A BIT OF ORANGE PEEL
“SAPPER” H. C. NcNEILE
THERE were several of us in the soldier’s comfortable smoking-room. The ladies had retired for the night; but in spite of the appalling thickness of the atmosphere, none of us seemed disposed to follow their example.
After all it was a special occasion; I don’t think we had foregathered—the whole bunch of us—since we left school. And that was—well, a good many years ago. The soldier brought it on himself. No man should use the phrase: “That reminds me,” if he doesn’t want trouble. Especially just after the stockbroker had facetiously alluded to his aunt slipping up on some orange peel. Why aunts slipping on orange peel have been invariably regarded as grist for humorists ever since the time of Neolithic man, I don’t know, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. But we pinned the soldier down, and after a brief siege he capitulated.
“You can set your minds at rest about one thing, you fellows,” began the soldier with a grin. “My yam isn’t about the war.
There have been quite enough lies told already about that performance without my adding to the number. No: my story
concerns peace soldiering, and strangely enough I had an ocular demonstration when dining at the Ritz two nights ago that everything had finished up quite satisfactorily, in the approved story-book manner. At least, when I say quite satisfactorily— there was a price, and it was paid by one of the principal actors. But that is the unchangeable rule: one can but shrug one’s shoulders and play accordingly.
“The Regiment—I was a squadron-leader at the time—was quartered at Murchester. Not a bad station at all; good shooting, very fair hunting, especially if you didn’t scorn the carted stag, polo and most excellent cricket. Also some delightful houses in the neighbourhood, and as we’d just come home from our foreign tour we found the place greatly to our liking. London was an hour and a bit by train; in fact, there are many worse stations in England than the spot I have labelled Murchester.
“The only fly in the ointment when we first arrived was a fairly natural one, and a thing which only time could cure. The men were a bit restive. We’d been abroad,
don’t forget, for more than ten years—India, Egypt, South Africa—and the feel of the old country under their feet unsettled ’em temporarily. Nothing very bad, but an epidemic of absence without leave and desertion broke out, and the officers had to settle down to pull things together. Continual courts-martial for desertion don’t do a regiment any good with the powers that be, and we had to stop it.
“^~\F COURSE one of the first things to look to, when A' any trouble of that sort is occurring, is the general type and standard of your N.C.O’s. In my squadron they were good, though just a little on the young side. I remember one day I discussed the matter pretty thoroughly with the squadron sergeant-major—an absolute topnotcher.
‘They’re all right, sir,’ he said. ‘In another two or three years, there will be none better in the British Army. Especially Trevor.’
“ ‘Ah! Sergeant-Major,’ I said, looking him straight in the face, ‘you think Trevor is a good man, do you?’ “ ‘The best we’ve got, sir,’ he answered quietly, and he stared straight back at me.
“ ‘You weren’t so sure when he first came,’ I reminded him.
“ ‘Well, I reckon there was a bit of jealousy, sir,’ he replied, ‘his coming in from the line regiment over a good many of the chaps’ heads. But he’s been with us now three months—and we know him better.’
“ T wish I could say the same,’ I answered. ‘He defeats me, does Sergeant Trevor.’
“The Sergeant-Major smiled quietly. ‘Does he, sir? I shouldn’t have thought be would have. That there bloke Kipling has written about the likes of Trevor.’
“ ‘Kipling has written a good deal about the Army,’ I said with an answering smile. ‘Mulvaney and Co. are classics.’
“ ‘It’s not Mulvaney I’m meaning, sir,’ he answered. ‘But didn’t he write a little bit of poetry about Gentlemenrankers out on the spree?’
‘Why, yes, he did.’ I lit a cigarette thoughtfully. ‘I’d guessed that much, Manfield. Is Trevor his real name?’
“ T don’t know, sir,’ and at that moment the subject of our discussion walked past and saluted.
“ ‘Sergeant Trevor,’ I called after him on the spur of the moment, and he came up at the double. I hadn’t anything really to say to him, but ever since he’d joined us he’d puzzled me, and though, as the sergeant-major said, the other N.C.O’s might know him better, I certainly didn’t.
