"STAUNCH TO PIG"
A. W. Smith
PETER PATON sucked gently at his pipe. The fragrant smoke curled away from his nostrils, almost invisible in the brilliant moonlight. He frowned a little, concentrating on sharpening a hog spear with a file. He held it firmly by the bamboo haft against the arm of his chair. The new edge was a bright streak around the dark metal of the head.
The others watched him idly, letting fatigue flow pleasantly over their limbs. Jimmy Jebb, the policeman from the Delhi side, was almost asleep. Shorty lay back in his chair, staring at the sky. The major cocked his long Trichinopoly cheroot at an acuter angle in the corner of his mouth. His eyes were half shut to avoid the smoke. When he drew on it, the red end grew to life and lifhis thin features.
Overhead the moon was impossibly large and white for India. It shone frostily on the stretched canvas of the tents. It crept through the thick leaves of the mango tope, lacing the ground with silver and black. Behind in the shadows a horse whickered and stamped.
Peter worked with his file, trying the edge with his thumb. There was still that nick in the soft steel near the point. That big boar today . . .
Shorty sat up suddenly. “What’s for tomorrow?” he asked. “We draw the Chota Bagh—the Little Garden,” said the major. “They say there’s a big boar or two in there.” “That’s good,” said Peter.
And tomorrow would be like today. Up at half-past four in the cold light of the setting moon. Bacon and eggs crisply fried, coffee which burned the throat with its grateful heat. The new-kindled fire crackling with all the exuberance of youth . . . Then mount and away as the dawn sky began to show its colors of orange, saffron and palest eggshell green.
green. “That means they’ll make for the old river bed and the sugar-cane cover,” said Shorty. “Three miles of the worst riding country we have.”
“Remember that big fellow last year—the one Peter killed?” “That was the time Laidlaw got smashed up,” said the major. “How exactly did that happen?” asked Jimmy. “I never knew.” “Horse rolled on him when he crashed into that blind watercourse. He’s still bit.”
“Isn’t he ever going to come out again?” “He’s married,” said the major. “Ah,” they said, and “Oh,” as if that explained it all. “Pity. That’s another good hog hunter spoiled.” Peter worked with the file at his spear. His mind wandered away again, letting the slow talk of great boars and horses, of hunts and men, slide around him unheard.
Tomorrow would be like today. Batsy always pretended to shy at the moon shadow of a thorn tree. The skin of Batsy’s neck lathering under the light pressure of the reins. Then the moon went out and the first level rays of the sun coming over the rocky hills glinted on
the points of the spears. Sticks knocked on the interlaced stems of the bamboos. The beaters shouted. It was a perfect rootling and wallowing place for pig.
A crash as a sounder of pig broke cover—black sows and tawny little fellows striped with brown. They streaked away. The shouting of the beaters doubled.
“Woof.” The head and shoulders of a great grey boar showed in the tangled shadows. He slipped into the open, annoyed at the disturbance.
What a whopper! Thirty-six inches at the shoulder if he was an inch. Two hundred pounds if he was an ounce. His tushes gleamed white. I íe turned his little eyes suspiciously.
Peter thumbed the nick in his spear. It was almost out. The dull edge was coming up under his file. Mouth dry . . . Peter had never got used to the first sight of a big boar, the most courageous fighter on earth. Even the tiger will give him right of way in the jungle path. He can disembowel with a sweep
of his massive head and a flick of his razorsharp tushes. He is an active animal of infinite resource. It needs a fast, sure horse to ride him down.
Jam hat to head. Take up the reins a little short. The ground ahead was rough and full of hidden holes. The dry watercourses were blinded with masks of tall sunburned grass.
Give him grace—then ride. The hard, sunbaked earth passed under hoof.
He knew now that he was being hunted. His eyes were red when he glanced back. I íe was not frightened, only very angry. Flick. Slash at a tree in passing. The cut bark showed white.
Crash. He disappeared over the edge of a dry watercourse screened with dry grass.
A none too kindly hand on the bit. A quick turn. Slither down the bank. Clatter among the boulders. Up the other side and after him again in the open.
Was it only that morning, Peter wondered. It seemed so fresh in mind and yet so remote.
And then the boar’s jink right under Batsy’s nose. Any other horse but Batsy would have been upset.
Then that swift jab; the spear point glancing along the bristly ridge of his back.
He turned like light, whirling round w-ith all four feet under him. He turned to fight it out—the most dangerous animal on earth.
Point down. No need to lunge now, there were two hundred pounds at thirty miles an hour.
Wrench at the wrist. Batsy went back on her haunches. A gout of blood . . .
