This was in April, 1914. He had retired from the Army some years before with the rank of Major, and lived with his mother—he was a man of means—in Wellingsford. In the June of that year he went off salmon fishing in Norway. On the outbreak of war he returned to England and luckily got his job at once. He did not come back to Wellingsford. His mother went to London and stayed there until he was ordered out to the front. I had not seen him since that June. And, as far as I am aware, my dear Betty had not seen him either.
“Well?” said I.
“I thought you rang, sir.”
“You didn’t,” I said. “You thought I ought to have rung, But you were mistaken.”
I have on my mantelpiece a tiny, corroded, wooden Egyptian bust, of so little value that Mr. Hatoun of Cairo (and every visitor to Cairo knows Hatoun) gave it me as Baksheesh; it is, however, a genuine bit from a poor humble devil’s tomb of about five thousand years ago. And it has only one positive eye and no expression.
Marigold was the living replica of it—with his absurd wig.
“In a quarter of an hour,” said I, “I shall have rung.”
“Very good, sir,” said Marigold.
But he had disturbed the harmonical progression of my reflections. They all went anyhow. When he returned, all I could say was:
“It’s Miss Betty’s wedding to-morrow. I suppose I’ve got a morning coat and a top hat.”
“You have a morning coat, sir,” said Marigold. “But your last silk hat you gave to Miss Althea, sir, to make a work-bag out of the outside.”
“So I did,” said I.
It was an unpleasant reminiscence. A hat is about as symbolical a garment as you may be pleased to imagine. I wanted to wear at the live Betty’s wedding the ceremonious thing which I had given, for purposes of vanity, to the dead Althea. I was cross with Marigold.
“Why did you let me do such a silly thing? You might have known that I should want it some day or other. Why didn’t you foresee such a contingency?”
“Why,” asked Marigold woodenly, “didn’t you or I, sir, or many wiser than us, foresee the war?”
“Because we were all damned fools,” said I.
Marigold approached my chair with his great inexorable tentacles of arms. It was bed time.
“I’m sorry about the hat, sir,” said he.
In due course Captain Connor’s regiment went off to France; not with drums beating and colours flying—I wish to Heaven it had; if there had been more pomp and circumstance in England, the popular imagination would not have remained untouched for so long a time— but in the cold silent hours of the night, like a gang of marauders. Betty did not go to bed after he had left, but sat by the fire till morning. Then she dressed in uniform and resumed her duties at the hospital. Many a soldier’s bride was doing much the same. And her days went on just as they did before her marriage. She presented a smiling face to the world; she said: