“May I suggest, sir,” said the Major, “that the pockets of all should be searched? I myself am quite ready to set the example,” and as he spoke he drew out three receipted bills and a price list of tomatoes, and placed them before the Colonel.
One by one they followed his example.
Suddenly all eyes were fixed on Second-Lieutenant Lord Smith, as with horror and amazement upon his face he drew from his pocket the official-looking envelope.
“I swear I never put it there, sir,” he gasped.
“Perhaps I ought to tell you, sir,” said the Major, “that I asked Lord Smith to keep an eye upon the document during my absence. No doubt he placed it in his pocket for safety.”
Several men applauded this suggestion, for Lord Smith was a general favourite.
The Colonel gave one glance at the envelope, and then, with fire flashing from his eyes, held it up for all to see.
“How do you account for this?” he cried in a voice of thunder, and with a gasp of horror they read the fatal words:
The Colonel and the other officers drew their swords, the rank and file fixed bayonets; they hacked the buttons off Lord Smith’s tunic, they dug the stars out of his sleeves, they tore the regimental badge from his cap; they tore his collar, they tore his tie, they took his gold cigarette-case; and still he stood there, saying proudly, “I am innocent.”
“Go!” said the Colonel, pointing with his sword to the door.
Suddenly there was a commotion outside and a breathless figure pushed its way into the room.
“Father,” cried Rosamund Blowhard, “spare him. He is innocent.”
“Rosamund,” said George, for so we must call him now, “I am innocent. Some day the truth will be known.” Then he took a tender farewell of her and, casting a glance of mingled suspicion and hatred at the Major, he strode from the room.
The patient in the Xth bed at the Yth Base Hospital stirred restlessly.
“Water,” he murmured, “water.”
A soft-footed nurse rose and poured some over him. “Rosamund,” he breathed, and with a smile of content dropped peacefully asleep again.
Who was he, this mysterious patient in Number X bed? Obviously a gentleman from the colour of his pyjamas, his identity disc proclaimed him to be Private Smithlord of the Qth Blankshires. There was something strange about him. Only that morning he had received the V.C. from Sir Douglas Haig, the R.S.V.P. from General Petain, the Order of the Golden Elephant from our Japanese Allies, the Order of the Split Haddock from the President of Nicaragua, and the Order of the Neutral Nut from Brazil. Yet he cared for none of these things; he only murmured, “Rosamund!” Who was Private Smithlord?
Though so little was known of him, the story of his prowess was on every lip. An officer from his regiment who had gone out alone to an observation post had been surrounded and cut off by the enemy. Threatened on all sides by guns and bombs of every calibre, he had prepared to sell his life dearly. To attempt a rescue would have been madness; even the most reckless Town Major would have blenched at the idea; and the Regiment, in the comparative safety of their trench, could only look on helplessly.