E-text prepared by Al Haines
BETTY AT FORT BLIZZARD
MOLLY ELLIOT SEAWELL
Author of "Betty's Virginia Christmas," "Papa Bouchard," "The Jugglers," "Little Jarvis," Etc.
With Illustrations in Color and from Pen Drawings by Edmund Frederick
[Frontispiece: Anita walked down the stairs and came face to face with Broussard and Mrs. Lawrence. (missing from book)]
Philadelphia & London J. B. Lippincott Company 1916 Copyright, 1916, by John Wanamaker Book News Monthly Under title "Colonel Fortescue's Betty" Copyright, 1916, by J. B. Lippincott Company Published September, 1916 Reprinted October 20, 1916
ELEANOR T. WOOD
THE GENTLE LADY
WHOSE PATH THROUGH LIFE IS RADIANT
WITH GOOD DEEDS
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED
I. "MISS BETTY" IN A NEW ROLE II. A PRETTY MAID AND A GAMECHICK III. THE HEART OF A MAID IV. "GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BYE" V. UNFORGETTING VI. SOME LETTERS AND KETTLE'S ENLISTMENT VII. THE PLEADING EYES OF WOMEN VIII. LOVE, THE CONQUEROR IX. THE REVEILLE
Anita Walked Down the Stairs and Came Face to Face with Broussard and Mrs. Lawrence . . . . . . Frontispiece
Broussard Lifted Gamechick by the Bridle and the Next Moment Cleared Both Mare and Girl
The Last Glimpse Broussard Had of Anita Was, As She Stood, Her Arm About Gamechick's Neck
"This Was Enclosed in a Letter to Me From Mr. Broussard," said the Colonel
FROM PEN DRAWINGS
The Black Mare Suddenly Threw Her Head Down and Her Heels Up
"Miss Anita is in there with Mr. Broussard, an' He got on His Courtin' Breeches, an' They's Just as Quiet as a Couple of Sleepin' Babies"
"Never Mind, Dear, Darling Daddy, I Love You Just the Same"
Mrs. McGillicuddy Sat Majestically Upright in the Buggy, While the Sergeant Bestrode the Peaceful and Amiable Dot
"Neither You nor Your Child Shall Suffer for the Present"
Kettle Dropped the Reins, and Grasping Corporal Around the Neck Hung on Desperately
"Don't Call Your Father 'the Poor old Chap,'" Said Mrs. Fortescue Positively
BETTY AT FORT BLIZZARD
"MISS BETTY" IN A NEW ROLE
Colonel John Hope Fortescue, commanding the fine new cavalry post of Fort Blizzard, in the far Northwest, sat in his comfortable office and gazed through the big window at the plaza with its tall flagstaff, from which the splendid regimental flag floated in the crystal cold air of December. Afar off was a broad plateau for drills, an aviation field, and beyond all, a still, snow-bound world, walled in by jagged peaks of ice. It seemed to Colonel Fortescue, who was an idealist and at the same time a crack cavalry officer, that the great flag on the giant flagstaff dominated the frozen world around it, and its stars were a part of the firmament. When the sun rose and the flag was run up, then indeed it was sunrise. And when the sun descended in majesty, so the flag descended in glory.
As the last pale gleam of splendor touched the flag, the sunset gun cracked out suddenly. Colonel Fortescue and his right-hand man for twenty years, Sergeant Patrick McGillicuddy, rose to their feet and stood at "attention," as the flag fell slowly. Then it was reverently furled, and the color sergeant, with the guard, started toward the Colonel's quarters, all whom they passed making way for them and saluting the furled colors.
Colonel Fortescue continued to look out of the window, while Sergeant McGillicuddy, getting some belated mail together, passed out of the office entrance of the fine new commandant's quarters. Two horsewomen—Mrs. Fortescue, she who had been Betty Beverley, and her seventeen-year-old Anita—followed by a trooper as escort, were coming through the main entrance. Colonel Fortescue's eyes softened as he watched his wife and daughter, Mrs. Fortescue as slim as when she was Betty Beverley of old in Virginia, and riding as lightly and gracefully as a bird on the wing.
There were two other watchers besides the Colonel. These two stood at the drawing-room window. One was tall and black and kind-eyed, with the unquenchable kindness of the colored race. His official name was Solomon Ezekiel Pickup, but ever since Mrs. Fortescue, as Betty Beverley, had taken him, a little waif, forlorn and homeless and friendless, he had been simply Kettle, being as black as a kettle. He had watched and adored the baby days of "Marse Beverley," the straight young stripling now training to be a soldier at West Point, and Anita, the violet-eyed daughter, the adored of her father's heart, but Kettle had not come into his own until the two-year-old baby, John Hope Fortescue II, had arrived in a world which did not expect him, but welcomed him the more rapturously on that account. The new baby had taken everybody by surprise, and immediately acquired the name of the After-Clap. He coolly approved of his father and mother, and thought Anita an entertaining person when she got down on the floor to play with him. Naturally he was indifferent to his twenty-year-old brother, whom he had never seen, but Kettle—his own Kettle—was the beloved of the After-Clap's heart. Next to Kettle in his affections was Mrs. McGillicuddy, the six-foot-two wife of Sergeant McGillicuddy, who had eight children, of assorted sizes, and still found time to do a great deal for the After-Clap.
Mrs. Fortescue, riding briskly across the plaza, and seeing Kettle, so black, holding in his arms the laughing baby, so white, smiled and waved her hand at them. Then, catching sight of the Commanding Officer, standing at the window of his office, she smiled at him. But Colonel Fortescue was not smiling; on the contrary, he was frowning as his eyes fell upon Mrs. Fortescue's mount, Birdseye, a light built black mare, with a shifty eye and a propensity to make free with her hind feet. More than once Colonel Fortescue had reminded Mrs. Fortescue that it was somewhat beneath the dignity of a Commanding Officer's wife to ride a kicking horse. But Mrs. Fortescue had a sneaking affection for Birdseye and much preferred her to Pretty Maid, the brown mare Anita rode, and who was considered as demure as Anita, and Anita was very demure, and very, very pretty. At least, so thought Lieutenant Victor Broussard, watching her out of the tail of his eye, as he passed some distance away. It was not so far away, however, that Anita could not see the handsome turn of his close-cropped black head, and his eyes full of laughter and courage and impudence. As some things go by contraries, the glimpse of Broussard made Anita dismount quickly from Pretty Maid and flit within doors to avoid the sight of him. Once indoors, Anita ran where she could catch a last look of Broussard's young figure, his cavalry cape thrown back, before he turned the corner and was gone.
Colonel Fortescue, at the office window, returned a salute, without a smile, to Mrs. Fortescue's greeting from afar. His teeth came together with a snap.
"It's the last time," he said aloud—meaning that Mrs. Fortescue would have to submit to his judgment in horses and let Birdseye alone.
What happened next turned the Colonel's resolution to adamant. A trooper was leading Pretty Maid away and another trooper was about to do the same for Birdseye when the black mare suddenly threw her head down and her heels up. Mrs. Fortescue kept her seat, while the mare, backing, and kicking as she backed, knocked over a couple of the passing color guard, and only by adroitness the color sergeant saved the flag from being dropped to the ground. Meanwhile, the two troopers, falling backward, collided with the chaplain, a small, meek man, as brave as a lion, who stopped to look and was ignominiously bowled over. Sergeant McGillicuddy, just coming out of the office entrance, made a dash forward and grabbed Birdseye by the bridle. The mare, still unable to unseat Mrs. Fortescue or to break away from the wiry little Sergeant, yet managed to scatter all the official mail in the Sergeant's hand on the snow. Kettle, who could not have remained away from "Miss Betty" under such circumstances to save his life, dropped the baby on the drawing-room floor and rushed out. This the After-Clap resented, shrieking wildly.
The combination of the kicking mare, the fallen troopers, the prostrate chaplain, and the screaming baby at once determined Colonel Fortescue to remain in his office; what he had to say to Mrs. Fortescue would not sound well in public. Unlike Kettle, Colonel Fortescue had no fear whatever for Mrs. Fortescue, and watched calmly from the window as Sergeant McGillicuddy brought Birdseye to her four feet. Mrs. Fortescue sprang to the ground and apologized gracefully to the chaplain, assuring him that Birdseye was the best disposed horse in the world, except when she was in a temper and her temper was merely bashfulness and stage fright.
"Whatever it is," answered Chaplain Brown, smiling while he rubbed a bruised shin, "it hurts. It hurts pretty badly, too."
Next, Mrs. Fortescue apologized profusely to the troopers who had been knocked down by the bashful Birdseye. After their kind, they preferred a kicker to a non-kicker, and accepted, with delighted grins, Mrs. Fortescue's sweet words. But it was another thing when Mrs. Fortescue had to face a frowning husband.
Mrs. Fortescue tripped into the Colonel's office, and going up to Colonel Fortescue gave him two soft kisses and a lovely smile, and this is what she got in return, in the Colonel's parade-ground voice:
"I supposed I had made myself perfectly clear, Elizabeth, in regard to your riding that kicking mare."
"But, darling," replied Mrs. Fortescue, "I thought you wouldn't mind. And please don't call me Elizabeth. It breaks my heart."
"I must ask—in fact, insist—that you shall not ride that mare again," answered the Colonel sternly, without taking any notice of Mrs. Fortescue's breaking heart.
"And her name is Birdseye," plaintively responded Mrs. Fortescue. "Don't you remember, the first horse you ever put me on was your first Birdseye."
Mrs. Fortescue accompanied this information with a little pinch of the Colonel's ear. The Colonel remained coldly unresponsive; he had steeled his heart; the kisses and the pinch were hard to resist, but hardest of all the look of wide-eyed innocence in the dark eyes uplifted to his. Mrs. Fortescue would never see forty again, and her rich hair had a wide streak of silver running from her right temple; but she was the same Betty Beverley of twenty years before. The Betty Beverleys of this world are dowered with immortal youth and change but little, even under strange stars.
Mrs. Fortescue had never in her life been at the end of her resources for placating men. She withdrew her arms from about her husband's neck, and running lightly into the drawing-room took the After-Clap from Kettle's arms, and, throwing him pick-a-back on her shoulders, tripped with her beautiful man-child into the Colonel's office. Mrs. Fortescue and the baby were the only persons who ever took liberties with Colonel Fortescue.
