“Good-night?. . . . . . . . Let us remain together still, Then it will be GOOD night.”
Ben Kelham sat on the ground, with his head resting on the edge of the wooden couch so that his friend’s satin coat touched his cheek.
Save for his hands clenched round his knee there was no sign of the grief which was well-nigh breaking his heart; which had drawn great lines across his face and had turned him in one hour from a youth, into a grave man, with steady, sorrowful grey eyes.
There was no sound as he sat staring in front of him as the light of the lamp grew dim in the coming light of day, there was no movement anywhere save for the chequered curtain behind his friend, which stirred as though blown by the wind of dawn; they seemed to be alone, quite alone in the desert, these two who had been known as David and Jonathan in the care-free days on the Hill.
And he turned his head and looked at the wonderful beauty of the calm face, and in the soft light it seemed that the brown eyes were looking at him from under half-closed lids, and he stretched out his hand and laid it on the arms which were folded across the breast in an attitude of surpassing dignity.
“Carden, old fellow,” he said, “wake up!”
As his friend slept on, he spoke more clearly, repeating the line out of the school-song, which had acted like a charm in those days when love, and pain, and death had been mere words to them:
“Carden,” he called, “Carden, ’it’s a quarter to seven, there goes the bell!’”
And when there came no answer he turned and buried his head on his arms.
So he sat and kept his vigil with never a thought to the outcome of it all. Servants there must be somewhere, he knew, but time enough to explain things when they appeared; time enough to face the world with the terrible tale; time—oh! a whole long life in which to regret. And he ached with a great longing to look upon the girl he loved; he longed passionately to be able to tell her everything before he must tell others; he threw out his arms in a vain hope that perhaps he could reach her, and drawing her to him put his head down upon her knees and tell her of his love for his friend, which had almost equalled his love for her; his one moment of doubt when a vile hand had linked their names together; his happiness when the friend he had doubted had lashed him with words, and told him bluntly to try again.
Then he sat up and turned and looked out into the desert and got to his feet, but his hand did not go to his hip pocket as he watched something which came running fleetly through the shadows.
Iouaa and Touaa, the dogs of Billi, were racing home to tell their master of a surprising adventure which had befallen them, ever so far out in the desert, where they had gone for an evening stroll before taking up their posts as sentries outside his tent for the night.