“It may be. As for bein’ back in a few days’ time, if the War should be over in a few days’ time you may expect me. I hope it won’t. God forgive me for sayin’ so, but I’ll be more comfortable there. . . . Ay, d’ee hear me, Mr Pamphlett? More comfortable than here amidst women’s tongues an’ clerkly men’s devices, an’, what’s worse, even the set-up whisperin’ o’ children. God forgive ’em an’ forgive you! I’m a Polpier man, an’ the last o’ my stock; but I’ll come back, if at all, to finish in Polpier with credit.”
“This represents a considerable sum of money,” said Mr Pamphlett, conning the paper, and with a note, which he could not suppress, of elation in his voice.
“Ay; does it not?” said Nicky-Nan scornfully. “Well, I leave ’ee at home, to prove how honest you can contrive to be with it. D’ee see? . . . There’s boys, like your nephew, young Obed Pearce, as goes to fight for their conscience; an’ there’s boys, like young Seth Minards, as goes to fight despite their conscience; but for me, that am growin’ elderly, I go, maybe with a touch o’ the old country, in contempt o’ my kind.”
Mr Pamphlett had seated himself at the table, and with his golden pencil-holder was at work on the paper making calculations. Nicky-Nan, going out, turned in the doorway and lifted his hand to the old remembered naval salute.
A couple of hours later, having given them a two-miles’ lift on the way, Nicky-Nan at the cross-roads dropped young Seth and young Obed to take their way to the inland barracks. He was for the coast-road, with the hospital and the operating-theatre at the end of it. If Heaven willed, he might eventually be of some service on the heave of the sea, as they in their youth and their strength assuredly would be in the land campaign.
As his hired trap jolted on, at a twist of the road before it bore straight-eastwardly, he caught sight of their diminishing figures side by side and already a goodish way off on a rise of the inland road. It did not occur to them to turn on the chance of sighting him and waving a hand. The two were comrades already, sharing talk, on this their first stage towards the battlefields of Flanders.