The baby, charmed with his father's uniform, seized a shoulder strap with one hand and grabbed the Colonel's carefully trimmed mustache with the other, and lifted a pair of laughing eyes, wonderfully like his mother's, into his father's face. Mrs. Fortescue, at first as demure as any C. O.'s wife in the world, suddenly smiled the radiant smile that began with her eyes and ended with her lips. The woman's cunning was too much for the man's strength. Colonel Fortescue put his arm around his wife, as she laid the baby's rose-leaf face against his father's bronzed cheek. Husband and wife looked into each other's eyes and smiled. With this baby their lost youth was restored to them. Once more the Colonel was a slim young lieutenant, and Mrs. Fortescue was holding in her arms another dark-eyed, rose-leafed baby, now a young soldier in the gray uniform of a military cadet. They, themselves, could scarcely realize the flitting of the years. This new baby was a glorious surprise in their later married life. The baby's little hand had led them backward to the splendid sunrise of their married happiness.
"It is because I love you so that I can't—I won't let you ride that black devil, Betty dear," said the Colonel.
"How ridiculous!" replied Mrs. Fortescue. "You know I can ride as well as you can—can't I, After-Clap?"
"Goo-goo-goo-goo!" replied the baby, positively.
"And I never could understand why you should take the trouble to get angry with me," Mrs. Fortescue kept on, "when you can't stay angry with me to save your life."
Colonel Fortescue made a last stand.
"But if I didn't get angry with you sometimes, Betty——"
"'Betty' sounds cheerful," interrupted Mrs. Fortescue, and then there was peace between them.
Mrs. Fortescue and the Colonel went up-stairs to dress for dinner, and Kettle, on watch in the hall, took charge of the After-Clap, who commanded to be taken back into the office. Kettle, as always, promptly obeyed, and putting the baby on Sergeant McGillicuddy's desk, allowed the After-Clap to wreck everything in sight.
It had not been originally designed that Kettle should be the After-Clap's nurse. The colored mammy who had nursed Beverley and Anita with tender devotions having gone to her well-earned rest, Mrs. Fortescue had determined to be very modern with the After-Clap. A smart young trained nurse, in a ravishing cap, was his first nurse. But the baby showed such marked preference for Kettle, and Kettle dogging the baby by day and night and thrusting superfluous services and advice upon the nurse, she decided she would not stand being "bossed by a nigger," and took a train for the East. Then, Mrs. Fortescue determined to return to first principles and imported from Virginia, at great cost and trouble, a colored mammy, most capable and experienced. But the complications with Kettle grew more acute, and the mammy, in a blaze of indignation, took even stronger ground than the trained nurse, and declared she "warn't goin' to be bossed by no black nigger." When she had shaken the snow of Fort Blizzard from her feet, there was nothing left but to hand the baby over to Kettle and Mrs. McGillicuddy, as coadjutor. After tending her own brood and keeping a sharp eye on Anna Maria McGillicuddy, her eldest daughter, who had reached the stage of beaux, and cooking the best meals for the Sergeant that any sergeant could ask, Mrs. McGillicuddy still had time to lend a helping hand with the After-Clap.
Kettle and Mrs. McGillicuddy had been good friends ever since the time, nineteen years before, when she had become the little Sergeant's two-hundred-pound bride. But in the twenty years, during which Kettle had never left "Miss Betty" and Sergeant McGillicuddy had been Colonel Fortescue's factotum, there had been a continual guerilla warfare between Kettle and the Sergeant. The Sergeant alluded scornfully to Kettle as "the naygur," while with Kettle the Sergeant was always "ole McGillicuddy." Mrs. McGillicuddy was invariably on Kettle's side, and one blast upon her bugle horn was worth ten thousand men in what Kettle called his "collusions," with the Sergeant. Sergeant McGillicuddy had performed prodigies of valor in fights with Indians; he had been mentioned in general order, along with Colonel Fortescue, and was commonly reputed to fear neither the devil nor the doctor. But he was under iron discipline with Mrs. McGillicuddy, and Kettle, like everybody else, knew it.
While the After-Clap was disporting himself with the articles on the Sergeant's desk, under the full glare of the electric light, a shadow passed the window. The next minute Sergeant McGillicuddy entered, the lion in him aroused by the sight of the liberties taken with his desk.
"I say, you naygur," snorted the Sergeant wrathfully, "you take that baby off my desk and out of this office. The C. O's office ain't no day nursery."
"You go to grass," replied Kettle boldly.
The reason for Kettle's boldness was in sight. Mrs. McGillicuddy's majestic figure was seen approaching from the region back of the dining-room, and she had heard the Sergeant's remark about the C. O.'s office being a day nursery.
"And it's you, Patrick McGillicuddy," cried Mrs. McGillicuddy, sailing into the office, "the father of eight children, complaining of this sweet blessed lamb."
"D' ye mean the naygur?" asked McGillicuddy.
Mrs. McGillicuddy, scorning to reply, seized the baby, and with Kettle following marched out. It was not really judicious for the After-Clap to be taken into the C. O.'s office.
The Sergeant began meekly to straighten up his desk, and Colonel Fortescue, coming in later to glance over the evening newspaper, found McGillicuddy gazing meditatively at the Articles of War, lying in a volume on the table.
The Sergeant was not the modern educated non-com, with an eye to a commission, but an old-timer, unlearned in books, but an expert in handling men and horses.
"What is it, Sergeant?" asked the C. O.
"Just this, sir," replied the Sergeant respectfully, "I was thinkin' a man ought to be mighty keerful when he picks out a wife."
"Certainly," replied the Colonel, gravely, who had exercised no forethought at all, after once falling under the spell of Betty Beverley's laughing eyes.
"When I got married I didn't act rash at all, sir, because I'm by nature a timid man," continued the Sergeant, who was a valiant man, and free. "I went to a palmist and paid him a dollar for my horrorscope. I told him I wanted a little woman, about my size, who would follow me around like a poodle dog. The palmist, he said, sir, he seen a little woman in my hand as would follow me around like a poodle dog. Then I went to a reg'lar fortune teller, and she told me the same thing, for a dollar. And I went to a mind reader, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, and she promised me the little woman, too. I bought a dream book and there was the same little woman again, sir. Within a fortnight after all this I met Araminta Morrarity, as is now Missis Patrick McGillicuddy, and she is six-foot-two-and-three-quarters inches in height, and tipped the scale then at a hundred and ninety-six pounds—and I'm the lightest man in the regiment. Missis McGillicuddy has been a good wife, sir—I ain't sayin' a word about that, sir."
"I should think not," replied Colonel Fortescue, to whom the Sergeant's married life was known intimately for nineteen years, "Mrs. McGillicuddy keeps all the soldiers' wives satisfied and is a boon to the regiment."
"That's so, sir," the Sergeant agreed, "and the chaplain, he compliments her on the way she marches them eight children and me to the chapel every Sunday, rain or shine, me havin' the right of the line, Missis McGillicuddy herself bein' the rear guard, the line properly dressed, no stragglers, everything done soldier-like. But Missis McGillicuddy don't follow me around like a poodle dog, as the palmist, and the mind reader, and the dream book said she would. She's hell-bent—excuse me sir—on havin' her own way all the time."
Just then a vision flitted past the door. It was Anita, dressed for dinner, in a filmy gown of pale blue and white, the colors of the Blessed Damozel. A light came into Colonel Fortescue's eyes as they rested on this darling of his heart. The Sergeant had a pretty daughter, Anna Maria by name, who was just Anita's age and of whom the Sergeant was extravagantly fond. The two fathers, the Colonel and the Sergeant, exchanged intelligent glances. Often, in their twenty years of daily association, they talked together about things of which they never spoke to any other man.
"Anna Maria is a fine girl," said the Colonel.
"Yes, sir," answered the Sergeant, "if she'd just get over the fancy she has for Briggs, the artillery corporal. That man is bound to be killed by a wheel runnin' over him. You know, sir, if there is anything on earth that skeers me stiff it is a horse hitched to any kind of a vehicle. I don't mind ridin' 'em because then the horse's heels is behind me. But in a vehicle the horse's heels is in front of me, and it makes me nervous. I have told Anna Mariar that she shan't so much as look at Briggs unless he exchanges into the cavalry, so the horse's heels will be behind him, and not in front of him."
The entrance bell rang, and Kettle went to the front door. Colonel Fortescue could neither hear nor see the visitor, but the step and the sound of a military cloak thrown on a chair indicated the arrival of a junior lieutenant. Colonel Fortescue looked annoyed. The junior officer running after Anita bothered him even more than Briggs, the artillery corporal, bothered Sergeant McGillicuddy. Anita was but a child—only seventeen; the Colonel had proclaimed this when he brought Anita to the post. Colonel Fortescue did all that a father and a Colonel could do to keep the junior lieutenants away from Anita, but no method has yet been found to keep junior officers away from pretty girls.
There were still twenty minutes before dinner, and the scoundrel, as Colonel Fortescue classified all the juniors who, like himself, adored Anita, seemed determined to stay until the musical gong sounded, and later, if he were asked. This particular scoundrel, Broussard, was the one to whom the Colonel most objected of all the slim, good-looking scoundrels who wore shoulder straps, for Broussard had too much money to spend, and spent it wildly, so the Colonel thought; he, himself, had something handsome besides his pay, but he had also a sensible father who held him down. Broussard had too many motors, too many horses, too many dogs, too many clothes, too many fighting chickens, and, above all, was too intimate with a certain soldier, a gentleman-ranker who was disapproved, both of officer and man. A gentleman-ranker is a man serving in the rank who might be an officer. This one, Lawrence by name, was a bad lot altogether. The Colonel could add quite a respectable number of demerits to Broussard's credit. And to make matters worse, Broussard was a dashing fellow, the best rider in his troop, and had a way with him that made Anita's eyes soften and her tea-rose cheeks brighten when he came within her presence.
Meanwhile, Broussard was walking up the long and handsome drawing-room toward the little glass room at the end, which had been fitted up for Anita's birds, her doves and her canaries.
Anita, leaning backward in the cushioned window seat, held to her breast a fluttering white dove. She did not see Broussard until he was quite in the little room, and had closed the glass door after him. As Anita gave Broussard her hand, a great wave of delicate color flooded her face. This quickened the beating of Broussard's heart—Anita did not blush like that for everybody. She had a gentle aloofness generally toward men which was a baffling mystery to her mother.
