“Where is Byng?” he asked his fellow-officer.
“He’s been up there with Tain’s Brigade for a fortnight. He was in Kimberley, but got out before the investment, went to Cape Town, and came round here—to be near his wife, I suppose.”
“He is soldiering, then?”
“He was a Colonel in the Rand Rifles once. He’s with the South African Horse now in command of the regiment attached to Tain. Tain’s out of your beat—away on the right flank there.”
Presently Stafford saw Jasmine look in their direction; then, on seeing Stafford’s companion, came forward hastily. The Colonel left Stafford and went to meet her.
A moment afterwards, she turned and looked at Stafford. Her face was now deadly pale, but it showed no agitation. She was in the light of an electric lamp, and he was in the shadow. For one second only she gazed at him, then she turned and moved away to the cape-cart awaiting her. The Colonel saw her in, then returned to Stafford.
“Why didn’t you come and be introduced?” the Colonel asked. “I told her who you were.”
“Hospital-ships are not in my line,” Stafford answered casually. “Women and war don’t go together.”
“She’s a nurse, she’s not a woman,” was the paradoxical reply.
“She knows Byng is here?”
“I suppose so. It looks like a clever bit of strategy—junction of forces. There’s a lot of women at home would like the chance she has—at a little less cost.”
“What is the cost?”
“Well, that ship didn’t cost less than a hundred thousand pounds.”
“Is that all?”
The Colonel looked at Stafford in surprise: but Stafford was not thinking of the coin.
“And never the twain shall meet!”
As the cape-cart conveying Jasmine to the hospital moved away from the station, she settled down into the seat beside the driver with the helplessness of one who had received a numbing blow. Her body swayed as though she would faint, and her eyes closed, and stayed closed for so long a time, that Corporal Shorter, who drove the rough little pair of Argentines, said to her sympathetically:
“It’s all right, ma’am. We’ll be there in a jiffy. Don’t give way.”
This friendly solicitude had immediate effect. Jasmine sat up, and thereafter held herself as though she was in her yellow salon yonder in London.
“Thank you,” she replied serenely to Corporal Shorter. “It was a long, tiring journey, and I let myself go for a moment.”
“A good night’s rest’ll do you a lot of good, ma’am,” he ventured. Then he added, “Beggin’ pardon, ain’t you Mrs. Colonel Rudyard Byng?”
She turned and looked at the man inquiringly. “Yes, I am Mrs. Byng.”