Skipworth hurried out of earshot, but now he understood that look of aversion in the old man’s eyes which had so startled him at first. Of course, the poor old boy might easily hate the sight of him beside Gerald. With Gerald himself he really got along famously. He was a most delightful companion, full of anecdotes and history of the countryside, every foot of which he had apparently explored in the old days with Chev and the younger brother, Curtin. Yet even with Gerald, Cary sometimes felt that aloofness and reserve, and that older protective air that they all showed him. Take, for instance, that afternoon when they were lolling together on the grass in the park. The Virginian, running on in his usual eager manner, had plunged without thinking into an account of a particularly daring bit of flying on Chev’s part, when suddenly he realized that Gerald had rolled over on the grass and buried his face in his arms, and interrupted himself awkwardly. “But, of course,” he said, “he must have written home about it himself.”
“No, or if he did, I didn’t hear of it. Go on,” Gerald said in a muffled voice.
A great rush of compassion and remorse overwhelmed the Virginian, and he burst out penitently, “What a brute I am! I’m always forgetting and running on about flying, when I know it must hurt like the very devil!”
The other drew a difficult breath. “Yes,” he admitted, “what you say does hurt in a way—in a way you can’t understand. But all the same I like to hear you. Go on about Chev.”
So Skipworth went on and finished his account, winding up, “I don’t believe there’s another man in the service who could have pulled it off—but I tell you your brother’s one in a million.”
“Good God, don’t I know it!” the other burst out. “We were all three the jolliest pals together,” he got out presently in a choked voice, “Chev and the young un and I; and now—”
He did not finish, but Cary guessed his meaning. Now the young un, Curtin, was dead, and Gerald himself knocked out. But, heavens! the Virginian though, did Gerald think Chev would go back on him now on account of his blindness? Well, you could everlastingly bet he wouldn’t!
“Chev thinks the world and all of you!” he cried in eager defense of his friend’s loyalty. “Lots of times when we’re all awfully jolly together, he makes some excuse and goes off by himself; and Withers told me it was because he was so frightfully cut up about you. Withers said he told him once that he’d a lot rather have got it himself—so you can everlastingly bank on him!”
Gerald gave a terrible little gasp. “I—I knew he’d feel like that,” he got out. “We’ve always cared such a lot for each other.” And then he pressed his face harder than ever into the grass, and his long body quivered all over. But not for long. In a moment he took fierce hold on himself, muttering, “Well, one must carry on, whatever happens,” and apologized disjointedly. “What a fearful fool you must think me! And—and this isn’t very pippy for you, old chap.” Presently, after that, he sat up, and said, brushing it all aside, “We’re facing the old moat, aren’t we? There’s an interesting bit of tradition about it that I must tell you.”