Broussard, being frankly in love with Anita, lost all his importance and presumption in her sweet presence, and was as gentle and modest as the white dove that Anita still held to her breast. As he longed to sit near her and ask her poignant questions, Broussard sat a long way off and talked common-places, chiefly about birds, of which he showed a surprising knowledge, gleaned that afternoon from the encyclopaedia, in anticipation of his visit. Also, Broussard had, very artfully, secured a traitor in the enemy's camp because it was well understood at Fort Blizzard that Colonel Fortescue was the enemy of every subaltern at the post who dared to raise his sacrilegious eyes to the Colonel's daughter.
This traitor was Kettle, into whose hand Broussard never failed to place a quarter whenever they met, and at the same time to wink gravely. Kettle knew the meaning both of the quarter and the wink.
Across the hall Kettle was arranging the dinner table, it being Mrs. McGillicuddy's duty to put the After-Clap to bed. The dining-room door was ajar, and Kettle kept an eye open to Broussard's advantage.
Presently, Mrs. Fortescue came down-stairs, dressed for dinner in a gown of a jocund yellow, which Colonel Fortescue liked. As she passed the open door of the handsome dining-room, Kettle beckoned to her mysteriously. Mrs. Fortescue walked into the room and Kettle closed the door after her.
"Miss Betty," whispered Kettle earnestly, "doan' you go into that there apiary," by which Kettle meant the aviary. "Miss Anita is in there with Mr. Broussard, an' he got on his courtin' breeches, an' they's jest as quiet as a couple of sleepin' babies."
A look of annoyance came to Mrs. Fortescue's expressive eyes. The Colonel had imbued her with disapproval of the man of too many motors and horses and dogs and clothes and fighting chickens.
Mrs. Fortescue waved Kettle away and marched into the hall, where she met Colonel Fortescue coming out of his office.
"It's Broussard," she whispered to the Colonel.
Together they entered the long drawing-room. Broussard and Anita were leaning forward; Anita's face was still deeply flushed. Her beloved white dove fluttered, unnoticed, about her white-shod feet. When the glass door opened and Colonel and Mrs. Fortescue entered the little glass room, both Anita and Broussard started violently—a sign of captive love.
Mrs. Fortescue was gracious, merely because she could not help it, and the Colonel treated Broussard with the elaborate courtesy which a Colonel shows to a subaltern and which makes the subaltern look and feel the size of the head of a pin. Naturally, Broussard hastened his leave-taking and received no invitation to remain, except from Anita's eyes, shy and long-lashed.
When the Colonel and Mrs. Fortescue and Anita were sitting at the softly-shaded round table in the dining-room, Anita's chair was close to her father's—the two were never far apart when they could be close together. Mrs. Fortescue wore around her white throat a locket with a miniature in it of her boy soldier. He was to her what Anita was to the Colonel, but being a stout-hearted woman she had sent her son away to be a soldier and had worn a smile at parting. There was a strain of the Spartan mother in this smiling daughter, wife, and mother of soldiers.
"Did you have a pleasant visit from Mr. Broussard?" asked Colonel Fortescue.
"Very pleasant, daddy dear. He knows so much about birds."
"I think," replied the Colonel, darkly, "Mr. Broussard's knowledge comes chiefly from the study of fighting chickens."
"I hear he has cockfights on Sunday, in the cellar of his quarters," said Mrs. Fortescue, willing to give Broussard a slashing cut under the fifth rib.
"Cocking mains, my dear," corrected the Colonel, and then kept on, earnestly, to Anita.
"Yon can scarcely imagine the horrors of a cockpit. The poor gamecocks, with cruel spurs upon their feet, tearing each other to pieces, and blood and feathers all over the place."
"You seem wonderfully familiar with cockpits," remarked Mrs. Fortescue. "It seems to me, when we went to our first post after we were married, that you were sometimes missing on Sunday morning, and used to tell me afterward about the grand time you had, and the superior fighting qualities of the Savoys over the Bantams."
The Colonel scowled.
"I don't recall the circumstances, Elizabeth," he said.
"But I do, John," tartly responded Mrs. Fortescue.
Anita knew that when it was Jack and Betty the skies were serene, and when it became John and Elizabeth there were clouds upon the horizon.
At this point Kettle, who was serving dinner, felt that his duty as Broussard's ally was to speak.
"Miss Betty," said he with solemn emphasis, "Mr. Broussard doan' keep them chickens in his cellar fur to fight; he keeps 'em to lay aigs fur his breakfus'."
"That's queer," said the Colonel, "all of Mr. Broussard's chickens are cock chickens."
This would have abashed a less ardent partisan, but it only stimulated Kettle.
"Come to think of it, Miss Betty," Kettle continued stoutly, "them chickens is cock chickens, but Mr. Broussard, he keep 'em for fryin' chickens and bri'lers; he eats a cock chicken ev'ry mornin' fur his breakfus', day in and day out."
"Oh, Kettle!" said Anita, in a tone of soft reproach. She disliked the notion of a cockpit, but she was a lover of abstract truth, which Kettle was not.
"Well, Miss Anita," Kettle began argumentatively, "the truth is, Mr. Broussard, he jes' keep them chickens to' 'commodate the chaplain. The chaplain, he's a gre't cockfighter, an' he say, 'Mr. Broussard, the Kun'l is mighty strict, an' kinder queer in his head, an' he ain't no dead game sport like me an' you, so if you will oblige me, Mr. Broussard, jes' keep my fightin' chickens in your cellar, an' if the Kun'l say anything to you, tell him them chickens is yourn. You wouldn't mind a little thing like that, would you, Mr. Broussard?' That's what I hee'rd the chaplain say."
"Kettle!" shouted the Colonel, and Mrs. Fortescue remarked candidly:
"You are a big story-teller, Kettle, there isn't a word of truth in all you have been telling."
"That's so, Miss Betty," announced Kettle, brazenly. "Truth is, Mr. Broussard ain't got no chickens at all in his cellar, he keeps ducks, Miss Betty, 'cause the water rises in the cellar all the time."
Kettle's active help did not end with wholesale lying as a means of helping Broussard. Within a week every time the After-Clap caught sight of Broussard he would shout for "Bruvver." This, Kettle carefully explained, was the baby's way of saying Broussard, but it brought a good many quarters from Broussard's pocket into Kettle's palm.
A PRETTY MAID AND A GAMECHICK
The December days sped on, and Christmas was nearing. As the great, splendid fort was a shut-in place, the people in it made great preparations for Christmas, if only to forget that they were shut in. The Christmas Eve exhibition drill and music ride was to be the principal event of the season, and, wonder of wonders, Anita was to ride with Broussard at the music ride. This was not accomplished without pleadings and even tears from Anita. Mrs. Fortescue took no part in this affair between the Colonel and the adored of his heart; Anita and the Colonel had always settled their problems between themselves solely. Sergeant McGillicuddy had something to do with wringing from the Colonel his consent that Anita should ride with Broussard.
"Accordin' to my way of thinkin', Mr. Broussard is the best rider of all the young orficers, sir," said McGillicuddy to the Colonel, in the seclusion of the office. "Miss Anita, she'd look mighty pretty ridin' with him, and Pretty Maid is as quiet as a lamb, sir, under the saddle. I wouldn't answer for her in shafts, sir. Lord! There's nothin' too devilish for a horse to do in shafts, or hitched to a pole. Missis McGillicuddy can't see it in this light, judgin' from the Christmas gift she's preparin' to give me."
"What is it, McGillicuddy?" asked the Colonel.
"It's a buggy, sir," answered the Sergeant despondently. "When I wanted to enlist in the aviation corps that woman, sir, forbid it; she said to me, 'Patrick McGillicuddy, I never did believe one word about your bein' afraid av horses in wheeled vehicles.' An' ivery time I go up in a flyin' machine, just for the fun av it, Missis McGillicuddy, she says to me 'Patrick, if they was to lop off the f from that flyin' machine, it would fit you to a t, bedad!' And that's the way she talks to me when I spent seven dollars and fifty cents in gettin' prognostications that I was goin' to marry a woman as would follow me around like a poodle dog!"
"Women have a good many burrs in their convolutions," said the Colonel, lighting a cigar and handing a handful to the Sergeant.
"They has, sir," replied McGillicuddy, accepting the cigars with doleful gratitude, "and Missis McGillicuddy threatens to take me out in that buggy on Christmas day. Well, sir, I've made my will and settled up my account at the post trader's, and the aviation orficer has promised to tak' me on a fly Christmas Eve morning. It may be the last fly I'll take until I get wings, for I hardly expects, sir, to escape the dangers of that buggy."
In talking with Mrs. Fortescue about the music ride Colonel Fortescue dwelt upon the superiority of a quiet horse like Pretty Maid over a constitutional kicker like Birdseye.
"It's the quiet ones, horses and women, that need watching," replied Mrs. Fortescue, who had never been accused of being a quiet one.
For two weeks before Christmas the exhibition drill and music ride was the great subject of attention at Fort Blizzard. The most interesting part of the show was the music ride, in which the girls of the post were to ride, each girl having her attendant cavalier. When it was known that Anita was to ride with Broussard all the other sublieutenants who had hoped to sit in Broussard's saddle promptly provided themselves with other charming young ladies of the post. Next to Anita, the best rider was Sally Harlow, the daughter of her who had been Sally Carteret. Mrs. Harlow followed the example of Mrs. Fortescue, whose bridesmaid she had been, and had married within a year the dashing young officer with whom she "stood up" at Mrs. Fortescue's wedding. Mrs. Harlow, like Mrs. Fortescue, showed a marked inability to grow old and was as gay and drank the wine of life as joyously as did her daughter, Sally the Second.
For a fortnight before Christmas the practice rides took place every afternoon in the great riding hall, in which four troops of cavalry could manoeuvre.
