but a couple of Punitive Expeditions--from
Peshawar, under Wilks-Dayrell, splitting up some North-West Frontier
tribes that had lumped themselves together against British Authority--up
to now. But I'm looking out for the chance of something better worth
having, like you and all the rest of us. Trouble you for a light!"

"By the Living Tinker, and that's the fourth! Where d'you think I'd give a
cool fifty to be this minute? Not cooling my heels in a brick-paved
passage while a pack of doctors are swoppin' dog-Latin over the body of a
moribund young parson, but on the roof of the Staff Quarters, lookin'
North, with my eyes glued to the binoculars and my ears pricked for--you
know what!"

Beauvayse groaned. "Isn't that what I'm suffering for? And the Chief must
be ten times worse. How he keeps his countenance--demure as my
grandmother's cat lappin' cream.... I say, the Transvaal Dutch; they call
themselves the true Children of Israel, don't they? Well, which did Moses
and his little gang come across first in the Desert, the Pillar of Cloud,
or the Pillar of Fire, or a couple of railway-trucks containin' the raw
material for a sky-journey, only waitin' till Brer' Boer plugs a bullet in
among the dynamite? It makes me feel good all over, as the American women
say, when I think of it." He smiled like a mischievous young archangel,
masquerading in Service kit.

Within the room the fainting man was coming back to consciousness, his
dry, rattling breaths bearing out Captain Bingo Wrynche's similitude
regarding husks and shavings, rings of blue fire swimming before his
darkened vision, and a dull roaring in his ears.... The Royal Army Medical
Corps wrought over him; the nurse lent a deft helping hand; the Resident
Surgeon talked eagerly to the Colonel; and he, lending ear, scarcely heard
the reiterated, stereotyped parrot-phrases, so taken up was his attention
with the man in shabby white drill clothes, who leaned over the foot of
the bed, his square face set into an expressionless mask, his
gentian-blue, oddly vivid eyes fixed upon the wasted, waxy-yellow face of
the sick man, his head bent, as he listened with profound, absorbed
attention to the husky, rattling, laboured breaths.

Suddenly he straightened himself and spoke, addressing himself to the
Resident Surgeon.

"The patient has told us, sir, that he is suffering from tuberculous
disease of the lungs. May I ask, was that the conclusion arrived at by a
London consulting physician, and whether your own diagnosis has confirmed
the assertion?"

The Resident Surgeon nodded with patronising indifference. He was not
going to waste civilities upon this rowdy, drunken remittance-man, whom he
had seen reeling through the streets of the stad as he went upon his own
respectable way.

"_Phthisis pulmonalis._" He addressed his reply to the Chief. "And the
process of lung-destruction is, as you will observe, sir, nearly
complete."

He encountered from the Chief a look of cool displeasure that flushed him
to the top of his knobby forehead, and set him blinking nervously behind
his big round spectacles.

"Dr. Saxham asked you, sir, unless I mistake, whether you had ascertained
by your own diagnosis, the ..." Lady Hannah's words came back to him. He
recalled the "bit of information wormed out of the nurse," and ended with
"the presence of the bacillus?"

Saxham's blue eyes thrust their rapier-points at him, and then plunged
into the oyster-like orbs behind the spectacles of the Resident Surgeon,
who rapidly grew from scarlet to purple, and from purple to pale green.
Major Taggart and the Irishman exchanged a look of intelligence.

"Koch's bacillus, sir, were this a case of tuberculosis proper, would be
present in the expectoration of the patient, and easy of demonstration
under the microscope." Saxham's voice was cold as ice and cutting as
tempered steel. "May we take it that you can personally testify to its
presence here?" He pointed to the bed.

"And varra possibly," put in Taggart, "ye could submit a culture for
present inspection? It would be gratifeeying to me and Captain McFadyen
here, as weel as to our friend an' colleague Dr. Saxham, late of St.
Stephen's-in-the-West, London, to varrafy the correctness o' your
diagnosis."

"And it would that!" the Irishman chimed in. "So trot out your bacillus,
by all manner of means!"

The Resident Surgeon babbled something incoherent, and melted out of the
room.

"Moppin' his head as he goes down the passage," said McFadyen, coming back
from the door.

"He'll no be in sic a sweatin' hurry to come back," pronounced the canny
Scot, shedding a wink from a dry, red-fringed eyelid. He produced from the
roomy breast-pocket of his khâki Service jacket a rubber-tubed
stethoscope, and put it silently into the hand Saxham had mechanically
stretched out for it. Then he drew back, his eyes, like those of the other
two spectators of the strange scene that was beginning, fixed upon the
chief actor in it. One other, weak after his swoon as a new-born child,
lay passively, helplessly upon the bed.

Saxham, his square face stony and set, moved with a noiseless, feline,
padding step towards the prone victim. A gleam of apprehension shot into
Julius Fraithorn's great dark eyes, reopening now to consciousness. They
fixed themselves, with an instinct born of that sudden thrill of fear,
upon the lightly-closed right hand. Instantly comprehending, Saxham lifted
the hand, showed that it held no instrument save the stethoscope, and
dropped it again by his side, drawing nearer. Then the massive,
close-cropped black head sank to the level of Julius Fraithorn's breast,
revealed in its ghastly, emaciated nakedness by the open nightshirt. The
massive shoulders bowed, the supple body curved, the keen ear joined
itself to the heaving surface. In a moment more the agonising, hacking,
rending cough came on. Julius battled for air. Raising him deftly and
tenderly, Saxham signed to the nurse, who hurried to him, answering his
low questions in whispers, giving aid where he indicated it required.

Steadily, patiently, the binaural stethoscope travelled over the lung
area, gathering abnormal sounds, searching for silent spaces, sucking
evidence into the assimilative brain behind the eyes that saw nothing but
the man upon the bed, the locked human casket housing the secret that was
slowly, surely coming to light. In the fierce determination to gain it, he
threw the stethoscope away, and glued his avid ear to the man again.

"Toch! but I wouldna' have missed this for a kittie o' Kruger sovereigns!"
the Chief Medical Officer whispered to his colleague from Meath. And
McFadyen whispered back:

"Nor me, for your shoes. 'Ssh!"

Saxham was lifting up the great stooping shoulders, and beginning to
speak in a voice totally different from that of the man known in
Gueldersdorp as the Dop Doctor. Clear, ringing, concise, the sentences
left his lips:

"Gentlemen, I invite your attention to a case of involuntary simulation of
the symptoms distinguishing pulmonary tuberculosis by a patient suffering
from a grave disease of totally different and possibly much less malignant
character. Oblige me by stepping nearer!"

They crowded about the bed like eager students.

"In order to show what false conclusions loose modes of reasoning and the
habitual reliance upon precedent may lead to, take the instance of the
consulting physician to whom some years ago this young man, now barely
thirty, and reduced, as you may see for yourselves, to the final extremity
of physical decline, resorted."

"I would gie five shillin' if the man could hear his ain judgment!"
murmured the Chief Medical Officer; for he had gleaned from a whispered
answer of Julius's the omnipotent name of Sir Jedbury Fargoe. "Toch!" He
chuckled dryly. Saxham went on:

"The consulting patient suffers from cough, painful and racking, from
impaired digestive power, from increasing debility, fever, and
night-sweats. He visits the specialist, convinced that he is consumptive,
he receives confirmation of his convictions, and you see him to-day
presenting the appearance, and reproducing all the symptoms of a patient
in consumption's final stage. Possibly the germs of tuberculosis may be
dormant in his organisation, waiting the opportunity to develop into
activity! Possibly--a very remote possibility--the disease may have
already attacked some organ of his body! But--and upon this point I can
take my stand with the confidence of absolute certainty--the lungs of this
so-called pulmonary sufferer are absolutely sound!"

"My certie! Send I may live to foregather wi' Sir Jedbury Fargoe!" the
Chief Medical Officer prayed inaudibly. "He will gang to the next
International Consumption Congress wi' a smaller conceit of himsel', or my
name's no Duncan Taggart!"

The lecturer, absorbed in his subject, lifted his hand to silence the
murmur, and pursued:

"From what disease, then, is this man suffering? Logical and progressive
conclusions drawn from experience, and based upon the local enlargement
which the physicians previously consulted have apparently failed to
perceive, lead me to diagnose the presence of a tumour in the mediastinum,
extending its claws into the lungs, and seriously impeding their action
and the action of the heart. An operation, serious and necessarily
involving danger, is imperative. The growth may be benign or malignant; in
the latter case I doubt whether the life of the patient is to be saved.
But in the former case he has good hopes. Understand, I speak with
certainty. Upon the presence of the growth, simple or otherwise, I am
ready to stake my credit, my good name, my professional reputation----"

Ah! It rushed upon Saxham with a sickening shock of recollection that he
was bankrupt in these things, and shame and anger strove for the mastery
in his face, and anguish wrung a sob from him, despite his iron composure.

He wrenched at the collar about his swelling throat, as he turned away
blindly towards the window, seeing nothing, fighting desperately with the
horrible despair that had gripped him, and the mad, wild frenzy of
yearning for the old, glorious life of strenuous effort and conscious
power. Lost! lost! all that had been won.

"I ... I had forgotten ...!" he muttered; and then a hard, vigorous hand
found his and gripped it.

"Go on forgetting, Saxham!" said a voice in his ear--a voice he knew,
instantly steadying--such virtue is there in honest, heartfelt,
comprehending sympathy between man and his fellow-man--the spinning brain,
and quieting the leaping pulses, and giving him back, as nothing else
could have done, his lost self-control. "You have earned the right!"

"Man, you're a wonder!" groaned the enraptured Chief Medical Officer. He
added, with a relapse into the national caution: "That is, ye will be if
your prognosis proves correc'. But the Taggarts are a' of the canny breed
of Doobtin' Tammas, an sae I'll just keep a calm sugh till I see what the
knife lays bare."

"Use the knife now, sir. At once--without delay!"

It was the weak, muffled voice of the patient on the bed. Saxham wheeled
sharply about, and the stern blue eyes and the great lustrous pleading
brown ones, looked into each other.

The pale Julius spoke again:

"I entreat you, Doctor!"

Saxham spoke in his curt way:

"You are aware that there is risk?"

Julius Fraithorn stretched out his transparent hands.

"What risk can there be to a man in my state? Look at these; and did I not
hear you say ..."

"Whatever I may have said, sir, and however urgent I may admit the
necessity for immediate operation, you must wait until to-morrow morning."

"I am fasting, sir, and fed. I received Holy Communion this morning, and
have not yet breakfasted."

The return of the chart-nurse followed by a probationer carrying a laden
tray provoked an exclamation from the little Irishman.

"Signs on it, the boy's as empty as a drum. The devil a wonder he went off
like he did a bit back. And you can't deny him, Saxham?"

"I wad gie him the chance, Saxham"--this from Surgeon-Major Taggart--"in
your place; and maybe I'm putting in six worrds for mysel' as well as half
a dozen for the patient. For I have an auld bone to pyke wi' Sir Jedbury
Fargoe, aboot a Regimental patient he slew for me, three years back, wi'
his jawbone of a Philistine ass."

Saxham spoke to Fraithorn authoritatively, kindly.

"You have no near relative to sign the Hospital Register?"

"My family are all in England, sir. I have not thought it necessary to
distress them with the knowledge of my state."

"I think Lady Hannah Wrynche, who is now in Gueldersdorp, happens to be an
acquaintance of theirs, if not a friend?"

Julius turned eagerly to the Colonel.

"It is true, she did come here yesterday. But I should hardly wish ...
Surely, being of mature age and in the full possession of all my
faculties"--there was a smile on the pale lips--"I may be allowed to sign
the book myself?"

The doctors interchanged a look. The Colonel said to the patient:

"Mr. Fraithorn, if the idea is not unwelcome to you, I myself will sign
the book, and"--he stooped over the bed and laid his hard, soldierly hand
kindly on the pale one--"in the event of a less fortunate termination than
that we hope for"--the faces of the three surgeons were a study in
inscrutability--"I will communicate, as soon as any communication is
rendered possible, with the Bishop and Mrs. Fraithorn."

The cough shook Julius as a terrier shakes a rat before he could gasp out:

"Thank you, sir. With all my heart I thank you!"

"You shall thank me when you get well!" The Chief shook the pale hand,
crossed the bare boards to Saxham, who stood staring at them sullenly, and
took him by the arm. They went out of the ward together, talking in low
tones. The medical officers followed. Then the chart-nurse and the
probationer who had been banished with the tray, came bustling back with
towels, and razors, and a soapy solution in a basin, having a carbolic
smell.

Dr. Saxham had gone to take a disinfecting bath, the nurse said, as she
went about her minute preparations; and the Commanding Officer had gone
with the Staff, and now her poor dear must let himself be got ready.

They wrapped the gaunt skeleton in a white blanket-robe with a heavy
monkish cowl to it, and drew thick padded blanket-stockings over the
ligament-tied, skin-covered bones that served the wasted wretch for legs,
and wheeled in a high, narrow, rubber-wheeled, leather-cushioned
stretcher, and laid him on it, light to lift, a very handful of humanity,
and wheeled him, hooded and head-first, through the tile-floored passage
and out into the golden African sunshine, that baked him gloriously
through the coverings, and so into the main building and down a
tile-floored passage there.

He prayed silently as he was wheeled, with blinded, cowled eyes, through
double doors at the end....



XXVI


The operation was over, and the two Celts, self-appointed to the temporary
posts of assistant-surgeon and anæsthetist, expressed their emotions in
characteristic manner....

"Twelve minutes to a second between the first incision an' the last
stitch.... Och, Owen, the jewel you are! Give me the loan of your fist,
man, this minute."

"What price Sir Jedbury Fargoe the noo? The auld-farrant, scraichin',
obstinate grey gander. A hand I will tak' at him ower the head o' this, or
I'm no Taggart of Taggartshowe. Speaking wi' seriousness, Saxham, it was a
pretty operation, an' performed wi' extraordinary quickness. And I'm sorry
there are no' a baker's dozen o' patients for ye to deal wi'. It's a gran'
treat to see a borrn genius use the knife."

"You could have done it yourself, Major, in less time."

"Maybe I could, and maybe I couldna! I doubt but we Army billies are
better at puttin' men thegither than at takin' them to pieces in the long
run.... Gently now, porter, wi' liftin' the patient.... Ay, McFadyen,
that's richt, gie the man a hand. See to him, Saxham, is he no' fine to
luik at? A wheen blue an' puffy, but the pulse is better than I would have
expeckit. Wheel him awa', nurse; he'll no come round for another hour...."

They wheeled him away, back to the distant ward. The porter followed. The
three surgeons standing by that grim table in the rubber-floored central
space of the amphitheatre, fenced in by students' benches, vacant save for
half a dozen whispering dressers, looked at one another. Bloused and
aproned with sterilised material, masked, rubber-gloved, and slippered,
and splashed with the same ominous stains that were on the table and upon
the floor, Saxham's heavy-shouldered figure was as ominous and sinister as
ever played a part in mediæval torture-chamber, or figured in a
nightmare-tale of Poe's device. You can see the other surgeons, bibbed and
sleeved, the Irishman, small and dark and wiry, sousing a lethal array of
sharp and gleaming implements in a glass bath of carbolic; Taggart,
standing at a glass table, rubber-wheeled and movable, like everything
else for use, and laden with rolls of lint and bandaging, and blue-glass
bottles of peroxide of hydrogen and mercurial perchloride, daintily
returning reels of silk-worm-gut and bobbins of silver wire to their
velvet-lined case.

"You're no' fatigued? You would no' like a steemulant?"

Saxham started and withdrew his gaze. He had been staring with dull
intensity of desire at the brandy-decanter, forgotten by the matron, whose
usual charge it was. And the sharp blue-grey eye of Surgeon-Major Taggart
followed the glance to its end in the golden-gleaming crystal.

"Fatigued? I hardly think so!"

He laughed, and the others joined in the laugh, remembering the lengthy
line of patients operated on in a single mid-week morning at St.
Stephen's. And yet his steady hand shook a little, and a curious soft,
subtle dulness of sensation was stealing over him. He had gone to bed
sober, had risen after three hours of blessed, unexpected, helpful sleep,
to battle with his desperate craving until morning. When the old woman
left in charge of the housekeeping arrangements had come to his door with
hot water and his usual breakfast--a mug of strong coffee with milk and a
roll--he had gulped down the reviving, steadying draught thirstily, and
swallowed a mouthful or two of the bread; and when he was shaved and
tubbed and clothed in the shabby white drill suit, had gone down to the
dispensary and mixed himself a dose of chloric ether and strychnine,
strong enough to brace his jarred nerves for the coming ordeal.

Not that Saxham habitually drugged: that craving was not yet known to him.
But the habitual intemperance had exacted even from his iron constitution
its forfeit of shakiness in the morning, and the rare sobriety left the
man suffering and unstrung.

Looking about him as the dose began its work of stringing the lax nerves
and stimulating the action of the heart, he saw that many of the drawers
were open, a costly set of graduated scales missing, with their
plush-lined box....

With a certain premonition of what would next be missing, he went into the
surgery. A case of silver-mounted surgical instruments had vanished from a
shelf, with a presentation loving-cup, given by admirers among De
Boursy-Williams's patients to that gifted practitioner. A roll-top desk
was partly broken open, but not rifled, the American boltlocks having
defied the clumsy efforts of the thief, Koets, the Dutch dispensarist, who
had cleared out of Gueldersdorp, under cover of the previous night,
crossing, with the portable property reft from the accursed Englander, the
barbed-wire fence that formed the line of demarcation between the British
Imperial Forces and the Army of the United Republics. He had meant to wait
yet another day, and take many things more, but the coming of those
verdoemte soldiers of the Engelsch Commandant to fetch away the carboys of
carbolic acid and the other medical stores had roused him to prompt
action.

Later, wearing the brass badge of a Surgeon on the sleeve of his greasy
black tail-coat, Koets ruled a Boer Field-Hospital, fearlessly slashing
his way into the confidence of the United Republics through the tough,
wincing brawn and muscle of Free Stater and Transvaaler. It speaks for the
enduring qualities of the Boer constitution to say that many of his
patients survived.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the brandy in the decanter....

How it beckoned and allured and tempted. And the throat and palate of the
man were parched with the desire of it. And yet, a moment before, with the
toils about his feet, Saxham had wondered at the thought of these degraded
years of bondage. He shook his head sullenly as Taggart repeated his
question, and went away to wash and get dressed.

Then he meant to shake off his companions and go where he could quench
that inward fire. He loathed them as they followed, chatting
pleasantly....

But above the hissing of the hot water from the faucets over the basins
came presently another sound, most familiar to the ears of the gossiping
Celts....

"Rifle-fire! Out on the veld over yonder." McFadyen's towel waved North.
"Do ye hear it?"

"Ay, do I! First bluid has been drawn. And to which side?"

_Boom!..._

The Hospital quivered to its foundations at the tremendous detonation.
Shattered glass fell in showers of fragments from the roof of the
operating-theatre, as the force of the explosion passed beneath the
buildings in a surging of the ground on which they stood, a slow wave
rolling southwards, without a backward draw.

The lavatory door had jammed, as doors will jam in earthquakes. Saxham
tore it open, and the three shirt-sleeved, ensanguined men ran through the
theatre, strewn with the débris from the roof, and through the double
glazed doors communicating with the passage, populous with patients who
should have been in bed, pursued by nurses as pale and shaken as their
stampeding charges. The rear of the Hospital faces North, and they ran
down a corridor full of dust, ending in more glazed doors, and tore out
upon the back stoep, wide and roomy, and full of deck chairs and wicker
lounges.

"Do ye see it? Ten thousand salted South African deevils! Do ye no' see
it?" the Surgeon-Major yelled, pointing to a monstrous milk-white
soap-bubble-shaped cloud that slowly rose up in the hot blue sky to the
North and hung there, sullenly brooding.

"What is it, Major?" shouted Saxham, for behind them the Hospital was full
of clamour. Nurses and dressers were running out into the grounds to
listen and question and conjecture, the barely reclaimed veld beyond the
palings was black with hurrying, shouting men, bandoliered, and carrying
guns of every kind and calibre, from the venerable gaspipe of the native
and the aged but still useful Martini-Henry of the citizen, to the
Lee-Metford repeating-carbine, and the German magazine rifle of latest
delivery to the troops of Imperial Majesty at Berlin. Men were clustered
like bees on the flat tin roofs of the sheds at the Railway Works; men had
climbed the signal-posts and were looking out from them over the sea of
veld; the Volunteers garrisoning the Cemetery had poured from their
temporary huts and dug-out shelters, and were massed on the top of their
sand-bag mounds. A fair, handsome Staff officer, the younger of the two
men who had accompanied the Colonel, went by at a tearing gallop, mounted
on a fine grey charger, and followed by an orderly, while the pot-hat and
truncheon of a scared native constable emerged timidly from the gaping
jaws of a rusty water-cistern, long dismissed from Hospital use, and
exiled to the open with other rubbish waiting transference to the
scrap-heap; and far out upon the railway-line that vanished in the
yellowing sea of veld an unseen engine screeched and screeched....

The Chief, in his pet post of vantage upon the roof of Nixey's Hotel,
lowered his binoculars as the persistent whistle kept open. The lines
about his keen eyes and mouth curved into a cheerful smile. The sound was
coming nearer, and presently Engine 123 backed into view, a mile or so
from waiting, expectant Gueldersdorp, and snorting, raced at full speed
for her home in the railway-yard. Her driver was the young Irishman from
the County Kildare, and her guard hailed from Shoreditch. And both of them
had a tale to tell of what Taggart had called the Colonel's double
surprise-packet, to a tall man whom they found waiting on the metals by
the upper Signal Cabin.

"Six mile from the start, sorra a yard more or less, sorr! I sees a
comp'ny o' thim divils mustered on the bog, I mane the veld, sorr--smokin'
their pipes an' passin' the bottle, an' givin' the overlook to a gang av
odthers, that was rippin' up the rails undher the directions av a
head-gaffer wid a hat brim like me granny's tay-thray, an' a beard like
the Prophet Moses."

"I sor 'is whoppin' big 'at myself, though we was two mile off when we
picked the beggars out," the guard objected; "but 'ow could you twig 'is
beard or that the other blokes was smokin'?"

"Did ye ever know a Dutch boss av any kind clane-shaved an' not
hairy-faced?" was Kildare's just retort, "or see a crowd av Doppers
gathered together that the blue smoke av the Blessed Creature was not
curlin' out av their mouths an' ears an' noses, an' Old Square Face or Van
der Hump makin' the rounds?"

"You thought the blokes on the metals was a workin' gang of our chaps at
the fust go off," complained the guard, "an' you opened the whistle to
warn 'em!"

"He did that for sure," put in the Cardiff stoker. "But he was tipping me
the wink while he did it, so he was; as much as to say he knew they were
Boers all the time."

"Would they have stopped where they was, well widin range, av I had let on
I knew they was a parcel av unwashed Dutchmen?" demanded Kildare hotly.
"Would they have hung on as I pushed her towards thim--would they have
stopped to watch me uncouplin' the two thrucks, smilin' wid simple
interest in their haythen faces, av they had not taken me for a suckin'
lamb in oily overalls that took themselves for sheep av the same fold?"

"They got a bit suspicious when we steamed orf," said the guard; "more
than a bit suspicious, they did."

"They took the thrucks for the Armoured Thrain," recounted Kildare, with a
radiant smile illuminating a countenance of surpassing griminess, "an'
they rode to widin range, an' got off their hairies, an' dhropped in a
volley just to insinse them they took to be squattin' down inside them
insijious divizes, into what they would be gettin' if they put up the
heads av them." He mopped his brimming eyes with a handful of cotton
waste, not innocent of lubricating fluid. "Tower av Ivory! 'twas grand to
see the contimpt av thim when the cowards widin did not reply. 'Donder!'
says the gaffer in the tay-thray hat and the beard like the grandfather av
all the billygoats. 'Is this,' he says, 'the British pluck they talk
about? Show thim verdant English a Dutchman behind a geweer,' he says, an'
that's what they call a gun in their dirty lingo--'an' they lie down wid
all four legs in the air like a puppy that sees the whip. Plug thim again,
my sons,' says he, 'an' wid the blessin' av Heaven, we'll stiffen the
lot!'"

"You could never hear him, so you could not, not at all that distance,"
the Cardiff stoker objected.

"Could I not see him, ye blind harper, swearin' in dumb show, an' urgin'
thim to shoot sthraight for the honour av the Republics an' give the rooi
batchers Jimmy O! Ga-_lant_-ly they respondid, battherin' the sides av the
mysterious locomotive containin' the bloody an' rapacious soldiery av
threacherous England wid nickel-plated Mauser bullets, ontil she hiccoughs
indacintly, an' wid a bellow to bate St. Fin Barr's bull, kicks herself to
pieces!"

"She did so, surely," affirmed the Cardiff stoker. "Surely she did so."

"Tell the Colonel 'ow the engine jumped right off the metals," advised the
guard.

"Clane she did," went on Kildare jubilantly, "an' rattled Davis an' me
inside the cab like pays in an iron pod. See the funny-bone I sthripped
agin' the side av her!" He exhibited a raw elbow for the inspection of the
Chief. "An' when Davis gets the betther av the rest av the black that's on
him wid soft soap an' hot wather, there's an oi he'll not wash off."

"The brake-handle did that, it did so," said Davis, touching the optic
tenderly. But Kildare was answering a question of the Chiefs.

"Killed! Wisha, yarra! av I'd left a dozen an twenty to the back av that
sthretched on the bog behind me, it's a glad man I'd be to have it to tell
ye, sorr. But barrin' they wor' blown to smithereens entirely, not a
livin' man or horse av thim did I see dead at all, at all. But the
Sergeant an' the Reconnoithrin' Party will asy know the place--asy--by the
thundherin' big hole that's knocked in the permanent way there, sizable
enough to bury...." He paused, for once at a loss.

"Korah, Dathan, and Abiram," suggested Davis, who, as a Bible Baptist, had
a fund of Scripture knowledge upon which he occasionally drew, "with their
families and their pavilions and all their substance...."

"Av Cora was there," said Kildare, "she was disguised as a Dutchman, for
sorrow an' oi I clapped on any human baste that was not a square-buttocked
Boer in tan-cord throusers. Thank you, sorr, your Honour, an' good luck to
yourself an' all av us! An' we'll dhrink your Honour's health wid it."

"We will so!" agreed Davis, as the sovereign, dropped into his own
twice-greased palm, vanished in the recesses of his black and oleaginous
overalls.

"Thankee, sir. You're a gentleman, sir!" the guard acknowledged, touching
his cap and concealing the gold coin slid into his own ready hand with
professional celerity.

"Begob! an' you might have tould the Colonel somethin' that was news,"
commented Kildare, as the tall, active figure stepped lightly over the
metals and passed up the ramp, and 123 trundled on, and backed into the
engine-shed amidst a salvo of cheers and hand-clapping.



The Colonel whistled his pleasant little tune quite through as, the
Reconnoitring Party despatched to the scene of the explosion, he went
contentedly back to luncheon at Nixey's. True, Kildare had said, and as
the Sergeant in command regretfully testified later, said correctly, that
neither Boer nor beast had been put out of action by the flying débris. A
poor reprisal had been made, in the opinion of some malcontents, for the
act of War committed by the forces of the Republics in crossing the
Border, in cutting the telegraph lines, and destroying the railway-bridge.
But the moral result was anything but trifling, in its effect upon the
Boer mind. The "new square gun" became a proverb of dread, inspiring a
salutary fear of more traps of the same kind, "set by that slim duyvel,
the English Commandant," and threw over the innocent stretch of veld
outside those trivial sand-bagged defences the glamour of the Mysterious
and the Unknown. No solid Dutchman welcomed the idea of soaring skywards
in a multitude of infinitesimal fragments, in company with other Free
Staters or sons of the Transvaal Republic similarly reduced.

No more boasts on the part of Brounckers, General in command of those
massed, menacing, united laagers on the Border, seven miles from
Gueldersdorp as the crow flew. No more imaginative promises with reference
to the taking of the small, defiant hamlet before breakfast, wiping out
the garrison to a rooinek, and starting on the homeward march refreshed
with coffee and biltong, and driving the towns-people before them as
prisoners of War. The desperate perils presented by the conjectural and
largely non-existent mine were thenceforth to loom largely and luridly in
the telegrams that went up to Pretoria.

"There's a lot in bluff, you know," that "slim duyvel," the Commandant of
the rooineks, said long afterwards. "And we bluffed about the Mines, real
and dummy, for all we were worth!"

So, possibly with premonition of the telegram that was even then clicking
out its message at Pretoria, there was a note of satisfaction in his
whistle out of keeping with the execution actually done, as Nixey's Hotel
came in sight with the Union Jack floating over it, denoting that all was
well. That flagstaff, with its changing signals, was to dominate the
popular pulse ere long. But in these days it merely denoted Staff
Quarters, and War, with its grim accompanying horrors, seemed a long way
off.

A white-gowned European nursemaid on the opposite street-corner waved and
shrieked to her deserting elder charges, and the Chief's quick eye noted
that the small, sunburned, active, bare legs of the boy and girl in cool
sailor-suits of blue-and-white linen twill, were scampering in his
direction. He knew his fascination for children, and instinctively
slackened his stride as they came up, abreast now, and shyly hand in hand:

"Mister Colonel ...?" The speaker touched the expansive brim of a straw
sailor hat with a fine assumption of adult coolness.

"Quite right, and who are you?"

The small boy hesitated, plainly at a nonplus. The round-eyed girl tugged
at the boy's sailor jumper, whispering:

"I _saided_ he wouldn't know you!"

"I fought he would. Because Mummy said he wemembered our names ve uvver
night at ve Hotel ... when he promised ... about ve animals from Wodesia
... all made of mud, an' feavers, and bits of fur ..."

Memory gave up the missing names, helped by those boyish replicas of the
candid clear grey eyes of the Mayor's wife, shining under the drooping
plume of fair hair.

"Mummy was quite right, Hammy, and Berta was wrong, because I remember
your names quite well, you see. And the birds and beasts and insects are
in a box at my quarters. Come and get them."

"If Anne doesn't kick up a wow?" hesitated Hammy, his small brown hand
already in the larger one.

"We'll arrange it with Anne." He waited for the arrival of the
white-canopied perambulator and its fluttering-ribboned guardian to say,
with a tone and smile that won her instant suffrages: "I'm going to borrow
these children for a minute or so. Will you come into the shade and rest?
I promise not to keep you long."

Beauvayse and Lady Hannah's Captain Bingo, relieved from lookout duty, and
descending in quest of food from the Chief's particular eyrie on the roof
of Nixey's Hotel, heard shrieks of infant laughter coming from the
coffee-room. Knives, forks, and glasses had been ruthlessly swept from the
upper end of one of the tables laid for the Staff luncheon, and across the
fair expanse of linen, pounded into whiteness and occasional holes by the
vigorous thumpers of the Kaffir laundry-women, meandered a marvellous
procession of quagga and koodoo, rhino and hartebeest, lion and giraffe,
ostrich and elephant, modelled by the skilful hands of Matabele
toy-makers. Tarantula, with wicked bright eyes of shining berries, brought
up the rear, with the bee, and the mole-cricket, and, with bulgy brown,
white-striped body and long wings importantly crossed behind its back, a
tsetse of appallingly gigantic size....

"Oh, fank you, Mister Colonel," Hammy was saying, with shining eyes of
rapture fixed upon the glorious ones; "and is they weally my own, my vewy
own, for good?"

"Yours and Berta's, really and for good."

"And won't you"--Hammy's magnificent effort at disinterestedness brought
the tears into his eyes--"won't you want vem to play wif, _ever_
yourself?"

The deft hands swept the birds and beasts, with tarantula and tsetse, into
the wooden box, and lifted the children from their chairs, as Captain
Bingo and Beauvayse, following the D.A.A.G., came in, brimming with
various versions of what had happened out there on the veld....

"I have other things to play with just now, Hammy. Run along with Berta
now. You'll find your nurse in the hall."

Berta put up her face confidently to be kissed. Hammy, in manly fashion,
offered a hand--the left--the right arm being occupied with the box of
toys. As Berta's little legs scampered through the door, he delayed to
ask:

"What are your playfings, Mister Colonel?"

"Live men and big guns, just now, Hammy; and chances and issues, and
results and risks."

The plume of fair hair fell back, clearing the candid grey eyes as Hammy
lifted up his face, confidently lisping:

"I don't quite fink I know what wesults and wisks are, but I'd like to
play wif the live men an' the big guns too sometimes ... if you didn't
want vem always?"

"We'll see about it, Hammy, when you're grown up."

"Good-bye, Mister Colonel. And I would lend you my beasts an' fings,
because I know you wouldn't bweak them?"

"See that Berta has her share in them meanwhile. Off with you, now!"

Later, in the seclusion of the connubial bedchamber, said Captain Bingo,
dressing for dinner, the last time for many months, as it was to prove:

"What do you suppose was the Chief's next move, after the engine and
tender got in, and the crowd hoorayed him back from the Railway Works? No
use your guessin', though. Even a woman wouldn't have expected to find him
playin' Noah's Ark in the coffee-room with the Mayor's two kids!"

"I like that!" said Lady Hannah meditatively, arranging the Pompadour
transformation, not apparently the worse for the candle-accident of the
previous night.

"Because you're a woman and sentimental," said her spouse, wrestling with
a cuff-link.

"No; because I am a woman whose instinct tells her that nothing will seem
too big for a man for whom nothing is too small. And--what an incident for
a paragraph!"

He grinned: "With headin's in thunderin' big capitals.... 'The Soldier
Hero Sports With A Babbling Babe.... The Defender Of British Prestige At
Gueldersdorp Puts In Half an Hour At Cat's-Cradle Ere The Armoured Train
Toddles Out With The B.S.A.P. To Give Beans To The Blooming Boer!'"

She darted at him, caught him by the lapels ... made him look at her.

"It's true? You really mean it? The ball begins?"

"Upon the honour of a henpecked husband--before daybreak to-morrow, you'll
hear the music."

She sparkled with delight.

"Oh, poor, unlucky, humdrum women at home in England, walking with the
shooters, or lolling in hammocks under trees, and trying to flirt with fat
City financiers or vapid young attachés of Legation! I shall take the
Irish mare, and borrow an orderly, and ride out to see a Real Action!"

His round pink face grew long. "The devil you will!"

"The devil I won't, you mean. Why, for what else under the sky did I come
out here but the glorious chance of War?" Her impatient foot tapped the
floor. He recognised the warning of domestic battle, glowered, and gave
in.

"Well, if you get chipped, don't blame me. There's about as much cover on
a baccarat-table as you'll find on that small-bush veld."

"All the better for seeing things, my dear!" She gave him a radiant glance
over her shoulder as she snapped her diamond necklace.

"You'll see things you won't enjoy. Mind that. Unless the whole affair
ends in sheer fizzle."

"I'll pray that it mayn't!"

"I'd pray to have you much more like the ordinary woman who funks
raw-head-and-bloody-bones if I thought it would be any good!"

"My poor old boy, it's thirty years too late. You ought to have begun
while I was crying in the cradle. And--I _was_ under the impression that
you married me because you found me different from the ruck. And
besides--think of my paper!"

"Damn the rag! I think of my wife!"

She swept him a curtsy:

"Cela va sans dire!"

"And how a woman of your birth and breedin' can dream of nothin' else but
doin' somethin' that'll make you notorious--set the smart crowd gabblin'
and gapin' and crushin' to stare--is more than I can understand!"

She flashed round upon him. "You have the wrong word! Notoriety--any
social _divorcée_ or big-hatted music-hall high-kicker can have _that_--if
only they've kicked high enough! Popularity is what I'd have if I
could--and only the People can give it--as Brutus and Cromwell and
Napoleon knew!"

He admitted that those old Roman johnnies who jawed in the Forum knew what
they were about, but added that the Puritan chap with the wart on his nose
was a thundering old humbug, ending triumphantly: "And we whacked old
Bony at Waterloo! And--suppose you stop a Boer bullet and get knocked
out--where do I come in?"

She jangled out her shrillest laugh. "Behind the coffin as Chief Mourner,
I suppose. And you'll tack on the orthodox black sleeve-band, and look out
for Number Two. And choose the ordinary kind, who funks raw-head and all
the rest of it, for the next venture. But I prophesy you'll be bored. It's
settled about Sheila and the orderly?"

He nodded.

"Righto! but there'll be two troopers, not one. And you'll be under the
Corporal's orders about range, and distance, and keepin' out of the hands
of--the other side. You don't absolutely yearn to be killed or taken
prisoner, I suppose?"

Her heart beat high at the latter-named eventuality. She saw London
rushing to read of the thrilling seizure and the yet more thrilling escape
of the Lady War Correspondent attached to H.I.M. forces on the Frontier:

Who got clean away, mind you, with complete information of the strategic
plans of the General in command of the enemy's laagers, sewn inside her
corsets or hidden in her shoes!

Bingo little dreamed of the definite plan seething under his little wife's
transformation coiffure. It had matured since her meeting on the
railway-journey from Cape Town with an interesting personality. A big,
brown-bearded Johannesburger, with light queer eyes, who had been reticent
at first, but more interesting after his confidence had been gained.

Van Busch he had named himself. Of the British South African War
Intelligence Bureau. That man knew how to value women. And he had proved
them at what he called the risky game.

"With nerve and josh like yours, and plenty of money for palm-oil ..." Van
Busch had said, and winked, signifying that there were no lengths to which
a woman of Lady Hannah Wrynche's capabilities might not go. And he had
slipped into her hand a card scrawled with an address where he might be
got at _in case_ ...

The pencilled oblong of soiled pasteboard was yet in a secret compartment
of her handbag. By letter addressed care of W. Bough, Transport Agent and
Stock-dealer, Van Busch was to be communicated with at a farmstead some
thirty miles north.

The spice of adventure her palate craved could be had by corresponding
with Van Busch through the man Bough. After that---- Well! She had her
plan ...

She tied her husband's white tie, took him by the ears, kissed him warmly
on each side of his large pink face, glowing with blushes evoked by her
unwonted display of affection, and led him away to dinner, her mental
vision seeing prophetic broadsheets papering the kerbs of Piccadilly, the
ears of her imagination making celestial melody of those raucous yells:

"Speshul Edition! Hextry Speshul Edition! 'Ere y'are, sir; on'y a
'a'penny. SPESHUL!"



XXVII


For nearly two months, from dawn until dark, Gueldersdorp had squatted on
her low-topped hill in a screaming blizzard of shrapnel and Mauser
bullets. Never a town of imposing size or stately architecture, see her
now a battered hamlet of gaping walls, and shattered roofs, and wrecked
chimneys; staring defiance through glassless windows like the blind
eyeholes in the mouldered House that once has held the living thought of
Man. From dawn until dark the ancient seven-pounders of her batteries had
banged and grumbled, her Maxims had rattled defiance from Kopje Fort, and
the Nordenfelt released its showers of effective, death-dealing little
projectiles. Scant news from outside trickled into the town. Grumer, with
his Brigade, was guarding the Drifts, and when the Relief might be
expected was now a moss-grown topic of general conversation in
Gueldersdorp.

And within her girdle of trenches, stern, grimy, haggard men lived, cheek
to the heated rifle-breech, and ate, and snatched brief spells of sleep,
booted and bandoliered, and with the loaded weapon ready for gripping.
Since the attack on Maxim Kopje had choked the Hospital with wounded men
and dotted the Cemetery with little white crosses, nothing of much note
had occurred. The armoured train had done good service, and the Baraland
Rifle Volunteers had carried out their surprise against the enemy's
western camp one fine dark night, helped by a squadron of the Irregulars,
with eleven wounded, and the loss of six out of fifty fighting-men.

The Convent of the Holy Way stood empty and deserted in its
shrapnel-littered garden-enclosure.

From east, west, north, and south the deadly iron messengers had come,
making sore havoc of this poor house of Christ. "When the walls fall about
our ears, Colonel," the Mother-Superior had declared, "it will be time to
leave them." They were lacework now, with a confusion of bare rafters
overhead, over which streamed, as if in mockery, the Red-Cross Flag. Grim
figures, like geometrical problems gone mad, were made by water and gas
pipes torn from their bedding, and twisted as if by the hands of giants in
cruel play. The little iron bedsteads of the Sisters, and the holy symbols
over them, were the only articles missing from the cells, revealed in
section by the huge gaps in the masonry.

The Tabernacle of the chapel altar, void of the Unspeakable Mystery it had
housed, fluttered its rearward curtains through the wreckage of the east
wall and the cheap little stained-glass window, where the Shepherds and
the Magi had bowed before the Virgin Mother and the Divine Child. Within
sight of their ruined home, the Sisterhood had found refuge. An
underground dwelling had been dug for them in the garden before an
abandoned soft-brick-and-corrugated-iron house, formerly inhabited by one
of the head officials of the railway, a personage of Dutch extraction and
Boer sympathies, at present sequestered beneath the yellow flag of the
town gaol for their too incautious manifestation; while his wife and young
family were inhabitants of the Women's Laager. And from their subterranean
burrow the Sisters carried on their work of mercy as cheerfully as though
their Order had been originally one of Troglodytes, nursing the sick and
wounded, cooking and washing for the convalescents, comforting the
bereaved, and tending the many orphans of the siege.

South lay the laager of the Refugees. To the westward within the ring of
trenches and about a mile and a half from the town, was the Women's
Laager, visited not seldom by the enemy's shell-fire, in spite of the
Red-Cross Flag. Fever and rheumatism, pneumonia and diphtheria stalked
among the dwellers in these tainted burrows, claiming their human toll.
Women languished and little children pined and withered, dying for lack of
exercise and fresh air, with the free veld spreading away on all sides to
the horizon, and the burning blue South African sky overhead. Famine had
not yet appeared among the Europeans, though grisly black spectres in
Kaffir blankets haunted the refuse-heaps, and fought with gaunt dogs for
picked bones and empty meat-tins, and were found dead not unseldom, after
full meals of strange and dreadful things. Fresh meat was still to be had,
though the cattle and sheep of the Barala had been thinned by raids on the
part of the enemy, and poor grazing. Shell and rifle-fire not infrequently
spared the butcher trouble, so that your joints were sometimes weirdly
shaped. But they were joints, and there was plenty of the preserved
article in Kriel's Warehouse and at the Army Service Stores. Tea and
coffee were becoming rare and precious, the sparkling draught of lager was
to be had only in remembrance; the aromatic beer was all drunk up, and the
stone-ginger was three shillings a bottle. Whisky was to be had at the
price of liquid gold, brandy was treasured above rubies, and served out
sparingly by the Hand of Authority, as medicine in urgent cases.

You could get vegetables from the Chinaman, who continued to cultivate
onions, cabbages, potatoes, and melons in the market-gardens about the
town, imperturbable under shot and shell, his large straw hat affording an
admirable target from the Boer sniper's point of view, as metaphorically
he gathered his fat harvest of dollars from the soil. What you could not
get for any amount of dollars was peace and rest, clean air, and space to
stretch your cramped-up limbs in, until Sunday came, bringing the Truce of
God for Englishman and Transvaaler.

The Hospital, like each of the smaller hospitals that had sprung from the
parent stalk, was crowded. The operating theatre had been turned into a
ward where the lane between the beds just gave room for a surgeon or a
nurse to pass, and hourly the cry went up: "Room, more room for the
wounded and the sick!" And among these Saxham worked, night and day, like
a man upheld by forces superhuman.

"By-and-by," he would say impatiently, when they urged him to take rest,
and would bend his black brows, and hunch those great shoulders of his to
the work again.

"Ye have a demon, man," said Taggart, Major of the R.A.M.C., himself a
haggard-eyed but tireless labourer in the red fields of pain. "At three o'
the smalls ye got to your bed, and at six ye made the rounds, at seven ye
were dealing with a select batch o' shell-fire an' rifle-shot
casualties--our friends outside being a gey sicht better marksmen when
refreshed by a guid nicht's sleep; at eight ye had had your bit o'
breakfast, and got doon your gun an' gane oot for an hour o' calm,
invigorating sniping on the veld before returning punctually at ten o' the
clock to attack the business o' the day, wi' a bag o' twa Boers to your
creedit."

"I only got one, Major. The other chap hobbled down bandaged, upon
crutches, to-day, and had a pot-shot at me as I lay doggo behind my
particular stone. I put up my hat on a stick, and--see!" Saxham gravely
exhibited a felt Service smasher with a clean hole through it, an inch
above the lining-edge. "He's a snowy-locked, hoary-bearded, Father
Noah-hatted patriarch of seventy at least, and very proud of his shooting,
and I've let him think he got me this time, just to make him happy for one
night. To-morrow he is to make the painful discovery that I am still in
the flesh."

"Aweel, aweel! But I would point out to ye that Fortune is a fickle,
tricksy jade, and the luck o' the game might fall to your patriarch in the
antediluvian headgear to-morrow."

Then the luck of the game, thought the hearer, deep in that wounded heart
of his, would not only be with the patriarch. And the great puzzle, Life,
would be solved for good.

Taggart had said he, Saxham, had a demon. He could have answered that only
by hard, unceasing, unremitting work, or, when no more work was there to
do, by the fierce excitement of those grilling hours spent lying behind
the stone, was the demon to be kept out. Of all things he dreaded
inactivity, and though he would drop upon his cot in the tiny bedroom that
had been a Hospital ward-pantry, and sleep the heavy sleep of weariness
the moment his head touched the pillow, yet he would start awake after an
hour or two, parched with that savage, unquenched thirst, and drink great
draughts of the brackish well-water, boiled for precaution's sake, and
tramp the confined space until the grip of desire grew slack. But he had
never once yielded since the night when a man with the eye and voice of a
leader among men had come to the house in Harris Street and taken him by
the hand.

Do you say impossible, that the man in whom the habit of vice had formed
should be able to cast off his degrading weakness, like a shameful
garment, by sheer force of will, and be sane and strong and masterful
again? I say, possible with this man. You see him plucked from the slough
by the strong hand of manly fellowship, and nerved and strengthened, if
only for a little while, to play the game for the sake of that other's
belief in him. Such influence have such men among their fellows for good
or for ill.

You can see the Dop Doctor upon this brilliant November morning mounting a
charger lent him by his friend, a handsome Waler full of mettle and
spirit--oats not being yet required for the support of humans--and calling
au revoir to Taggart as he rides away from the Hospital gates followed by
an orderly of the R.A.M.C. in a spider, pulled by a wiry, shabby little
Boer mare.

"The man rides like a fox-hunter," commented Taggart, noticing the ease of
the seat, the light handling of the rein, the way in which the fidgety,
spirited beast Saxham rode answered to the gentling hand and the guiding
pressure of the rider's knee, as a sharp storm of rifle-fire swept from
the enemy's northern trenches, and the Mauser bullets spurted sand between
the wheels of the spider and under the horses' bellies.

Saxham spurred ahead, the spider following. The bullet-pierced, grey felt
smasher hat, a manly and not unpicturesque headgear, sat on the man's
close-cropped head with a soldierly air becoming to the square,
opaque-skinned face that had power and strength and virility in every line
of it. The blue eyes, under their black bar of meeting eyebrows, were
clear now, and the short aquiline nose, rough-hewn but not coarse, and the
grimly-tender mouth were no longer thickened and swollen and reddened by
intemperance. The figure, perfect in its manliness, if marred by the too
heavy muscular development of the throat and the slightly bowed shoulders,
looked well in the jacket of Service khâki, the Bedford cords and puttees
and spurred brown boots that had replaced the worn white drills, the blue
shirt and shabby black kamarband and canvas shoes. Looking at Saxham, even
with knowledge of his past, you could not have associated a personality so
striking and distinguished, an individuality so original and so strong,
with the idea of the tipsy wastrel, wallowing like a hog in self-chosen
degradation.

The Mother-Superior, coming up the ladder leading out of her underground
abode as the horseman and the attendant spider drew near, thought of
Bartolomeo Colleoni, as you see him, last of the great Condottieri, in the
bronze by great Verrochio at Venice to-day. In armour, complete in the
embossed morion, one with the great Flemish war-horse, he sat to the
sculptor, the bâton of Captain-General, given him by the Doge of Venice,
in the powerful hand that only a little while before aided his picked men
of the infantry to pack and harden snow about the granite boulders of the
mountains in the Val Seriana, and sent the giant snow-balls thundering
down, crushing bloody lanes through the ranks of the Venetian cavalry
massed in the narrow defile below, and striking chill terror to the hearts
of Doge and Prince and Senate.

Only the bâton was a well-worn staghorn-handled crop, Squire Saxham's
gift, together with a hunter, to his boy Owen, at seventeen. It was one of
the few relics of home that had stayed by Saxham during his wanderings.

He reined up now, saluting the Mother-Superior with marked respect.

"Good-morning, ma'am. All well with you and yours?"

She answered with unusual hesitation:

"All the Sisters are well, thank you. But--if you could spare me a minute,
Dr. Saxham, there is a question I should like to ask."

"As many minutes as you wish, ma'am. It is not your day for the Hospital,
I think?"

"Ah, no!" she said, with the velvety South of Ireland vowel-inflection.
"We keep Wednesday for the Women's Laager, always. Many of them are so
miserable, poor souls, about their husbands and sons and brothers who are
in the trenches, or who have been killed, and then there are the children
to be cared for and washed. Not only the siege orphans, but so many who
have sick or neglectful mothers. It takes us the whole day once we get
there."

Saxham dismounted as she stooped to seize the end of a blue cotton-covered
washing-basket impelled from below by an ascending Sister. The spider
pulled up under cover of the brick-and-corrugated-iron house vacated by
the railway-official, as another short storm of riflery cracked and
rattled among the eastern foothills, and a whistling hurry of the
sharp-nosed little messengers of death passed through Gueldersdorp. Some
of them hit and flattened on the gable of the railway-official's house,
one went through the leathern splashboard of the spider. Saxham moved
instinctively to place himself between the closely-standing group of nuns
and possible danger.

"No, no!" they cried, as one woman, their placid, cheerful tones taking a
shade of anxiety. "You must not do that!"

"I know you are all well-seasoned," he said, looking at them with the
smile that made his stern face changed and gentle.

"I am not so sure. The bullets come in the usual way of things. We take
our chance of them," the Mother-Superior answered. But she pressed her
lips together and grew pale as a faint cry came up from the subterranean
dwelling, roofed with sheets of corrugated iron laid upon steel rails, and
made bombproof with bags of earth. And Saxham, looking at the fine face,
with its worn lines of fatigue and over-exertion, and noting the deep
shadowy caves that housed the great luminous grey eyes, said:

"I think we must have you take some rest, or I shall be having my best
helper on my hands as a patient. And that won't do, you know."

"No, it would not do," she said, looking fully and seriously at him. "And
therefore I think our Lord will not permit it. But if He should, be sure
another will rise up to fill my place."

"Whoever your successor might be," said Saxham sincerely, "she would not
fulfil my ideal of an absolutely efficient nurse, as you do. So from the
personal, if not the altruistic point of view, let me beg you to be
careful."

"I take all reasonable care," she told him. "It is true, the work has been
heavy this week; but to-morrow is Sunday, and we shall rest all day and
sleep at the Convent. Indeed, some of us have taken it in turn to be on
guard there every night, or nothing would be left us."

"I understand."

He knew how prowlers and night-thieves made harvest in the darkness among
the deserted dwellings since Police and Town Guardsmen had been
requisitioned to man the trenches. She went on:

"The upper story of the house is sheer wreck, as you may see, but the
ground-floor is quite habitable. So much so that if the shells did not
strike the poor dear place so often, I should suggest your turning it into
a Convalescent Home."

"We may have to try the plan yet," said Saxham. "The Railway Institute is
frightfully overcrowded."

"And," she told him, "a shell struck there yesterday evening, and burst in
the larger ward."

"I had not heard of it," he said. "Was anybody hurt?"

"No one, thank God! But the fire was difficult to put out, until one of
the Sisters thought of sand."

"It was an incendiary shell?" Disgust and contempt swelled his deep-cut
nostrils and flamed from his vivid blue eyes. "And yet these Kaiser's
gunners, in their blue-and-white Death or Glory uniforms, can hardly
pretend ignorance of the Geneva Convention. But--your question?"

"It is--Children!" She beckoned to the two nuns, who stood at a little
distance apart holding the washing-basket between them. "I will ask you to
go on slowly before me with the basket. I will overtake you when I have
spoken to Dr. Saxham."

"Surely, Reverend Mother." One tall, pale, and thin, the other round and
rosy, they were alike in the placid, cheerful serenity of their good eyes
and readily smiling lips. "And won't we be after taking the bundle?"

"No, no! It is heavy, and I am as strong as both of you together."

"Very well, Reverend Mother."

They were obediently moving on.

"A moment." Saxham stopped them. "If you two ladies have no objection to a
little crowding, the spider will hold both of you as well as the bundle
and the basket of washing. At least, it looks like a basket of washing."

All three laughed as they accepted his offer, assuring him that his
suspicions were correct. For neither Kaffir laundrywoman or Hindu _dhobi_
would go down any more to the washing troughs by the river, for fear of
crossing that Stygian flood of blackness rivalling their own, supposing,
as Beauvayse once suggested, that there is a third-class ferry for niggers
and persons of colour? And from the waterworks on the Eastern side of the
town the supply had been cut off by the enemy, so that the taps of
Gueldersdorp had ceased to yield.

Old wells and springs had been reopened, cleaned, and brought into use for
drinking purposes, so that of a water-famine there could be no fear. But
the element became expensive when retailed by the tin bucketful, a bath a
rare luxury when the contents of the said bucket might be spilled or
thrown away in the course of the gymnastics wherewith the sable or
coffee-brown bearer sought to evade the travelling unexploded shell or the
fan-shaped charge of shrapnel. Therefore, the Sisters had turned
laundry-women. You could hear the sound of Sister Tobias's smoothing-iron
coming up from below, thump-thumping on the blanketed board.

"And where do you think we get the water, now?" the rosy Sister, in
process of being packed into the spider, leaned over the wheel to ask.

"Not from the Convent?" Saxham thought of the strip of veld between there
and the Hospital, even more fraught with peril than the patch he had just
traversed, or the distance yet to be covered between the Sisters'
bombproof and the Women's Laager, where Death, with the red sickle in his
fleshless hand, stalked openly from dawn to nightfall.

"From the Convent, carrying it across after dark. And no well there,
either, that you'd get the fill of a teaspoon out of"--a "tayspoon" it was
in the rosy Sister's Dublin brogue--"and yet there's water there."

"But how----" Saxham began. The Mother-Superior shook her head, and the
rosy Sister was silent.

"There is no mystery about the water at all. It is very simple." Standing
there with her head held high and the fine, free, graceful lines of her
tall figure outlined by the heavy folds of the now worn and darned black
habit, and her hands, still beautiful, though roughened by toil, calmly
folded upon her scapular, she was as remarkable and noble a figure, it
seemed to Saxham, as the golden sunlight could fall upon anywhere in the
world. And besides, she was his right hand at the Hospital. A capable,
watchful, untiring nurse--and beauty would have decked her in his
surgeon's eyes if she had been physically ugly or deformed.

"There is no mystery whatever, only when the bombardment first began I
thought of the waterworks, and that one of my first cares, supposing I had
been General Brounckers"--she smiled slightly--"would have been to operate
there. So I set the Sisters to work at filling every empty barrel and
bucket and tub in the Convent with water from the taps. And as we happened
to have plenty of empty barrels and tubs, why, there is water to be had
there now, and will be for some time to come. Go now, my children."

The smiling Sisters waved their hands. The orderly saluted with his whip
and drove on in obedience to Saxham's nod.

"Of course, the Sisters are aware," he said, meeting the Mother's grave
glance, "that if it is quicker to drive, it is safer to walk?"

She nodded with the gay, sweet smile that had belonged to Lady Biddy.

"They know, of course. But danger is in the day's work. We do not seek it.
We are prepared for it, and it comes and passes. If one day it does not
pass without the cost of life, we are prepared for that, and God's Will
is done always."

"You are very brave," he said. It was the first time in his life that he
had used the phrase to any woman, and the words came out almost
grudgingly.

"Oh no, not brave," she told him; "only obedient." Her veil fluttered in
the hot November breeze that bore with it the heavy fetid taint from the
overcrowded trenches that ringed Gueldersdorp, and the acrid fumes of the
cordite; though the air up here on the veld was sweet compared with the
befouled atmosphere of the Women's Laager and the crowded wards at the
Hospital, in spite of all that disinfectants could do. She went on:

"And we are very grateful to you for the lift. Sister Ruperta was on duty
last night, and Sister Hilda Antony--the rosy Sister--is not as well as
she would have us believe. Ah----"

With her grave eyes screened by her lifted hand, she had been watching the
progress of the spider westward over the dun-yellow veld. Now the long
wailing notes of the headquarter bugle sounded, in slow time, the
Assembly, and in the same instant, from the Staff over the Colonel's
hotel, where the red lamp signalled danger by night and the Red Flag gave
its warning by day, the scarlet danger-signal fluttered in the breeze.
Once, twice, again, the deep bell of the Catholic Church tolled. A dozen
other bells echoed the warning, signifying danger by the number of their
iron-tongue strokes to the threatened quarter of the town.

"'Ware big gun!" called the sentries. "West quarter, 'ware!"

The Mother-Superior grew pale, for the Women's Laager, towards which the
little Boer mare was steadily trotting with the laden spider, lay in the
menaced quarter, with a bare stretch of veld between it and the Camp of
the Irregular Horse, whose white tents and dug-out shelters were
pleasantly shaded by ancient blue gums, picturesque and stately in spite
of broken boughs and foliage torn by shrapnel and seared by the chemical
fumes of bursting charges innumerable.

"Will you not go down?" Saxham asked her.

She shook her head in reply, and stood with a waiting face in prayerful
silence, not stirring save to make the Sign of the Cross. And as the long
white fingers fluttered over the bosom of the black habit, the faint cry
that Saxham's quick ear had heard before floated up from the populous
depths below.

"What is that?"

Before the question had left Saxham's lips, the monster gun spoke out in
deafening thunder from the enemy's position at East Point, nearly two
miles away. The heavy grey smoke-pillar of the driving-charge towered
against the sunbright distance, and simultaneously with the crack of the
discharge, sounding as though all the pent-up forces of Hell had burst the
brazen gates of Terror, and rushed forth to annihilate and destroy, the
ninety-four pound projectile passed overhead, sweeping half the
corrugated-iron roof from the railway-official's late dwelling with a
fiendish clatter and din, as it passed harmlessly over the Women's Laager,
and, wrecking a sentry's shelter on the western line of defences, burst
harmlessly upon the veld beyond, blotting out the low hills behind a
curtain of acrid green vapour.

"Get under cover, quick!" Saxham had shouted to his companion, as deafened
by the tremendous concussion, and dazed and half-asphyxiated by the
poisonous fumes, he strove for mastery with his maddened horse. This
regained, he looked for the figure in the black habit and white coif, and
knew a shock of horror in seeing it prone upon the ground.

"No, no, I am not hurt!" she cried, lightly rising as he hurried towards
her. The tremendous air-concussion had thrown her down, and beyond a
scratch upon her hand and some red dust on the black garments she was in
nothing the worse.

"I don't know how I kept my own legs," Saxham said, laughing.

"It went by like twenty avalanches," she agreed. "And blessed be our Lord,
excepting for the damage to the roof, no more seems to have been done. I
can see the spider stopping near the Women's Laager." She peered out
earnestly over the shimmering waste of dusty yellow-brown, and cried out
joyfully: "Ah, Sister Hilda Antony and Sister Ruperta are getting out.
All is well with them; all is well."

"But not with the washing."

Saxham had swung round his binoculars, and brought them to bear upon the
vehicle and its late occupants. A grim smile played about his mouth as he
handed her the glasses, and heard her cry of womanly distress as she
beheld the fruit of late labour scattered on the veld and the Sisters'
agonised activity displayed in the gathering up of sheets, pillow-slips,
handkerchiefs, babies' shirts and petticoats, with other garments of a
strictly feminine and private character. Her grave, discreet eyes avoided
his as she handed back the binoculars, but a dimple showed near the edge
of the white coif.

"And now," Saxham said, glancing at his watch, "may I know in what I can
be of service?" It had seemed to him that the Mother-Superior hesitated to
broach the subject. Nor had he been mistaken. The dimple vanished. Her
calm eyes became troubled, and she asked, with a slight catching of the
breath:

"Yes, there was something.... Doctor, is it possible for a person to die
of fear?"

He answered promptly:

"In circumstances like the present? Certainly. Undoubtedly possible. I
have seen twenty deaths from pure fright since the bombardment began, and
I expect to see more before the siege ends, or people get callous to the
possibilities of sudden extermination that are afforded them a hundred
times a day. Is the person to whom you refer a woman or a child?"

"A young girl----" she was beginning, when a buxom little figure, black
veiled and habited like herself, rose up as if from the bowels of the
earth.

"I vill look. But I can see nozing," she called to someone invisible
below. "It must be that you vait until my eyes shall become more strong."
She shaded them, newly brought from semi-darkness and blinking in the hot,
white sunlight. The Mother-Superior hurried to her, saying with a note of
anxiety in her usually calm voice:

"Sister--Sister Cleophée; is anything the matter?"

"_Mon Dieu!_ It is ze Reverend Mozer!" ejaculated the other, relief and
joy expressed in the rapid movements of pliant hands and expressive eyes.
"Nozing is ze matter, Reverend Mozer, if only you are safe."

"Quite safe, and so are the Sisters. Only the linen was upset."

"My 'eavens, but a miraculous escapement!" The supple hands and the
expressive eyes and shoulders of Sister Cleophée made great play. "Me and
Sister Tobias, 'ow we _pray_ when we 'ear ze great gun, vith knowledge zat
you and ze Sisters were upon the vay to ze Women's Laager. My faith, it
vas terrible! Me, if I 'ad not make to ascend and learn how it go vid you,
Lynette vould 'ave come running up to make discovery for herself. She
behave like a little crazy, a little mad sing--I forget your vord for she
zat have lost 'er vits! Sister Tobias and me, we 'ave to 'old 'er." The
fine, expressive eyes went past the Mother-Superior, and lighted with
evident relief on Saxham. "Ah, Monsieur le Docteur, it is incredible vat
zat poor child she suffer. Madame 'ave told you----"

"Madame was about to tell me, my Sister," Saxham said, in his smooth,
fluent French, "when you appeared upon the scene."

Sister Cleophée launched, unwitting of the Mother-Superior's gesture of
vexation, into voluble explanations in that native language which M. le
Docteur spoke so well.

Mademoiselle Mildare, the ward of Madame the Mother-Superior, was no
coward. But no! the child had courage in plenty--it was the suspense that
devoured her in the absence of the Mother, to whom Mademoiselle was most
tenderly attached, that reduced her to a state of the most pitiable. The
Sisters left at home each day would talk of the work and the fine
weather--anything to distract the mind, that presented itself to them--but
now, nothing was of any use. When the Reverend Mother came back at
nightfall, behold a transformation. Mademoiselle would laugh and sing and
chatter. Her eyes would shine like stars, she would be happy, said Sister
Cleophée, with dramatic emphasis and gesture, as a soul in Paradise. Next
day, taking her guardian from her side, would bring the terrors back, find
redoubled the nervous sufferings of Mademoiselle, to-day reaching such a
height that Sister Cleophée felt convinced that something must be done.

"Ah, my Sister, if I could do anything!" the Mother-Superior said, with
the velvet Southern Irish inflection in the breathing aspirate, and the
soft melodious cadence that made her pure, cultivated utterance so
exquisite. The voice broke and faltered, and a spasm of mother-anguish
wrung the firm mouth, and as a slow tear dimmed each of her underlids and
splashed on the white _guimpe_ she put out her hand blindly, and the
sympathetic little Frenchwoman took it in both her own.