“ ‘You’re a bit of a cricketer, aren’t you?’ I said as he came up.
“A faint smile flickered across his face at my question. T used to play quite a lot, sir,’ he answered.
“ ‘Good: we want to get games going really strong.’ I talked with them both—squadron ‘shop’—a bit longer, and all the time I was trying to probe behind the impassive mask of Trevor’s face. Incidentally I think he knew it: once or twice I caught a faint gleam of amusement in his eyes—a gleam that seemed to me a little weary. And when I left them and went across the parade ground towards the mess his face haunted me. I hadn’t probed—not the eighth of an inch. He was still as much a mystery as ever. But he’d got a pair of deep blue eyes, and though I wasn’t a girl to be attracted by a man’s eyes, I couldn’t get his out of my mind. They baffled me: the man himself baffled me—and I’ve always disliked being baffled.
“It was a few nights after, in mess, that the next piece in the puzzle came along.. We had in the regiment—he was killed in the war, poor devil—a fellow of the name of Blenton, a fairly senior captain. He wasn’t in my squadron, and his chief claim to notoriety was as a cricketer. Had he been able to play regularly he would have been easily up to first-class form—as it was he periodically turned out for the county: but he used to go in first
wicket down for the Army. So you can gather his sort of form.
WAS over the port that the conversation cropped up, and it interested me because it was about Trevor. As far as cricket was concerned I hardly knew which end of a bat one held.
‘Dog-face has got a winner,’ I heard Blenton say across the table. I may say that I answer to that tactful sobriquet, for reasons into which we need not enter. ‘One Sergeant Trevor in your squadron, old boy,’ he turned to me. T was watching him at the nets to-night.’
“ Ts he any good?’ I said.
‘My dear fellow,’answered Blenton deliberately, ‘he is out and away the best bat we’ve had in the regiment for years. He’s up to Army form.’
‘Who’s that?’ demanded the C. O. sitting up and taking notice at once.
“ ‘Sergeant Trevor in A squadron, Colonel,’ said Blenton. T was watching him this evening at nets. Of course, the bowling was tripe, but he’s in a completely different class to the average soldier cricketer.’ ‘Did you talk to him?’ I asked curiously.
“ T did. And he struck me as being singularly uncommunicative. Asked him where he learnt his cricket, and he hummed and hawed, and finally said he’d played a lot in his village before joining the army. I couldn’t quite make him out, Dog-face. And why the devil didn’t he play for us out in Jo’burg?’
“ ‘Because he only joined a couple of months before we sailed,’ I answered. ‘Came with that last draft we got.’
“ ‘Well, I wish we had a few more trained in his village,’ said Blenton. ‘We could do with them.’
“After mess I tackled Philip Blenton in the ante-room.
“ ‘What’s your candid opinion of. Trevor, Philip?’ I demanded.
“He stopped on his way to play bridge, and bit the end off his cigar.
“ ‘As a cricketer,’ he said, ‘or as a man?’ “ ‘Both,’ I answered.
“ ‘Well, my candid opinion is that he learned his game at a first-class public school,' he replied. ‘And I am further of the opin-
ion, from the few words I spoke to him, that one would have expected to find him here and not in the sergeants’ mess. W’hat’s his story? Do you know?’
“ T don’t.’ I shook my head. ‘Haven’t an idea. But you’ve confirmed my own impressions.’
“And there I had to leave it for some months. Periodically I talked to Trevor; deliberately tried to trap him into some admission which would give me a clue to his past, but he was as wary as a fox and as close as an oyster. I don’t know why I took the trouble—after all it was his business entirely, but the fellow intrigued me. He was such an extraordinarily fine N.C.O., and there was never a sign of his hitting the bottle, which is the end of a good many gentlemen-rankers. Moreover he didn’t strike me as a fellow who had come a cropper, which is the usual cause of his kind.
“And then one day when I least expected it, the problem began to solve itself. Philip Blenton rang me up in the morning after breakfast, from a house in the neighborhood where he was staying for a couple of two-day matches. Could I possibly spare Sergeant Trevor for the first of them? Against the I. Z., who had brought down a snorting team, and Carter—the Oxford blue—had failed the local eleven at the last moment. If I couldn’t they’d have to rake in one of the gardeners, but they weren’t too strong as
“CO I SENT for Trevor, and asked if he’d care to play.