Peter sighed. He put down the spear. It was ready for tomorrow', which would be so like today. He refilled his pipe, ramming in the strands w'ith a careful forefinger. The yellow flame of the match in his cupped hands w'as reflected on his face. The skin was burned to the ripe color of old mahogany. A silver scar ran diagonally from temple to chin. He touched it with his fingertips. That was last year. Down in the old river bed. His horse down, he had to face a wounded boar on foot. The memory still stayed — the
grunting charge, the slash of the tushes and an overpowering smell of pig. His spear haft shattered in his hands. He hung on to it, he remembered, w'ith the blood blinding him and salty to his lips. He wiped it aw'ay to see a dying boar . . .
“By the w'ay,” said the major suddenly, “I’d almost forgotten ...”
“Don’t shout,” said Shorty testily. “You ought to know that it’s bad for the nerves to w'ake people up suddenly like that.”
“What’s up?” asked Peter. The major had arrived in camp only that morning.
BUT HE WAS in no hurry to reply. He selected a fresh cheroot from his pigskin case. He pulled out the straw from the middle. He blew into it to make sure that it would draw.
“Peter, how would you like”—he spoke deliberately— “to be a screen star?”
“You know. Pictures. Movies. It’s old Dundas’s latest scheme.”
“You mean old Dundas, the Commissioner for Railways?” “That’s the ticket. He thinks he’s going to advertise the tourist trade. He wants to take a w'hole lot of sport movies. He’s going to have them shown all over the place. England, United States, Canada ...”
“And he thinks he’s going to have a lot of tourists come out here after they have seen Peter butcher some unfortunate hog in his most approved style?” scoffed Shorty. “Can’t you see ’em with all their paraphernalia of blue veils and dark glasses and kodaks . . . What they ought to see is someone really good-looking do the job.”
“Like you, Shorty?” asked Jimmy sleepily.
Shorty reached behind his head. A cushion flew through the moonlight. Jimmy sat up.
“Now don’t bicker, children,” said the major. “The commissioner is going to make a kind of story of it. Love interest and all that.”
“Wow !” said Shorty. “That means there’s going to be a girl in it. What do you think of that, Peter?”
“Sounds pretty silly to me,” said Peter. “Anyway, it puts me out.”
“I don’t see why,” said the major. “You’re the obvious person to do it. You’re the best spear in India.”
“Don’t make him blush,” said Jimmy.
“Well, why not? Peter is, after all. He won the Kadir Cup last year, and the Gujerat Cup two years running.” “But a woman. Pigsticking!” said Peter.
“Well, why not?” said the major.
“The thing’s absurd. Women talk too much.”
“Oh, come, Peter,” said the major. “Dundas has always been good to us in the Tent Club. If ever there’s been any difficulty about getting boxes for the horses when we’ve wanted to send them by rail, we’ve only had to go to him. And then there was that time he sidetracked a whole train for us when we wanted to hunt the Rungoot River country.” “Well, I’m not ungrateful to him, but if I’m going to have to take some girl out after pig ...”
“We all know your feelings, Peter. But you won’t even have to meet the girl. Someone else will have that pleasure, and that’ll be the hero who does all the heavy stuff.”
“But I don’t quite see—” said Peter.
“I don’t blame you,’’ said the major. “Even I with my great intelligence failed to understand at first. You see, you're going to double for the real hero, and for that matter, for the heroine. You see, the story is that the boy friend takes his girl out pigsticking—”
“That’s improbable to begin with.” “It’s all in the tradition.” The ma-
jor waved his cheroot, making fiery circles in the moonlight. “They go out after pig. The girl falls off her horse—that'll be you, of course. Then when she is on the ground they are attacked by a boar. The hero kills the pig with a spear he happens to have handy. That, of course, will be you again. Then they fall into each other’s arms—which, of course, won’t be you.”
"It’s almost indecent,” said Shorty. “Sort of hermaphroditic.”
“I still don’t quite see—” said Peter.
"Oh, Peter, Peter. If only you had a few more of the social graces you’d know that all pictures are made like that. One man does all the dirty work and another gets all the fun.”
“Then I take it I’m to fall off a horse—and kill a pig— on fool? Does the commissioner realize what that means? It’s dangerous.”
“Oh, it will only be a little pig.”
“I don’t quite see how they are going to arrange that. Any more than I see how they are going to have a pig there at just the precise moment for the cameras.”
“Don’t you worry about that, Peter. It’ll all be fixed up for you. Then, I take it, you’re going to be polite and let me tell ’em you'd love to do it?”
“I never said that at all. It sounds like a lot of nonsense to me. I’m going to be the laughingstock of the place.”
“Don’t you worry about that either. The real hero will get all the credit. You won’t appear at all.”