"Reverend Mozer, you can do zis. You can bring Monsieur le Docteur to see
Lynette. You can 'ave his advice upon 'er case, and you can----"

Another fusillade of rifle-fire, sweeping from the west over Gueldersdorp,
brought a repetition of the faint moaning cry from below. Saxham consulted
the Reverend Mother with a look. She bent her head in silent assent. He
hitched the horse's bridle to what had been the gatepost of the
railway-official's front-garden, as she signed to him to descend the
ladder leading to the Sisters' underground abode. And he went down to meet
his Fate there.



XXVIII


The temporary Convent was a roomy trench dug out of the red gravelly sand,
lined with the inevitable sheets of corrugated iron, and roofed with the
same material, supported by a solid frame of steel rails. Wide chinks
between the metal sheets gave admission to light and air, and earthen
drain-pipes made ventilators in the walls. But the sunlight penetrated
like spears of burning flame, and the air was stifling hot. The paraffin
stove that heated irons for Sister Tobias smelled clamorously, and the
droning of myriads of flies, not the least of the seven plagues of
Gueldersdorp, kept up a persistent bass to the shrill singing of the
little tin kettle. Later, when the April rains began, and the tarpaulins
were pulled over the sand-bagged roof, tin lamps burning more paraffin did
battle with Cimmerian darkness.

Saxham's professional approval was won by the marvellous cleanliness and
neatness of the place, divided into living-room and dormitory by a heavy
green baize curtain, that at the Convent had shut off the noise of the
great classroom from the rest of the house. The curtain was drawn, hiding
the little iron cots brought from the Sisters' cells, ascetic couches
whose narrow wire mattresses must afford scant room for repose to double
sleepers now, where all were crowded, and Conventual rules must be in
abeyance. The outer place held a deal table, the oil cooking-stove; some
household utensils shining with cleanliness were ranged upon a shelf, and
several pictures hung upon the walls. Upon a bracket the silver Crucifix
from the altar of the Convent chapel gleamed against the background of a
snowy, lace-bordered linen cloth. There were orderly piles of cleaned and
mended clothes, military and civilian, the garments of sick and wounded
male patients, who would leave the Hospital without a thought of the
unselfish women who had foregone sleep to patch jackets and sew on missing
buttons. There were haversacks of coarse canvas for the Volunteers,
finished and partly made, with ammunition-pouches and bandoliers. And
Sister Tobias stood ironing at the deal table, partly screened by a line
of drying linen, while Sister Mary-Joseph turned the mangle, and the
little brisk novice, her round cheeks no longer rosy, folded with active
hands. The Dop Doctor's keen quick glance took note of the patient
cheerful weariness written on the three faces, then rested on one other
face there.

Its wild white-rose fairness had dulled into the pallor of old ivory.
There were deep, bluish shadows about the eyes and round the mouth, and
the hollow at the base of the throat, where the pulse throbbed and
fluttered visibly, had grown deep. Her red-brown hair had lost its
burnished beauty. It had become dull like her skin, and her garments hung
loosely upon the form whose soft roundnesses had fallen away. But her eyes
had changed most. Their golden-hazel irises had faded to pale bronze, the
full, fair eyelids had shrunk, the pupils were distended to twice their
natural size. She sat upon a stool in a corner, a slight girlish figure in
a holland skirt and white cambric blouse-bodice, her slender waist
girdled with a belt of brown leather, the colour of her little shoes.
Huddled up against the corrugated-iron wainscot of the rough earth wall,
the obsession of fear that dilated her eyes and parched her lips shook her
in recurrent gusts of trembling, whenever the guns of the Gueldersdorp
batteries spoke in thunder, whenever the Boer artillery bellowed Death
from the heights above. For since the great gun had spoken from East
Point, Death's red sickle had not ceased to ply its task.

Some work, one of the coarse canvas haversacks made by the nuns for
Gueldersdorp's enrolled defenders, lay at the girl's feet. Her right hand,
horrible to see in its incessant, mechanical activity, made continually
the motion of sewing. Her eyes stared blankly, unwinkingly at the opposite
wall, and the gusts of trembling went over her without cessation. At a
more deafening crash than ordinary, an irrepressible scream would break
from her, and her hand would snatch at an invisible garment as though she
plucked back its imaginary wearer from peril by main force.

"She sees nobody. She hear nozing when we speak--she vould feel nozing, if
you should pinch or shake her. Was I not right, Reverend Mozer, to say it
is time zat somesing should be done?"

The shrill whisper came from Sister Cleophée. The Mother-Superior made a
sign in assent. Beyond words, her heart was crying--Oh, misery and joy in
one mingled draught to have won such love as this from Richard's child!
But her face was impassive and stern, and her eyes, looking over Saxham's
great shoulder as he stood silently watching at the bottom of the ladder
stairway, imposed silence on the busy, observant, tactful Sisters, who
continued their labours without a break, as the sewing hand went
diligently to and fro, and the recurrent convulsive shudders shook the
girl's slight frame, and the irrepressible cry of anguish was wrung from
her at each ear-splitting shellburst. And yet, with all her agony of love
intensifying her gaze, the Mother did not see as much as Saxham, who took
in every detail and symptom with skilled, consummate ease, realizing the
desperate effort that strove for self-command, noting the exhaustion of
suspense in the dropped lines of the half-open, colourless mouth, the
incipient mental breakdown in the vacant stare of the dilated eyes, the
mechanical action of the stitching needle-hand, the convulsive shudder
that rippled through the slight figure at each boom, or crash, or
fusillade of rifle-fire that drifted over the shrapnel-torn veld and
through the battered town. He threw a swift whisper over his shoulder
presently, that only reached the ear of the Mother-Superior, standing
behind him, her tall shape concealed from the sufferer's sight by his
great form.

"How long has this been going on?"

She whispered back: "I am told ever since the bombardment began. Every
day, and at night too, should duty detain me at one or another of the
Hospitals."

He added in the same low tone:

"She has a morbid terror of death under ordinary circumstances?"

The Mother-Superior murmured, a hand upon the ache in her bosom:

"Not of death for herself. For--another."

His purely scientific attitude must have already abandoned him when he
knew gladness that Self was not the dominant note in this dumb threnody of
fear. But he wore the professional mask of the physician as he ordered:

"Let one of the Sisters speak to her."

The Mother-Superior glanced at the nun who was ironing, and then at the
figure on the stool. The Sister was about to obey when the Boer
Maxim-Nordenfelt on the southern position rattled. There was a hissing
rush overhead, and as a series of sharp, splitting cracks told that a
group of the shining little copper-banded shells had burst, and that their
splinters were busily hunting far and wide for somebody to kill, the
stitching hand dropped by the girl's side. A new wave of shuddering went
over the desolate young figure, pitiable and horrible to see. Dull drops
of sweat broke out upon her temples in the shadow of her red-brown hair.

"How are you getting on with your work, dearie?"

Sister Tobias had spoken to her gently. She moved her head and her fixed
eyes in a blind way, and the stitching hand resumed its mechanical task,
but she gave no answer, except with the shudderings that shook her, as a
lily is shaken in an autumn blast.

Then Saxham stepped backwards noiselessly, climbed the steep ladder
stairway, and stood waiting for the Mother-Superior in the blazing yellow
sunshine, beside the post to which his horse was hitched. The Mother
followed instantly. He was making some pencil memoranda in a shabby
notebook, and kept his eyes upon his writing, and made a mere mask of his
square, pale face as he began:

"It--the case presents a very interesting development. The subject has at
one time or other--probably the critical period of girlhood--sustained a
severe physical and mental shock?"

The great grey eyes swam in sudden tears that were not to be repressed, as
the Mother-Superior remembered the finding of that lost lamb on the veld
seven years before. She bowed her head in silent assent.

"You would wish candour," Saxham said, looking away from her emotion. "And
I should tell you that this is grave."

"I know it," her desperate eyes said more plainly than her scarcely moving
lips. "But so many others are suffering in the same way, and there is
nothing that can be done for any of them."

He answered with emphasis that struck her cold. "Some measures must be
taken in the case, and without delay. This state of things must not go
on." He saw that the Mother-Superior caught her breath and wrung her hands
together in the loose, concealing sleeves as she said, with a breath of
anguish:

"If she only had more self-control."

"She has self-control." He echoed the word impatiently. "She is using
every ounce she has for all she is worth. She has used it too long and too
persistently."

"I will say then, if she only had more faith!"

"I know nothing of faith," Saxham said curtly; "I deal in common-sense."

She could have asked if it were commonly sensible for a creature made by
God, and existing but by His will, to live without Him? But she put the
temptation past her. No cordial flame of mutual esteem and liking ever
sprang up between these two, often brought together in their mutual work
of help and healing. She recognised Saxham's power, she admitted his
skill. But, as his practised eye had diagnosed in the beloved of her heart
the signs of physical and mental crisis, so her clear gaze deciphered in
his face the story written by those unbridled years of vice and
dissipation, and knew him diseased in soul. She may have been fully
acquainted with all Gueldersdorp had learned of him, going here, there,
and everywhere, as was her wont, in obedience to her Spouse's call. But if
so, she never betrayed Saxham. There was no resentment, only delicate
irony in the curve of her finely-modelled lips as she queried:

"Am I so deficient in the quality of common-sense?"

"Madam," he said, "you have manifested it in each of the many instances
where I have been brought in contact with you. But in your solicitude for
this young girl you have shown, for the first time in my experience of
you, some lack of good judgment, and have inflicted, and do inflict,
severe suffering on her."

Her eyes flashed grey fire under her stern brows as she demanded:

"How, pray?"

"It is out of the question, I suppose," Saxham said coldly, "that you
should slacken in your ministrations among the sick and wounded, and keep
out of daily and hourly danger--for her sake?"

"Impossible," her voice answered, and her heart added unheard:
"Impossible, unless I should be false to my Heavenly Bridegroom out of
love for the child He gave."

"Then," said Saxham bluntly, "unless these recurrent nerve-storms are to
culminate in cerebral lesion and mental and physical collapse--a result
more easy to avert than to deal with--take the girl about with you."

"But----" the Mother uttered in irrepressible dismay. "I--we go
everywhere!"

It was most true. He had a vision, as she said it, of the black-robed,
white-coifed, cheerful Sisters passing in couples through the
shrapnel-littered streets, between houses of gaping walls, and shattered
roofs, and glassless windows, cheerful, serene, helpful, bringing comfort
to the dying, and assistance to the sick, oblivious of whistling bullets
and bursting shells. And the most arduous duties, the most repulsive
tasks, the most danger-fraught errands, were hers, always by right, and
claim, and choice. What a woman it was! A very Judith in Israel. He knew
that Judith did not like him, but unconcealed admiration was in his blue
eyes as he looked at her.

"I know it. Let _her_ go everywhere. It is the sole chance, and--you spoke
of faith just now.... If you have it for yourself and the religious women
of your Order, who go about doing good in confidence of the protection--I
do not speak in mockery--of an Almighty Hand, why can't you have it for
her?"

She had never seemed so noble in his eyes as when she took that implied
rebuke of his, with meek bending of her proud head, and candid
self-condemnation in the eyes that were lowered and then raised to his,
and beautiful humility in her speech:

"Sir, your reproach is just; it is I who have been lacking in faith.
And--it shall be as you advise."

The distant bugle blared out its warning. The bell tolled twice, stopped,
and tolled four; the smaller bells echoed. The voices of the sentries came
to their ears, loudly at first, then more distant, then reduced to the
merest spider-thread of sound:

"'Ware big gun! South quarter, 'ware!"

"I must go to her," the Mother-Superior said, and passed him swiftly and
went down the ladder. Saxham followed. The white figure on the stool had
not stirred, apparently. Its blank eyes still stared at the wall, and the
mechanical hand moved, sewing at nothing, as diligently as ever.

"Lynette!"

The fixed, blindly-staring eyes came to life. Colour throbbed back into
the wan ivory cheeks. The mouth lost its vacant droop. She rose up from
the stool with a joyful cry, and, stumbling in her haste, ran into the
outstretched arms. As they wrapped about her, clinging to her sole earthly
friend and guardian as though she could never let go, came the crash of
the driving-charge, the yelling Brocken-hunt of the passage of the huge
projectile, the ear-splitting din of the shellburst. She lifted up a
radiant face of laughing defiance, and then choked and quivered and burst
out crying, leaning her panting young bosom against the black habit, and
weeping as though her whole being must dissolve, Undine-like, in tears.

Ah, the lovely feminine woman who weeps and clings! She will never lose
her dominion over the sons of men. The appealing glances of her beautiful
wet eyes melt the stoniest male hearts, the soft tendril-like wreathing of
her arms about the pillar of salt upon the Plain would have had power to
change it back into a breathing human being once more, if Lot had looked
back, instead of his helpmeet. Her sterner sisters may feel as keenly,
love as tenderly, sorrow even more bitterly than she. Who will believe it
among the sons of dead old Adam, who first felt the heaving bosom pant
against his own, and saw the first bright tear-showers fall--forerunners
of what oceans of world-sorrow to be shed hereafter, when the Angel of the
flaming sword drove the peccant pair from Paradise. Ah, the fair, weak
woman who weeps and clings!

And Owen Saxham, watching Lynette from the ladder-foot, and the
Mother-Superior, clasping her and murmuring soft comfort into the
delicate, fragile ear under the heaped waves of red-brown hair, shared the
same thought.

How this trembling, vibrating, emotional creature will love one day, when
the man arrives to whom imperious Nature shall bid her render up her all!

In whom, prayed the unselfish mother-heart, willing to be bereft of even
the Heaven-sent consolation for the sake of the beloved, in whom may she
find not only the earthly mate-fellow, but the kindred soul. For,
all-pitying Mother of Mercy! should she, too, be doomed to stake all upon
a wavering, unstable, headlong Richard, what will happen then?

Looking at the pair, Saxham thought of Ruth and Naomi. Lynette's tears had
been dried quickly, like all joy-drops that the eyes shed. She was talking
low and earnestly, pleading her cause with clinging hands and wistful
looks and coaxing tones that were broken sometimes by a sob and sometimes
by a little peal of girlish laughter.

"Mother, I am not made of sugar to be melted in the sun, or Dresden china
to be broken. I am strong enough to take my share of the work; I am brave
enough to bear anything--anything," she urged, "if only I may be with you.
But to sit cooped up here day after day, safe and sheltered, sewing
powder-bags or giving Katie French lessons, or helping Sister Tobias, and
listening to the guns"--the blood fled from her cheeks and the great
pupils of her eyes dilated until they looked all black in her face of
whiteness--"the dreadful guns, and wondering where you are when the shells
are bursting"--her voice rose in anguish--"I can't bear it! Mother, do you
hear?" She threw her beautiful head back entreatingly, and the pulses in
her white throat throbbed under Saxham's eyes, and her slight hands were
desperate in their clutch upon the arms that held her. "I want my share of
the risk, whatever it is. I will have it! It is my right. I have tried to
be good and patient, but I can't, I can't, I can't stand this any more!"

Her voice broke upon a sob, and Saxham said from the doorway that was
filled by his great shoulders from post to post:

"You will not have to stand it any more. The Reverend Mother has
reconsidered her decision. She will take you to the Hospital and elsewhere
from to-day."

The man's curt manner and authoritative tone brought Lynette for the first
time to knowledge of his presence. Her glance went to him, and joy was
mingled with surprise in the face she turned towards the Mother-Superior.

"Really, Mother?"

The Mother-Superior, though her own still face had flushed with quick,
irrepressible resentment at Saxham's tone, said cheerfully:

"It is true, my child. Dr. Saxham thinks it will be best for you. Dr.
Saxham, this is my ward, Miss Mildare."

Saxham made his little brusque bow. Lynette, bending her lovely head, gave
a grateful glance at the khâki-clad figure with the great hulking
shoulders, standing under the patch of hot blue sky that the top of the
ladder vanished in, and a strange shock and thrill went through the man's
whole frame. His odd, gentian-coloured eyes under the heavy thunder-cloud
of black eyebrows lightened so suddenly in reply that the girl felt
repelled and half frightened. She was conscious of a curious oppression.
As for Saxham, a delicate, stinging fire ran newly in his veins. Something
stirred in the secret depths of him, and came to life with an awakening
thrill exquisitely poignant and sweet. For this slight, unsophisticated,
Convent-bred creature, slender as a lily, reared in innocence among the
blameless, was rich as her frail, lovely mother had been before her in the
mysterious allure of sex. Beautiful Lady Bridget-Mary at the zenith of her
stately beauty had never possessed one-tenth of the seductive charm that
emanated from this young girl. Thoughts of the stored-up golden honey seen
gleaming through the translucent waxen cells of the virgin comb made the
senses reel as you looked at her, if you were man born of woman, with your
passions alive and keen-edged in you, and your blood had not lost the lilt
of the song that it has sung in healthy veins of sons of Adam since the
Woman was made for and given to the Man. For Artemis may invite, if
unconsciously, the hot pursuit of the hunter; the shy, close-folded nymph
among the sedges may awaken the primal desire of Pan among the reeds....
Saxham, even in the years of his degradation, had scarcely sunk to the
level of the crook-shinned, hairy-thighed, hoofed satyr. But he had built
his nest with the birds of night, and slaked his thirst at impure sources,
and only now did he realise how his mad dream of vengeance upon the Power
that had cast him down and wrecked his future was to recoil upon himself.
"I have done with Love," he had said, "and with Hope, and with Life as it
is known of the honourable and the upright and the cleanly among men for
ever!"

And now ... his thoughts were tipped with fire as he drank in the
suddenly-awakened, vivid, delicate beauty of Lynette Mildare. Now he
realised the depths of his own mad folly. Oh, to have had the right to
hope again, to love again, to live again, and be grateful to David, who
had betrayed him, and Mildred, who had deserted him--to this end! Oh,
never to have lost the honourable claim to woo such loveliness as this and
win such purity, and wear both as a talisman upon his heart for ever! He
drew breath heavily as he looked at the girl, transformed and glowing
under the touch she loved, shining from within like some frail,
transparent alabaster lamp with the light that he had helped to rekindle.
And as his great chest expanded with deep draughts of the subtle,
intoxicating atmosphere of her, and the blood hummed through his veins to
that new measure, the last link of his old fetters fell clanking to the
ground. And then, with a sting of intolerable remorse, came the memory of
his shameful five years' Odyssey spent as a hog among other hogs of the
human kind. It had not been an overthrow. It had been a surrender of all
that was noble and strong in him to all in him that was despicable and
weak and vile. And his soul shuddered, and his heart contracted in the
sickening clutch of shame.



XXIX


He awakened from that lost moment of enthralment to the pang and the shock
of self-discovery, and to the knowledge that somebody was hailing him by
name from the top of the ladder.

"Saxham! Doctor! Are you below there?"

It was the gay, fresh voice of Beauvayse, halted with a handful of
Irregulars, bandoliered, carrying their rifles and the day's provisions,
wearing their bayonets on their hips, and sitting their wiry little horses
with the ease of old troopers in the lee-side of the piled-up mound of
sandbags that roofed the underground convent. Five men and a Corporal of
the Town Guard, similarly burdened and accoutred--we know the pale Cockney
eyes and the thin face of the Corporal, whose freckles have long ago
vanished in a uniform gingerbread hue--had also taken momentary shelter
from one of the intermittent blizzards of Mauser bullets that drifted
through Gueldersdorp.

One Irregular was sitting on an earth-filled packing-case, swearing
softly, nursing a disabled right arm, and looking at the corded network of
hairy, sunburned muscles that were delicately outlined in the bright red
stream that trickled from beneath the rolled-up shirt-sleeve of raspy
"greyback."

"We saw your hairy tied up outside, Doctor, and 'sensed' your whereabouts,
as McFadyen says. Can the ladies spare you for a moment? Sorry to be a
nuisance, but one of my fellows has got winged on our way to relieve the
garrison at Maxim Outpost South, and though he swears he is as fit as a
fiddle, I don't believe he ought to come on."

"I'm all right, Sir, 'pon me Sam I am!" protested the dismounted trooper.
"It's a bit stiff, but the bleedin' 'll take that off. I shan't shoot a
tikkie the worse for it. Lay anybody 'ere a caulker I don't!"

Nobody took up the bet, fortunately for the sportsman, as surgical
examination proved that the bullet had gone sheer through the fleshy part
of the upper arm, breaking the bone, just missing the artery, and leaving
a clean hole.

"You'll have to go to Hospital, my man," pronounced Saxham.

The face of the wounded Irregular lengthened in disgust. "My crimson luck!
And I'd made up my mind to pick off a brace o' them blasted Dutch wart
'ogs over that there bad job of pore Bob Ellis."

He blinked violently, and gulped down something that rose in his brown,
muscular throat as the voice of a comrade, middle-aged like himself,
coffee-baked as a Colonial, and also speaking with the accents of the
English barrack-room, took up the tale.

"Bob Ellis was 'is pal, Sir, and mine, too. We was in the same battery of
'Orse Artillery at Ali Musjid, an' we went up along of Lord Kitchener to
Khartoum. An' they shot Bob yesterday. Through the 'ead, clean, an' 'e
never spoke another word."

"Through the loop-'ole o' the parapet, it was," went on the wounded man.
"Bein' in the advance trench, we've got on neighbourly terms like, with
the Dutchies, and Tom Kelly, wot 'as just bin speakin', 'eard Bob Ellis
promisin' this bloke as 'ow if 'e'd on'y 'urry up an' git killed soon
enough, Bob would 'ave 'is farm and 'is frow when 'e come marchin' along
to Pretoria. 'Oppin' mad the Dopper was at that, an' the names 'e called
pore Bob was something disgraceful. An' when 'e got Bob through the
loop-'ole, me an' Kelly made our minds up to show a bit o' fancy shootin'
and lay 'im out in turn. That's 'ow it was, Sir. An' now"--the voice grew
shaky--"they've corked me. Corked me, by God I--an' there's not a bloke
among the lot of us but me can play the concertina." With his undamaged
arm he swung round his haversack, bulging at the top with a cheap,
bone-keyed, rosewood-veneered, gaudy-paper-sided instrument of German
make, and hung his head over it in silence.

"But what on earth has the concertina got to do with it?" Saxham was
frankly puzzled, and Beauvayse, with all his professional knowledge of
"Tommy," was for once nonplussed.

"You'd better explain to the Doctor, Corporal Leash. I'm out of the
running when it comes to killing men with concertinas. And--you don't play
as badly as all that, do you?"

"On the contrywise, Sir," explained the comrade Kelly, "plays uncommon
well, he does--all the tunes of the latest music-'all and patriotic
songs."

"An' them blasted Doppers are uncommon fond o' music, d'ye see, Sir,"
explained the wounded trooper. "They can't keep their ugly 'eads down
behind the sand-bags when they hears it. Up they pops 'em over the edge
and then--you take care they don't pop down no more."

The gay young laughter of Beauvayse was infectious, while white teeth
showed, or teeth that were not white, in the tanned faces of Irregulars
and Town Guardsmen. Even the mourning comrades grinned, and Saxham smiled
grimly as Beauvayse cried:

"By George, a more original method of reprisal I never came across! But
it's clear if you can't shoot with that drilled arm of yours you can't
play the concertina. Wish I could knock a tune out of the thing, Leash,
for your sake--enough to make a Boer put his head up. But I'm a duffer at
musical instruments--always was. What do you say, my man?"

"Beg pardon, Sir." The Corporal with the Town Guardsmen saluted, making
the most of his five feet two inches. "I can pl'y the squiffer--I mean the
concertina, Sir--a fair treat for a hammatore. And if I might be let to
tyke this man's plyce at Maxim Outpost South, Sir, I could 'elp serve the
gun, too, Sir--we've bin' attendin' Artillery Drill in spare hours."

"I shouldn't think you had any spare hours to spare?" Beauvayse looked at
the thin, tanned face with liking, and the keen pale eyes met his fairly.

"We haven't, Sir, but we manage some'ow."

"But what about your own duty?"

"I'm tykin' these men over, Sir." He indicated a solid family grocer, a
clerk of the County Court, a pseudo-Swiss baker, and two Navy Reserve men
reduced to the ranks for aggressive intemperance of the methylated-spirit
kind, which, in the absence of other liquor, had prevailed among a certain
class, until the intoxicating medium was confiscated by Government.

"Captain Thwaite 'as spared us from the Cemetery Works to relieve Corporal
Brice an' 'is little lot at Angle VII. South Trenches. A telephone-message
come from our Colonel to say Brice's men was bad with rheumatism and
dysentery--but Brice is all right an' fit, Sir--and"--the pale eyes
pleaded out of the brickdust-coloured face--"I'd like the charnce o'
gettin' nearer to the enemy, Sir--an' that's the truth."

Beauvayse conceded. "Very well. I'll square things with your commanding
officer as we go along, and explain matters to the Colonel per telephone
from Maxim Outpost South. Come on there when you've handed over your men
to Brice."

The pale eyes danced. "Thank you, Sir."

"An' I'll owe you a dollar whisky-peg for the good turn," muttered the
perforated musician, as he handed over the cherished concertina to the
volunteer, "till next Sunday that I see you in the stad."

"Righto!" said Corporal Keyse, accepting the sacred charge.

"Look here, though," came from Beauvayse, "there's one thing you must
remember--what's your name?"

"Keyse, sir--Corporal, A Company, Gueldersdorp Town Guard."

"Well, Keyse, you've heard Meisje hiccoughing ninety-four-pound
projectiles all the morning, haven't you?"

"Couldn't possibly miss 'er, sir"--the pale eyes twinkled as the Corporal
finished--"not as long as she misses me."

"She has a talent for missing, otherwise a good many of us fellows would
have heard the Long Call before now. But most of her delicate little
attentions--with the exception of one shell she sent over the Women's
Laager, to show the people there that she doesn't mind killin' females and
children if she can't get men--most of 'em are meant for Maxim Outpost
South; and one of 'em may get home sometimes, when the German gunner isn't
thinking of his sweetheart. Then, if you find yourself soarin' heavenwards
in a kind of scattered anatomical puzzle-map of little bits, don't blame
me for obligin' you, that's all."

There was a guffaw from the listeners. W. Keyse saluted, cheerfully
joining in.

"I shan't s'y a word, sir."

"By George, I believe you!" said Beauvayse. "What's up? Seen a ghost?"

Saxham had swung his wallet round, producing carbolic, antiseptic gauze,
First Aid bandages, and other surgical indispensables from its recesses,
as by legerdemain, and a tall, stately black figure, followed by a tall,
slender white figure, had risen from the bowels of the earth. The
Mother-Superior, taking in the situation and the need of her at a glance,
called a brief order down the ladder stairway, and went swiftly over to
Saxham, whipping a blue apron out of a big pocket, tying it about her, and
pulling on a pair of sleeves of the same stuff as she went. Lynette turned
to take the basin of hot water that the arm of Sister Tobias extended from
below, and the jaws of W. Keyse snapped together. Until he twigged the
bronze-red coils of hair under the broad, rough straw hat, he had thought
... Cripps!

We know how the dancing, provoking mischievous blue eyes and adorable
wrist-thick golden pigtail of Greta du Taine dwelt in his love-stricken
remembrance. Her worshipped image had got a little rubbed and dimmish of
late to be sure, but breathe on the colours, and you saw them come out
clear, and oh! bewilderingly lovely.

Billy Keyse had never even beheld the enchantress since that
never-to-be-forgotten morning when he had seen her pass at the head of the
serpentine procession of pupils, slowly winding across the Market Square.
But he knew she was still in Gueldersdorp. He felt her, for one thing. We
know that in his case Love's clairvoyant instinct had got its nightcap on.
We saw Greta depart on the train bound North and branch off East for the
Du Taine homestead near Johannesburg. But if she were not in Gueldersdorp,
why did the left breast-pocket of the now soiled and heavily-patched khâki
tunic bulge so? There were six letters inside there, tied up with a frayed
bit of blue ribbon. Hers? 'Strewth, they were! And each what you might
call a Regular One-er of a love-letter. Never mind the paper being
thumb-marked as well as cheaply inferior, one cannot expect all the
refinements of civilisation in a beleaguered town. It was the spelling
that--although we know W. Keyse to be no cold orthographist--occasionally
gave him pause as he perused and re-perused the greasy but passionate
page. And why did she sign herself "Fare Air?" The sense of ingratitude
pierced him even as he wondered. Why shouldn't she if she chose? What a
proper beast he was to grumble! Him, that ought to be proud of her
demeaning herself to stoop to a young chap in a lower station, so to call.
And her a Regular Swell.

He hugged the letters against him with the arm belonging to the hand that
held the concertina. Beloved missives, where was the worshipped writer
now? Sitting by a tapestry-frame, for he could not imagine her peeling
potatoes, down in the Convent bombproof, dreaming of him, weeping over his
last letter, or blushfully aware of his vicinity, panting at the bottom of
the ladder, listening for the beloved accents of the man who ... Hold
hard, though! she had never heard the voice of W. Keyse; or he hers for
that matter, but he would have recognised it among a thousand. He had told
her so, writing with ink pencil, of the kind that when sucked in moments
of forgetfulness tastes peculiarly horrible, and tinges the saliva with
violet, at spare moments in the trench. A phlegmatic Chinaman acted as
Love's postman, handing in the envelopes that were addressed to Mr. W.
Keyse, Esquer, in caligraphy that began in the top left-hand corner, and
trickled gradually down into the right-hand bottom one. Pumping the
Celestial was no use. John Tow sabee'd only that a fair foreign devil gave
the one missive, with a tikkie for delivery, and 'spose one time Tow makee
plenty good walkee back with anulla paper some pidgin bime-bye catchee
more tikkie. If walkee back no paper, too muchee John catchee hellee,
reaping only reproaches and no tikkie at all.

Judge how the heart of W. Keyse bumped against the concertina when the
slender vision in the holland skirt and white blouse and broad straw hat
appeared from underground. It was not she, though, Queen of heroic
thoughts, inspirer of deeds of daring yet to be done, who followed the
Mother-Superior.

It was the loveliest girl Beauvayse had ever seen, or ever would see. The
girl who had stood up in defence of three nuns against a threatening gang
of rowdy Transvaalers, one day in the Recreation Ground,--the girl who had
passed as the Staff dismounted at the Hospital gate on the day of
appropriation. The Mayor had had no chance of fulfilling his promise of an
introduction. The Mayor's wife, with her two children, was an inmate of
the Women's Laager. But at last the kind little genii that deal with
happenings and chances had brought Beauvayse and his divinity face to
face. Now she rose out of the Convent dug-out, in the waste that had been
the railway-official's front-garden, like a fair white Psyche-statue,
delivered in the course of some convulsion of Nature from the matrix of
the earth. And she was even more exquisite than his remembrance of her,
even more ...

Beauvayse descended abruptly from an empyrean flight of poetic imagery to
remember his torn and soiled silk polo-shirt with its rolled-up sleeves,
his earth-stained cords, girt with a belt of vari-coloured webbing, his
muddy leather leggings and boots with their caked and dusty spurs, telling
of hard service and unresting activity.

But he looked radiantly handsome as he leapt to the ground and came
forward, his tall athletic figure, trained by arduous toil and incessant
work until the last superfluous ounce of flesh had vanished, looking the
personification of manliness, his tanned face, still clean-shaven save for
the slight fair moustache, one to set any maiden dreaming of its straight
clean-cut features and lazy, long-shaped grey-green eyes. The wide felt
hat he touched in salute sat with a jaunty air on the close-cropped golden
head. Here was a gallant, heartsome vision to greet Lynette, stepping
after the Mother into that outer world, where fire belched warning from
iron mouths, and steel destruction sped through the skies, and bullets
sang like hornets past your head, or hit the ground near your feet,
sending up little bushy columns and spirts of dust.

The wounded man, now carbolised, plugged, and bandaged by Saxham's
dexterous hands, took the hastily-scrawled admission-order, included his
officer, the ladies, and the Doctor in a left-handed salute, distributed a
parting wink among his comrades, counselled W. Keyse in a hoarse whisper
to go tender on the off-side G of the instrument he dandled, and trudged
sturdily away in the direction of the Hospital.

"Thank you, ma'am. There's no stealing a march on you," Beauvayse said to
the Mother-Superior, touching his hat with his gay, swaggering grace, as
she emptied a bowl of red water on the ground, and whisked the blue apron
and sleeves back into the vast recesses of the mysterious pocket. "But
you're spoiling us. Hot water isn't on tap, as a rule, for
Field-dressings, and--and won't you----" He reddened to the fair untanned
skin upon his temples. "Mayn't I ask, ma'am, to be introduced to Miss
Mildare?"

The Mother complied with his request, smiling indulgently. She had known
and loved this bright boy's mother in her early married days. The Dark
Rose of Ireland and the White Rose of Devon, a noted Society phrasemonger
had dubbed them, seeing them together on the lawn one Ascot Cup Day, their
light draperies and delicate ribbons whip-whipping in the pleasant June
breeze, ivory-skinned, jetty-locked Celtic beauty and blue-eyed,
flaxen-locked Saxon fairness in charming, confidential juxtaposition under
one lace sunshade, lined with what has been the last new fashionable
colour under twenty names, since then; only that year they called it _Rose
fané_. Richard Mildare had praised the sunshade, a Paris affair supplied
by Worth with his creation, Lady Biddy Bawne's beautiful gown. He asked
Lady Biddy to marry him at the back of the box on the Grand Stand when
Verneuil was winning the Cup. Who shall dare say that he was not then a
sincere lover? thought the Mother-Superior of the Convent of the Holy Way.
And then she recalled her wandering thoughts, and turned them to the One
Lover who never betrays His chosen. And her rapt eyes looking up, seemed
to pierce beyond the flaming sky-vault overhead. She forgot all else,
suddenly snatched from earthly consciousness to beatific realisation of
the Divine.

There had been for some minutes now a lull in the bombardment from the
ridges. The enemy's guns were silent a space, and the hot batteries of
harassed Gueldersdorp snatched a brief respite while Boers gathered for
the nine o'clock coffee-drinking round their little snapping fires of
dried dung and tindery bush. Now and then a rifle cracked, and a bullet
sang past or whitted in the dust. But comparative peace brooded over the
shattered hamlet of wrecked homes and ploughed-up, littered roads, and raw
earthworks blistering in the pitiless sun.

"Miss Mildare." Beauvayse was speaking in that pleasant, boyish voice of
his, standing close to Lynette, his tall head bending for a glimpse of the
eyes of golden hazel, that were shaded by the broad, rough straw hat; "if
you knew how I've waited for this. Nearly seven weeks since one day in
early October, when I saw you on the Recreation Ground, where some brutes
were annoying you, and a day or so later you went by the Hospital as I
rode up with the Chief. But, of course, you don't remember?" His eyes
begged her to say she did.

"I remember quite well." It was the voice he had imagined for her--low,
and round, and clear, with just an undernote of plaintiveness matching the
wistful appeal of her eyes. At the first sound of it a shudder of
exquisite delight went through him, as though she had touched him with her
slender white, bare hand on the naked breast.

"Thank you for not quite forgetting. You don't know what it means to me,
being kept in mind by you."

"I do not know that I kept you in mind." There was a touch of girlish
dignity in her utterance. "I only said that I remembered quite well."

He bent his head nearer, and lowered his pleasant voice to a coaxing,
confidential tone.

"You'll think me a presumptuous kind of fellow for talking like this,
won't you, Miss Mildare? But the circumstances are exceptional, aren't
they? We're shut up away from the big world outside in a little world of
our own, and--such chances fall to every man and most of the women here: a
shrapnel bullet or a shell-splinter might stop me before another hour goes
by, from ever saying--what I've felt for weeks on end had got to be
said--what I'd risk a dozen lives, if I had 'em, to get the opportunity of
saying to you." His hot eagerness frightened her. Her downcast eyelids
quivered, and her flushed maiden-face shrank from him.

"Oh, don't be angry! Don't move away!" Beauvayse entreated; for Lynette's
anxious glance had gone in search of the Mother-Superior, with whom Saxham
was now discussing the nuns' idea of utilising the Convent as a
Convalescent Hospital. In another instant she would have taken refuge by
her side. "If you knew how I have thought of you and dreamed of you since
I saw you! If you could only understand how I shall think of you now! If
you could only realise how awfully, utterly strange it is to feel as I am
feeling!" His voice was a tremulous, fervent whisper. His eyes gleamed
like emeralds in the shadow of the wide-brimmed felt hat. "And if I die
to-day, it won't end there. I shall think of you, and long for you, and
worship you wherever I am!"

"Oh, why do you talk to me like this?"

Lynette's whisper was as tremulous as Beauvayse's own. Her eyes lifted to
the glowing, ardent face for one shy instant, and found it good to look
upon. Men, young and not undesirable, had tried to make love to her
before, at dances and parties and picnics to which she had been chaperoned
by the Mayor's wife. But the first hot glance, the first word that carried
the vibration of a passionate meaning, had wakened the old terror in her,
and bidden her escape. The nymph had always taken flight at the first step
upon the bank, the first rustle of the sedges. She had never lingered to
feel the air stirred by another burning breath. She had never asked any
one of those other men why he talked like that. Beauvayse went on:

"Perhaps I even seem a little mad to you--fellows have told me lately that
I went on as if I had a tile off. Perhaps I'm what the Scotch call 'fey.'
I've got Highland blood in me, anyhow. And you have set it on fire, I
think--started it boiling and racing and leaping in my veins as no woman
ever did before. You slender white witch! you fay of mist and moonlight,
you've woven a spell, and tangled my soul in it, and nothing in Life or in
Death will ever loose me again." His tone changed, became infinitely
caressing. "How sweet and dear you are to be so patient with me, while I'm
sending the Conventionalities to the rightabout and terrifying the
Proprieties. Forgive me, Miss Mildare."

The pleading in his face was exquisite. She felt as a bee might feel
drowning in honey, as she wreathed her white fingers together upon the
silver buckle of the brown leather belt she wore, and said confusedly:

"I ... I believe I ought to be very angry with you."

His whisper touched her ear like a kiss, and set her trembling.

"But you're not?"

"I----"

She caught her breath as he came nearer. There was a fragrance from him--a
perfume of youth and health and vitality--that was powerful, heady,
intoxicating as the first warm, flower-scented wind of Spring, blowing
down a mountain-kloof from the high ranges. Her white-rose cheeks took
sudden warmth of hue, and her pale nostrils quivered. A faint, mysterious
smile dawned upon her lips. Something of the old terror was upon her
still, and yet--it was delicious to be afraid of him!

"Say that you aren't angry with me for being so thunderingly presumptuous.
Please be kind to me and say it."

Her lips began to utter disjointed phrases. "What can it matter really?...
Oh, very well, then ... if my saying so is of such ... importance...."

"More important than anything in the world!" he declared.

"Very well, then, I am not angry--not furiously so, at least." The bud of
a smile repressed pouted her lips.

"And," he begged, "you'll let what I've said to you be our secret?
Promise."

"Very well."

"You sweetest, kindest, loveliest----"

"Please don't," she entreated.

"And I may know your Christian name?" he persisted, "I've thought of
everything in the world, and nothing's good enough to fit you."

"Oh, how silly!" Her eyes gleamed with laughter. "It is Lynette."

He caught at it with rapture. "Perfect! The last touch.... The scent of
the rose, or say the dewdrop on it. By George, I'm in earnest!"

He had spoken incautiously loud. A grating voice addressing him pulled his
head round.

"Lord Beauvayse ..."

"Did you speak to me, Doctor? As I was saying, Miss Mildare," he went on,
continuing the blameless conversation, "dust-storms and flies are the twin
curses of South Africa."

The harsh voice spoke to him again. He looked round, and met Saxham's
eyes, hard and cold as blue stones. The Doctor said grimly:

"You may not be aware that your men are drawing fire."

It was undeniable fact. The bullets had begun to hit the ground under the
horses' bellies, spirting little columns of dust and flattening against
the stones. Coffee-drinking was over in the enemy's trenches, and the
business of the day had begun again. Beauvayse bade the ladies
good-morning, and swung himself into the saddle.

"Au revoir, Miss Mildare. Please get under cover at once." The
proprietorship in the tone stung Saxham to wincing. "Good-morning, ma'am,"
he cried to the Mother-Superior, "we know you ignore bullets. So long,
Doctor. Hope I shan't count one in your day's casualty-bag. Ready, boys?"

The chatting troopers sprang to alert attention. W. Keyse, pensively
boring the sandy earth with the pneumatic auger of imagination, in search
of the loved one believed to inhabit the Convent bomb-proof, was recalled
to the surface by the curtly-uttered command, and knew the thrill of
hero-worship as Beauvayse threw out his lightly-clenched hand, and the
troopers, answering the signal, broke into a trot. The hot dust scurried
at the horses' retreating heels. Corporal Keyse, trudging staunchly in
their wake with his five Town Guardsmen, became ghostlike, enveloped in an
African replica of the ginger-coloured type of London fog. And the
Mother-Superior looked at her well-worn watch.

"My child, we must be moving if you are coming with me to the Women's
Laager. I am nearly an hour late as it is."

"I am ready, Mother dear."

Lynette's eyes came back from following that dust-cloud in the distance to
meet the hungry, jealous fires of Saxham's gaze.

He had seen Beauvayse's ardent look, and her shy heart's first leaf
unfolded in the answering blush, and a spasm of intolerable anger gripped
him as he saw. He turned away silently, cursing his own folly, and
unhitched his horse's bridle from the broken gatepost. With the act a
crowd rose up before Lynette and a frightened horse reared, threatening to
fall upon three women who were hurrying along the sidewalk outside the
Hospital, and a heavy-shouldered, black-haired man in shabby white drills
stepped out of the throng and seized the flying bridoon-rein, and wrenched
the brute down. She recognised the horse and the man again, and exclaimed:

"Why ... Mother, don't you remember the rearing horse outside the Hospital
that day in October? It was Dr. Saxham who caught him, and saved us from
getting hurt."

"And we never even thanked you." The Mother-Superior turned to Saxham with
outstretched hand and the smile that made her grave face beautiful. "What
you must have thought!..."

"I looked for the person who had been so prompt, but you had
vanished--where, nobody seemed to know," Lynette told him with her clear
eyes on the stern, square face. "And then a man in the crowd called out,
'It's the Dop Doctor!' And I thought what an odd nickname!..." She broke
off in dismay. Saxham had become livid. His grim jaws clamped themselves
together, and the blue eyes grew hard as stone. One instant he stood
immovable, the Waler's bridle on his left arm, his right hand clenched
upon the old hunting-crop. Then he said very coldly and distinctly:

"As you observe, it is a queer nickname. But, at any rate, I had fairly
earned----"

The bugle from the Staff headquarters sounded, drowning the rest of the
sentence. The Catholic Church bell tolled. The other bells took up the
warning, and the sentries called again from post to post:

"'Ware gun, Number Two! Southern Quarter, 'ware!"

The Krupp bellowed from the enemy's north position, and cleverly lobbed a
seven-pound shell not far behind that rapidly-moving, distant pillar of
dust, the nucleus of which was a little troop of cantering Irregulars, and
not far in front of the lower, slower-moving cloud, the heart of which was
a little knot of tramping Town Guardsmen. The shell burst with a splitting
crack, earth and flying stones mingled with the deadly green flame and the
poisonous chemical fumes of the lyddite. Figures scurried hither and
thither in the smoke and smother; one lay prone upon the ground....

At the instant of the explosion Saxham had leaped forwards, setting his
body and the horse's as a bulwark between Death and the two women. Now,
though Lynette's rough straw hat had been whisked from her head by a force
invisible, he saw her safe, caught in the Mother-Superior's embrace,
sheltered by the tall, protecting figure as the sapling is sheltered by
the pine.

"We are not hurt," the Mother protested, though her cheek had been cut by
a flying flake of flint, and was bleeding. "But look ... over there!" She
pointed over the veld to the prostrate brown figure, and a cry of alarm
broke from Lynette.

"Oh, Mother, who ...?"

"It is a Town Guardsman," Saxham answered, his cold blue eyes meeting the
wild frightened gaze of the pale girl. "Lord Beauvayse and the Irregulars
got off scot-free. Reverend Mother, do not think of coming. Please go on
to the Women's Laager. I will see to the wounded man, and follow
by-and-by."

He mounted, refusing all offers of aid, and rode off. Looking back an
instant, he saw the black figure of the woman and the white figure of the
girl setting out upon their perilous journey over the bare patch of ground
where Death made harvest every day. They kissed each other before they
started, and again Saxham thought of Ruth and Naomi. If Ruth had been only
one half as lovely as this Convent-grown lily, Boaz was decidedly a lucky
man. But he had been a respectable, sober, steady-going farmer, and not a
man of thirty-six without a ten-pound note in the world, with a blighted
career to regret, and five years of drunken wastrelhood to be ashamed of.
And yet ... the drunken wastrel had been a man of mark once, and earned
his thousands. And the success that had been achieved, and lost, could be
rewon, and the career that had been pursued and abandoned could be
his--Saxham's--again. And what were his publishers doing with those
accumulated royalties? For he knew from Taggart and McFadyen that his
books still sold.

"The Past is done with," he said aloud. "Why should not the Future be
fair?"

And yet he had nearly yielded to the impulse to own to those degraded
years, and claim the nickname they had earned him, and take her loathing
and contempt in exchange. What sudden madness had possessed him, akin to
that unaccountable, overmastering surge of emotion that he had known just
now when he saw her tears?

We know the name of the divine madness, but we know not why it comes.
Suddenly, after long years, in a crowded place or in a solitude where two
are, it is upon you or upon me. The blood is changed to strange, ethereal
ichor, the pulse beats a tune that is as old as the Earth itself, but yet
eternally new. Every breath we draw is rapture, every step we take leads
us one way. One voice calls through all the voices, one hand beckons
whether it will or no, and we follow because we must. With the Atlantic
rolling between us I can feel your heart beat against mine, and your lips
breathe into me your soul. The light that was upon your face, the look
that was in your eyes as you gave the unforgettable, immemorial kiss, the
clasp of your hands, the rising and falling of your bosom, like a wave
beneath a sea-bird, like a sea-bird above a wave, shall be with me always,
even to the end of time and beyond it.

For there are many loves, but one Love.



XXX


A long-legged, thinnish officer, riding a khâki-coloured bicycle over a
dusty stretch of shrapnel-raked ground, carrying a riding-whip tucked
under his arm and wearing steel jack-spurs, might have been considered a
laughter-provoking object elsewhere, but the point was lost for
Gueldersdorp. He got off his metal steed amongst the zipping bullets, and
came over to the little group of Town Guards that were gathered round
Saxham, who had just ridden up, and their prostrate comrade, who writhed
and groaned lustily.

"You have a casualty. Serious?"

Saxham looked up, and his hard glance softened in recognition of the
Chief.

"I'll tell you in a moment, sir."

The earth-stained khâki jacket was torn down the left side and drenched
with ominous red. A little pool of the same colour had gathered under the
sufferer.

"He looks gassly, don't him?" muttered one of the Town Guardsmen, the
Swiss baker who was not Swiss.

"Makes plenty of noise," said the County Court clerk hypercritically, "for
a dying man."

"Oh Lord! oh Lord!"

The subject had bellowed with sonority, testifying at least to the
possession of an uninjured diaphragm, as Saxham begun to cut away the
jacket.

"Oh, come now!" said a brisk, pleasant, incisive voice that sent an
electric shock volting through the presumably shattered frame. "That's not
so bad!"

"I told you so," muttered the County Court clerk to the Swiss baker.

"You remember me, Colonel?"

Haggard, despairing eyes rolled up at the Chief appealingly. He had met
the gaze of those oyster-orbs before. He recognised Alderman Brooker,
proprietor of the grocery stores in Market Square, victim of the outrage
perpetrated on a sentry near the Convent on a certain memorable night in
October last.

"Yes, my man. Anything I can do?" He knelt down beside the prostrate
form.

"You can tell my country, sir, that I died willingly," panted the
moribund.

"With pleasure, when you're dead. But you're not yet, you know, Brooker."
His keen glance was following the run of the Doctor's surgical scissors
through the brown stuff and revelling in discovery. And Saxham's set,
square face and stern eyes were for once all alight with laughter. The
dying man went on:

"It's a privilege, sir, an inestimable privilege, to have shed one's blood
in a great cause."

"It is, Mr. Brooker, but this is different stuff." His keen face wrinkled
with amusement as he sniffed, and dipped a finger in the crimson puddle.
"Too sticky." He put the finger to his tongue--"and too sweet. Show him
the bottle, Saxham."

The Doctor, imperturbably grave, held forth at the end of the scissors the
ripped-up ruins of a small-sized indiarubber hot-water bottle, a ductile
vessel that, buttoned inside the khâki tunic, had adapted itself not
uncomfortably to the still existing rotundities of the Alderman's figure.
A hyæna-yell of laughter broke from each of the crowding heads. Brooker's
face assumed the hue of the scarlet flannel chest-protector exposed by the
ruthless steel.

"What the--what the----?" he stuttered.

"Yes, that's the question. What the devil was inside it, Brooker, when the
shell-splinter hit you in the tummy and it saved your life? Stand him on
his legs, men; he's as right as rain. Now, Brooker?"

Brooker, without volition, assumed the perpendicular, and began to babble:

"To tell the truth, sir, it was loquat syrup. Very soothing to the chest,
and, upon my honour, perfectly wholesome. Mrs. Brooker makes it regularly
every year, and--we sell a twenty-gallon barrel over the counter, besides
what we keep for ourselves. And if I am to be exposed to mockery when
Providence has snatched me from the verge of the grave ..."

"Not a watery grave, Brooker," came from the Chief, with an irrepressible
chuckle--"a syrupy one. And--have I your word of honour that this is a
non-alcoholic beverage?"

"Sir, to be candid with you, I won't deny but what it might contain a
certain proportion of brandy. And the nights in the trench being
particularly cold and myself constitutionally liable to chill ... I--I
find a drop now and then a comfort, sir."

"Ah, and have you any more of this kind of comfort at your place of
business or elsewhere?"

"Why--why ..." the Alderman faltered, "there might be a little keg, sir,
in the shop, under the desk in the counting-house."

"Requisitioned, Mr. Brooker, as a Government store. You may feel more
chilly without it; you'll certainly sleep more lightly. As far as I can
see, it has been more useful outside of you than ever it was in. And--the
safety of this town depends on the cool heads of the defenders who man the
trenches. A fuddled man behind a gun is worse than no man to me."

The voice rang hard and clear as a gong. "I'm no teetotaller. Abstinence
is the rule I enforce, by precept and example. While men are men they'll
drink strong liquor. But as long as they are not fool-men and brute-men,
they can be trusted not to lap when they're on duty. Those I find
untrustworthy I mark down, and they will be dealt with rigorously. You
understand me, Brooker? You look as if you did. You've had a narrow
squeak. Be thankful for it that nothing but a bruise over the ribs has
come of it. Corporal, fall in your men, and get to your duty."

W. Keyse and his martial citizens tramped on, the resuscitated Brooker
flying rags of sanguine stain. Then the stern face of the Chief broke up
in laughter. The crinkled-up eyes ran over with tears of mirth.

"Lord, that fellow will be the death of me! Tartaglia in the flesh--how
old Gozzi would have revelled in him! Those pathetic, oyster-eyes, that
round, flabby face, that comic nose, and the bleating voice with the
sentimental quaver in it, reeling off the live man's dying speech...." He
wiped his brimming eyes. "Since the time when Boer spies hocussed him on
guard--you remember that lovely affair?--he's registered a vow to impress
me with his gallantry and devotion, or die in the attempt. He's the most
admirably unconscious humbug I've ever yet met. Sands his sugar and
brown-papers his teas philanthropically, for the good of the public, and
denounces men who put in Old Squareface and whisky-pegs, as he fuddles
himself with his loquat brandy after shop-hours in the sitting-room back
of the store. But let us be thankful that Providence has sent Brooker on a
special mission to play Pantaloon in this grimmish little interlude of
ours. For we'll want every scrap of Comic Relief we can get by-and-by,
Saxham, if the other one doesn't turn up--say by the middle of January."

"I understand, sir." Saxham, to whom this man's face was as a book well
loved, read in it that the Commissariat was caving. "There has been
another Boer cattle-raid?"

The face that was turned to his own in reply had suddenly grown
deeply-lined and haggard. "There has been a lot of cattle-shooting.
Lobbing shrapnel at grazing cows was always quite a favourite game with
Brounckers. But his gunners hit oftener than they used to. And the
Government forage won't hold out for ever." He patted the brown Waler, who
pricked his sagacious ears and threw up his handsome bluntish head in
acknowledgment of his master's caress. "Presently we shall be killing our
mounts to save their lives--and ours. Oats and horseflesh will keep life
in men--and in children and women.... The devil of it is, Saxham, that
there are such a lot of women."

"And seventy-five out of a hundred of them stayed out of pure curiosity,"
came grimly from Saxham.

"To see what a siege would be like. Well, poor souls, they know now! You
were going over to the Women's Laager. I'll walk with you, and say my say
as I go. I'm on my way to Nordenfeldt Fort West. Something has gone wrong
with the telephone-wire between there and Staff headquarters, and I can't
get anything through but Volapuk or Esperanto. And those happen to be two
of the languages I haven't studied." The dry, humorous smile curved the
reddish-brown moustache again. The pleasant little whistle stirred the
short-clipped hairs of it as the two men turned in the direction of the
Women's Laager, over which the Red-cross flag was fluttering, and where
the spider with the little Boer mare, picking at the scanty grass, waited
outside the earthworks. Saxham's eyes did not travel so far. They were
fastened upon a tall black figure and a less tall and more slender white
figure that were by this time halfway upon their perilous journey across
the patch of veld, bare and scorched by hellish fires, and ploughed by
shrapnel ball into the furrows whence Death had reaped his harvest day by
day.

"There goes one of the women we couldn't have done without," commented his
companion, wheeling his bicycle beside Saxham, leading the brown Waler.

"It is the Mother-Superior," Saxham said, "with her ward, Miss Mildare."

"Ah! My invariable reply to Beauvayse--you know my junior A.D.C., who
daily clamours for an introduction to Miss Mildare--is, that I have not
yet had one myself, though at the outset of affairs I encountered the
young lady under rather trying circumstances, in which she showed plenty
of pluck. I thought I had told you. No? Well, it was one morning on the
Recreation Ground. The School was out walking, a trio of nuns in charge,
and some Dutch loafers mobbed them--threatened to lay hands on the
Sisters--and Miss Mildare stood up in defence--head up, eyes blazing, a
slim, tawny-haired young lioness ready to spring. And Beauvayse was with
me, and ever since then has been dead-set upon making her acquaintance."

Saxham's blood warmed to the picture. But he said, and his tone was not
pleasant: "Lord Beauvayse attained the height of his ambition a few
minutes ago."

"Did he? Well, I hope disillusion was not the outcome of realisation. Up
to the present"--the humorous, keen eyes were wrinkled at the
corners--"all the boy's swans have been geese, some of 'em the sable
kind."

Saxham answered stiffly: "I should say that in this case the swan
decidedly predominates."

The other whistled a bar of his pleasant little tune before he spoke
again. "It is a capital thing for Beauvayse, being shut up here, out of
the way of women."

"Are there no women in Gueldersdorp?"

"None of the kind Beauvayse's canoe is given to capsizing on." The line in
his senior's cheek flickered with a hinted smile. "None of the kind that
run after him, lie in wait for him, buzz round him like wasps about a
honey-bowl. I've developed muscle getting the boy out of amatory scrapes,
with the Society octopus, with the Garrison husband-hunter, with the
professional man-eater, theatrical or music-hall; and the latest, most
inexpressible She, is always the loveliest woman in the world. Queer
world!"

"A damned queer world!" agreed Saxham.

"I'd prefer to call it a blessed queer one, because, with all its chaotic,
weltering incongruities--there's a Carlyleism for you--I love it! I
couldn't live without loving it and laughing at it, any more than
Beauvayse could get on _minus_ an affair of the heart. Ah, yes, that
amatory lyre of his is an uncommonly adaptable instrument. I've known it
thrummed to the praises of a middle-aged Duchess--quite a beauty still,
even by daylight, with her three veils on, and an Operatic soprano, with a
mascot cockatoo, not to mention a round dozen of frisky matrons of the
kind that exploit nice boys. Just before we came out, it could play
nothing but that famous song-and-dance tune that London went mad over at
the Jollity in June--is raving over still, I believe! Can't give you the
exact title of the thing, but 'Darling, Will You Meet Me In The Centre Of
The Circle That The Limelight Makes Upon The Floor, Tiddle-e-yum?' would
meet the case. We have Musical Comedy now in place of what used to be
Burlesque in your London days, Saxham, with a Leading Lady instead of a
Principal Boy, and a Chorus in long skirts."

Saxham admitted with a cynical twitch of the mouth:

"There's nothing so short as a long skirt--properly managed."

"You're right. And Lessie Lavigne and the rest of the nimble sisterhood
devote their gifts--Thespian and Terpsichorean--to demonstrating the fact.
Oh, damned cowardly hounds!" The voice jarred and clanged with
irrepressible anger. "Saxham, can't you see? Brouncker's sharpshooters are
sniping at the women--the Sister of Mercy and the girl!"

His glance, as well as Saxham's, had followed the tall black figure and
the slender white figure on their journey through Death's harvest-field.
But his trained eye had been first to see the little jets and puffs of
sickly hot, reddish dust rising about their perilous path. They walked
quickly, but without hurry, keeping a pace apart, and holding one another
by the hand. Saxham, watching them, said, with dry lips and a deadly
sickness at the heart:

"And we can do nothing?"

"Nothing! It's one of those things a man has got to look on at, and wonder
why the Almighty doesn't interfere? Oh, to have the fellows triced up for
three dozen of the best apiece--good old-fashioned measure. See, they're
getting near the laager now. They'll soon be under cover. But--I wonder
the Convent cares to risk its ewe lamb on that infernal patch of veld?"

"It is my doing." Saxham's eyes were glued on the black figure and the
white figure nearing, nearing the embrasure in the earthwork redoubt, and
his face was of an ugly blue-white, and dabbled with sweat.

"Your doing?"

"Mine. I was called in, to find Miss Mildare breaking down from suspense,
and the overstrain of inaction. And--to avert even worse evils, I
prescribed the tonic of danger. There was no choice---- In at last!"

The Sister of Mercy and the girl had vanished behind the dumpy earth-bag
walls. He thought the white figure had glanced back, and waved its hand,
and then a question from his companion startled him beyond his ordinary
stolid self-control.

"By the way ... with reference to Miss Mildare, have you any idea whether
she proposes taking the veil?"

"How should I have ideas upon the possibility?" The opaque, smooth skin of
the square, pale face was dyed with a sudden rush of dark blood. The
Colonel did not look at it, but said, as a bullet sang upon a stone near
his boot, and flattened into a shiny star of lead:

"I would give something to hear you laugh sometimes, Saxham. You're too
much in earnest, my dear fellow. Burnt Njal himself could hardly have been
more grim."

Saxham answered:

"That fellow in the Saga, you mean. He laughed only at the end, I think,
when the great roof-beam burned through and the hall fell in. But my
castle tumbled about my ears in the beginning, and I laughed then, I
remember."

"And, take it from me, you will live to laugh again and again," said the
kindly voice, "at the man who took it for granted that everything was
over, and did not set to work by dawn of the next day building up the hall
greater than before. Those old Vikings did, 'and each time the high seat
was dight more splendidly, and the hangings of the closed beds woven more
fair.' They never knew when they were beaten, those grand old fellows, and
so it came about that they never were. By the way, I have something here
that concerns you."

"Concerns me?"

"I think I may say, nearly concerns you. A paragraph in this copy of the
_Cape Town Mercury_, which, by the way, is three weeks old."

A rubbed and shabby newspaper, folded small, came out of the baggy
breast-pocket of the khâki jacket. Saxham received it with visible
annoyance.

"Some belated notice of one of my books." The scowl with which he surveyed
the paper testified to a strong desire to pitch it to the winds.

"Not a bit of it. It's an advertisement inserted by a London firm of
solicitors--Donkin, Donkin, and Judd, Lincoln's Inn. Possibly you are
acquainted with Donkin, if not with Judd?"

"They are the solicitors for the trustees of my mother's property, sir. I
heard from them three years ago, when I was at Diamond Town. They returned
my last letter to her, and told me of her death."

"They state in the usual formula that it will be to your advantage to
communicate with them. May I, as a friend, urge on you the necessity of
doing so?"

Saxham's grim mouth shut close. His eyes brooded sullenly.

"I will think it over, sir."

"You haven't much time. A despatch-runner from Koodoosvaal got through the
enemy's lines last night with some letters and this paper. No, no word of
the Relief. His verbal news was practically nil. He goes out at midnight
with some cipher messages. And, if you will let me have your reply to the
advertisement with the returned paper by eleven at latest, I will see that
it is sent." The rather peremptory tone softened--became persuasive; "You
must build up the great hall again, Saxham, and building can't be done
without money. And--it occurs to me that this may be some question of a
legacy."

"My father was not a wealthy man," Saxham said. "He gave me a costly
education, and later advanced four thousand pounds for the purchase of a
West End practice, upon the understanding that I was to expect no more
from him, and that the bulk of his property, with the exception of a sum
left as provision for my mother, should be strictly entailed upon my
brother and his heirs, if he should marry. The arrangement was most just,
as I was then in receipt of a considerable income from my profession, and
my father died before my circumstances altered for the worse.
Independently of the provision he made for her, my mother possessed a
small jointure, a freehold estate in South Wales, bringing in, when the
house is let, about a hundred and fifty pounds a year. That was to have
been left to me as the younger son. But her trustees informed me, through
these solicitors, that she had changed her mind, as she had a perfect
right to do, and bequeathed everything she possessed to my brother's son,
a child who"--Saxham's voice was deadly cold--"may be about four years
old."

"A later will may have been found. If I have any influence with you,
Saxham, I would use it in urging you to reply to the advertisement."

Saxham agreed unwillingly: "Very well."

The other knew the point gained, and adroitly changed the conversation. It
grew severely technical, bristling with scientific terms, dealing chiefly
with food-values. The black cloud cleared from Saxham's forehead as he
lectured on the energy-fuels, and settled the minimum of protein, fat,
starch, and sugar necessary to keep the furnace of Life burning in the
human body.

Milk, that precious fluid, could henceforth only be given to invalids and
children. Margarine and jam were severely relegated to the list of
luxuries. Sardines, tinned salmon, and American canned goods had entirely
given out. And flour, the staff of life, was vanishing.

The joy of battle lightened in their faces as they talked, forging
weapons that should make men enduring, and Saxham warmed. His icy armour
of habitual silence melted and broke up. He became eloquent, pouring out
his treasured projects, suggesting substitutes for this, and makeshifts
for that and the other. He was in his element--he knew the ground he trod.
He thrust out his grim under-jaw, and hulked with his heavy shoulders as
he talked to this man who understood; and every supple movement of his
surgeon's hand pointed out some fresh expedient, as the singing bullets
went by or whit-whitted about them in the dust, and now and then a shell
burst over patient Gueldersdorp.

They parted at the Women's Laager, and as the khâki bicycle grew small in
the distance, Saxham realised with a shock that he was happy, that life
had suddenly become sweet, and opened out anew before him in a vista, not
of shining promise, but with one golden gleam of hope in it, to a man
freed by the force of Will from the bondage of the accursed liquor-thirst.
Freed! If freed in truth, why should the sight and smell even of Brooker's
sticky loquat-brandy have set the long-denied palate craving? Saxham put
that question from him with both hands.

And then he frowned, thinking of that adaptable instrument that had
thrummed an accompaniment to the arias of the Opera soprano, as to the
Society drawing-room duets sung with the frisky married ladies who liked
nice boys, and had made tinkling music for the twinkling small feet, and
the strident voice of Lessie Lavigne of the Jollity Theatre, and now must
serenade outside a Convent-close in beleaguered Gueldersdorp, where the
whitest of maiden lilies bloomed, tall and pure and slender and unharmed,
in a raging tempest of fire and steel and lead.