AJ I saw his eyes gleam for a moment: then he shook his
“ T think not, thank you, sir,’ he said quietly.
“ ‘It’s not quite like you to let Captain Blenton down, Trevor,’ I remarked. ‘He’s relying on you.’
“I knew it was the right note to take with him, and I was very keen on his playing. I was going out myself that afternoon to watch, and I wanted to see him in different surroundings. We argued for a bit—I knew he was as keen as mustard in one way to play—and after a while he said he would. Then he went out of the office, and as it
happened I followed him. There was an old cracked mirror in the passage outside, and as I opened the door he had just shut behind him, I had a glimpse of Sergeant Trevor examining his face in the glass. He’d got his hand so placed that it blotted out his moustache, and he seemed very intent on his reflection. Then he saw me, and for a moment or two we stared at one another in silence. Squadron-leader and troop-sergeant had gone: we were just
two men and the passage was empty. And I acted on a sudden impulse, and clapped him on the back.
“ ‘Don’t be a fool, man,’ I cried. ‘Is there any reason why you shouldn’t be recognised?’
“ ‘Nothing shady, Major,’ he answered quietly. ‘But if one starts on a certain course, it’s best to go through with it!’
“At that moment the pay-sergeant appeared, and Trevor pulled himself together, saluted smartly and was gone.
"I suppose these things are planned out beforehand,” went on the soldier thoughtfully. “To call it all blind chance seems a well-nigh impossible solution to me. And yet the cynic would assuredly laugh at connecting a child eating an orange in a back street in Oxford, and the death while fishing in Ireland of one of the greatest-hearted men that ever lived. But unless that child had eaten that orange, and left the peel on the pavement for Carter, the Oxford blue, to slip on and sprain his ankle, the events I am going to relate would, in all probability never have taken place. However, since delving too deeply into cause and effect inevitably produces insanity, I’d better get on with it.
“I turned up about three o’clock at Crosby Hall, along with four or five other fellows from the regiment. Usual sort of stunt—marquee and lemonade, with whiskey in the background for the hopeless cases. The I.Z. merchants were in the field, and Trevor was batting. There was an Eton boy in with him and the score was two hundred odd for five wickets. Philip Blenton lounged up as soon as he saw me, grinning all over his face.
“ ‘Thank Heavens! you let him come, old man. He’s pulled eighty of the best out of his bag already, and doesn’t look like getting out.’
“ ‘He wouldn’t come at first, Philip,’ I said, and he stared at me in surprise. T think he was afraid of being recognised.’
“A burst of applause greeted a magnificent drive past cover point, and for a while we watched the game in silence until another long round of cheering announced that Sergeant Trevor had got his century.
As I’ve said before I’m no cricketer, but there was no need to be an expert to realise that he was something out of the way. He was treating the by-no-means indifferent I. Z. bowling with the utmost contempt, and old Lord Apson, our host, was beside himself with joy. He was a cricket maniac; his week was an annual fixture: and for the first time for many years he saw his team really putting it across the I.Z. And it was just as I was basking in a little reflected glory, that I ¡saw a very dear old friend of mine arrive in the enclosure accompanied by a perfectly charming girl.
“ ‘Why, Yeverley, old man,’
I cried, ‘how are you?’
“ ‘Dog-face! as I live,’ he shouted, seizing me by both hands. ‘Man-alive, I’m glad to see you. Let me introduce you to my wife: Doris, this is Major Chilham—otherwise Dog-face.’
“I shook hands with the girl, who was standing smiling beside him, and for a while we stopped there talking. He was fifteen years or so older than I, and had left the service as a Captain, but we both came from the same part of the country, and in the days gone by I’d known him very well indeed.
His marriage had taken place four years previously while I was abroad, and now, meeting his wife for the first time, I recalled bit by bit the gossip I’d heard in letters I got from home.
