It all happened so quickly, my mind was so taken up with the sudden peril, that for the life of me I cannot swear to the part played by Leonard Boyce. I saw him leap aside, and had the fragment of an impression of him standing motionless between the radiator of his car and the tail of mine which was at right angles. The next time he thrust himself on my consciouness was when he was lugging young Brown out of reach of the convulsive hoofs. In the meanwhile Marigold, single-handed, had rushed into the jaws of death and stopped the horse. But as it was a matter of seconds, I had no reason for believing that, but for adventitious relative positions on the road, Boyce would not have done the same. ... And yet out of the corner of my eye I got an instantaneous photograph of him standing bolt upright between the two cars, while the abominable bay brute, with distended red nostrils and wild eyes, was thundering down on us.
On the other hand, the swift pleasure in the boy’s eyes when he realised that he was in the presence of the popular hero, proved him free of doubts such as mine. And when Marigold, having put the car in hospital, came to make his report, and lingered in order to discuss the whole affair, he said, in wooden deprecation of my eulogy:
“If Major Boyce hadn’t jumped in, sir, young Mr. Brown’s head would have been kicked into pumpkin-squash.”
Well, I have known from long experience that there are no more untrustworthy witnesses than a man’s own eyes; especially in the lightning dramas of life.
I was kept awake all night, and towards the dawn I came into thorough agreement with Sir Anthony and I heartily damned the fellow.
What had I to do with him that he should rob me of my sleep?
The next morning he strode in while I was at breakfast, handsome, erect, deep-chested, the incarnation of physical strength, with a glad light in his eyes.
“Congratulate me, old man,” he cried, gripping my frail shoulder. “I’ve three days’ extra leave. And more than that, I go out in command of the regiment. No temporary business but permanent rank. Gazetted in due course. Bannatyne—that’s our colonel—damned good soldier!—has got a staff appointment. I take his place. I promise you the Fourth King’s Rifles are going to make history. Either history or manure. History for choice. As I say, Bannatyne’s a damned good soldier, and personally as brave as a lion, but when it comes to the regiment, he’s too much on the cautious side. The regiment’s only longing to make things hum, and I’m going to let ’em do it.”
I congratulated him in politely appropriate terms and went on with my bacon and eggs. He sat on the window-seat and tapped his gaiters with his cane life-preserver. He wore his cap.
“I thought you’d like to know,” said he. “You’ve been so good to the old mother while I’ve been away and been so charitable, listening to my yarns, while I’ve been here, that I couldn’t resist coming round and telling you.”