XXXI


Pray give a thought to the spy, Walt Slabberts, languishing in durance
vile under the yellow flag. Several times the first-class, up-to-date,
effective artillery of his countrymen, being brought to bear upon the
gaol, had caused the captive to bound like the proverbial parched pea, and
to curse with curses not only loud but fervent the indiscriminating zeal
of his brother patriots.

He was, though lost to sight behind the walls of what Emigration Jane
designated the jug, still fondly dear to one whose pliant affections,
rudely disentangled by the hand of perfidy from the person of That There
Green, had twined vigorously about the slouching person of the young Boer.
Letters were received, but not forwarded to suspects enjoying the
hospitality of the Government, so communication with the object of her
dreams was painfully impossible. Stratagems were not successful. A
passionate missive concealed in a plum-pudding--before it was put on to
boil--had become incorporated with the individuality of a prison official,
who objected on principle to waste.

On Sundays, when you could go out without your 'art in your mouth an
account of them 'orful shellses, a fair female form in a large and
flamboyant hat, whose imitation ostridge tips were now mere bundles of
quill shavings, and whose flowers were as wilted as the other blossoms of
her heart, wandered disconsolately round her Walt's place of bondage,
waving a lily hand on the chance of being seen and recognised. Tactics
productive of nothing but blown kisses on the part of extra-susceptible
warders, and one or two troopers of the B.S.A., who ought to have known
better. These advances Walt's bereaved betrothed rejected with ringing
sniffs of scorn, yet, of such conflicting elements is the feminine heart
composed, found them strangely solacing.

She 'ad 'ad 'er month's notice from Sister Tobias upon the morning
following the night of the tragedy, another score to the account of the
traitor Keyse. Arriving unseemly late, and in an agitated state of
mind--and could you wonder, after her young man had been pinched and took
away?--she had mechanically accounted for her late return in the well-worn
formula of Kentish Town, explaining to the surprised Sisters that there
'ad bin a haccident on the Underground between the Edgeware Road and
'Ammersmiff, an' that her sister Hemmaline had bin took bad in
consequence, the second being looked for at the month's end; and to leave
that pore dear in that state--her 'usband being at his Social Club--was
more than Emigration Jane 'ad 'ad the 'art to do. She received her
dismissal to bed, and the advice to examine her conscience carefully
before retiring, with defiance, culminating in an attack of whooping
hysteria. Nor was she repentant, but defiantly elated by the knowledge
that nobody had slept in the Convent that night, until she had run down.
The character supplied by Sister Tobias to her next employer specified
terminological inexactitude among her failings, combined with lack of
emotional self-control; but laid stress on an affectionate disposition,
and a tendency to intermittent attacks of hard work.

She was now, with her new mistress and the kids, pigging--you couldn't
call it nothink else, not to be truthful you couldn't--at the Women's
Laager, along of them there dirty Dutch frows. She refrained from too
candid criticism of her Walt's countrywomen, but it was proper 'ard all
the same not to call crock and muck by their right names!

Languishing in seclusion, week and week about, cooking scant meals of the
Commissariat beef, moistened with gravy made from them patent packets of
Consecrated Soup, can you wonder that her burden of bitterness against W.
Keyse, author of all her wrongs, instrument most actively potential in the
jogging of her young man, bulked larger every day? She was not one to 'ave
the world's 'eel upon 'er without turning like a worm. No Fear, and Chance
it! Her bosom heaved under the soiled two-and-elevenpenny peek-a-boo
"blowse" as she registered her vow. That there Keyse--the conduct of the
faithless Mr. Green appeared almost blonde in complexion beside the sable
villainy of the other--That There Keyse should Rue the Day!

How to make him?--that was the question. Then came the dazzling flash of
inspiration--but not until they had met again.

She was circulating hungry-hearted about the brick-built case that held
her jewel--the man who had held out that vista of a home, and called her
his good little Boer-wife to be. We know it was a mere bait designed to
allure and dazzle--the Boer spy had caught many women with it before. Do
you despise her and those others for the predominance of the primal
instinct, the sacred passion for the inviolate hearth? Not so much they
yearned for the man as for the roof-tree, whose roots are twined about the
heart-strings of the natural woman, the spreading rafter-branches of which
shelter little downy heads.

She encountered the traitor, I say, and her eyes darted fire beneath a
bristling palisade of iron curling-pins. She had not the heart in these
days to free her imprisoned tresses. The villain had the perishing nerve
to accost her, jauntily touching the smasher hat.

"'Day, Miss! 'Aven't seen you since when I can't think."

She replied with a ringing sniff and a glance of infinite scorn that she
would trouble him not to think; and that she regarded low, interfering,
vulgar fellows as the dirt under her feet. So there!

"Cripps!" He was took aback, but not to the extent of taking hisself off,
which he ought to. "You're fair mad with me, an' no mistyke." His pale
eyes were unmistakably good-natured; the loss of the yellow freckles,
swamped in a fine, uniform, brick-dust colour, was an improvement, she
could not help thinking. "But I only did my duty, Miss, same as another
chap would 'ave 'ad to. Look 'ere! Come and 'ave a split gingerade."

The delicious beverage was three shillings the bottle. She frowned, but
hesitated. He persisted; she ended by giving in. Weeks and weeks since she
had walked with a young man! The Dutchman's saloon was closed and
barricaded; its owner had made tracks to his Transvaal friends at the
beginning of the siege. But the aromatic-beer cellar was one of the places
open. They went in there. Oh! the deliciousness of that first sip of the
stinging, fizzling beverage! He lifted his glass in the way that she
remembered, and drank a toast.

"'Er 'ealth! If you knew how I bin wantin' to git word of 'er! She's well,
isn't she, Miss? Lumme! the Fair Old Knock-out I got when I see the
Convent standin' empty.... Gone into laager near the railway works now,
you 'ave, I know. Safe, if not stric'ly luxurious. But--I git the Regular
Hump when I think of--of a Angel like 'Er 'avin' to live an' eat an' sleep
in a--a--in a bloomin' rabbit-'ole." He sighed as he wiped the pungent
froth from his upper lip.

"Pity you can't tell 'er so!" The sarcasm would have its way, but it
failed of his great simplicity.

"That's why I bin lookin' out for you." He blushed through the brick-dust
hue as he extracted a fatigued-looking letter from a baggy left
breast-pocket in which it had sojourned in company with a tobacco-pouch, a
pipe which must not be smoked in the trenches if a man would prefer to do
without a bullet through his brain, a handful of screws not innocent of
lubricating medium, a clasp-knife, a flat tin box of carbolised vaseline,
a First-Aid bandage, and a ration of bread and cheese wrapped in old
newspaper. The bread was getting deplorable, for even the dusty seconds
flour was fast dribbling out.

"You'll give 'er this, won't you, Miss, and tell her I bin thinkin' of 'er
night and d'y? Fair live in the trenches now; and when I do git strollin'
round the stad, blimme if I ever see 'er. But she's there--an 'ere's a
ticker beatin' true to 'er." He rapped a little awkwardly upon the bulging
left breast-pocket, "To the bloomin' end, wotever it may be!"

"Oh, you--silly, you!"

She found him ridiculous and tragic, and so touching all at once that the
gibe ended in a sob. It was not the stinging effervescence of the
gingerade that made her choke and brought the smarting tears to her eyes.
It was envy of that other girl. And then she noticed, under his left eye,
a tiny scar, and she knew how he came by it, and remembered what she owed
him, and saw that the chance had come for her revenge. She could pierce
the heart beating under the khâki breast-pocket to its very core with
three words as easily as she had jabbed his face with her hat pin on that
never-to-be-forgotten night. She would tell him that the lady of his love
had gone up to Johannesburg weeks and weeks ago. Oh, but it would be sweet
to see the duped lover's face! She would give him a bit of her mind,
too--perhaps tear up the letter.

Then flashed across the murky-black night of her stormy mind the
forked-lightning inspiration of what the real revenge would be. To take
his letter--write him another back, and yet others, fool him to the top of
his bent, and presently tell him, tossing at his feet a sheaf of billets.
"And serve you glad--and no more than your deservings! Who put away my
Walt?"

She accepted the letter, only permitting herself one scornful sniff, and
put the missive in her pocket. Next day John Tow, the Chinaman, serenely
fatalistic, smilingly perpendicular in felt-soled shoes, amidst zipping
bullets, brought to the trench a reply, signed "Fare Air."

The writer Toke the Libberty of Hopeing W. Keyse was as it Left her at
preasent. She was Mutch obblig for his Dear Leter Witch it 'ad made her
Hapey to Know a Brave Man fiteing for her Saik.

"Cr'r----!" ejaculated W. Keyse, below his breath. His face was radiant as
he read. Her spelling was a bit off, it was impossible to deny.
But--Cripps!--to be called a brave man by the owner of the maddening blue
eyes, and that great thick golden pigtail. The letter went on:

    "Dear mr. Keyse yu will be Plese to Kno Jane is Sutch a
    Cumfut to me in Trubel. As it is Selldom Fathful Frends are
    To be Fownd But Jane is trew as Stele & Cold be Trustid with
    lbs & lbs. no More at Preasent from yr afexn Swetart.

    "X X X X

    "FARE AIR."

His senses reeled, as under pretence of masking a sneeze he pressed his
burning lips to those osculatory crosses. He wrote her a flaming answer,
begging a Sunday rendezvous. She appointed a place and an hour. He went
there on the wings of love, but nobody turned up except the Jane who could
be trusted with pounds and pounds.

She hurried to him trembling and quite pale, her blue eyes--he had never
noticed that they were blue and really pretty--wide with fright under her
yellow fringe of curls newly released from steely fetters. Her lips were
apart, but he failed to observe that the teeth they revealed were
creditably white; her cotton-gloved hand repressed her fluttering heart,
but he did not see its tumultuous throbbing. He gulped as he said, with a
fallen jaw and a look of abject misery that pierced her to the quick:

"She--couldn't come, then?"

"No, pore deer!" gasped the comfort in trouble, casting about for
something to tell him. She had made up her mind as she came along; she
would have her revenge there and then, and chance it. Something kept her
from laying the candle-flame to the time-fuse. She did not know what it
was yet. But, oh! the sharp look of terror in the thin, eager face pierced
her through and through.

"My Gawd! She's not bin killed?" he cried. "Don't tell me she's bin----"

"Lor', gracious goodness, no! What will you think of next?" She lied,
rallying him, with jealousy eating at her own poor heart. "Can't git away,
that's all. Them Sisters are so precious sharp. An'--'Go an' tell 'im,'
she says, ''e'll 'ave to put up with you this once. An' you'll come back
an' tell me all about 'im!'"

He swallowed the bait, and her spirits revived. Emigration Jane, if not
the rose, lived with it. Strictly speaking, they spent a pleasant Sunday,
though when he found himself forgetting the absent one, he pulled himself
sharply up. He saw her part of the way home; more she would not allow.

"And--and"--she whispered at their parting, her eyes avoiding his--"if she
can't git out next Sunday--an' it's a chance whether she does, that Sister
Tobias being such a watchful old cat--would you like to 'ave me meet you
an' tell you all about 'er?"

W. Keyse assented, even eagerly, and so it began. Behold the poor deceiver
drinking perilous joys, and learning to shudder at the thought of
discovery. Think of her cherishing his letters, those passionate epistles
addressed to the owner of the golden pigtail.

Think of her pouring out her poor full heart in those wildly-spelt
missives that found their way to him, and be a little pitiful.

She did not thirst for that revenge now. But, oh! the day would come when
he would find out and have his, in casting her off, with what contempt and
loathing of her treachery she wept at night to picture. This feeling, that
lifted you to Heaven one instant, and cast you down to Hell the next, was
Love. Passion for the man, not yearning for the hearth-place, and the
sheltering roof, and the security of marriage.

She left off walking round the gaol--indeed, rather avoided the vicinity
of the casket that for her had once held a treasure. What would the
Slabberts think of his little Boer-wife that was to have been? What would
he say and do when they let him out? She took to losing breath and colour
at the sound of a heavy step behind her, and would shrink close to the
martial figure of W. Keyse when any hulking form distantly resembling the
Boer's loomed up in the distance.

Oh, shame on her, the doubly false! But--but--she had never been so orful
'appy. Oh, what a queer thing was Love! If only---- But never, never would
he. She was mistaken.

There came a moment when W. Keyse swerved from the path of single-hearted
devotion to the unseen but ever-present wearer of the golden pigtail.

As Christmas drew near, and Gueldersdorp, not yet sensible of the
belly-pinch of famine, sought to relieve its tense muscles and weary
brains by getting up an entertainment here and there, W. Keyse escorted
his beloved--by proxy, as usual--to a Sunday smoking-concert, given in a
cleared-out Army Service Stores shed, lent by Imperial Government to the
promoters of the entertainment.

Oh, the first delicious sniff of an atmosphere tinged with paint and
acetylene from the stage-battens and footlights, and so flavoured with
crowded humanity as to be strongly reminiscent of the lower troop-deck in
stormy weather, when all the ports are shut and all the hatches are
battened down! The excess of brilliancy which must not stream from the
windows had been boarded in, and a tarpaulin was drawn over the skylight,
in case the gunners of Meisje should be tempted to rouse the monster from
her Sabbath quiet, and send in a ninety-four-pound shell to break up an
orgy of godless Englanders. But the stuffiness made it all the snugger.
You could fancy yourself in the pit of the Theayter of Varieties, 'Oxton,
or perched up close to the blue starred ceiling-dome of the Pavilion, Mile
End, on a Saturday night, when every gentleman sits in shirt-sleeves, with
his arm round the waist of a lady, and the faggots and sausage-rolls and
stone-gingers are going off like smoke, and the orange-peel rains from the
upper circle back-benches, and the nut-cracking runs up and down the
packed rows like the snapping of the breech-bolts in the trenches when the
fire is hottest....

Ah! that brought one back to Gueldersdorp at once.



Meanwhile, a pale green canvas railway-truck cover, marked in black,
"Light Goods--Destructible," served as a drop-curtain. Another, upon which
the interior of an impossible palace had been delineated in a bewildering
perspective of red and blue and yellow paint-smudges, served as a general
back-scene for the performance.

The orchestra piano had been wounded by shell-fire, and had a leg in
splints. Many members of the crowded audience were in strapping and
bandages. Drink did not flow plentifully, but there was something to wet
your whistle with, and the tobacco-cloud that hung above the
trestle-benches, packed with black and yellow faces, as well as brown and
white, could almost have been cut with a knife.

It was a long, rambling programme, scrawled in huge, black-paint
characters on a white planed board, hung where everyone could read it.
There were comic songs and Christy Minstrel choruses by people who had
developed vocal talent for this occasion only, and a screaming display of
conjuring tricks by an amateur of legerdemain who had forgotten the art,
if ever he had mastered it. At every new mistake or blunder, and with each
fresh change of expression on the entertainer's streaky face, conveying
the idea of his being under the influence of a bad dream, and hoping to
wake up in his own quarters by-and-by, to find that he had never really
undertaken to make a pudding in a hat, and smash a gentleman's watch and
produce it intact from some unexpected place of concealment, the
spectators rocked and roared. Then there was a Pantomimic Interlude, with
a great deal of genuine knockabout, and, the crowning item of the
entertainment, a comic song and stump-speech, announced to be given by The
Anonymous Mammoth Comique--an incognito not dimly suspected to conceal the
identity of the Chief himself, being delayed by the Mammoth's character
top-hat--a fondly cherished property of the Stiggins brand--and the
cabbage umbrella that went with it, having been accidentally left behind
at the Mammoth's hotel, the Master of the Revels, still distinguished by
the jib-sail collar and shiny burnt-cork complexion of the corner-man, was
sent to the front to ask if any lady or gentleman in the audience would
kindly oblige with a ten-minute turn?

"All right, Mister!"

A soiled cotton glove waved, a flowery hat nodded to the appeal from
behind the acetylene footlights. The faces in the front rows of seats,
pale and brick-dust, gingerbread and cigar-browned European, African
countenances with rolling eyes and shining teeth; and here and there the
impassive, almond-eyed, yellow mask of the Asiatic, slewed round as
Emigration Jane rose up in the place beside W. Keyse, a little pale, and
with damp patches in the palms of the washed white cotton gloves, as she
said: If the gentleman pleased, she could sing--just a little!

No, thank you! She wasn't afryde, not she; they was all friends there. And
do 'er best she would. She took off the big flowery hat quite calmly,
giving it to W. Keyse to keep. The panic came on later, when the
Christy-minstrel-collared, burnt-corked Master of the Revels was gallantly
helping her up the short side-ladder, and culminated when he retreated,
and left her there, standing on the platform in the bewildering glare of
the acetylene footlights, a little, rather slight and flat-chested figure
of a girl, blue-eyed and yellow-haired, in a washed-out flowery "blowse,"
and a "voylet" delaine skirt that had lost its pristine beauty, and showed
faded and shabby in the yellow gas-flare.

Oh! 'owever 'ad she dared? That dazzling sea of faces, with the eyes all
fixed on her, was terrifying. A big lump grew in her throat, and the
crowded benches tilted, and the flaming lights leaped to the roof as the
helpless, timid tears welled into her blue eyes.

And then the miracle happened.

W. Keyse sat on a back-bench, the thin Cockney face a little raised above
the others, because he had slipped a rolled-up overcoat under him,
pretending that it was to get it out of the way, you understand. Always
very sensitive about his shortness, W. Keyse. And she saw his face, as
plain as you please, and with a look in the pale, eager eyes, that for
once was for Emigration Jane, her very own self, and not for That There
Other One. She knew in that moment of revelation that she had always been
jealous. Oh, wasn't it strynge? Her heart surged out to W. Keyse across
the gulf of crowded faces. And her eyes had in them, all at once, the look
that is born of Love.

Ah! who can mistake it? It begets a solitude in a vast thronged assemblage
for you and for me. It sends its silent, wordless, eloquent message
thrilling to the heart of the Beloved, and wins its passionate answer
back. Ah! who can err about the look of Love?

She drew a deep breath that was her longing sigh for him, infinitely dear,
and never to belong to her, and began her song. She sang it quite simply
and naturally, in an untutored but sweet and plaintive voice, and with the
Cockney accent that spoke of home to nearly all that heard. And her eyes
never moved from his face as she sang.

The song was, I dare say, a foolish, trivial thing. But the air was
pretty, and the words were simple, and it had a haunting refrain. To this
effect, that the world is a big place and a hard place, with scant measure
of joy in it, for you or for me. Bitter herbs grow side by side with the
flowers in our Earth gardens. Salt tears mingle with our laughter; Night
comes down in blotting darkness--perhaps in drenching rain,--at the close
of every short, bright day of sunshine. But Life gone by, its hopes and
fears and sorrows laid with our once-beating hearts in the good grey dust
to rest, I shall meet with you again, in the Land where dreams come true.

"The Land Where Dreams Come True." That was the title of the song and its
refrain, and somehow it caught the listeners by the heart strings, making
the women sob aloud, and wringing bright sudden drops from the bold eyes
of rough, strong, hardy men. You are to remember how the people stood:
that scarcely one was there that had not lost brother or sister, mother or
husband, child or friend or comrade since the beginning of the siege; and
thus the touch of Nature made itself felt, and the simple pathos went home
to the sore quick. They sang the refrain with her, fervently, and when the
song was done, they sat in touched silence but one moment--and then the
applause came down. As it fell upon her like a wall, she screamed in
terror, and ran away behind the scene, and was found by W. Keyse a minute
later, sobbing hysterically, with her head jammed into an angle of the
wall of un-plastered brick-work.

None saw. He put his arms manfully about the waistline of the flowery
blouse.

"Oh, let me go! Oh, what a wicked, wicked girl I've bin! Oh, it's all come
over me on a sudden, like a flood! Don't touch me--I'm not good enough!
Oh! how can you, can you?"

She sobbed the words out, and W. Keyse had kissed her. He did not get
another utterance of her that night. She parted from him in tingling
silence. His own uneasy sense of faithlessness to One immeasurably
beloved, to whom he had pledged inviolable and eternal fidelity, nearly
prompted him to ask her not to up and tell. But he manfully kept silence.

The worst of one kiss of that kind is that it begets the desire for others
like it. She had turned her mouth to his in that whirling, breathless
moment, and it was small, and warm, and clung. He tried to shake off the
remembrance, but it haunted persistently.

He knew he had behaved like a regular beast--a low cur, in fact. To kiss
one girl and mean it for another was, in the Keysian Code of morals, to be
guilty of a baseness. The worst of it was that he knew, given the chance,
he would do the same thing again.

For he could not shake off the memory of the blushing face, wetted with
streaming tears from the wide bright eyes that pleaded so. They were blue,
too, and the fringe above them might, by a not too exhausting stretch of
the imagination, be termed golden. He heard her voice crying to him, "How
can you, can you?" And he trembled at the thought of the mouth that kissed
and clung.

He had known bought kisses, of the kind that brand the lips and shame the
buyer as the seller. Never the kiss of Love, until now.

And now--was any other worth the taking?

"Cr'ripps!" said W. Keyse. "Not much!"



XXXII


It was Wednesday again, and Saxham came riding through the embrasure in
the oblong earthwork, and down the gravelly glacis that led into the
Women's Laager. An obsequious Hindu, in an unclean shirt and a filthy red
turban, rose up salaaming, almost under his horse's feet, and took the
bridle. He dismounted and went his rounds.

It might have been the dry bed of a high-banked placer-river, with spare
lengths of steel railway-line borne across from bank to bank, covered with
beams and sheets of corrugated iron and tarpaulins, with wide chinks to
let in the much-needed air and light. A line of living-waggons, crowded
with women and children--English, American, Irish, Dutch, and
half-caste--ran down the centre of the giant trench. In each of its
sloping faces a row of dug-out habitations gave accommodation to twice the
number that the waggons held. At the eastern end a line of camp
cooking-places had been arranged in military fashion, but the Dutchwomen's
little coffee-pipkin-bearing fires of dung and chips burned everywhere,
and possibly they did something towards purifying the air. For, to be
frank, it vied with the native village in the compound and variegated
nature of its smells, without the African muskiness of odour that is
perceptible in the vicinity of our sable brother. The fat, slatternly,
frankly dirty vrouws had not the remotest idea of sanitation; the Germans
and Irish, blandly or doggedly impervious to savage smells, pursued their
unsavoury way in defiance of the clamorous necessity for hygienic
measures, until the majority of the pallid, untidy, scared Englishwomen,
the energetic Americans, and the sturdier Africanders, after making what
headway was possible against the ever-rising tide of filth, had yielded to
the lethargy bred of despair and lack of exercise, and ceased to strive. A
few, worthy of honour, still stoutly battled with the demon of
Uncleanliness.

But the first April rainfall would turn the dry ditch into an open
sewer--a vast trough of muddy water--in which draggled women would paddle
for submerged household gods. Many would prefer to tramp back to the town
at night and sleep in their own shrapnel-riddled homes. But the majority
stayed, of choice or of necessity, incubating sickness in that fetid place
where nothing would thrive but fierce social and political hatreds, and
petty grudges, and rankling jealousies, and shrieking quarrels that burst
out and raged a hundred times in a day.

From one of the dug-out refuges Saxham now saw Lynette Mildare coming,
making her swift way between the knots of frowsy refugees, the negro
women-servants squatting over the little cooking-fires, the pallid
children swarming on the narrow pathways.

"Dr. Saxham." Her simple brown holland skirt and thin linen blouse hung
loosely upon her. Her face, too, had grown thinner, and looked tired. But
the eyes were no longer unnaturally dilated, and the face had a more
healthful pallor. "Mrs. Greening begged me to look out for you. She is so
anxious about Berta. We have been doing everything we can, but I am afraid
the child is seriously ill. It is the third shelter from the end, south
side." She pointed out the place.

He had lifted his hat with his short, brusque salute. His vivid eyes wore
a preoccupied look, his mobile nostrils angrily sniffed the villainous
air.

"I'll come directly, Miss Mildare. But--who can expect children to keep
healthy under conditions as insanitary as these?"

"It is--horrible!" Disgust was in her face. "But many of the women are as
ignorant as the Kaffirs and Cape boys, and they and the coolie sweepers
won't carry away refuse any more unless they're paid."

"You are sure of this?" His tone was curt and official.

"I am almost certain," she told him. "I have heard some of the women
complaining that the charges grew higher every day. And, when I asked one
of the boys why he did not do the work properly, he was--rude.... Oh,
don't punish him!"

He had not said a word, but a white-hot spark had darted from his blue
eye, and his grim jaws had clamped ominously together.

"It is my duty to put down insubordination, and chastise inefficiency
where I encounter it. May I ask you to point out the fellow who behaved
insolently?"

She said: "I--I think he is head of the carting-gang. A Kaffir boy they
call Jim Gubo."

"That will do, thank you, Miss Mildare. You are not alone here?"

Her glad smile assured him of that. "Oh no, I am with the Mother. I go
everywhere with her, and I think I am of use. I am not at all afraid of
sickness, you know, or--the other things."

"But yet," Saxham said, "you must be careful of your health."

"You have no idea how tremendously strong I am," she answered him, and he
broke into laughter in spite of himself. She looked so tender, so
delicately frail a creature to be there in that malodorous Gehenna,
ministering to the wants of slatternly vrouws and stalwart, down-at-heel
Irishwomen. His smile emboldened her to say: "I did not thank you the
other day, after all."

"The Krupp shell came along and changed the subject of the conversation."
He added: "Were you alarmed? You had rather an escape."

"I was with Mother."

"You love her very dearly?" The words had escaped him unconsciously. They
were his spoken thought. She flushed, and said with a thrill of tenderness
in her clear girlish tones:

"More dearly than it is possible to say. I don't believe God Himself will
be angry with me that I have always seen His Face and Our Blessed Lady's
shining through hers and beyond it; for He knows as no one else can ever
know what she has been since they brought me to the Convent years and
years ago."

"They" were her people, presumably. It was odd--Saxham supposed it the
outcome of that Convent breeding--that she should speak of God as simply,
to quote Gladstone's criticism on the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, as
though He were her grandfather. Saxham had been reared in the Christian
faith by a pious Welsh mother, but there had always been a little
awkwardness about domestic references to the Deity. In times of sadness or
bereavement He was frequently referred to. But always in a deprecatory
tone.

"Your family is not Colonial?" he asked.

She shook her lovely red-brown head.

"I--don't know."

"Mildare is an unusual surname."

"You think it pretty?"

He thought her very pretty as she stood there, a slender willowy creature
with the golden shadow of her rough straw-hat intensifying the clear amber
of her thoughtful eyes.

"Very."

She looked him in the face and smiled.

"So did I when the Mother gave it to me. I think it belonged to someone
she used to know, and her mother was Lynette. So they baptised me Lynette
Mildare. It seems rather strange not having a name of one's own, but
really I never had one."

"Never had one?"

Saxham echoed her half-consciously, revelling in the play of light and
shadow over the delicate face, and the gleaming as of golden dust upon the
outer edges of the waves of red-brown hair drawn carelessly back over the
little ears.

"Not to my knowledge. Of course, I may have had one once." She added, as
he looked at her in suddenly roused surprise, "I must have had one once."
She was looking beyond him at a broad ray of moted white-hot sunshine that
slanted through one of the wide openings above, and cleft the thick
atmosphere of the crowded place like a fiery sword. "I have often wondered
what it really is, and whether I should like it if I heard it? To exchange
Lynette Mildare for Eliza Smith ... that would be horrible. Don't you
think so?"

Saxham smiled. "I think you are joking, and that a young lady who can do
so under the present circumstances deserves to be commended."

She looked at him full.

"I am not joking." Borne by a waft of the sickly air a downy winged seed
came floating towards her, a frail gossamer courier coming from the world
above with tidings that Dame Nature, in spite of all the destruction
wreaked by men, was carrying on her business. "And--I do not even know
that I am a young lady. See there"--she blew a little puff of breath at
the moving messenger, and it wafted away upon a new air-pilgrimage, and,
rising, caught a stronger current, and soared out of sight--"that is me.
It came from somewhere, and it is going somewhere. That is all I know
about myself; perhaps as much as I shall ever know. Why do you look so
glad?"

His lips were sealed. The throb of selfish triumphant exultation came of
the belief that the gulf between them was less wide and deep than he had
thought it. A wastrel may woo and wed a waif, surely, without many
questions being asked. And then, at the clear, innocent questioning of her
eyes, rushed in upon him, scalding, the memories he had thrust away. He
saw the Dop Doctor of Gueldersdorp, his short daily stint of labour done,
settling down to drink himself into hoggish oblivion in his accustomed
corner of the Dutchman's liquor-saloon. He beheld him, his purpose
accomplished, sleeping stertorously, spilled out like the very dregs of
manhood in the sawdust of that foul place; he shuddered as the bloated,
dishevelled thing roused and reeled homewards, trickling at the mouth, as
the clear primrose day peeped over the flat-topped eastern hills. And he
sickened at the thing he had been.

"I felt glad," he lied, with looks that shunned Lynette's, "that in your
need you found so good a friend as the Mother-Superior. Yours must have
been a sorrowful, lonely childhood."

Her own vision rose before her, blotting out his face. She saw the little
kopje with the grave at its foot. She saw a ragged child sitting there
watching for the earliest flush of dawn or the solemn folding of night's
wide wing over the lonely veld, and the coming of the great white
stars....

"She is much, much more than a friend. She is the Mother." Her loyal heart
was in her face. "I have no secrets from her. I tell her everything."

Was that deeper flush born of the remembrance of a secret unshared? And
how strange that every change of colour and expression in the delicate
face should mean so much, so soon. He said, with a hungry flash of the
gentian-blue eyes:

"Your love and confidence repay her richly."

"I can do so little." There was an anxious fold between the slender
eyebrows. "Only follow her and be near her; only look on as she spends
herself for others, never resting, never sparing, never discouraged or
cast down." Great tears brimmed the white, darkly-fringed underlids, and
ran over. "And she only laughs at me at night when I cry at the sight of
her dear, blistered feet."

"You will be able to laugh with her when this is over," Saxham said rather
clumsily.

"Shall I? Perhaps." Still that fold between the fine, delicate eyebrows.

"You have seen War," Saxham went on, his own voice sounding strange to
him. "And that is a terrible experience for a woman, young or old, but you
will be the richer by it in the end, believe me, Miss Mildare. Richer in
courage and endurance and calmness in the presence of danger and death,
and in sympathy with the pain and suffering inevitable under such
circumstances."

"Sympathy? They had all my sympathy before." Her fair throat swelled
against its encircling band of moss-green velvet, her voice rang, her eyes
flashed golden fire under the shadow of the wide straw hat. "Do you think
it needed War to teach me how hideously women suffer? How they have
suffered since the world began, and how they will suffer until its end,
unless they rise up in revolt once for all, against the wickedness of
men?"

She was transformed under Saxham's eyes. The slender virginal body
increased in stature and proportions as he gazed, and what obscure
emotions seemed striving in her face!

"Look at them," she said, indicating with a slight revealing gesture the
swarming, dowdy, listless occupants of the crowded trench. "How patient
they are, how resigned to the dreadful life they drag on here from day to
day, full of the horror and the pain and the suffering that you say is
inevitable. Why should it be inevitable? Did these women who are the chief
victims of it and the greatest losers by it, choose that there should be
War? See that poor soul with the rag of crape upon her hat, who sits at
her door peeling potatoes. Did she desire it? Yet her young husband was
shot in the trenches a week ago and her little baby died of fever this
morning.... And, did those other women whose homes have been wrecked and
ruined, whose sons and husbands and fathers may be shot, and whose
children may sicken with the same fever before night, demand of their
Governments, Imperial or Republican, that there should be War? You see
them patient and submissive because they neither realise their wrongs or
understand their rights. But a day will come when they will understand,
and then"--her eyes grew dreamy--"I do not know exactly what will happen.
But these international questions, with others, will be decided by a
general plebiscite, the women will vote as well as the men; and as women
are in the majority, and every woman will vote for Peace--how can there be
War?"

"You are an advocate of Universal Suffrage, then? You believe that there
must be absolute sex-equality before the world can be--I think 'finally
regenerated' is the stock phrase of the militant apostle of Women's
Rights? I have heard this outcry from many feminine throats in London, but
Gueldersdorp," said Saxham drily, "is about the last place one would
expect to ring with it."

"'Universal Suffrage, Sex-Equality, Women's Rights....'" The shibboleth
that Saxham quoted was evidently unfamiliar to the girl. "I know"--there
was a sombre shadow in her glance--"what Women's Wrongs are, but I am not
very well informed about the things you speak of. The Mother tells me that
there are many well-educated women in London and Paris, in Berlin and in
New York, who have devoted their lives to the study of such questions. Who
write and speak and labour to teach their fellow-women that they have only
to band themselves together to be powerful, only to be powerful to be
feared, only to will it to be free. When I am twenty-four I mean to go out
into the world and meet those leader-women. Some of them, I am told, have
suffered loss and ill-usage; some of them have even undergone imprisonment
for the sake of what they believe and teach. Well, I will hear what they
have to say, and then they will listen to me. For until my work is done,
theirs will never be accomplished, Something tells me that with a most
certain voice."

"And until that time comes?" said Saxham.

Her eyes grew bright again, a smile played about her exquisite lips.

"Until that time comes I will study and gather more knowledge, and
capacity to fit myself for a struggle with the world."

"_You_ 'struggle with the world'!"

Her girlish pride in her high purpose being sensitive, she mistook the
brusque tenderness in Saxham's face and voice for irony.

"Yes. Perhaps you may not believe it, but I know a great many useful
things. Latin and French and German and Italian, well enough to teach and
translate. I am well grounded in History and Science and Mathematics. I
can take a temperature and make a poultice, or sweep a room and cook a
dinner." She nodded at Saxham with a little spark of laughter underlying
the sweet earnestness of her look. "Also, I have learned book-keeping and
typewriting, and shorthand. I earn enough now, by bookbinding, to pay for
my clothes. The Mother says that I am competent to earn my living
anywhere, and to teach others to earn theirs. But I am not to begin until
I am twenty-four. That is our agreement."

Saxham understood the fine maternal tact that never set this ardent young
enthusiast chafing at the tightened rein. But he said roughly:

"The Mother.... How can she approve your joining the ranks of the
Shrieking Sisterhood?"

"She knows," Lynette explained, with adorable gravity, "that I should
never shriek."

"How will you bear parting from her? And how will she endure parting from
you?"

The girl's mobile lips began to tremble. The luminous amber eyes were
dimmed with moisture as she said:

"It will not be losing me. Nor could I ever bear to leave her if I did not
know that I should come back. But I shall come back. And she will ask me
what I have done. And I shall tell her: 'This, and this, and all the rest,
my Mother, for the love of you, and for the sake of those others who once
sat in darkness and the Shadow of Death, and now have found the Way of
Peace.'"

"And those others, Beatrice?"

Saxham knew now the secret of the haunting familiarity of the beautiful
girlish face. The delicate oval outline, the pale wild-rose colouring, the
reddish-brown of the fine, glistening tresses, the amber-hazel of the
wistful, brilliant eyes, reproduced to a wonderful degree the modelling
and tinting of the wonderful Guido portrait, the white-draped head in the
Barberini Gallery, which, in defiance of Bertolotti and the _Edinburgh
Review_, will always be associated with the name of the sorrowful-sweet
heroine of the most sombre of sex-tragedies.

"Why do you call me Beatrice?" she asked, with that sudden darkening of
those luminous eyes. He told her:

"Because you are like the Daughter of the Cenci. Shelley used to be my
favourite among the English poets, and when I first went to Rome, years
ago, the first thing I did was to hunt up the portrait in the Barberini
Palace Gallery; and it is marvellous. No reproduction has ever done
justice to it. One could not forget it if one tried."

"I am glad I am like Beatrice," she said slowly. "I have always loved and
pitied her. I pray to her as my friend among the Blessed Souls in
Paradise, and she always hears. And by-and-by she will help me when I go
out into the world----"

"To look for those others," Saxham interpolated. "Tell me who they are?"

She looked at him, and for an instant the virginal veil fell from her, and
there was strange and terrible knowledge in her eyes.

"They are women, and girls, and children," she answered him. "They are the
most unhappy of all the souls that suffer on earth. For they are the
slaves and the victims and the martyrs of the unrelenting, merciless,
dreadful pleasures of Man. And I want to go among them and lift them up,
and say to them, 'You are free!' And one day I will do it."

There was a dull burning under Saxham's opaque skin, and a drumming in his
ears. His authority and knowledge fell from him as that virginal veil had
fallen from her; he stood before her humbled and ashamed, shunning her
eyes, that penetrated and scathed his soul as the eyes of an avenging
Angel might, with their clear, simple, direct estimate of himself and his
fellow-men. And the distance between them, that had seemed to be lessening
as they talked, spread illimitably vast; a dark, sunless plain, bounded by
a livid horizon, reflected in the slimy pools of foul swamps and
pestilential marshes, where poisonous reptiles bred in slimy, writhing
knots, and the Eaters of Human Flesh lurked under the tangled shade of the
jungles. Less vile of life, even in his degradation, than many men, he
felt himself beside this girl a moral leper.

"Unclean, unclean!"

While that voice yet echoed in the desert places of his soul, he heard her
saying:

"I don't know why I should talk to you of these plans and projects of
mine. I never have spoken of them yet to anyone except the Mother.
But--you spoke of sympathy with those who suffer. I think you have it, Dr.
Saxham, and that you have suffered yourself. It is in your face. And--you
are not to suppose that I believe all men to be----"

He ended for her: "To be devouring beasts. No; but we are bad enough, the
best of us, if the truth must be told. And--I _have_ suffered, Miss
Mildare, at the hands of men and women, and through the unwritten laws, as
through the accepted institutions of what is called Society, most
brutally. I would not soil and scorch your ears with the recital of my
experiences, for all that a miracle could give me back. I swear to you
that I would not!"

She touched the little ears with a smile that had pathos in it.

"They have heard much that is evil, these ears of mine."

"And the evil has left them undefiled," said Saxham.

"Thank you!"

She begged him again not to forget the sick child at Mrs. Greening's
shelter, and hurried away, keeping her face from Saxham. He knew that
there was no hope for him, that there never would be any. And he loved
her--hungrily, hopelessly loved her. Dear innocent, wise enthusiast, with
her impossible scheme for cleansing the Augean stable of this world!
Chivalrous child-Quixote, tilting at the Black Windmills, whose sails are
whirled by burning blasts from Hell, and whose millstones grind the souls
of Eve's lost daughters into the dust that makes the devil's daily
bread--how should the Dop Doctor of Gueldersdorp dare to love her? But he
did not cease to, for all the height of his self-knowledge and all the
depth of his self-scorn.

He seemed to Lynette a strange, harsh man, but there was something in him
that won her liking. He had a stern mouth, she thought, and sorrowful,
angry eyes, with that thunder-cloud of black, lowering eyebrow above them.
And he looked at her as though she reminded him of someone he knew.
Perhaps he had sisters, though they could hardly be very young. Or it was
not a sister. He must be quite old--the Mother had thought him certainly
thirty-five--but possibly he had a young wife in England--or somewhere
else? And she had spoken to him of her great project. She wondered now at
that impulse of confidence. Perhaps she had yielded to it to convince
herself that her enthusiasm was as strong, her purpose still as clear, as
ever, in the mirror of the Future; that no gay, youthful reflection had
ever risen up of late days between it and her wistful eyes when she peeped
in. The remembered image of the handsome face that had laughed, even as
Beauvayse had declared:

"Even if I die to-day, it won't end there. I shall think of you, and long
for you, and worship you wherever I am."

The thought of Beauvayse's dying was horrible, intolerable. His name came
after the Mother's in her prayers. He had asked her to keep the
secret--his and hers--and called her such exquisite, impossible things for
promising that the mere remembrance of his words and his eyes as he said
them in that low, passionate, eager voice, took her breath deliciously.

"_Sweetest, kindest, loveliest...._" She whispered them to herself as she
hurried back to comfort worried Mrs. Greening with the news that the
doctor was coming.

Meanwhile Saxham went on his accustomed way between the long line of
waggons and the corrugated-iron lined huts on the other hand, in a
cross-fire of appeals, requests, complaints. Nothing escaped him. He would
pass by, with the most casual glance and nod, women who volubly protested
themselves dying, and single out the face that bore the dull, scorched
flush of fever or the yellow or livid stamp of rheumatism, or ague, or
liver-trouble, with a beckon of his hand, and the owner of such a face,
invariably declaring herself a well woman, would be summarily dealt with,
and dosed with tabloid or tincture out of the inexhaustible wallet he
carried, slung about his shoulders by its webbing band.

"Dokter," screeched a portly Tante in a soiled cotton bedgown and flapping
kappje, appearing, copper stewpan in hand, from between the canvas
tilt-curtains of a living-waggon. "You are come at last; the Lord be
thanked for it! I have much, much trouble inside." She groaned, and laid
her fat, unoccupied hand upon the afflicted area, adding: "I feel I shall
not be quite wholesome here."

"Wat scheelt er aan, Tante?" He spoke the Taal with ease.

The large Tante snorted:

"What is the matter? Do you ask me what is the matter? As if a dokter
oughtn't to tell me that! But the Engelsch are regular devils for asking
questions. Since you must know, I have a mighty wallowing under my
apron-band, and therewith a pain. How is it begun? It is begun since
middageten yesterday. And little Dierck here has the belly-ache, and is
giddy in the head."

"Little Dierck will have something worse than the belly-ache, and you
also, if you eat of broth or vegetables cooked in a vessel as unclean as
that, mevrouw."

"Hoe?" The large flabby face under the expansive kappje became red as the
South African sunset. She flourished the venerable copper stewpan, its rim
liberally garnished with verdigris, ancient deposit of fatty matters
accumulated at the bottom. "Do you call my good stewpan, that my mother
cooked beef and succotash and pottage-herbs in before me, an unclean
vessel--you? And were the pan otherwise than clean as my hand--as my
apron!"--a double comparison of the unfortuitous kind--"how should I alter
matters in a heathen place like this?" Her large bosom rocked
tumultuously. "Dwelling at the bottom of a mud-hole like a frog, O God of
my fathers! with bullets as big as pumpkins trundling overhead, ready to
whip your head off your body if you as much as stick your nose above
ground--the accursed things!"

"They are pumpkins sent by your own countrymen, Tante, so you ought to
speak of them more civilly. And--scour the pot with a double-handful of
clean sand; it will be for your health as well as the kind's. Come here,
jongen--give me a look at the little tongue." The boy went to him
confidently, and stuck it out, looking up with innocent wide eyes in the
square, powerful face, as Saxham swung round his wallet, continuing,
"Here, mevrouw, is a packet of Epsom salts. Take half of it, stirred in a
cup of warm water, to-morrow morning fasting----"

"Alamachtig!" she protested. "Is that the Engelsch way of doctoring? To
put another belly-grief on the top of the one you have got, what sense is
in that?"

"It is the new nail, Tante, that drives out the rusty old one. Give the
boy a teaspoonful in half a cup of water, and remember to scour the pans."

Saxham passed on, stepping neatly with his small, tan-booted, spurred feet
between the dung and chip fires curling up in blue smoke-spirals, and the
sprawling children, seeming as though he did not notice them, yet catching
up one that had a rash, and satisfying himself that the eruption was
innocent ere he passed on, visiting every waggon-dwelling and cave-refuge,
rating the inhabitants of some, dosing the occupants of others, emerging
from three or four of the stuffy, ill-smelling places with a heavy frown
that boded ill for somebody. For though Famine had not yet begun to gnaw
the vitals of those immured in Gueldersdorp, Disease had here and there
sprung into active, threatening, infectious being, menacing the crowded
community with invisible, maleficent forces. Soon the hospitals were to be
crowded to the doors, to remain crowded for many months to come; and the
cry, "Room for the sick! more room!" was to go up unceasingly.

Coming out of a miserable habitation, where lay a woman in rheumatic
fever, whose three children had developed measles on the previous day,
and, seeing about the door of a neighbouring hovel a particularly noisome
aggregation of garbage and waste, he paused but to give a brief direction
to the mild-faced Sister who had assumed charge of the sick. Then his
voice rang out above all the feminine and childish Babel, strong,
resonant, masculine:

"Where are the head-boys of the gangs that I told off to clean up and
carry ash-buckets to the dumping-place?"

Whence, under cover of night, the garbage and waste were carted to the
destructor in connection with the Acetylene Gas Company's plant, soon to
be shattered by one of Meisje's shells. There was no answer. Saxham took
the worn hunting-crop from under his arm, and with an easy movement shook
out the twisted thong.

"Where are those two boys? Jim Gubo! Rasu!"

A pale young woman peeling potatoes at her door looked up knowingly. "They
won't carry away a cabbage-leaf unless they're bribed, and they open their
mouths wider every day. It's a tikkie a bucket now."

The young woman went back to her potatoes. The offenders, visibly quaking,
crept from under a waggon, where they had been gambling with dry mealies
for ill-gotten tikkies. A big Kaffir boy in ragged tan-cords and the
crownless brim of an Oxford straw, with a red-turbaned, blue
dungaree-clad, supple Oriental of the coolie class. Jim Gubo, with liberal
display of ivory, assured the Baas, in defiance of the Baas's own eyes and
the organ in juxtaposition, that the work had been regularly done. Rasu
the Sweeper, with many oaths and protestations, assured the Presence that
such neglect as was apparent was owing to the incapacity of the hubshi and
his myrmidons, Rasu's own share of the labour and that of his
fellow-countryman being scrupulously performed.

The Presence made short work of Kaffir and Hindu. Shrill feminine clamours
filled the air as the singing lash performed its work of castigation; and
while Saxham scored repentance upon the hide of his blacker brother,
holding him writhing, shouting, and bellowing at the full stretch of one
muscular arm, as he plied the other he kept a foot on Rasu the Sweeper, so
as to have him handy when his turn came. Meanwhile, the Oriental, with
tears and lamentable howlings, wound about the doctor's leg, a vocal worm,
deprecating tyranny.

"Your Honour is my father and mother. Let the hand of justice refrain from
excoriating the person of the unfortunate, wreaking double vengeance upon
the hubshi, who is but fuel for Hell, like all his accursed race, and
full explanation shall be made."

He was jerked upward by the scruff, as, smarting, blubbering Africa
retired to the shadow of the waggons.

"Well, what have you got to say?"

The bellow of the town batteries, with the clack--clack--clack! of the
Hotchkiss that had been removed from the armoured train and mounted on the
North Fort, reduced the tirade to pantomime.

"This is a bad, a very bad, place for the son of my mother." The lean
brown right hand swept upwards to the thick canopy of white smoke that the
shifting breeze rolled back from the Cemetery Earthworks. "The food of
coarse grain is diet for camels, and the water stinks very greatly.
Moreover, it is better for thy slave to die amongst defilements than to
carry buckets and be chased by devils in iron pots thirsting for the blood
of men. Aie--aie!"

One of the enemy's Maxim-Nordenfelts had loosed off a group of the
gaily-painted little shells. With the reduplicated rattle of the
detonation, they passed over the laager, bursting as they went, sending
their fan-shaped showers of splinters broadcast. Slatternly women and
scared children bolted for their burrows. Rasu the Sweeper dived
frantically between the fore and hind wheels of a waggon, praying to all
the gods of the low-caste to ward off those wicked little bits of rending
metal....

"Anyone hurt?" called Saxham.

"No one, I think," called back the strong sweet voice of the
Mother-Superior, who had come out of a hovel, where she was tending some
sick. There was a glint in her deep eyes as she regarded Saxham's thorough
handiwork that told her approval of castigation well deserved. Then:

"Maharaj! Oh, Maharaj! Succour in calamity! Aid for the dying! Hai, hai,
behold how I bleed!"

The red-turbaned martyr rolled in the unclean litter, elevating a
stick-like brown leg, in the lean, muscular calf of which one of the
smallest of the wicked little splinters had, as Rasu the Sweeper dived for
the waggon, found a home.

"That has saved you a well-earned hiding, so thank your stars for it. Let
the Kaffir see to it that he insults no more English ladies, or he shall
pay for every word with an inch of skin. Now put up your leg." Saxham
whipped out the splinter with a little pair of tweezers, deftly cleansed
and dressed the wound, bandaged it, and, dismissing Rasu the Sweeper with
a caution, was coming across to the Reverend Mother when a chorus of cries
and piercing shrieks broke forth:

"Mijn jongen! mijn jongen!"

She was a bulky Dutch vrouw, with a dishevelled head of coarse black hair,
and a dirty cotton gown, and dirty bare feet in bulgy shoes that were
trodden down at heel. But with her livid, purple face and protruding,
bloodshot eyeballs uplifted to the drifting cloud of greenish lyddite
vapour that thinned away overhead, she was great and terrible, and the
very incarnation of Maternity Bereft.

One huge arm gripped the little body to her broad, panting bosom. She had
called him, and he had not answered; she had sought and found him, just as
he had slidden off the box-seat, where he had been playing driver of the
ox-span, lying curled up against the dashboard, the little whip of stick
and string he had been at pains to make only yesterday fallen from the
lax, childish hand. The fair hair on the left temple was dabbled in blood,
that trickled from the tiny three-cornered bluish hole. His eyes were
open, as if in wonder at the sudden darkness that had fallen at bright
midday; the smile had frozen on the parted, innocent lips....

Oh, look at this, Premier and President! Look at this, my Lords and
Commons and militant Burghers of Republican States! Grave Ministers who
decide in Cabinet Councils that the prestige of the Government you
represent is at stake, and that the bedraggled honour of the Country can
only be washed clean in one red river, flowing from the veins of Humanity,
look, look here! You who lust for Sovereignty, hiding rapacious Ambitions
and base lust for gold behind the splendid ermined folds of the Imperial
purple. You who resented Suzerainty, coveting to keep in your hands riches
that you could not use, resources that your ignorance could not develop,
greedy to have and hold what you wrested from the Sons of Ham, lest white
men should snatch it back from you again; and prating of Liberty and
Freedom while the necks of three races of men were bending under the yoke
of an oligarchy more imperious, more pitiless, more covetous, besotted,
brutal, and ignorant than any other that the spotted records of History
can show--look here, look here!

Nations that rush to dreadful War, loosing the direful threefold plague of
Iron, Fire, and Disease to scourge and brand and desolate the once smiling
face of your Mother Earth, pause as you roll onwards in desolating
cataclysms of armed and desperate men, and forgetting the bloodstained
she-devil you misname Glory, look here, in the Name of One who loved and
suffered little children, rating their innocent bodies and spotless souls
at such high value that Little Dierck and his countless
brother-and-sister-babes that have perished of Iron, Fire, and Disease, as
of Terror and Famine, Death's twin henchmen, shall weigh in the balance
against Crowned Heads and Lords and Commons and Presidents and
Representatives and Deputies, until they kick the beam!

Should there be War? Of course there should be War! you say.

Have you seen War? Perhaps, even as I have. And, having seen it, dare you
justify the shedding, by men who hold the Christian Faith, of these
spilled-out oceans of Christian blood?

That question will be settled when the Trumpet of the Great Angel sounds,
and the Sea and the Earth shall give up their dead, and everyone shall
answer for his deeds before the Throne of God. And until then, look to it
that if you war in any cause, the cause be a just one.



"My Dierck! My little Dierck! O God! God!----"

Standing with that tragic purple mask turned upwards to the silent sky,
and the wild eyes blazing, and the great fist at the end of the uplifted
arm brandished in the Face of Heaven itself, the Boer mother demanded of
her Maker why this thing had been done?

"He was so good. Never a fib since last I gave him the ox-reim end to
taste. Never a lump of sugar or a cookie or a plum pilfered--he would take
them as bold as brass before your face if you didn't give. He said the
night-prayer regularly. For the morning, Lord, Thou knowest boys want to
be up and at mischief as soon as they have rubbed the sleep out of their
eyes--'tis only natural. And the father a God-fearing man, and me a woman
of piety. For when have I backslidden before Thee? If any of mine have
hung back when I told them to loop and do a thing, or sneaked off and hid
when we were inspanned for the kerk-going, did I fail to whack them as a
mother should? Nooit, nooit! And now--Death has fallen out of the sky upon
the Benjamin of my bosom. Oh, blasted be the eyesight and withered be the
hand of the man that sighted and laid and fired the gun!"

She cursed the Kaiser's blue-and-white-uniformed gunner in every function
of his body and every corner of his soul, waking and sleeping, dying and
dead, with fluent Scriptural curses. The crowded faces about her went
white. Some of the women were crying, others shook their heads:

"Thim that puts the Bad Black Wish on odhers finds sorra knock harrd at
their dure," said an Irish voice oracularly. "An' who but herself did be
callin' down all manner av' misfortune on ivery wan that crassed her?"

"It's a judgment--my opinion," agreed the thin young woman who had been
peeling potatoes, and who wore a wisp of draggled crape round a soiled
rush hat. "Never a shell busted but you'd a-heered her say she hoped that
one had sent another parcel of verdant rooineks to Hell. And me sitting
over against her with crape on for my husband and baby. 'Tis a judgment,
that's what I say."

"Oh, hush, Mrs. Lennan!" said the Mother-Superior. "Be pitiful and forget.
She did not think--she had not suffered. Be pitiful, now that her hour has
come!"

The thick voice of the Boer woman broke out again:

"Did ever I miss of the Nachtmaal? Alamachtig, no! Virtuous as Sarah have
I lain in the marriage-bed--never a sly look for another, and my husband
with dropsy-legs as thick as boomstammen, and sixty years upon his loins.
Thou knewest, and yet the joy of my life is taken from me. Where wert
Thou, O God of Israel, when they killed my little Dierck?"

The Mother-Superior leaned to her, and threw a strong, tender arm about
the fleshy shoulders. She said, speaking in the Taal:

"Hush, hush! Remember that He gave the joy before He sent the sorrow. And
we must submit ourselves to the Holy Will."

The Boer woman snorted:

"As if I didn't know that better than a Papist. Look you, have I shed one
tear?" She blinked hard bright eyes defiantly. The Mother went on in that
velvet voice of hers, making the uncouth dialect sound like the cooing of
an Irish dove:

"Better that you had tears, poor mother! Ah! best to weep. Did not our
Lord weep over His dearest city, and for His beloved friend? And when He
pitied the Widow of Nain, do you think His eyes were dry? Ah! best to
weep."

She strove to wrench herself away, shouting:

"He raised Lazarus from the dead for Mary his sister, and she had been a
shameless wench. And He gave the other back her boy. What has He done for
me?"

The sisterly arm held her fast; the great grey eyes looked into hers, wet
with the tears that were denied to her.

"He has given you an Angel to pray for you in Heaven."

She snorted rebelliously:

"His mother wants him down here.... And what is Heaven to little Dierck,
when he could be sailing his boat in the river-pools, and playing at
driving the span?"

But she let the Mother-Superior take him from her, and dropped her great
arms doggedly at her sides, watching still dry-eyed as they laid him down,
and Saxham stooped above him, feeling at the pulseless heart. She saw the
doktor shake his head and lay down the little hand. She saw the
Mother-Superior coax down the eyelids with tender, skilful fingers, and
put a kiss on each, making the Sign of the Cross on the still, childish
breast, and murmuring a little prayer. She would have screamed to avert
the defiling, heathen thing from him, but the memory of the sister-embrace
and the sister-look held her dumb.

It was only when they were stripping him for the last sad toilet, and the
cherished top and half a dozen highly-prized marbles rolled out of the
pocket in the stumpy little round jacket she had made out of a cast-off
garment of his father's that her bosom heaved, and the fountains of her
grief sprang from the stony soil. She wept copiously, and found
resignation. Soon she was sufficiently herself to scold a
prodigally-minded spinster relative who had proposed that Little Dierck
should be coffined in his new black Sabbath suit.

"But you old maids have no sense, no more than so many cabbages. Little
angels in the hemel can fly about in clean nightgowns--look in the
grandfather's big picture-Bible if you don't believe me. But live boys
can't loop about without breeches. So I'll lay these by for the next one."



XXXIII


Roasting hot Christmas has gone by, with its services and celebrations,
its sports and entertainments, its meagre feasting, and its hearty cheer,
a bloodless triumph followed by the regrettable defeat sustained in the
battle of Big Tree Fort. To-day the Union Jack hangs limp upon the
flagstaff that rears its slender height over Nixey's, and the new year is
some weeks old. The blue, blue sky of January is without a single puff of
cloud, and the taint from the trenches is less sickening, unmingled with
the poisonous fumes of the lyddite bursting-charges, and the acrid odour
of smokeless powder. It is Sunday, when Briton and Boer hold the Truce of
God, and the church-bells ring to call and not to warn the people, and
sweet Peace and blessed Silence brood over the shrapnel-scarred veld. The
aasvogels feast undisturbed on bloated carcasses of horses and cattle
lying on the debatable ground between the Line of Investment and the Line
of Defence, the barbel in the river leap at the flies, and partridge and
wild guinea-fowl drink in the shallows, and bathe in the dry hot sand
between the boulder-stones.

The Market Square is populous with a chatting, sauntering crowd of people,
who enjoy the luxury of using their limbs without being called on to
displays of acrobatic agility in dodging trundling shell. There are
Irregulars and B.S.A.P., Baraland Rifles and Town Guardsmen. There are the
Native Contingent from the stad, and a company of Zulus, and the Kaffirs
and the Cape Boys with their gaspipe rifles that do good service in
default of better, and bring down Oom Paul's Scripturally-flavoured
denunciations upon Englishmen, who arm black and coloured folk to do
battle for their own sable or brown or yellow rights. These have donned
odd garments and quaint bits of finery to mark the holiday, and every
white man has indulged in the luxury of a comprehensive wash, a shave with
hot water, and a change of clothing, if it is obtainable. Also, drooping
feminine vanity revives in hair-waves and emerges from underground burrows
of Troglodytic type, arrayed in fluttering muslins, and crowned with
coquettish hats, which walk about in company with ragged khâki and
clay-stained duck and out-at-elbows tweed, and are proud to be seen in its
brave company.

Husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, sons and mothers, lovers and
sweethearts, meet after the week whose separating days have seemed like
weeks, and visit the houses whose pierced walls and roofs, that let the
white-hot sunshine in through many jagged holes, may one day, so they
whisper, holding one another closely, shelter them again in peace. Home
has become a sweet word, even to those who thought little of home before.
And many who were sinful have found conviction of sin and the saving grace
of repentance, and many more who denied their God have learned to know
Him, in this village town of battered dwellings, whose streets are
littered with all the grim débris of War.

Nixey's has not come scathless through the ordeal. The stately brick
chimneys of the kitchen and coffee-room have been broken off like carrots,
and replaced by tin funnels. Patches of the universal medium, corrugated
iron, indicate where one of Meisje's ninety-four-pound projectiles
recently plumped in through the soft brick of the east wall end, and
departed by the west frontage, leaving two holes that might have
accommodated a chest of drawers, and carrying a window with it. Mrs.
Nixey, the children, and the women of the staff inhabit a bombproof in the
back-yard. The waiters have developed a grasshopper-like nimbleness,
otherwise things go on as usual.

It being Sunday, a large long man and another as long, but less bulky, are
extended in a couple of long bamboo chairs on Nixey's longish front
verandah. The blue, fragrant smoke of two long cigars curls upwards over
their supine heads, and two long drinks containing a very meagre modicum
of inferior whisky are contained in two long tumblers, resting in the
bamboo nests cunningly devised for their accommodation in the chair-arms.

It is hot, but both the men look cool and lazy, and almost too fresh to
have spent the greater part of the night, the younger upon advanced
patrol-duty, and the elder at the Staff bombproof in the Southern Lines,
where messages come in and where messages go out, and where reports are
received and from whence orders are despatched from sunset to the peep of
day, and from peep of day to sunset.

The wardrobes of both warriors are much impaired by active service, but
their originally white flannel trousers, if patched, discoloured, and
shrunken by amateur lavations, boast the cut of Bond Street; their shirts,
if a trifle ragged, are immaculately clean, and the cracks in their canvas
shoes are disguised by a lavish expenditure of pipeclay. Beauvayse has
rummaged out and mounted a snowy double collar in honour of the day, with
a knitted silk necktie of his Regimental colours, and a kamarband to match
is wound about his narrow, springy waist, and knotted to perfection. Both
men might be basking on an English river-bank after a stiff pull
up-stream, or resting after a bout at tennis on an English lawn, but for
the revolver-lanyards round their strong, bronzed throats, ending in the
butts of Smith and Wesson's revolvers of Service calibre, the bandoliers
and belts that lie handy on a table, and the Lee-Metford carbines that
lean in an angle made by the house-wall and the verandah end. Also, but
for the tension of long-sustained watchfulness on both faces, making it
plain that, though resting and reposeful, they are neither of them
unexpectant of a summons to be the opposite of these things. It is a look
that, at different degrees of intensity, is stamped on every face in
Gueldersdorp. And the same uncertainty possesses and pervades even
unsentient things. The Union Jack, hanging listlessly from the summit of
its lofty staff, bathed in the golden, glowing atmosphere of this January
day, may, in an instant's space, give place to the red signal of danger;
the bugle, now silent, may at any moment blare out its loud and dismal
note of warning; the bells that call with peaceful insistence, "Come to
church! come to church!" in the twinkling of an eye may be clanging scared
townsfolk to their burrowed hiding-places. You never know. For General
Brounckers, though a God-fearing man, sometimes goes in for Sunday
gun-practice, quite unintentionally, as he afterwards explains. Hence,
even on the Sabbath, it is as well to be prepared.

Beauvayse is the first to break the drowsy silence by knocking the
lengthened ash off his cigar, and expressing his opinion that the weed
might be a worse one.

"Considerin' the price the box of fifty was knocked down to me for at
Kreils' auction yesterday," states Captain Bingo, "it's simply smokin'
gold. Nine pound fifteen-and-six runs me into, how much apiece?" He yawns
cavernously, and gives the calculation up. "Always was a duffer at
figures," he says, and relapses into silence until, in the act of throwing
the nearly smoked-out cigar-butt away, he pulls himself up, and,
economically impaling it on his penknife-blade, secures a few more whiffs.

"Against the Lenten days to come, when there will be no balm left in
Gilead," says Beauvayse, cocking a grey-green eye at him in sleepy
derision, "and no tobacco in Gueldersdorp."

"Kreils' are sellin' dashed bad cigarettes at a pound the box of a hundred
now," says Captain Bingo; "and I've a notion of layin' in a stock of 'em.
We smoked tea in the Sudan, and I had a shot at hemp, but it plays the
very devil with the nerves. All jumps and twitches, you know, after a pipe
or two. Nervous as a cat, or a woman. And, talking of women, I wonder
where my wife is?"

He turns a large, pink, disconsolate face upon Beauvayse. Beauvayse
responds with the air of one who has suffered boredom from the too
frequent enumeration of this conjecture. "Not knowing, can't say." And
there is another silence.

"How she got the maggot into her head," presently resumes Lady Hannah's
spouse, "I can't think. I did suppose her vaultin' ambition to rival Dora
Corr--woman who managed to burn her own and a lot of other people's
fingers by meddlin' in South African politics over the Raid business--had
been quenched for good that mornin' you took those fifty chaps of the
Irregulars out for what she _would_ call their 'baptism of fire.'"

"That's newspaperese," yawns Beauvayse, his supple brown hands knitted at
the back of his sleek golden head. "Goes with 'the tented field' and
_casus belli: cherchez la femme_ and _cui bono_?"

"She's got the lingo at her finger-ends and in her blood, or we wouldn't
be cherchaying now," says Bingo dolorously. "I asked her if she was
particularly keen on gettin' killed...."

"Shouldn't have done that. Put her on her mettle not to show funk if she
felt it," mumbles Beauvayse.