As the daughter of the C. O., Anita, with Broussard, was to lead the girl riders and their cavaliers. Broussard called punctually at the Colonel's quarters for Anita, on the red December afternoons, when the air was like champagne and Broussard felt as if his veins ran wine instead of blood. The After-Clap, under Kettle's secret instructions, became valuable ally of Broussard's. Kettle managed that the baby's afternoon ride in his wicker carriage should coincide with Broussard's arrival. The dark-eyed baby, in his little white fur coat and cap and white fur blanket, looked like a snowdrop by the side of Kettle, who, except his shiny teeth, was so black it seemed as if he had been coated with shoe polish. The After-Clap always hailed Broussard with a vigorous shout of "Bruvver! Bruvver!" and Kettle invariably explained:
"He's a-tryin' to say 'Mr. Boosard.'"
At this Broussard would laugh and agree with Kettle that the After-Clap was the knowingest baby in the world, and Anita would blush beautifully. Colonel Fortescue's heart sank when he saw Broussard and Anita walking off together; Broussard so trim and soldierly in his riding uniform and Anita so amazingly pretty in her blue habit and cap, cunningly imitating the cavalry uniform, a fetching dress adopted by all the young ladies who were to take part in the music ride.
The drill and ride were to begin at eight o'clock on Christmas Eve, and afterward there was to be a big ball, for at Fort Blizzard the young girls and young officers ended everything with a ball, where they could "chase the glowing hours with flying feet."
A great silver moon and a mighty host of palpitating stars put the electric lights to shame on Christmas Eve. When Broussard called for Anita, a little before eight, she was waiting, already dressed in the pretty imitation of an officer's uniform—a costume that would make even a plain girl enchanting, and how much more so the violet-eyed Anita? Mrs. Fortescue, in a beautiful ball gown, looked quite as handsome as her daughter. The regimental tailor had been busy all day letting out Colonel Fortescue's full dress uniform and the Colonel fondly hoped that a couple of inches he had gained in girth were concealed by the tailor's art. But Mrs. Fortescue's quick eye discerned it.
"I declare, Jack," she cried, showing off her own figure, as slim as a girl's, "I shall have to put you on a diet of lemon juice and slate pencils if you keep on getting stout!"
At which the Colonel glowered darkly and Anita, putting her arms about his neck, whispered:
"Never mind, dear, darling daddy, I love you just the same."
Mrs. Fortescue, who would have been affable to the Evil One himself, smiled at Broussard. The Colonel was polite but not effusive, having developed a rooted dislike to junior unmarried officers as soon as he found out that Anita had to grow up, like other human beings.
Broussard felt himself in Paradise when he was walking with Anita along the moonlit plaza toward the riding hall. Outside, troopers were leading the restless horses up and down. Pretty Maid did not belie her name, and was the best behaved, as she was the handsomest, of all the mounts of the young ladies. Broussard's Gamechick, a perfectly trained cavalry charger, with an eye and ear of beautiful intelligence, had not his superior among the horses. Sergeant McGillicuddy, who was the best man with horses at Fort Blizzard, was sauntering about, looking at the horses approvingly and saying to all who cared to hear:
"As good a lot of nags as ever I see, and every blarsted one of 'em has got four legs. It's mighty seldom nowadays, you see a four-legged horse; most of 'em has only three legs and some of 'em ain't got as much as two and a half."
The riders, all wearing the same uniform as Broussard and Anita, appeared by twos and fours; bright-eyed young officers and merry girls. Their part was not to come for an hour, but they declared the night was too lovely to go into the waiting-room, and they strolled about and talked horses and dancing and balls and all the happy things that fall out "when youth and pleasure meet."
In the midst of the chatter of the riders and stamping and champing of the blanketed horses, as they were led up and down, Kettle suddenly appeared carrying in his arms a white bundle, which turned out to be the After-Clap. He should have been asleep in his crib for hours, but instead he was wide awake, laughing and crowing and evidently meant, with Kettle's assistance, to make a night of it.
"What do you mean, Kettle, by bringing the baby out this time of night?" asked the surprised Anita.
"I got him all wropped up warm," answered Kettle, apologetically, pointing to the After-Clap's white fur coat and cap. "But that chile knowed there wuz a hoss show on—it's mighty little he doan' know, and after the Kun'l and Miss Betty lef', he begin' to cry for 'Horsey! Horsey!' an I jes' had to take him up an' dress him an' bring him here. An' that's Gord's truth, Miss Anita," a phrase Kettle habitually used when making doubtful statements.
The baby was so obviously happy in this breach of all nursery discipline that Anita had not the heart to send him home. Anita was a soft-hearted creature. Sergeant McGillicuddy, however, explained disgustedly to the waiting troopers and horses how the After-Clap was permitted to begin his career of dissipation.
"I'll bet you a million of monkeys," the Sergeant proclaimed, "as Missis McGillicuddy wasn't on hand when that there baby begun to yell 'Horsey! Horsey!' if he ever did it at all. With eight children av her own and Anna Mariar's beau, Missis McGillicuddy must sometimes stop at home. Lord help the naygur if Missis McGillicuddy should favor this evint with her prisince!"
The sympathies of the soldiers were entirely with the After-Clap, who loved soldiers, knowing them to be his true friends, and was never happier than with his big, kind, blue-coated playmates, the troopers, with their rattling sabres and clanking spurs.
Sergeant McGillicuddy, being himself under Mrs. McGillicuddy's iron rule, did not approve of Kettle's breach of discipline and hatched a scheme to catch him. With a countenance as inscrutable as the Sphinx, he stepped to the telephone booth, shut the door carefully, and held a short conversation over the wire with Mrs. McGillicuddy. When the Sergeant came out of the telephone booth his face was not inscrutable but expressed pure human joy and triumph.
"It's Missis McGillicuddy as 'll do for ye," said the Sergeant with a grin, going up to Kettle, holding the delighted After-Clap in his arms.
"Go 'long, man," answered Kettle, "Mrs. McGillicuddy ain't my boss. She's yourn."
This language, uttered toward a man with chevrons and three stripes on his sleeve, naturally incensed the Sergeant. He had learned, however, in twenty years of warfare with Kettle, that it was very hard to get him punished.
"The naygur never has found out that orders is orders," remarked the Sergeant to the lookers on. "But Missis McGillicuddy can wallop him with one hand tied behind her back, and she'll do it, too, when she finds out about the kiddie bein' out this time of night."
This was no idle threat. Fifteen minutes later, when Kettle and the After-Clap were at the height of their enjoyment, Mrs. McGillicuddy, with only a shawl over her head, in the keen December night, was seen stalking across the plaza and toward the group of men and horses outside the drill ball; the riders had trooped into the waiting-room for coffee and sandwiches before the ride began. The troopers, who knew and admired Mrs. McGillicuddy, made way for her respectfully as she swooped down on Kettle, to his complete surprise.
"Solomon!" shouted Mrs. McGillicuddy.
Whenever Mrs. McGillicuddy used Kettle's baptismal name it meant the same thing as when Colonel Fortescue called Mrs. Fortescue "Elizabeth,"—there was trouble brewing.
"And it's you," continued Mrs. McGillicuddy, in a voice like a bassoon in a rage, "as the Colonel and Mrs. Fortescue trusted their innocent lamb, and when they are peacefully watchin' the show you take this pore baby out of his warm bed and brings him out here to catch his death of cold, and Patrick McGillicuddy, you'll laugh on the wrong side of your face when I get you home, and the Colonel shall know this, if my name is Araminta McGillicuddy."
With that Mrs. McGillicuddy tore the After-Clap from Kettle's arms. Like Kettle and McGillicuddy and the admiring crowd of troopers, the baby knew enough to maintain silence when Mrs. McGillicuddy had the floor.
"Right 'bout face and march," screamed Mrs. McGillicuddy to Kettle, who meekly obeyed her, "and McGillicuddy 'll hear from me when he comes home to-night!"
Mrs. McGillicuddy then, with Kettle walking in advance, his head hanging down, followed with the After-Clap and took the way to the C. O.'s quarters, where the baby, much to his disappointment, was again laid in his crib and Kettle was promised terrors to come like those of the Day of Judgment.
McGillicuddy, standing in the moonlight among the riderless horses and grinning troopers, forestalled criticism by handing out a card on which a legend was inscribed in large letters.
"Boys," said the Sergeant, solemnly, "there's my rule for all married men in the service and out av it. It's the Golden Rule of married life, boys, and it ought to be added to the Articles of War and the Regulations. Here it is, boys, 'Doant munkey with the buzz saw.'"
Meanwhile, within the vast riding hall the splendid pageant was taking place. The lofty roof was hung with flags of all nations entwined with ropes and wreaths of Christmas greens and crimson and gold electric lights. In the middle of the roof, dark and high, hung a great silken flag of the United States, with the electric lights so arranged as to throw a halo of glory upon it. The galleries were full of officers and ladies in brilliant ball costumes for the ball that was to follow. Under the galleries the soldiers and their families were massed. Over the wide entrance door was the musicians' gallery, where the regimental band, and Neroda, their leader, a handsome Italian, with their gleaming instruments, made a great splash of vivid color against the sombre wall. Opposite the entrance was the Commanding Officer's box, beautifully draped with flags and wreaths of holly. In the box sat the Colonel and Mrs. Fortescue, both looking wonderfully young and handsome. The Colonel caught sight of the chaplain peering in at a window below; the chaplain knew a horse from an automobile, and loved horses too much for the good of his soul, so he thought. In a moment a messenger came with the Colonel's compliments and the request for the chaplain's company, and the chaplain obeyed with alacrity and a joy almost unholy.
Above the murmur of conversation and laughter the band dominated, playing soft Italian music. Suddenly and silently, as if in a dream, the great entrance doors drew apart, the band changed into a great military fanfare, and a splendid troop of cavalry charged in, the lithe young troopers and the sleek horses with muscles of steel under their satin skins, horse and man moving as one. After a dash around the hall, they proceeded to show what troopers and horses could do. The soldiers rode bareback and upside down, got on and off the horses in ways incredible, made pyramids of troopers, the horses galloping at full speed, stopped like machines, dismounted, the horses lay down and the troopers, at full length, pounded out deadly imaginary volleys into unseen enemies.
When this was over and the troopers had trotted out amid thunders of applause, the great doors again slid open as if by magic and a battery of light artillery rushed in, the band thundering out "For He Is a Son of a Gun." The drivers, with four horses to each gun, sat like statues, as did the three artillerymen, erect, with folded arms, as straight and still as men of steel, and their backs to the horses, as the guns sped around the hall and turned and twisted marvellously, never a wheel touching, but always within three inches of disaster. Loud applause greeted the wonderful spectacle of gunners, horses and gun carriages inspired by an almost superhuman intelligence.
