“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
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
“It is for you, Wrynche, as I expected.”
“I am ready, sir. Orderly, get my damned
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
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
“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
khaki 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
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
“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
“He would probably pray beside you, and talk
to you of God.”
There is a pause. The faint, almost breathless
“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
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:
“Let me wipe your forehead. Yes?”
“I ... insulted you frightfully the other day.”
“You need not recall that. I have forgotten
“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
“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
“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
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....
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.”
“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.