"A man can't always be diplomatic," grumbles Bingo. "Anyhow, she'd seen a
bit of a scrap at the outset of affairs, when the B.S.A. went out with the
Armoured Train, and was wild with me for wantin' to deprive her of another
'glorious experience.' ... And next morning she rides out with a Corporal
and two troopers, both chaps beastly sensible of their responsibility, and
wishin' her at Cape Town, she in toppin' spirits and as keen as mustard.
It was about six o'clock, morning, and she hadn't been gone five minutes
before we heard you fellows poundin' away and bein' pounded at like Jimmy
O! I was on the roof with the Chief, the sweat runnin' down into the
binoculars, until the veld seemed swarmin' with brown mares and grey linen
habits and drab smasher hats, with my wife's head under 'em, and hoverin'
troopers. But I did make out that your party had got into
difficulties----"

"We opened on 'em at a thousand yards, and pushed to within five hundred,
and if the fellows in charge of the Hotchkiss could have got her into
play," Beauvayse interrupts rather huffily, "we'd have been as right as
rain."

"Possibly. If I hadn't been on special duty that day, and as nervous as a
cat in a thunderstorm, I'd have volunteered to bring No. 2 Troop of A out
to the rescue, instead of Heseltine. As it was, I nearly fell off the roof
when I saw my wife coming, one trooper, as pale with fright as a piece of
soap, supportin' her on his saddle, another man leading the mare, dead
lame and the Corporal's hairy. Plugged in the upper works, the Corporal,
poor beggar! but he'd managed to stick on somehow until they got to the
Hospital. Have you ever had to deal with a woman in hysterics?"

Beauvayse nods sagely.

"Once or twice."

"Once is an experience that lasts a man all his lifetime. Phew!" Captain
Bingo mops his large pink face. "Never had such a dressing-down in my
life."

"But what had you to do with the Corporal getting chipped?"

"The Lord only knows!" says Bingo piously. "But, if you'd heard her, all
the rest of the day and half through the night!..."

"I did," Beauvayse says with a faint grin. "Mine's the next bedroom to
yours, you know."

"'Oh, the blood! Oh, the blood!' ..." Not unsuccessfully does the spouse
of Lady Hannah attempt to render the recurrent hiccough and the whooping
screech of hysteria. "'Damn it, my dear!' I said, tryin' to reason with
her, 'what else did you expect the fellow had got in him? Sawdust?' That
seemed to rouse her like nothing else.... Turned on me like a tigress, by
the living Tinker!--called me everything she could lay her tongue to, and
threatened that she'd apply for a separation if I continued to outrage
every feeling of decency that association with such a thundering brute
hadn't uprooted from her nature."

"Whe--ew!"

Beauvayse's comment is a shrill-toned whistle.

"Of course, her nerves were knocked to smithereens, and a man can overlook
a lot, under the circumstances. She was a mere jelly when the bombardment
began----" goes on rueful Captain Bingo.

"--Rather!" confirms Beauvayse.--"Lived in the hotel cellar for the first
fortnight, only emergin' from among the beer-barrels and wine-casks and
liqueur-cases after dark----"

"--To blow me up and forgive me, turn and turn about, until daylight did
appear. Luckily," reflects Bingo, with a rather dreary chuckle, "I had
plenty of night-duty on just then, and so escaped a lot."

"_That_ gave her her chance to shoot the moon!" hints Beauvayse, in
accents muffled by his long tumbler.

"By the Living Tinker!" asseverates Captain Bingo, jerked out of his
reclining attitude by vigorous utterance of the expletive, "you could have
bowled me over with a scent-squirter when I came back to brekker and found
her gone, and a cocked-hat note of farewell left for me on the
dressing-table pincushion, in regular elopement style; and another for the
Chief, sayin'--he read it to me--that she'd gone to retrieve the Past,
with a capital 'P,' and hoped to convince him ere long that one of her
_despised sex_--underlined, 'despised sex'--can be useful to her country."

"'Can be useful to her country,'" repeats Beauvayse "Question is, in what
way?"

"Damme if I can imagine!" bursts explosively from the deserted husband.
"All I know up to date, and all _you_ know, is that before it was quite
light she drove out of our lines in Nixey's spider, his mouse-coloured
trotter pullin', and her German maid sittin' behind, wavin' a white towel
tied to the end of a walkin'-stick of mine, and went straight over to the
enemy. We hear in the course of things from a Kaffir despatch-runner that
she's stayin' in a hotel of sorts at Tweipans, where Brounckers has had
his headquarters since he shifted Chief Laager from Geitfontein. And for
any further information we may knock our rotten heads against a brick wall
and twiddle our thumbs. Never you marry, Toby, my boy!"

A V-shaped vein swells and darkens between the handsome grey-green eyes
and on the broad forehead, white as a girl's where the sun-tan leaves off.
Beauvayse takes his cigar again from his mouth, and knocks the ash off
deliberately before he responds:

"Thanks for the advice."

"Be warned," says Captain Bingo sententiously, "by me. Know when you're
well off, as I didn't. Take the advice of your seniors, as I was too
pig-headed a fool to do, and don't put it in the power of any woman to
make you as rottenly wretched as I am at this minute."

"Why! women _can_ make you rottenly wretched," admits Beauvayse, with a
confirmatory creak of the bamboo chair. "But, on the other hand, they can
make you awfully happy--what?"

Captain Bingo throws his long legs off their resting-place, and sits
sideways, staring rather owlishly at his young friend. He shakes his head
in a dismal way several times, and sucks hard at his cigar as he shakes
it.

"For a bit, but does it last? When I came down to hunt you up last June at
the cottage at Cookham----"

"Look here, old man!" The bamboo chair creaks angrily as Beauvayse in his
turn sits up and drops his own long legs on either side of it, and drives
the foot-rest back under the table seat with a vicious punch. "Don't
remind me of the cottage at Cookham, will you? It's one of the things I
want to forget just now."

"You were as proud as Punch of it last June. Have you let it?" pursues
Bingo, ignoring his junior's request.

Beauvayse yawns with ostentatious weariness of the subject.

"No; I haven't let it."

"Ought to go off like smoke, properly advertised. Somethin' like this: 'To
let, Roselawn Cottage, Cookham: a charmin' Thames-side bijou residence.
Small grounds and large cellar, a boathouse and a houseboat, stables, a
pigeon-cote, and a private post-box. Duodecimo oak dinin'-room, boudoir by
Rellis. Ideal nest for a honeymoon, real thing or imitation. Might have
become the real thing if owner hadn't been whisked off in time to South
Africa.' And a dashed good job for him. For you've had a decentish lot of
narrow escapes, Toby, my boy!" pursues the oracular Captain Bingo,
disregarding his junior's forbidding scowl, "and come out of a goodish few
tight places, and you've got out of 'em, if I may say so, more through
luck than wit; but that little entanglement I'm delicately alludin' to was
one of the closest things on record in the career of a Prodigal Son."

"Thanks. You're uncommonly complimentary to-day." Beauvayse pitches away
his cigar, knocks a feather of ash from his clean silk shirt, and folds
his arms resignedly on his broad flat chest.

"Upon my word, I didn't mean to be. Does it ever strike you," goes on
Captain Bingo doggedly, "that if that wire from the Chief asking for your
address hadn't found me at the Club, and if I hadn't run down and dug you
out at the--I won't repeat the name of the place, since you don't seem to
like it--you'd have been married and done for, old chap--any date you like
to name between then and the beginning of the war? And, to put things
mildly, there would have been the mischief to pay with your people."

"Yes," Beauvayse agrees rather dreamily; "there would have been an awful
lot of bother with my people."

"Not that I object to the stage myself," Captain Bingo says, waving a
large, tolerant hand; "and it seems getting to be rather the fashion to
recruit the female ranks of the Peerage from Musical Comedy, and a
prettier and cleverer little woman than Lessie ... What are you stoppin'
your ears for?"

"I'm not," says a muffled, surly voice. "It's a--twinge of toothache."

"All I've got to say is," declares Captain Bingo, "that marriage with
one's equal in point of breedin' is sometimes a blank draw, but marriage
with one's inferior is a howling error. And if you had done as I'd stake
my best hat you would have done, supposin' you'd been left to loll in the
lap of the lovely Lessie----"

Beauvayse jumps up in a rage.

"Wrynche, how much longer do you think I can go on listening to this?
You're simply maundering, man, and my nerves won't stand it."

"Oh, very well! But you haven't the ghost of a right to lay claim to
nerves," Captain Bingo obstinately asseverates. "Now look at me."

"I'm hanged if I want to!" declares Beauvayse. "You're not a cheering
object." He drops back into the bamboo chair again.

"Flyblown, do I look?" inquires Bingo, with dispassionate interest.

"Well, yes, decidedly," Beauvayse agrees, without removing his eyes from
the whitewashed verandah-pillar at which they blankly stare.

"Streaky yellow in the whites of the eyes, and pouchy under 'em?" Captain
Bingo demands of his young friend with unmistakable relish. "'Yes' again?
And I grouse and maunder? Of course I do, my dear chap! How can I help
it? A married man who, for all he knows, may be a widower----"

"I wish to God I knew I was one!"

"My good fellow?"

"You heard what I said," Beauvayse flings over his shoulder.

Captain Bingo, his hands upon his straddling knees, regards his junior
with circular eyes staring out of a large, kind, rather foolish face of
utter consternation.

"That you wished to God you were a widower?"

"Well, I mean it."



XXXIV


"Good Lord!"

There is a gap of silence only broken when Captain Bingo says heavily:

"Then you did marry the Lavigne after all? When was it----"

"We'd pulled off the marriage at the local Registrar's a fortnight before
you came down with--_his_ wire."

"By the Living Tinker, then it _was_ a genuine honeymoon after all!" A
faint grin appears on Captain Wrynche's large perturbed face.

"Don't be epigrammatic, Wrynche." The dull weariness in the young voice
gives place to quick affront. "And keep the secret. Don't give me away."

"Did I ever give you, or any other man who ever trusted me, away? Tell me
that."

Captain Bingo gets up and covers the distance between the deck-chairs with
a single stride, and puts a big kind hand on the averted shoulder.

"Of course you never did." The boy reaches up and takes the hand, and
squeezes it with the shyness of the Englishman who responds to some
display of solicitude or affection on the part of a comrade. "Don't mind
my rotting like this. There are times when one must let off steam or
explode."

"I thought--and so did a few others, the Chief among 'em--that South
Africa had saved you by the skin of your teeth," says Captain Bingo,
smoking vigorously, and driving his hands very deep into his pockets.
"Confoundedly odd how taken in we were! I could have sworn, my part, that
you'd just stopped short at----"

"At making a blithering idiot of myself," interpolates Beauvayse. "If
you'll go back and sit decently in your chair, instead of standing behind
me rattlin' keys and coins in your pocket, and dropping hot cigar-ash on
my head, I'll tell you how it happened. Nobody listening?"

"Not a soul," says Captain Bingo, padding back after a noiseless prowl to
the coffee-room window.

Beauvayse grips either arm of the chair he sits in so fiercely that they
crack again.

"I--I was desperately hard hit over Lessie a year ago----"

"So were a lot of other young idiots."

"That's a pleasant reflection. They were."

"Of course, I"--Bingo's large face becomes very red--"I inferred nothing
in any way against Miss Lavigne's chara---- Dash it, I beg your pardon! I
ought to call her Lady Beauvayse."

"Don't trouble. I think I'd rather you didn't. It would rub things in
rather too much," says Beauvayse, paling as the other has reddened.

"Wouldn't it be as well," hints Captain Bingo, "to get used to it?"

"No," Beauvayse throws over his shoulder. "And don't assume a delicacy in
speaking of the--the lady, because it's unnecessary. As I've said, I was
very much in love. She had--kept house with a man I knew, before we came
together, and there may have been other affairs--for all I can tell, at
least--I should say most probably." Something in Captain Bingo's face
seems to say "uncommonly probably," though he utters no word. "But she was
awfully pretty, and I lost my head." He shuts his eyes and leans back, and
the lines of his young face are strained and wan. "I--I lost my head."

"It's--it's natural enough," volunteers Captain Bingo.

There is another short interval of silence in which the two men on Nixey's
verandah see the same vision--lime-lights of varying shades and colours
thrown from different angles across a darkened garden-scene where
impossible tropical flowers expand giant petals, and a spangled waterfall
tumbles over the edge of a blue precipice in sparkling foam. The nucleus
of a cobweb of quivering rays, crossing and intersecting, is a dazzling
human butterfly, circling, spinning, waving white arms like quivering
antennæ, flashing back the coloured lights from the diamonds that are in
her hair and on her bosom, are clasped about her rounded waist and wrists,
gleam like fireflies from the folds of her diaphanous skirts, and sparkle
on her fingers. A provoking, beguiling Impertinence with great stage eyes
encircled by blue rims, a small mouth painted ruby-red, a complexion of
theatrical lilies and roses, and tiny, twinkling feet that beat out a
measure to which Beauvayse's pulses have throbbed madly and now throb no
more.

"It began in the usual way," he goes on, waking from that stage day-dream,
"with suppers and stacks of flowers, and a muff-chain of turquoise and
brilliants, and ended up with----"

"With an electric motor-brougham and a flat in Mayfair. Oh Lord, what
thunderin' donkeys we fellows are!" groans Captain Bingo, rubbing his
head, which has hair of a gingery hue, close-cropped until the scalp
blushes pinkly through it, and rubbing nothing in the way of consolation
into the brain inside it.

"I bought the cottage at Cookham as a surprise for her birthday," goes on
the boy. "She's a year or two older than me----"

"And the rest," blurts out Captain Bingo. But he drowns the end of the
sentence in a giant sneeze. "Must have caught cold last night without
knowin' it. Dashed treacherous climate this," he murmurs behind the refuge
of a pocket-handkerchief. "And so you bought the cottage for Lessie?
Another nibble out of the golden cheese that the old man's nursing up for
you,--what? And in thingumbob retirement by the something-or-other stream
you hit on the notion of splicing the lovely Lessie Lavigne. Poetry, by
the Living Tinker!"

"Do you want to hear how I came to cut my own throat?" snarls the boy,
with white, haggard anger alternating with red misery and shame in his
young, handsome face; "because if you do, leave off playing the funny
clown and listen."

"Never felt less inclined to be funny in my life. 'Pon my word, I assure
you!" asseverates Bingo. "You're simply a bundle of irritable nerves, my
dear chap, and that's the truth."

"You wouldn't wonder if you knew ... Oh, damn it, Wrynche!"--the young
voice breaks in a miserable sob--"I'm so thundering miserable. And all
because there--there was a kid coming, and I did the straight thing by its
mother."

"Whew!" Captain Bingham Wrynche gives vent to a long, piercing, dismal
whistle, which so upsets a gaunt mongrel prowling vainly for garbage in
the gutters of Market Square that he puts up his nose and howls in answer.
"Was that how you fell into the----" He is obviously going to say "trap,"
but with exceeding clumsiness substitutes "state." And wonders at the
thing having been pulled off so quietly in these days, when confounded
newspapers won't let you call your soul your own.

"That's because I signed my name 'John Basil Edward Tobart,'" explains
Beauvayse; "and because the Registrar--a benevolent old cock in a large
white waistcoat, like somebody's father in a farcical comedy--wasn't
sufficiently up in the Peerage to be impressed."

"Weren't there witnesses of sorts?" hints Bingo.

"Of sorts. The housekeeper at the cottage and my man Saunders--the
discreet Saunders who's with me here. And a fortnight later came the
appointment," goes on the boy. "And--I was gladder than I cared to know at
getting away. She--Lessie--meant to play her part in the 'Chiffon Girl' up
to the end of the Summer Season, and then rest until ..." He does not
finish the sentence.

"I suppose she's fond of you--what?" hazards Captain Bingo.

"She cares a good deal, poor girl, and was frightfully cut up at my going,
and I provided for her thoroughly well, of course, though she has heaps of
money of her own. And when I went to stay with my people for a night
before sailing, I'd have broken the--the truth to my mother then, only
something in her face corked me tight. From the moment I took the plunge,
the consciousness of what a rotten ass I'd been had been growin' like a
snowball. But on the voyage out"--a change comes into the weary, level
voice in which Beauvayse has told his story--"I forgot to grouse, and by
the time we'd lifted the Southern Cross I wasn't so much regretting what
I'd done as wondering whether I should ever shoot myself because I'd done
it? Up in Rhodesia I forgot. The wonderful champagne air, and the rousing
hard work, the keen excitement and the tingling expectation of things that
were going to happen by-and-by, that have been happening about as since
October, were like pleasant drugs that keep you from thinking. I only
remembered now and then, when I saw Lessie's photograph hanging on the
wall of my quarters, and the portrait she had set in the back of my
sovereign-case, that she and me were husband and wife." He gives a
mirthless laugh. "It makes so little impression on a fellow's mind
somehow, to mooch into a Registrar's office with a woman and answer a
question or two put by a fat, middle-aged duffer who's smiling himself
into creases, and give your name and say, 'No, there's no impediment,' and
put on the ring and pay a fee--I believe it was seven-and-six--and take a
blotchy certificate and walk out--married."

"It never does take long, by Gad!" agrees Captain Bingo with fervour, "to
do any of the things that can't be undone again."

"Undone ...!" Beauvayse sits up suddenly and turns his miserable,
beautiful, defiant eyes full on the large, perturbed face of his listener.
"Wrynche, Wrynche! I've felt I'd gladly give my soul to be able to undo
it, ever since I first set eyes on Lynette Mildare!"

Captain Bingo gives vent to another of his loud, dismal whistles. Then he
gets out of his chair, large, clumsy, irate, and begins:

"I might have known it, with a chap like you. Another woman's at the
bottom of all your bellowing. You're not a bit sick at having brought an
outsider--a rank outsider, by Gad!--into the family stud; you're not a rap
ashamed at havin' disappointed the old man's hopes of you, for you know as
well as I do that when you'd done sowin' your wild oats and had your
fling, you'd have come in when he rang the bell and married Lady Mary
Menzies. You're not a damned scrap sorry at having broken your mother's
heart, though you know in the bottom of your soul that she scented this
marriage in the wind, and had an interview with the Chief, and went down
on her knees to him--her knees, by the Living Tinker!--to give you the
chance of breakin' off an undesirable connection!"

Beauvayse is out of his chair now. "Is that true--about my mother?" he
demands, blazing.

"I'm not in the habit of lyin', Lord Beauvayse!" states Captain Bingo
huffily.

"Don't fly off like a lunatic, Bingo, old man. How did you
find--that--out?"

"Your cousin Townham told me."

"Damn my cousin Townham for a dried-up, wiggy, pratin' little
scandalmonger!"

Captain Bingo retorts irately:

"Damn him if you please; he's no friend of mine. As yours, what I ask you
is, between man and man, how far have you gone in this fresh affair?"

Beauvayse drives his hands deep into the pockets of his patched flannels,
and says, adjusting a footstool with his toe over a crack in the
board-flooring, as though the operation were a delicate one upon which
much depended:

"I've told her how I feel where she's concerned, and that I care for her
as I never cared yet, and never shall care, for anyone else."

The faint grin dawns again on Captain Wrynche's large, kindly, worried
face.

"How many times have you met?"

"Only four or five times in all," says Beauvayse. "I'd set eyes on her
twice before I was introduced. I couldn't rest for thinking about her. She
drew me and drew me.... And when we did meet, there was no strangeness
between us, even from the first minute. She just seemed waiting for what I
had to own up. And when I spoke, I--I seemed to be only saying what I was
meant to say.... From the beginning of the world! And you'd understand
better if you'd seen her near----"

"I have seen her in the distance, walking with the Mother-Superior of the
Convent. A tall, slight girl. Looks like a lady," says Bingo, "and has
jolly hair."

"It's the colour of dead leaves in autumn sunshine or a squirrel's back,"
raves the boy, "and she's beautiful, Wrynche. My God! so beautiful that
your heart stops beating when you look into her face, and nearly jumps out
of your body when a fold of her gown brushes against you. And I swear
there's no other woman for me in life or death!"

"I shouldn't be in such a cast-iron hurry to swear if I were you," Captain
Bingo replies judicially. "And--I've heard you say the same about the
others----"

"It was never true before. And she's a lady," pleads Beauvayse hotly. "A
lady in manners, and education, and everything. The sort of girl one
respects; the sort of girl one can talk to about one's mother and
sisters----"

"You'd talk about your mother to a Kaffir washerwoman," Captain Bingo
blurts out. "Better you should, than go hanging about a Convent-bred
schoolgirl and telling her you'll never care for anybody else, when you've
got a legal wife, and, for all you know, a family of twins at home in
England."

The footstool, impelled by a scientific lift of Beauvayse's toe, flies to
the other end of Nixey's verandah. "Is one mistake to ruin a man's life?
I'll get a divorce from my wife. I will, by Heaven!"

"You told me not to maunder just now," says Bingo, with ponderous sarcasm.
"Who is the maunderer, I'd like to know? By the Living Tinker, I should
have thought that this siege life would have put iron into a man's blood
instead of--of Crème de Menthe. Are you takin' those dashed morphia
tabloids of Taggart's for bad-water collywobbles again? Yes? I thought as
much. Chuck 'em to the aasvogels; stick to your work--you can't complain
of its lackin' interest or variety--and let this girl alone. She's a lady,
and the adopted daughter of an old friend of my wife's, and don't you
forget it!" Bingo's gills are red, and he puffs and blows as large,
excited, fleshy men are wont to. "If you do you'll answer to me!"

"I tell you," Beauvayse cries, white-hot with passion, and raising his
voice incautiously, "that I mean to marry her. I tell you again that I
will div----"

"Do you want the man in the street and every soul in the hotel to know
your private affairs?" demands Bingo. "If so, go on shoutin'. As to your
bein' a widower, the chances are on the other side.... Gueldersdorp ain't
exactly what you would call a healthy place just now. And as to divorcin'
your wife, how do you know she'll ever be accommodatin' enough to give you
reason? And if she did, do you think a girl brought up in a Catholic
Convent would marry you, even if you called to ask her with a copy of the
decree absolute pasted on your chest? Hang it, man, your mother's son you
ought to know better! And--oh come, I say!"

For Beauvayse sits down astride an iron chair, and lays his shirt-sleeved
arms on the back-rail, and his golden, crisply-waved head upon them.

"I--I love her so, Wrynche. And to stand by and see another man cut in and
win what I've lost by my own rotten folly hurts so--so damnably." His
mouth is twisted with pain.

"Is there another chap who wants to cut in?" Bingo demands.

"You know one gets a bit clairvoyant when one is mad about a woman," says
Beauvayse, lifting his shamed wet eyes and haggard young face from the
pillow of his folded arms. "Well, I'm dead certain that there is another
man who--who is as badly hit as me."

"Who is the other man?"

"Saxham!"

"The Doctor! Shouldn't have supposed a fellow of that type would be
susceptible now," says Bingo. "Gives an uncompromisin' kind of impression,
with his chin like the bows of an Armoured Destroyer, and his eyebrows
like another chap's moustaches."

"And eyes like a pair of his own lancets underneath 'em. But he's a
frightfully clever beast," says Beauvayse. "And what he wants in looks he
makes up in brains. And--and if he knew there was a scratch against me, he
might force the running and win hands down. So hang on to my secret by
your eyelids, old fellow, and don't give me reason to be sorry I told----"

"You have my word, haven't you? And, talking about scratch entries," says
Bingo, inspired by a sudden rush of recollection, "I ain't so sure that
the Doctor--though, mind you, this is between ourselves--is the sort of
wooer a parent of strict notions would be likely to encourage. Do you
happen to have come across a goggle-eyed, potty little Alderman
Brooker?--a Town Guardsman who runs a general store in the Market
Place--that's his place of business with the boarding up, and the end
butted in by a Creusot shell that didn't burst, luckily for Brooker. Well,
this beast buttonholed me months ago, and began to spin a cuffer about
Saxham."

"What had the dirty little bounder got to say?" asked Beauvayse,
stiffening in disgust, "about a man he isn't fit to black the boots of?"

"Nothing special nice. Said Saxham had lost his London connection through
getting involved in a mess with a woman," says the big Dragoon.

"Don't we all get into messes of that kind? What more?" demands Beauvayse.

"Said the Doctor had kicked over the traces pretty badly here. Pitched me
a tale of his--Brooker's--having often acted as the Mayor's Deputy on the
Police Court Bench, Brooker being an Alderman, and swore that he'd had
Saxham up before him a dozen times at least in the last three years, along
with the Drunks and Disorderlies."

"It sounds like a hanged lie!"

"If I didn't say as much to Brooker," responds Captain Bingo, "I shut him
up like a box by referrin' politely to glass houses, knowin' Brooker had
been squiffy himself one night on guard, and by remindin' him that men who
talk scandal of their superior officers under circumstances like the
present are liable to be Court-Martialled and given beans. And as the
Chief, and Saxham with him, dropped on Brooker in the act of smuggling
lush into the trenches the other day, I fancy Brooker's teeth are fairly
drawn. Though he swore to me that there isn't a saloon-keeper or a
saloon-loafer in the town that doesn't know Saxham by the nickname of the
Dop Doctor."

"The man don't exist who objects to hear of the disqualifications, mental
and physical, of a fellow who he's thought likely to enter the lists with
him in the--in the dispute for a woman's favour," says Beauvayse, with a
pleasant air of candour. "And though the story sounds like a lie, as I've
said, there's a possibility of its being the other thing. I'm sorry for
Saxham--that goes without sayin'--though I don't like his overbearin'
scientific side and his sledge-hammer manner. But that a man with a record
of that kind should set his heart upon a girl like Lynette Mildare is
horrible, intolerable, Wrynche; and while, for the man's own sake, I
should respect his beastly secret, for _her_ sake and in _her_ interests,
and if I consider that he's putting himself forward at the risk of my--my
prospects and my hopes, I shall make use of what I know."

"You don't mean you'd split on the man!" splutters Bingo; "because, if you
do----"

"All's fair in Love and War," says Beauvayse, with a ring of defiance in
his pleasant, boyish voice, and a gleam of triumph in his beautiful sleepy
eyes. "And this is Love in War. You've put a trump card in my hand against
Saxham, whether you meant to or not, and when the time comes, I shall play
it."

He gets up and lounges away. And Captain Bingo, emitting another wailing
whistle as he slews round to stare after the tall, retreating figure with
the crisp, golden head, is sure of nothing so certainly as that Beauvayse
will play that trump card. He is repentant for having broached the
Doctor's secret as he climbs up by the narrow iron stair that leads out
upon the roof of Nixey's Hotel, to relieve his commanding officer at the
binoculars.



XXXV


You are invited, the very Sunday upon which the previously-recorded
conversation took place, to make the acquaintance of the sprightly P.
Blinders, Acting-Secretary to Commandant Selig Brounckers, Head Laager,
Transvaal Republic and Orange Free State's United Forces, Tweipans.

P. Blinders, a long-bodied, short-legged young Dutch apothecary of the
Free State, with short-sighted eyes behind hugely magnifying spectacles,
and many fiery pimples bursting through the earthy crust of him, possibly
testifying to the presence of volcanic fires beneath, had acted in the
clerkly capacity to the Volksraad at Groenfontein. When Government did not
sit at the Raad Zaal, Blinders, as calmly as any ordinary being might
have done, dispensed jalap, castor-oil, and pill-stick over the counter of
his store. These are the three heroic besoms employed by enlightened and
conscientious Boer housewives for sweeping out the interiors of their
families.

Pill-stick is rhubarb-pill in the concrete. The thrifty mother buys a foot
or so, and pinches off a bolus of the required magnitude thrice in the
year. No dosing is allowed in between; the members of the family get it
when the proper time comes round. To everyone his or her share, not
forgetting the baby.

When P. Blinders came away, he left his grandfather to keep store,
previously explaining to the aged man the difference between hydrocyanic
acid and almond-essence for cake-flavouring, powders of corrosive
sublimate and Gregory's. By a subtle transition the apothecary-clerk then
became the epistolary right-hand of General Brounckers, whose wife, son,
and grandson, with P. Blinders, made up his personal staff. And round the
Commandant's living-waggon, where they harboured, Chaos reigned and
Confusion prevailed, and disputes in many tongues--English severely
excepted--made Babel. And, side by side with the domestic, decent virtues
weltered all the vices rampant in the Cities of The Plain.

It goes without saying that the fresh site of Head Laager had been
cunningly chosen. It occupied a shield-shaped plateau among low,
flat-topped hills. The single street of Tweipans bounded it upon the east,
and a rocky ridge upon the western side that might have been the vertebra
of some huge reptile of the Diluvian Period, protected camp and village
from British shell-practice.

Signs of this were not lacking. Waggons with shattered timbers and
fantastically twisted irons, broken carts, and guns dismounted from their
carriages, were to be seen, near the dismembered or disembowelled bodies
of the beasts that had drawn them. Dead horse or mule or bullock,
decomposing in the sun, seemed to have nothing of offence for Republican
noses. The yellow smear of lyddite was everywhere, and, looking over the
rock-rampart upon the works below, you saw it like a blight, or yolk of
egg spilt upon a war-map.

Family parties bivouacked in those bottle-shaped trenches where each
fighting unit had his separate box of provisions sunk in the earth beside
him, and his cooking-fire of chips and dry dung, and ate and slept and
smoked and shot as he thought good. And in despite of such fires, the
unrestricted space and pure hill-air notwithstanding, the noisome ditches
wherein the cribbed, cabined, and confined defenders of Gueldersdorp
alternately grilled and soaked, were alleys of musk-roses, marvels of
sanitary purity compared with the works of the besiegers, and the
abominable camps, where, in the absence of a nocturnally active
Quartermaster-Sergeant, with his band of pioneers, stench took you by the
throat and nose, while filth absorbed you over the ankles.

A whiff of peculiarly overpowering potency, reaching you, made you turn
away, and then the immense disorder of the camp seized and held your eyes.

Arms, saddles, karosses, blankets, clothing, panniers of provisions and
boxes of ammunition, were piled about in mountainous heaps. Of military
organisation, discipline, authority, law, as these are understood by
civilised nations, there was nothing whatever. Men in well-worn velveteens
and felt billycocks, hobnobbed with men in the gaudiest uniforms ever
evolved by the theatrical costumier. Green velvet and gold lace, topped by
cocked hats that had despoiled the ostrich to make a human biped vainly
ridiculous, adorned Ginirals and Cornels that had no rigiments belongun'
to 'um at all at all! and had come over from the Distressful Country to
make a bould bid for glory, with the experience of warfare acquired while
lurking behind hedges with shot-guns, in waiting for persons in disfavour
with the Land League.

Patriarchs of eighty years and callow schoolboys of sixteen fought side by
side with the fine flower and the lusty prime of Boer manhood, and many
had their wives and children with them under the Transvaal colours, and
not a few had brought their mothers. When an officer had any order to give
his men, he prefaced it with the Boer equivalent for "Hi!" When the men
had heard as much as they considered necessary, they would say, "Come on;
let's be going," and slouch away.

P. Blinders, being a Dutchman of the Free State, minded smells no more
than a Transvaal Boer. Yet it sometimes occurred to him as odd that the
duties of a Secretary should embrace the peeling of potatoes and the
performance of other duties of the domestic kind.

He was squatting in the shadow of the Commandant's living-waggon,
polishing off the last of a panful, when Van Busch came along. English
being an unpopular language, the big Johannesburger and the little Free
Stater exchanged greetings in the Taal.

"Ging oop, and leave your woman's work there, and walk a piece with me,"
said Van Busch. "I have something to say to you about my sister that
married the German drummer, and is stopping at Kink's Hotel."

You can see Van Busch taking off his broad-brimmed hat, and knocking the
sweat from the leather lining-band. He was dressed in a black broadcloth
tailed-coat, flannel shirt, and cord breeches, wore heavy veldschoens, and
carried a Mauser rifle, as did everybody else, and had a long
hunting-knife as well as a heavy six-shooter in the wide canvas
pouch-belt, and a bandolier heavy with cartridges. Thus panoplied, he
accurately resembled ten thousand other men.

But his dark, overfed, full-blooded, whiskered face was not that of an
agriculturist, and the strange light eyes, rust-coloured like those of an
adder, and, like the ophidian's, set flush with the oddly-flattened edges
of their orbits, were at variance with the high, rounded, benevolent
temples crowned with a thinning brake of curly hair. The rapacious mouth,
with the thick scarlet lips, belonged to the eyes.

He had put on his hat again, but he swept it off in a flourishing bow, as
Mevrouw Brounckers, in high-kilted wincey, a man's hat of coarse straw
perched on her weather-beaten, sandy-grey head, came stumping down the
waggon-ladder, calling for her potatoes. What was that lazy bedelaar of a
Secretary about, and it nearly eleven of the clock? Didn't he know that
her Commandant liked his meals on time?

Mevrouw received the politeness less graciously than the potatoes. That
man with the eyes and the greedy red mouth was a woman-eater, she knew.
Not for sheep and bear would she, grandmother as she was, trust herself
in house barn alone with a klant like that. But her Commandant had uses
for him, the twinkling-eyed, soft-mannered, big rogue. She watched him
walking off with P. Blinders, for whom she entertained a distaste grounded
on the knowledge that no good ever came of these double-tongued Free
Staters.

And this one could _write_ in the accursed shibboleth of England as well
as in the Taal. She shook her head as the potatoes rattled into the big
pot hanging over the fire. And he walked out on Sundays with the young
German woman who was maid to the refugee-widow staying at Kink's Hotel,
and who never showed her nose inside the Gerevormed Kerk, the godless
thing! or went out except by bat-light. Of that one the Mevrouw Brounckers
had her opinion also. And time would show who was right.

Meanwhile, Van Busch and P. Blinders, who had left the dorp behind them,
and strolled up the almost dry bed of a sluit leading up amongst the
hills, conversed, in Sabbath security from English artillery, and
reassuring remoteness from Dutch eavesdroppers. And their theme was the
German drummer's refugee-widow who never went to kerk.

Van Busch, who found it helpful in his business never to forget faces, had
met her on the rail, months back, travelling up first-class from Cape
Town. Early in October it was, while the road was still open. And men who
kept their eyes skinned went backwards and forwards and round and about,
getting the hang of things, and laying up accurate mental notes, because
the other kind were even more risky to carry than the nuggets and raw dust
that are hidden in the padded linings of the gold-smugglers' heavy
garments.

The lady, small, dark, stylishly-tailored, and with bright black,
bird-like eyes, was not a German drummer's widow when Van Busch and she
first met. She had chatted in her native English with her square, bulky,
sleek-looking fellow-passenger, well-dressed in grey linen drill
frock-coat and trousers, with blazing diamonds studding the bosom of his
well-starched shirt and linking his cuffs.

The wide felt hat he politely removed as he came into the carriage
revealed to Lady Hannah a tall, expansive, well-developed forehead. Below
the line of the hat-rim he was burned coffee-brown, like many another
British Colonial. The observant eye of "Gold Pen" took in the man's
vulgarly handsome features and curiously light eyes, and twinkled at the
flaring jewellery and the whiskers of obsolete Dundreary pattern that
stood out on either side the jewelled one's full, smooth chin. His large,
bold, over-red mouth, with the curling outward flange to it, gave her a
disagreeable impression. One would have been grateful for a beard that hid
that mouth.

Lady Hannah found it curiously disquieting until her fellow-traveller
began to talk, in a thick, lisping voice, with curiously candid and simple
intonations. He presented himself, and she accepted him at his own
valuation, as a British Johannesburger, and influential member of the
Chamber of Mines, possessing vast interests among the tall chimneys and
white dumping-heaps of the Rand.

Van Busch called his efforts to be ingratiating "sucking up to" the lady.
He sucked up, thinking at first she might be the wife of the English field
officer who had been ordered down from the north to take over the
Gueldersdorp command. Then he found she was only the grey mare of an
officer of the Staff....

She plied Van Busch in his triple character of politician, patriot, and
mine-owner with questions. Thought she was juicing a lot of information,
whereas Van Busch was the one who learned things. Kind of playing at being
newspaper-woman she was, and taking notes for London newspaper articles
all the time. Had laid out to be a little tin imitation of Dora Corr, or,
say, nickel-plated, with cast chasings. Was burning for an opening in the
diplomatic go-betweening line; wanted to dabble in War Correspondence, and
so on. But Van Busch gathered that the biggest egg in the little lady's
nest of ambitions was the desire to do a flutter on the Secret Service
lay.

She wanted to be what he termed a "slew," and she would have called a spy.
He fiddled to her dancing, and wearied before she did.

"What Woman has done Woman may do!" was the burden of her ceaseless song.
And when she left the train at Gueldersdorp, "_Au revoir_" said she with a
flash of her bright black eyes, nodding to the big Colonial, who was so
excessively civil about handing out her dressing-case and travelling-bag.
"Many thanks, and don't give me away if you should happen to meet me in a
different skin one of these fine days, Mr. Van Busch."

"Sure, no; not I," said the burly Johannesburger, with an effusion of what
looked like genuine admiration. "By thunder! when it comes to playing the
risky game there's no daring to beat a woman's. Give me a petticoat, say
I, for a partner every time."

"Bravo!" Her eyes snapped approvingly. She waved a little hand towards a
large pink officer of the British Imperial Staff, who was looking into all
the first-class compartments in search of a wife who had been vainly
entreated to remain at Cape Town. "There's my husband, who entertains the
precisely opposite opinion. But he hasn't your experience--only a theory
worn thin by generations of ancestors, all chivalrous Conservative
noodles, who kept their females in figurative cotton-wool. Do let me
introduce you. I'd simply love to have him hear you talk."

Van Busch did not pant to make the acquaintance of the Military
Authorities. He thanked the impulsive Lady Hannah, but made haste to climb
back into the train. The big pink officer recognised the object of his
search, and strode down the platform bellowing a welcome. As Lady Hannah
waved in reply, the Johannesburger made a long arm from the window, and
thrust a pencil-scrawled card into the tiny gloved hand.

"S's'h! Shove that away somewhere safe," said Van Busch, in a thrillingly
mysterious whisper; "and, remember, any time you want to learn the lay of
the land and follow up the spoor of movements on the quiet, that Van
Busch, of the British South African Secret War-Intelligence-Bureau, is the
man to put you on. A line to that address, care of W. Bough, will always
get me. And with nerve and josh like yours, and plenty of money for
palm-oil...." His greedy mouth made a grinning red gash in the smug brown
face with the fine whiskers of blackish-brown. His cold eyes scintillated
and twinkled unspeakable things at the little lady as the train carried
him away.

Assuredly Van Busch understood women no less thoroughly than his near
relative, Bough. He knew that you could bait for and catch the sex with
things that were not tangible. Men wanted to be made sure of money or
money's worth. And for the co-operation of P. Blinders in the adroit
little game by which the German drummer's refugee-widow who stayed at
Kink's Hotel, and only went out after dark, had been relieved of a
handsome sum, Van Busch had had to part with nearly one-third of the swag.
No wonder he felt and talked like a robbed man.

"All very well to talk," said P. Blinders, scratching his newest pimple,
and looking with exaggerated moonish simplicity at nobody in particular
through his large round magnifying spectacles. "But what could you have
done without me, once the little Englishwoman smelled the porcupine in the
barrel? When she drove out to your friend Bough's plaats at Haarsgrond in
that spider, pretending she was your sister that had married a Duitscher
drummer in Gueldersdorp, and buried him, and was afraid to be shut up in
the stad with all those lustful rooineks, you thought it would be enough
to tell her Staats Police or Transvaal burghers were after her to make her
creep into a mousehole and pay you to keep her hid. And it did work
nicely--for a while. Then the Englishwoman got angry--oh, very angry!--and
told you things that were not nice. Either you should put her in the way
of getting the information she wanted, or good-bye to her dear brother,
Hendryk Van Busch, and his friend Bough."

"For a pinch of mealies I'd have let the little shrew go, by thunder!"
said the affectionate relative. "But my good heart stopped me. The country
wasn't safe for a couple of women to go looping about," he added. "And one
of them with two hundred pounds in Bank of England notes stitched into the
front of her stays...."

"_Five_ hundred pounds," said the Secretary, with pleasantly twinkling
spectacles. Van Busch's stare was admirable in its incredulity.

"Sure, no, brother; not so much as that?"

"Trudi told me," smirked P. Blinders.

"You and her seem to be great and thick together," said Van Busch, with a
flattering leer. The little ex-apothecary placed his hand upon his chest,
and said, with a gleam of tenderness lighting up his spectacles:

"I have sighed, and she has smiled." He went on, "If your friend Bough had
been brave enough to try and take away that wad of banknotes from the
little Englishwoman, he would have met trouble. For in a pocket of her
gown she carries a revolver, and sleeps with it under her pillow by night;
that is another thing that Trudi has told me." He kissed his fingers, and
waved them in the direction of Kink's Hotel. "She is a lovely maiden!" He
blew his nose without the assistance of a pocket-handkerchief, and
continued:

"Of course, Bough might have put some stuff in the Englishwoman's coffee
that would have made her sleep while he stole that money, or he might even
have killed her quietly, and buried her on the farm. But a man who does
that is not so clever and so wise as the man who makes a plan that gets
the money and keeps friends all round, and makes everybody happy--is he,
now? And that man is me, and that plan was mine. From P. Blinders you have
genuine information to sell the Englishwoman, and when she has bought it,
paying well for it, and written it all down in her despatches to the
Commandant at Gueldersdorp, she hands the letters back to you to be
smuggled through the lines, and pays through the nose for that also. And
who shall say she is cheated? For the letters do get through"--the pimply
countenance of P. Blinders was quite immobile, but the eyes behind the
great spectacles twirled and twinkled with infinite meaning--"a week or so
after date, perhaps, but what is that? Nothing--nothing at all."

"Nothing," agreed Van Busch. The two men smiled pleasantly in each other's
faces for a minute more. Then said Van Busch, with a loud sigh:

"But what I have to tell you now is something. The Englishwoman has got no
more money. Ask Trudi, if you think I lie. And, of course, the plan was a
good plan, and you were a smart fellow to hit on it; but now the two
hundred pounds is gone----"

"Three hundred remain to get." P. Blinders briskly held up five stumpy red
fingers and tucked down the thumb and little finger, leaving a trio of
mute witnesses to the correctness of his arithmetic.

"No more remains to get. The cow has run dry."

The brow of P. Blinders grew scarlet as a stormy sunrise.

"Hoe? What is this I hear?" he demanded with indignation. "Nothing left,
and I have not had but a hundred and fifty out of the five hundred. There
has been dishonesty somewhere. There have been tricks, unbefitting the
dealings of scrupulous Christian men. Foei, foei!"

Van Busch stuck his thumbs into his belt and smiled amiably down into the
indignant eyes behind the spectacles. Then he said, with his most candid
look and simplest lisp:

"No tricks, brother; all fair and above-board. Ask the Commandant whether
Van Busch is square or not? He knows that the hundred and fifty was paid
you honestly on his account, and that I kept but fifty for myself. And
you're not the chap to bilk him of his due. Sure no, you'll never do that,
never! Go and see him now, and settle up. I had a talk with young Schenk
Eybel this morning, and he says the answer to the screeve you wrote to the
Officer in Command at Gueldersdorp--to patch up an exchange of the
Englishwoman for that slim kerel of a Boer's son they got their claws on
at the beginning of the siege--has come in under the white flag this
morning. Schenk Eybel has a little plan he can't put through without Walt
Slabberts, he says. Loop, brother. You'll find the old man on his grey
pony near the Field Hospital."

The eyes behind the spectacles whirled in terror. The ex-apothecary
faltered:

"What--what is this you say? The money paid me on the Commandant's
account--when it was to be a secret between us.... Foei, foei! This is
unfair. And suppose I have spent it, how shall I replace it? Do you wish
to ruin an honest man?"

Van Busch grinned, and P. Blinders gave up hopelessly. At least, it seemed
so, for he turned sharp round, and trotted off with sorrowfully-drooping
black coat-tails, in search of the meek grey pony and the terrible old
man.

But the front view of the Secretary displayed a countenance whose pimples
radiated satisfaction, and spectacles that were alight with joy.
Much--very much--would P. Blinders have liked to have kept that hundred
and fifty, but his fear had proved greater than his desire.

He had paid every tikkie of the money faithfully to Brounckers, and his
hands were metaphorically clean, and his neck comfortably safe. He was the
poorer by a hundred and fifty pounds, but the richer in wisdom and
experience; and--he chuckled at the thought of this--in the joy of knowing
himself, in postscripts appended to those despatches of the
Englishwoman's, to have poked sly sarcasm at the British Lion. Whose spiny
tail P. Blinders imagined to be lashing, even then, at the prick of the
goad.

For another thing, very pleasant to think of, he had successfully pitted
the cunning behind his giant spectacles against the superior villainy of
Mr. Van Busch of Johannesburg.



XXXVI


The German drummer's refugee-widow, who lived behind two green-shuttered,
blinded windows at Kink's Hotel, and was a sister of that good Boer
Mijnheer Hendryk Van Busch--"_a sister indeed!_" snorted Mevrouw Kink; and
never went to the kerk-praying, or put her nose out of doors at all before
dark, and had a maid who did her hair, and wore her own in waves, the
impudent wench! and whose portmanteau, and bag, and boots, and shoes, and
skirt-bands, had fashionable London tradesmen's labels inside them, was
the only person in the village of Tweipans and for a mile round it--good
Nederlands measure--who did not know that she was an English
prisoner-of-war.

Her foray in quest of Secret Information had had its hardships, as its
alarms and excursions, but she plumed herself on having accomplished
something of what she had set out to do. Van Busch, not counting a week of
days when she had found reason to suspect his entire good faith, had
behaved like a staunch Johannesburger of British blood and Imperial
sympathies. But his valuable services had been rendered for so much more
than nothing that Lady Hannah found herself in the condition her Bingo was
wont to describe as "stony." She had sent for Van Busch to tell him that
the position was untenable. She would evacuate it, when he could manage
to get hold of Nixey's mouse-coloured trotter and the spider, left in the
care of Van Busch's good friend Bough, at Haargrond Plaats.

A dash for freedom then. In imagination she could hear the mouse-coloured
trotter's hoofs rattling over the stony ground, and the crack, crack of
the sentries' Mausers, followed by a hail of bullets from the trenches....
She could see the headlines of the latest newspaper sensation, flaming on
the greenish gloom of the room with the closed shutters and drawn-down
blinds:

"STIRRING STORY FROM THE SEAT OF HOSTILITIES: LADY WAR-CORRESPONDENT RUNS
THE GAUNTLET OF BOER RIFLES."

"Speshul. Hextry Speshul!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps she would be mortally wounded by the time she got through the
lines, so as to hang in bleeding festoons over the splashboard, and sink
into the arms of the husband loved better than aught save Glory, gasping,
as her heroic spirit fled----

       *       *       *       *       *

"Did the gracious lady say she would have her boots on?"

Trudi got up from the flattest and most uncomfortable of the two
forbidding beds Kink's principal guest-chamber boasted, and ran her
unoccupied needles through her interminable knitting, a thick white cotton
sofa-cover or counterpane of irritating pattern--and stood over against
her employer in an attitude of sulky submission. She was a
square-shouldered, sturdily-built young woman of twenty-five, with round
eyes of pinky-blue garnished with white eyelashes, no eyebrows, and a
superb and aggressively-brilliantined head of fair hair elaborately
dressed, waved, and curled.

The hair was all attached to Trudi's scalp. Lady Hannah had lain in bed
morning after morning, for weary weeks, and watched her "doing it," and
wondered that any young feminine creature with such arms, such skin, and
such hair should be so utterly unattractive. But she had lived all these
weeks in this one room with Trudi, had languished under her handmaid's
lack of intelligence, had seen her eat, wielding her knife with
marvellous dexterity, and, wakeful, tossed the while she snored.

And every morning, after Mevrouw Kink had brought in coffee, snorting
whenever Trudi's hair caught her virtuous eye, or whenever the German
drummer's widow struck her as being more foreign of manners and appearance
than usual, Lady Hannah would call for her boots, attire herself as for a
promenade outdoors, lift the corner of a blind, steal a glance at the
seething, stenching single street of Tweipans between the slats of the
green shutters, and--unpin her veil and take off her hat without a
word....

By eleven o'clock at night the polyglot confusion of tongues would have
ceased, the gaudily-uniformed swaggerers, the velveteen-coated,
wide-awaked loafers, the filthy tatterdemalions of all nations and their
womenkind would have turned in. Then Lady Hannah, attended by the
unwilling Trudi, was accustomed to venture out for what she called, with
some exaggeration, "A whiff of fresh air."

Except for the gnawing, prowling dogs, the pickets at either end of it,
and the sentries posted at longish intervals all down its length, the
street of new brick and tin, and old wooden houses that made Tweipans,
belonged to Lady Hannah then. Accompanied by Trudi, whose quality of being
what I have heard called "deaf-nosed" with regard to noisy smells, she
arrived at the pitch of envying, she would stumble up and down amongst the
rubbish, or wade through the slush if it had been wet, and stop at
favourable points to search with her night-glass for the greenish-blue
glow-worm twinkles of distant Gueldersdorp, and wonder whether anybody
there was thinking of her under the white stars or the drifting scud?...

But what was Trudi saying?

"The gracious one cannot have her boots."

"Why not?" asked Lady Hannah, with languid interest. Trudi struck the
blow.

"Because she has none."

"No boots? Well, then, the walking-shoes."

Trudi smiled all over her large face. This placidity should not long
endure.

"The gracious one has no shoes either. Boots and shoes--all have been
taken away. Nothing remains except the quilted bedroom slippers the
gracious one is wearing. And it is impossible to walk out in bedroom
slippers."

"I suppose it is." Lady Hannah yawned. "Well, suppose you go and look for
the boots. They may have been carried away by mistake, like----" She
wondered afresh what could have become of that transformation coiffure?

"There is no mistake." Trudi announced. "And--the gracious lady forgot her
little gun beneath her pillow this morning. That also is missing,"
volunteered Trudi, who had had her instructions and scrupulously acted up
to them.

"My revolver has been stolen?" Lady Hannah sprang from her chair, made
rapid search, and was convinced. The Browning revolver had been certainly
spirited away.

Red patches burned in her thin little face, and her round black eyes
regained some of their lost brightness. Nothing like a spice of excitement
for bringing you up to the mark. Just now she had felt positively mouldy,
and here she was, herself again.

"Nobody came into the room in the night. I sleep with the key round my
neck, and if they had opened the door with another, I should have awakened
on the instant. Nobody has been in the room to-day except the Frau
Kink"--you will remember that a German drummer's widow would naturally
converse in her defunct spouse's native language--"the Frau Kink, with the
coffee-tray. She did not come near the bed...." The suddenness and force
of the suspicion that shot up in Lady Hannah's mind lifted her up out of
her chair, and set her upon her feet. "It must have been you. Was it you?"

She looked hard at Trudi, and Trudi sank upon her bed and dissolved in
noisy weeping.

"Ach, the wickedness!" she moaned. "To suspect of such shamelessness a
poor young maiden brought up in honesty.... Ach, ach!"

But Lady Hannah went on:

"Yesterday morning, when you were so long in coming back with hot water,
and I opened the door and looked out into the passage, I saw you
whispering with a little stumpy, pimply man, in a long-tailed black coat
and large spectacles. Who is he, and of what were you talking?"

Trudi did not at all regard the verbal sketch of P. Blinders as a correct
one, but though her love was blind to his pimples and ignored his
stumpiness, she could not deny the spectacles, which were to her as
peepholes affording visions of a blissful married future.

"He is a Herr who brought me news from my Mutti at home in Germany. She is
sick, and my father also, and all my little brothers and sisters are sick
too," gulped Trudi, sobbing and wallowing and rasping her flushed features
against the knobbly counterpane of the most uncomfortable of the two beds,
"because they hear that I am in this place, and they so greatly fear that
I will be dead."

"You aren't dead yet. And you told me when I engaged you that you were an
orphan brought up by an aunt."

"Pay me my vage," demanded Trudi, lifting a defiant and perfectly dry
countenance, and launching the utterance in the forbidden English
language, "and I vill now go. I vish not to stop here longer."

"Very well, but where are you going?"

"That," remarked Trudi, tossing her elaborately-dressed head and relapsing
into her native language, "has nothing to do with the gracious lady."

There was insolent triumph and unveiled spite in the large face attached
to the elaborate coiffure. The gracious lady, realising that Trudi formed
the one link between herself and the rough, strange, suspicious,
unfriendly male world outside, pocketed her pride to temporise. Let Trudi
remain as companion and attendant to the German refugee-widow yet another
week, and the month's due of wages, already trebled in virtue of a service
involving risk, should be substantially increased.... But Trudi only
snorted and shook her head, and Lady Hannah found herself confronting not
only a rat determined upon abandoning a sinking ship, but malignantly
inclined to hasten the vessel's foundering.

What was to be done? It is quite possible to be brave, adventurous, and
daring without a revolver, its absence may even impart a faint sense of
relief to one, as being no longer under the necessity of shooting somebody
with it at a pinch, but without boots or shoes, and a Trudi to put them
on, Lady Hannah found herself at a nonplus. To conceal the fact from the
rejoicing Trudi, she moved to the window and drew the blind aside, and
was instantly confronted with a row of round, staring eyes, the nose
belonging to each pair being flattened eagerly against the glass.

"Oh!" exclaimed Lady Hannah, dropping the blind in consternation at this
manifestation of public interest. A snorting chuckle from the malignant
Trudi fanned the little lady's waning courage into flame. She crossed the
room and turned the door-handle.

The door was locked from the outside, the key having been removed to
accommodate the eye of Mevrouw Kink, who reluctantly removed it to unlock
the door, and announce that Myjnheer Van Busch had asked to see his
sister, as she ushered the visitor in.

Sisters are not sensitive as a rule to subtle alterations in the regard of
their brothers, but the German drummer's refugee-widow could not but read
in the face and demeanour of her relative a perceptible diminution of
interest in a woman who had no more money.... He kept on his broad-brimmed
hat and pulled at his bushy whiskers as he exchanged a palpable wink with
Trudi, who was accustomed, when the gracious lady's brother called, to
retire with her knitting behind the shiny American cloth-covered screen
that coyly shielded the washstand from a visitor's observation.

Those flat, light eyes of the visitor's twinkled oddly as Lady Hannah's
indignant whisper told of the missing footgear and the vanished revolver,
and her conviction that the screened knitter was the active agent in their
spiriting away.

"You believe the girl's slewed on you, eh, and that things are going to
pan out rough? Well, sure, that's a pity!" The big man lolled against the
deal table, covered with a cloth reproducing in crude aniline colours,
trying to the complexion, but gratifying to the patriotic soul of Mevrouw
Kink, the red, white, and blue stripes of the Vierkleur, with the green
staff-line carried all round as an ornamental border. "And I'd not wonder
but you were right." He stuck his thumbs in his belt, and asked, with his
hatted head on one side and a jeering grin on his bold red mouth: "So,
now, and what did you think to do?"

Lady Hannah controlled an impulse to knock off the big man's
broad-brimmed felt, and even smiled back in the grinning face.... One very
little lady can hold a great deal of anger and resentment without spilling
any over, if she is thoroughly convinced that it would be imprudent as
well as useless to display either.

"As you gather, I intend returning to Gueldersdorp to-morrow at latest. I
shall not take my maid, as she wishes for her own reasons to remain
behind. Please have the mare and spider here by mid-day coffee-time. We
can drive north towards Haargrond and double back when we're beyond the
lines, as the coursed hare would do."

Van Busch's red mouth gleamed, curved back from his tobacco-stained teeth.
He said with meaning:

"Boers shoot hares--not run them."

"They may shoot or not shoot," proclaimed Lady Hannah. "I start
to-morrow."

"Without boots or shoes?" asked the red-edged, yellow-fanged smile.

"Barefoot if I must," she answered, with all the more spirit that she felt
like the hare struggling in a wire. "Please send for the mare and the
trap. I leave this place to-morrow."

"The mare and the spider have been commandeered for the use of the United
Republics," said Van Busch. As the angry colour flamed up in Lady Hannah's
small, pale cheeks, he added, shrugging his shoulders and spreading his
hands: "Bough did his best to save them for you, no bounce! But could one
man do anything against so many? Sure no, nothing at all!"

She lost patience, and stamped her little foot in its quilted satin
slipper.

"Do you suppose I haven't guessed by this time that Bough the Africander
and Van Busch the British-Johannesburger are one Boer when it suits them
both?"

His hand, copper-brown as his face, and with the marks of old tattooing
obliterated by an acid burn, jerked as he raised it to stroke and feel his
whiskers. Something else upon the hand, in the sharpened state of all her
senses, struck out a spark of old association, and recalled a name once
known. She went on.

"How many men are you, Mr. Van Busch or Bough? You provoke the question
when I see you wearing the Mildare crest and coat-of-arms."

He had turned the deeply-engraved sard with his brown thumb and clenched
his fist upon it, but as swiftly changed his mind, and took off the ring
and handed it to her.

"I had this ring off Bough, that's a real live man, and a thundering good
pal of mine, for all your funning. The chap it belonged to died at a farm
Bough owned once. Somewhere in Natal it might have been. And the bloke who
died there was a big bug in England, Bough always thought. But he came
tramping, and hauled up with hardly duds to his back or leather to his
feet. Sick, too, and coughing like a sheep with the rinderpest. Bough was
kind to him, but he got worse and worse. One night Bough was sitting up
with him reading the Bible, when he made signs. 'Take this ring off of my
finger and keep it,' says he. 'I've got nothing else to give you, but I
reckon the Almighty'll foot your bill, for you're a first-class Christian,
if ever there was one.' Then he went in, and Bough buried him in regular
fancy style----"

"And sent the girl to the nuns at Gueldersdorp, or was she there already?"

Van Busch was in the act of taking back the sardonyx signet-ring. His hand
jerked again, so sharply that the ring was jerked into the air, fell to
the floor, and rolled under the table. He stooped and reached for it, and
asked, with his face hidden by the patriotic tablecloth:

"What girl do you mean?"

His dark face was purple-brown with the exertion of stooping as he rose
up. Lady Hannah answered:

"The Mother-Superior of the Convent of the Holy Way at Gueldersdorp has an
orphan ward, a singularly lovely girl of nineteen or twenty, whose surname
is Mildare. And it struck me just now--I don't know why now, and never
before--that she might be----"

"Bough never said nothing to me about any girl. What like is this one?"
Van Busch twisted the ring about his little finger, and spoke with a more
sluggish lisp and slurring of the consonants than even was usual with him.
"Is she short and square, with black hair and round blue eyes, and red
cheeks and thick ankles?"

Lady Hannah, despite all her recently-gained experience of Van Busch, had
not yet mastered his method of eliciting information.

"Miss Mildare is absolutely the opposite of your description," she
declared. "She is quite tall, and very slight and pale, with slender hands
and feet, and reddish-bronze hair, and eyes the colour of yellow topaz or
old honey, with wonderful black lashes.... I have never seen anything to
compare----" She stopped.

What strange eyes the man had, full of lines radiating from the pin-point
pupils, scintillating like a snake's.... He said, in his thick, lisping
way:

"A beauty, eh? And how long might the nuns have had her?"

"The Mayor's wife told me she has been under the care of the Convent
ladies for some seven years."

His brown full face looked solid, and his eyes veiled themselves behind a
glassy film. He was thinking, as he said:

"And her name is Mildare, eh? And you know her?"

"I have met her once. She was introduced to me as Miss Lynette Mildare.
But just now I find my own affairs unpleasantly absorbing. I am suspected
in this place, Mr. Van Busch, and if not actually a prisoner, am certainly
under restraint. For how much money down will you undertake to extricate
me from this position, and convey me back to Gueldersdorp?"

He shook his head, and for once the scent of gain did not rouse his
predatory appetite. He was wondering how it should never have occurred to
him before that the scared little white-faced thing might have fallen into
kindly hands, and been nursed and cockered up and made a lady of? He was
puzzled to account for her remembering the name that had belonged to the
man whose grave was at the foot of the Little Kopje. He was conscious of
an itching curiosity to find out for his friend Bough whether it really
was the Kid or no? What was the little fool of a woman saying in her
shrill voice?

"It would be burning your boats, I am quite aware. But if it _pays_ to
burn them----" she suggested, with her black eyes probing vainly in the
shallow ones.

He roused himself.

"A thousand pounds, English. You've not the money here?"

"No."

"Or a cheque?"

Her laugh jangled contemptuously.

"Do you Boer spies carry cheque-books--upon Secret Service?"

"I am no Boer, but an honest, square-dealing Britisher. How often have I
to tell you that? Do you suppose you are a prisoner here because I slewed
on you? Wrong, by God! Perhaps I kept things back a bit for fear you would
cut up, as women do, and go into screeching-fits. Sure now, that's what
any man would have done." His tone of injury was excellently feigned, and
his lisp was simplicity itself. "And to call me a dirty spy, when I got
you first-hand information, and ran your letters through to Gueldersdorp,
at the risk of my blooming neck.... Well, you'll be ashamed when you get
back there and see those letters, that's what you will, sure!"

"The letters got through--yes. But did they get through in time to be of
use?"

The little she-devil suspected the truth. He stroked his whiskers and
scraped his foot upon the floor, and said in his blandest lisp:

"They got through in useful time. I'll kiss the Book and swear it, if you
want me."

How deal with a knave like this, who popped in and out of holes like a
rabbit, and wriggled and writhed like a snake? Lady Hannah knew an immense
yearning for the absent Bingo, husband of limited intellectual capacity,
man of superior muscular development, doughty in the use of that primitive
weapon of punishment, the doubled human fist.

"In useful time? Useful Gueldersdorp time or useful Tweipans time? That is
what I want to get at."

"Oh, hell! how do I know?" He had turned sulky and scowling, but her blood
was fairly up.

"I know that you have successfully swindled me out of five hundred pounds.
I know that when I met you on the train four months back you shaped your
plans and baited a trap----"

"To catch a silly woman." His scarlet lips rolled back from his
tobacco-stained teeth. His jeering eyes were intolerable. "Ay, maybe I
did. And what's to say now?"

"I say you are a blackguard, Mr. Bough Van Busch!"

The dark face with the light eyes underwent a murderous change. He glanced
over his shoulders right and left, and took a step towards her, carrying
out the movement suddenly, as a tarantula darts upon its prey. Before the
thick brown muscular fingers had choked the scream that rose in her
throat, the key crashed in the lock, and the door was violently kicked
open, admitting ...

No portrait is required of that burly, bald-browed, sharp-eyed,
grizzle-bearded, square-jawed farmer, of the bronzed and sun-cracked
countenance, implacable under the slouch-hat with the orange-leather band.
We know the old green overcoat, and coarse corduroy breeches, and roughly
tanned leather boots, with heavy, old-fashioned spurs, to have been the
husk of a fierce, and indomitable, and relentless warrior, twinned with a
quiet family-man of bucolic tastes and patriarchal habits.

Van Busch, broader by inches and taller by half a head, dwindled, seen in
juxtaposition with this man of the iron will and the leader's temperament,
to a flabby, dwarfish, and petty being. The fierce grey eyes took him in,
and read him, and dropped him, and fastened on the little Englishwoman, as
the great boots tramped heavily across the floor, and the great voice
roared, speaking in the Taal:

"Pull up that blind! Voor den donder! Shall we be mice, that sit and
squeak in the dark?"