How he’d married a girl young enough to be his daughter to every one’s amazement: how everybody had prophesied d isaster and affirmed that she was not half good enough for one of the elect like Giles Yeverley: how •he*d been engaged to someone
else and thrown him over. And yet as I looked at them both it struck me that the Jeremiahs had as usual been completely wrong: certainly nothing could exceed the dog-like devotion in Giles’ eyes whenever he looked at his
“We strolled over to find some easy chairs, and he fussed round her as if she were an invalid. She took it quite naturally and calmly with a fain and charming smile, and when he finally bustled away to talk to Apson, leaving me alone with her, she was still smiling.
“ ‘You know Giles well?’ she said.
“ ‘Awfully well,’ I answered. ‘And having now returned from my sojourn in the wilds, I hope I shall get to know his wife equally well.’
“ ‘That’s very nice of you, Dog-face,’ she turned and looked at me—and, by jove, she was pretty. ‘If you’re anything like Giles—you must be a perfect dear.’
“Now I like that sort of a remark when it’s made in the right way. It establishes a very pleasant footing at once, with no danger of misconstruction—like getting on good terms with a new horse the moment you put your feet in the irons, instead o messing around for half the hunt. Anyway for the next ten minutes or so I didn’t pay very much attention to the cricket. I gathered that there was one small son—Giles junior—who was the apple of his father’s eye: and that at the moment a heavy love affair was in progress between the young gentleman aged three and the General’s daughter who was as much as four and showed no shame over the matter whatever. Also that Giles and she were stopping with the General and his wife for a week or ten days.
“And it was at that stage of the proceedings that a prolonged burst of applause made us look at the cricket. Sergeant Trevor was apparently out—how I hadn’t an idea, and was half-way between the wickets and the tent next to the one in which we were sitting, and which Apson always had erected for the local villagers and their friends. I saw them put up 125 on the board as Trevor’s score, and did my share in the clapping line.
“ ‘A fine player—that fellow,’ I said following him with my eyes. ‘Don’t know much about the game myself, but the experts tell me...’ And at that moment I saw her face, and stopped abruptly. She had gone very white, and her knuckles were gleaming like ivory on the handle of her parasol.
'“Major Chilham,’ she said—and her voice was the tensest thing I’ve ever heard—‘who is that man who has just come out?’
“‘Trevor is his name,’ I answered quietly. ‘He’s one of the troop-sergeants in my squadron.’ I was looking at her curiously, as the colour slowly came back to her face. ‘Why? Did you think you knew him?’
“ ‘He reminded me of someone I knew years ago,' she said, sitting back in her chair. ‘But, of course. I must have been mistaken.’
“And then rather abruptly she changed the conversation, though every now and then she glanced towards the next tent, as if trying to see Trevor. Sitting beside her, I realised that there was something pretty serious in the wind. She was on edge, though she was trying not to show it—and Trevor was the cause, or the man who called himself Trevor. All my curiosity came back though I made no allusion to him: I was content to await
“They weren’t long in coming. The home team with the respectable total of three hundred and fifty odd were all out by tea-time, and both elevens foregathered in the tent behind. All that is except Trevor, who remained in the other, until Apson himself went and pulled him out.
I watched the old man with his cheery smile take Trevor by the elbow, and literally drag him out of his chair: I
watched Trevor in his blue undress jacket, smart as be damned, coming towards us with our host. And then very deliberately I looked at Giles Yeverley’s wife. She was staring over my head at the two men: then she lowered her parasol.
“‘Soyou weren’t mistaken after all, Mrs. Giles,’ I said quietly.
“‘No, Dog-face, I wasn’V she answered. ‘Would you get hold of Giles for me, and tell him I’d like to get back. Say I’m not feeling very well.’
“I got up at once and went in search of her husband. I found him talking to the Zingari captain, and Sergeant Trevor. He seemed quite excited, appealing as he spoke to the I. Z. skipper, while Trevor stood by listening with a faint smile.
“ ‘What he says is quite right, Sergeant Trevor,’ remarked the Zingari man as I came up. ‘If you cared to consider it—you are absolutely up to the best county form. Of course I don’t know about your residential qualifications, but that can generally be fixed.’