“And who is the lucky hero?” asked Shorty.
"So far as I know it’s Beauty Beauclerc, that A.D.C. at Government House. He’s got all the looks required and presumably the love-making talent—to judge by the way the girls buzz round him.”
“That little twirk !” said Shorty. “You might have known it.”
“I’m not going to do it, and that’s flat,” said Peter. “If I took it on, there’s no knowing where it would stop. Women are all right, I suppose, in their place—but that’s not in the field after pig. Anything might happen. After all, it’s bad enough looking after oneself without having some giggling girl on one’s hands.”
THE MAJOR relit his cheroot. He smiled a little, blowing bitter smoke from between his pursed lips. That Peter had no time for women was well known. It was not a pose. He was genuinely not interested. There were plenty of them who had flattered themselves that they could overcome it in him, but none of them so far had succeeded in making any visible impression.
“You’d better talk to Mrs. Dundas about that. She seems to be the one who is most interested,” said the major. “I told her I thought you’d do it—all in the interests of science, of course.”
"Mrs. Dundas!” groaned Shorty. “You’re done, Peter. She’s a strong-minded old witch.”
Peter hauled himself abruptly to his feet. He stood tall and lean in the silver wash of the moonlight. He stretched luxuriously till his joints cracked. He was not a very big man, but his breadth of shoulder ran V-shaped into the leanness of his narrow loins. The muscles lay along his burned forearms in hard knots and ridges, merging into powerful wrists.
“A-ah,” he yawned. “I’m going to turn in. If we’re going to be up at half-past four to draw the Kadir jungle I can’t afford to miss my little white bed. You fellows can sit up and yap about girls as long as you like, provided you don’t keep me awake. As for the movie—I’m not interested. ’Night all.”
He turned on his heel. In his tent, pitched in the shadows of a mango tree, he did not bother to light a candle. There was light enough from the moon.
He stripped off his shirt in the half dark. The silk of his pyjamas was cool against his skin.
His canvas cot had been set in the open under the trees. It creaked beneath his weight. He lay for a moment with ojien eyes, looking through the interlaced branches into the deeps of the sky.
He could see very faintly a star, almost put out by the light of the moon.
Overhead there were sleepy stirrings and subdued whistles of green pigeons roosting among the leaves.
The moon made them think that dawn was at hand. With the rising sun they must be off, cutting the clear cool air on canary-colored scimitar wings.
Out and away over the level moon-washed fields a jackal was howling in jieals of mirthless laughter . . . “Eee-oh, ee-ow.”
It reminded Peter of a jumble of things—of Mrs. Dundas and the commissioner, of their ridiculous movie and girls out pigsticking.
He turned contentedly on his side. In a moment he was asleep.
FELICITY,” said Mrs. Dundas. Peter found himself bending over her hand. It lay cool and firm in his own. "Felicity, I want to introduce Captain Paton. And Peter, this is Miss Lindsay. I'll leave you two now. Miss Lindsay wants to talk about the picture with you, Peter. Felicity, Peter knows more about hog hunting than anyone else in India.”
Mrs. Dundas, the jierfect hostess, drifted away into the crowd.
Peter had an impression of a boyish smile, of clear sunbrowned skin and of grey eyes. She was small and very slight. Then he realized that he was still holding her hand. “Sorry,” he said awkwardly. He liked her laugh.
They were standing under the arches by the club ballroom. It was late afternoon, and with the setting of the sun the quick darkness had come. Already the lamps were lit.
In the garden a native infantry band played dance music. They gave it the accuracy—and the inspiration—of a mathematical problem. On the floor jieople were dancing.
Peter wondered what to do next. He had been reading The Field upstairs in the library when he looked up to see the commissioner at his side.
“Hullo, Peter. Busy?”
“Not particularly, sir.”
“Let’s go down and get a drink then.”
Peter realized now that it was just a plot. At the foot of the stairs they had met Mrs. Dundasand this girl. It was too late to escape.
“Excuse me, Peter,” he said—the old hypocrite. “There's my wife and someone we particularly want you to meet. Mary, here’s Peter.”
Then the commissioner had slipjied off treacherously into the bar, leaving him standing. Peter did not blame him particularly. It just showed what marriage did to an otherwise quite decent fellow. It sapped his morals and pulverized his will jxiwer.
“Why, Peter!” said Mrs.
Dundas. And now . .
"Shall we dance?” said Felicity.
Peter realized that he had kept her standing under the arches.
Cont'd on page 49
“Staunch to Pig”
Continued from page 9—Starts on page 7
Unhappy looking couples revolved painstakingly on the floor.