When the battery had passed out and the doors were closed there was a short pause. The next and last event was the music ride by the officers and girls, the prettiest sight in the world. Middle-aged matrons and gray-mustached officers smiled in anticipation of seeing their rosebud daughters, on beautiful horses, admired and applauded of all.
In the C. O.'s box, Mrs. Fortescue, opening her fan, leaned over and smiled into the Colonel's face.
"She'll do it," whispered the Colonel confidently, meaning that Anita would do her act more gracefully and brilliantly than any girl who ever rode a horse.
The band once more struck up, the great doors drew wide apart, this time with a clang, and the procession of youth and beauty and valor dashed upon the tanbark. The officers were resplendent, while the girls, in their daring imitation of the uniform and with cavalry caps upon their pretty heads, looked like young Amazons riding to war. Broussard and Anita, who led the cavalcade, were the best riders where all were good. Pretty Maid and Gamechick seemed on the best of terms and their stride fitted perfectly.
The procession circled around the hall at a canter, and as Anita and Broussard, leading the procession, reached a point in front of the C. O.'s box, they both saluted, Anita raising her little gauntleted hand to her cavalry cap. Colonel Fortescue stood up and returned the salute as the riders passed, two by two. Next began the scene of beautiful horsemanship, pure and simple, winding up with the Virginia reel, done by the riders on horseback, as the band played the old reel, "Billy in the Low Grounds."
Then came the last feature of all; the ride formed again, and, suddenly quickening their pace to a full gallop, started upon the circuit of the hall. They swept around the circle at a sharp gallop, the clanking spurs and rattling sabres keeping time to the roar of the music. Anita was riding like a bird on the wing and Pretty Maid, who had behaved with her usual grace and decorum, opening and shutting her stride like a machine. Just as she got in front of the C. O.'s box the mare suddenly lost her head. She hesitated, bringing her four feet together in a way that would have thrown over her head a rider less expert than Anita. Behind her the line of riders was thrown into slight confusion with the unexpected halt.
The movements of animals are so much quicker than those of men that the eye can scarcely follow them. One instant Anita was in her saddle; the next Pretty Maid stopped, crouched, gave a wild spring, fell prone on her knees, and rolled over, struggling violently. Anita, half thrown and half slipped from her saddle, was on the tanbark, directly in front of Gamechick.
She straightened out her slim figure full length, and closed her eyes. Broussard's horse was then not six feet away from her and coming on as if the trumpeters were sounding the charge.
A great groan rose from the floor and the galleries; the band played on wildly, losing its perfect tempo and each musician playing for himself, but still playing as a band should play on in terrible crises. The line of riders was sharply checked, the perfectly trained horses coming to a dead stop within ten seconds. In the C. O.'s box the chaplain was on his feet, his hands clasped in silent supplication; Mrs. Fortescue, braver than a brave soldier, put her arm about her husband's neck, as Colonel Fortescue swayed about in his seat like a drunken man. Amid the blare of the band and the riders and chargers almost upon the struggling horse and motionless girl, lying on the tanbark, Broussard, coolly, as if he were on the parade ground, lifted Gamechick by the bridle, gave him a touch of the spur, and the next moment cleared both mare and girl, with twenty inches between Gamechick's iron-shod hind hoofs and Anita's beautiful blonde head.
It had all passed in twenty seconds by the clock, but to those who watched it seemed a long hour of agony. The moment the leap was made, Anita sprang to her feet and Broussard was on the tanbark. Wild cheering almost drowned the crash of the band; some of the women were weeping and others laughing hysterically, the men cheering like madmen. Broussard smilingly picked up Anita's cavalry cap, which had fallen on the tanbark, brushed it and put it on Anita's pretty head; some words, unheard by others, passed between them. The mare then lay perfectly quiet. Broussard, amid the roar of cheers and shouts and furious handclapping and music, got the mare on her feet. She stood trembling, frightened and ashamed; Anita patted her neck gently and rubbed her nose reassuringly. Then Broussard, taking the girl's slender waist between his hands, swung her into her saddle, himself mounted, and, the riders falling in behind, it was as if Tragedy had not showed her awful visage for one fearful moment.
All the cheering and clapping and weeping and laughing and shouting that had gone before were nothing to what followed after, while the band played "For He Is a Jolly Good Fellow," and everybody who could sing, or thought he could sing, joined in the refrain. Colonel Fortescue, whiter than death, sat straight up in his place. Mrs. Fortescue whispered in his ear:
"Be brave,—brave as you were in battle."
Colonel Fortescue had been in battle, but the screaming shells and crash of machine guns brought with them no such wild and shivering terror as when he saw Gamechick's forefeet in the air over Anita, lying on the tanbark.
The procession passed once more around the hall, Anita's face flushed and smiling, Broussard outwardly calm, but the red blood showing under his dark skin. When they reached the entrance doors and were about to ride out Sergeant McGillicuddy stopped Broussard with a word. The audience, watching and smiling, knew what would happen and all eyes were fixed on the C. O.'s. box. In a minute Broussard, with his cavalry cap in his hand, was seen mounting the stairs; Colonel Fortescue rose and clasped Broussard's hand, while Mrs. Fortescue frankly kissed him on both cheeks. The band broke loose again and so did the people. Although Fort Blizzard was a great fort it was so far away in the frozen northwest that those within its walls constituted one vast family. Anita was known to all of them, officers and ladies, troopers and troopers' wives and children, and the company washerwomen, and the regimental blacksmiths; they felt as if Broussard had saved the life of a child of their own.
Colonel Fortescue was a soldier and recovered himself and walked bravely with Mrs. Fortescue in the moonlight to their quarters, Broussard and Anita riding ahead as if nothing had happened, when everything had happened. At the door Broussard left Anita; both had to dress for the ball.
In the office, his City of Refuge, Colonel Fortescue sat in his chair and trembled like a leaf. Mrs. Fortescue, with tender words and soft caresses, comforted him.
"Stay with me, dear wife," he said, "I tell you as truly as if I were this moment facing a firing squad that I never knew what fear was until this night, and yet I thought I knew it and could feel my heart quivering as I cheered my men to the charge. Betty, I love our child too much, too much!"
"No," said Mrs. Fortescue, kissing his cheek, "you don't love her half as much as you love me. Suppose I had been there in our child's place."
The Colonel put his arm over his face.
"Don't, Betty—I can't bear it," he cried.
"But you must bear it; you must go to the ball in twenty minutes."
The Colonel, with bewildered eyes, looked at her as if to ask what were balls, and where?
Mrs. Fortescue said no more. Presently they heard Anita's light step on the stairs. She flitted into the office and looked, in her ball gown of shimmering white, as pure and sweet as one of her white doves.
"I'm ready for the ball, dad," she said, smiling and kissing the Colonel and her mother, "I am a soldier's daughter, and I can't let a little thing keep me from my duty—which is, to go to the ball."
Colonel Fortescue caught her in his arms.
"What a spirit!" he cried brokenly, "You have the making of ten soldiers in you, my daughter, my little daughter!"
Mrs. Fortescue rose and drew her beautiful evening cloak around her. Colonel Fortescue noticed for the first time how pale she was, but there was a smile on her lips and the fine light of courage in her eye; it was partly from her that Anita inherited her brave spirit.
Colonel Fortescue rose, too; he could not be less brave than his wife and daughter. Anita kissed him tenderly; a soft-hearted deserter always takes an affectionate leave of his comrades when he is about to desert.
At the ball Colonel and Mrs. Fortescue were composed, smiling, graceful; Anita was less shy, more laughing than usual. When Broussard entered the ball-room he was greeted with a great roar of applause, and when he danced the first dance with Anita once more there was applause and something in the eyes of the smiling, handclapping crowd that brought the ever-ready color into Anita's delicately lovely face. It was a beautiful ball, as all military balls are, and lasted late. When the C. O. and Mrs. Fortescue and Anita got home it was Christmas morning, and the stars that led the Magi to the crib at Bethlehem were shining gloriously in the blue-black sky.
At daybreak began the hullabaloo which attends Christmas morning in a house where there is an adored child, and only one. The After-Clap, with the preternatural knowledge claimed for him by Kettle, knew that it was Christmas morning and a day of riot and license for him.
At an early hour he began to storm the earth and stun the air. There was a Christmas tree for him and for the eight McGillicuddies, and the day was so full that Mrs. Fortescue found it hard to get time in which to give Kettle the necessary wigging for taking the baby from his bed and carrying him out of doors at eight o'clock in the evening because he waked up and said "Horsey." In vain Kettle pleaded "fo' Gord—" always a forerunner of a tarradiddle—that he "didn't have no notion on the blessed yearth as Miss Betty would mind," and also wept copiously when Mrs. Fortescue frankly told him that he was a tarradiddler, and made, for the hundredth time, a very awful threat to Kettle.
"But I can tell you this much," she said, with great severity, "that if you keep on doing everything the baby tells you to do, I will buy you a ticket back to Virginia and send you home. Do you understand me?"
At this, a smile rivalling a rainbow suddenly overspread Kettle's face and his mouth came open like an alligator's.
"Lord, yes, I understand you, Miss Betty," Kettle replied, with a chuckle. "I knows when you is bullyraggin' me an' say you is goin' to sen' me back to Virginia, you is jes' jokin'. You done tole me that too oftin, Miss Betty, an' you ain't never give me no ticket yet, an' 'tain't nothin' but a sign you is comin' roun', Miss Betty."
Kettle's grin was so seductive and his reasoning so correct that Mrs. Fortescue suddenly laughed, too; there was no way short of putting Kettle in handcuffs and leg-irons to keep him from obeying the After-Clap, whose orders were orders to Kettle.
In the afternoon Colonel Fortescue, sitting in his office, from which not even Christmas Day exempted him, saw, a long way off, down by the non-coms' quarters, a pitiful sight. Mrs. McGillicuddy had carried out her menace to put a buggy in the Sergeant's Christmas stocking. The buggy was at the Sergeant's door, and in it sat Mrs. McGillicuddy, elaborately dressed, a picture hat and feathers on her carefully frizzed hair and her voluminous draperies nearly swamping the little Sergeant cowering in the corner of the buggy. To it was hitched the milkman's mare, which was about as big as a large rabbit and owned up to twenty-three years of age and the name of Dot. The equipage passed out of sight but in an hour was seen returning. Mrs. McGillicuddy sat majestically upright in the buggy, while the Sergeant bestrode the peaceful and amiable Dot.
