“I felt a bit white-livered myself, I tell ye; and I’m more hardened to slides than you are,” was the woodsman’s answer.
The confession, taken in the light of his conduct, made him doubly a hero to his city friends.
They thought of him staggering along the mountain, blinded, bewildered, pelted by clay, with that dragging burden in his arms, a heart tossed by danger’s keenest realization in his breast. And they were silent before the high courage which can recognize fear, yet refuse to it the mastery.
Neal, whose secret musings were generally crossed by a military thread, seeing that he had chosen the career of a cavalry-soldier, and hoped soon to enter Sandhurst College, stared into the heart of the camp-fire, glowering at fate, because she had not ordained that Herb should serve the queen with him, and wear upon his resolute heart—as it might reasonably be expected he would—the Victoria Cross.
Young Farrar’s feeling was so strong that it swept his lips at last.
“Blow it all! Herb,” he cried. “It’s a tearing pity that you can’t come into the English Lancers with me. I don’t suppose I’ll ever be a V.C., but you would sooner or later as sure as gun’s iron.”
“A ‘V.C.!’ What’s that?” asked Herb.
“A Vigorous Christian, to be sure!” put in Cyrus, who was progressive and peaceful, teasingly.
But the English boy, full of the dignity of the subject to him, summoned his best eloquence to describe to the American backwoodsman that little cross of iron, Victoria’s guerdon, which entitles its possessor to write those two notable letters after his name, and which only hero-hearts may wear.
But a vision of himself, stripped of “sweater” and moccasins, in cavalry rig, becrossed and beribboned, serving under another flag than the Stars and Stripes, was too much for Herb’s gravity and for the grim regrets which wrung him to-night.
“Oh, sugar!” he gasped; and his laughter was like a rocket shooting up from his mighty throat, and exploding in a hundred sparkles of merriment.
He laughed long. He laughed insistently. His comrades were won to join in.
When the fun had subsided, Garst said:—
“Herb Heal, old man, there’s something in you to-night which reminds me of a line I’m rather stuck on.”
“Let’s have it!” cried Herb.
And Cyrus quoted:—
“As for this here earth,
It takes lots of laffin’ to keep things even!”
“Now you’ve hit it! The man that wrote that had a pile o’ sense. Come, boys, it’s been an awful full day. Let’s turn in!”
As he spoke, Herb began to replenish the fire, and make things snug in the camp for the night.
But shortly after, when he threw himself on the spuce-boughs near them, the boys heard him murmur, deep in his throat, as if he took strength from the words:—
“It takes lots of laffin’ to keep things even!”