“Sorry,” said Peter. “I don’t dance. Let's go and sit down.”
He led the way to chairs set on the verandah, wondering when he might expect to be rescued and not quite sure that he wanted to be.
SHE SEEMED personable enough. He glanced at her out of the comer of his eye. Very grey eyes and rather wide mouth. Tanned, and with brown hair—no, dark reddish where the light caught it— coming out from under that sort of wide hat she wore. It lay a little across her cheek . . . Felicity. Wasn’t that what Mrs. Dundas said? Vaguely he liked the name. Decidedly he liked it.
“Aunt Mary ...” she said.
“Aunt Mary?” said Peter, coming to. “Yes, Mrs. Dundas is my aunt. She said that you were going to help in her picture.” “I suppose I did say so,” said Peter. “Under certain conditions.”
"Meaning that you would not have to meet me?”
Peter wriggled uncomfortably in his chair. It was exactly what he had meant.
“I didn’t say that at all,” he protested. “If you meant it,” she said, “you might as well say so. I understand perfectly. In fact, I said much the same sort of thing myself.”
“That I didn’t see why I should have to meet you,” she said demurely. “I should be less than frank if I didn’t tell you so. That would be a pity, wouldn’t it?”
“Ye-es,” said Peter doubtfully.
“It was Aunt Mary’s idea that we should be thrown together. And when she get’s an idea—you know what that means. We’re supposed to be talking the whole thing over at this very moment.”
“I don’t see what there is for us to talk about really,” said Peter. “At least as far as the picture is concerned. It’s all been arranged, hasn’t it?”
“I suppose so. But I just didn’t want you to feel that I’d let you in for anything.”
“I see,” said Peter. He was a little mystified, and he was beginning to wonder whether he liked this way she had of treating him. It all seemed a little off-hand. And he wished—very much—that she would tum her head. He had a tantalizing glimpse of the curve of her cheek and the sweep of her little pointed chin. There was a dimple in it, he thought. He wondered how he had missed that at first. Her mouth, as much as he could see of it, was rather full. And her lips, which were very red, seemed to be smiling. Why, he wondered, did women have to wear hats like that? And then her hands—they lay idly on the arms of her chair—thin, brown and capable . . .
“But as we are here, we might as well make the best of it, mightn’t we?” she said.
“Yes, let’s,” said Peter. He leaned forward to see. She really seemed to be smiling. He leaned a little farther. She turned. He had a devastating vision of very grey eyes. They were smiling. And there was a dimple.
The long dark eyelashes flickered in amusement. He looked hurriedly away. He felt himself turning bright scarlet.
“I suppose they have told you what the story is going to be?” she said. She seemed quite undisturbed.
“I think so,” said Peter. “It’s something about you falling off a horse, and when you do that it will be me.”
‘Do you think you can do it?” she asked. “Fall off?”
“No. I mean, do you think that you can look enough like me on a horse.”
“I don’t know,” Peter replied doubtfully. He glanced down at his own length of leg, then at her slightness. “Anyway, we will be going pretty fast—at a gallop—and I don’t suppose that anyone will know the difference.”
“And then Captain Beauclerc comes along—”
"That little blighter,” said Peter viciously. “Why, Captain Paton ! I think he’s very nice. And he’s very good looking,” she added inconsequently.
AT LEAST no one could say that about him, thought Peter. His fingertips touched the white diagonal scar. The action was mechanical. He felt shy about it.
“I suppose that Beauty's not exactly repulsive,” he admitted reluctantly. He pulled out his pipe. With his knife he dug into the bowl. Beauty Beauclerc—jab. Fair waved hair—jab.
“What horse are they going to give you to ride?” he asked.
“Uncle George said that I might have his. Wasn’t it nice of him?”
“That chestnut screw !”
“You are vicious, Captain Paton. It’s quite a nice horse. At least it seems fairly quiet.”
“You might call it that. No one has ever been able to make it go faster than a rather slow trot. And I don’t quite understand . . . You see, I’ll be falling off a bay. The commissioner’s horse is a washy chestnut with a white blaze and a white stocking on one hind leg. Everyone will see that it is not the same horse.”
“That is an idea,” she admitted. “All I can see is that you will have to fall off Uncle George’s horse.”
“Not on your life,” said Peter. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do. How would you consider riding one of mine?”
She really was smiling now. Her grey eyes screwed up at the comers when she looked at him like that.
“Do you really mean it?” she said.
“Of course. It’s my Batsy. She’s got a very tender mouth and she goes right up on end when you hold her too tight. Do you think you can do it?”
“Oh, I think I can. I’d be terribly careful.”
“Take her whenever you want her. I’ll tell the syce you’re to give him all his orders. And—look here, why don’t we ride tomorrow?”