Presently the Sergeant, looking much wilted and depressed, entered the Colonel's office.
"Did you enjoy your drive in the new buggy, Sergeant?" asked the Colonel.
"No, sir," replied the Sergeant, earnestly, "this has been a awful Christmas day to me. I didn't think as Missis McGillicuddy would play me such a low trick as to give me the buggy and then make me ride in it. She said as the milkman told her he had owned the mare fir thirteen years, and she wasn't young when he bought her; but I reminded her as thirteen was a unlucky number. But Missis McGillicuddy acted heartless and give orders as I was to mount that buggy. I pleadid with her, sir, not to risk my life, for the sake of the eight children, even if she didn't have no love or affection for me. I reminded her as she'd stand a divil of a chanst of gettin' married again, havin' all them eight children. I told her the aviation orficer had promised to take me flyin' with him to-morrow mornin', and if I lost my life in a wheeled vehicle there'd be no more flyin' fir me because I don't look to be a angel immediate I get into the next world. All she says to me was, like she was a Sergeant Major and I was a recruity, 'You get into this buggy, Patrick McGillicuddy.' So, as orders is orders, sir, I got in, and I stayed in until my fears of that horse's hind feet right under nay nose got the better of my duty to Missis McGillicuddy, as my superior orficer. I begun to feel hollow inside, like a man feels when he's ordered into action and the artillery is ploughing up the ground with shells. Then, sir, I mutinied. I jumped out of that damned buggy—excuse me, sir—and I got on the back of the mare and felt jist as safe as if I was riding old Corporal, the horse we gives the recruits to ride. I've escaped the dangers of that buggy and there won't be no vacancy in my grade yet awhile from ridin' in wheeled vehicles. An I'm goin' flyin' tomorrow in a nice safe aeroplane that's got a man hitched to it and not a horse. This ain't been no merry Christmas to me, sir. And if Missis McGillicuddy holds a reg'lar court of inquiry on me, as she does seven nights in the week, I'm a' goin' to stand on my rights and swear by the Jumpin' Moses I'll never set foot again in that damned, infernal, hellish buggy, sir,—excuse me, sir."
THE HEART OF A MAID
When the wild and throbbing excitement of the evening was over, the fear, the horror, the joy, the triumph, the exulting exhilaration, Broussard, smoking his last cigar at one o'clock in the morning, felt a little ashamed of himself. After all, Anita was little more than a child, being but seventeen, and it was hardly fair to her that he should try to chain her young feet and blindfold her young eyes before she had seen the great moving picture of the world. Broussard did not in the least remember what he said to Anita when he was putting her cap on her head, nor even the words in which she had replied; he only knew that they were burning words that came from the heart and spoke through the eyes as well as the tongue. But a man was not always master of himself. Broussard had a good many plausible excuses to urge for himself, and was always a good barker for Victor Broussard, and Anita was so charming, she had so much more sense than the average seventeen-year-old fledgling, she was so obviously more developed mentally and emotionally for her age, she had grown up in an atmosphere of tenderness and happiness, for everybody knew that the Colonel and Mrs. Fortescue were still like lovers, after twenty years of married life. Broussard fell into a delicious reverie that lasted until he heard the clang of the changing sentries at two o'clock in the morning.
The Christmas gaieties went on for a fortnight, including another big ball given by the officers. Colonel Fortescue brought upon himself many maledictions from the junior officers by the way in which he regulated these balls. The Colonel was neither bashful nor backward with his young officers, and he liked them to dance, bearing in mind the saying of a great commander that a part of every soldier's equipment is gaiety of heart; but he was grimly particular about the kind of dancing that took place at Fort Blizzard. Before every ball, Colonel Fortescue's aide, Conway, a serious young lieutenant, delivered the Colonel's orders that there was to be no tangoing or turkey-trotting or chicken-reeling or "Here Comes My Daddy" business in that ball-room. Moreover, Neroda, the bandmaster, had orders if any of these dances, abhorred of the Colonel's heart, were started the music was to stop immediately. Colonel Fortescue himself, by way of setting an example, would do a sedate waltz with some matron of the post, or select a rosebud girl for a solemn set of lancers quadrilles. Mrs. Fortescue still held the palm as the prettiest waltzer at the post, none the less gay for being dignified. However, the young people, except Anita, revenged themselves on the C. O. by doing, in their own drawing-rooms, all the prohibited dances. With Anita, nothing could have induced her to do anything forbidden by the beloved of her heart—a trait not without its dangers.
Broussard was treated as a hero by everybody at the post and enjoyed it extremely, in spite of his deprecation of all praise and declaring that Gamechick was the real hero.
Among the festivities was a big dinner given at the C. O.'s fine quarters to the officers of high rank at the fort, and as a special compliment Broussard was invited, the only bachelor officer except the serious Conway, Colonel Fortescue's aide, who classified Anita with the After-Clap in point of age.
Broussard had met Anita and danced with her many times that fortnight but, with native good taste, he avoided thrusting himself upon her. She was so calm, so well poised, that Broussard concluded she had forgotten all about the words spoken under the influence of the near presence of love and death. In truth, Anita had forgotten nothing, but had suddenly become a woman in those few days. Always Broussard had wakened her girlish admiration by his charm of manner, his sly impudence, his way of singing love songs; and her eyes followed him, while she turned away from him. But she knew exactly what Broussard had said to her while they stood on the tanbark and she blushed to herself at the answer that came involuntarily to her lips. She knew no more of actual love-making than the After-Clap, but she was an inveterate reader of poetry and romance, and had not studied the poets and romancists for nothing. Perhaps Broussard would say more to her—at that thought a lovely light came into Anita's innocent eyes. Perhaps he had forgotten everything. Then Anita's eyes were troubled. The pride of maidenhood was born, as it should be, with love, and Anita no longer ran to the window to see Broussard, but when he was present he filled the room; when he spoke she heard no other voice than his.
Colonel Fortescue had a theory which came amazingly true in his own daughter. It was, that in high altitudes, with mountain ranges and vast frozen rivers shutting out the rest of the world, the emotions become preternaturally acute; that human beings grew more tragic or more comic, according to their bent, and were closer to primeval men and women than they knew. So it was at Fort Blizzard, standing grimly watchful over the world of snow and ice and holding within its limits all the struggle and striving and love, and laughter and dancing, and the weeping and working and resting, and the hazards and the triumphs of human life. On the aviation plain men daily played a fearful game with destiny, the stakes being human lives, while the young officers, when not flying toward the sun, were dancing every evening with the dainty girls, in little muslin frocks that made them look like white butterflies.
Broussard, owing to a slight defect of vision, was not in the aviation corps, but, like Sergeant McGillicuddy, he would fly whenever he had an invitation from Lawrence, the gentleman-ranker with whom Broussard was seen too often to please Colonel Fortescue. Lawrence had a pale, fragile, handsome wife, like himself, of another class than the honest soldiers and their buxom wives, and there was a little boy, Ronald, who looked like a young prince—a beautiful boy, much noticed by all who knew him. The soldiers forgot their grudge against Lawrence for what they called his "uppish airs," and the soldiers' wives forewent their objections to Mrs. Lawrence and her aloofness from them, when the boy, Ronald, appeared. The officers, and their wives, too, had a kind word for the little fellow, so handsome and well-mannered, and especially was he a favorite with Broussard. It was, indeed, more than friendly favor toward the child; Broussard was conscious of a strong affection for the boy, about whom there was something mysteriously appealing to Broussard, an expression in the frank young eyes, a soft beauty in the boy's smile, that reminded Broussard of something loved and lost, but he knew not what it was nor whence it came. Anita, although knowing nothing of the gentleman-ranker and his wife and the handsome boy except that, obviously, they were unlike their neighbors and fellows in the married men's quarters, yet always observed them with curiosity. Their unlikeness to their station in life was of itself a mystery, and consequently of interest. Mrs. Fortescue, the soul of kindness to the soldiers' wives and children, could make nothing of Mrs. Lawrence, who withdrew into herself at Mrs. Fortescue's approach, and Mrs. Fortescue, seeing that Mrs. Lawrence wished to hold aloof, respected her wishes, and from sheer pity left her alone. Mrs. McGillicuddy was not so considerate, and told thrilling tales of rebuffs administered by Mrs. Lawrence to corporals' wives, and even sergeants' wives who were willing to notice her and get snubbed for their good intentions.
"Mr. Broussard is the only man Mrs. Lawrence gives a decent word to," said Mrs. McGillicuddy in Anita's hearing, "When she meets him anywhere, walkin' about, she stops and smiles and talks to him as if she was the Colonel's lady—that she does, the minx! And she pretending to be so meek and mild and not looking at any man, except that good-for-nothing, handsome husband of hers! Just watch her, stoppin' in the post trader's to talk with Mr. Broussard, she so haughty-like, and carryin' her own bundles home, like she was doin' herself a favor!"
This sank deep into Anita's mind, as did every word referring to Broussard. But she could make nothing of it; and Mrs. Lawrence, the soldier's wife, became at once an object of interest, of mystery, almost of jealousy, to Anita. The little boy she noticed, as did all who saw him, and like everybody else, she was won by him.
The morning of the great dinner at the Fortescues', Neroda, the Italian band-master, came to give Anita her violin lesson. Mrs. Fortescue, listening and delighted with Anita's progress, came in to the drawing-room as Neroda was shouting bravos in rapture over the way his best pupil caught the soul of music in her delicate hands and made it prisoner.
"Good-morning, Mr. Neroda," said Mrs. Fortescue in her pretty and affable manner—Mrs. Fortescue would have been affable with an ogre—"I must ask you to come this evening and play my daughter's accompaniments. We are having a large dinner and I should like Anita to play for us after dinner."
"Certainly, madam," answered Neroda, who, like everybody else, was anxious to do Mrs. Fortescue's smiling bidding, "I am proud of the signorina's playing."
"Mr. Broussard is coming to the dinner," continued Mrs. Fortescue after a moment. "He sings so charmingly. It would be delightful to have him sing and Anita to play a violin obligato."