“‘Dog-face,’ cried Yeverley as soon as he saw me, ‘he’s in your squadron, isn’t he? Well it’s so long since I left the Army that I’ve forgotten all about discipline— but I tell you here—right now in front of him—that Sergeant Trevor ought to chuck soldiering and take up professional cricket. Bimbo here agrees with me.’
“ ‘Giles, you’ll burst your waistcoat if you get so excited,’ I remarked casually. ‘And incidentally, Mrs. Yeverley wants to go home.’
“As I said the name I looked at Trevor, and my last doubt vanished. He gave a sudden start, which Giles, who had immediately torn off to his wife, didn’t see, and proceeded to back into the farthest comer of the tea-tent. But once again old Apson frustrated him. Not for him the endless pauses and waits of first-class cricket; five minutes to roll the pitch and he was leading his team into the field. Trevor had to go from his sanctuary, and there was only one exit from the enclosure in front of the tent.
“They met—Mrs. Giles and Trevor—actually at that exit. By the irony of things, I think it was Giles who caused the meeting. He hurried forward as he saw Trevor going out—-and caught him by the arm: dear old chap —he was cricket mad if ever a man was. And so blissfully unconscious of the other, bigger thing going rtn right under his
“ ‘Don’t you forget what I said, Trevor,’ he said earnestly. ‘Any county would be glad to have you. I’m going to talk to Major Chilham about it seriously.’
iously.’ “And I doubt if Trevor heard a word. Over Giles’ shoulder he was staring at Giles’ wife— and she was staring back at him, while her breast rose and fell in little gasps, and it seemed to me that her lips were trembling.
Continued on page 44
Continued from page 19
Then it was over, Trevor went out ti field—Giles bustled back to his wife. Aw I, being a hopeless case, went in search q alcohol.”
The soldier paused to light anothq cigar.
HE CARRIED out his threat, dil Giles, with regard to me. Two à three days later I lunched with th General, and it seemed to me that wi never got off the subject of Trevor. 1 wasn’t only his opinion; had not Bimh Lawrence, the I. Z. Captain and one Q the shrewdest judges of cricket in England agreed with him. And so on withoui cessation about Trevor the cricketer while on the opposite side of the table next to me sat his wife who could not çel beyond Trevor the man. Once or twic| she glanced at me appealingly, as if to sa] ‘For God’s sake, stop him’—but it wai a task beyond my powers. I made one oi two abortive attempts, and then I gar it up. The situation was beyond me: ox; could only let him ramble on and pray ft the end of lunch. • .
“And then he left the cricket and cam; to personalities.
“ ‘Know anything about him, Dog-Face! he asked. 'Up at old Apson’s place I struck me as being a gentleman. Anywa he’s a darned nice fellow. Wonder wh he enlisted?’ ]
“ ‘Oh! Giles, for goodness sake, let’s tl : another topic,’ said his wife sudden^
' ‘We’ve had Sergeant Trevor since began.’
“Poor old Giles looked at her in start led surprise, and she gave him ao smile which robbed her words of their iri I tability. But I could see she was on t] j rack, and though I didn’t know the rail facts, it wasn’t hard to make a shrea t guess as to the cause. . ,
“It was just before we rose from tl I table, I remember, that she said to fl# under cover of the general conversati! | —‘My God! Dog-face—it’s not fair. IÖ) damnable.’ ¡
“ ‘Will you tell me?’ I answered, j ¡ might help.’
“ ‘Perhaps I will some day,’ she sa quietly. ‘But you can’t help: no a can do that. It was my fault all throug and the only thing that matters now. that Giles should never know.’ •
“I don’t quite know why she'suddeqj confided in me, even to that extent, suppose with her woman’s intuition ál realised that I’d guessed something, a! it helps to get a thing off one’s chest, times. Evidently it had been an lí expected meeting and I cursed myself having made him play. And yet could one have foretold: it was just a cq tinuation of the jig-saw started by th damned bit of orange peel. As she sal all that mattered was that Giles—d(| old chap—should never know.” .