She wrinkled her nose in thought. “Tomorrow morning?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m riding with Captain Beauclerc tomorrow.”
“It’s perfectly all right,” said Peter. Beauty again, he thought bitterly. “Some other time. Take her easily, won’t you?” “Oh, I will. I will. I’ll be terribly careful of her. Are you very fond of Batsy?” “Very,” he said. “After all, I’ve had her five years. She’s a waler, from New South Wales in Australia, you know. I bought her rough off the boat. I backed her, and I schooled her.”
“That must be fun. Then you know that you have made her all she is.”
“Well—not quite everything, perhaps,” he said modestly. “After all, you can’t make qualities that are not there to begin with. Speed, for instance, or heart.”
“Well, staying power, and qualities of courage like being staunch to pig.”
“That’s a funny expression. ‘Staunch to Pig-’ ”
“It just means that she’ll stand to a charging boar without shying away. We have to have complete trust in each other.” “I think that’s rather fine,” she said. “I like it. ‘Staunch to pig.’ Is that the nicest thing that you can say?”
“Well, isn’t it? It means lots of heart.” “It’s funny how people connect all sorts of things with the heart. It’s the seat of courage and—and of the affections.”
“Yes,” said Peter briefly.
After that they sat in silence. In front were the shadows of the garden, dark and heavy with the scents of nicotiana and night-flowering stocks. The rising moon
hung round and scarlet over the dark line of the treetops. One single fierce star blazed blue above it. In the distance the band of the Sikh Regiment struggled with a waltz. From the ballroom came the scrape and shuffle of dancing feet. In the garden it was very still—only the cicadas zizzing in the trees.
Peter pulled contentedly at his pipe. They sat in silence. There seemed to be no need to say anything—ever.
Heavy steps sounded on the flagstones of the verandah.
She stirred as if waking from sleep.
“It’s Uncle George.” She spoke almost in a whisper, as if unwilling to break the spell.
“Oh, there you are.” The commissioner stood, red-faced and solid, in the lighted doorway. “We’ve got to go home, Felicity. We’re dining with the governor.”
She rose obediently without a word.
“Well,” said the commissioner. “Did you get everything fixed up satisfactorily?”
“There was nothing to fix up,” said Peter.
“Captain Paton’s going to lend me a horse,” she said, as Peter thought, a little breathlessly.
“He’s what?” said the commissioner. “So you did manage it after all.”
“Manage what after all?” asked Peter.
“We told Felicity at lunch that you never lent your horses. She had bets with the whole lot of us.”
“Then you’ve won your money, sir,” said Peter rather stiffly.
“We! We didn’t win. Felicity takes the pot. She was perfectly sure, the little minx.”
“Oh,” said Peter. Somehow he felt hurt.
“Well, well, well!” said the commissioner jovially. “Don’t get huffy. We were only fooling. Anyway we’ve got to go now. Come and dine with us, Peter. Tomorrow all right?”
“Thanks,” said Peter. He tried to make his voice sound normal. “Thanks, but I can’t. Booked up, you know.”
“Well, some time then.” The commissioner turned to the door. “Come on, Felicity. ’Night, Peter.”
Peter stood staring after the bulky figure silhouetted against the lighted room. He felt as if someone had hit him rather hard. Just to see what she could get out of him, he thought. His fingers went to the scar where there was a little ridge of puckered skin over the cheek-bone.
“Captain Paton,” she said.
She was still there beside him. Her face glowed luminous and white in the half dark of the rising moon.
“I’m so sorry about this.” She was pleading. “I don’t know what to say, except that I had forgotten all about those silly bets. And—and I’d rather not take Batsy now.”
“That’s all right,” said Peter. “You’d better take whatever you can get. It’s the fashion.”
He heard the sharp intake of her breath in the dark beside him.
“Please,” she said in a small, hurt voice. “Oh, please ...”
“She’ll be there at six. Give the syce what orders you like. And I hope you have a good ride.”
“Thank you,” she said. Her voice was low. He hardly caught the words. She hesitated a moment as if she had more to say, then turned abruptly into the lighted room.
npHERE FOLLOWED bad days for Peter ■* when he rode out morosely on Grey Dawn. Each morning Batsy went over to the commissioner’s bungalow. Returning from his ride, he found the syce waiting for him, always with the same story.
“Missy Sahib nakin mangta.” (The young lady does not want to go riding.)
He told the syce tomorrow and the next day again, to await Felicity’s orders.
Once on one of his lonely rides he came up behind them Beauty Beauclerc and Felicity. She was riding the commissioner’s chestnut. He noted with pleasure the firm seat well down in the saddle, the straight grace of her
back. Beauty was riding very close to her. Peter turned quickly into the trees. He did not want to see more.