"Admirable! Admirable!" cried Neroda, "Mr. Broussard has a superb voice—much too good for an amateur."
Mrs. Fortescue laughed; Broussard's beautiful voice was one of the Colonel's grave objections to him. Anita remained silent, but Mrs. Fortescue noticed the happy smile on her lips, as she picked a little air upon the strings; she longed to show off her accomplishments before Broussard and to accompany his singing seemed a little incursion into Paradise.
It was arranged that Neroda should come at half-past nine and have the violin tuned. Anita, dropping the violin, found a book of songs, some of which she had heard Broussard sing.
"Come," she cried eagerly, "I must play these obligatos over. You will sing the songs."
Neroda sat down once more to the piano and played and sang in a queer, cracked voice, the songs, while Anita, her soul in her eyes and all her heart and strength in her bow arm, played the violin part. She did it beautifully, and Mrs. Fortescue kissed the girl's glowing cheek when the music was through. Kettle, who was himself a fiddler, at that moment poked his head in at the door. He had a fellow artist's jealousy of Neroda but he was forced by his artistic conscience to say:
"Lord, Miss 'Nita, you cert'ny kin make a fiddle talk!"
It was noon before the lesson was over and Neroda left. Anita, exultant in the thought of playing to Broussard's singing, could not remain indoors, but putting on her long, dark fur coat and her pretty fur cap, which accentuated her delicate beauty, went out for a walk alone.
Beyond the limits of the great post, was a long, straight promenade, bordered with stately young fir trees, and as it led to nowhere, was in general a solitary place. It was here that Anita loved to walk alone. The only objection to the place was that it gave upon the aviation field—a place abhorred by all the women at the fort, from the Colonel's lady down to the company laundresses. Anita always turned her face away from the aviation field when she was walking under the pine trees.
The short way to the walk led by the big red brick barracks of the married soldiers. Anita knew many of these soldiers' wives, honest and hard-working women, doing their duty as if they were themselves soldiers. As Anita passed along many of them, standing in their doorways or carrying laundry baskets along the street, gave her a kindly greeting. In one doorway stood Mrs. Lawrence, tall, young, darkly beautiful, and looking as if she might have been a C. O.'s daughter instead of being a private soldier's wife. Mrs. Lawrence was so at odds with her surroundings that Anita, unconsciously, looked questioningly at her. She stood, shading her eyes from the glare of the snow and the sun, gazing anxiously toward the aviation field. It was a flying day, and the hearts of the women at Fort Blizzard had no rest or peace on those days. Anita could not but see that Mrs. Lawrence's hands, browned and hardened with work, were small and delicately formed, and, that the poise of the head, the fine contours, were not those of a woman bred to toil.
It was not quite time for the ascent and the officers were not yet on the field, although there were a dozen or two soldiers and civilian employes standing about the sheds in the middle of the plain, and working with the huge machines, dragged from their shelter. Afar off, the voices of the soldiers, singing a service song, were borne upon the crystal clear air.
They were trolling out the song as if there were no more risks in aviation than in tennis.
We don't know what we're here for, We don't know why we're sent, But we've brought a few unlimbered guns By way of com-pli-ment.
Anita walked quickly out of the entrance, keeping her eyes well away from the flying field. It was a good half mile along the fir tree walk, and Anita made it twice. The music was throbbing still in her veins and the thought of playing to Broussard's singing had in it an intoxication for her innocent heart. She heard the whirring and clapping of the great aircraft above her head as they flitted across the face of the sun, but Anita would not look; she hated aircraft and wished they had never been invented. But she was forced to look when she heard cries and shouts, as one of the great machines began to reel about wildly in the air, when it was only twenty feet from the earth, and then came down, with a crash, upon the snow. She saw Broussard standing on the ground, he was in uniform, with his heavy cavalry overcoat around him, and he was working with the men to drag the aviator from the machine. They got him out, and putting him on a stretcher, began to run with their burden toward the hospital. Anita turned her eyes away. She did not see Mrs. Lawrence run out of the entrance toward the field, her head bare in the icy cold, and no cloak around her delicate shoulders. Broussard turned to meet her, and taking off his cavalry overcoat, put it around the shivering woman, and half led and half carried her as they followed the stretcher. Then Anita knew it was Lawrence who was hurt.
Within the entrance there was an excited group of soldiers' wives. Some said that Lawrence was only slightly hurt; others that every bone in his body was broken. The chaplain, passing along, reassured them.
"Nothing but a few bruises and scratches," he said. "I asked the surgeon if I was needed and he told me there was nothing doing in my line; I am going to the hospital though, to see the man's wife—it is Mrs. Lawrence. Good afternoon, Anita. Now don't let this trifling accident break your little heart. It's nothing, I tell you."
Anita passed on, her face pale in spite of the chaplain's words. The picture of Broussard folding his cape around Mrs. Lawrence's shoulders was strangely photographed upon her mind. She wished she had not seen it.
Whenever there was an accident, however small, on the aviation field the whole post was anxious and quivering. Colonel Fortescue and Anita were both silent and preoccupied at luncheon, and Mrs. Fortescue, who never lost her brave cheerfulness, tried to interest them in the dinner that was to be given that evening, and Anita's music, but without much success.
"I declare, Jack," cried Mrs. Fortescue, "if I only knew the aviation days in advance I would never arrange a dinner on one of those days. You are as solemn as a mute at a funeral, and Anita always looks like a ghost when she has been out to the aviation field. For my part, I do not allow myself to see the aviation field nor even to think about it."
"But you say a great many prayers on aviation days," replied Colonel Fortescue, smiling.
Mrs. Fortescue admitted this, but reminded her husband that she believed in keeping a stiff spirit.
"The man Lawrence is not much hurt," said Colonel Fortescue. "He wanted to be taken to his quarters where his wife could nurse him, and the surgeon allowed it, after dressing his cuts and bruises."
Anita still looked so grave that Colonel Fortescue said to her:
"How about a ride this afternoon, Anita? We can get back in time for you to dress for the dinner."
"Do go, Anita," urged Mrs. Fortescue plaintively, "it is such a relief to have your father out of the house when I am arranging for a dinner of twenty-four."
It was one of the great treats of Anita's simple life to ride with her father and the proposition brought a smile, at last, into her serious face.
"At four, then," said the Colonel, rising to return to the headquarters building, while Anita ran to get his cap, and Mrs. Fortescue fastened his military cape around him, and his gloves were brought by the After-Clap, who had been drilled in this duty. The Colonel was well coddled, and liked it.
Anita practised on her violin nearly the whole afternoon, and, not satisfied with that, sent a message to Neroda asking him to come at six o'clock, when she would have returned from her ride, and rehearse with her once more the obligatos she was to play to Broussard's singing.
Anita's spirits rose as she rode by her father's side in the biting cold of the wintry afternoon. They both loved these rides together and the long talks they had then. The time was, when Colonel Fortescue felt that he knew every thought in Anita's mind, but not so any longer. He began to speak of Broussard, to try and search Anita's mind on that subject, but Anita remained absolutely silent. The Colonel's heart sank; Anita was certainly growing up, and had secrets of her own.
It was quite dark when the Colonel and Anita cantered through the lower entrance, the short way to the C. O.'s house. One door alone was open in the long row of red brick barracks. The electric light in the passageway fell full upon the figures of Broussard and Mrs. Lawrence as the woman impulsively put her hand on Broussard's shoulder; he gently removed it and walked quickly out of the door. Under the glare of a street lamp he came face to face with Colonel Fortescue.
An officer visiting the wife of a private soldier is not a thing to be excused by a strict Colonel, and Colonel Fortescue was very strict, and had Argus eyes in the bargain.
Broussard saluted the Colonel and bowed to Anita and passed on. The Colonel returned the salute but Anita was too startled to acknowledge the bow. When they reached the Commandant's house and Colonel Fortescue swung Anita from her saddle she walked into the house slowly, her eyes fixed on the ground. At the door the After-Clap met her with a shout, but instead of a romp with his grown-up playmate, he received only an absent-minded kiss. Almost at the same moment Neroda walked into the hall.
"Here I am, Signorina," he said, "ready for the practice. Mr. Broussard sings too well for you to do less than play divinely."
Anita, taking off her gloves and veil, went, unsmilingly, into the drawing-room, Neroda following her, and putting up the top of the grand piano.
It was Neroda's rule that Anita should tune her own violin. Usually she did it with beautiful accuracy, but on this evening it was utterly inharmonious. As she drew her bow across the strings Neroda jumped as if he were shot.
"Great God! Signorina," he shouted, "every string is swearing at the G-string! The spirit of music will not come to you to-night unless you tune your violin better."
Anita stopped and laid down her bow, and once more holding the violin to her ear, began tuning it. That time the tuning was so bad that she handed the violin to Neroda.
"You must tune it for me, Maestro," she said, with a wan smile. "The spirit of music seems far away to-night."
Neroda, in a minute, handed her back the instrument in perfect tune. Anita, testing the strings, her bow wandered into the soft heart-moving music of Mascagni's Intermezzo. Neroda said nothing, but watched his favorite pupil. Usually she took up her violin with a calm confidence, like a young Amazon taking up her well-strung bow for battle, because the violin must be subdued; it must be made to obey; it must feel the master hand before it will speak. But to-night the master hand failed Anita, and she played fitfully and sadly and could do nothing as Neroda directed her.
"Shall we give up the rehearsal?" asked Neroda presently, seeing that Anita was not concentrated and that her bow arm showed strange weakness.
"No," replied Anita, with a new courage in her violet eyes, "Let us rehearse for the whole hour."
If Neroda had been puzzled at Anita's inability he was now surprised at her strength. She stood up to her full height and the bow was firm in her grasp. Neroda was a hard master, but Anita succeeded in pleasing him. Even Kettle, who had an artistic rivalry with Neroda, passing the drawing-room door, cried:
"Lord, Miss 'Nita, you kin play the fiddle mos' as well as I kin."
As Mrs. Fortescue was putting the last touches to her toilette before the long mirror in her own room, Colonel Fortescue came in, dressed to go down-stairs. The Colonel's mind had been working on the problems of Broussard's visit to Mrs. Lawrence, and the look he had noticed for some time past in Anita's eyes when Broussard was present, or even when his name was mentioned.
