“Sit down, old man,” said I. “You’re a bit too big for me like that.” He felt for his chair, sat down and leaned back. “You’ve done almost everything,” I continued, “that a man can do in expiation of offences. But there is one thing more that you must do in order to find peace. You couldn’t find peace if you married Betty and left her in ignorance. You must tell Betty everything— everything that you have told me. Otherwise you would still be hag-ridden. If she learned the horror of the thing afterwards, what would be your position? Acquit your conscience now before God and a splendid woman, and I stake my faith in each that neither will fail you.”
After a few minutes, during which the man’s face was like a mask, he said:
“That’s what I wanted to know. That’s what I wanted to be sure of. Do you mind ringing your bell for Marigold to take me away? I’ve kept you up abominably.” He rose and held out his hand and I had to direct him how it could reach mine. When it did, he gripped it firmly.
“It’s impossible,” said he, “for you to realise what you’ve done for me to-night. You’ve made my way absolutely clear to me—for the first time for two years. You’re the truest comrade I’ve ever had, Meredyth. God bless you.”
Marigold appeared, answering my summons, and led Boyce away. Presently he returned.
“Do you know what time it is, sir?” he asked serenely.
“No,” said I.
“It’s half-past one.”
He busied himself with my arrangements for the night, and administered what I learned afterwards was a double dose of a sleeping draught which Cliffe had prescribed for special occasions. I just remember surprise at feeling so drowsy after the intense excitement of the evening, and then I fell asleep.
When I awoke in the morning I gathered my wits together and recalled what had taken place. Marigold entered on tiptoe and found me already aroused.
“I’m sorry to tell you, sir,” said he, “that an accident happened to Colonel Boyce after he left last night.”
“I suppose so, sir,” said Marigold. “That’s what his chauffeur says. He got out of the car in order to sit by the side of the canal—by the lock gates. He fell in, sir. He’s drowned.”
It is Christmas morning, 1916, the third Christmas of the war. The tragedy of Boyce’s death happened six months ago. Since then I have been very ill. The shock, too great for my silly heart, nearly killed me. By all the rules of the game I ought to have died. But I suppose, like a brother officer long since defunct, also a Major, one Joe Bagstock, I am devilish tough. Cliffe told me this morning that, apart from a direct hit by a 42-centimetre shell, he saw no reason, after what I had gone through, why I should not live for another hundred years. “I wash my hands of you,” said he. Which indeed is pleasant hearing.