“Ian! Ian!” she cried, but she knew that he could not hear.
“The road is clear”
The Army had moved on over the hills, into the valley of death and glory, across the parched veld to the town of Lordkop, where an emaciated, ragged garrison had kept faith with all the heroes from Caractacus to Nelson. Courageous legions had found their way to the petty dorp, with its corrugated iron roofs, its dug-outs, its improvised forts, its fever hospitals, its Treasure House of Britain, where she guarded the jewels of her honour.
The menace of the hills had passed, heroes had welcomed heroes and drunk the cup of triumph; but far back in the valleys beyond the hills from which the army had come, there were those who must drink the cup of trembling, the wine of loss.
As the trumpets of victory attended the steps of those remnants of brigades which met the remnants of a glorious garrison in the streets of Lordkop, drums of mourning conducted the steps of those who came to bury the dust of one who had called himself Pheidippides as he left the Day Path and took the Night Road.
Gun-carriage and reversed arms and bay charger, faithful comrades with bent heads, the voice of victory over the grave—“I am the resurrection and the life”—the volleys of honour, the proud salut of the brave to the vanished brave, the quivering farewells of the few who turn away from the fresh-piled earth with their hearts dragging behind—all had been; and all had gone. Evening descended upon the veld with a golden radiance which soothed like prayer.
By the open window at the foot of a bed in the Stay Awhile Hospital a woman gazed into the saffron splendour with an intentness which seemed to make all her body listen. Both melancholy and purpose marked the attitude of the figure.
A voice from the bed at the foot of which she stood drew her gaze away from the sunset sky to meet the bright, troubled eyes.
“What is it, Jigger?” the woman asked gently, and she looked to see that the framework which kept the bedclothes from a shattered leg was properly in its place.
“’E done a lot for me,” was the reply. “A lot ’e done, and I dunno how I’ll git along now.”
There was great hopelessness in the tone.
“He told me you would always have enough to help you get on, Jigger. He thought of all that.”
“’Ere, oh, ’ere it ain’t that,” the lad said in a sudden passion of protest, the tears standing in his eyes. “It ain’t that! Wot’s money, when your friend wot give it ain’t ’ere! I never done nothing for ’im—that’s wot I feel. Nothing at all for ’im.”
“You are wrong,” was the soft reply. “He told me only a few days ago that you were like a loaf of bread in the cupboard—good for all the time.”
The tears left the wide blue eyes. “Did ’e say that—did ’e?” he asked, and when she nodded and smiled, he added, “’E’s ’appy now, ain’t ’e?” His look questioned her eagerly.