"I am afraid, Betty," said the Colonel, "that Anita thinks too much and too often of Broussard. And in spite of that trick of horsemanship there are some things a trifle unsatisfactory about him."
"Really, Jack," answered Mrs. Fortescue, "you take Anita's moods far too seriously. The girl will have her little affairs as other girls have theirs. It's like measles and chicken-pox and other infantile diseases."
"Not for Anita," said Colonel Fortescue, "that child has in her tragic possibilities. Her heart is brittle, depend upon it."
"So are all hearts," replied Mrs. Fortescue, "but you are so ridiculously sentimental and lackadaisical about Anita!"
"She is my one ewe lamb," said the Colonel.
Then they went down-stairs together, and the next minute Anita appeared, wearing a gown of white and silver, with a delicious little train, which she managed as well as a seventeen-year-old could manage a train.
In a minute or two the guests began arriving. They were handsome, middle-aged officers and dignified matrons. Broussard was the only young man present, which was understood as a special compliment to him, and Anita was the only young girl in the company.
Broussard greeted the Colonel as coolly as if that unlucky meeting just outside of Lawrence's quarters had not occurred two hours before. And Broussard was a captivating, fellow—this the Colonel admitted to himself, with an inward groan, watching Broussard's graceful figure, his dashing manner, all these externals that dazzle women. The Colonel also saw the color that flooded Anita's face when she took Broussard's arm to lead her in to dinner. At the table, though, Broussard found Anita strangely unlike the Anita he had been steadily falling in love with since he first saw her, three months before, when Colonel Fortescue took command at Fort Blizzard. She was no longer the dreamy, mysterious child, who knew all the stories of the poets, whose affections were all passions, but a self-possessed young lady, who read things in the newspapers about the European war and knew something about aviation records, although she hated aviation.
Broussard, with rage and chagrin in his heart, remembered that Anita had probably seen him standing in the passage-way of Lawrence's quarters, with Mrs. Lawrence's shapely hand on his shoulder. He remained calm and smiling, nevertheless, and exerted to the utmost his power to please. But Anita remained calm and smiling, and maddeningly aloof. Broussard, inwardly cursing himself, made up his mind to have it out with the Colonel the next day about the Lawrence affair.
When dinner was over and the men had come in from the smoking-room, Mrs. Fortescue asked Broussard if he would sing; Neroda was already there to play his accompaniments and Anita, would play the violin obligato.
Broussard was not loth to show his accomplishments and he had a very good will to try the magic of his voice upon Anita, gracious, and obstinate and smiling.
The guests, in a circle in the drawing-room, watched and listened to the group at the piano—Neroda, short and swarthy, with a rancorous voice; Anita, in her blonde beauty, looking like another St. Cecilia, and Broussard, dark and handsome, like Faust, the tempter.
With deep intent Broussard selected the most passionate of all his passionate songs. It asked the old, old question, "I love thee; dost thou love me?" Neroda struck into the accompaniment and Broussard's voice, a tenor, with the strength and feeling of a baritone, took up the song, while the music of Anita's violin delicately threaded the harmonies, ever following and responding to Broussard's voice. All of Anita's coldness vanished at the first strain of the music; Broussard's voice penetrated her heart and inspired her hand. When the song was over and she laid her violin down on the piano she was once more the palpitating, shy enthusiast, the half-child, half-woman who had captivated Broussard at the first glance.
During the interludes between the songs it was plain they forgot all except each other. They turned over songs and read the titles to each other, Broussard sometimes singing, under his breath, the words. Then, when he sang them in full voice he infused all the verve, the passion, the feeling he knew so well how to command, and played upon Anita's heart-strings with the hand of a master, as Anita played upon the strings of her violin. The men and women, listening and charmed, smiled at each other; evidently a love affair was on foot such as everybody had expected since the night of the music ride. Colonel Fortescue alone was grave, leaning back in his chair with sombre eyes fixed on Broussard. He saw in Broussard a wild young officer who needed a stern warning about a soldier's handsome wife; and, while watching him, Colonel Fortescue was phrasing the very words in which he meant to call Broussard to account the next day, for the Colonel was not a man to postpone a disagreeable duty. It would be a very disagreeable duty; the poignant memory of Anita lying on the tanbark and Broussard having the skill to save her, still haunted Colonel Fortescue's thoughts and came to him in troubled dreams. And Anita—undoubtedly Broussard had impressed her imagination, and she was a creature of such strong fibre that she must love and suffer more than most human beings the Colonel knew, well enough.
At last, the singing was over and the listeners came out of a waking dream and complimented Anita and Broussard, and the pleasant chatter of a drawing-room once more began. Presently there were leave-takings. Broussard gave Anita's hand a sharp pressure, but she looked at him calmly, all her coldness resumed. Out in the winter night Broussard cursed himself for falling in love with a child, who was an embodied caprice and did not know her own mind—one hour thrilling him with her gladness and her low voice and her violin, and the next, looking at him as if he were a stock or a stone. But she was so precociously charming! And that unlucky meeting with her and with the Colonel in front of Lawrence's door, with Mrs. Lawrence putting her hand on his shoulder. Broussard meant to go to the Colonel the very next day and explain the whole business. The resolve enabled Broussard to sleep in peace that night.
It was noon the next day before Broussard had a chance to ask for an interview with Colonel Fortescue. Meanwhile, the Colonel had been finding out things. He looked up the records of Broussard and Lawrence and found that they were both natives of the same little town in Louisiana. That might account for their intimacy, although Lawrence was fifteen years Broussard's senior.
Just as the Colonel's orderly was crossing the hall of the headquarters building he came face to face with Broussard, headed straight for Colonel Fortescue's office. The orderly had a message from the Colonel for Mr. Broussard; the Colonel desired to see Mr. Broussard for a few minutes.
Broussard, like the Colonel, was not the man to shirk an unpleasant five minutes, so he made straight for the Colonel's private office. In spite of his courageous advance, Broussard felt very much as Sergeant McGillicuddy described himself when in the abhorred buggy which Mrs. McGillicuddy had given him as a Christmas gift, "Hollow inside." There is something appalling to a subaltern in the kind of an interview which Broussard felt was ahead of him. He knew in advance the very tone in which Colonel Fortescue and all other Colonels prepare a wigging for a junior. "It is my painful duty." The extreme politeness with which this was accompanied was not reassuring. Then the Colonel, taking the advice of old Horace, plunged into the middle of things.
"I was very much surprised," said Colonel Fortescue, fixing his clear gaze on Broussard, "when, yesterday evening, after dark, I saw you standing in the passage-way to the home of an enlisted man, and evidently upon familiar terms with the man's wife."
"I was on my way to you, sir, just now, to explain that occurrence when I received your order," replied Broussard promptly.
"I shall be glad to have it satisfactorily explained," said the C. O.
Colonel Fortescue had the eye of command, that secure power in his glance which is possessed by all the masters of men; the look that can wring the truth out of a man's mouth even if that man be a liar, and can see through the eyes of a man into his soul. This look of command suddenly flashed into Colonel Fortescue's face, and gazing into the clear eyes of Broussard saw honor and truth and candor there as Broussard spoke.
"The man, Lawrence, as you may know, sir, is a gentleman in origin and socially above most of the good fellows in the ranks."
"And these men sometimes make trouble," interrupted the Colonel.
"He came from the same place that I do and tells me he knew my mother—God bless her—and that she was very kind to him in his boyhood. That was before I was born. He knows a surprising deal about my parents, both of whom died when I was a boy. Sometimes I have doubted whether all he told me was true, but invariably it tallies with my own childish recollections and what I have been told of my mother. Lawrence has a passionate attachment to my mother's memory. He knows her birthday, and the day of her death, and more even than I do about her. The first word I had with him was on the anniversary of my mother's death. He came to my quarters and asked to see me, told me of my mother's goodness to him, and burst into tears before he got through. Of course, that melted me—my mother was one of God's angels on this earth. He is always in money troubles, and I helped him. That brought me into contact with his wife—a woman of his own class, who has stood by Lawrence, and is worthy, I think, to be classified with my mother. If you could see the way that woman works for Lawrence and their child—there's a little boy five years old,—and how she struggles to keep him straight and sober. I had just done her a little favor at the post trader's place, and went to her to explain it privately. She was very grateful; you saw her put her hand on my shoulder. The truth is, Mrs. Lawrence does not yet fully understand her position as a private soldier's wife. What I have told you, sir, is all, upon my honor."
"I believe you," said Colonel Fortescue, after a moment, and holding out his hand, which Broussard grasped with a feeling of vast relief.
"The man seems to be doing pretty well, except about his money troubles, of which I know nothing but what you tell me," went on the Colonel. "He is one of the best aviators in the corps. Of course, his name isn't Lawrence."
"So he admitted to me," replied Broussard, "I am all abroad concerning his knowledge of my family. I only know that he loves my mother's memory, that he evidently knew her well, and that his wife is an heroic woman. I have promised her that when the little boy is old enough I will do a good part by him. I have something besides my pay."
This "something" was of a size that made the Colonel think it was rather a drawback to Broussard.
"I only advise you to be prudent in your intercourse with Lawrence and his wife," said the Colonel, rising. And the interview was over.
Broussard went back with a light heart to his day's duties. The Colonel knew the truth, and so, some day, would Anita, the little witch.
It was growing dusk when Broussard again passed the headquarters building. The last mail had come in and the published orders were fastened on the bulletin board. Broussard stopped to read them. The first name mentioned was that of Lieutenant Victor Broussard, who was detached from his present duty at Fort Blizzard and ordered on special duty to the Philippines.
"GOOD-BYE, SWEETHEART, GOOD-BYE"
Broussard, after reading his orders, walked quickly to his quarters. On the desk in his luxuriously furnished sitting-room was a letter from the C. O. giving the order in detail from the War Department; Broussard was to make the next steamer sailing from San Francisco. He went through with a rapid mental calculation. To do that, he would be obliged to leave Fort Blizzard not later than the next afternoon.
Broussard took his orders with a soldier's coolness. He particularly disliked them; he did not want to leave Fort Blizzard for any other spot on the habitable globe, and least of all did he want to go to the island possessions. But he said no word of complaint, took, with perfect good humor, the condolences and chaff of his brother officers at the mess dinner that night, and plunged into his preparations to leave.