Down came the Mevrouw Kink's square of glazed yellow calico, roller, cord,
and all, at the impatient wrench of the big, heavy hand.... The window was
blocked with heavy bodies, topped by brown, white, or yellow faces; the
street was a sea of them, all staring with greedy, curious eyes at the
little Englishwoman who was a prisoner, and the big man who ruled them by
Fear. His angry grey eyes blazed at the gapers, and the crowd surged back
a foot or two. Then the fierce eyes darted back at pale Lady Hannah, and
the roaring voice began again:

"You who came here in disguise, with a false story and false hair----"

Lady Hannah jumped in her bedroom slippers, and crimsoned to her natural
coiffure, as the missing transformation, appallingly out of wave, was
plucked from the baggy pocket of the old green overcoat, and brandished
before her astonished eyes. Struggling to restrain the dual impulse to
shriek and clutch, no wonder she appeared a conscience-stricken creature
in that great man's watchful eyes. His big voice shook her and shook the
room as he thundered:

"Woman, you are no widow of a Duitscher drummer, but the vrouw of a
field-cornet of the Army of Groot Brittanje. He holds a graafschap in
Engeland"--a mistake on the part of the General's informant--"and is
hand-in-glove with the Colonel Commandant at Gueldersdorp." Not so far
from the truth! thought Lady Hannah. "Would he spy out the land, let him
come himself next time. Boers hide not behind their wives' petticoats when
there is such business to be done!"

In defence of blameless Bingo the hysterical little woman found voice to
say:

"He--didn't know I was coming."

"What says she?"

Before Van Busch could bestir himself to interpret, Lady Hannah had
repeated her words in faulty Dutch.

"So! Engelsch mevrouws disobey their husbands, it seems?" Were the fierce,
bloodshot grey eyes really capable of a twinkle? "We Boers have a cure for
that. Green reim, well laid on, after the third caution, teaches our wives
to fib and deceive no more."

"You're wrong, sir."

"Wrong, do you say? Hoe?"

"What the green reim does teach them," explained Lady Hannah, secretly
aghast at her own temerity, "is, not to be found out next time."

He gave a wooden chuckle, but his regard was as menacing and his voice as
gruff as ever.

"I make no mouth-play with words. I talk in men and guns, and there are
half a dozen among the Engelsch, niet mier, that know how to talk back.
There are one or two others that are duyvels, and not men. And the worst
duyvel of all"--he waved the big hand westward--"is he over there at
Gueldersdorp."

She mentally registered the compliment.

"You are a woman who writes for the Engelsch newspapers that are full of
shameless tales about the Boers." He spat copiously upon the floor, and
the big voice became a bellow. "Lies, lies! I have had them read to me,
and the people who make them should be shot. Hear you now. You shall write
to them and say: 'Selig Brounckers is a merciful man and a just. He is not
as zwart as he is painted. He caught me mousing round his hoofd laager at
Tweipans--and what does he do?'" The pause was impressive. Then the
roaring voice resumed:

"'He sends me marching down to the gaol at Groenfontein, that is packed
with dirty white and dirty coloured schelms until there is not room for
one more----"

He named the homely parasite hymned by Burns ...

--"'Or he packs me up to Oom Paul at Pretoria, chained to the waggon-tail
like the others.' ..."

Lady Hannah wondered, while the stuffy room spun round her, who the others
were.

"Geen, I will tell you what he does." He pitched the crumpled
transformation contemptuously into the corner. "He writes to the Engelsch
Commandant at Gueldersdorp and says: 'I have here a silly female thing
that is no use to me. Take her you, and give me in exchange a man of
mine.' ..."

"And he ... what does ...?" She could get out nothing more.

"He agrees. Mevrouw Vrynks"--"Dutch for Wrynche," thought Lady Hannah
dizzily--"you will now pay the Mevrouw Kink what is owing for her amiable
entertainment, and you will start for Gueldersdorp in ten minutes' time."

The roaring voice of the stern, fierce-eyed man, sounded lovelier than the
swan-song of De Rezke. She faltered, with her joyful heart leaping at the
gates of utterance:

"The--mare and spider. You will be so kind as to return them----?"

His face became as a human countenance rudely carved in seasoned oak.

"I know nothing of a mare and spider," blared the great voice.

She looked him straight between the hot fierce eyes, and spoke out
pluckily.

"They are not my property. I hired the trap and the trotter from a
hotel-keeper at Gueldersdorp. And Mr. Van Busch tells me that they have
recently been commandeered for the service of the United Forces of the
Transvaal and Orange Free State."

"So!... Well, that is what I would have done, if they were worth having.
Where is Van Busch?" The angry glance pounced on that patriot in the
remote corner to which he had modestly retired. Van Busch cringed
forwards, hat in hand, explaining:

"The English Mevrouw mistakes, Myjnheer. Sure, now, I never told her
anything of that kind. How could I, when there was no mare and no spider?
Didn't I drive her and the other woman over from Haargrond, with Bough's
little beast pulling in a cart of my own? Call the other woman, and she
will tell you it was as I say."

Lady Hannah, supremely disdainful, turned her back upon the liar....

"So, then, you are not willing to go back in a veld waggon?" demanded the
bullying voice.

"I'm willing to go back in anything that isn't a coffin," she declared.

He gave the wooden chuckle, swung about and trampled to the door, calling
to Van Busch in the tone of a dog's master:

"Here, you ...!"

Van Busch followed, wriggling as obsequiously as the dog with a stolen
mutton-chop upon his conscience. The door slammed, the key turned roughly
in the lock. Lady Hannah, oblivious of the absence of outdoor footwear,
flew joyously to cram a few belongings into her travelling-bag and resume
her discarded hat.



Outside in the street, the motley crowd having melted away upon his
appearance, General Selig Brounckers was saying to Van Busch:

"It is a pity that the Engelschwoman's story was not true about that mare
and spider. For if a mare and spider there had been, you might perhaps
have kept them for your trouble----"

--"Now I come to think of it, Myjnheer Commandant," said Van Busch in a
hurry, "perhaps the woman was not lying, after all. Bough has a
mouse-coloured trotter in the stables at Haargrond Plaats, and a spider
stands under the waggon-shed in the yard. If they are hers, I'll let Bough
know Myjnheer Commandant said I was to have them. He'll make no bones
about parting then. Sure, no! he'll never dare to."

"I will send a couple of my burghers with you to take care he does not,"
said the Commandant, in what was for the redoubtable Brounckers an easy
tone. "It is unlucky," he added less pleasantly, "that you were such a
verdoemte clever knave as to tell the Engelschwoman I had commandeered
both beast and vehicle for Republics' use. Because now I will do it, look
you! No Boer's son that lives, by the Lord! will I suffer to make Selig
Brounckers out a liar." He added, as Van Busch salaamed and squirmed with
more than Oriental submissiveness, "Least of all a sneaking Africander
schelm like you. And now, about the money?"

"Excellentie----" lisped Van Busch, smiling his oily brown face into
ingratiating creases ...

"I am no Excellentie.... Of how much money, properly belonging to the
Republics' war-chest, have you cheated this little fool of an
Engelschwoman?"

"Five weeks back, Myjnheer Commandant," bleated Van Busch, "I had from her
one hundred and fifty pounds, which I swear as an honest man has been
handed over to Myjnheer Blinders----"

"He has accounted to me."

"Five weeks back----?" Van Busch hinted.

"He has accounted for it five weeks back."

There are men who possess all the will to be rogues, but have not the
requisite courage. Such a man was Blinders, who emerged plus a sweetheart,
the approval of his Commandant, and the _éclat_ of having chaffed the
British Lion, out of the affair that was to prove so expensive to Mr. Van
Busch.

"And"--the big voice trumpeted, as Van Busch, like a stout pinned
butterfly, quivered, transfixed by the glare of the savage eyes--"you will
now account to me for the rest."

Van Busch faltered with a sickly smile:

"Fifty more, Myjnheer, that I was bringing you myself----"

"One hundred and fifty you have paid me, and fifty you were going to pay
me. Ik wil het--but where are the other hundreds you have paid Van Busch?"
bellowed the roaring voice. "Does not my old man-baboon at home pouch six
walnuts for every one that his wife gets to share with her youngster? When
I want to make the big thief spit them out, I squeeze him by the neck. So,
voor den donder! will I do to you. Only, geloof mij, I will not do it in
play. Pay Blinders the other five hundred pounds before kerk-time. If you
haven't got the cash about you, he and young Schenk Eybel shall ride with
you to Haargrond, where lives your friend Bough. They can bring back the
money and the mare and spider, too. Moreover, Eybel, who is a bright boy,
and has a head upon his shoulders, wants a slim rogue of a fellow that
talks Engelsch to worm himself in over yonder"--he jerked his gnarled
thumb in the direction of Gueldersdorp--"and bring back a plan of the
defences on the west, where the native stad lies. Perhaps I will let you
keep two hundred of that five hundred if you are the man to go.... But
whether you go or stay, by the Lord! you will find it best to be square
with Selig Brounckers."

And the redoubtable Brounckers stumped off. Verily, in times of scarcity,
when the lion is a-hungered, the jackal must lose his bone.

It would be well, thought the dispirited jackal ruefully, to remove the
unfavourable impression made, by a valuable service rendered to the United
Republics. It would be a good thing to stand well with Myjnheer Schenk
Eybel, who would, when Brounckers went south, be left in sole command. It
would be as well, also, to get a look at that girl that was living with
the nuns at Gueldersdorp.

"Mildare ..." That was the puzzle--her having the name so pat. But these
little frightened, white-faced things were sly, and kids remembered more
than you thought for....

Grown up a beauty, too, and with the manners of a lady. He swore again,
the thing seemed so incredible, and spat upon the dust. A pretty green
shining beetle crawled there. He set his heavy foot upon the insect, and
its beauty was no more.



XXXVII


As the Captain's heavy cavalry stride shakes Nixey's roof, the upright,
lightly-built soldierly figure in khâki turns and comes towards him,
giving the binoculars in charge to the Sergeant-Major of Irregulars, who
is his orderly of the day.

"I want a word with you, Wrynche. Rawlings will take the glasses. Come in
here under cover."

He leads the way. The cover is a canvas shelter, perhaps a protection from
the blazing sun, but none at all from shell and bullets. There are a
couple of wooden chairs under its flimsy spread and a little table. The
Chief sits down astride on one of the chairs, accepts a cigar from Captain
Bingo's enormous crocodile-leather case, and says, as the first ring of
blue smoke goes wavering upwards:

"You'll be glad to know that Monboia's Barala runner has got through with
good news _for you_." The last two words are rather strongly emphasised.
"Just before dawn and after Beauvayse relieved you at Staff Bombproof
South."

Captain Bingo swallows violently, runs a thick finger round inside his
collar, and his big face goes through several changes of complexion,
ranging from boiled suet-dumpling paleness to beetroot red. He looks away
and blinks before he says in a voice that wobbles:

"Then my wife's--all right?"

"Lady Hannah and her German attendant, as far back as the day before
yesterday, when Monboia's man saw them, were in the enjoyment of excellent
health."

"Poof!" Captain Bingo blows a genuine sigh of relief, and the latent
lugubriousness departs from him. "Good hearing. I've had--call it
hippopotamus on the chest this two months, and you'll about hit the mark.
Uncertainty and suspense get on a man's nerves, in the long-run. Bound to.
And never a word--the deuce a line--all these---- Poof!" He blows again,
and beams. The Colonel, watching him out of the corner of one keen eye,
says, with a twitching muscle in the cheek that is turned away from him:

"My good news being told, I have a slice of bad for you. But first let me
make an admission. Since Nixey's pony pulled Nixey's spider out of
Gueldersdorp with Lady Hannah and her maid in it, I have had three
communications from your wife."

"You're pullin' my leg, sir, ain't you?" queries Bingo doubtfully.

"Not a bit of it."

In confirmation of the statement he takes out a shabby pocket-book, fat
with official documents, and, unstrapping it, selects three, and hands
them to Bingo. They are flimsy sheets of tissue-paper covered with spidery
characters in violet ink, and Bingo, taking them, recognises the
handwriting, and is, as he states without hesitation, confoundedly
flabbergasted.

"For they are in my wife's wild scrawl," he splutters at last. "How on
earth did they reach you, sir?"

"The first was brought in by a native boy who said he belonged to the
kraals at Tweipans," says the Chief. "Boiled small and stuffed into a
quill stuck through his ear in the usual way. He trumped up a glib story
about his cow having been killed and his new wife beaten by Brounckers'
men, and his desire to be revenged, and oblige the English lady who'd been
kind to him----"

"Umph! Native gratitude don't run to being skinned alive with
sjamboks--not much!" the other comments. "Chap must have been lyin', or a
kind of nigger Phoenix."

"Exactly. So I couldn't find it in my heart to part with him. He's on the
coloured side of the gaol now, with two others, who subsequently landed in
with the documents you have in hand there."

"Am I to read 'em?" Bingo queries.

His commanding officer nods, with the muscle in his lean cheek twitching.

"Certainly. Aloud, if you'll be so good."

Bingo reads, with haltings on the way, for the tissue sheets stick to his
large fingers, which are damp with suppressed agitation:


  "HAARGROND PLAATS,
  "NEAR TWEIPANS,
  "_October 30th_.

  "_To the Colonel Commanding Her Majesty's Forces in
  Gueldersdorp._

    "SIR,--I beg to report myself arrived at the above address,
    twelve miles distant from the head laager of the Boer
    Commandant, General Brounckers. I have to inform you that an
    attack will be made on Maxim Kopje South by a large force of
    the enemy with guns in the beginning of November.

  "I have the honour to be,
  "On Secret Service,
  "Yours most obediently,
  "H. WRYNCHE."



Bingo stares blankly at his Chief, the sheets of crumpled tissue wavering
between his thick, agitated fingers.

"I got that letter exactly a week after the attack had been made and
successfully resisted," says the Colonel's dry, quiet voice. "Read the
four lines in a different hand and ink, that are underlined at the bottom,
and tell me what you think of 'em."

Bingo obeyed, and read:

    "_Lady's information perfectly correct. We hope this
    intelligence will reach you in time to be useful._

  "_I have the honour to be,_
  "P. BLINDERS,
  "_Acting-Secretary to General_
  "_Brounckers._"



"By the Living Tinker!" exploded Bingo.

"Don't be prodigal of emotion," the Colonel's quiet voice warns the
excited husband. "There are two more letters following. Read 'em in the
proper sequence. That one with the inky design at the top, that might be
the pattern for a pair of fancy pyjamas--that's the next."

Bingo reads as follows:


  "KINK'S HOTEL,
  "TWEIPANS,
  "_November 28th_.

  _"To the Colonel Commanding H. M. Forces in Gueldersdorp._

    "SIR,--I beg to report myself arrived at Tweipans. I have
    the honour to enclose herewith a sketch-plan of the village
    and the disposition of General Brounckers' laager. Trusting
    you may find it useful,

  "I have the honour to be,
  "On Secret Service,
  "Yours most obediently,
  "H. WRYNCHE."



The sarcastic P. Blinders had appended an italicised comment:

    "_His Honour considers the above sketch-plan remarkably
    faithful. The building next the Gerevormed Kerk, indicated
    by an X, is the gaol. Comfortable cells at your disposal,
    which we are keeping vacant._

  "P. BLINDERS."



"D-a-a----"

The Chief does not happen to be looking Bingo's way as the infuriated
husband menaces with a large clenched fist an imaginary countenance
attached to the conjectural personality of the sportive P. Blinders.

"Swear--it will bring the blood down from your head," advises the dry,
quiet voice. "But don't tear up the papers!--they're too amusing to lose."

"Amusin'!" growls Bingo, with smarting eyes, and a lumpy throat, and a
tingling in his large muscles which P. Blinders, being out of reach, can
afford to provoke. "You wouldn't think it amusin', sir, if it were your
wife, making herself a--a figure of fun for those Dutch bounders to shy
at."

This is the third letter:


  "_December 23rd._

  "_To the Colonel Commanding, Gueldersdorp._

    "SIR,--I have to report that the sortie you have planned to
    take place on the morning of the 26th, for the capture of
    the enemy's big gun, is known to General Brounckers, and
    that the menaced position will be strengthened and manned to
    resist you.

  "Obediently,
  "H. WRYNCHE."



Underneath is the sarcastic comment:


  "_December 27th._

    "_Nice if you had got this in time, eh? And we wanted those
    boots and badges._

  "_P. B._"



"She got hold of a nugget that once, anyway," says Captain Bingo, blowing
his nose emphatically; "and--by the Living Tinker! if it _had_ reached us
in time, we'd have saved a loss of twenty-one killed and stripped, and
twenty-two wounded, and the stingin' shame of a whippin' into the
bargain."

"Perhaps," says the Colonel, with a careworn shadow on the keen, sagacious
face, and both men are silent, remembering an assault the desperate,
reckless valour of which deserves to be bracketed in memory with the
Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, "If Defeat is ever shame,
perhaps, Wrynche. But if you could put the question to each of that
handful of brave men sleeping side by side over there"--he nods in the
direction of the Cemetery, where the aftermath of Death's red harvest has
sprung up in orderly rows of little white crosses--"they would tell you it
can be more glorious than victory."

"Of course, you're right, sir. I gather now what your bad news is," says
Bingo, who has been dejectedly rubbing his finger along the bristly edges
of his sandy moustache, for a minute past. "Judgin' by the marginal
annotations of this man Blinders--brute I'd kick to Cape Town with
pleasure--my wife's a prisoner in Brounckers' hands?"

"An unconscious prisoner--yes. Give 'em their due, Wrynche. I shouldn't
have credited 'em with the sense of humour they have displayed in their
dealings with her."

If it were possible for Bingo to grow redder in the face, one would say
that he has done so, as he bursts out, in a violent perspiration, striding
up and down over Nixey's sheet-leaded roof.

"Confound their humour! It's the humour of tom-cats playin' with a--a
dashed little silly dicky-bird. It's the humour of aasvogels watchin' a
shot rock-rabbit kick. It's the humour of the battledore and the
shuttlecock. And I'm the dicky-bird's mate and the bunny's better-half,
and the other shuttlecock of the pair, and may I be blessed if I can take
it smilin'!" He mops his scarlet and dripping face, and puffs and blows
like a large military walrus on dry land.

"Perhaps you'll manage a smile when you've read this?"

Bingo stops in his stride, wheels, and receives an official document on
blue paper. Under the date of the previous day, it runs as follows:


  "HEAD LAAGER,
  "TWEIPANS,
  "_January --th_.

  "_To the Colonel Commanding the British Forces in
  Gueldersdorp._

    "SIR,--In reply to your communication I am instructed by
    General Brounckers to inform you that our prisoner, the
    Englishwoman who came here in the character of a German
    drummer's refugee-widow to act as your spy, will be
    exchanged for a free Boer of the Transvaal Republic, by
    name, Myjnheer W. Slabberts, who is at present confined
    under the Yellow Flag in Gueldersdorp gaol. The exchange
    will be effected by parties under the White Flag at a given
    point North-East between the lines of investment and defence
    one hour before Kerk-time to-morrow, being the Sabbath.

  "I have the honour to be yours truly,

  "P. BLINDERS,
  "_Acting-Secretary to General_
  "_Brounckers._"

    "P.S.--_The young lady of German extraction who accompanied
    the Englishwoman has entered into an engagement to remain
    here._

  "_P. B._"

    "P.SS.--_The engagement is with yours truly, the young lady
    having conformed to the faith of the Gerevormed Kerk. We are
    to be married next Sunday. Would you like us to send you
    some wedding-cake?_

  "_P. B._"



Blinders has certainly had the last dig, but his principal victim fails
this time to wince or bellow under the point of his humour. With his big
face changing from red to white, and from white to crimson half a dozen
times in as many seconds, Captain Bingo says, refolding the paper and
returning it with a shaky hand:

"Then she--she----"

A lump in his throat slides down and sticks.

"Gerevormed Kerk-time is eleven o'clock." The Colonel looks at his shabby
Waterbury, as the brisk clatter of cantering horse-hoofs breaks up the
Sabbath stillness of the Market Square, and an orderly, leading an
officer's charger, halts before Nixey's door. "The B.S.A. escort, with
their man, are due to leave the gaol in ten minutes' time. Here's your
orderly with your mount, and you've eight minutes to change in."

"One minute, sir," Captain Bingo utters with an effort. "This man--this
Slabberts--is a well-known spy--a trump card in Brounckers' hand, or he
wouldn't be so anxious to get hold of him. And therefore--by this
exchange--and a woman's dashed ambitious folly--you may lose heavily in
the end...."

"I don't deny it." The haggard shadow is again upon the Colonel's face, or
is it that Bingo's radiance dulls neighbouring surfaces by comparison?
"But don't let the thought of it spoil your good hour." The smile in the
eyes that have so many lines about them is kind, if the mouth under the
red-brown moustache is stern and sorrowful. "We don't have many of 'em.
Off with you and meet her!"

Captain Bingo tries to say something more, but makes a hash of it; and
with eyes that fairly run over, can only grip the kindly hand again and
again, assuring its owner, with numerous references to the Living Tinker,
that he is the most thundering brick on earth. Then, overthrowing the
small table and one of the chairs, he plunges down the narrow iron
stairway to get into what he calls his kit. Six minutes later, correct to
a buckle and a puttee-fold, he salutes his commanding officer, nodding
pleasantly to him from Nixey's roof, and buckets down the street at a
tremendous gallop, the happiest man in Gueldersdorp, with this shout
following him:

"My regards to Lady Hannah. And tell her that the Staff dine on gee-gee at
six o'clock sharp, and I shall be charmed if she'll join us."



XXXVIII


The little Olopo River, a mere branch of the bigger river that makes
fertile British Baraland, runs from east to west, along the southern side
of Gueldersdorp, swelled by innumerable thready water-courses, dry in the
blistering winter heat, that the wet season disperses among the foothills
that bristle with Brounckers' artillery. Seen from the altitude of a
balloon or a war-kite, the course of the beer-coloured stream, flowing
lazily between its high banks sparsely wooded with oak and blue gum, and
lavishly clothed with cactus, mimosa, and tree-fern, tall grasses, and
thorny creepers, would have looked like a verdant ribbon meandering over
the dun-and-ochre-coloured veld, where patches of bluish-green are
beginning to spread. The south bank, where the bush grows thinnest, was
frequently patronised by picnic-parties, and at all times a place of
resort for strolling sweethearts. The north bank, much more precipitous,
was clothed with a tangled luxuriance of vegetation, and threaded only by
native paths, so narrow as to prove discouraging to pedestrians desirous
of walking side by side. Where the outermost line of defences impinged
upon the river-bed, the trees had been cut down and the bush levelled. But
east of Maxim Outpost South, and the rifle-pits that flanked Fort
Ellerslie, all was as it had been for hundreds of years, in the
remembrance of the great granite boulder that stood on the south shore.

The great boulder had known changes since the old Plutonic forces cast it
upwards, a mere bubble of melted red granite, solidifying as it went into
a stone acorn thirty feet high, which the glacier brought down in a slow
journey of countless ages, and set upright like a phallic symbol, amongst
other boulders of lesser size. The channel the glacier had chiselled was
now full of shining honey-coloured water, hurrying over the granite stones
and blocks of quartz and pretty vari-coloured pebbles, while the boulder
sat high and dry, with the tall-plumed grasses, and the graceful
tree-fern, and the yellow-tasselled mimosa crowding about its knees; and
remembered old times, long before the little Bushfellow had outlined the
koodoo and the buffalo, and the hunter-man with the spear, in black
pigments on its smooth flank, ere he ground up the coprolites gathered
from the river-bed for red and yellow paint to colour the drawings. On the
western side the great boulder was dressed in crimson lake and
yellow-umber-hued lichens from base to summit, and in August, when the
aloes flowered in magnificent fiery clusters upon its crown and at its
base; and in May, when the sweet-scented clematis wreathed it in
exquisite trails, and white and rose and purple pelargoniums made a carpet
for its feet; and in July, when the yellow everlastings bloomed in every
cranny of the rocks, King Solomon in all his glory held less magnificence
of state.

Insects and beasts and birds loved the boulder. The sun-beetle and the
orange-tip and peacock butterflies loved to bask on its hottest side,
while the old dog-faced baboon squatted on top and chattered wisdom to his
numerous family, and the finches and love-birds built in its crannies and
bred their young, too often as food for the giant tarantula and the
tree-snake; while the francolin and grouse dusted themselves in the hot
sand at the base of its throne of rocks, and the springbok and the
wart-hogs came down at night to drink; and the woolly cheetah and the red
lynx came after the springbok and the wart-hog.



The boulder had seen War--War between black-skinned men and brown-skinned
men, adventurers with great hooked noses and curled beards, with tassels
of silk and gold plaited into them and into the hair of their heads,
terrible warriors, mighty hunters, and great miners, who came for slaves
and ivory and gold, and hollowed strongholds out of the mountains, and
worshipped strange bird-beaked gods, and passed away. Yet again, when
these ceased to be, there had been War; and this time the black men of the
soil fought with white strangers, who wanted the same things--slaves, and
skins, and ivory, and the yellow metal of the river-sands and of the
rocks.



Now white men fought with white. The black men owned little of the
country: they hid in the kloofs and thickets in terror, while the European
conquerors shed each other's blood for gold, and land, and power. The
boulder was so very old. It could afford to wait patiently until these
men, like all that went before, had passed.



Every seventh day the guns ceased bellowing and throwing iron things that
burst and scattered Death broadcast, and the rifles stopped
crack-cracking and spitting steel and lead. Then the scared birds came
back: the waxbills, and love-birds, and finches, and sparrows darted in
and out among the bushes, and the partridge, and quail, and francolin
ventured down to drink. The old baboon had retired to the hills with his
family; the springbok and the wart-hog had moved up Bulawayo way; the
cheetah and the lynx had followed them....

But as long as human lovers came and whispered to each other, standing
beside the big boulder, or sitting in its shadow, the boulder would be
content. They spoke the old language that it had learned when the world
was comparatively young. Black or yellow or white, African or Oriental or
European, this speech of theirs was always the same; their looks and
actions never varied. Either they met and kissed and were happy, or they
met and quarrelled and were miserable. When no more lovers should come,
the boulder knew that would be the end of the world.

There was a gaudily dressed, white-faced young woman waiting now beside
the big stone upon this seventh day. Her blue eyes were large and wistful.
She had taken off her big flaunting hat and hung it on a bush, and her
face was not unpretty, topped by its aureole of frizzy yellow curls. She
leaned against the sun-warmed granite, and cried a little. That was the
way of women when the man was late at the tryst. Then she dried her eyes
and hummed a song, and, finally, taking a stump of pencil from her pocket,
she began to scribble on the smooth red stone--all part of the old play,
the boulder knew. The first woman whom he remembered had drawn a figure
meant for a portrait of her lover, with a sharpened flake of flint.

The young woman, as she sucked her lead-pencil, was quite unconscious that
the boulder thought at all. She wrote in an unformed hand, and in letters
that began by being large and round, and tailed off into a slanting
niggle. "W. Keyse, Esquer." Then she bit the pencil awhile, and dreamed
dreams. Then she wrote again, "Jane Keyse" and "Mrs. W. Keyse," and
blushed furiously, and then grew pale again in anticipation of the Awful
Ordeal to come. For she had made up her mind to tell him all, and chance
it.

Yesterday had been his birthday. She had sent him, per John Tow, a costly
gift. The four-ounce packet of honeydew, cheap at five dollars in these
days of scarcity, had been opened, and the new pipe filled. A slip of
paper coquettishly intimated that the sender had rendered the recipient
this delicate little service. She meant to sign "Jane Harris," but her
courage failed her, and her trembling pen faltered for the last time,
"Fare Air."

Oh! how she hated that Other One, whom, perhaps, he liked the best, though
he had never kissed her! She would be done with the creature, she thanked
her Gawd, after to-day! Oh, how many times she had made up her mind to
tell him the truth, and never done it! But if she took and died of it,
tell him she would this time.

How would he take the revelation? Possibly swearing. Probably he would be
angry enough to hit her, _when he knew_. If he only would, and make it up
afterwards! Oh! how cruel she did suffer! She thought she would not tell
him just yet. It was too hard. And then it seemed quite easy, and then she
cried out in agony: "Is that 'im comin'? Oh, my Gawd, it is!"

She clasped her hands over a brand-new blowse, with something under it
that jumped and fluttered orful. Mother used to 'ave such palpitytions
when her and father 'ad 'ad what you might call a jar. And he was coming,
coming....

Surely W. Keyse looked stern and imposingly tall of stature, seen from her
lower level, as he appeared among the blue gum-trees on the top of the
bank, and began to descend into the ferny gorge where the great boulder
sat and sunned himself beside the beer-coloured river, whose barbel kept
on rising at the flies. Something W. Keyse dragged behind him, not by a
rope, but by a pigtail; an animated bundle of clean blue cotton, topped by
the impassive, almond-eyed countenance of John Tow, the letter-carrying
Chinaman, who in the unlawful pursuit of tikkies, finding the letter
written by the foreign lady-devil to the male one eagerly paid for on the
nail, had offered for half as much again to induce her for the future to
write two instead of one. Towing Tow, the smarting victim of feminine
duplicity came crashing down upon the guilty girl who had betrayed him.

"See 'ere! You know this 'ere young lady, and you remember what you've bin
and told me. Say it over again now," thundered W. Keyse, "so as she can
'ear you. Tell me before 'er as wot she wrote them--these letters"--he
rapped himself dramatically upon the breast-pocket--"and how you see her
doing of it, before I kick your backbone through your hat."

All was lost. The Chinaman had up an' give Emigration Jane away. Certainly
he had saved her trouble, but what was he sayin' now, the 'orrible
slant-eyed 'eathen? She could hardly hear him for the roaring in her poor
bewildered head.

"S'pose John tell, can catchee more tikkie? Plenty tikkie want to buy
chow, allee so baddee times."

"Always on the make, ain't you?" commented W. Keyse. With a strong,
imperious shove, he dumped the blue bundle down among the cowslips in
which the feet of the guilty fair were hidden, saying sternly: "I give you
three minutes to git it off your chest, else kickie is wot you'll catch
instead o' tikkie." He furnished a moderate sample on account.

"Oh, ki--ah. Oh, ki--ah!" moaned the tingling John.

"Don't you be 'ard on him, William"--he hardly knew the voice, it was so
weak and small--"it's Gawspel truth. To pay you out--at first, for juggin'
Walt, I did write them letters--every bloomin' screeve."

"An' sent the pipe and baccy for a birthday present, to make a blushin'
fool o' me?" yelled the infuriated Keyse. "All for the crimson sake of a
fat 'og of a Dutchman!"

The patriot to whom he referred, mounted on an attenuated mule, and
escorted by a Sergeant and six men of the B.S.A., under the
superintendence of a large pink officer of the Staff, was at that moment
being conducted at a sharp trot out of the lines, to meet a smallish
waggon pulled by a span of four that was being brought down from Tweipans
by half a dozen Boers in weathered tan-cord and velveteen, battered
pot-hats and ragged shooting-jackets, carrying very carefully-tended
rifles, mounted on well-fed, wiry little horses, and accompanied by a
White Flag. If she had known, what would it have mattered to her? All her
thoughts were centred in this furious little man, whose pale, ugly eyes
fairly blazed at her, as he repeated:

"To pay--me out. You brawsted little Treachery, you----"

She crimsoned to her hair; you could see the red blood rushing and rushing
up from under the peekaboo embroidery in front of the tawdry blowse, in a
hurry to tell her tingling ears what cruel names he called her.

"To pay you out at first it was. An' afterwards"--her throat hurt her, and
her eyes did smart and burn so--"afterwards I--I wanted ... O Gawd!..."
she shook all over--"you'll never walk out wi' me no more after this!"

"You may take your dyin' oath I won't." He was bitterly sarcastic.
"Strite, an' no kid, didn't you know when you done--_that_--I'd never
forgive you as long as I lived?"

He plucked the stout package of letters signed "Fare Air" from his
indignant bosom, and threw them at her feet, with the new pipe, her
hapless gift. His wrath was infinitely more terrible than she had
imagined. Her tongue clave to the roof of her mouth. Everything kep'
a-spinnin' so, she couldn't 'ardly tell whether she was on 'er 'ead or 'er
'eels. She will remember that day to the last breath she draws....

"Didn't you know it?" the voice of her judge demanded again.

John Tow, finding himself no longer an object of attention, had discreetly
vanished.

"Oh, I did, I did!" Her agony was frantic. "Oh, let me go away and hide
and die somewhere! Oh, crooil, to break a pore gal's 'art! Wot--wot loves
the bloomin' earth under your feet!"

"Garn!"--the scorn of W. Keyse was something awful--"you an' your
love----"

She wrenched the cotton lace away from her thin throat, and tore some of
her hair out in the strenuous hysteria of her class, and screamed at him:

"Me an' my love!... Go on!... Frow it in me face, an' 'ave no pity! Me an'
my love!... Sneer at it, take an' spit on it--ain't it yours all the syme?
Oh, for Gawd's syke forgive me!"

He struck an indomitable attitude and thundered:

"So 'elp me Jiminy Cripps, I never will!"

She knew that the oath was irrevocable, and with a faint moan, turned to
the great boulder that was behind her, and clung to its hard red bosom as
if it had been a mother's. She moaned to him as her thin figure flattened
itself against the stone, to let her go away and die somewhere. He stood a
moment looking at her, and exulting in his power, meaning her to suffer
yet a little longer ere he relented. Secretly, he knew relief that the
golden pigtail and the provoking blue eyes of Miss Greta Du Taine had
vanished out of Gueldersdorp before the first Act of War. He would have
felt them in the way now. Those shining, tearful eyes and the mouth that
kissed and clung to his had done their work on the night of the Grand
Variety entertainment in the empty Government store. He would pretend to
go away and leave her. He would come back, enjoy her astonishment, be
melted by renewed entreaties, stoop to relent, overwhelm her with his
magnanimity, and then proceed to love-making.

But as a preliminary he swung round upon his heel and strode upwards
through the short bush and the tall grasses, the scandalised flowers
thrashing his boots. She saw him, although her back was turned. If he
could have known how tall he seemed to Emigration Jane as he strode away,
W. Keyse would have been tickled to the core. But he turned when he felt
sure he was well out of sight, and hurried back.

She was not there.

He was indifferent at first, then angry, then anxious, then disconsolate.
Repentance followed fast on the heels of all these moods. He picked up the
packet of letters and the rejected pipe, cursing his own cruelty, and
sought her up and down the banks, calling her in tones that were urgent,
affectionate, upbraiding, appealing; but not for all his luring would the
flown bird come back to fist. No more beside the river, or in other places
where they had been wont to meet, did W. Keyse encounter Emigration Jane
again.



XXXIX


But even without W. Keyse and the vanished author of "Fare Air's" letters
the ferny tree-fringed kloof at the bottom of which the beer-coloured
river ran over its granite boulders and quartz pebbles, was not empty and
void. On Sundays, when the birds returned from the hills, to which they
had been scared by the hideous tumult of War, thither after High Mass in
the battered little Roman Catholic church in the stad, the Mother-Superior
and the Sisters would come, bringing with them such poor food as they had,
and picnic soberly. All the week through they had laboured, nursed, and
tended the sick and wounded in the Hospitals, and washed and fed and
taught the numberless orphans of the siege, and upon this day the
Mother-Superior had ruled that they were to be together. And all the week
through the thought of it kept them going, as she had hoped. You are to
see her holding her little court beside the river upon a certain February
afternoon, receiving friends in her sweet, stately fashion, and dispensing
hospitality out of the largest and most battered Britannia-metal teapot
that ever brewed, what was later originally referred to in the weekly
"Social Jottings" column of the _Gueldersdorp Siege Gazette_ as the
cheering infusion. The _Siege Gazette_ was an intermittent daily, issued
from a subterranean printing-office, for the dissemination of general
orders and latest news, fluctuations in the weight and quality of the
meat-rations, and the rise and fall of the free-soup level, being also
recorded. To its back-files I must refer those who seek a fuller account
of the function described by the brilliant journalist who signed herself
"Gold Pen," as highly successful. She gives you to understand that the
company was distinguished, and the conversation vivid and unflagging. And
when you realise that everybody present was suffering more or less from
the active pinch of hunger, that social gathering of men and women of
British blood becomes heroic and historic and fine.

"Dr Saxham, Attached Medical Staff, was observed," we read. "Gold Pen"
also notes "the presence of the Reverend Julius Fraithorn, son of the
Bishop of H----, and second curate--on leave--of St. Margaret's, Wendish
Street; now happily recovered, thanks to the skill of Dr. Saxham, from an
illness, held at no recent date to be incurable. Mr. Fraithorn has
undertaken the onerous duties of Chaplain to the Hospitals in charge of
the Military Staff. It was gratifying to observe," she continues, "that
the Colonel commanding graced the occasion by his martial presence. He
was attended by his junior aide, Lieutenant Lord Beauvayse. We also saw
Lady Hannah Wrynche with her distinguished husband, Captain Bingham
Wrynche, Royal Bay Dragoons, Acting Senior Aide," etc., etc.

"Late apricots from the garden of the ruined Convent, and peaches from its
west wall, gathered in the dead of night by Sister Cleophée and Sister
Tobias," "Gold Pen" goes on to say, "were greatly appreciated by the
guests, each of whom brought his or her own bread."

A most villainous kind of bannock of unleavened mealie-meal and crushed
oats, calculated to try the strongest teeth and trouble the toughest
digestion, "Gold Pen" might have added. But the game was to make believe
you rather enjoyed it than otherwise. If you had no teeth and no
digestion, you were allowed a pint and a half of sowens porridge instead;
and thus helped your portion of exhausted cavalry mount or your bit of
tough mule-meat down. And so you went on like your neighbours, playing the
game, while your eyes grew larger and your girth less, and your cheekbones
more in evidence with every day that dawned.

Cheekbones have a strange, unnatural effect when they appear in childish
faces. There was a child in a rusty double perambulator that had been a
stylish baby-carriage only a little while ago, whose wizened face and
shrunken hands were pitiable to see. He was wheeled by a sallow woman,
with hollow, grey-blue eyes--a woman whose black alpaca gown hung loosely
on her wasted figure, and whose shabby, crape-trimmed hat was pinned on
anyhow. Siege confinement and siege terrors, siege smells and siege diet,
had made strange havoc of the plump comeliness of a matronly lady who once
rustled in purple satin befitting a Mayor's wife. She had lost one of her
children through diphtheria, and she knew, unless a miracle happened, that
she would also lose the boy.

Only look at him! She told you in that dull, toneless voice of hers how
sturdy he had been, how strong and masterful--how pretty, too, with his
plume of fair hair tumbling into his big, shining, grey eyes! The eyes
were bigger than ever now, but the light and the life had sunk out of
them, and his round face was pinched, and the colour of old wax. And the
arm that hung idly over the side of the little carriage was withered and
shrunken--the hand of an old man, and not of a child. The other, under the
light shawl that tucked him in, hugged something that bulged under the
coverlet.

"His father can't bear to look at him," the Mayor's wife said, glancing at
the Mayor's carefully-averted back. "And I'm sure it's no wonder. He just
lies like this, day and night, and doesn't want to move, or answer when
you speak to him, and he won't eat. The food is dreadful, but still he
might try, just to comfort his mother----"

"I does twy," piped Hammy weakly, "and ven my tummy shuts, and it isn't no
use twying any more."

The Mother-Superior brought a gaily-coloured little china cup of that rare
luxury, new milk, and bent over him, saying cheerfully, as she held it to
the colourless mouth, "Not always, Hammy. Taste this."

"No, fank you." He turned his head away, tightly shutting his eyes.

"It's real milk, Hammy, not condensed," the soft voice pleaded. He shook
his head again, and knit his childish brows.

"I saided it wasn't no use. My tummy just shuts."

"I think I would not bother him any more just now," Saxham interposed,
noting the droop of the piteous, flaccid mouth, and feeling the flutter of
the uneven pulse. The Mayor's wife broke into helpless sobbing. The
Mother-Superior drew her swiftly out of the sick child's hearing and
sight. And a shadow fell upon the thin light coverlet, and a crisp,
decided voice said:

"Then Hammy's tummy is a mutinous soldier, and must be taught to obey the
Word of Command."

"Mister Colonel ..." The dull, childish eyes grew a very little brighter,
and the claw-like hand went up in shaky salute to the limp plume of fair
hair, not glistening and silky now, but dull and unkempt, that fell over
the broad, darkly-veined waxen forehead.--"It is Mister Colonel.... And I
haven't seen you for ever an' ever so long. An' Berta's deaded, an',
an'----" The whisper was almost inaudible.... "Vere's something I did so
want to tell!" The hidden arm came from under the coverings "It's about
my Winocewus, vis beast what you gived me, ever so long ago." He displayed
the treasured toy.

"You shall tell me about Berta and the rhinoceros when I have told you
something. A Certain Person can come out of this vehicle, I suppose,
Saxham? It will make no difference, in the long-run, to a Certain Person's
health?"

"Why, nothing in Heaven or upon earth will make any difference at this
juncture," returned Saxham, speaking in the same tone, "unless a Certain
Person can be roused to the necessary pitch of desiring food. To
administer it forcibly would, in my opinion, be worse than useless."

The Certain Person was lifted out of his cramped quarters by vigorous but
gentle hands. The Colonel Commanding sat down with him upon a camp-stool,
and as the wasted legs dangled irresponsibly from his supporting knees,
and the hot head rolled helplessly against the row of coloured bits of
medal-ribbon that were sewn on the left breast of the khâki jacket, he
began to talk, holding the limp little body with a kind, sustaining arm.

"You've seen how my men obey me, Hammy? Well, your brain and your eyes,
your arms and legs, and hands and feet, as well as your tummy, are your
soldiers. And it's mutiny if they refuse to carry out the Officer's
orders. And you're the Officer, you know."

"Am I ve Officer, weally?"

Interest was quickening in the heavy eyes.

"You're the Officer. And I'm the Colonel in Command. And when I say to
you, 'Lieutenant Hammy, drink this milk,' why, you'll pass along the order
to Sergeant Brain and Corporal Eyes and Privates Hands and Mouth and
Tummy, and see that they carry it out. Where is----? Ah! thank you, ma'am;
that was what I wanted."

For the Mother-Superior had deftly put the gaily-coloured little china cup
into the lean, brown, outstretched hand, and, seeing what was coming, the
Lieutenant shed an unsoldierly tear and raised a feeble whimper.

"Please, no, Mister Colonel! My tummy----"

"Private Tummy is a shirker, who doesn't want to do his duty. But it's
your duty as his Commanding Officer to show him that it must be done. And
that's the game we're playing. You'll employ tact before you have recourse
to stringent measures. Not make the fellow dogged or furious by angry
words or threats. When it's necessary to shoot, shoot straight. But,
first, you give the order."

"Oughtn't ve officer to have a wevolver?"

"Wait a second, and you shall have mine."

The deft fingers twirled out and pocketed the cartridge-packed chambers,
and put the harmless weapon into the childish hands.

"It's veway heavy," Hammy said dolefully, as the shining Army Smith &
Wesson wobbled in his feeble clutches, then wavered and sank ingloriously
down upon his lap.

"If you had drunk the milk you might have found it lighter. Suppose we try
now. Attention!"

--"'Tention!" piped Hammy.

"Hands, catch hold. Mouth, do your duty. And if Private Tummy disobeys,
he'll have to take the consequences."

"Please, what are ve confequences?"

"Drink down the milk, and then I'll tell you."

The gay little china cup was slowly emptied. Hammy blinked eyes that were
already growing sleepy, and sucked the moustache of white from his
upper-lip with relish, remarking:

"I dwinked it all, and my tummy never shut. Now tell me what are ve
confequences?"

"A mother without a son, for one thing." The keen, hawk-eyes were gentle.
"But drink plenty of milk and eat plenty of bread and porridge and minced
meat, and you'll live to see the Relief marching into Gueldersdorp one
fine morning, boy."

"Unless I get deaded like Berta. And that weminds me what I wanted to tell
so bad." The lips began to quiver, and the eyes brimmed. "Soldiers mustn't
cwy, must vey?"

"Not while there's work to be done, Hammy. Would you like to wait now and
tell me another day?" For the little round head was nodding against the
row of medal-ribbons stitched on the khâki jacket, and the big round eyes
kept open with difficulty.

"No, please. It's about the beasts--my beasts what you gived me.
Winocewus, an' Lion, an' Tawantula, an' Tsetse, an' Black Bee--just like
a weal Bee, only not so sharp at ve end.... Don't you wemember, Mister
Colonel?"

"Of course I remember. The toy beasts I brought down from Rhodesia and
gave to a little boy."

"I was the boy. And--you saided I was to let Berta have her share wof dem.
And I did let her play wif all ve ovvers. But Winocewus had to be tooked
such care wof for fear of bweaking his horn--an' Berta was such a little
fing, vat--vat----"

"That you wouldn't let her play with Rhinoceros. And you think it wasn't
quite fair, or quite kind, and now you're sorry?"

Hammy sniffed dolorously, and two large tears splashed down.

"I'm sowwy. An' I fought if I was deaded too, like Berta, I could go an'
tell her I never meaned to be gweedy. An' I wouldn't eat my bweakfust, nor
my dinner, nor nothing--and at last my tummy shut, and I didn't want
nuffing more."

The Mother-Superior and the Colonel Commanding exchanged a glance over the
little round head before the man's voice answered the child.

"That wouldn't have made Bertha happy. She might have thought you a little
coward for running away and leaving your mother and all the other ladies
behind, shut up in Gueldersdorp. For an officer and a gentleman must go on
living and fighting while he has anything left to fight for, Hammy.
Remember that."

"Yes, Mister Colonel...." The drowsy eyes closed, the little head nodded
off into slumber against the kind, strong shoulder. The Mother-Superior
wheeled the perambulator near, and the Colonel, rising, laid the now
soundly-sleeping boy back upon his cushions.

"What mysteries children are!" he said, as the Mother replaced the light
covering, screening the sleeping face with tender, careful hands from sun
and flies. "Imagine remorse for an act of selfishness leading a boy of six
to such a determination--and a normal, healthy boy, if ever I met one."

"He has been living for some time under abnormal conditions," the Mother
said softly, looking at the quiet rise and fall of the light shawl
covering. "He will take a turn for the better now."

"And forget his trouble and its cause." The Chief's observant glance had
lighted on Rhinoceros, lying upside down in a little clump of flowering
sword-grass, into which he had been whisked as the Mother shook out the
little shawl. "I think," he said, and pocketed the horned one, "that this
gentleman had better go into the fire."

"Perhaps. And yet it would be a continual reminder to conquer selfishness
in great as in little things." She smiled, meeting the keen hazel eyes
with her great pure grey ones.

"If you think so, I will leave it."

"I will not take the responsibility of advising you to. You have already
shown more tact than I can lay claim to in dealing with children. And that
has been the business of the greater part of my life, remember."

He looked at her full, and said:

"I may possess and employ tact when dealing with men and with children,
possibly. But not long ago I was guilty of--and have since bitterly
reproached myself for, I beg you to believe me! a gross and lamentable
blunder as regards a woman----"

She put out her fine hand with a quick, protesting gesture, as if she
would have begged him to say no more. He went on:

"She is a lady whom you intimately know, and whom I have, like everyone
else in this town, learned to esteem highly and to profoundly respect. For
the terrible shock and the deep pain I must have given that lady in
breaking to her ignorantly and hastily the news of the death of a friend
who was dear to me, and infinitely dearer to--another with whom she is
acquainted--I humbly entreat her pardon."

He had not known her eyes were of so deep a purple-grey as to be nearly
black. Perhaps they seemed so by contrast with the absolute whiteness of
her face. The eyes winced, and the mouth contracted as she entreated,
voicelessly:

"I beg you, say no more!"

"I have but little more to say," he returned. "I will only add that if at
any time you wished in kindness to make me forget what I did that day,
you would apply to me in some difficulty, honour me with some confidence,
trust me in any unforeseen emergency in which I might be of use to you. Or
to--anyone who is dear to you, and in whom for the sake of old
associations and old ties I might even otherwise be deeply interested."

He had spoken with intention, and now his deliberate glance dropped to the
level of the strip of sandy shore beside the river, where the giant
Convent kettle boiled upon a disproportionately little fire, and Sister
Hilda-Antony presided in the Reverend Mother's place at the
trestle-supported tray where the Britannia-metal teapot brooded, as doth
the large domestic hen, over an immense family of cups and saucers. Busy
as ants, the other Sisters hurried backwards and forwards, attending to
the wants of their guests, who sat about on rocks and boulders, or with
due precautions taken against puff-adders and tarantulas, lay upon the
grass of the high bank in the shade of the fern and bush. And as vivid by
contrast with their black-robed, white-wimpled figures, as a slender
dragon-fly among a bevy of homely gnats, the graceful, prettily-clad
figure of Lynette showed, as she shared the Sister's hospitable labours.

She had her share of girlish vanity. She had put on a plain tailor-made
skirt of fine dark green cloth, short enough to show the dainty little
brown buckled shoes that she specially affected, and a thin white silk
shirt and knitted croquet-jacket of white wool. A scarlet leather belt
girt her slender waist, and a silver châtelaine jingled a gay tune at her
side, and about her white slim throat was a band of scarlet velvet, and
her wide-brimmed straw hat had a knot of purple and white clematis in it,
and a broad, vivid, emerald-green wing-quill thrust under the knot. And
the hair under the green-plumed hat gleamed bronze in the sunshine that
filtered through the thick foliage of the blue gum-trees that grew on
either bank of the river, and stretched their branches out to clasp across
the stream, like hands. She was too pale and too thin, and her eyes were
feverishly bright, but she looked happy, carrying her tray of steaming
teacups in spite of Beauvayse's anxious attempts to relieve her of the
burden, and the Chaplain's diffident entreaties that she should entrust
it to him. Their voices, mingled in gay argument, were borne by a warm
puff of spice-scented air to the ears of the elder people, standing in the
shade of the trees at the summit of the high, sloping bank, with the rusty
perambulator between them.

"I thank you," the Mother said, in her full, round tones. The eyes of
both, travelling back from that delicate, slight young figure, had met
once more. "Believing that you speak in perfect sincerity, I thank you,
and shall not hesitate to call upon you, should the need arise."

Her voice was very calm, and her discreet glance told nothing. He would
not have been a man of woman born if he had not been a little piqued. He
said, with an air of changing the subject:

"Miss Mildare strikes me as a very beautiful girl."

"Is she not?"

Her eyes grew tender, and her whole face was irradiated by the splendour
of her smile. She looked down the bushed and grass-covered slope to where
Lynette, all the guests supplied, had thrown herself down to rest on a
stone under a tree. She had taken off her hat, and her hair was flecked
with sunshine as she leaned her head back with a little air of lassitude
and weariness against the scarred bark. But in spite of weariness she was
smiling and content. The rest was delicious, the peaceful quiet
enchanting, the air sweet after the fetid odours of the town; and it was
sweet, too, whenever she glanced at the Reverend Julius Fraithorn, who was
lying at her feet, or Beauvayse, who fanned her alternately with a leafy
branch and the tea-tray, to behold her own beauty reflected in the
admiring eyes of two young and handsome men.

The Mother had never seen her thus before. She had been absent from the
scenes of Lynette's little social triumphs. Now a great tenderness swelled
in her bosom, and a great pity gripped her throat, and wrung the bitter,
slow tears into her eyes.

"She is happy," she whispered in her heart. "She has forgotten just for a
little while, and her kingdom of womanhood is hers, unspoiled, and the
present moment is sweet, and the future she has no thought of. My poor,
poor love! Let her go on forgetting, even if it is only for a day."

His voice beside her made her start. He was still speaking of Lynette.

"Her type is unusual--amongst Colonials."

She returned: "She was born in the Colony, I believe."

"Ah! but of British parents, surely? I once knew an English lady," he went
steadily on, "whom she resembles strikingly."

Her eyes were inscrutable, and her lips were folded close.

"She was the wife of the Colonel commanding my old Regiment--Sir George
Hawting. A grand old warrior, and something of a martinet. He married a
third daughter of the Duke of Runcorn--Lady Lucy Briddwater."

She said without the betraying flicker of an eyelash: "I have seen the
lady named...."

He said, with a prick of self-reproach for having again turned the barb
that festered in her bosom:

"Lady Lucy was a very lovely creature, and a very impulsive one. She lived
not happily, and she died tragically."

There was the ring of steel and the coldness of ice in the Mother's words:

"She met the fate she chose."

He thought, looking at her:

"What a woman this is! How silent, how resourceful, how calm, how
immeasurably deep! And why does she think of me as an opponent?" He went
on, stung by that quiet marshalling of all her forces against him:

"Unhappily, the fate we choose for ourselves sometimes involves others.
The death of that unhappy woman and the father of her child left an
innocent creature at the mercy of sordid, evil hands."

"In evil hands, indeed, judging by--what you have told me."

"I would give much to be able to trace her." There was a heavy line
between his eyebrows, and his eyes were stern and sad. "It would be
something to know what had become of her, even if she were dead, or worse
than dead."

A violent, sudden scarlet dyed her to the edge of the white starched coif.
Her mouth writhed as though words were bursting from her; but she nipped
her lips together, and controlled her eyes. And still her silence angered
and defied him. He went on:

"If I seem to you to harp painfully upon this subject, pardon me. You have
my word that, without encouragement from you, I will not refer to it after
to-day." His close-clipped brown moustache was straightened by the tension
of the muscles of his mouth. He passed his palm over it, and continued
speaking without moving a muscle of his face or taking his searching eyes
from the Mother's.

"The name of the young lady who is so fortunate as to be your ward, and
even more, the striking likeness I spoke of just now, have led me to hope
that my dead friend's daughter was led by a Hand, in whose Divine guidance
I humbly believe, to find the very shelter he would have chosen for her.
Pray answer, acquitting me in your own mind of persistence or
inquisitiveness. Am I right or wrong?"

She might have been a statue of black marble, with wimple and face and
hands of alabaster, she stood so breathlessly still. Her heart did not
seem to beat; her blood was stagnant in her veins. She felt no faintness.
Her observation was unnaturally keen, her mind dazzlingly clear; her brain
seemed to work with twice its ordinary power. She thought. He glanced at
the shabby watch he wore upon the steel lip-strap, and waited. She was
aware of the action, though she never turned her head. She was weighing
the question, to tell or not to tell? Her soul hung poised like a seagull
in the momentary shelter of a giant wave-crest. Another moment, and the
battle with the raging gale and the driving halberds of the sleet would
begin again.

She looked again towards Lynette, and in an instant her purpose
crystallised, her line of action was made clear. She saw a little bunch of
wax-belled white heath fall from the girl's scarlet belt in the act of
rising. She saw Beauvayse snatch it greedily from the grass and read the
glance that passed between the golden-hazel and the green-grey eyes, and
understood with a great pang of jealous mother-pain that she was no longer
first in her beloved's heart. Then came a throb of unselfish joy at the
knowledge that Richard's girl had come into her kingdom, that the divine
right and heritage and crown of Womanhood were hers at last.

Were hers? Not yet, but might be hers, if every clue that led back to that
tavern upon the veld could be broken or tangled in such wise that the
keenest and most subtle seeker should be baffled and lost. It all lay
clear before her now, the manipulation of events, the deft rearrangement
of actual fact that might best be used to this end. As her clear brain
planned, her bleeding heart trailed wings in the dust, seeking to lead the
searcher away from the hidden nest, and now her motherhood and her pride
and all the diplomacy acquired in her long years of rule rose up in arms
to meet him.

They were not of equal height. Her great, changeful eyes, purple-grey now,
dropped to encounter his. She regarded him quietly, and said:

"No one of your wide experience needs to be reminded that resemblances
between persons who are not allied by blood exist, and are strangely
misleading. But since you have conveyed to me in unmistakable terms your
conviction that Miss Mildare is the daughter of--a mutual friend who bore
that surname--is actually identified in your idea with that most unhappy
child who was left orphaned some seventeen years ago--at--I think you said
a veld hotel in the Orange Free State?"

He bowed assent, biting the short hairs of his moustache in vexation and
embarrassment.

"Hardly an hotel--a wretched shanty of the usual corrugated-iron and
mud-wall type, in the cattle-grazing country between Driepoort and
Kroonfontein. And--it seems my fate to be continually bringing our
conversation back to a--most unhappy and painful theme."

"I acquit you of the intention to pain or wound. When I have finished what
I have to say, we will revert to the subject no more. It will be buried
between us for ever, though the memory of the Dead live in our pardoning
and loving thoughts, and in our prayers."

The vivid colour that had flamed in her cheeks had sunk and left them
marble. The humid mist of tears that veiled her eyes gave them a wonderful
beauty.

He answered her:

"Your thoughts could not be otherwise than noble and generous. Prayers as
pure as yours could not be unheard."

"No prayers are unheard, though all are not granted."

She made the slight gesture with her large, beautiful hand that put
unnecessary speech from her, and let the hand drop again by her side. Her
bosom rose and fell quietly with her even speaking. None could have
guessed the tumult within, and the doubts and convictions and
apprehensions that battled together, and the religious fears and scruples
that rent and tore her suffering soul. But for the sake of Richard's
daughter she rallied her grand forces, and nerved herself to carry out her
hated task.

"I will tell you how I came to be interested in the young lady who is now
my adopted daughter, and whom you know as Lynette Mildare. At the end of
the winter of 18-- the Reverend Mother of our Convent died, and I was sent
up from the Mother-House at Natal, by order of the Bishop, to take her
place as Superior. Two Sisters came with me. It was the usual slow journey
of many weeks. The wet season had begun. Perhaps that was why we did not
encounter many other waggons on the way. But one party of emigrants of the
labouring class--we never really learned where bound--trekked on before
us, and generally outspanned within sight. There were three rough
Englishmen--two middle-aged and one quite old--a couple of tawdry women,
and a young girl. They used to ill-treat the girl. We heard her crying
often, and one of the Kaffir voor-loopers of their two waggons told a Cape
boy who was in our service that the old Baas would kill the little white
thing one of these days. She was used as a drudge by them all--a servant,
unpaid, ill-fed, worse-clothed than the Kaffirs--but the old man,
according to our informant, bore her a special grudge, and lost no
opportunity of wreaking his malice on her."

"I understand," he said. She went on:

"We would have helped the child if we could have reached her; but it was
not possible. If she had run away and taken refuge with us, and the men
had followed her, I do not think we should have given her up for any
threats of theirs, or even for threats carried out in action."

"I know you never would have."

She made the slight gesture with her hand that put all inferred praise
aside.

"The waggons of the emigrants were no longer in sight, one morning when
we inspanned. They had headed south as if for the Diamond Mines, and we
were trekking west...." There was a slight hesitation, and her lashes
flickered, then she took up her story. "Perhaps we were a hundred and
fifty miles from Gueldersdorp, perhaps more, when we came upon what we
believed at first to be the dead body of a young girl, almost a child,
lying among the karroo bush, face downwards, upon the sand. She had been
cruelly beaten with the sjambok--she bears the scars of that terrible
ill-usage to-day.... We judged that she had fainted and fallen from one of
the emigrants' trek-waggons. Months afterwards, when her wounds were
healed"--her steady lips quivered slightly--"and she had recovered from an
attack of brain-fever brought on by alarm and anxiety and the ill-usage,
she told me that she had run away from people who were cruel to her--from
a man who----"

"This distresses you. I am grieved----"

He noted the sickness of horror in her face, and the starting of
innumerable little shining points of moisture on her white, broad forehead
and about her lips. She drew out her handkerchief and wiped them away with
a hand that shook a little.

"I have very little more to say. She was quite crushed and broken by
cruelty and ill-usage. No native child could have been more ignorant--she
could not even tell us her name when we asked it. She probably had never
had one. And Father Wix, who is our Convent Chaplain, and has charge of
the Catholic Mission here, baptised her at my instance, giving her two
names that were dear to me in that old life that I left behind so long
ago. She is Lynette Mildare.... Are you surprised that in seven years a
young creature so neglected should have become what you see? Those powers
were inherent in her which training can but develop. We found in her great
natural capacity, an intelligence keen and quick, a taste naturally
refined, a sweet and gentle disposition, a pure and loving heart----" Her
voice broke. Her eyes were blinded by a sudden rush of tears. She moved
her hand as though to say: "There is no more to tell."

"You shut the door upon my hope," he said.

It was to her veritably as though the gates of her own deed clashed
behind her with the closing of the sentence. For she had stated the
absolute truth, and yet left much untold. She saw disappointment and
reluctant conviction in his face, coupled with an immense faith in her
that stung her to an agony of shame and self-reproach. What had she
suppressed?

Nothing, but that the waggons of the emigrants had turned south for
Diamond Town a fortnight before the finding of that lost lamb upon the
veld. And her scrupulous habit of truth, her crystal honour, her keen,
clear judgment no less than her rigorous habit of self-examination, told
her that the half-truth was no better than falsehood, and that she,
Christ's Bride and Mary's Daughter, had deliberately deceived this man.

Yet for his own sake, was it not best that he should never know the truth!
And for the sake of Richard's daughter, was it not her sacred maternal
duty to shield that dearest one from shame? She steeled herself with that
as he bared his head before her.

"Ma'am, you have more than honoured me with your confidence, and I need
not say that it is sacred in my eyes, and shall be kept inviolate. And for
the rest----"



XL


"Reverend Mother," sounded from below.

"They are calling us," she said, as though awakened from a dream.

"May I take you down?"

He offered his arm with deference, and she touching it lightly, they went
down together. Lynette came to them laughing, a cup in either hand, her
aides-de-camp following with plates that held the siege apology for bread
and butter and familiar-looking cubes of something....

"Thank you, Miss Mildare. What have you here, Beau? Cake, upon my word! Or
is it a delusion born of long and painful abstinence from any form of
pastry?"

"Cake it is, sir, and thundering good cake," proclaimed Beauvayse. "Made
from Sister Tobias's special siege recipe, without candied peel or plums
or carraways, or any of the other what-do-you-call-'ems that go into the
ordinary article. Go in and win, sir. I've had three whacks. Haven't I,
Miss Mildare?"

He spoke with the infectious enjoyment of a schoolboy, and Lynette's
laugh, sweet and gay as a thrush's sudden trill of melody, answered:

"I think you have had four."

She flushed as she met the Colonel's eyes, reading in them masculine
appreciation of her delicate, vivid beauty, and put her freed hand into
the lean palm he held out, saying, with a shy, sweet smile that lifted one
corner of the sensitive mouth higher than the other:

"I didn't come to say How do you do? before, because I saw you were busy
talking to Mother." Her quick glance read something amiss in another face.
"Mother, how tired you look! Please bring that little camp-stool, Mr.
Fraithorn. Oh, thank you, Dr. Saxham; that one with arms is more
comfortable. Colonel, we're all under your command. Won't you please order
the Mother to sit down and rest? She will be so tired to-morrow. Dearest,
you know you will."

She took the Mother's hand, confidently, caressingly. The end of the thin
black veil, that was shabby now, and had darns in many places, was wafted
across her face by a vagrant puff of cooled air from the river, and she
kissed it, bringing the tears very near the deep, sad eyes that looked at
her, and then turned away. Saxham, in default of any excuse for lingering
near her, went back to Lady Hannah, who had been diligently mining in him
with the pick and shovel of Our Special Correspondent, and getting nothing
out, and sat himself doggedly upon a stone beside her.

"That is a sweet girl." She nibbled bannock, sparsely margarined, and
sipped her sugarless, milkless tea, sitting on a little bushy knoll,
warranted free from puff-adders and tarantulas. Saxham answered stiffly:

"Many people here seem to be under--the same impression."

"Don't you share it? Don't you think her sweet?"

"I have seen young ladies who were--less deserving of the adjective."

Lady Hannah jangled a triumphant laugh. She wore the tailored garb the
average Englishwoman looks best in, at home and abroad, an alpaca coat
and skirt of cool grey; what the American belle terms a "shirt-waist" with
pearl studs, and a big grey hat with a voluminous blue silk veil. Her
small face was smaller than ever, but her eyes were as round and as bright
as a mouse's or a bird's, and her talk was full of glitter and vivacity.

