“Because it is my duty,” was the calm reply.
“Duty! But why can’t you do your duty in your own country, and live a man’s life, and hold the hands of white men, and look into the eyes of white women?”
“I go where I am needed most,” Von Ragastein answered. “I do not enjoy drilling natives, I do not enjoy passing the years as an outcast from the ordinary joys of human life. But I follow my star.”
“And I my will-o’-the-wisp,” Dominey laughed mockingly. “The whole thing’s as plain as a pikestaff. You may be a dull dog—you always were on the serious side—but you’re a man of principle. I’m a slacker.”
“The difference between us,” Von Ragastein pronounced, “is something which is inculcated into the youth of our country and which is not inculcated into yours. In England, with a little money, a little birth, your young men expect to find the world a playground for sport, a garden for loves. The mightiest German noble who ever lived has his work to do. It is work which makes fibre, which gives balance to life.”
Dominey sighed. His cigar, dearly prized though it had been, was cold between his fingers. In that perfumed darkness, illuminated only by the faint gleam of the shaded lamp behind, his face seemed suddenly white and old. His host leaned towards him and spoke for the first time in the kindlier tones of their youth.
“You hinted at tragedy, my friend. You are not alone. Tragedy also has entered my life. Perhaps if things had been otherwise, I should have found work in more joyous places, but sorrow came to me, and I am here.”
A quick flash of sympathy lit up Dominey’s face.
“We met trouble in a different fashion,” he groaned.
Dominey slept till late the following morning, and when he woke at last from a long, dreamless slumber, he was conscious of a curious quietness in the camp. The doctor, who came in to see him, explained it immediately after his morning greeting.
“His Excellency,” he announced, “has received important despatches from home. He has gone to meet an envoy from Dar-es-Salaam. He will be away for three days. He desired that you would remain his guest until his return.”
“Very good of him,” Dominey murmured. “Is there any European news?”
“I do not know,” was the stolid reply. “His Excellency desired me to inform you that if you cared for a short trip along the banks of the river, southward, there are a dozen boys left and some ponies. There are plenty of lion, and rhino may be met with at one or two places which the natives know of.”
Dominey bathed and dressed, sipped his excellent coffee, and lounged about the place in uncertain mood. He unburdened himself to the doctor as they drank tea together late in the afternoon.
“I am not in the least keen on hunting,” he confessed, “and I feel like a horrible sponge, but all the same I have a queer sort of feeling that I’d like to see Von Ragastein again. Your silent chief rather fascinates me, Herr Doctor. He is a man. He has something which I have lost.”