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