"'Praise from Dr. Saxham.' ... If I were a man," she declared, "I should
_perdre la boule_ over that girl. I don't wonder where she gets her lovely
manners from, with such a model of grace and good breeding as Biddy Bawne
before her eyes, but I do ask how she came by that type of beauty? And
Biddy----"

"Biddy?" repeated Saxham, at a loss.

Her laugh shrilled out.

"I forgot. She is the Reverend Mother-Superior of the Convent to all of
you. But I was at school with her, and I can't forget she used to be
Biddy. She was one of the great girls, and I was a sprat of ten, but she
condescended to let me adore her, and I did, like everybody else. To be
adored is her _métier_. The Sisters swear by her, and that girl worships
the ground under her feet. If I had a daughter I should like her to look
at me in that way--heart in her eyes, don't you know, and what eyes!
Topaz-coloured, aren't they? She has no conversation, of course. _I_
hadn't at her age--nineteen or twenty, if I am any guesser. What she will
be at thirty, if she don't go off! That little Greek head, and all those
waves of rusty-coloured hair. Quite wonderful! And her hands and feet and
skin--marvellous! And that small-boned slenderness of build that is so
perfectly enchanting. Paquin would delight to dress her. And"--her
jangling laugh rang out, waking echoes from hollow places--"it looks--do
you know?--it looks as though he would get the chance."

"Why does it?" demanded Saxham, turning his square face full upon Lady
Hannah, and lowering his heavy brows.

"Mercy upon us, Doctor, do you want me to be definite and literal? Can't
you do as I do, and use your eyes?" Her own round, sparkling black ones
were full of provocation. "They look as if they could see rather farther
into a mud wall than most people's. Please get me one of those peaches.
No, I won't have a plate. I am beginning to find out that most of the
things Society regards as indispensable can be done without. I'm beginning
to revert to Primitive Simplicity. Isn't there a prehistoric _flair_ about
most of us? If there isn't, there ought to be. For what are we from
week-end to week-end but grimy male and female Troglodytes, eating minced
horse and fried locusts in underground burrows by the light of paraffin
lamps! Another peach.... Thanks. Can't you see those dear things, the
Sisters, gathering them by lantern-light, and being shelled by Brounckers'
German gunners. Wretches! Beasts! Horrors!"

"I hope," said Saxham, with rather heavy irony, "that you acquainted them
with your opinion of them while you had the opportunity?"

She gaily flipped him with the loose tan gloves she had drawn off. Her
bangles clashed, and her eyes snapped sparks under the brim of her hat,
whose feathers nodded and swished, and her jangling laugh brought more
echoes from the high banks.

"Ha, ha, ha! Do you know, Doctor, I call that thoroughly nasty--to remind
me, on such a fine day too, of the Frightful Fiasco. When my own husband
hasn't ventured to breathe a hint even.... Do you know, when he rode out
to meet me with the Escort, all he said was, 'Hullo, old lady; is that
you? The Chief wants to know if you'll peck with us at six, and I told him
I thought you'd be agreeable.' And when we met, _he_---- Why do
handkerchiefs invariably hide when people want to sneeze behind them?" She
found the ridiculous little square of filmy embroidered cambric, and blew
her thin little nose, and furtively whisked away a tear-drop. "He never
moved a muscle; Just shook hands in his kind, hearty way, and began to
tell the news of the town.... Never, by look or word or sign, helped to
rub in what a beetle-headed idiot I'd been." She gulped. "I could have put
my head down on the tablecloth and cried gallons"--she blew her nose
again--"knowing 'd lost him a rook at least. For, of course, that flabby
Slabberts creature counted for something in the game, or Brounckers
wouldn't have wanted him. And Captain--my Captain!..." She threw a
sparkling eye-dart tipped with remorseful brine at the spare, soldierly
figure and the lean, purposeful face. "If you were to say to me this
minute, 'Hannah Wrynche, jump off the end of that high rock-bluff there,
down on those uncommonly nasty-looking stones below,' I vow I'd do it!"

Saxham's blue eyes were kind. Here was a fellow hero-worshipper.

"I believe you would do it, and--that he believes it too."

She tapped him on the sleeve with the long cherry-wood stick of her white
green-lined umbrella.

"Thank you. But don't get to making a habit of saying charming things,
because the rôle of Bruin suits you. Your Society women-patients used to
enjoy being bullied, tremendously, I remember. We're made like that." Her
shrill laugh came again. "To _sauter à pieds joints_ on people who are
used to being deferred to, or made much of, is the best way to command
their cordial gratitude and sincere esteem, isn't it? Don't all you
successful professional men know that?"

"The days of my professional successes are past and gone," said Saxham,
"and my very name must be strange in the ears of the men and women who
were my patients. It is natural and reasonable that when a man falls out
of the race, he should be forgotten--at least, I hold it so."

"You have a patient not very far away who lauds you to the skies." Lady
Hannah indicated the slender pepper-and-salt clad figure of Julius
Fraithorn with the cherry-wood umbrella-stick. "You know his father, the
Bishop of H----? Such a dear little trotty old man, with the kind of rosy,
withered-apple face that suggests a dear little trotty old woman,
disguised in an episcopal apron and gaiters, and with funny little bits of
white fur glued on here and there for whiskers and eyebrows. We met him
with Mrs. Fraithorn at the Hôtel Schwert at Appenbad one June. Do you know
Appenbad? Views divine: such miles of eye-flight over the Lake of
Constance and the Rhine Valley. To quote Bingo, who suffered hideously
from the whey-cure, every prospect pleases, and only man is bile--and
woman, too, if seeing black spots in showers like smuts in a London fog,
only sailing up instead of coming down, means a disturbed gastric system.
I'm not sure now that the Bishop did not mention your name. Can he have
done so, or am I hashing things? Do set my mind at rest?"

Saxham said with stiffness:

"It would be possible that the Bishop would remember me. I operated on him
for the removal of the appendix in 18--"

"If you had taken away his Ritualistic prejudices at the same time, you
would have made his wife a happy woman. Her soul yearns for incense and
vestments, candles, and acolytes, and most of all for her boy. Well, she
will thank you herself for him one day, Doctor." The little dry hand,
glittering with magnificent rings, touched Saxham's gently. "In the
meantime let a woman who hasn't got a son shake hands with you for her."

"You make too much of that affair." Saxham took the offered hand. It
pressed his kindly, and the little lady went on:

"You're still a prophet in your own country, you know, though it pleases
you to make yourself out a--a kind of medical Rip Van Winkle. In June last
year--when I did not guess that I should ever know you--I heard a woman
say: 'If Owen had been here, the child wouldn't have died.' And the woman
was your sister-in-law, Mrs. David Saxham."

Saxham's blue eyes shot her a steely look. The wings of his mobile
nostrils quivered as he drew quickened breath. He waited, with his
obstinate under-lip thrust out, for the rest. If he did not fully grasp
the real and genuine kindliness that prompted the little woman, at least
he did her the justice of not shutting her up as an impudent chatterbox.
She went on, a little nervously:

"I don't think I ever mentioned to you before that I had met your brother
and his wife? She is still a very attractive person, but--it is not the
type to wear well, and the boy's death cut them both up terribly."

"There was a boy--who died?"

"In the spring of last year. Of--meningitis, I think his mother said, and
she declared over and over that if you had been there, you would have
saved him."

"At least, I should have done my best."

She had turned her eyes away in telling him, or she would have seen the
relief in his face. He understood now why his mother's trustees had
prompted the solicitors' advertisement. He was his nephew's heir, under
the late Mrs. Saxham's will. Seven thousand in Consols and Home Rails, and
the little freehold property in North Wales, that brought in, when the
house was let, about one hundred and fifty pounds a year, counted as
wealth to a man who had possessed nothing. He lifted his square head and
threw back his heavy shoulders with the air of one from whom a heavy
burden has been taken. His vivid eyes lightened, his heavy brows smoothed
out their puckers, and the tense lines about his lips relaxed. His own
words came back to him:

"The Past is done with. Why should not the Future be fair?"

He knew, as he looked towards Lynette Mildare, who personified the Future
for him, and his mood changed. He had loved her without hope. Now a faint
grey began to show in the blackness of his mental horizon. It might be a
false dawn, but what a lightening of the heavy heart--what a leap of the
stagnant blood--answered to it! He was no longer penniless. He had never
loved money or thirsted for estate, but the thought of that sum of seven
thousand pounds solidly invested, and the house that stood in its walled
garden on the cliffs at Herion, looking out on the wild, tumbling
grey-white waters of Nantavon Bay, was dear to him.



Plas Bendigaid had been a Convent once. Its grey, stone-tiled,
steep-pitched roof and solid walls of massive stone had sheltered his
mother's infancy and girlhood. Perhaps they might cover a lovelier head,
and echo to the voices of his wife and his children. He gave sweet fancies
the rein, as Lady Hannah chattered beside him. He dreamed of that Future
that might be fair, even as he filled up the little lady's pauses with
"Yes's" and "No's."

Love at first sight. He had laughed the possibility to scorn, in other
days, holding the passion to be the sober child of propinquity, sympathy,
consonance of ideas, similar tastes, and pursuits, and fanned into flame,
after due time to kindle, by the appearance of a rival.

A rival! He laughed silently, grimly, remembering the resentful, jealous
impulse that had prompted his interruption when the boyish, handsome face
of Beauvayse had leaned so near to hers, and the blush that dyed her
white-rose cheeks had answered, no doubt, to some hackneyed, stereotyped,
garrison compliment.

He had seen them together since then: once crossing the veld from the
Women's Laager on foot, in the company of the Mother-Superior; once here
beside the river, under the chaperonage of all the Sisters; once in the
Market Square, and always the sight had roused in him the same intolerable
resentment and gnawing pain that rankled in him now as he watched them.

What was Beauvayse whispering, so close to the delicate little ear that
nestled under the red-brown hair-waves? Something that set his grey-green
eyes gleaming dangerously, and lifted the wings of the fine nostrils, and
opened the boldly-curved mouth in audacious laughter, under the short
golden hairs of the clipped moustache. Somehow that laughter stung Saxham.
His muscular hand gripped the old hunting-crop that he carried by habit
even when he did not ride, and his black brows were thunderous as he
vainly tried to listen to the little woman who chattered beside him.

"Look about you," she bade him, putting up her tortoiseshell-rimmed
eyeglasses as though she were in a picture-gallery or at a theatre.
"Wouldn't the ordinary unimaginative person suppose that Love would be the
last flower to blossom in the soil of this battered little bit of
debatable ground? But we know better. So does Miss Wiercke, the German
oculist's daughter, and so does that tallow-candle-locked young man who
plays the harmonium at the Catholic Church. And that other pretty girl--I
don't know her name--who used to keep the book-registers at the Public
Library. She is going to marry that young mining-engineer--a Cornishman,
judging by his blue eyes and black hair--do you happen to be Cornish,
too?--next Sunday. And the uncertainty about living till then or any time
after Monday morning will make quite a commonplace wedding into something
tremendously romantic. But you don't even pretend to look when you're
told. Aha!" she cried; "I've caught you. You were watching another pair of
lovers--the couple I kept for the last."

"Not at all," said Saxham, inexpressibly wearied by the voluble little
woman's discourse. Ignoring the conventional disclaimer, Lady Hannah went
on:

"They're in the early stage--the First Act of the dear old play. Pretty to
watch, isn't it? Though it makes one feel chilly and grown old, as
Browning or somebody says. Only the other day one was tipping that boy at
Eton, and he looking such a Fourth of June darling as you never saw, got
up in duck trousers and a braided blue jacket, and a straw hat with a
wreath of white and crimson Banksia roses round it for the Procession of
Boats. And now"--she sighed drolly--"he's a long-legged Lieutenant of
Hussars, with a lady-killing reputation. Though, in the present instance,
I'm ready to back my opinion that the biter is fairly bit. What regiments
of women will tear their hair--real or the other thing--when Beau becomes
a Benedick."

Saxham saw red, but he gave no sign. She turned down her little thumb with
a twinkle of triumph.

"_Habet!_ And I'm not sorry he has got it badly. His _leitmotif_ in the
music-play has been 'See the Conquering Hero' up to now; one isn't sorry
to see one's sex avenged. But one _is_ sorry for Mary Fraithorn's boy."
She indicated the Chaplain with a twirl of her eyeglasses. "She used to
visit him with the Sisters when he was ill, and, of course, he has been
bowled over. But _il n'a pas un radis_, unless the Bishop comes round, and
don't you think that little Greek head of hers is aware that a great deal
of money goes with the Foltlebarre title, and that the family diamonds
would suit it to a marvel?"

Saxham said gratingly, and with a hostile look:

"Do you infer that Miss Mildare is vain and mercenary?"

"Good mercy, my dear man!" she screamed; "don't pounce. I infer nothing,
except that Miss Mildare happens to be a live girl, with eyes and the gift
of charm, and that the young men are attracted to her as naturally as
drones to a honey-pot. Also, that, if she's wise, she will dispose of her
honey to the best advantage." Her beady bright eyes snapped suddenly at
Saxham, and her small face broke up into laughter. "Ha, ha, ha! Why, I do
believe ..." She screamed at him triumphantly. "You, too! You've
succumbed. She carries your scalp at her pretty waist with the rest of
'em. How perfectly delightful!"

Possibly Saxham had always been a bear, as her little ladyship had stated,
but the last five years had certainly scraped off whatever social veneer
had adhered to his manners. The power of facial self-control, the common
tact that would have carried things off with a laugh and a jest, were his
no longer, if he had ever possessed them. He got upon his feet and stood
before the woman whose six ounces less of brain-matter had been
counterbalanced by so large an allowance of intuition, dumbly furious with
her, and so unspeakably savage with himself for not being able to hide his
anger and annoyance that, as he stood before her with his hulking
shoulders hunched and his square, black head sullenly lowered, and his
eyes blazing under their heavy brows, he suggested to Lady Hannah's nimble
wit and travelled experience the undeniable analogy between a chaffed and
irate Doctor and a baited Spanish bull, goaded by the stab of the gaudy
paper-flagged dart in his thick neck, and bewildered by the subsequent
explosion of the cracker. He only wanted a tail to lash, she mentally
said, and had pigeon-holed the joke for Bingo when it became none.

"Do, please, forgive me!... What you must think of me!..." she began
contritely.

Repentance gave place to resentment. Saxham, without even an abrupt
inclination of the head, had swung about and left her. She saw the
heavily-shouldered, muscularly-built figure crossing the drift a little
way down, stepping from boulder to boulder with those curiously small,
neat feet, twirling his old horn-handled hunting-crop as he went, with a
decidedly vicious swish of the doubled thong. Now he was knee-deep in the
reeds of the north shore; now he was climbing the bank. A black-and-white
crow flew up heavily, and was lost among the intertwining branches of the
oaks and the blue-gums, and a cloud of finches and linnets rose as the
covert of tree-fern and cactus and tall grass, knitted with thorny-stemmed
creeper, received him and swallowed him. She saw by the shaking of the
foliage that he turned up the stream, and then no more of him.
Feather-headed idiot that she had been! Inconsiderate wretch! How, in
Heaven's name, after reminding the man of the perfidy of that underbred
_passée_ little person with the passion for French novels and sulphonal
tabloids, who had thrown the Doctor over, years before, in favour of his
brother the Dragoon--how could she have charged him with being a victim to
the charms of another young woman? If Mrs. David's desertion rankled
still, as no doubt it did, there being no accounting for masculine taste,
he would, of course, resent the accusation almost as an insult. Men were
such Conservatives in love. And, besides, she had just been telling him
about the child. She loathed herself for having perpetrated such a
blunder. Saxham had murdered politeness by quitting her abruptly; but
hadn't she deserved the snub? She deserved snubbing. She would go, for the
health of her soul, and talk to dearest Biddy, who always made you feel
even smaller than you had thought yourself before.

She stood up, shaking the sand-grams and grass-burrs from her dress and
the folds of the white umbrella. It was nearing six o'clock. The heat was
lessening, and the pale turquoise sky overhead was flecked and dappled
with little puffs of rosy cloud, bulking in size and deepening in colour
to the westward, where their upper edges were pure gold. And the river
looked like a stream of liquid honey, upon which giant rose-leaves had
been scattered, and a breeze was stirring in the grasses and among the
leaves. The Sisters were busily repacking their baskets. Little Miss
Wiercke, and her lank-haired young organist, sat under a bush, gazing in
each other's eyes with the happy fatuity of lovers in the second stage,
while the young lady who had kept the registers at the Public Library was
teaching her Cornish mining-engineer to wash up cups and saucers in a tin
basin--a process which resulted in the entanglement of fingers of
different sexes, and made Sister Tobias pause over her task of wiping
crockery to shake her head and laugh.

Little Miss Wiercke was to lose her lank-haired organist a few days later,
the prevalent complaint of shrapnelitis carrying him off. And the girl who
screamed coquettishly as the mining-engineer amorously squeezed her wet
fingers under the soapsuds was shortly to be represented in the
Cornishman's memory by another white cross in the Cemetery, a trunk full
of pathetic feminine fripperies, and a wedding-ring that had been worn
barely two months. But they did not know this, and they were happy. We
should never love or laugh if we knew.

Two other people had passed along the path that ran by the margin of the
sand and reed-patches, and were lost to sight. Lady Hannah glanced towards
the Mother-Superior, who was being gracious to Captain Bingo and the
Chaplain, and hoped Biddy would not miss the owner of the little Greek
head and the enchanting willowy figure quite yet.

Nuns were frightfully scrupulous and gimlet-eyed where their charges were
concerned. And certainly, if young people never got away together without
_qu'il ne vous en déplaise!_ there would be fewer engagements. And Biddy
must know that it was a Heaven-sent chance for the girl.

The Foltlebarres had sat too long on thorns to grumble at Beau's marrying
a girl without a _dot_, who was not only lovely enough to set Society
screaming over her, but modest and a lady. Up to the present his tendency
had been to exalt Beauty above Breed, and personal attractiveness above
moral immaculateness.

As in the most recent case of that taking but extremely terrible little
person with the toothy, photographic smile, Miss Lessie Lavigne of the
Jollity Theatre, the affair with whom might be counted, it was to be
hoped, as the last furrow of a heavy sowing of wild oats. As this would be
a match _d'égal à égal_--in point of blood and education, at any
rate--certainly the Foltlebarres would have reason to bless their stars.

Somebody came over to her just then, saying:

"Bingo seems in excellent spirits."

She looked, a little apprehensively, across to where the Mother Superior
and the wistful-eyed, pepper-and-salt-clad Chaplain were patiently
listening to the recital of one of Bingo's stock anecdotes.

"What is he telling the Reverend Mother?" Her tone was anxious. "I do hope
not that story about the unwashed Boer and the cake of soap!"

"Don't be alarmed. It's a recent and completely harmless anecdote about
the despatch-runner from Diamond Town who got in this morning."

Her eyes sparkled.

"Really ...? And with news worth having?"

"Mr. Casey might be disposed to think so."

"Who is Mr. Casey?"

"That's a question nobody can answer satisfactorily."

"But is the intelligence absolutely useless to anybody who doesn't happen
to be Mr. Casey?" she insisted.

"Not unless they happened to be deeply interested in Mrs. Casey."

"There is a Mrs. Casey, then?"

"So says the man who travelled two hundred miles to bring her letters and
the message that she is, as Mr. Micawber would put it, _in statu quo_."

"I understand." The bright black eyes were compassionate. "She has written
to her husband--she doesn't know that he has been killed----"

"Nor do we. As far as we can ascertain, the garrison has never included a
Casey."

"Then you think----"

"I think"--he glanced aside as a stentorian bellow of laughter reached
them--"that, judging by what I hear, Bingo has got to the soapy story."

She frowned anxiously.

"Bingo ought to remember that nuns aren't ordinary women. I shall have to
go and gag him." She took a dubious step.

"Why? The Reverend Mother does not seem at all shocked, and Fraithorn is
evidently amused." He added, as Bingo's rapturous enjoyment of his own
anecdote reached the stamping and eye-mopping stage: "And undoubtedly
Bingo is happy."

"He has got out of hand lately. One can't keep a husband in a proper state
of subjection who may be brought home to one a corpse at any hour of the
day." Her laugh jangled harshly, and broke in the middle. "The soil of
Gueldersdorp being so uncommonly favourable just now to the production of
weeds of the widow's description."

"It grows other things." His eyes were very kind. "Brave, helpful,
unselfish women, for instance."

"There is one!"

She indicated the tall, black-robed figure of the Mother with a quick
gesture of her little jewelled hand.

"And here is another." He touched her sleeve lightly with a finger-tip.

"Brave.... Helpful." Her voice was choky. "Do you think I shall ever
forget the hindrance I have been to you? Didn't I lose you your Boer spy?"

"Granted you did." His moustache curved cheerfully at the corners. "But
that's Ancient History, and look what you brought back!"

"A unit of the despised majority who is thoroughly convinced of her own
superfluousness. Hannah Wrynche, with the conceit so completely taken out
of her that she feels, say, like a deflated balloon; Hannah Wrynche, who
believed herself born to be a War Correspondent, and has come down to
scribbling gossipy paragraphs for a little siege newspaper printed in a
damp cellar."

He laughed.

"Collectors will pay fancy prices for copies of that same little siege
newspaper, at auctions yet to be."

"I've thought of that," she confessed. "But, oh! I could make it so much
more spicy if you'd only give me a freer hand."

His hazel eyes had a smile in them. "I know you think me an editorial
martinet."

"You blue-pencil out of my poor paragraphs everything that's interesting."

"No personalities shall be published in a paper I control."

"The Reading Public adore personalities and puerilities."

"They can go to the _Daily Whale_ for them, then."

"Isn't that rather a personal remark?"

"Let me say that if you are occasionally personal, you are never, under
any circumstances, anything but clever."

"Thank you. But, oh! the difference between what I am and what I aspired
to be!"

"And, ah! the difference between what I have done and what I meant to do!"
he said.

Her black eyes flashed. "You have never really felt it. Achievement with
you has never hit below the mark. You, of all men living, are least fitted
to enter into the rueful regrets and dismal disillusions of a Hannah
Wrynche."

"Hannah Wrynche, who is content to do a woman's work and fill a woman's
place; Hannah Wrynche, who has atoned for a moment of ambitious--shall I
say imprudence?--splendidly and nobly, has no reason to be rueful or
regretful. Don't shake your head. Do you think I don't know what you are
doing, day after day, to help and cheer those poor fellows at the
Convalescent Hospital?"

Her eyes were full of tears. "You make too much of my poor efforts. You
underestimate the effect of praise from you."

"I said very little in the last cipher despatch that got through to
Colonel Rickson at Malamye, but what I did say was very much to the
purpose, believe me."

She gasped, staring at him with circular eyes of incredulity. "You've
mentioned--me--in your despatches. ME?"

"Just so!" he said, and left her groping for the ridiculous little
gossamer handkerchief to dry the tears of pride and gratitude that were
tumbling down her cheeks.



XLI


"Clang--clang--clang!"

A man and a girl came back out of Paradise when the Catholic church-bell
rang the Angelus. The girl's sweet flushed face had paled at the first
three strokes. When the second triple clanged out, her colour came back.
She rose from her seat upon a lichened slab of granite in the cool shadow
of the great boulder, and bent her lovely head, Beauvayse watching her
lips as they moved, soundlessly repeating the Angelic Salutation:

"_Ave María, grátia plena; Dóminus tecum! Benedícta tu in muliéribus, et
benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus._"

The wonderful simplicity of the Chosen One's reply followed, and the
announcement of the Unspeakable Mystery. The little prayer followed, and
the rapid signing with the Cross, and she dropped her slight hand from her
bosom, and turned her eyes back upon his.

"You remind me of my mother," he told her. "She is Catholic, you know."

"And not you?"

"We fellows, my brothers Levestre and Daltham and myself, were brought up
as pillars of the Established Church." His sleepy, grey-green eyes
twinkled, his white teeth showed in the laugh. "The girls are of my
mother's faith. It was a family agreement. Are you quite sure you have
come down to earth again? Because there's such an awful lot I want to say
to you that I don't know where to begin."

Though his mouth laughed, his eyes had wistful shadows under them. He had
tossed aside his Service felt when she had taken off her hat, and the
sunshine, piercing the thick foliage overhead, dappled the scaly trunks of
the blue-gum trees, and dripped gold upon the red-brown head and the
crisp-waved golden one.

"I am here. I am listening."

She stood before him with meekly drooping eyelids, feeling his ardent gaze
like a palpable weight, under which her knees trembled and her whole body
swayed. The great boulder rose upon her left hand like a beneficent
presence. Delicate ferns and ice-plants sprang from its chinks and
crannies. The long fronds of the sparaxis bowed at her small, brown-shod
feet, some bearing seed-pods, others rows of pink bells, or yellow--a
fairy chime. In the damper hollows iris bloomed, and the gold and scarlet
sword-flowers stood in martial ranks, and gaily-plumaged finches were
sidling on overhanging boughs, or dipping and drinking in the shallows.
The wattled starlings whistled to each other, or fought as starlings will.
A grey partridge was bathing in the hot dry sand between the reed-beds and
the bank, and in the deeper pools the barbel were rising at the flies.
There was no sound but the running water. The spicy smell of aromatic
leaves and the honeyed perfume of a great climbing trumpet-flower made the
air languorous with sweetness.

He answered her now.

"You are here, and I am here. And for me that means everything. And I feel
that I want nothing more, and, still, such a tremendous lot besides."

He breathed as though he had been running, and his sharply-cut nostrils
quivered. His white teeth gleamed under the clipped golden moustache.

Perhaps it made his charm the more definite and irresistible that in
these days of storm, and stress, and hardship and peril, his handsome face
was never without its gay, confident smile. His tall, athletic figure, in
the neat workmanlike Service dress that suited him so well, leaned towards
her eagerly. He kept his clear eyes on her face, with the direct
simplicity of a child's gaze, but the look bred in her a delicious terror.
The perfume of youth and health, of vigour and virility, that exhaled from
him, came to her mingled with the scent of the crushed spice-leaves and
the perfume of the waxen-belled heaths and the breath of the giant
trumpet-flower. She was turning dizzy. She could scarcely stand.

"I--I will sit down," she murmured, and he beat the grasses at the foot of
the great granite slab and prodded in chinks and crannies for snakes and
tarantulas; and when she sank down with a faint sigh of relief, threw
himself at her feet with a careless, powerful grace, and lay there looking
up at her, worshipping the golden lights that gleamed through the thick
dark eyelashes, and the sweet shadows under them, and her little pointed
chin.

The lace-trimmed frills of a white cambric petticoat peeped under the hem
of her green cloth skirt; below there was a glimpse of slender, crossed
ankles in brown silk hose, and the little brown shoes laced with wide silk
ties. She drew off one of her thin, loose tan gloves, and smoothed back a
straying lock above her ear, and flushed, hearing him murmur in his
caressing voice:

"Take off the other glove, too."

She was well aware how beautiful her hands were--small, and slender, and
ivory-white, and exquisitely modelled, with little babyish nicks at the
wrists, and at the inner edges of the rosy palms, and gleaming pink nails,
of the true almond shape. She thought little of her face, though she knew
it to be charming; but she ingenuously admired her slender feet, that were
quite as pretty without the silk stockings and little brown shoes, and the
delicate hands she bared for him now. He looked at them with ardent
longing, and said:

"How dear of you to do that, because I asked you! And do you realise that
we're here together alone, you and me, for the first time? Nobody saw us
steal away but Sister Cleophée, and I've a notion she wouldn't tell,
blessed old soul!"

Her eyes smiled.

"You would not call the Mother that?"

"No more than I would Queen Victoria or the Princess of Wales. And a
snubbing from the Religious would be rather worse, on the whole, than a
snubbing from the Royalty."

"The Princess never snubbed you?"

"Didn't she? Tremendously, once. Do you want to hear about it? She had
sent away her brougham while the giddy old Dean and Chapter were showing
her round St. Paul's. And--acting as Extra Equerry--I'd got instructions
to call her a hack conveyance, and--being young and downy, I'd picked
H.R.H. the glossiest growler on the rank. But you've been bred and born
here. You don't even know what a growler is. And in five years' time there
won't be one left in London."

"Perhaps I shall see London before the five years are over. And a growler
is a four-wheeled cab. You see, I'm not so ignorant...."

"You sweetest!" he burst out passionately. "I wish I knew all that you
could teach me!"

He might have frightened her if he had stretched out his arms to clasp her
then. But he mastered himself so far. Lying at full length in the grass,
leaning upon his elbow, he rested his head upon his hand, and drank her in
with thirsty eyes. And that something emanating from him enveloped her,
delicately and yet forcefully, constraining and urging and compelling her
to meet his gaze. And the perfume of the great honeyed flower came to her
in waves of sweetness, growing in strength, and the monotonous buzzing of
the black honey-bees mingled with the drumming of the crickets, and the
flowing of the river, and the beating of her heart, and the rushing of her
blood. She leaned her fair head back against the great boulder, and said
in a voice that shook a little:

"Tell me about the snubbing."

"It was High Art. Three words--and I knew I'd behaved like a bounder of
the worst--I had to go back and get the other cab, with a broken front
window and a cabby...." He chuckled. "I've met red noses enough but you
could have seen that chap's glowing through the thickest fog that ever
blanketed Ludgate Hill and wrapped the Strand in greasy mystery. Don't
move, please!... There's a ray of sunshine touching your head that makes
your hair look the colour of a chestnut when the prickly green hull first
cracks to let it out. Or ... there's a rose grows on the pergola at home
at Foltlebarre Royal, with a coppery sheen on the young leaves.... I
wondered why I kept thinking of it as I looked at you. But I know now. And
your skin is creamy white like the flower. Oh, if I could only gather the
girl-rose and carry it home to the others!"

She was pink as the loveliest La France now.

"You ought not to talk to me in that way."

"Don't I know it?" Beauvayse groaned out. He turned over upon his face in
the grass, and lay quite still. A shuddering sigh heaved the strong young
shoulders from time to time, and his hands clenched and tore at the
grasses, "Don't I know it? Lynette, Lynette!"

She longed to touch the close-cropped golden head. Unseen by him, she
stretched out a hand timidly and drew it back again, unsatisfied.

"Lynette, Lynette! I'm paying at this moment for every rotten act of
headlong folly I've ever committed in my life, and you're making me!" He
caught at a fold of her skirt and drew it to him and hid his face in it,
kissing it again and again. It was one of the caresses she had been used
herself to offer where she most loved. To find yourself being worshipped
instead of worshipping is an experience. She touched the golden head now,
as the Mother had often touched her own. He caught the hand.

"No, no!" She grew deadly pale, and shivered. "Please let me go. I--I did
not----"

She tried to release the hand. He raised himself, and she started at the
warm, quivering pressure of his beautiful mouth, scarcely shaded by the
young, wheat-golden moustache, upon her cool, sweet flesh. She snatched
her hand away with a faint cry, and sprang to her feet, and her cheeks
blazed anew as she turned to go.

"You want to leave me? You would punish me like that--just for a kissed
hand?"

He barred her way, taller than herself, though he stood upon the sloping
lower level. She had learned always to be true in thought and speech.

"I--don't--like to be touched." She said it without looking at him.

"You put your hand upon my head. Why did you do it if you hate me so?"

"I--don't hate you!"

"I love you! My rose, my dove, my star, my joy! Queen of all the girls
that ever I saw or dreamed of, say that you could love me back again!"

"I--must not."

Her bosom heaved. He could see the delicate white throat vibrating with
the tumultuous beating of her heart.

"Why not? Nobody has told you anything against me? Nobody has said to you
that I have no right to love you?" he demanded.

"No."

"Look at me."

The golden hazel, dark-lashed eyes she shyly turned to his were full of
exquisite, melting tenderness. Her lips parted to speak, and closed again.
He leaned towards her--hung over her, his own lips irresistibly attracted
to those sweetest ones....

"Lord Beauvayse----" she began, and stopped.

He begged:

"Please, not the duffing title, but 'Beauvayse' only. Tell me you love me.
Tell me that you'll wait until I'm able to come to you and say: 'My
beloved, the way's clear. Be my wife to-morrow!'"

His tone was masterful. His ardent eyes thrilled her. She murmured:

"Beauvayse ...!"

She swayed to him, as a young palm sways before a breeze, and he caught
her in his strenuous, young embrace, and held her firmly against him. Her
old terrors wakened, and dreadful, unforgettable things stirred in the
darkness, where they had lain hidden, and lifted hydra-heads. She cried
out wildly, and strove to thrust him from her, but he held her close.
There was a shaking among the tangled growths of bush and cactus high up
on the opposite bank, and Lynette realised that Beauvayse's arms no
longer held her. She leaned back against the boulder, panting and
trembling, and saw Beauvayse's revolver glitter in his steady hand, as
something came crashing down through the tangled jungle upon the edge of
the farther shore, and a heavily-built man in khâki pushed through the
shoulder-high growth of reeds, and leaped upon a rock that had a swirl of
water round it. It was Saxham.

"Miss Mildare!" called the strong, vibrating voice.

She faltered:

"It--it is Dr. Saxham."

"And what the devil does Dr. Saxham want?" was written in Beauvayse's
angry face. But he called out as he lowered his revolver-hand:

"You've had rather an escape of getting shot, Saxham, do you know? You
might have been a Boer or a buffalo. Better be more careful next time, if
you're anxious to avert accidents."

Saxham was a little like the buffalo as he lowered his head and surveyed
the alert, virile young figure and the insolent, high-bred face from under
ominously scowling brows. He made no answer; only laid one finger upon the
butt of his own revolver, and the slight action fanned Beauvayse's
annoyance and resentment to a white-heat, as perhaps Saxham had intended.
He sprang upon another boulder that was in the mid-swirl of the current,
and spoke again.

"Miss Mildare, I was walking on one of the native paths that have been
made in the bush there"--he indicated the bank behind him--"when I heard
you cry out. I am here, at your service, to offer you any help or
protection that is in my power to give."

Lynette looked at him vaguely. Beauvayse, crimson to the crisp waves upon
his forehead and the white collar-line above the edge of his jacket,
answered for her.

"Miss Mildare does not require any help or protection other than what I am
privileged to place at her disposal. You had better go on with your walk,
Doctor. You know the old adage about two being company?"

He laughed, but his voice had quivered with fury, and the hand that held
the revolver shook too. And his eyes seemed colourless as water against
the furious crimson of his face. Still ignoring him, Saxham said, his own
square, pale face turned full upon Lynette, and his vivid blue eyes
constraining her:

"Miss Mildare, I am at your commands. Tell me to cross the river and take
you back to the ladies of the Convent, or order me to continue my walk. In
which case I shall understand that the familiarities of Lord Beauvayse are
not unwelcome to you."

"By God ...! You----"

Beauvayse choked, then suddenly remembered where and how to strike. But he
waited, and Saxham waited, and still she did not speak.

"Am I to go or stay? Kindly answer, Miss Mildare!"

Beauvayse's eyes were on her. He said to her below his breath:

"Tell him to go!"

She stammered:

"Th--thank you. But--I--I--had rather you went on."

Beauvayse saw his opportunity, and added, with an intolerable smile:

"My 'familiarities,' as you are pleased to term them, being more
acceptable to a lady than the attentions of the Dop Doctor."

Saxham started as though an adder had flashed its fangs through his boot.
A rush of savage blood darkened his face; his hand quivered near the butt
of his revolver, and his eyes blazed murder. But with a frightful effort
he controlled himself, lifted his hat slightly to Lynette, turned and
leaped back to the stone he had quitted, strode through the reed-beds, and
plunged back into the tangled boscage. That he did not continue his walk,
but turned back towards the town, was plain, for his retreat could be
traced by the shaking of the thick bush and the high grasses through which
he forced his way. It did him good to battle even with these vegetable
forces, and the hooked thorns that tore his clothes and rent his flesh
left nothing like the traces that those few words of dismissal, spoken by
a girl's voice, and the hateful taunt that had followed, had left upon his
heart.

It was over. Over--over, the brief, sweet season of hope. Nothing was left
now but his loyalty to the friend who believed in him. If that man had
not stood between Saxham and his despair, Gueldersdorp would have got back
her Dop Doctor that night. For the Hospital stores included a cherished
case or two of Martell and Kinahan, and all these things were under
Saxham's hand.

The heavy footsteps crashed out of hearing. The startled finches settled
down again, except at that point, higher up on the opposite bank, to which
Beauvayse's attention had first been directed. There the little birds yet
hovered like a cloud of butterflies, but, practised scout as Beauvayse
was, he paid no heed to their distress. She had declared for him. The
Doctor's discomfiture enhanced his triumph. Gad! how like an angry buffalo
the fellow was! The sort of beast who would put down his head and charge
at a stone wall as confidently as at a mud one. It was a confounded
nuisance that he had seen what he had seen. But a man who had eventually
cut so poor a figure, had been snubbed so thoroughly and completely, might
prefer to hold his tongue. And if he did not, here in Gueldersdorp, while
no letters got through, while no news filtered in from the big humming
world outside, it would be possible to carry things bravely off for a long
time. He had told Bingo, to be sure, about--about Lessie. But Bingo,
though he might bluster and barge about dishonourable conduct, would never
give away a man who had trusted him. To be sure, it was not quite fair,
not altogether square; it was not playing the game as it should be played,
to gain her promise as a free man. Should he make a clean breast of it,
and tell her the whole wretched story now?

Perhaps he might if she had not been standing, a slender green-and-white,
nymph-like figure, against the background of sun-hot, shadow-flecked,
lichened stone, looking at him. The rosy light bathed her in its radiance.
And as she looked, it seemed to him that something was dawning in that
face of hers. He watched it, breathless with the realisation of his
dreams, his hopes, his desires. The prize was his. Every other baser
memory was drowning within him. It seemed to him that her purity, as he
bathed in it, washed him clean of stain. He forgot everything but the
secret that those sweet eyes told at last.

"My beloved! I'm not good enough to tie your blessed little shoes, and
yet no other man shall ever have you, hold you, call you his own....
Lynette, Lynette! Dear one, isn't there a single kiss? And I might get
shot to-morrow."

It was characteristic of him that his brave, gay mouth should laugh even
in the utterance of the appeal that melted her. She gave a little sob, and
raised her sweet face to his, flushing loveliest rosy red. She lifted her
slender arms and laid them about his strong young throat, and kissed him
very quietly and purely. He had meant to snatch her to his leaping heart
and cover her with eager, passionate caresses. But the strong impulse was
quelled. He said, almost with a sob:

"Is this your promise? Does this mean that you belong to me?"

Her breath caressed his cheek as she whispered:

"Yes."

He was thrilled and intoxicated and tortured at once to know himself her
chosen. Ah! why was he not free? Why had Chance and Luck and Fate forced
him to play a part like this?

"I wish to Heaven we had met a year ago!" he broke out impulsively.
"Half-a-dozen years ago--only you'd have been a mere kid--too young to
understand what Love means.... Why, Lynette darling! what is the matter?
What have I said that hurt?"

Her arms had fallen from about his neck. She shrank away from him. He drew
back, shocked into silence by the sudden, dreadful change in her. Her
eyes, curiously dulled and faded, looked at Beauvayse as though they saw
not him, but another man, through him and behind him. Her face was peaked
and pinched; her supple, youthful figure contracted and bent like that of
a woman withered by some wasting sickness, her dainty garments seemed to
lose their colouring and their freshness, and hang on her, by some strange
illusion wrought by the working of her mind upon his, like sordid rags.
Against the splendid riot of life and colour over and under and about her,
she looked like some slender sapling ringed and blighted, and ruined by
the inexorable worm. For she was remembering the tavern on the veld. She
was recalling what had been--realising what must henceforth be, in its
fullest meaning. She shuddered, and her half-open mouth drew in the air
in gasps, and the blankness of her stare appalled him. He called in alarm:

"Lynette dearest! what is the matter? Why do you look at me like that?
Lynette!"

She did not answer. She shook like a leaf in the wind, and stared through
him and beyond him into the Past. That was all. There was a rustling of
leaves and branches higher on the bank, and the sound of thick woollen
draperies trailing through grass. The bush on the edge of the cleared
space that was about the great boulder was parted by a white, strong hand
and a black-sleeved arm, and the Mother-Superior moved out into the open,
and came down with those long, swift steps of hers to where they were. Her
eyes, sweeping past Beauvayse, fastened on the drooping, stricken figure
of the girl, read the altered face, and then she turned them on the boy,
and they were stern as those of some avenging Angel, and her white wimple,
laundried to snowy immaculateness by the capable hands of Sister Tobias,
framed a face as white.

"What is the reason of--this? What has passed between you to account for
it? Has your mother's son no sense of honour, sir?"

The icy tone of contempt stung him to risk the leap. He drew himself to
his splendid height, and answered, his brave young eyes boldly meeting the
stern eyes that questioned him:

"Ma'am, I am sorry that you should think me capable of dishonourable
conduct. The fact is, that I have just asked Miss Mildare to be my wife.
And she consents."

A spasm passed over the pale face. So easily they leave us whom we have
reared and tended, when the strange hand beckons and the new voice calls.
But the Mother-Superior was not a woman to betray emotion. She drew her
black nun's robe over the pierced mother-heart, and said calmly, holding
out her hand to him:

"You will forgive me if I was unjust, knowing that she is dear to me. And
now I shall ask you to leave us. Please tell the Sisters"--from habit she
glanced at her worn gold watch--"we shall join them in ten minutes' time."

He bowed, and lifted his smasher hat from the grass, and took up the
Lee-Metford carbine he had been carrying and had laid aside, and went to
Lynette and took her passive hand, and bent over it and kissed it. It
dropped by her side lifelessly when he released it. Her face was a mask
void of life. He looked towards the Mother in distress. Her white hand
imperiously motioned him away. He expostulated:

"Is it safe for two ladies, ma'am, so far from the town, without
protection? Natives or white loafers may be hanging about."

"If you desire it, you can remain within hearing of a call. But go now."

He went, lightly striding down the sandy path between the reed-beds on the
foreshore. She watched the tall, athletic figure until it swung round a
bend and was lost to sight.

Then she went to the girl and touched her. And at the touch Lynette
dropped as though she had been shot, and lay among the trodden grasses and
the flaunting cowslips face downwards. A low, incessant moaning came from
the muffled mouth. Her hands were knotted in her hair. She writhed like a
crushed snake, and all of her slender neck and face that could be seen and
the little ears that her clutching, twining fingers sometimes bared and
sometimes covered were one burning, shameful red.

"Lynette! My dear one!" The Mother, wrung and torn with a very agony of
tenderness and pity, knelt beside her, and began with gentle strength to
untwine those clutching hands from the girl's hair. She prisoned both in
one of hers, and passed the other arm beneath the slender rigid body, and
lifted it up and held it in her strong embrace, silently until a moan,
more articulate than the rest, voiced:

"Mother!"

"It is Mother. She holds you; she will not let you go."

The head lay helplessly upon her bosom. She felt the rigor lessen. The
moaning ceased, and the tortured heart began to leap and strain against
her own, as though some invisible hand lashed it with an unseen thong.

There were no tears. Only those moans and the leaping of the heart that
shook her whole body. And it seemed to the Mother that her own heart wept
tears of blood. The hour had come at last, as always she had known it
would. The love of a man had wakened the woman in Lynette. She knew now
the full value of the lost heritage, and realised the glory of the jewel
that had been snatched by the brutal hand of a thief. Ah, Lord! the pity
of it!

The pity of it! She, the stainless one, could have stripped off her own
white robe of virgin purity, had it been possible, to clothe the despoiled
young shoulders of Richard's daughter, cowering prostrate under her burden
of guiltless shame, crushed by the terrible knowledge that ruined
innocence must always pay the penalty, whether the destroyer is punished
or goes free.

The penalty! Suppose at the price of a lie from lips that had never lied
yet it could be evaded? The Mother's face contracted with a spasm of
mental pain. A dull flush mounted to her temples, and died out in olive
paleness; her lips folded closely, and her black brows frowned over the
sombre grey fires burning in their hollow caves. She rebuked a sinner at
that moment, and the culprit was herself.

She, the just mistress and wise ruler of so many Sisters in the religious
profession; she, so slow to judge and condemn others, was unsparing in
austerity towards herself. She had always recognised her greatest weakness
in her love for this adopted daughter that might have been her own if
Richard Mildare had not played traitor. She had never once yielded to the
clinging of those slight hands about her heart, but she had exacted
forfeit from herself, and rigorously. So much for excess of partiality, so
much for over-consideration, so much for lack of faith in over-anxiety, so
much more of late for the keen mother-jealousy that had quickened in her
to anguish at the thought that another would one day usurp her undivided
throne, and claim and take the lion's share of the love that had been all
hers. Her spiritual director was far too lenient, in her opinion. She was
all the more exacting towards herself. What right had a nun to be so bound
by an earthly tie? It was defrauding her Saviour and her Spouse to love
with such excess of maternal passion the child He had given. Yet she loved
on.

She reviewed all her shortcomings, even while the girl's head lay
helplessly against her, and the scalding tears that had at last begun to
gush from those shut, quivering eyelids wetted her breast. She had
esteemed and valued perfect candour above all things. And yet of what
concealments had she not been guilty in the shielding of this dearest
head?

She had deceived, for Richard's child, Richard's friend, in the deft
interweaving of fragmentary truths into a whole plausible fabric. She knew
that, if necessary, she would deceive again, trailing her wings,
fluttering on before, as the golden plover lures the footsteps of the
stranger from her nest.

Perhaps you call her scruples fantastic, her sense of guilt morbid. Even
the lay Catholic can with difficulty comprehend and enter fully into the
mental constitution of the Religious. This was a nun, to whom a blur upon
the crystal of the soul kept pure, like the virginal body, for the daily
reception of the Consecrated Host, meant defilement, outrage, insult, to
her Master and her Lord.

And she had always known, it seemed to her, that this terrible hour would
come. When the two young figures had moved away together into the green
gloom of the trees, she had felt a premonitory chill that streamed over
her whole body like icy water, paralysing and numbing her strength. She
had read their secret in their faces, unconscious of her scrutiny, and
watched them out of sight, praying, as only such a mother can, that it
might not be as she feared. This was her beloved's great hour; she would
not have stretched out a finger to delay its coming,--she who had known
Love, and could not forget! It might be that in this splendid boy, who was
as beautiful as the Greek Alcibiades, and as brave as the young Bayard,
lay the answer to all her prayers for her darling. The bridal white would
not be a blasphemy, like the young nun's snowy robe and veil. And yet--and
yet, in Lynette's place she knew that she could never have looked into the
face of a rosy, smiling, wedded Future without seeing under the myrtle and
orange-blossom garland the leering satyr-face of the Past.

Was it wise that another should be made to share that vision? She put that
question to herself, looking with great agonised, unseeing eyes over the
head that lay upon her bosom, out across the slowly moving water, stained
with amber from ironstone beds through which it had wound its way, tinged
with ruddy crimson from the sunset. For the sky, from the western horizon
to the zenith, and from thence to the serried peaks and frowning bastions
of purple-black cloud that lowered in the north, was all orange-crimson
now, and the moon, then at the ending of her second quarter, swung like a
pale lamp of electrum at the eastward corner of the flaming tent.

"Was it wise?" She seemed to hear her own voice echoing back out of the
past. And it said:

"The only just claim to your entire confidence in all that concerns your
past life will rest in the hands of the man who may one day be your
husband."

The perfume of the great white trumpet-flower came to her in gusts of
intensified, sickening, loathsome sweetness. She glanced round and saw it
on her right, clasping in its luxuriant embrace a slender young bush that
it was killing. The thick, juicy green stems and succulent green leaves,
the greedily embracing tendrils and great fleshy-white, hanging flowers
revolted her. The creeper seemed the symbolisation of Lust battening upon
Innocence.

Other like images crowded thick and fast upon her. From a mossy cranny in
a stone a hairy tarantula leaped upon a little lizard that sunned itself,
not thinking Death so near. A lightning-quick pounce of the bloated thing
with the fierce, bright eyes and the relentless, greedy claws, and the
little reptile vanished. She shuddered, thinking of its fate.

The blue gums and oaks that fringed the river gorge and the bushes that
grew about were ragged and torn with shell and shrapnel-ball. Chips and
flinders had been knocked by the same forces from the boulders and the
rocks. Amongst the flowers near her shone something bright. It was an
unexploded Maxim-shell, a pretty little messenger of Death, girt with
bright copper bands and gaily painted. And a ninety-four-pound projectile,
exploded, had scattered the shore with its fragments, and doubtless the
river-bed was strewn thick with others. You had only to look to see them.
Once Lynette's lover knew everything there was to know, the trees and
rocks and flowers of the Eden in which every daughter of Eve owns the
right to walk, if only once in a whole lifetime, would be marred and
broken, scorched and spoiled, like these.

Purblind that she had been. What claim had any man, seeing what the lives
of men are, to this pitiful sacrifice of reticence, this rending of the
veil of merciful, wise secrecy from an innocent young head? None. Not the
shadow of a claim. She tossed away her former scruples. They sailed from
her on the faint hot breeze lightly as thistledown. And now the
tear-blurred face was lifted from her bosom, and the voice, hoarse and
weak and trembling, appealed:

"Mother, you are not angry? I never meant to be underhand, or to
hide--anything from you."

"No," she said, hiding the pang it gave her to realise how much had been
concealed between the lines that she had read so often. "You did not mean
to." The trembling voice went on:

"He never spoke to me as though we were strangers. Never, from the first.
And to-day, he----" Her heart's throbbing shook her. The Mother said:

"He has told me what has passed. He said that he had asked you to marry
him, and you had--agreed." The bitterness of her wounded love was in her
tone.

"I--had forgotten," she panted, "_that_--until one little careless thing
he said brought it all back to me in such a flood. It was like drowning.
Then you came, and--and----" The quavering, pitiful voice rose to a cry:
"Mother, must I tell him everything?" She cowered down in the enfolding
arms. "Mother, Mother, must I tell him?"

A great wave of pity surged out from the deep mother-heart that throbbed
against her own. The deep, melodious voice answered with one word:

"No."

Amazement sat on the uplifted, woebegone face of the girl. The sorrowful
eyes questioned the Mother's incredulously.

"You mean that you----"

She folded the slight figure to her. Her sorrowful eyes, under their great
jetty arches, looked out like stars through a night of storm. Her greyish
pallor seemed a thin veil of ashes covering incandescent furnace-fires.
She rose up, lifting the slender figure. She said, looking calmly in the
face:

"I mean that you are not to tell him. Upon your obedience to me I charge
you not to tell him. Upon your love for me I command you--never to tell
him! Kiss me, and dry these dear eyes. Put up your hair; a coil is
loosened. He is waiting for us! Come!"



XLII


The tall, soldierly young figure was standing motionless and stiff, as
though on guard, on the river-shore beyond the bend. Whatever
apprehensions, whatever regrets, whatever fears may have warred within
Beauvayse, whatever consciousness may have been his of having taken an
irrevocable step, bound to bring disgrace and reproach, sorrow, and
repentance upon the innocent as upon the guilty, he showed no sign as he
came to meet them, and lifted the Service felt from his golden head, and
held out an eager hand for Lynette's. She gave it shyly, and with the
thrill of contact Beauvayse's last scruple fled. He turned his beautiful,
flushed face and shining eyes upon the Mother, and asked with grave
simplicity:

"Ma'am, is not this mine?"

"First tell me, do you know that there is nothing in it?"

Her stern eyes searched his. He laughed and said, as he kissed the slender
hand:

"It holds everything for me!"

"Another question. Are you aware that my ward is a Catholic?"

"My wife will be of my mother's faith. I would not have her of any other."

The Mother gave Beauvayse her own hand then, that was marred by many deeds
of charity, but still beautiful.

Those two, linked together for a moment in their mutual love of her, made
for Lynette a picture never to be forgotten. Then Beauvayse said, in the
boyish tone that made the man irresistible:

"You have made me awfully happy!"

"Make her happy," the Mother answered him, with a tremble in her rich,
melancholy tones, "and I ask no more."

Her own heart was bleeding, but she drew her black draperies over the
wound with a resolute hand. Was not here a Heaven-sent answer to all her
prayers for her beloved? she asked herself, as she looked at the girl.
Eyes that beamed so, cheeks that burned with as divine a rose, had looked
back at Lady Biddy Bawne out of her toilet-glass, upon the night of that
Ascot Cup-Day, when Richard had asked her to be his wife. But Richard's
eyes had never worn the look of Beauvayse's. Richard's hand had never so
trembled, Richard's face had never glowed like this. Surely here was Love,
she told herself, as they went back to the place of trodden grass where
the tea-making had been.

The Sisters, basket and trestle-laden, were already in the act of
departure. The black circle of the dead fire marked where the giant kettle
had sung its hospitable song. Little Miss Wiercke and her long-locked
organist, the young lady from the Free Library and her mining-engineer,
had strolled away townwards, whispering, and arm-in-arm; the Mayor's wife
was laying the dust with tears of joy as she trudged back to the Women's
Laager beside a husband who pushed a perambulator containing a small boy,
who had waked up hungry and wanted supper; the Colonel and Captain Bingo
Wrynche had been summoned back to Staff Headquarters, and a pensive little
black-eyed lady in tailor-made alpaca and a big grey hat, who was sitting
on a tree-stump knocking red ants out of her white umbrella, as those
three figures moved out of the shadows of the trees, jumped up and hurried
to meet them, prattling:

"I couldn't go without saying a word.... You have been so beset with
people all the afternoon that I never got a chance to put my oar in. Dear
Reverend Mother, everything has gone off so well. No clergyman will ever
preach again about Providence spreading a table in the wilderness without
my coming back in memory to to-day. May we walk back together? I am a mass
of ants, and mosquito-bitten to a degree, but I don't think I ever enjoyed
myself so much. No, Lord Beauvayse, the path is narrow, and I have a
perfect dread of puff-adders. Please go on before us with Miss Mildare.
No!... Oh, what ...? You haven't ...?"

It was then that Lady Hannah dropped the white umbrella and clapped her
hands for joy. Something of mastery and triumph in the young man's face,
something in the pale radiance of the girl's, something of the mingled joy
and anguish of the pierced maternal heart shining in the Mother's great
grey eyes, had conveyed to the exultant little woman that the plant that
had thriven upon the arid soil of Gueldersdorp had borne a perfect blossom
with a heart of ruby red.

"Oh, you dears! you two beautiful dears! how happy you look!" she crowed.
"I must kiss you both!" She did it. "Say that this isn't to be kept
secret!" She clasped her tiny hands with exaggerated entreaty. "For the
sake of the _Gueldersdorp Siege Gazette_, and its seven hundred
subscribers all perishing for news, tell me I may let the cat out of the
bag in my next Weekly Column. Only say that people may know!"

As her black eyes snapped at Beauvayse, and her tiny hands dramatically
entreated, he had an instant of hesitation, palpable to one who stood by.
In an instant he pulled himself together.

"The whole world may know, as far as I am concerned."

"It is best," said the Mother's soft, melodious voice, "that our world, at
least, should know."

"And when--oh, when Is It To Be?" begged Lady Hannah.

Confound the woman! Why could she not let well alone? A sullen anger
burned in Beauvayse as he said, and not in the tone of the ardent lover:

"As soon as we can possibly manage it."

The Mother's voice said, coldly and clearly:

"I do not approve of long engagements. If the marriage takes place, it
must be soon."

With the consciousness of one who is impelled to take a desperate leap,
Beauvayse found himself saying:

"It cannot be too soon."

"Then ... before the Relief?" cried Lady Hannah, and Beauvayse heard
himself answering:

"If Lynette agrees?"

The rapture of submission in her look was intoxicating. He reached out his
hand and laid it lightly on her shoulder. Then, without another word, they
went on together, and the tall, soldierly figure in brown, and the
slender shape in the green skirt and little white coat, with the dainty
plumed hat crowning the squirrel-coloured hair, were seen in darkening
relief against the flaming orange of the sky.

"A Wedding under Fire. Bridal Ceremony in a Beleaguered City," murmured
the enthusiastic journalist. Her gold fountain-pen, hanging at her
châtelaine, seemed to wriggle like a thing of life, as she imagined
herself aiding, planning, assisting at, and finally sitting down to
describe the ceremony and the wedding-veil on the little Greek head. She
babbled as her quick, bird-like gait carried her along beside the tall,
stately-moving figure in the black habit:

"Dear Bridget ... I may call you that for the sake of old days?"

"If you like."

"This must make you very happy. Society mothers of marriageable daughters
will tear their transformations from their heads, and dance upon them in
despair, when they hear that Beau _s'est rangé_. But that I don't hold
forth to worldly ears I would enlarge upon the immense social advantages
of such a union for that dear child."

"Of course, I am aware that it is an excellent match."

Were her ears so unworldly? The phrase rankled in her conscience like a
thorn. And in what respect were those Society mothers less managing than
the nun? she asked herself. Could any of them have been more astute, more
eager, more bent on hooking the desirable _parti_ for their girls than she
had shown herself just now? And was this, again, an unworldly voice
whispering to her that the publicity ensured by a paragraph penned by this
gossip-loving little lady would fix him even more securely, bind him more
strongly, make it even less possible for him to retreat, should he desire
it--by burning his boats behind him, so that he had no alternative but to
go on? She sickened with loathing of herself. But for her there was no
retreat either. Here Lady Hannah helped her unawares. With a side-glance
at the noble face beside her, pale olive-hued, worn and faded beyond the
age of the woman by her great labours and her greater griefs, the arched
black eyebrows sprinkled of late with grey, the eyelids thin over the
mobile eyeballs, purpled with lack of sleep and secret, bitter weeping,
the close-folded, deeply cut, eloquent mouth withered like a
japonica-bloom that lingers on in frost, the strong, salient chin framed
in the snowy, starched _guimpe_, she faltered:

"You don't shy at the notion of the par--the announcement in the _Siege
Gazette_, I mean?..."

"Upon the contrary, I approve of it," said the Mother, and walked on very
fast, for the bells of the Catholic Church were ringing for Benediction.

"Is it good-night, or may I come in?" Beauvayse whispered to Lynette in
the porch.

She dipped her slender fingers in the little holy-water font beside the
door, and held them out to him.

"Come in," she answered, and held white, wet fingers out to him. He
touched them with a puzzled smile.

"Am I to----? Ah, I remember!"

Their eyes met, and the golden radiance in hers passed into his blood. He
bared his high, fair head as she made the sign of the Cross, and followed
her in and up the nave as Father Wix, in purple Lenten stole over the
snowy cotta starched and ironed by Sister Tobias's capable hands, began to
intone the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. The Sisters were already in
their places--a double row of black-draped figures, the Mother at the end
of the first row, Lady Hannah in the chair beside her, where Lynette had
always sat until now. It was not without a pang that the one saw her place
usurped by a stranger; it was piercing pain to the other to feel the
strange presence at her side. But something had already come between these
two, dividing them. Something invisible, impalpable as air, but
nevertheless thrusting them apart with a force that might not be resisted.

Only the elder of the two as yet knew clearly what it meant. The younger
was too dizzy with her first heady draught from the cup of joy, held to
her lips by the strong, beautifully-shaped brown hand that rested on
Beauvayse's knee as he sat, or propped up Beauvayse's chin as he knelt,
stiff as a young crusader on a monument, beside her. But the Mother knew.
Would not the God Who had been justly offended in her, His vowed servant,
that day, exact to the last tittle the penalty? She knew He would.

Rosary ended, the thin, kind-eyed little elderly priest preached, taking
for the text of his discourse the Introit from the Office of
Quinquagesima.

"_Esto mihi in Deum protectorum, et in locum refugii, ut salvum me
facias._"

"Be Thou unto me a God, a protector, and a place of refuge, to save me:
for Thou art my strength...."

Then the _O Salutaris_ was sung, and followed by the Litany of the Holy
Name.

The church was crowded. A Catholic congregation is always devout, but
these people, well-dressed or ill-dressed, prosperous or poor, pale-faced
and hollow-eyed every one, joined in the office with passion. The
responses came like the beating of one wave of human anguish upon the Rock
of Ages.

"_Have mercy on us!_"

Hungry, they cried to One Who had hungered. Sinking with weariness, they
appealed to One Who had known labours, faintings, agonies, and
desolations.

"_Have mercy on us!_"

He had drunk of Death for them, had been buried and had risen again.

Death was all about them. They could hear the beating of his wings, could
see the red sweep of his blood-wet, dripping scythe. And they prayed as
they had never prayed before these things befell:

"_Have mercy on us!_"

They sang the _Tantum Ergo_, and the cloud of incense rose from the censer
in the priest's hand. Then, at the thin, sweet tinkle of the bell, and the
first white gleam of the Unspeakable Mystery upheld by the servant of the
Altar, the heads bowed and sank as when a sudden wind sweeps over a field
of ripened corn. Only one or two remained unmoved, one of these a man's
head, young and crisply-waved, and golden....

And then came the orderly crowding to the door, and they were outside
under the great violet sky, throbbing with splendid stars, breathing the
tainted air that came from the laagers and the trenches. But oh, was there
ever a sweeter night, following upon a sweeter day?

Beauvayse's hand found and pressed Lynette's. She looked up and saw his
eyes shining in the starlight. He looked down and saw the Convent lily
transformed into a very rose of womanhood.

"I am on duty at Staff Bombproof South to-night. What I would give to be
free to walk home with you!"

Lady Hannah's jangling laugh came in.

"Haven't you had the whole day? Greedy, unconscionable young man! Say
good-night to her, and be off and get some food into you. Don't say you
haven't any appetite. I am hungry enough to be interested even in minced
mule and spatch-cocked locusts, after all this. Good-night! I must kiss
you again, child! I hope you don't mind?"

Lynette gave her cheek, asking:

"Where is the Mother?"

The voice of Sister Tobias answered out of the purplish darkness:

"She has gone on with Sister Hilda-Antony and Sister Cleophée, dearie. She
is going to sleep at the Convent with them, and I was to give you her
love, and say good-night."

Say good-night! On this of all nights was Lynette to be dismissed without
even the Mother's kiss? She gave back Beauvayse's parting hand-pressure
almost mechanically. Then she heard his voice, close at her ear, say
pantingly:

"No one will see.... Please, dearest!"

She turned her head, and their lips met under cover of the pansy-coloured
darkness.... Then he was gone with Lady Hannah, and Lynette was walking
home to the Convent bombproof, explaining to the astonished Sisters that
the Mother knew; that the Mother approved of her engagement to Lord
Beauvayse; and that they would probably be married very soon. Before the
Relief ...

"'Before the Relief.' Well, no one but Our Lord knows when that's to
be.... And so you're very happy, are you, dearie?"

Even as she gave her shy assent in answer to Sister Tobias's question, its
commonplace homeliness, like the feeling of the thick dust and the
scattered débris underfoot, brought back Lynette for a moment out of the
golden, diamond-dusted, pearl-gemmed dream-world in which she had been
straying, to wonder, Was she really very happy?

She asked herself the question sitting with the Sisters at their little
scanty supper. She asked herself as she knelt with them in prayer, as she
lay in bed, the Mother's place vacant beside her--Was she happy after all?

She had drunk sweetness, but there had been a tang of something in the cup
that cloyed the palate and sickened the soul. She had learned the love of
man, and in a measure it had cast out fear, that had been her earlier
lesson.



To be held and taken and made his completely, what must it be like? She
glowed in the darkness at the thought. And then the recollection of a
ruthless strength that had rent away the veil of innocence from a
woman-child surged back upon her.

Just think. Suppose you laid your hand in the warm, strong clasp that
thrilled delight to every nerve, and set your heart beating, beating, and,
drawn by the shining grey-green jewel-eyes and the mysterious, wooing
smile upon the beautiful lips, and the coaxing, caressing tones of the
voice that so allured, you gave up all else that had been so dear, and
went away with him? What then? Suppose----

Suppose the smiling face of Love should turn out to be nothing but a mask
hiding the gross and brutal leer of Lust, what then? She saw that other
man's dreadful face, painted in hot and living colours upon the darkness.
She writhed as if to tear her lips from the savage, furious mouth. She
shuddered and grew cold there in the sultry heat. The clasp of the
protecting mother-arms might have driven away her terror, but she was
alone. It would have been sweet to be alone that night if she had been
happy.