Rehearsals were going on. Men never forgot to tell him so at the dub. They thought the whole idea was pretty funny and they said so.
Mrs. Dundas buttonholed him one day to make sure that he knew his part. The story was her inspiration. No one was allowed to forget it. She regarded the whole affair as her own.
“Captain Beauclerc takes Felicity out pigsticking—”
"Just the kind of thing he would do,” said Peter.
“This is in the picture, of course,” said Mrs. Dundas severely. “Then she falls off. While she is on the ground and Captain Beauclerc is assisting her tenderly, they are attacked by a wild boar.”
“It would have to be wild,” said Peter. “Not even a pig would attack gratuitously like that.”
“This one does,” said Mrs. Dundas. “Then—this is where you come in—he saves her by killing it on foot.”
“And is that the end of the picture?” asked Peter.
“The end? Oh, no,” she said. "Then he takes her in his arms. They’ve been in love all along.”
“Have they?” said Peter. “I didn’t know.”
And Mrs. Dundas thought him unnecessarily stupid.
On the race course, Peter watched Felicity rehearsing. She rode Batsy again and again at the cameras, set straddle-legged in the afternoon sunshine.
“You know,” said Shorty, “that girl can ride. Look at her seat—like a rock. And she’s got hands.”
Peter grunted. He stood with the reins looped over his arm and Grey Dawn nuzzling at his shoulder. It seemed to be an endless business. He wished for the hundredth time that he had not allowed himself to be drawn into it.
“Now, Peter,” said the commissioner, “it’s your turn. You will fall off at the point just opposite the cameras.” He wiped his broad forehead with a large handkerchief. It was hot. He had chosen to direct the picture himself, and he did not stand the heat well.
THE FALLING-OFF part went very well as far as Peter was concerned. He galloped up to the cameras. He slipped off sideways, leaving the astonished Batsy to go on alone. It was an easy enough trick when you knew how, but it was not a thing that he would choose to do for fun.
“That was excellent, Paton,” said the commissioner. “But the cameramen say that they did not get it quite right. They want you to do it again.”
Peter sat up spitting dust out of his mouth. He shook his head.
“You aren’t co-operating very well, Peter,” said the perspiring commissioner sadly.
“No?” said Peter. He whistled gently for Batsy. She came cantering to his hand. Returning at a walk across the course, he heard his name. He swung round in the saddle. Felicity, wide felt hat in hand, stood in the dusty sunlight. She was a trim little figure in white silk shirt and tan jodhpurs. The light on her bare head turned her hair to dusky red. Peter caught his breath.
“I thought you were simply splendid,” she said, a little breathlessly. “You didn’t hurt yourself?”
“No-o,” said Peter. “The ground was a bit hard, that wras all.”
There was a pause w’hile neither seemed to know w'hat to say. Batsy nuzzled at Felicity’s hand and hunted in her pockets.
“Batsy’s looking for sugar,” she explained. “I always give her some every morning, don’t I, darling?”
She rubbed the lean face. Batsy pluffed happily. She nibbled at Felicity’s buttons, pretending they w-ere good to eat.
“Why don’t you ride her?” asked Peter. “I’d just rather not,” she said slowly.
“But I might some time if you asked me to go with you.”
“But you’re always out, aren't you?”
“Not always. Why don't you ask me?”
“I will some time. When I know that you haven’t gov any money on it.”
He was svartled to see the slow darkening of her clear i rown skin. Her eyes hardened. The warmth went out of them, and they became the coi or of steel. Her mouth set in a little line.
“I don't think that that’s quite fair,” she said.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” said Peter. “I’m sorry.”
“Don't bother to apologize,” she said. “And I’d rather you did not send your horse over again.”
“Please believe me,” said Peter. “It was only meant to be funny.”
“There’s no more to be said,” she whispered. There were tears in her grey eyes now. Then: “Oh, why did you have to say that? I had hoped—”
“Hoped what?” asked Peter.
She did not answer, and at that moment Beauty appeared across the sunburned turf. He was immaculate as usual. There was something about him which made men distrust him at sight. He was too good looking; too polished ; a trifle too well turned out.
“Quite nicely done, Peter,” he said. “Thanks,” mumbled Peter. He was too angry with himself to care what the man said.
“We’ll have to go, Felicity,” Beauty announced. He took her arm possessively.
“Miss Lindsay,” said Peter desperately, “I want to try—to apologize.”
“Don’t bother,” she said. “I think we’re square now.”
She turned to Beauty.
“Let’s go,” she said.