The soldier smiled a little sadly. *‘S do the humans propose: but the God tq moves the pieces frequently has differri ideas. He did—that very aftemooj It was just as I was going that two whitl faced nurses clutching two scared childrq appeared on the scene and babblq incoherently. And then the General groom hove in sight—badly cut across tlj face, and shaky at the knees, and from hit we got the story. ' •
“They’d started off in the General dog-cart to go to some children’s parÇ and something had frightened the hors which had promptly bolted. I knew tí brute—a great raking black, though tl groom, who was a first-class whip, gáj erally had no difficulty in managing hii But on this occasion apparently he’d gi clean away along the road into the towj He might have got the horse under cffl trol after a time, and then he’d seen tfiJ
the gates were closed at the railway crossing in front. And it was at that moment that a man—one of the sergeants from the barracks—had dashed out suddenly from the pavement and got to the horse’s head. He was trampled on badly, but he hung on—and the horse had ceased to bolt when they crashed into the gates. The shafts were smashed, but nothing more. And the horse wasn’t hurt. And they’d carried away the sergeant on an improvised stretcher. No: he hadn’t spoken...He was unconscious.
“ ‘Which sergeant was it?’ I asked thoughtlessly—though I knew the answer before the groom gave it.
“ ‘Sergeant Trevor, sir,’ he said. ‘A Squadron.’
“ ‘Is he—is he badly hurt?’ said the girl, and her face was ashen.
“ T dunno, mum,’ answered the groom. ‘They took ’im off to the ’orspital, and I was busy with the ’orse.’
“ ‘I’ll ring up, if I may, General,’ I said, and he nodded.
“I spoke to Purvis—the R.A.M.C. fellow—and his voice was very grave. They’d brought Trevor in still unconscious. and though he wouldn’t swear to it at the moment, he was afraid his back was broken. But he couldn’t tell absolutely for certain until he came to. I hung up the receiver and found Mrs. Giles standing behind me. She said nothing—but just waited for me to speak.
“ ‘Purvis doesn’t know for certain,’ I said, taking both her hands in mine. ‘But there’s a possibility, my dear, that his back is broken.’
SHE WAS a thorough-bred, that girl. She didn’t make a fuss or cry out; she just looked me straight in the face and nodded her head once or twice.
“ T must go to him of course,’ she said gravely. ‘Will you arrange it for me, please?’
“ ‘He’s unconscious still,’ I told her. “ ‘Then I must .be beside him when he comes to,1 she answered. ‘Even if there was nothing else—he’s saved my baby’s life.’
“ ‘I’ll take you in my car,’ I said, when I Saw that she was absolutely determined. ‘Leave it all to me.’
“ T must see him alone, Dog-face,’ she paused by the door, with her handkerchief rolled into a tight little ball in her hand. T want to know that he’s forgiven me.’
“ ‘You shall see him alone if it’s humanly possible,’ I answered gravely, and at that she was gone.
“I don’t quite know how I did it, but somehow or other I got her away from the General’s house, without Giles knowing. Giles junior was quite unhurt, and disposed to regard the entire thing as an entertainment got up especially for his benefit. And when she’d made sure of that and kissed him passionately to his intense disgust, ^he slipped away with me in the car.
“ ‘You mustn’t be disappointed,' I warned her as we drove along, ‘if you can’t see him alone. He may have been put into a ward with other men.’
“ ‘Then they must put screens around him,’ she whispered. T must kiss him before., before...’ she didn’t complete the sentence: but it wasn’t necessary.
“We didn’t speak again until I turned in at the gates of the hospital. And then I asked her a question which had been on the tip of my tongue a dozen times.
“ ‘Who is he—really?’
“ ‘Jimmy Dallas is his name,’ she answered quietly. ‘We were engaged. And then his father lost all his money. He thought that was why—why I was beastly to him—but oh! Dog-face, it wasn’t at all. I thought he was fond of another girl—and it was all a mistake. I found it out too late. And then Jimmy had disappeared—and I’d married Giles. Up at that cricket match was the first time I’d seen him since my wedding.’
“We drew up at the door, and I got out. It’s the little tragedies, the little misunderstandings that are so pitiful, and in all conscience this was a case in point. A boy and a girl—each too proud to explain, or ask for an explanation: and now the big tragedy....God! it seemed so futile.
