“Well, I think it is nonsense of you to think of leaving the regiment. There is work to be done here. There is the work of punishing men who have committed the most atrocious crimes. There is the work of winning back India for England. Every Englishman out here, who can carry a weapon, ought to remain at his post until the work is done.
“As to this wound of mine, that is a matter between us only. As I have told you, I have altogether forgiven you, and am not even disposed greatly to blame you, thinking, as you did, that I was responsible for that poor girl’s flight. I shall never mention it to a soul. I have already put it out of my mind, therefore it is as if it had never been done, and there is no reason whatever why you should shrink from companionship with your comrades. I shall think much better of you for doing your duty like a man, than if you went home again and shrank from it.”
“You are too good, sir, altogether too good.”
“Nonsense, man. Besides, you have to remember that you have not gone unpunished. Had it not been for your feeling, after you had, as you believed, killed me, you never would have stood and let that Sepoy shoot you; so that all the pain that you have been going through, and may still have to go through before you are quite cured, is a punishment that you have yourself accepted. After a man has once been punished for a crime there is an end of it, and you need grieve no further over it; but it will be a lesson that I hope and believe you will never forget.
“Hackett, who has been my soldier servant for the last five years, was killed in the fight in the Kaiser Bagh. If you like, when you rejoin, I shall apply for you in his stead. It will make your work a good deal easier for you, and I should like to have the son of one of my old tenants about me.”
The man burst into tears.
“There, don’t let’s say anything more about it,” Mallett went on, taking the thin hand of the soldier in his. “We will consider it settled, and I shall look out for you in a couple of months, so get well as quick as you can, and don’t worry yourself by thinking of the past. I must be off now, for I have to take down a party of convalescents to rejoin this evening.
“Goodbye, lad,” and without waiting for any reply, he turned and left the marquee.
“It is little more than two years and a half since I left, Lechmere, but it seems almost a lifetime.”
“It does seem a time, Major. We must have marched thousands of miles, and I could not say how many times we have been engaged. There has not been a week that we have not had a fight, and sometimes two or three of them.”
“Well, thank God, we are back again. Still I am glad to have been through it.”
“So am I, sir. It will be something to look back on, and it is curious to think that while we have been seeing and doing so much, father and my brother Bob have just been going about over the farm, and seeing to the cattle, and looking after the animals day in and day out, without ever going away save to market two or three times a month at Chippenham.”