TSN’T IT exciting about Felicity and Captain Beauclerc?” said Mrs. Dundas. She reclined in the back seat of her car shading her eyes from the level rays of the early sun with a green lined parsol. She was all prepared for a nice long chat. There was plenty of time before Peter could possibly be wanted. •
She glanced around. The cameras were already set up. The commissioner, astride his tubby chestnut, waved a scarlet megaphone. His voice could be heard marshalling his forces where a dry watercourse opened into the plains.
“You know,” Mrs. Dundas went on, “even I never suspected a thing—”
Peter, half listening, said nothing. He selected a hog spear with care. He leaned heavily on the bamboo haft and ran an enquiring thumb over point and edges.
“—and now they’re engaged.”
“Confound it!” said Peter explosively. “What’s the matter, Captain Paton? You’re in a very funny mood this morning.” “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I ran the point into my thumb.”
“Are they sharp? And why don’t you take the short one? It would look so much more thrilling in the picture.”
With her parasol she indicated a murderous little affair with a diamond-pointed head and a lead-weighted balance at the butt. Peter’s expression did not change. He merely nodded and she chattered happily on. When he went she hardly knew that he had gone.
By himself he held out his arm straight in front of him. His hand was steady enough. They all thought that he was cool as usual. Men said that Peter Paton had no nerves. He smiled a little ruefully to himself. To hunt a boar on a horse was one thing; to meet one on foot in cold blood was another.
A man would have to be crazy, he thought, not to be scared.
And yet it was only a small boar, they told him. He went over to inspect it with Shorty. It had been netted the night before, and now it was roped in a bullock cart. It was furious and every moment it got angrier.
“Not so very small either,” laughed Shorty. “That’s a ridable boar. I ’ll bet he’s
thirty-two inches at the shoulder. And look at those tushes!”
“That's no mean pig,” said the major. “Are you sure you want to risk it, Peter? I can easily tell old Dundas that the thing is too dangerous.”
“No,” said Peter. He could not back out now.
He tried the haft of male bamboo again. He ran his eye over the brown polished length for possible weaknesses. A hundred and fifty pounds of angry pig at thirty miles an hour ... He would need a good stout spear.
“Of course there’ll be someone ready with a gun—just in case,” said the major.
“I must say, you're a helpful, cheerful crowd,” said Peter. “After all, I’m the one who has to stand the gaff. And I’d almost rather there were no guns around. If we do happen to get mixed up someone might get excited, and I’d rather not have to risk getting shot, too.”
Nor at that moment did he particularly care as he looked warily up the bed of the dry nullah which had been chosen as the final scene of the picture.
At this season of the year the sandy bed was sun-baked to the hardness of rock. On either hand, undercut by the wet season torrents, the banks rose steeply, shutting out the hot wind which whispered over the dry brown grasses of the plains.
On top of the bank a couple of hundred yards away, men struggled to lift the fighting boar from the bottom of the cart. Their shouts and curses came clearly in the silent heat.
THEY LAID him down. When the time came they were to tip him over the bank. He would arrive at the bottom a furious mass of red-eyed destruction. His first instinct would be to fight; to go for whatever moved. A fence of thorns had been arranged to stop him going up the nullah. He could not scale the floodwashed concave banks. He must come down—to where Peter stood to meet him, on foot. Then it would be as man to beast without favor. A hundred and fifty pounds of fighting boar pitted against the same weight of man. Nerve, skill and knowledge were not enough. There must be luck, too.
At the mouth of the nullah the scene was already being played. The commissioner’s voice came loudly through the ovenlike air at the bottom of the nullah.
Felicity was lying on the ground. Beauty bent over her. Peter turned away. He went to stand on the bank top beside the major.
“Unreal,” said the major with a wave of his cheroot at the crowd in the watercourse at their feet. In the quivering heat radiated from the rocky walls the commissioner’s horse seemed to have no legs, the Dundas car no wheels, and the two actors were almost invisible.
Mrs. Dundas lay back on the rear seat of her car. The Indian chauffeur sat impassively at the wheel. He looked neither to right nor left. He seemed impervious to this new madness.
“That’ll do,” shouted the commissioner. “Now we’ll shoot the last scene of all. This is where the boar has been killed. Take her in your arms, Beauclerc. You’ve undergone a terrible strain.”
“Terrific!” snorted Shorty.
“Captain Marsh!” said Mrs. Dundas severely. “I must ask you to be quiet. Can’t you understand this is art?”
“Art my foot,” breathed Shorty. “George,” said Mrs. Dundas. “Tell him to kiss her.”
“Yes, dear,” said the commissioner obediently.