“I left her sitting in the car, and went in search of Purvis. I found him with Trevor—I still thought of him under that name—and he was conscious again. The doctor looked up as I tiptoed in, and shook his head at me warningly. So I waited, and after a while Purvis left the
bed and drew me out into the passage. “ Tm not sure,’ he said. ‘He's so infernally bruised and messed about. His left arm is broken in two places, and three ribs—and I’m afraid his back as well. He seems so numb. But I can’t be certain.’ “ ‘Mrs. Yeverley is here,’ I said. ‘The mother of one of the kids he saved. She wants to see him.’
“ ‘Out of the question,’ snapped Purvis, ‘I absolutely forbid it.’
“ ‘But you mustn’t forbid it, Doctor.’ We both swung round to see the girl herself standing behind us. ‘I’ve got to see him. There are other reasons besides his having saved my baby’s life.’
’’ ‘They must wait, Mrs. Yeverley,’ answered the Doctor. ‘In a case of this sort the only person I would allow to see him would be his wife.’
“ ‘If I hadn’t been a fool,’ she said deliberately, ‘I should have been his wife,' and Purvis’ jaw dropped.
“Without another word she swept past him into the ward, and Purvis stood there gasping.
“ ‘Well, I’m damned,’ he muttered, and I couldn’t help smiling. It was rather a startling statement to come from a woman stopping with the G. O. C., about a sergeant in a cavalry regiment
AND THEN, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, came the final tum in the wheel. I was strolling up and down outside with Purvis, who was asahib as well as a Doctor and had asked no questions.
“ ‘If his back is broken it can’t hurt him,’ he had remarked ‘and if it isn’t it will do him good.’
“At that we had left it, when suddenly to my horror I saw Giles himself going into the hospital.
“ ‘Good Lord! Doc,’ I cried sprinting after him, ‘that’s her husband. And he doesn’t know she’s here.’
“But a lot can happen in a few seconds, and I was just a few seconds too late. As I got to the door I saw Giles in front of me—standing at the entrance to the ward as if be had been turned to stone. A big screen hid the bed from sight—but a screen is not sound proof. He looked at me as I came up, and involuntarily I stopped as I saw his face. And then quite clearly from the room beyond came his wife’s voice.
“ ‘My darling, darling boÿ—it’s you and • only you for ever and ever.’
“I don’t quite know how much Giles had guessed before. I think he knew about her previous engagement: but I’m quite sure he had never associated Trevor with it. A year or two later she told me that when she married him, she had made no attempt to conceal the fact that she had loved another man—and loved him still. And Giles had taken her on those terms. But at the time I didn’t know that: I only knew that a very dear friend’s world had crashed about his head with stunning suddenness. It was Giles who pulled himself together first: Giles, with a face grey and lined, who said in a loud voice to me:‘Well, Dog-face, where is the invalid?’
“And then he waited a moment or two before he went around the screen.
“ ‘Ah! my dear,’ he said quite steadily as he saw his wife, ‘you here?’
“He played his part for ten minutes, stiff-lipped and without a falter: then he went, and his wife went with him to continue the play in which they were billed for life. Trevor’s back was not broken— in a couple of months he was back at duty. And so it might have continued for the duration, but for Giles being drowned fishing in Ireland.”
The soldier stared thoughtfully at the fire.
“He was a first-class fisherman and a wonderful swimmer was Giles Yeverley, and sometimes—I wonder. They say that perhaps he got cramp. But as I say, sometimes—I wonder.
“I saw them—Jimmy Dallas, sometime Sergeant Trevor, and his wife—at the Ritz two nights ago. They seemed wonderfully in love, though they’d been married ten years, and I stopped by their table.
“ ‘Sit down, Dog-face.’ she ordered, ‘and have a liqueur.’
‘So I sat down and had a liqueur. And it was just as I was going that she looked at me with her wonderful smile, and said very softly—‘Thank God! dear old Giles never knew: and now if he does, he’ll understand.”’
The soldier got up and stretched himself.
“A big result for a bit of yellow peel.”