Why had the Mother shunned her? She knew that she had. Why had she felt,
even with the glamour of _his_ presence about her, and the music of his
voice in her ears, that all was not well?

Why, even with the lifting of her burden, in the unutterable relief of
hearing, from the lips that had been her law, that her dreadful secret
need never be revealed, had she felt consternation and alarm? The words
were written in fiery letters, on the murky dark of the bombproof, where
the tiny lamp that had hung before the Tabernacle on the altar of the
Convent chapel now burned, a twinkling red star, before the silver
Crucifix that hung upon the east wall.

"He is not to be told. I command you never to tell him!"

The doubt germinated and presently pushed through a little spear. Had
those lips given right counsel or wrong? Ought he to be told? Was it
dishonest, was it traitorous, to hide the truth? And yet, what are the
lives of even the upright, and clean, and continent among men, compared
with the life of a girl bred as she had been? The sin had not been hers.
She, the victim, was blameless. And yet, and yet ...

To this girl, who had learned to see the Face of Christ and of His Mother
reflected in one human face that had smiled down upon her, waking in the
little white bed in the Convent infirmary from the long, recuperating
sleep that turns the tide of brain-fever, the thought that a shadow of
deceit could mar its earnest, candid purity was torture. Months back they
had said to her--the lips that had given her the first kiss she had
received since a dying woman's cold mouth touched the sleeping face of a
yellow-haired baby held to her in a strong man's shaking hands, as the
trek-waggon rolled and rumbled over the veld:

"The man who may one day be your husband will have the right to know."

It was a different voice to the one that had commanded, "You are never to
tell him!" Lynette lay listening to those two voices until the alarm-clock
belled and the Sisters rose at midnight for matins. Then she lay listening
to the soft murmur of voices in the dark, as the red lamp glimmered before
the silver Christ upon the wall. The nuns needed no light, knowing the
office by heart:

"_Delicta quis intelligit? ab occultis meis munda me, et ab alienis parce
servo tuo_"--"Who can comprehend what sin is? Cleanse me from my hidden
sins, and from those of others save Thy servant."

The antiphon followed the _Gloria_, and then the soft womanly voices
chanted the twenty-third Psalm:

"_Quis ascendit in montem Domini?_"--"Who shall ascend to the Mount of
the Lord, and who shall dwell in His holy Sanctuary? Those who do no ill
and are pure.... Who do not give their heart to vain desires, or deceive
their neighbour with false oaths."

Or deceive ... with false oaths. To marry a man, letting him think you ...
something you were not ... did not that amount to deceiving by a false
oath?

Lynette lay very still. The last "Hail, Mary!" over, the Sisters returned
silently to bed. Wire mattresses creaked under superimposed weight. Long
breaths of wakefulness changed into the even breathing of slumber. The
only one who snored was Sister Tobias, a confirmed nasal soloist, whose
customary cornet-solo was strangely missing. Was Sister Tobias lying awake
and remembering too?

Sister Tobias was the only other person in the Convent besides the Mother,
who knew. She had helped her faithfully and tenderly to nurse Lynette
through the long illness that had followed the finding of that lost lamb
upon the veld. She was a homely creature of saintly virtues, the Mother's
staff and right hand. And it was she who had asked Lynette if she was
happy?

Somebody was moving. The grey light of dawn was filtering down the
drain-pipe ventilators and through the chinks in the tarpaulins overhead.
A formless pale figure came swiftly to Lynette's bedside. She guessed who
it must be. She sat up wide awake, and with her heart beating wildly in
her throat.

"Dearie!" The whisper was Sister Tobias's. She could make out the glimmer
of the white, plain nightcap framing the narrow face with the long,
sagacious nose and wise, kindly, patient eyes. "Are you awake, dearie?"

"Yes," Lynette whispered back, shuddering. The dry, warm, hard hand felt
about for her cold one, and found and took it. Lips came close to her ear,
and breathed:

"Dearie, this grand young gentleman you're engaged to be married to ..."

"Yes?"

"_Has he been told? Does he know?_"

The long, plain face was close to Lynette's. In the greying light she
could see it clearly. Her heart beat in heavy, sickening thuds. Her teeth
chattered, and whole body shook as if with ague, as she faltered:

"The Mother says--he is not to be told."

There was a dead silence. It was as if an iron shutter had suddenly been
pulled down and clamped home between them. Then Sister Tobias said in a
tone devoid of all expression:

"The Mother knows best, dearie, of course. Lie down and go to sleep."

Then silence settled back upon the Convent bombproof, but sleep did not
come to everybody there.



XLIII


The Mother was kneeling, as she had knelt the whole night through, before
the dismantled altar in the battered little chapel of the Convent, with
the big white stars looking down upon her through the gaps in the
shell-torn roof. When it was the matin-hour she rose and rang the bell.
Matins over, she still knelt on. When it was broad day she broke her fast
with the Sisters, and went about the business of the day calmly,
collectedly, capably as ever. Only her face was white and drawn, and great
violet circles were about her great tragical grey eyes.

"The blessed Saint she is!" whispered the nuns one to the other.

If she had heard them, it would have added yet another iron point to the
merciless scourge of her self-scorn.

A Saint, in that stained garment! What tears of bitterness had fallen that
night upon the shameful blots that marred its whiteness! But for Richard's
child, even though she herself should become a castaway, she must go on to
the end. All the chivalry in her rose in arms to defend the young,
shame-burdened, blameless head.

Ah! if she had known?...

Cold, light, cruel eyes had watched from across the river that day as her
tall, imposing figure, side by side with the slender, more lightly-clad
one, moved between the mimosa-bushes and round the river-bend. When the
two were fairly out of sight, the jungle of tree-fern and cactus had
rustled and cracked. Then the burly, thickset, powerful figure of a
bearded man pushed through, traversed the reed-beds, and, leaping from
boulder to boulder, crossed the river. Before long the man was standing on
the patch of trodden grass and flowers in the lee of the great boulder,
shutting up a little single-barrelled, brass-mounted field-glass that had
served him excellently well.



He was Bough, _alias_ Van Busch, otherwise the man who had come in through
the enemy's lines as a runner from Diamond Town, bringing the letter from
a hypothetical Mrs. Casey to a Mr. Casey who did not exist. His light
eyes, that were set flat in their shallow orbits like an adder's, looked
about and all around the place, as he stroked the dense brake of
black-brown beard that cleverly filled in the interval between Mr. Van
Busch's luxuriant whiskers. Presently he stooped and picked up a little
tan-leather glove, lying in a tuft of pink flowers. The daintiness of the
little glove brought home to Bough more forcibly than anything else, that
the Kid had become a lady.

For it was the girl, sure. No error about that little white face of hers,
with the pointed chin, and the topaz-coloured eyes, and the reddish hair.
The glass had brought her near enough to make that quite certain. He had
been too far off to hear a word, but he had made out what had been going
on very well. First, she had been giddying with the tall young English
swell, drawing him on while he seemed courting her, as all women knew how
to, and then the tall Sister of Mercy had come and rowed her; and she had
cried, thrown down there among the grass and flowers, exactly as if
somebody had beaten her with a sjambok to cure her of the G. D.'d
obstinacy that had to be thrashed out of women, if you would have them get
to heel when you chose it, or come at your call when you chose again.

Suppose he chose again. When a man with brains in his holy head once set
them to work, there were few things he could not do. He could scare others
off his property, for certain. He could exercise upon the girl herself the
unlimited power of Fear. He must lie doggo because of the Doctor. It was a
thundering queer chance the Doctor turning up in this place. And as one of
the bosses, helping to run the show, and powerful enough to pay off old
scores, if he should chance to recognise in the densely bearded face of
the man from Diamond Town the features of the Principal Witness in the
once-famous Old Bailey Criminal Case: "The Crown _v._ Saxham."

Bough would lie low, and watch, and wait, and then spring, as the
tarantula springs. He had cleverly blurred all trails leading back to the
tavern on the veld, and he knew enough of girls and women to believe that
this girl had kept secret what had happened there. He would pick up with
her, anyway, and offer to marry her and make an honest girl of her. If she
had a snivelling fancy for the dandy swell who had made love to her and
kissed her, he would threaten to tell the fellow the truth unless she gave
him up. Or he would blow on her to the nuns she lived with, and they would
have nothing more to do with her.

Voor den donder! suppose they knew already? The plan wanted careful
working out. A false step, and Gueldersdorp might become unhealthy for the
man who had brought the letter from Diamond Town to oblige Mrs. Casey.

Suppose the spoor that led back to the tavern on the veld and the grave by
the Little Kopje, not as well hidden as Bough had thought, those jewels
and securities and the one thousand seven hundred pounds cash might get an
honest man into trouble yet, even after the lapse of seventeen years. He
breathed heavily, and the pupils of his strange light eyes dilated, and
the sweat rolled off his forehead and cheeks until the skin shone like
copper. He had been a reckless, easy-going young chap of twenty-six
seventeen years ago. Forty-three years of life had taught him that when
you are least expecting them to, buried secrets are sure to resurrect. No,
Gueldersdorp was not a healthy place for Bough or for Van Busch! That
chattering little paroquet of a woman with the sharp black eyes might use
them one day, to the detriment of the philanthropist who had brought in
the letter from Diamond Town for Mrs. Casey.

Then the girl!... He grinned in his bushy beard, thinking how thundering
scared she would look if she encountered him by chance, and recognised
him. The beard would not hide him from her eyes. No, no! And he smelled at
the little tan glove, that had a slight, clean, delicate perfume about
it, and thrust it into his breeches-pocket, and crossed the river again,
making his way back to the native town by devious native paths that snaked
and twined and twisted through the tangled bush, as he himself made his
tortuous progress through the world.

He was in an evil mood, made blacker by the prospect of spending a lonely
night without the solace of liquor or woman. For Vice was at a low ebb in
Gueldersdorp just now, and the commonest dop was barely obtainable at the
price of good champagne, and it would not do for the man from Diamond Town
to seem flush of dollars.

Sure, no, that would never do! He must make out with the tobacco he still
had left, and the big lump of opium he carried in a tin box in a pocket of
the heavy money-belt he wore under his miner's flannel shirt. He groped
for the tin box, and got it, and bit off a corner of the sticky brown
lump, and ate it as he went along, and his laboured breathing calmed, and
the chilly sweat dried upon his copper-burned skin, that had the
purplish-black tinge in it that comes of saturation with iodide of
potassium. And the pupils of his colourless eyes dwindled to pin-points,
and his thick hands ceased to shake. He was not the man he had been; and
he had learned the opium-habit from a woman who had managed a joint at
Johannesburg, and it grew upon him--the need of the soothing, supporting
deadener. He went along now, under the influence of it, scarcely feeling
the ground under his heavy leather veldschoens.

He trod on something presently, lying on the path. It moved and whimpered.
He struck a match with a steady hand, and held the glimmering blue
phosphorus-flame downwards, and saw a Kaffir girl, a servant of the
Barala, who had crept out with a bow strung with twisted crocodile-gut and
a sheaf of reed arrows, to try and shoot birds. The Barala, though they
were sorely pinched, like their European fellow-men, did not starve. They
earned pay and rations. They helped to keep the enemy out on the south and
west sides of the town, and dug most of the trenches--often under
fire--and ran the despatches, and sometimes brought in fresh meat. But
their slaves, and the native hangers-on at the kraals, suffered horribly.
They ate the dogs that had been shot, and the other kind of dog, and
fought with the live ones for bones, and picked up empty meat-tins and
licked them. They stalked about the town and the native stad like living
skeletons. They dropped and died on the dust-heaps they had been rummaging
for offal. Soup-kitchens were started later on, when it was found how
things were going with them, and hides and bones and heads of horses and
mules were boiled down into soup, and they were fed. But a time was to
come when even that soup was wanted to keep the life in white people. You
saw the famine-stricken black spectres crawling from refuse-pile to
refuse-pile, and dying in that pitiless, beautiful sunshine, under the
blue, blue February sky, because white people had got to keep on living.

The native girl had been too weak to kill anything. Death had come upon
her in the midst of the teeming life of the jungle, and she had fallen
down there in her ragged red blanket among the tree-roots that arched and
knotted over the path. Her eyes were already rolled up and set. They
stared blindly, horribly, out of the ashen-black face. When she heard the
steps of a shod person the last spark of life glimmered feebly up in her.
Her wild, keen, savage power of scent yet remained. She smelled a white
man, and her cracked and swollen lips moved, and a voice like the sound
made by the rubbing of dry canes together uttered the word that is the
same in Dutch and English:

"Water!"

Bough's pale, flat, scintillating eyes were quite expressionless, but his
thick lips parted, and his strong yellow teeth showed in his thick brake
of beard. With the caution of one who knows that a single glowing
match-end dropped among dry vegetation may cause a devastating
conflagration, he blew out the lingering flame, and rolled the little
charred stick between his tough-skinned fingers before he threw it down.
Then he raised himself up, and stepped over the dying creature, and went
upon his way, humming a dance-tune he liked. He was not changed. It was
still a joy to him to have feebler beings in his power, and taunt and
torture and use them at his will.

He had assumed the skin of the man from Diamond Town in the well-paid
service of that bright boy of Brounckers', who had, it may be remembered,
a plan.

The plan involved a feint from the eastward, and an attack upon that
weakest spot in the girdle of Gueldersdorp's defences, the native stad.
The Barala might be incorruptible; the weak spot was the native village,
nevertheless. And the business of the man from Diamond Town was to lounge
about its neighbourhood, using those sharp light eyes of his to excellent
purpose, and storing his retentive memory--for it would not do for a
stranger to be caught putting pencil to paper in a town under Martial Law,
and bristling with suspicion--with the information indispensable for the
putting in effect of young Schenk Eybel's ingenious plan.

The jackal had had to yield his bone to the hungry lion. Still, it was
wise to be in good odour with the Republics; that was why Van Busch had
taken on the job. He had not been impelled to risk his skin, and get shut
up in this stinking, starving hole by anything the sharp-eyed little
Englishwoman, so unpleasantly awake at last regarding the genuine aims and
real character of the chivalrous Mr. Van Busch of Johannesburg, had
dropped. Hell, no! That unripe nectarine had been plucked and eaten years
ago. And yet how the ripe fruit allured him to-day, seen against its
background of dull green leaves, its smooth cheeks glowing under the
kisses of the sun.

The swell English officer had kissed them too. As she meant, the sly
little devil, slipping away for her bit of fun. Grown a beauty, too, as
anybody but a thundering, juicy, damned fool might have known she would!
He swore bitterly, thinking what a gold-mine a face and figure like that
might have proved to an honest speculator up Johannesburg way.

His case, he thought, was somewhat similar to that of old Baas Jacobs, the
Boer who found the first great South African diamond on his farm near
Hopetown, and threw it down beside the door, with other pretty shining
pebbles, for his child to play with. The child's mother tossed it to Van
Niekirk as a worthless gift. Van Niekirk passed it on to J. O'Reilly. When
the English Government mineralogist pronounced the stone a diamond, and
the Colonial Secretary and the French Consul sent it to the Paris
Exhibition, and the Governor of the Colony bought the jewel, old Baas
Jacobs must have felt mighty sick. All the world hungering, and admiring,
and coveting the beautiful thing he had thrown down on the ground....
Small wonder that to the end of his days he had talked as a robbed man.

The jewel Bough had left on the veld had belonged to him once. Well, it
should be his again. He swore that with a blasphemous oath. Thenceforward
he proceeded warily, feeling his way, formulating his plan, a human
tarantula, evil-eyed and hairy-clawed, calculating the sudden leap upon
its prey; an adder coiled, waiting the moment to strike....



XLIV


Saxham was shooting on the veld, north of the Clayfields, in a ginger-hued
dust-wind and a grilling sun. Upon his right showed the raw red ridge of
the earthworks, where two ancient seven-pounders were entrenched in charge
of a handful of Cape Police. The pits of the sniping riflemen scarred
across the river-bed some fifty yards in advance. Upon his left, some two
hundred yards farther north, the recently resurrected ship's gun, twelve
feet of honeycombed metal, stamped on the flank "No. 6 Port," and casting
solid shot of eighteenth-century pattern, projected a long black nose from
Fort Ellerslie, and every time the venerable weapon went off without
bursting, the Town Guards occupying the Fort and manning the eastern
entrenchments raised a cheer.

Saxham, emptying and filling the magazine with cool, methodical
regularity, kept changing his position with a restlessness and
recklessness puzzling alike to friends and foes. Now he aimed and fired,
lying "doggo" behind his favourite stone, while bullets from the enemy's
trenches flattened themselves upon it, or buried themselves harmlessly in
the dry hot soil. Now he moved from cover, and shot squatting on his
heels, or sprawled lizard-like in the open, courting the King of Terrors
with a calm indifference that was commented upon by those who witnessed it
according to their lights.

"Begob!" said Kildare, ex-driver of Engine 123, who, with the Cardiff man,
his stoker of old, was doing duty at Fort Ellerslie _vice_ two Town
Guardsmen permanently resting, "'tis a great perfawrumance the Doc is
afther givin' as this day!" He coolly borrowed the gunner's
sighting-glasses, and, with his keen eyes glued to them and his ragged
elbows propped on the Fort parapet, he scanned the distant solitary
figure, dropping the words out slowly one by one. "Twice have I seen the
fur fly off av' wan av' thim hairy baboons av' Boers since he starrtud,
an' supposin' the air a taste thicker, 'tis punched wid bullet-holes we'd
be seem' ut all round 'um, the same as a young lady in the sky-in-terrific
dhressmakin' line would be afther jabbin' out the pattern av' a shoot av'
clothes."

"And look you now, if the man is not lighting a pipe," objected the
Cardiff stoker, whose religious tendencies were greatly fostered by the
surroundings and conditions of siege life. "Sitting on a stone, with the
rifle between his knees and the match between his two hands, as if the
teffel was got tired of waiting, and had curled up and gone to sleep." The
speaker sucked in his breath and solemnly shook his head, adding: "It is a
temptation of the Tivine Providence, so it is!"

"Sorra a timpt," rejoined Kildare, reluctantly surrendering the glasses to
the gunner, a grey ex-sergeant of R.F.A., "sorra a timpt, knowin', as the
Docthur knows, that do what he will and thry as he may, no bullut will do
more than graze the hide av him, or sing in his ear."

"And how will he know that, maybe you would be telling?" demanded the
Cardiff stoker incredulously.

"I seen his face," said Kildare, jerking a blackened thumb towards the
gunner's sighting-glasses, "minnits back through thim little jiggers, an'
to man or mortal that's as sick wid the hate av Life, an' as sharp-set
with the hunger for Death as the Docthur is this day, no harrum will come.
'Tis quare, but thrue."

"I've 'ad a try at several kinds of 'ungers," said the R.E. Reserve man,
who acted as gunner's mate. "There's the 'unger for glory, combined with a
smart uniform wot'll make the gals stare, as drives a man to 'list.
There's the 'unger for kisses an' canoodlin' wot makes yer want to please
the gals. There's the 'unger for revenge, wot drives yer to bash in a
bloke's face, and loses you yer stripes if 'e 'appens to be your Corp'ril.
Then there's the 'unger for gettin' under cover when you're bein' sniped,
an' the 'unger for blood, when you've got the Hafridis, or the Fuzzies, or
the Dutchies, at close quarters, and the bay'nits are flickerin' in an'
out of the dirty caliker shirts or the dirty greatcoats like Jimmy O!
There's the 'unger for freedom and fresh hair when you're shut up in a
filthy mud cattle-pound like this 'ere Fort, or a stinkin' trench, with a
'andful of straw to set on by day an' a ragged blanket to kip in by
nights. But the 'unger to die is a 'unger _I_ ain't acquainted with. I'm
for livin' myself."

"I was hungry when you began to jaw," snarled the man who had been clerk
to the County Court. His lips were black and cracking with fever, and his
teeth chattered despite the fierce sunshine that baked the red clay
parapet against which he leaned his thin back. "I'm hungrier now, and
thirsty as well. Give the bucket over here." He drank of the thick,
yellowish, boiled water eagerly and yet with disgust, spilling the liquid
on his tattered clothing through the shaking of his wasted hands. Then he
turned to the wall, and lay down sullenly, scowling at the lantern-jawed
sympathiser who tried to thrust a rolled-up coat under his aching head.

"They'll be bringin' us our foddher at twelve av the clock," said Kildare,
with a twinkle of inextinguishable humour in his hollow eyes.
"Shuperannuated cavalry mount stuped in warrum kettle-gravy, wid a block
av baked sawdust for aich man that can get ut down. 'Tis an insult to the
mimory av the boiled bacon an' greens I would be aiting this day at
Carricknavore, to say nothin' av' the porther an' whisky that would be
washing ut down. Lashin's and lavin's there 'ud be for ivery wan, an' what
was over, me fadher--God be good to the ould boy alive or dead!--would be
disthributin' amongst the poor forninst the dure----"

"Beg pardon, sir." Another of the famine-bitten, ragged little garrison
addressed the question to the officer in charge of the Fort battery, as he
stepped down from the lookout with his field-glass in his hand. "Can you
tell us the difference of time between South Africa and England?"

"Two hours at Capetown. I'm not quite sure about the difference at
Gueldersdorp." The Lieutenant went over to the ancient smooth-bore, and
conferred with the gunners standing at her breech. The winches groaned,
the heavy mass of metal tilted on the improvised mounting, as the man to
whom the Lieutenant had replied said, with a quaver of longing in his
voice:

"'Two hours! My God, suppose it only took that time to get home!"

"It 'ud be a sight easier to 'ang on 'ere," said the R.E. Reserve man who
acted as gunner's mate, "if there was such a thing as a plug o' baccy to
be 'ad. Wot gives me the reg'lar sick is to see them well-fed Dutchies
chawin' an' blowin', blowin' an' chawin', from mornin' till night----" He
spat disgustedly.

"When honust men," groaned Kildare, "would swop a year av life for a twist
av naygurhead. Wirra-wirra!"

There was a dry and mirthless laugh, showing teeth, white or discoloured,
in haggard and bristly faces. Then a short young Corporal, who had been
leaning back in an angle of the earthwork, hugging his sharp knees and
staring at nothing in particular with pale-coloured, ugly, honest eyes,
grew painfully crimson through his crust of sun-tan and grime, and said
something that made the lean bodies in ragged, filthy tan-cord and
dilapidated khâki, or torn and muddy tweed, slew round upon the unclean
straw on which they squatted. All eyes, were they hunger-dull or
fever-bright, sought the Corporal's face.

"Dessay you'll think me a greedy 'ound," said the Corporal, with a painful
effort that set the prominent Adam's apple in his lean throat jerking,
"when you tyke in wot I've got to s'y. It makes me want to git into me own
pocket and 'ide, to 'ave to tell it. For me an' you, we've shared an'
shared alike, wotever we 'ad, while we 'ad anythink--except in one
partic'lar." The Adam's apple jumped up and down as he gulped. He was
burning crimson now to the roots of his ragged, light-brown hair, and the
tips of his flat-rimmed, jutting ears, and the patch of thin bare chest
that showed where his coarse grey back shirt was unbuttoned at the neck.

All those eyes, feverishly bright or sickly dull, watched him as he put
his hand into the bulging breast-pocket, and slowly fished out a shining
brown briar-root with a stem unchewed as yet by any smoker.

"Twig this 'ere noo pipe. It was sent me by a--by a friend, along of a
packet of 'Oneydew, for a--for a kind o' birthday present." His voice
wobbled strangely; there was scalding water dammed up behind his ugly
honest eyes. "She--she bin an' opened the packet and filled the pipe, an'
I shared out the 'Oneydew in the trenches as far as it went, but I bin an'
kep' the pipe, sayin' to myself I'd smoke it when she lighted it wiv 'er
own 'ands, an' not--not before. Next day we"--the Adam's apple went up and
down again--"we 'ad words, an' parted. I--I never set eyes on 'er dial
since."

The voice of W. Keyse ended in an odd kind of squeak. Nobody looked at him
as he bit his thin lips furiously, and blinked the unmanly tears away.
Then he went on: "It's--it's near on two months I bin lookin' for 'er.
She--she--sometimes I think she's made a way out of the lines after
another bloke--a kind o' Dutchy spy 'oo was a pal of 'ers, or--or else
she's dead. There's times I've dreamed I seen 'er dead!" His voice bounded
up in that queer squeak again. The word "dead" was wrung out of him like a
long-fanged double molar. His lips were drawn awry in a grimace of
anguish, and the pipe he held shook in his gaunt and grimy hand, so
perilously that half a dozen other hands, as gaunt and even grimier, shot
out as by a single impulse to save it from falling. "Tyke it an' smoke it
between you," said W. Keyse, and the Adam's apple jerked again as he
gulped. "But read the writin' on the bit o' pyper first, and mind
you--mind you give it back." He resigned the treasure, and turned his face
away.

"Blessed Mary!" came in the accent of Kildare, breaking the silence, "let
me hould ut in me han's!"

"Spell out the screeve," ordered the R.E. Reserve man imperiously.

The Town Guard who had questioned the officer about the difference of
time, deciphered the blotty writing on the slip of paper pinned round the
stem of the new briar-root. It ran thus:

    "i ope yu wil Engoy this Pip Deer; i Fild it A Purpus with
    Love and Menney Apey Riturnse. from

  "FARE AIR."



"'Is gal?" interrogated the Reserve man.

"His girl," assented the man who had read.

"And he never saw her no more, so he did not!" commented the Cardiff
stoker as the pipe travelled from hand to hand to be smelt at, dandled,
worshipped by every man in turn. Only the Sergeant-gunner, the grey-headed
ex-Royal Field Artilleryman, maintained self-command by dint of looking
very hard the other way. Then said Kildare impetuously:

"Take ut back, Corp'ril Keyse. 'Tis little wan poipe av tobacca wud count
for betune six starvin' savigees."

"Wot I wants," growled the Reserve man, "is to over-'aul a bacca factory
afire, and clap my mouth to 'er chimbley-shaft. So take it back, Corporal.
It's no manner o' good to me!"

All the other voices joined in the chorus, and the be-papered pipe was
thrust back upon its owner. W. Keyse thanked them soberly, and put the
gift of his lost love away.

His pale, unbeautiful eyes had the anguish of despair in them, and the
tooth of that sharp death-hunger of which Kildare had spoken was gnawing
what he would have termed with simplicity "his inside." For if Emigration
Jane were dead, what had Life left for him?

After his first superb assumption of cold indifference had broken down he
had sought her, feverishly at first, then doggedly, then with a dizzy
sickness of terror and apprehension that made the letters of the
type-written casualty-lists posted outside the Staff Headquarters in the
Market Square turn apparent somersaults as he strove to read them. This
was his punishment, that he should hunger as she had hungered, and still
be disappointed, and learn by fellowship in keenest suffering what her
pain had been.

The "Fare Air" letters were some comfort. In the trench at night, when
fever and rheumatism kept him from the dog-sleep that other men were
snatching, he would hear her crying over and over: "Oh, cruel, to break a
poor girl's heart!" And when sleep came he would track her through strange
places, calling her to come back--to come back and be forgiven. And when
he awakened from such dreams there would be tears upon his face. And each
day he consulted the lists of killed and wounded, and once had staggered
white-lipped to the mortuary-shed to identify a Jane Harris, and found
her--oh, with what unutterable relief!--to be a coloured lady who had
married a Rifleman. After that he had perked up, and continued his quest
for the beloved needle lost in the haystack of Gueldersdorp with renewed
belief in the ultimate possibility of finding it. Then, in the middle of
one awful night, the darkness of his mental state had been luridly
illuminated by the conviction that she had joined Slabberts. Now strange
voices whispered always in his ears, saying that she was dead, and urging
him to follow by the same dark road over which her trembling feet had
stumbled.

He heard those voices as he wrought and sweated with the gun-team at the
levers, and the ponderous muzzle-loader rolled back upon the grooves of
her improvised mounting. He heard it as they sponged the antique monster
out, and fed it with a three-pound bolus of cordite, and a ten-pound ball
of ancient pattern with the date of 1770. He heard it now again as he
kneeled at a loophole in the parapet, watching Saxham. Those pale, ugly
eyes of Billy Keyse were extraordinarily keen. He saw a grimy hand
carefully balance an old meat-tin on the top of the parapet of the enemy's
western entrenchment. He saw Saxham kneeling, aim and fire, and with the
sharp rap of the exploding cartridge came a howl from the owner of the
hand, who had not withdrawn it with sufficient quickness.

Half a dozen rifle-muzzles came nosing through the loopholes at that yell.
There was quite a little fusillade, and the sharp cracks and flashes in
Saxham's vicinity told of the employment of explosive bullets. But not one
hit the man. An unkempt Boer head bobbed up, looking for his corpse. The
Winchester cracked, and the unkempt head fell forwards, its chin over the
edge of the parapet, and stayed there staring until the comrades of its
late owner pulled the dead man down by the heels.

There was a cheer from the rifle-pits in the river-bed, and another from
Fort Ellerslie, where eager, excited spectators jostled at the loopholes.
A minute later the Fort's ancient bow-chaser barked loudly, and pitched a
solid shot. The metal spheroid hit the ploughed-up ground some ninety feet
in front of the parapet where the bloody head had hung, and over which
those explosive bullets had been fired, rose in a cloud of dust, and
literally jumped the trench. There was a roar of distant laughter as the
ball began to roll, and shaggy heads of curious Boers, inured only to the
latest inventions in lethal engineering, bobbed up to watch. More laughter
accompanied the progress of the ball. But presently it encountered a mound
of earth, behind which certain patriots were taking coffee, and rolled
through, and the laughter ceased abruptly. There was a baggage-waggon
beyond through which it also rolled, and behind the waggon a plump,
contented pony was wallowing in the sand. When the ancient cannon-ball
rolled through the pony, the owner spoke of witchcraft. But the patriots
who had been sitting behind the mound made no comment then or
thenceforward.

At this juncture, and with almost a sensation of pleasure, Saxham saw his
old acquaintance Father Noah climb out of his particular trench, briskly
for one well stricken in years, and toddle out, laden with rifle, biltong
bag, and coffee-can, to his favourite sniping-post, where a bush rose
beside a rock, which was shaded by a small group of blue-gums. Soon the
smoke of the veteran's pipe rose above his lurking-place, and as Saxham,
with a grunt of satisfaction, stretched himself upon his stomach on the
hot, sandy earth and pulled the lever, a return bullet sheared a piece off
his boot-heel, and painfully jarred his ankle-bone.

No one else was shooting at the big rooinek now. It was understood that
Father Noah had a prior claim. And the old man peered hopefully up to see
the result of his shot, and rubbed his eyes. For the hulking dief was
standing, voor den donder! standing as he emptied his magazine, and the
bullets sang about Father Noah as viciously as hornets roused to anger by
the stripping of a decayed thatch. The magazine of the repeating-rifle
emptied, Saxham calmly refilled it, causing the puzzled patriarch to waste
many cartridges in wild shooting at that erect, indifferent mark, and
finally to abandon the level-headed caution to which he owed his venerable
years, and climb a tree to obtain a better view of the tactics of the
enemy.

Saxham laughed as the invisible hornets sang in the air about him. The
battered solar helmet he wore was pierced through the hinder brim, and he
was bleeding from a bullet-graze upon the knuckle of the second finger of
his left hand. Since that Sunday afternoon beside the river, when he
learned the madness of his hope and the hopelessness of his madness, he
had taken risks like this daily, not in the deliberate desire of death,
but as a man consulting Fate negatively.

Father Noah would decide, one way or the other: the issue of their
protracted duel should determine things for Saxham. If he sent the old man
in, then there was Hope, if the superannuated, short-stocked Martini, with
that steady old finger on the trigger, and that sharp old eye at the
backsight, ended by accounting for Saxham, then there would be an end to
this burning torment for ever. Strangely, he did not believe that he could
be killed by any other hand than Father Noah's. Doubtless the long
overstrain was telling upon him mentally, though physically the man seemed
of wrought steel.

"To-day will settle it, one way or the other. To-day----"

As the thought passed through his mind, and he brought the sights into
line with the mark, a scrap of white, fluttering some twenty inches lower
down, caught his eye. He dropped the tip of the Winchester's foresight to
the bottom of the backsight's V, and knew, almost before the shot rang
out, and an ownerless Martini tumbled out of the tree-crotch, that Fate
had decided for Saxham.

Then he went back to the Hospital, grim-jawed and inscrutable as ever. A
dirty white rag was being hoisted on a pole by one of the relatives of the
deceased. Father Noah, with the long ends of his dirty grey beard raggedly
bannering in the dust-wind, was still waiting for the bearers of the
hastily improvised stretcher of sticks and green reims, as Saxham, having
obtained a strip of black cloth with a needle and thread from the Matron,
pulled off his jacket and sat down upon the end of the cot-bed in his
little room, and neatly tacked a mourning-band upon the upper part of the
left sleeve.

It was his nature to absorb himself in whatever work he undertook. As he
stitched, the crowded Hospital buzzed about him like a hive, the moans of
sick men and the rattling breaths of the dying beat in waves of sound
upon his brain, for the long rows of beds stood upon either side of the
corridors now, with barely a foot of room between them. In the necessarily
open space before the Doctor's door a woman's hurrying footsteps paused,
there came a rustling, and a sheet of printed paper folded in half was
thrust underneath.

"The _Siege Gazette_, Doctor," called the Matron's pleasant womanly voice,
as, simultaneously with the utterance of Saxham's brief word of thanks,
she passed on. In the famine for news that possessed him, as every other
human being in the town, the sight of the little badly-printed sheet was
welcome, although it could hardly contain anything to satisfy his need. He
set the last stitches, fastened and cut the thread, reached down a long
arm from the foot of the bed, and took up the paper.

The Latest Information had whiskers. The General Orders announced an issue
of paper currency in small amounts, owing to the deplorable shortage of
silver, congratulated those N.C.O.'s and men of the Baraland Irregulars
who, under Lieutenant Byass, occupying the advanced Nordenfeldt position,
had brought so effective a fire to bear upon the enemy's big gun that
Meisje had been compelled to abandon her commanding position, and take up
her quarters in a spot less advantageous, from the enemy's point of view.
A reduction in the Forage ration was hinted at, and a string of Social
Jottings followed, rows of asterisks exploding like squibs under every
paragraphic utterance of the Gold Pen.

Not for nothing had Captain Bingo dolefully boasted that his wife exuded
Journalese from her very finger-ends. Saxham recognised in the style, the
very table-Moselle of Fashionable Journalism. So like the genuine article
in the shape of the bottle, the topping of gilt-foil, the arrangement of
wire and string, that as the stinging foam overflowed the goblet, snapping
in iridescent bubbles at the cautious sipper's nose, and evaporated,
leaving nothing in particular at the bottom, it was barely possible to
believe the vintage other than the genuine article from Fleet Street.
Stay.... The French quotations were not enclosed in inverted commas. That
let Lady Hannah out.

"Society in Gueldersdorp," she wrote, "bubbles with interested expectation
of the public announcement of a matrimonial engagement with which the
intimate friends of the happy lovers profess _être aux anges_.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Not for worlds would we draw the veil of delightful mystery completely
aside from the secret of two young, charming and popular people. Yet it
may be hinted that the elder son of a representative English House and
heir of a sixteenth-century Marquisate, who is one of the most gallant and
dashing among the many heroic defenders of our beleaguered town, proposes
at no very distant date to lead to the altar one of the loveliest among
the many lovely girls who grace Gueldersdorp's social functions.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Both bride-elect and bridegroom-to-be attended High Mass at the Catholic
Church on Sunday, when the Rev. Father Wix, in apprising parishioners of
the near approach of Lent, caused an irresistible smile to ripple over the
faces of his hearers. _Toujours perdrix_ may sate in the long-run, but
perpetually to _faire maigre_ is attended with even greater discomfort.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We have pleasure in announcing the approaching marriage of Lieutenant the
Right Hon. Viscount Beauvayse, Grey Hussars, Junior Aide to the Colonel
Commanding H.M. Forces, Gueldersdorp, to Miss Lynette Bridget-Mary
Mildare, ward of the Mother-Superior, Convent of the Holy Way, North Veld
Road."



XLV


Saxham has not been staring at the printed words because they have struck
him to the heart with their intelligence, but--or so it seems to
him--because they convey nothing. There is an aching pain at the back of
his neck, and his mind is curiously dull and sluggish. But after a little
he becomes aware that somebody is knocking at his door.

"Who is it----"

The Doctor thinks he utters these words, but in reality he has only made
a harsh croaking sound that might mean anything. The door opens and shows
the Chaplain standing smiling on the threshold.

The Reverend Julius Fraithorn, no longer a worn and wasted pilgrim
stumbling amongst the thorns and sharp stones of the Valley of the Shadow,
appears in these days as a perfectly sound and healthy, if rather too
narrow-shouldered, young Anglican clergyman, not unbecomingly arrayed, in
virtue of his official position under martial authority, in a suit of
Service khâki such as Saxham wears, with the black Maltese Cross on the
collar and the band of the wide-peaked cap. Yellow puttees conceal the
unduly spare proportions of his active legs, and the brown boots upon his
long slender feet are dusty, as, indeed, is the rest of him, not with the
reddish dust of the veld that powders Saxham to the very eyelashes, and
lies in light drifts in every wrinkle of his garments, but with the
yellowish dust of the town.

"I rather thought," the Chaplain says, hesitating, as Saxham, without
lifting his eyes, turns his square, white face upon the visitor, "that you
said 'Come in'?"

"Come in, and shut the door, and sit down," says Saxham heavily and
thickly. And Julius does so, and, occupying the single cane-seated chair
the bedroom boasts, glows upon Saxham with a sincerity of affection and a
simplicity of admiration pleasant to see, and asks in his thin, sweet
voice how things are going.

"Things _are_ going," Saxham returns, seeming to wake from a heavy brown
study. "You could not put it better or more clearly. Will you smoke?" He
pitches a rubber tobacco-pouch to the Chaplain, who catches it, and the
treasured box of matches that comes after, and as one man sparingly fills
a well-browned meerschaum, and the other a blackened briar-root, with the
weed that grows more rare and precious with every hour of these days of
dearth: "That's one of the things that are going quickest after
perchloride of mercury, carbolic, and extract of beef. As a fact, we are
using formaldehyde as an anæsthetic in minor operations; and violet powder
and starch, upon the external use of which I laid an embargo weeks ago, to
the great indignation of the younger nurses, are being employed instead
of arrowroot. And the more the medical stores diminish, the more the
patients come rolling in."

"And each new want that arises, and each new difficulty that crops up,
finds in you the man to meet it and overcome it," says the Chaplain
fervently. He is disposed to make a hero of this brilliant surgeon who has
saved his life, and his enthusiasm is only marred by Saxham's
painfully-apparent lack of belief in certain vital spiritual truths that
are the daily bread of fervent Christian souls. Now that he has become
aware of the black band upon the sleeve of the jacket that lies across
Saxham's knees, where he sits upon the end of the cot-bed that, with a
tiny chest of drawers and a hanging bookshelf laden with volumes and
instrument-cases, completes the furnishing of the narrow room, he says,
with sympathy in his gentle voice and in the brown eyes that have the soft
lustre of a deer's or of a beautiful woman's:

"I am sorry to see this, Saxham. You have lost a friend?"

"_Lost a friend?_"

Saxham, echoing the last three words, stares at the Chaplain in a strange,
dull way, and then forgets him for a minute or more. Baths are not to be
had in Gueldersdorp in these days, and though it is not Sunday, when
bathing in the river becomes a possibility, the Chaplain observes that the
Doctor's thick, close-cropped black hair is wet, and that broad streaks of
shining moisture are upon his pale, square face, and that he breathes as
though he had been running. But perhaps he has been sluicing his head in
the washstand basin, thinks the Chaplain. No; the basin has not recently
been used. And then it occurs to Julius, but not until he has noticed the
starting veins and corded muscles on the backs of the hands that are
clenched upon the jacket, that Saxham is suffering.

"I always said he felt a great deal more than he permitted himself to
show," reflects the man of Religion looking at the man of Medicine. "And
the absence of belief in Divine Redemption and a Future State must
terribly intensify the pain of a bereavement. If I only knew how to
comfort him!" And all he can do is to ask, still in that tone of sympathy,
when the Funeral is to be.

"Perhaps about the midday coffee-drinking," says Saxham heavily, "they
would scrape a hole and dump him in. But they're not over fond of risks,
and they would probably leave him where he is till nightfall."

Julius Fraithorn longs, more than ever, that eloquence and inspiration
were his to employ in the healing of the man who has raised himself almost
from the dead. But he can only falter something about the inscrutable
designs of Providence, and not a sparrow falling to the ground unnoticed.
And he expresses, somewhat tritely, the hope that Saxham's friend was
prepared to meet his end.

"I don't exactly suppose he expected it. He had a right to count upon
pulling off the match," says Saxham, with a dreary shadow of a grin,
"because a better man behind a gun than Father Noah you wouldn't easily
meet. And Boers are fine shots, as a rule."

"Boers.... A Boer.... I thought you told me you had lost a friend?" Mild
astonishment is written on the Chaplain's face. And Saxham looks up, and
the other sees that his eyeballs are heavily injected with blood, and that
the vivid blue of their irises has strangely faded.

"I gave him every opportunity to be my friend," says the dull voice
heavily, "by moving out from cover, even by standing up. But no good. He
suspected a ruse, and it worried him. Then he climbed a tree, emptied his
bandolier at me from a perch of vantage among the branches, and had
started to refill it from a fresh package, when I got the chance, and
brought him down spreadeagled. And so ends Father Noah."

The Chaplain comprehends fully now, turns pale, and shudders. A blue line
marks itself about his mouth; he is conscious of a qualm of positive
nausea as he says:

"You--you don't mean you have been talking of a man you have shot?"

"Just so," assents Saxham, and the sentence that follows is not uttered
aloud. "And I wish with all my soul that the man had shot me!"

"And this is War," says Julius Fraithorn. He pulls out his handkerchief
and wipes his damp forehead and the beady blue lines about his mouth, and
the crack and rattle of rifle-fire sweeping over the veld and through the
town, and the ping, ping, ping! of Mauser bullets flattening on the iron
gutter-pipe and the corrugated iron of the roof above them seem to answer
"Certainly, War."

"Why, you look sick, man," says Saxham the surgeon, whose keen
professional eye has not missed the Chaplain's pallor, though the other
Saxham is still dazed and blind, and stupefied by the blow that has been
dealt him by Lady Hannah's gold fountain-pen. He leans forward, and
lightly touches one of the Chaplain's thin wrists, suspecting him of a
touch of fever, or town-water dysentery. But Julius jerks the wrist away.

"I am perfectly well. It was--the way in which you spoke just now that
rather--rather----"

"Revolted you, eh?" says Saxham, again with the dim shadow of a smile.
"Revealed me as a brute and a savage. Well, and why not, if I choose to be
one or the other, or both? You Churchmen believe in the power of choice,
don't you? Prove to a man that there is something worth having in the
bowels of the earth, he burrows like a mole and gets it. Let him once see
utility in flying, give him time and opportunity, and he will fly. So if
it is to his interests to be clean-lived, high-minded, exemplary, he will
be all these things to admiration. Or, if he should happen to have lost
the _goût_ for virtue, if he determines that Evil shall be his good, he
will make it so." He smiled dourly. "Deprive him of a solid reason for
living, he can die. Hold up before his dying eyes the prospect of
continued existence under hopeful conditions, he takes up his bed and
walks, like the moribund paralytic in the Gospel you preach. You're a
living proof of the human power of working miracles.... Granted I cut away
a tumour from under your breast-bone more skilfully than a certain
percentage of surgeons could have done it. But what brought you safely
through the operation, healed your wound by the first intention, and set
you on your legs again? I'll trouble you to tell me?"

"The mercy and the grace of God," says the Chaplain, "manifested in His
unworthy servant through your science and your skill."

"You employ the technical terminology of your profession," Saxham answers,
with a shrug.

The blank stare and the congested redness have gone out of his eyes, and
his voice is less dull and toneless. He is coming back to his outward self
again, even while the inner man lies mangled and bleeding, crushed by that
tremendous broadsword stroke of Fate that has been dealt him by the gold
pen of Lady Hannah, and he is ready enough to argue with the Chaplain. He
gets off the bed and slips on his jacket, takes a turn or two across the
narrow floor-space, then leans against the distempered wall beside the
window, puffing at his jetty briar-root, his muscular arms folded on his
great chest, his powerful shoulders bowed, his square, black head thrust
forward, and his blue eyes coolly studying Julius as he talks.

"Let me--without rubbing your cloth the wrong way--put the case in mine.
Your belief in a Power that my reason tells me is non-existent stimulated
your nervous centres, roused and sustained in you the determination
without which my science and my skill--and I do not value them lightly, I
assure you--would have availed you nothing. You said to yourself, 'If God
will it, I shall get over this,' and because _you_ willed it, it was so.
Were I a drunkard, an outcast, the very refuse of humanity, tainted with
vice to the very centre of my being, I have but to will to be sober and
live decently, and while I continue to will it, I shall be what I desire
to be."

Saxham's eyes hold Julius's, and challenge them. But no shadow of a Dop
Doctor who once reeled the streets of Gueldersdorp rises from those clear
brown depths as the speaker ends, "Don't underestimate the power of the
Human Will, Fraithorn, for it can remove mountains, and raise the living
dead."

"Nor do you venture to deny the Power of the Almighty Hand, Saxham,"
answers the thin, sweet voice of the Churchman; "because It strewed the
myriad worlds in the Dust of the The Infinite, and set the jewelled
feathers in the butterfly's wing, and forged the very intellect whose
power you misuse in uttering the boast that denies It. Think again. Can
you assure me with truth that you have never, in the stress of some great
mental or physical crisis, cried to Heaven for help when the struggle was
at its worst? Think again, Saxham."

But Saxham obstinately shakes his head, still smiling. As he stands there
transfigured by the dark, fierce spirit that has come upon him and
possessed him, there is something about the hulking man with the square,
black head and the powerful frame, that breathes of that superb and
terrible Prince of the Heavenly Hierarchy who fell through a kindred sin,
and the priest in Julius shudders, recognising the tremendous power of
such a nature as this, whether turned towards Evil or bent to achieve
Good. The while, in letters of delicate, keen flame, the denier sees
written on the tables of his inward consciousness the utterance that once
broke from him, as, racked and tortured in body and in soul, he wrestled
with his devil on that unforgettable night.

"O God! if indeed Thou Art, and I must perforce return to live the life of
a man amongst men, help me to burst the chains that fetter me. Help
me--oh, help me to be free!"

And in his heart he knows that the desperate prayer has been granted. But
in this new-born, curious mood of his he will not yield, but combats his
own innermost conviction, being, in a strange, perverted way, even prouder
of this Owen Saxham who has gone down of his own choice to the muddiest
depths of moral and physical decadence, and come up of the strength of his
own will from among the hideous things that hang suspended and drifting in
the primeval sludge, than he ever was of the man before his fall. His is a
combative nature, and the great blow he has sustained this day in the
wreck and ruin of his raft of hope has left him quivering to the centre of
his being with resentment that strikes back.

"Think again yourself. Ask yourself whether the Deity who creates,
preserves, blesses, punishes, slays, and raises up, is the natural outcome
of man's need of such a Being, or His own desire of Himself? And which
conception is the greater--that the God in whom you Churchmen and the
millions of lay-folk who recognise you as Divinely-appointed teachers
believe, should have commanded, 'Let the universe exist,' and have been
obeyed, or that the stupendous pigmy Man should have dared to say, 'Let
there be God,' and so created Him?"

He laughs jarringly as he knocks the ashes out of the blackened pipe upon
the corner of the window-ledge.

"Give credit to the human imagination and the human will for inventing a
personage so useful to the Christian Churches as the Devil. For as in the
beginning it was necessary for Man to build up Heaven and set his God
therein, so, to throw His unimaginable purity and inconceivable perfection
into yet more glorious relief, it was required that Hell should be delved
out and the objective personality of Satan conceived and kennelled there,
and given just sufficient power to pay the marplot where the Divine plans
are concerned, and just enough malevolence to find amusement in the
occupation. What should we do, where should we be, without our Satanic
_souffre-douleur_--our horned scapegoat, our black puppet, without whose
suggestions we should never have erred, whose wooden head we bang when
things go wrong with us," says Saxham bitterly. He reaches out a hand for
the tobacco-pouch and his glance falls upon the day's issue of the _Siege
Gazette_ lying on the parquet linoleum, where it has fallen from his hand
a little while ago. He stoops and picks it up, and offers it to Julius.

"There's the announcement of an engagement here----" He smooths the
crumpled sheet, holds it under the Chaplain's eye, and points to the two
last paragraphs of the "Social Jottings" column. "Take it as an
instance.... Did Heaven play the matchmaker here, or has Hell had a finger
in the matrimonial pie? Or has the blind and crazy chance that governs
this desolate world for me, tipped the balance in favour of one young
rake, who may be saved and purified and renewed by such a marriage, while
his elder in iniquity is doomed to be wrecked upon it, ruined by it,
destroyed through it, damned socially and morally because of it ..."

The fierce words break from Saxham against his will. He resents the
betrayal of his own confidence savagely, even as he utters them. But they
are spoken, beyond recall. And the effect of the paragraph upon the
Chaplain is remarkable. His meek, luminous brown eyes blaze with
indignation. He is aflame, from the edge of his collar--a patent clerical
guillotine of washable xylonite, purchased at a famous travellers'
emporium in the Strand--to the thin, silky rings of dark hair that are
wearing from his high, pale temples. He says, and stutters angrily in
saying:

"This is a lie--a monstrous misstatement which shall be withdrawn
to-morrow!"

"How do you know that?"

The Chaplain crushes the _Siege Gazette_ into a ball, pitches it into a
corner of the room, grabs his Field-Service cap and the cane he carries in
lieu of the carbine or rifle without which the male laity of Gueldersdorp
and a good many of the women do not stir abroad, and makes a stride for
the door. He meets there Saxham, whose square face and powerful figure bar
his flaming exit.

"It is enough that I do know it. Kindly allow me to pass."

"What are you going to do?"

The Chaplain is plainly uncertain, as he wrestles with the clerical
guillotine of washable xylonite, and stammers something about
unwarrantable liberty and a lady's reputation! And Saxham recognises that
Saxham is not the only sufferer from the festering smart of jealousy, and
that the vivid red-and-white carnation-tinted beauty of the delicate face
in its setting of red-brown hair has grievously disturbed, if it has not
altogether dissipated, the pale young Anglican's views of the celibate
life.

Agnostic and Churchman, denier and believer, have split on the same
amatory rock. The knowledge breathes no sympathy in the Dop Doctor.

He observes the Chaplain's face, dispassionately and yet intently, as in
the old Hospital days he might have studied the expression of a monkey or
a guinea-pig, or other organism upon which he was experimenting with some
new drug. And the Reverend Julius demands, with resentful acerbity:

"What are you staring at? Do you imagine that the colour of my cloth
debars me from--from taking the part of a lady whose name has been dragged
before the public? I shall call at the office where this rag is published,
and insist upon a contradiction of this--this _canard_!"

"Don't you know who edits the rag?" asks Saxham raspingly. "Do you suppose
that any unauthorised announcement, or statement that has not been
officially corroborated would be allowed to pass? The paragraph comes from
an authoritative source, you may be sure!"

"I am in a position to disprove it, from whatever source it comes!" cried
the Chaplain hotly. "He shall contradict it himself, if there is
necessity. He may be a prodigal and a rake--he bears that reputation--but
at least he is not a liar and a scoundrel."

"Who?" Saxham's heart is drubbing furiously. A cool, vivifying liquid like
ether seems to have passed into his blood. His quiet, set, determined face
and masterful, observant eyes oppose the Chaplain's heat and indignation,
as if these were waves of boiling lava beating on a cliff of granite. "Who
is not a liar and a scoundrel?"

"I speak of Lord Beauvayse," says the Reverend Julius Fraithorn in the
high-pitched voice that shakes with rage. "He is a married man, Saxham; I
have incontrovertible testimony to prove it. He gave his name to the woman
who was his mistress a week before he sailed for Cape Town. He----"

There is a strange rattling noise in the throat of the man who listens.
Julius looks at him, and his own resentment appears, even to himself, as
impotent and ridiculous as the anger of a child. If just before it has
seemed to him that he has heard the voice of mankind's arch-enemy speaking
with Saxham's mouth, he discerns at this moment, reflected in Saxham's,
the face of the primal murderer. And being, as well as a sincere and
simple-hearted clergyman, something of a weakling, he is shocked to
silence.



XLVI


An instant, and Saxham's own face looks calmly at the dazed Chaplain, and
the curt, brusque voice demands:

"What is this incontrovertible testimony?"

"A letter," says Julius breathlessly, "from a person who saw the entry of
the marriage at the Registrar's office where it took place."

"Is anyone else in possession of this information?"

"With the exception of the Registrar and the witnesses of the marriage, up
to the middle of last September, when the letter was written, nothing had
leaked out. I received the communication by the last mail from England
that was delivered at the Hospital before I underwent the operation."

"That was the last mail that got through. Who was your correspondent?"

"One of the senior officiating priests of St. Margaret's, Wendish Street,
the London church where I did duty as junior curate."

"Have you kept the letter?"

"It is in my desk at my hotel, with some other correspondence of Father
Tatham's. You may see it if you wish."

"I will see it. In the meanwhile, let me have the pith of it. This
clergyman--happening to visit a Registrar's office---- Where was the
office?"

"At Cookham-on-Thames, where Father Tatham has established a Holiday Rest
Home for the benefit of our London working lads"--the Chaplain begins. He
is sitting on the end of the bed, weak and worn and exhausted with the
emotions that have torn him in the last half-hour. Beads of perspiration
thickly stud the high temples, out of which the flushing colour has sunk;
his cheeks are pallid and hollow. His eyes have lost their fire; his
muscles are flaccidly relaxed; his sloping shoulders stoop; his long, limp
hands hang nervelessly at his sides.

"One moment." Saxham glances at the gold chronometer that was a
presentation from the students of St. Stephen's years ago. It is rather
typical of the man that, even when under stress of his heroic thirst he
has pawned the watch for money wherewith to buy whisky, he should have
only borrowed upon it such small sums as are easily repaid. He has yet
another five minutes to bestow in listening to the Chaplain's story, yet
even as he returns the chronometer to its pocket, his quick ear catches
the frou-frou of feminine petticoats outside the door. He opens it,
frowning. A nurse is standing there with a summons in her face. She
delivers her low-toned message, receives a brusque reply, and rustles down
the corridor between the long lines of pallets as Saxham draws back his
head and shuts the door, and, setting his great shoulders against it, and
facing Julius, orders:

"Go on!"

Julius goes on:

"At Roselawn Cottage--a pretty place of the toy-residence description,
standing in charming gardens not far from the Holiday Rest Home, lived a
lady--an actress very popular in Musical Comedy--who was known to be the
mistress of Lord Beauvayse. I need hardly tell you the Father touched on
the unpleasant features of the story as delicately as possible----"

"Without doubt. But--get on a little quicker," says Saxham grimly, jerking
his head towards the door. "For I am wanted. And don't speak loud, for
there are people on the other side there. With regard to this
woman--actress, or whatever she may be----?"

"With all her moral laxities," goes on Julius, "Miss Lessie Lavigne----"

"Ah, I know the name," says Saxham sharply. "On with you to the end. 'With
all her moral laxities----'"

"Miss Lessie Lavigne is a generous, kindly, charitable young woman," goes
on Julius. "And the Holiday Home has benefited largely by her purse. She
is known to the Matron; and Father Tatham--having occasion to visit the
Registrar's office at Cookham on the 29th of last June, for the purpose of
looking up the books, with the Registrar's consent, and satisfying himself
of the existence of the entry regarding a marriage between one of our
young fellows then at the Home and a girl he very foolishly married when
on a hopping excursion in the autumn of the previous year--Father Tatham
encountered Miss Lavigne--or Lady Beauvayse, to give her her proper
title----"

"In the Registrar's office?"

"In the act of quitting the Registrar's outer office," says the burnt-out
Julius in a weary voice, "in the company of Lord Beauvayse, and followed
by his valet and a woman who probably were witnesses; for when the Father
entered the inner office the register was lying open on the table, the
entry of the marriage still wet upon the page."

"And your religious correspondent pried first," says Saxham, with savage
irony, "and afterwards tattled?"

"And afterwards, seeing in the _Times_ that Lord Beauvayse was under
orders for South Africa, mentioned his accidental discovery when writing
to me," says Julius Fraithorn wearily.

"That will do. When can I see the letter at your hotel? The sooner the
better," says Saxham, with a curious smile, "for all purposes. Can you
walk there with me now? Very well"--as Julius assents--"that is arranged,
then."

"What is to be done, Saxham?" Julius stumbles up. The fires that burned in
him a few moments ago are quenched; his slack hand trembles irresolutely
at his beautiful weak mouth, and his deer-like eyes waver.

"I advise you," says Saxham, "to leave the doing of what is to be done to
me." His own blue eyes have so strange a flare in them, and his heavy form
seems so alive and instinct with threatening and dangerous possibilities,
that Julius falters:

"You believe Lord Beauvayse has been a party to--has wilfully compromised
Miss Mildare? You--you mean to remonstrate with him? Do you--do you think
that he will listen to a remonstrance?"

"He will find it best in this instance," says Saxham dourly.

"Do not--do not be tempted to use any violence, Saxham," urges the
Chaplain nervously, looking at the tense muscles of the grim, square face
and the purposeful right hand that hovers near the butt of the Doctor's
revolver. "For your own sake as much as for his!"

Saxham's laugh is ugly to hear.

"Do you think that Lord Beauvayse would wind up as top-dog if it came to a
struggle between us?"

"It must not come to a struggle, Saxham," says the Chaplain, very pale.
"We--we are under Martial Law. He is your superior officer." (Saxham,
Attached Medical Staff, holds the honorary rank of Lieutenant in Her
Majesty's Army.) "Remember, if Carslow--the man who killed Vickers, of the
_Pittsburg Trumpeter_"--he refers to a grim tragedy of the beginning of
the siege--"had not been medically certified insane, they would have taken
him out and shot him."

Saxham shrugs his massive shoulders, and with the utter unmelodiousness
that distinguishes the performance of a man devoid of a musical ear,
whistles a fragment of a little tune. It is often on the lips of another
man, and the Doctor has picked it up unconsciously, with one or two other
characteristic habits and phrases, and has fallen into the habit of
whistling it as he goes doggedly, unwearyingly, upon his ever-widening
round of daily duties. It helps him, perhaps, though it gets upon the
nerves of other people, making the younger nurses, not unmindful of his
arbitrary action in the matter of the violet powder, want to shriek.

"The Military Executive would be perfectly welcome to take me out and
shoot me, if first I might be permitted to look in at Staff Bomb proof
South, and render Society the distinguished service of ridding it of Lord
Beauvayse. Who's there?"

Saxham reopens the door, at which the nurse, now returned, has knocked.
The tired but cheerful-faced young woman, in an unstarched cap and apron,
and rumpled gown of Galatea cotton-twill, informs the Doctor that they
have telephoned up from Staff Bomb proof South Lines, and that the
password for the day is "Honour."



"You are going to him now?" asks the Chaplain anxiously and
apprehensively.

"Oddly enough, I have been sent for to attend to a shell casualty," says
Saxham, picking up and putting on his Service felt, and moving to take
down the canvas wallet that is his inseparable companion, from the hook on
which it hangs. "Or, rather, Taggart was; and as he has thirty diphtheria
cases for tracheotomy at the Children's Hospital, and McFadyen's hands are
full at the Refugees' Infirmary, the Major asks if I will take the duty.
It's an order, I suppose, couched in a civil way."

He swings the heavy wallet over his shoulders, and picks up his worn
hunting-crop.

"And so, let's be moving," he says, his hand upon the door-knob. "Your
hotel is on my way. I may need that letter, or I may not. And in any case
I prefer to have seen it before I meet the man."

"One moment." The Chaplain speaks with a strained look of anxiety,
squeezing a damp white handkerchief into a ball between his palms. "You
have taken upon yourself the duty of bringing Lord Beauvayse to book over
this--very painful matter.... I should like ... I should wish you to leave
the task of enlightening Miss Mildare to me."

"To you. And why?"

Saxham waits for the answer, a heavy figure filling up the doorway, with
scowling brows, and sullen eyes that carefully avoid the Chaplain's face.

"Because I--because in inflicting upon her what must necessarily be a--a
painful humiliation"--the Rev. Julius clears his throat, and laboriously
rolls the damp handkerchief-ball into a sausage--"I wish to convince Miss
Mildare that my respect and my--esteem for her have--not diminished."

"And how do you propose to drive this conviction home?"

The Reverend Julius flushes to the ear-tips. The coldness of the
questioning voice gives him a nervous shudder. He says with an effort,
looking at the thick white, black-fringed lids that bide the Doctor's
queer blue eyes:

"By offering Miss Mildare the honourable protection of my name. My views,
as regarding the celibacy incumbent upon an anointed servant of the altar,
have, since I knew her, undergone a--a change.... And it occurs to me,
when she has got over the first shock of hearing that she has been
deceived and played with by a person of Lord Beauvayse's lack of
principle----"

"That she may be induced to look with favour on the parson's proposal?"
comments Saxham with an indifference to the feelings of the person he
addresses that is positively savage. The raucous tones flay Julius's
sensitive ears, the terrible blue eyes blaze upon him, scorch him. He
falters:

"I--I trust my purpose is pure from vulgar self-seeking? I hope my
attitude towards Miss Mildare is not unchivalrous--or ungenerous?"

"In manipulating her disadvantage to serve your own interests," says
Saxham's terrible voice, "you would undoubtedly be playing a very low-down
game."

Julius laughs, shortly and huffily.

"A low-down game!... Ha, ha, ha! You don't mince your words, Doctor!"

"I can phrase my opinion even more plainly, if you desire it," returns
Saxham brutally. "To bespatter a rival for the gaining of an advantage by
contrast is a Yahoo's trick to which no decent gentleman would stoop."

"At a pinch," retorts the Chaplain, stung to the point of being sarcastic,
"your 'decent gentleman' would be likely to remember the old adage, 'All's
fair in Love and----'"

"Exactly. All _is_ fair," returns Saxham, squaring his dogged jaws at the
other, and folding his great arms upon his deep wide chest. "And all shall
be, please to understand it. It is, unfortunately, necessary that Miss
Mildare should be undeceived as regards Lord Beauvayse. But the painful
duty of opening her eyes will be undertaken by that"--the break before the
designation is scathingly contemptuous--"by that--distinguished nobleman
himself, and by no other."

"How can you compel the man to give himself away?" demands the Reverend
Julius incredulously. Saxham answers, mechanically opening and closing his
small, muscular surgeon's hand, and watching the flexions and extensions
of the supple fingers with an ugly kind of interest:

"I shall compel him to. How doesn't concern you at the moment. What
matters is--your parole of honour that you will never by word, or deed, or
sign disclose to Miss Mildare that Lord Beauvayse was not, when he engaged
himself to marry her, in a position to fulfil his matrimonial proposals.
Short of betraying your rival, you are at liberty to further your own
views as may seem good to you. The plan of campaign that I, in your place,
should choose might not find favour in your eyes...."

His look bears upon the younger man with intolerable weight, his
heavily-shouldered figure seems to swell and fill the room. Julius is
clearly conscious of hating his saviour, and the consciousness is acid on
his palate as he asks, with a wry smile:

"What would your plan be if you were in my place?"