Beauty kissed Felicity. She lay in his arms unresistingly. Bareheaded, she leaned back, and the early sun touched the russet sweep of her hair. Her eyes were closed. She looked pale and rather tired.
“That’s good,” boomed the commissioner. “And now—”
His words were cut by a sudden cry that froze into stillness.
“Good grief!” gasped the major. “They’ve let it go !”
Peter looked up. He got an instantaneous
picture—of leaping, running figures cut out black against the steely sky, of the cart tipping so slowly that it seemed to hang suspended, of the outspanned bullocks grazing peacefully side by side. The cart was falling—falling—and out of it slid a struggling black mass rolling over and over down the bank in a cloud of dust.
The boar whipped to his feet.
For a space there was stillness broken only by the whistle of the kites wheeling overhead and the patter of dust raised by the hissing wind. The shadows lay deep along one bank. For the rest, the sand and rocks were the color of hot honey. In the middle of the gully stood that still mass in its own black pool of shadow.
The sun caught the gleam of tushes. The dust cloud settled slowly.
Peter thought quickly. Two hundred yards to go; perhaps fifteen seconds to spare. He leaped out and down, fifteen feet to the hot sand below.
As he jumped the treacherous bank gave way. He felt it go. Instinctively he cast away his spear. Falling, he saw it drop clear, lead-weighted butt down. He put out his hands as the ground came up to meet him.
All that was clear, but in that moment came confusion. There were shouts and a woman’s scream of fear, high and thin on the hot, still air. He remembered Felicity. He knew it was not her cry, but she was there.
For a moment he lay stunned. Blood on his lips was salty and curiously refreshing. Blindly he stumbled to his feet, fumbling for the spear which lay just within his grasp.
For a still moment they faced each other —man and beast—over the burning sand. The boar shook his great head. He let out an explosive grunt. He swung into the charge.
Peter wiped sweat from his eyes. He rubbed his hands on the thighs of his breeches. He braced his feet to meet the charge.
He felt himself whirled around. The hot world reeled. The bamboo spear haft cracked against his ribs. It drove the breath from his body in a choking gasp. There was a wrench at his wrists and the bamboo seemed to give. He closed his grip on it. He hung on.
He swung in swirling space. For a moment he hung poised. He smelt pig, intolerably strong and warm. The hard sun-baked earth rose up. It hit him in the small of the back ; a heavy, unyielding blow. He let go the spear. Hot stuffy darkness lay over his eves;
CO THIS was how it felt. Not as bad as he ^ had thought, he decided. Only a pain in the ribs and that hot darkness over the eyes.
He tried to sit up. He pushed at the darkness with his hands. The dark gave way to blinding light, and he became aware that it was only his hat which had fallen over his eyes.
He felt his ribs with tender fingertips. There did not seem to be anything much gone there, he decided. Perhaps a rib—he wasn’t sure.
He spat gritty dust from his mouth. He sat blinking at the world in wonder.
"Oh, Peter, darling ...”
He shut his eyes. Cool fingers touched his forehead. He leaned his head back against softness.
Then he remembered. He rose cautiously to his feet. There was still the sand the color of hot honey and the same ridiculous little shouting figures black against the sky—just as there had been a hundred years ago. The peaceful bullocks still grazed. This was no concern of theirs.
A wrecked camera lay overturned, pointing stiff legs mutely to the sky. The boar lay dead, his great head stretched between his feet in mute supplication to his gods. “Oh, Peter, I was so frightened.”
“You didn’t have to be,” he said thickly. “It wasn’t me. It was you. You were so splendid.”
Again he remembered. There had been the others.
“Where are they?” he asked.
“Gone, I suppose,” she said. “They seemed to be in rather a hurry. They piled on the running boards of Aunt Mary’s car. And you ought to have seen Uncle George. He nearly fell off, poor dear.”
“And they left you?”
“I suppose so.”
“And Beauty, too?”
“Oh, Beauty !” she paused. “He was first on the car. At least I think he was. It was rather funny to watch them.”
“You ought to have gone, too,” he said. “There wasn’t room. Besides, I don’t know that I wanted to.”
“Felicity,” he said.
Peter never quite knew how it happened. She lay light as air in his arms. The silk of her shirt caught on the dusty roughness of his hands. He kissed her. Her mouth and her lids happily closed over her grey eyes.
Standing on the sand the color of hot honey, Felicity opened her grey eyes to look at Peter once more.
“Now say something nice,” she whispered, her fingertips tracing the line of the silvery scar on his cheek.
“I—I—” Peter stammered. “I’m not very good at that.”
“Try—the nicest thing you can think of,” she whispered.
“I—I’d say that you were staunch to pig,” he said.