"To praise where a rival was worthy of praise; to be silent where it would
be easy to depreciate; to win her from him, not because of my own greater
worth, but in spite of the worst she could know of me. That would, in my
opinion, be a conquest worthy of a man."

The pupils of the speaker's flaming blue eyes have dwindled to mere
pin-points, a rush of blood has darkened the square pale face, to sink
away again and leave it opaquely colourless, as Saxham says with cool
distinctness:

"And now, before we leave this room, I must trouble you for that
promise--oath, if you feel it would be more in your line of business. I
don't possess a copy of the Scriptures, but I think that is a Crucifix
you wear upon your watch-chain?"

It is. And when the Reverend Julius has kissed the sacred symbol with
shaking lips, and taken the oath as Saxham dictates, his heart tattooing
furiously under the baggy khâki jacket, and an angry pulse beating in his
thin cheek, Saxham adds, with the flickering shadow of a smile, as he
opens the door, and signs to the Chaplain to pass out before him:

"You observe, I have turned the weapons of your profession against you.
Exactly as--replying to your question of a moment back with regard to
compelling--exactly as I intend to do in the case of Lord Beauvayse!"

He motions to the other to pass out before him, and locks the door upon
his stuffy little sanctum whose shelves are piled with a heterogeneous
confusion of tubes and bottles, books and instruments, specimens of
foodstuffs under the process of analysis for values, and carefully-sealed
watch-glasses containing choice cultures of deadly microbes in bouillon,
before he leads his way down the long corridor, where narrow pallets, upon
which sick men and boys are stretched, range along the walls upon either
hand, and the air is heavy with the taint of suppurating wounds, and the
hot, sickly breath of fever and malaria.

He walks quickly, his keen blue eyes glancing right and left with the
effect of carelessness, yet missing nothing. He stops, and loosens the
bandage, and relieves the swollen limb. He delays to kneel a moment beside
one low pillow, and turn gently to the light a face that is ghastly, with
its bristly beard and glassy, staring eyes, and its pallor that is of the
hue of old wax, and lay it gently back again as he beckons to the nurse to
bring the screens, and hide the Dead from the sight of the living.

He is in his element; salient and masterful and strong. But the haggard
eyes that turn upon him do not shine with gratitude. He has not reached
these hearts. They accuse him, quite unjustly, of a liking for cutting and
carving. They suspect him, quite correctly, of being in no hurry for the
ending of the siege. How should he be, when, these strenuous days once
over, he sees nothing before him but the murky blackness of the night out
of which he came, from which he has emerged for one brief draught of
renewed joy in living before the dark shall close over him again, and
wrap him round for ever?

He has suffered horribly of late. But at the worst his work has never
failed to bring relief and distraction. Pure loyalty to a man in whom he
believes, has been the main-spring of his unflagging strength. He is not
liked or popular in any way, though Surgeon-Major Taggart upholds him
manfully, and McFadyen is loyal to the old bond. His harshness repels
regard, his coldness blights confidence, and so, though he is admired for
his dazzling skill in surgery, for his dogged perseverance and unremitting
power of application, for his fine horsemanship and iron nerve; he is not
regarded with affection.

He is not in the least aware of it, to do him justice, when his rough
ironies and his brusque repartees give offence. In the heyday of his
London success he has not truckled to Rank, or Influence, or Affluence.
The owner of a gouty or a varicose leg has never had the more civil tongue
from Saxham that the uneasy limb or its fellow was privileged upon State
occasions to wear the Garter. He trod upon corns then, as he treads upon
them now, without being aware of it, as he goes upon his way.

Julius goes with him, rent by apprehensions, stealing nervous side-glances
at the impassive, opaque-skinned face as Saxham swings along with his
powerful, rather lurching gait over the ploughed and littered waste that
divides the Hospital from the town beyond it. He speaks once or twice, but
Saxham seems not to hear.

The Doctor is listening to a dialogue that is as yet unspoken. He is
crushing a resistance that has not yet been made. In imagination his
small, strong, muscular hands are gripped about the throat of the man who
has lied to her and deceived her; and he is listening with joy to the
gurgling, choking efforts to phrase a prayer for mercy, or utter a final
defiance; and he sees with grim pleasure how the fine skin blackens under
his deadly hold, and how the lazy, beautiful, grey-green eyes, no longer
sleepy or defiant, but staring and horribly bloodshot, are already rolling
upwards in the death-agony. The primitive savage that is in every man
lusts at a juncture such as this, to kill with the bare hands rather than
to slay with any weapon known to civilisation.

"Let him look to it how he deals with her! Let him look to it!"

How long it seems since Saxham muttered those words, turning sullenly away
to recross the stepping-stones, leaping from boulder to boulder as the
river wimpled and laughed in mockery of his clumsy tender of protection
and her rejection of it, and Beauvayse's tall figure stood, erect and
triumphant, on the flower-starred bank, waiting to recommence his wooing
until the intruder should be gone, divining, as Saxham had instinctively
known, the hidden passion that rent and tortured him, glowing with the
consciousness of secret mastery....

If this meek, thin-blooded young clergyman who walks beside him might have
won her, it seems to Saxham that he could have borne it. But that
Beauvayse of all others should venture to approach her, presume to rear an
image of himself in the shrine of her pure breast; win her from her high
aims and lofty ideals with a bold look and a few whispered words, and,
having thrown his honourable name into the lap of a light woman as
indifferently as a jewelled trinket, should dare to offer Lynette Mildare
dishonour, is monstrous, hideous, unbearable....

How comes it that she of all women should be so easily allured, so lightly
drawn aside? Was there no baser conquest within reach that this white,
virginal, slender saint should become _his_ prey? Shall she be made even
as those others of whom she spoke, when the veil of a girlish innocence
was drawn aside, and strange and terrible knowledge looked out of those
clear eyes, and she said, in answer to his question:

"They are the most unhappy of all the souls that suffer upon earth. For
they are the slaves, and the victims, and the martyrs of the unrelenting,
merciless, dreadful pleasures of men...."

Of men like Beauvayse.

Not only swart and shaggy, or pale and bloated beast-men, or white-haired,
toothless, blear-eyed satyrs grown venerable in vice. But beautiful,
youthful profligates, limbed like the gods and fauns of the old Greek
sculptors; soft of skin, golden of hair, with sleepy eyes like green
jewels, soft persuasive voices with which to pour poisoned words into
innocent and guileless ears, and the bold, brave blood of old-time heroes
running in their veins, prompting them to the doing of dashing, reckless,
gallant deeds, no less than sins of lust and luxury.

Let him look to it, this splendid young soldier with the ancient name,
hope of his House, pride of his Regiment. Let him look to it how he has
dealt with her, who had no thought or dream but to save others from the
fate he destines for her, until his cursed, beautiful face smiled down
into her own. For every lying oath he has sworn to her, for every false
promise made to the wrecking of her maiden peace, for every kiss those
innocent lips have been despoiled of, for every touch of his that has
soiled her, for every breath of his that has scorched the white petals of
the Convent-reared lily, he shall pay the price.

Silently Saxham registers this oath upon that beloved red-brown head,
since he denies its Maker His honour, and the whirling blackness that is
within him is rent and cloven, for one blinding instant, by the
levin-fires of Hell. He knows thenceforward what he will do, as he walks
with the pale Chaplain between the shell-torn houses, and along the
littered streets, where men and women and children, thin and haggard and
listless with hunger, and the deadly inertia of long confinement, pass and
repass as indifferently as though no guns were battering and growling from
the low grey hills south and east, and the incessant rattle of rifle-fire
were the innocent expenditure of blank cartridge incidental to a sham
fight.

They reach the Chaplain's hotel, and go to his room. Saxham waits silently
while Julius searches for and finds Father Tatham's letter, takes it and
reads it attentively, puts it carefully away in a worn notecase, restores
the notecase to the inner pocket of his jacket, and, without a nod or word
of farewell, is gone.



XLVII


To the remarkably complete system of underground wires installed by the
Garrison Telephone Corps, Lady Hannah Wrynche, on duty at the Convalescent
Hospital that was once the Officers' Club, was, upon the Thursday that
saw the publication of the string of paragraphs previously quoted from the
_Siege Gazette_, indebted for what she afterwards described with
ruefulness as a "heckled morning."

Once a week the "Social Jottings," bubbling from the effervescent Gold
Pen, descended like rain upon the parched soil of drouthy Gueldersdorp. To
make gossip where there is none is as difficult as making bricks without
clay, or trimming a hat when you are a member of the Wild Birds'
Protection Society, and plumage is Fashion's latest cry. Under the
circumstances a genuine item of general and public interest was a pearl of
price. And yet something had told the little lady that the ruthless Blue
Pencil of Supreme Authority would deprive her of the supreme joy of
casting it before the readers of the _Siege Gazette_. She seemed to hear
him saying, in the pleasant voice she knew so well:

"No personalities shall be published in a paper I control."

He had said that on Sunday, when she had pleaded for a freer hand. Well,
he could hardly call the announcement of an engagement a personality, and,
supposing he did, how easy to convince him that it was nothing of the
kind!

She dashed off her description of the Convent kettledrum, and added the
paragraphs we know of, each one accentuated by an explosion of asterisks,
and gave the blotty sheets to Young Evans, who combined in his sole person
the offices of sub-editor, engineer, chief-compositor, feeder, and devil.

Young Evans, who, next to the single-cylinder printing-press driven by the
little oil-engine that had sustained a shell-casualty at the beginning of
the siege, adored Lady Hannah, vanished behind the corrugated partition
that separated the office from the printing-room, and presently came back
in inky shirt-sleeves with a smear of lubricating-oil upon his forehead,
and laid the wet slips upon the Editorial table. Then he went back, and
fell to tinkering at his machine. Lady Hannah corrected her proof. When
she had done she looked at her wrist-watch. In ten minutes Supreme
Authority would descend the ladder, wield the Blue Pencil, and depart.
Would he have mercy and not sacrifice? The suspense was torturing.

Then a simple plan occurred to her by which Supreme Authority might
be--she dared not use the word "circumvented." "Got round" was even
worse; "evaded" sounded nicest. To resist the promptings of her own
feminine ingenuity required a greater storage of cold moral force than
Lady Hannah desired to possess. She took the editorial scissors, and
daintily cut off the three paragraphs from the bottom of the slip.

The thing was done, and the snipped-off paragraphs concealed, as a pair of
brown boots, with steel jack-spurs attached, came neatly down the ladder.
The Chief gave her his cheery "Good-morning," and congratulated her on
looking well. Her cheeks burned and her heart rat-tatted against the
hidden paper, as he ran his keen eye down slip after slip, and initialled
them for the press. She almost shrieked as he took up the "Social
Jottings." The underground office whirled about her as the blue pencil
steadily travelled down. Then--he was gone--and the initialled proof lay
before her. She had nothing to do but neatly and delicately paste on the
bit she had snipped off. This done, she gathered up her various small
belongings, swept them into her bag, and went, leaving the passed proof of
the "Social Jottings" column waiting for Young Evans with the rest.

In the middle of the night she realised what she had done. But even in a
beleaguered town under the sway of Martial Law you cannot hang a lady, or
order her out and shoot her for Mutiny and Treason combined. There would
be a reprimand; what Bingo pleasantly termed "an official wigging," unless
the Blue Pencil could, by any feminine art, be persuaded that it had
passed those pars.

But, of course, she would never stoop to such a deception. The ruse she
had employed was culpable. The other thing would be infamous. And--he
would be sure to see that the end of the proof-slip had been pasted on.

She slept jerkily, rose headachy, and set out for the Convalescent
Hospital in that stage of penitence that immediately precedes hysterical
breakdown. She experienced a crisis of the nerves upon meeting a man, who,
regardless of quite a brisk bombardment that happened to be going on just
then, was walking along reading the _Siege Gazette_. Shirt-sleeved Young
Evans had worked until daylight getting the Thursday's issue out. And
there was a tremendous run upon copies. Every other person Lady Hannah
encountered upon the street seemed to have got one, and to find it
unusually interesting. The women especially. None of them were dull, or
languid, or dim-eyed this morning. The siege crawl was no longer in
evidence. They walked upon springs. Upon the stoep of the Hospital, where
the long rows of convalescents were airing, every patient appeared plunged
in perusal. Those who had not the paper were waiting, with watering
mouths, until those who had would part. A reviving breath seemed to have
passed over them, and spots of colour showed in their yellow, haggard
faces. They talked and laughed....

Lady Hannah passed in, conscious of an agreeable tingling all down her
spine. The hall-porter, a brawny, one-armed ex-Irregular, who had lost
what he was wont to term his "flapper" at the outset of hostilities, was
too deeply absorbed in spelling out a paragraph of the "Social Jottings"
column to salute her. Inside you heard little beyond the crackling of the
flimsy sheet, mingled with the comments, exclamations, anticipations,
expectations that went off on all sides, met each other, and rebounded,
exploding in coruscations of sparks. Something had happened, something was
going to happen, after months and months of eventless monotony. It warmed
the thin blood in their veins like comet champagne, and quickened their
faded appetites like some salt breath from the far-distant sea.

The flavour of success upon the palate may, like Imperial Tokay, be sensed
but once in a lifetime, but you can never forget that once. Out of her
gold fountain-pen Lady Hannah had spurted a little ink upon the famished
Gueldersdorpians, and their dry bones moved and lived. She knew a fine
must be paid for this dizzying draught of popularity, even as she tied on
a bibbed apron, and superintended the serving and distribution of the
patients' one-o'clock dinner.

Horse-soup, with a few potato-sprouts, and one or two slivered carrots to
the gallon, formed the menu to-day. There was no more white bread, and a
villainous bannock of crushed oats had to be soaked in your porringer if
you had no strength to chew it. Sweetened bran-jelly followed, and upon
this the now apologetic but smiling porter, with the intelligence that her
ladyship was wanted at the wall-jigger in the Matron's room.

The ring-up came from Hotchkiss Outpost North, where Captain Bingo was
this day on duty, _vià_ the Staff Headquarter office in Market Square, and
the voice that filtered to the ear of Lady Hannah was unmistakably that of
her spouse, and tinged with a gruffness as unusual as ominous.

"Hullo. Is that you?"

"Qu'il ne vous en déplaise!"

Bingo growled in a perfectly audible aside:

"And devil a doubt. What other woman would jabber French through a
telephone?"

"A Frenchwoman would, possibly."

"Don't catch what you're saying. Look here, what made you shove such a
whacking bouncer into the _Siege Gazette_?"

"Please put that into English." She underwent a quaking at the heart.

"I say, that announcement about Toby and the Mildare filly is all my eye."

"It isn't all your eye. It's first-hand, fully-authorised fact."

"Rot!"

"Paix et peu! Say rot, if it pleases you!"

"You'll have to withdraw and apologise."

"I can't make out what you're saying."

"It will end in your eating humble-pie. Can you hear that?"

"I can hear that you are in a bearish temper."

"I've reason to be. If a man had written what you have I should punch his
head."

"Say that again!"

"I say, if a stranger of the kickable sex had told such a pack of
infernal----"

_Click!_

Lady Hannah hung up the receiver, blew a contemptuous kiss into the gape
of the celluloid mouthpiece, and turned to go. There was another ring-up
as she reached the door.

"Hallo. Are you the Convalescent Hospital?"

"Yes. Who are you?"

"Staff Bombproof South. I want to speak to Lady Hannah Wrynche."

"I'm here, Lord Beauvayse."

"I say, I'm going to rag you frightfully. Why on earth have you given us
away in that beastly paper?"

"Whom do you mean by 'us'?"

"Well, me and Miss Mildare."

"Didn't you tell me on Sunday that you were engaged?" she demanded
indignantly.

"I did." The answer came back haltingly.

"And that you didn't care who knew it?"

"Fact."

"And that you two were going to be married as soon as you could pull off
the event?"

"Yes." The voice was palpably embarrassed. "But----"

"Well?"

"But--things you don't mind people knowing look beastly in cold print."

"If I were in your shoes I should think they looked beautiful."

Nothing but a faint buzz came back. Lady Hannah went on:

"If I were in your shoes, and such a pearl and prize and paragon as
Lynette Mildare had consented to marry me, I should want the whole world
to envy me my colossal good luck. I should go about in sandwich-boards
advertising it. I should buy a megaphone, and proclaim it through that. I
should----"

There was no response beyond the buzzing of the wire. Beauvayse had
evidently hung up the receiver.

"Is there any creature upon earth more cowardly than a man engaged?" Lady
Hannah demanded of space. There was a futile struggle inside the
telephone-box. Somebody else was trying to ring up. She put the receiver
back upon the crutches, and--

"_Ting--ting--ting!_" said the bell in a high, thin voice.

"Who is it?" she asked.

The answer came back with official clearness:

"Officer of the day, Staff Headquarters. If you're the Convalescent
Hospital, the Colonel would like to speak to Lady Hannah Wrynche."

Her knees became as jelly, and her heart seemed to turn a somersault. She
answered in a would-be jaunty voice that wobbled horribly:

"Here--here--is Lady Hannah."

"Hold on a minute, please!"

She held on. She had not shuddered at the end of the wire for more than a
minute when the well-known, infinitely-dreaded voice said in her ear, so
clearly that she jumped:

"Lady Hannah there? How d'you do?"

She gulped, and quavered:

"It--it depends on what you're going to say."

"I see." There was the vibration of a stifled laugh, and her heart jumped
to meet it. "So you anticipated a hauling over the coals?"

Revived, she shrugged her little shoulders.

"Have I deserved one?"

The voice said, with unmistakable displeasure in it:

"Thoroughly. Why were not the last three paragraphs of the weekly 'Social
Jottings' column submitted to me yesterday with the rest?"

She heard herself titter imbecilely. Then a voice, which she could hardly
believe her own, said, with a pitiable effort to be gay and natural:

"Weren't they? Perhaps you overlooked them?"

"You know I did not overlook them."

This was the cold, incisive, cutting, rasping voice which Bingo was wont
to describe as razors and files. Her ears burned like fire, and her
bright, birdlike eyes were round and scared. She gasped:

"Oh ... do you really----"

"I want the truth, please, without quibbling." The voice was harsh and
cold, and inexorably compelling. "Why were those paragraphs not shown to
me?"

She winked away her tears.

"Because I was sure you'd blue-pencil them out of existence. And a genuine
bit of news is such a roc's egg in these times of scarcity."

"Genuine!"

There was incredulity in the tone.

"Upon my honour as the wife of a British Dragoon."

He said crisply:

"Precipitate publication, even of authentic information, is likely to be
resented by the persons concerned."

She remembered, with a sinking at the heart, that one person concerned had
already objected.

"Both of them authorised the insertion."

"And the official consent to it was obtained by a trick."

She whispered, her heart in the heels of her Louis Quinze shoes:

"Please--please don't call it that!"

"How can I call it anything else? Besides, has it occurred to you that,
should any copies of to-day's issue get through these lines, the
Foltlebarres will be thrown into a state of volcanic eruption?"

"If the Foltlebarres aren't absolute beetles they'll jump for joy. How
could their boy possibly do better?"

"I don't see how myself."

"Ah, if you're going to back up Toby, the day is as good as won."

"You're very kind to say so."

The red was dying out of Lady Hannah's ear-tips. That "You're very kind"
had a gratified sound. The most rigorous and implacable of men can be
buttered, she thought, if the emollient be dexterously applied. And a
bright spark of naughty triumph snapped in each of her birdlike black
eyes.

"Thanks." He was speaking again. "Apologies for keeping you. You're up to
your eyes in Hospital work, I don't doubt."

"There is enough to keep one going."

"Without the additional tax of literary labour." She was conscious of a
premonitory, apprehensive chill that travelled from the roots of her hair
down her spine, and apparently made its exit at the heels of her Louis
Quinze shoes. "So the 'Social Jottings' column will not appear in the
_Siege Gazette_ after to-day. Good-morning."

"Is that my punishment for insubordination?"

Not a sound in reply. "He must have hung up the receiver and gone away.
Oh, horrid, horrid male superiority!" thought Lady Hannah. "To have been
put under arrest, even to have been ordered out and shot, would be
preferable to being figuratively spanked and put in the corner." She
winked away some more tears, and sniffed a little dejectedly. "And only
the other day he seemed quite pleased with me," she added pensively. Then
she shrugged her shoulders, and rang up the Head Hospital, North Veld
Road.

"Who you-e?"

It was the sing-song voice of the Barala hall-boy.

"I'm Lady Hannah Wrynche. Is the Reverend Mother on duty in the wards
to-day?"

"I go see. You hang-e on."

Lady Hannah hung on until her small remaining stock of patience deserted
her. As she stamped her small feet, longing to accelerate the languid
movements of the hall-boy with a humanely-wielded hatpin, a whisper in the
velvet voice she knew stole across the distance.

"Hannah. Is it you?"

"It's me, Biddy dear."

There was a soft laugh that ended in a sigh. "It is so long since anybody
called me that."

"I wouldn't dare to with you looking at me."

"Am I so formidable of aspect? But go on."

"It's not so easy. But I've had an awful morning. Everybody I like best
down on me like bricks and m----" The speaker gulped a sob.

"You are crying, dear!"

"Not a drop. But if you join in the heckling I shall dribble away and
dissolve in salt water. It's all about those wretched paragraphs of mine
in the _Siege Gazette_. But perhaps you haven't seen it?"

"I have seen it."

"You were quite willing that the _fiançailles_ should be made public....
Indeed, you gave me to understand you desired it."

"I was quite willing. I did wish it."

"Yes.... Thank you, dear; that was what I wanted to hear from you. I
understand now what the one clapping pair of hands must mean to the actor
who is booed by all the rest of the audience. Good-bye, dear."

"Stay.... Who are the persons who disapprove of the announcement?"

"My Bingo, for one. Not that anything the dear old stupid says matters in
the slightest. And--and Toby."

"'Toby'?"

"I mean Lord Beauvayse."

"Tell him I quite approve. He should know that in this matter it was for
me to decide."

"Certainly, dear."

"Whose is the other objecting voice?"

"The Chief thinks I ... we ... it ... I rather fancy that he used the word
'precipitate' in expressing his opinion."

"Refer him to me if he expresses it again."

"Of course, dear, since you ..."

"Good-bye."

"Good-bye, dear. If Biddy Bawne hadn't been a nun," reflected Lady Hannah,
as she went out of the Matron's office and back to her patients, who had
long ago dined, "I think she would have made rather a despotic Empress.
'_Refer him to me_,' indeed. What is it, Sergeant? Don't say I'm rung up
again."

But the one-armed porter was positive on the subject, and her little
ladyship went back. This last communication proved a puzzling one.

"You there?"

"I am Lady Hannah Wrynche. Where are you?"

There was a brief hesitation. A thickish man's voice said:

"I don't know as that matters."

"Who are you?"

There was another hesitation. Then the stranger parried with a question:

"You write them weekly screeds in the _Siege Gazette_?"

"I am responsible for some of the social paragraphs. Kindly say who is
speaking?"

"Nobody that matters much. Can you tell me where Miss Mildare lives?"

"Not without knowing who you are."

"You may call me an old friend of hers," aid the thickish, lisping voice,
with a sluggish chuckle in it that the little woman at the other end of
the wire had heard ... where?...

"If you are an old friend of the young lady you mention, how is it you
don't know her address?" she demanded.

"Keep her address all you want to. Only next time you come alongside her
give her a message for me. Ask her if she remembers the Free State Hotel
on the veld, three days' trek from Dreipoort, and Bough, who was her
friend?"

Lady Hannah repeated:

"'And Bough, who was her friend.' You are Bough----?"

"_Click!_" Somebody had hung up the receiver.



Lady Hannah spent another bad night, not wholly due to the indigestible
nature of a dinner of mule colloped, and locusts fried in batter by
Nixey's chef. Staggering in the course of disturbed and changeful dreams,
under the impact of sufficient bricks and mortar to rebuild toppledown
Gueldersdorp, being hauled over mountains of coals, and getting into whole
Gulf Streams of hot water, she was slumberously conscious that these
nightmares were less harassing than one nasty, perplexing little vision
that kept cropping up among the others. It had no beginning and no end. In
it the Matron's room at the Convalescent Hospital and Kink's Family Hotel
at Tweipans were somehow mixed up, and the ingenuous Mr. Van Busch, that
Afrikander gentleman of British sympathies, whose chivalrous and patriotic
sentiments had prompted and urged him to the imperilling of his own skin
and the risking of his own liberty in the interests of an English lady
masquerading for political reasons as the refugee-widow of a German
drummer, was oddly confused in identity with an uncomfortably mysterious
individual who possessed neither features nor name.

"Ask her if she remembers the Free State Hotel on the veld, three days'
trek from Dreipoort, and Bough, who was her friend?" the voice would say..

"You are Bough?" she would find herself asking.

There would be a little guttural, horrible laugh, and nothing would answer
but the buzzing of the wire.

And then she was wide awake and sitting up in bed, with a thumping heart.
She was no longer in any doubt as to the identity of the owner of the
voice. Van Busch was in Gueldersdorp ... and however he came, and whatever
disguise of person or of purpose sheltered him, his presence boded no
good. The merely logical masculine mind doffs hat respectfully before the
superiority of feminine intuition.



XLVIII


Saxham, shouldering out of Julius's hotel upon his way to Staff Bombproof
South, is made aware that the hundred-foot-high dust-storm that has raged
and swirled throughout the morning is in process of being beaten down into
a porridge of red mud by a downpour of February rain.

Straight as Matabele spears it comes down, sending pedestrians who have
grown indifferent to shell-fire to huddle under cover, adding to the
wretchedness of life in trench or bombproof as nothing else can. And the
Doctor, biting hard upon the worn stem of the old briar-root, as he goes
swinging along through the hissing deluge with his chin upon his breast
and his fierce eyes sullenly fixed upon the goal ahead, recalls, even more
vividly than upon Sunday, the angry buffalo of Lady Hannah's apt analogy.

He is drenched to the skin, it goes without saying, in a minute or two. So
is the Railway Volunteer, who challenges him at the bridge that carries
the single-gauge railway southward over the Olopo, in spite of his ragged
waterproof and an additional piece of tarpaulin. So is a mounted officer
of the Staff, in whom Saxham mechanically recognises Captain Bingo
Wrynche, as he goes by at a furious gallop, spurring, and jagging savagely
at the mouth of the handsome if attenuated brown charger, who sends stones
and mud and water flying from his furious iron-shod hoofs. So is the
Barala on guard by the wattled palisade of the native village--a
muddy-legged and goose-fleshy warrior, in a plumed, brimless bowler and
leopard-skin kaross, whose teeth can be heard chattering as he stands to
attention and brings his gaspipe rifle to the slope. The Chinamen working
in the patches of market-garden, where the scant supply of vegetables that
command such famine-prices are raised, are certainly sheltered from the
wet by their colossal umbrella-hats, but the splashed-up red gruel has
imbrued them to the eyes. Yet they continue to labour cheerfully, hoeing
scattered shell-fragments out of their potato-drills and removing
incrusted masses of bullets that incommode the young kidney-beans, and
arranging this ironmongery and metal-ware in tidy piles, possibly with a
view to future commerce. And so, with another challenge from a picket,
posted between the Barala village and the south trenches, where many of
the loyal natives are doing duty, Saxham finds himself on the perilous
tongue of land that lies behind Maxim Kopje South, and where the Staff
Bombproof is situated.

As the long, low mound comes into view, a dazzling white flash leaps from
a fold of the misty grey hills beyond, and one of Meisje's great shells
goes screaming and winnowing westwards. Then a sentry of the Irregulars, a
battered, shaggy, berry-brown trooper, standing knee-deep in a hole,
burrowed in the lee of a segment of stone-dyke that is his shelter,
challenges for the last time.

"'Alt! I know you well enough, Doctor." It is a man whose wounded arm was
dressed, one blazing day last January, outside the Convent bombproof. "But
you'll 'ave to give the countersign. Pass Honour and all's well. But"--the
sentry's nostrils twitch as the savour of Saxham's pipe reaches them, and
his whisper of appeal is as piercing as a yell--"if you left a pipeful
be'ind you, it wouldn't do no 'arm. Don't pull your pouch out, sir; the
lookout officer 'as 'is eye on you. Open it by the feel, an' drop a pinch
by the stone near your toe. I'll get it when they relieve me."

Saxham complies, leaving the sentry to gloat distantly over the little
brown lump of loose tangled fibres rapidly reducing to sponginess under
the downpour from the skies. The long mound of raw red earth, crusted with
greenish-yellow streaks of lyddite from the bursting-charges, rises now
immediately before him. At its eastern end is a flagstaff displaying the
Union Jack. Under the roof of the little penthouse from which the
flagstaff rises are sheltered the vari-coloured acetylene lamps that are
used for signalling at night.

Midway of the raw mound rises the rear elevation of an officer in dripping
waterproofs, who is looking steadily through a telescope out between the
long driving lances of the rain, beyond Maxim Kopje South to those
mysterious hills, swathed in grey-black folds of storm-cloud, that look so
desolate, and whose folds are yet as full of swarming, active, malignant
life as the blanket of an unwashed Kaffir. An N.C.O. is posted a little
below the officer, whose narrow shoulders and dark hair, showing above the
edge of the turned-up collar and below the brim of the Field-Service cap,
prove him to be not Beauvayse. And the usual blizzard of rifle-fire,
varied by brisk bursts of cannonading, goes on, and the Red Scythe of the
Destroyer sweeps over these two figures and about them in the customary
way. But even women and children have grown indifferent to these things,
and the men have long ceased to be aware of them.

A bullet sings past Saxham's ear, as the acrid exhalations of a stable
rise gratefully to his nostrils, recently saluted by the fierce and
clamorous smells of the native village. The ground slopes under his feet.
He goes down the inclined way that ends in the horses' quarters, and the
orderly, who is sitting on an empty ammunition-box outside the tarpaulin
that screens off the interior of the officer's shelter, stiffens to the
salute, receives a brief message, and disappears within.

Before Saxham rise the bony brown and bay and chestnut hindquarters of
half a dozen lean horses, that are drowsing or fidgeting before their
emptied mangers. Against the division of a loose-box that holds a fine
brown charger, still saddled and steaming, and heavily splashed with mud,
there leans a stretcher, which, by the ominous red stains and splashes
upon it, has been recently in use.

Upon Saxham's left hand is the shelter for the rank and file. Here several
gaunt, hollow-eyed, and hairy troopers are sitting on rough benches at a
trestle-table, playing dominoes and draughts, or poring over tattered
books by the light of the flickering oil-lamps, with tin reflectors, that
hang against the earth walls. None of them are smoking, though several are
sucking vigorously at empty pipes; and the rapacious light that glares in
every eye as Saxham mechanically knocks out the ashes from his smoked-out
briar-root against the side-post of the entrance is sufficient witness to
the pangs that they endure.

Perhaps it is characteristic of the Doctor that, with a hell of revengeful
fury seething in his heart, and a legion of devils unloosed and shrieking,
prompting him to murder, he should have paused to relieve the
tobacco-famine of the sentry, and be moved to a further sacrifice of his
sole luxury by the sight of those empty pipes. The old rubber pouch,
pitched by a cricketer's hand, flies in among the domino-players, and
rebounds from a pondering head, as the orderly comes back, and lifts one
corner of the tarpaulin for the Doctor to pass in. A pack of ravening
wolves tussling over an unusually small baby might distantly reproduce the
scene Saxham leaves behind him. The trestle-table and benches are upset,
and men and benches, draughts and dominoes, welter in horrible confusion
over the earthen floor, when the scandalised orderly-corporal rushes in to
quell the riot, and thenceforward joins the rioters.

They fight like wolves, but the man who rises up from among the rest,
clutching the prize, and grinning a three-cornered grin because his upper
lip is split, divides the tobacco fairly to the last thread. They even
share out the indiarubber pouch, and chew the pieces as long as the
flavour lasts. When the thick, fragrant smoke curls up from the lighted
pipes, it steals round the edges of the tarpaulin that has dropped behind
Saxham, passing in to the wreaking of vengeance upon the thief whose
profane and covetous hand has plucked the white lily of the Convent
garden.

Now, with that deadly hate surging in his veins, with the lust to kill
tingling in every nerve and muscle, he will soon stand in the presence of
his enemy, and hers. As he thinks of this, suddenly a bell rings. The
sound comes from the north, so it cannot be the bell of the Catholic
Church, or that of the Protestant Church, or the bell of the Wesleyan
meeting-house, or of the Dutch Kerk.

"_Clang-clang! clang-clang! Clang----_"

The last clang is broken off suddenly, as though the rope has been jerked
from the ringer's hands, but Saxham is not diverted by it from his
occupation. With that curious fatuity to which the most logical of us are
prone, he has been conning over the brief, scorching sentences with which
he means to strip the other man's deception bare to the light, and make
known his own self-appointed mission to avenge her.

"They telephoned for me, and I have come, but not in the interests of
your sick or wounded man. Because it was imperative that I should say this
to you: Your engagement to Miss Mildare and your approaching marriage to
her were announced in to-day's _Siege Gazette_. You have received many
congratulations. Now take mine--liar, and coward, and cheat!"

And with each epithet, delivered with all the force of Saxham's muscular
arm, shall fall a stinging blow of the heavy old hunting-crop. There will
be a shout, an angry oath from Beauvayse, staggering back under the
unexpected, savage chastisement, red bars marring the insolent, high-bred
beauty of the face that has bewitched her. Saxham will continue:

"You approached this innocent, inexperienced girl as a lover. You
represented yourself to her and to her mother-guardian as a single man.
All this when you had already a wife at home in England--a gaudy stage
butterfly sleek with carrion-juices, whose wings are jewelled by the vices
of men; and who is worthy of you, as you are of her. I speak as I can
prove. Here is the written testimony of a reliable witness to your
marriage with Miss Lavigne. And now you will go to her and show yourself
to her in your true colours. You will undeceive her, or----"

There is a foggy uncertainty about what is to follow after that "or." But
the livid flames of the burning hell that is in Saxham throw upon the
greyness a leaping reflection that is red like blood. A fight to the
death, either with weapons, or, best of all, with the bare hands, is what
Saxham secretly lusts for, and savours in anticipation as he goes.

Let the humanitarian say what he pleases. Man is a manslayer by instinct
and by will.

And within the little area of this beleaguered town do not men kill, and
are not men killed, every day? The conditions are mediæval, fast relapsing
into the primeval. The modern sanctity and inviolability attending and
surrounding human life are at a discount. Even for children, the grim King
of Terrors had become a bugaboo to laugh at; red wounds and ghastly sights
are things of everyday experience; there is a slump in mortality.

In those old, far-distant Chilworth Street days, two men who engaged in a
battle to the death about a woman desired might have seemed merely savages
to Saxham. Here things are different. The elemental bed-rock of human
nature has been laid bare, and the grim, naked scars upon it, testifying
to the combat of Ice and Fire for the round world's supremacy, will never
be quite hidden under Civilisation's green mantle of vegetation, or her
toadstool-growths of bricks and mortar, any more.

And the men are well matched. Saxham knows himself the more muscular, but
Beauvayse has the advantage of him in years, and is lithe, and strong, and
supple as the Greek wrestler who served the sculptor Polycleitos as a
model for the Athlete with the Diadem.

It will be a fight worth having. No quarter. And Saxham's breath comes
heavily, and his blue eyes have in them a steely glitter, and, as the
tarpaulin falls behind him, he shifts to a better grip on the strong old
hunting-crop.

Overhead the rain drums deafeningly on the tarpaulins. The long bombproof
is heterogeneously furnished with full and empty ammunition-boxes marked
A.O.S., a leathern sofa-divan, tattered by spurs and marked by muddy
boots, several cane or canvas deck-chairs, and others of the Windsor
pattern common to the barrack-room. Arms and accoutrements are in rude
racks against the corrugated-iron-panelled walls; a trestle-table covered
with oilcloth runs down the middle. It is lighted by a couple of acetylene
lamps hanging by their chains from iron bars that cross the trench above,
and there is another lamp, green-shaded, upon a bare deal table that
stands, strewn with papers, against the farther wall.

A man in shirt-sleeves sits there writing. Another man is busy at a
telephone that is fixed against the wall beyond the writing-table. There
is something fateful and ominous about the heavy silence in which they do
their work. It is broken only by a strange sound that comes almost
continuously from--where Saxham does not trouble to ask. It is the
groaning, undoubtedly, of the wounded man to whose aid he has been
summoned, with the added injunction, "Bring morphia," showing that little
further can be done for him, whoever he may be, than to smooth his
passage into the Beyond by the aid of the Pain Slayer.

Let him wait, however sore his need, until Saxham has dealt with his
enemy. He is resentfully impatient in the knowledge that neither of the
men present is Beauvayse.

Then, as he stands sullen and lowering, the man who has been writing gets
up and comes to him. Saxham recognises the keen-featured face with the
rusty-brown moustache, and the grip of the lean, hard hand that hauled a
Dop Doctor out of the Slough of Despair is familiar. The pleasant voice he
likes says something about somebody being very wet. It is Saxham, from
whose soaked garments the water is running in streams, and whose boots
squelch as he crosses the carpet that has been spread above the
floor-tarpaulin. The friendly hand pours out and offers him a sparing
measure of that rare stimulant, whisky.

"As preventive medicine. We can't have our Medical Staff men on the
sick-list."

Some such commonplace words accompany the proffered hospitality.

"I shall not suffer, thanks. You have a shell-casualty, you have 'phoned
us, but before I see your man it is imperative that I should speak to Lord
Beauvayse. Where is he?"

"He is here."

"My business with him is urgent, sir."

The man at the telephone makes a sound indicative that a message is coming
through. The Chief is beside him instantly, with the receiver at his ear.
He looks round for an instant at Saxham as he waits for the intelligence,
and the muscles of his face twitch as if under the influence of some
strong, repressed emotion, and the Doctor's practised glance notes the
unsteadiness of the uplifted hand. Then he is saying to the officer in
charge at Maxim Kopje South:

"The ammunition comes up to-night. Tell Gaylord that we are short-handed
here, and shall want him to help on night duty.... Practically as soon as
he can join us. No, no better. All for the present ... thanks! Saxham,
please come this way."

There is a sleeping-place at the end of the long, narrow, lamp-lit
perspective, curtained off from the rude bareness of the outer place.
Light shows between the curtains, and they are of plush, in hue a rich,
deep red. As that strong colour sinks into his brain, through his intent
and glittering eyes, Saxham the man has a sudden furious impulse to tear
the deep folds back, with a clash of brazen rings on iron rods, and call
to the betrayer who lurks behind them to come out and be dealt with. But
that hollow, feeble moaning sounds continuously from the other side, and
Saxham the surgeon stays his hand and follows the Colonel in. There are
two camp-beds in the small sleeping-place, and a washstand and a
folding-chair. A lamp hangs above, and its light falls full upon the face
of the man whom he is seeking.

Ah! where are they? His furious anger and his deadly hate, where are they
now? Like snow upon the desert they vanish away. How can one rage against
this shattered thing, stretched on the pallet of the low cot-bed from
which the blankets have been stripped away? First Aid bandages have been
not ineffectually applied. Fragments of packing-case have been employed as
splints for the broken arm and shattered hand, but, in spite of all that
has been done, the beautiful young life is sinking, waning, flowing out
with that ruddy tide that will not be stayed.

The greenish pallor and the sweat of mortal agony are upon the face of
Beauvayse, thrown back upon the pillow, and looking upwards to where the
deluging rain makes thunder on the tarpaulined roof. The atmosphere is
heavy with the sour-sickly smell of blood, and lamp-fumes; he draws each
breath laboriously, and exhales it with a whistling sound. Through his
clenched teeth, revealed by the lips that are dragged back in the
semi-grin of desperate agony, that dumb, ceaseless moaning makes its way
despite the gallant effort to restrain it. The one uninjured arm hangs
downwards, its restless fingers picking at the bloodstained matting that
covers the loose boards of the floor. A sheet has been lightly laid over
him. It is dabbled with the prevailing hue, and sinks in an ominous hollow
below the breast. And beyond the bottom of it splashed leggings and muddy
boots with spurs on them stick out with helpless stiffness.

A flask of brandy--a precious restorative treasured for use in such
desperate need as this--stands with a tumbler and a jug of water on the
camp washstand that is between the two cot-beds. Upon the second bed sits
a big and stoutish man, whose large face, not pink just now, is hidden in
his thick, quivering hands. It is Captain Bingo Wrynche, heavy Dragoon,
and honest, single-hearted gentleman, to whom belongs the blown and muddy
charger drooping in the loose-box outside. The telephone has summoned him
in haste from Hotchkiss Outpost North, to see the last of a friend.



XLIX


"It was just before the rainstorm that it happened. He was on the lookout.
They have been moving the big gun and the 16-pounder Krupps again, and
some of the laagers seem to be shifting, so we have kept an extra eye open
of late, by night as well as by day. He was very keen always...."

Already he is spoken of by those who have known and loved him as one who
was and has been.

"He had relieved me at 10 a.m. He might have been up over an hour when it
happened. The orderly-sergeant had got his mouth at the speaking-tube, in
the act of sending down a message; he did not see him hit. It was a shell
from their Maxim-Nordenfelt. And when we got to him, the first glance told
us there was little hope."

"There is none at all," says Saxham curtly, as is his wont. "A splinter
has shattered the lower portion of the spine. The agony can be deadened
with an opiate, and the ruptured arteries ligatured. Beyond that there is
nothing else to do, though he may live till morning."

"He managed to ask for Wrynche before he swooned, so we 'phoned him at
Hotchkiss Outpost North. He got here ten minutes ago, badly cut up, but
there has been no recognition of him. Do what you can, Saxham, in the
case. Every moment may bring Wrynche's recall. There is another person I
should have expected the poor boy to ask for.... That young girl, Saxham,
whose heart has to be broken with the news, sooner or later. Perhaps about
nightfall, when it will be safe for her to venture. I ought to send an
escort for Miss Mildare?"

The slow, dusky colour rises in Saxham's set, pale face, and as slowly
sinks out again. He has been standing in low-toned colloquy with the Chief
outside the heavy plush curtains. He turns silently upon his heel and
vanishes behind them.



"_Ting--ting--ting!_"

The telephone-bell heralds an urgent recall from Hotchkiss Outpost North.
And a beckoning hand summons Captain Bingo from the bedside of his dying
friend ere ever the word of parting has been spoken.

"It is for you, Wrynche, as I expected."

"I am ready, sir. Orderly, get my damned brute out!"

The sorrow and love that swell the big man's heart to bursting find rather
absurd expression in his savage objurgation of the innocent brown charger.
But Captain Bingo, when he stoops over the camp-bed where lies Beauvayse,
kisses him solemnly and clumsily upon the forehead, and then goes heavily
striding out of the death-chamber with his bulldog jowl well down upon his
chest; and a moment later when he is seen bucketing the lean brown charger
through the thrashing hailstorm that is jagged across by the white-green
fires of bursting shell, is rather a tragic figure, or so it seems to me.

Meanwhile, what of the man who lies upon the bed? Since Bingo's face came
between and receded into, those thick grey mists that gather about the
dying, he has lost consciousness of present things. Fever is rising in
those wellnigh empty veins of his, his skin is drawing and creeping; it
seems as though innumerable ants were running over him. The hand that is
not powerless tries to brush them away. Sometimes he thinks he is in
Hospital, and that the man in the next bed is groaning, and then he is
aware that the groans are his own. He is conscious that a needle-prick in
the sound wrist has been followed by sensible relief. The unspeakable
grinding agonies subside; he is able to murmur, "Thanks, Nurse," as he
gulps some liquid from the glass a strange hand holds to his lips....

The groans are sighs now, and the clogged brain, spurred by morphia,
shakes off its lethargy. The fever goes on rising, and he begins,
silently, for his powers fail of speech, to wander over all the past.
Could Saxham, sitting motionless and vigilant on the folding-chair, his
keen eyes quick to note each change, his deft hand prompt to do all that
can be done--could Saxham hear, he would behold, anatomised before his
mental vision, the soul of this his fellow-man.

"Coming straight for me--five round black spots punched in the grey. If
they go by, luck's on my side, and I marry her. If not ... hit--and done
for!"

Exactly thus has Saxham made of the unconscious Father Noah, of the Boer
sharp shooters behind their breastwork, the arbiters of Fate.

"Send for Bingo!" flashes across the dying brain "Something to say to
Bingo. Don't bring _her_. Who'd want a woman who loved him to remember him
like this? What was it the Mahometan _syce_ the _musth_ elephant killed at
Bhurtpore said about his wife? '_Let her cool my grave with tears._' Until
she finds out ... until someone tells her. Ah--'h!" There is a groan, and
a convulsive shudder, and the beautiful dim eyes roll up in agony, and the
blue, swollen lips are wrung as the feeble voice whispers: "Nurse, this
hurts like--hell! Some more--that stuff!"

Saxham gives another subcutaneous injection of morphia. The curtains part,
and the Colonel, in waterproof and a dreadnought cap, comes noiselessly
in. "No change," Saxham answers to the mute inquiry. "I anticipate none
before midnight. Of course, the weakness is progressive."

"Of course." The Chief touches the cold, flaccid wrist. There are hollows
in his lean cheeks, and deep crow's-feet at the corners of the kindly
hazel eyes, and the brown moustache is ominously straight and curveless.
"Tell him, if he recovers consciousness, that I thought it best to send
for her. Chagrave has gone with a couple of the men. It's a desperate
night for a woman to be out in, but they took an Ambulance sling-chair
with them. They'll wrap her in tarpaulins, and carry her in that."

He nods and goes up on the lookout with a night-glass, and the wearied
officer he relieves comes down. As he has said, it is a desperate night of
driving sleet and swirling blackness, illuminated only with the malignant
coruscations of lyddite bursting-charges. But the tempest without is
nothing to the tempest that rages in the soul of the quiet man in sodden
khâki who watches by the dying.

She has been sent for.... She is coming.... To kneel by the low cot and
weep over him who lies there; kiss the tortured lips and the beautiful dim
eyes, and hold the unwounded head upon her breast.... How shall Saxham
bear it without crying out to tell her? He clenches his hands, and sets
his strong jaw, and the sweat breaks out upon his broad, pale forehead.
The man upon the bed, mentally clear, though incapable of coherent speech,
is now listening to comments that shall ere long be made by living men
upon one who very soon shall be numbered with the dead.

"Well, well, don't be hard on the poor beggar!" he hears them saying.
"Give the devil his due: not a bad chap--take him all round. Got carried
away and lost his head. She's as lovely as they make 'em, and he ...
always a fool where a pretty woman was concerned--poor old Toby!"

He pleads unconsciously, with his most merciless judge, in his utter
incapacity to plead at all....

And so the time goes by. There has been coming and going in the place
outside. The guard has relieved the double sentries, the official lamp
burns redly under the little penthouse. A reconnoitring-patrol ride out,
the horses' hoofs sounding hollow on the earth-covered boards of the
sloping way. The business of War goes on in its accustomed grooves, and
the business of Life will soon be over for Beauvayse. Yet she has not
come. And Saxham looks at his watch.

Nine o'clock. He has not eaten since early morning. He is wet to the skin
and stiff with long sitting. But when the savoury odours of hot horse-soup
and hot bean-coffee, accompanied by the clinking of crockery and tin
pannikins, announce a meal in readiness, and would-be hosts come to the
curtains and anxiously beg him to take food, he merely shakes his square
black head and falls again to watching the unconscious face of Beauvayse.
The conscious brain behind its blankly-staring eyes is thinking:

"Those paragraphs.... In black and white the thing looked damnable. And
think of the gossip and tongue-wagging. Whatever they say about me ...
she'll be the one to suffer. They're never so hard on ... the man!"

He has uttered these last words audibly; they pierce to the heart's core
of the mute, impassive watcher. Strong antipathy is as clairvoyant as
strong sympathy, and with a leap of understanding, and a fresh surge of
fierce resentment, Saxham acknowledges the deadly truth contained in those
few halting words. She will be the one to suffer. Beside the martyrdom
inevitably to be endured by the white saint, the agony of the sinner's
death-bed pales and dwindles. There is a savage struggle once again
between Saxham the man and Saxham the surgeon beside the bed of death.

His sudden irrepressible movement has knocked the tumbler from the little
iron washstand at his elbow. It falls and shivers into fragments at his
feet. And then--the upturned face slants a little, and the eyes that have
been blankly staring at the roof-tarpaulins come down to the level of his
own. He and her fallen enemy regard each other silently for a moment. Then
Beauvayse says weakly, in the phantom of the old gay, boyish voice that
wooed and won her:

"Thought it was Wrynche. Where is----"

The question ends in a groan.

Saxham the man shrinks from him with unutterable loathing. But Saxham the
surgeon stoops over him, saying, in distinct, even tones:

"Captain Wrynche was here. He has been recalled to Hotchkiss Outpost
North. Drink this." This is a little measure of brandy-and-water, in which
some tabloids of morphia have been dissolved. And Beauvayse obeys,
panting:

"All right. But ... more a job for the Chaplain than the Doctor, isn't
it?"

"Do you wish the Chaplain sent for?"

There is a glimmer of the old lazy, defiant humour in the beautiful dim
eyes.

"What could he do?"

Saxham answers--how strangely for him, the Denier:

"He would probably pray beside you, and talk to you of God."

There is a pause. The faint, almost breathless whisper asks:

"It's night, isn't it?"

"It is dark and stormy night."

Beauvayse says, in the whispering voice interrupted by long, gasping sighs
that are beginning to have a jarring rattle in them:

"Before to-morrow.... I shall know more of God ... than the whole Bench of
Bishops."

There is silence. And she does not come. The man on the bed makes a
painful effort, gathering his nearly-spent forces for something he wants
to say:

"Doctor!"

"Let me wipe your forehead. Yes?"

"I ... insulted you frightfully the other day."

"You need not recall that. I have forgotten it."

"I ... beg your pardon! Will you ... shake hands?... My left, if you don't
mind. The other one's ... no good."

He tries to lift the heavy arm that lies beside him. There is only a faint
movement of the finger-tips, and he gives up the effort with a fluttering
sob. And the square white face with the burning eyes under the lowering
brows opposes itself to his. Words are crowding to Saxham's lips:

"_I would gladly shake the hand of the man who insulted me and who has
apologised. And I honour the brave officer who meets Death upon the field.
But with the would-be betrayer of an innocent girl, the dancing-woman's
husband who proposed himself as mate for Lynette Mildare, I have nothing
but contempt and abhorrence. He is to me a leper. Worse, for the leper I
would touch to cure!_"

He does not utter the words, nor does his rugged, unconquerable sincerity
admit of his taking the hand. He fights with his hatred in silence. And
she has not come. What is _he_ saying in that weak voice with the rattling
breaths between?

"Listen, Saxham.... There's ... something I want you ... say to Miss
Mildare."

The grey mists that gather about him shut out a clear view of Saxham's
terrible face. The feeble whisper struggles on, broken by those rattling
gasps.

"Tell her forget me. Say when I ... asked her ... to marry me...."

Silence. He is falling, falling into an abyss of vast uncertainties. The
blue lips dabbled with foam can frame no more coherent words. Only the
brain behind the dying eyes is alive to understand when Saxham approaches
his own livid face and blazing eyes to the face upon the pillow, and says:

"Do not try to speak. Close your eyes when you mean 'Yes.' I know what you
wish me to tell Miss Mildare. It is that when you asked her to marry you,
you were already the husband of another woman. Am I correct?"

The affirmative signal comes.

"You were married to Miss Lavigne at the Registrar's office,
Cookham-on-Thames, last June, before you sailed. The witnesses were your
valet and a female servant at Roselawn Cottage. And knowing that you were
not free, you deceived and cheated her. That is what I am to tell Miss
Mildare? Signal if I am right."

The dying eyes are brimming with tears. When the lids shut, signifying
"Yes," slow, heavy drops are forced between them.

"Very well. Now hear. I will not tell her!"

The eyes open wide with surprise.

"I will never tell her," says Saxham again. "I will not blacken any man's
reputation to further my own interests." The vital strength and the
white-hot passion of him, contrasted with the spent and utter laxity of
the dissolving thing of clay upon the bed, seem superhuman. "Do you hear
me?" he demands again. "Listen once more. Knowing the truth of you, I came
here to force you to undeceive her. Had you refused, I would certainly
have killed you. But I would never have betrayed you!"

That "never" of Saxham's carries conviction. The pale ghost of a laugh is
in the dying eyes. The wraith of Beauvayse's old voice comes back again to
say:

"Doctor, you're a ... damned good sort!" And then there is a long, long
silence, broken only by those painful rattling breaths, never by her
coming.

The end comes, and she is not there. A pale blink in the wild sky eastward
hints to the night lookouts of hot drink, food, and welcome rest. The
Chief stands beside the comfortless camp-bed, where the hope of a high old
House is flickering out. The Doctor holds the wet and icy wrist, where the
pulse has ceased to be perceptible. The sheet above the labouring breast
rises and falls with those panting, rattling gasps; the beautiful eyes
are rolled up and inwards. The light is very nearly out, when, with a last
effort, the flame leaps up. He thinks that what is the barely perceptible
whisper of a tongue already clay is a loud and ringing cheer. He thinks
that he is shouting, his strong young voice topping a hundred other
voices. It seems to him who, for the bribe of all the beauty he has
coveted, and all the love that is yet unwon, could not speak one audible
word or move a finger, that he waves his hat again and again. Oh! glorious
moment when the white moonbeams blink on the grey dust-wall rolling down
from the North, and the horsemen of the Advance ride out of it, and
clustering enemies that have rallied again to the attack waver, and
disperse, and scatter....

"Hurrah! They're running--running for their lives! Give it 'em with
shrapnel! Oh, pepper 'em like hell! The Relief! The Relief! Hurrah!"



It is all over with the opening of the day-eye in the east. When they
leave him, beautiful, and stern, and calm in that deep slumber from which
only the Angel with the Trumpet may awaken him, and pass out between the
curtains, the dark, short officer who was on the lookout when the Doctor
came, stands very pale and muddy, and steaming with damp, waiting to
report. And two troopers of the Irregulars, wet and muddy and steaming
too, are waiting also, just inside the tarpaulins of the outer doorway.
And she is not there.

A few rapid words, an exclamation from the Chief, shaken for once out of
his steely composure, and quivering from head to foot with mingled rage
and grief:

"My God, how unutterably horrible!"

Saxham shoulders his way into the ring of white faces that have gathered
about the dark little muddy officer.

"What has happened to Miss Mildare----?"

The little officer answers, panting:

"The Sisters could not make her understand. She----"

The Chief speaks for him:

"She had been previously stunned by the shock of--a terrible calamity."

"What calamity?"

"The Mother-Superior has been killed. Two of the Sisters and Miss Mildare
found her in the Convent chapel. They got there before evening. She must
have been dead some hours. She had been shot through the lungs."

"By a stray bullet?"

"By a bullet from a revolver, fired close enough to scorch the clothes.
Foul murder, and by God who saw it done----"

The lean clenched hand, thrown upwards in a savage gesture, the blazing
eyes, the livid, furrowed face, the writhen mouth, the furious, jarring
voice, leave little doubt of the vengeance that will be wreaked when he
shall track down the murderer. He wheels abruptly, and goes to the
telephone. The swift, imperative orders volt from fort to fort; the
circuit of vigilance is made complete, the human bloodhounds unleashed
upon the trail, in a few instants, thanks to the buzzing wire that brings
the mouth of a man to the ear of another across a void of miles.

But Bough, primed with knowledge as to which are dummy rifle-pits and
which are real, aided by acquaintance with the ground, and covered by that
wuthering night of storm, has already pierced the lines. Subsequently that
excellent Afrikander, Mr. Van Busch, rejoins Brounckers' bright boy at
Tweipans, with information that decides the date of Schenk Eybel's Feint
from the East.



L


She had gone about her Master's business all Monday, calm and composed,
and inexorably gentle. She did not meet Richard's daughter before
nightfall. "She will not suffer now," she thought, even as she sent the
message that was to allay Lynette's anxiety, and give notice of her
whereabouts in case of need. Her mission led her to a half-wrecked shanty
at the south end of the town, where some Lithuanian emigrants herded
together in indescribable filth and misery. A woman who had been recently
confined lay there raving in puerperal fever. Until nightfall, when she
was removed to the Isolation Hospital on the veld, near the Women's
Laager, the Mother-Superior remained with the patient.

A burly, bushy-bearded man, with a peculiarly dark skin and strange steely
eyes, passing the broken window, caught sight of the noble profile and the
stately shoulders stooping above the miserable bed. Going home at dark,
the Mother heard a stealthy footstep following behind her.

Since the Town Guard had been withdrawn to man the trenches, many people,
revisiting their deserted dwellings, had found them plundered of movable
possessions, and, losing the fear of Eternity in wrath at the wholesale
evaporation of their worldly goods, had thenceforth remained to protect
them. Instances there had been of robbery from the person by thieves not
all tracked down by Martial Justice and made examples of.

The hovering human night-bird and the prowling human jackal, whose sole
end is money and money's worth, have no terrors for Holy Poverty. But
there are other creatures of prey more terrible than these. And the
padding footsteps that followed, hurrying when she hurried and slackening
when she went more slowly, and stopping dead when she paused and looked
round, conveyed to her a haunting sense of something sinister, and at the
same time greedy and guileful, that bided its time to spring.

She moved in long, swift, undulating rushes, her black robes sweeping
noiselessly as a great moth's wings over the well-known ground, her course
kept unfalteringly; but her heart shook her, and she gasped as the Convent
bomb proof neared in sight. She had wrought much and suffered more of
late, and she knew herself less strong than she had been. When the blue
light that hung from a post by the ladder-hole blinked "Home" through the
mirk of a night of thin rain and mist-shrouded stars, she knew infinite
relief. Her great eyes were as wild and strained as a hunted deer's, and
her bosom heaved with her panting breaths. She paused a moment to regain
her composure before she went down.

The nuns who were not on night-duty were gathered together about the
trestle-table sewing, while the lay-Sisters prepared the scanty evening
meal. Lynette was there, sitting pale and quiet on her corner-stool.
Richard's daughter had been watching and waiting for her Mother. Ah! to
see the relief and gladness leap into the dear face, and shine in the
beautiful wistful eyes that had shed such tears, dear God!--such tears of
anguish upon Sunday--and then had dried at the utterance of her decree--

"You are never to tell him!"

--And changed into radiant stars of joy, by whose light the darkness of
her own wickedness and misery seemed almost bearable.

"It is the Mother. Mother----"

Lynette sprang up, and would have hurried to her, but the Mother lifted a
warning hand, and calling Sister Tobias to her, passed aside into a
curtained-off and precautionary cave that had been hollowed out behind the
ladder. This was the custom when the ladies of the Holy Way returned from
doubtful or infectious cases. Lynette sighed, and went back to her stool
to wait. The busy needles had not ceased stitching.

That humble saint, Sister Tobias, hurried to her diligent ministry of
purification. When she came in with hot water and carbolic spray, she
brought a letter with her. It was directed to the Mother in a coarse
round-hand.

"Somebody dropped this down the ladder-hole as I came by with my kettle,"
said Sister Tobias. "It's the first letter-box I ever knew that was as
wide as the door. Maybe 'twill bring in a new fashion, for all we know."
She made her homely joke with a sore heart for the sorrow she read in the
Mother's beloved face, and trotted away to fetch clean towels, saying--a
favourite saying with Sister Tobias--that her head would never save her
heels.

The Mother opened the letter. It was anonymous, and utterly vile. Had the
pen been dipped in liquid ordure, the thing written could not have been
more defiling to the touch than its meaning was to this pure woman's
chaste eyes. Had a puff-adder writhed out of the envelope, and struck its
fangs into her beautiful hand, it would have poisoned her less certainly.
And every beat of the obscene words upon her brain, strangely enough,
awakened an echo of those long padding footsteps that had followed in the
dark. And the writer knew of all that had happened at the tavern on the
veld, when a human brute had triumphed in his bestiality, and a girl-child
had been helpless, and the great white stars had looked down unmoved and
changeless upon Innocence destroyed.

The Mother read the letter from the loathly beginning to the infamous end.
She had been sorely wrought upon of late. She tried to pray, but she knew
the Ear Above must be averted from one who had lied and was in deadly
sin.... When Sister Tobias came back she found her lying in a swoon.

The little old crooked, nimble Sister, with the long, pale sheep-face,
dropped on her knees beside that prone column of stately womanhood,
removed the Mother's hooded mantle, loosened the _guimpe_ and habit, and
worked strenuously to revive her, dropping tears.

"My beautiful, my poor lamb!" she crooned. "What's come to her? What
wicked shadow's black on all of us? What's brooding near us--Mary be our
guardian!--that's struck at _her_ to-night!"

The letter lay upon the floor, where it had dropped from the unconscious
hand. It lay there for Sister Tobias, and might lie. If the Mother willed
to tell its contents, she would tell. If not, the little old nun, her
faithful daughter, would never ask or seek to know.

She opened her great eyes at last, and smiled up at the tender, wrinkled
ugliness of the long, sheep-like face in the close white linen wimple.

"Say nothing to anybody. I was overdone," she said, and rose. Sister
Tobias picked up the letter, and gave it to her. There was a Boer
mutton-fat candle flaring draughtily in an iron sconce upon the wall. The
Mother moved across the little room, and burned the letter to the last
blank corner, and trod the fallen ashes into impalpable powder. Then she
helped Sister Tobias to remove every trace left, and obviate every danger
that might result from her late toil, and rejoined her quiet family of
daughters as though nothing had happened.

They recalled afterwards how cheerful and how placid she had seemed that
night. Her smile had a heart-breaking sweetness, and her voice made
wonderful melody even in their accustomed ears.

They supped on the little that they had, and chatted, said the
night-prayers, and went, aching, all of them, with unsatisfied hunger, to
bed. You may conjecture the orderly, modest method of retiring, each
Sister vanishing in turn behind a curtained screen to disrobe, lave, and
vest herself for sleep, emerging in due time in the loose, full conventual
night-garment of thick white twilled linen, high-throated,
monkish-sleeved, and girdled with a thin cotton cord, her face, plain or
pretty, young or elderly, framed in the close little white drawn cap of
many tucks.

Then, the ladder having been removed, and the tarpaulin pulled over its
hole, the lights were extinguished, and only the subdued crimson glow of
the tiny lamp that burned before the silver Crucifix that had stood above
the Tabernacle on the altar of the Convent chapel burned ruby in the
thick, hot dark, where, upon the little iron beds, each divided by a
narrow, white-cotton-covered board into two constricted berths, the row of
quiet figures lay outstretched, her Breviary upon every Sister's pillow,
and her beads about her wrist.

The Mother lay very still, seeing the hideous sentences of the anonymous
letter written in hellish characters of mocking flame on the background of
the dark. She prayed as the wrecked may when the ship beneath their feet
is going down. Beside her Lynette, not daring to disturb the silence,
suddenly grown rigid and awful, lay aching with the loneliness of living
on the other side of the wide gulf of division that had suddenly yawned
between.

She had spent the day at the Hospital with Sister Hilda-Antony and Sister
Cleophée. She had not seen Beauvayse. But a note had come from him, that
had warmed the heart she hid it near. His dearest, he called her--his own
beautiful beloved. He could not snatch a minute from duty even to kiss his
darling's sweetest eyes, but on Sunday they would be together all day. And
would she not meet him at the Convent on Thursday, at twilight, when the
shelling stopped, and it would be safe for his beloved to venture there?
She must not come alone. Dear old Sister Tobias would bring her, and play
Mrs. Grundy's part. And, with a thousand kisses, he was hers in life and
death.

Lynette's first love-letter, and it seemed to her so beautiful. It laid a
hand upon her heart that thrilled, and was warm and strong. The hand said
"Mine!"

His. She would be his one day--soon; and there would be no more mysteries
between the man and the woman welded by God's ordinance into