The Judgment House by Gilbert Parker
Chapter XXXVI. Springs of Healing
Dusk had almost come, yet Jasmine had not arrived at Brinkwort's Farm, the urgency of Al'mah's message notwithstanding. As things stood, it was a matter of life and death; and to Al'mah's mind humanity alone should have sent Jasmine at once to her husband's side. Something of her old prejudice against Jasmine rose up again. Perhaps behind it all was involuntary envy of an invitation to happiness so freely laid at Jasmine's feet, but withheld from herself by Fate. Never had the chance to be happy or the obvious inducement to be good ever been hers. She herself had nothing, and Jasmine still had a chance for all to which she had no right. Her heart beat harder at the thought of it. She was of those who get their happiness first in making others happy--as she would have done with Blantyre, if she had had a chance; as even she tried to do with the man whom she had sent to his account with the firmness and fury of an ancient Greek. The maternal, the protective sense was big in her, and indirectly it had governed her life. It had sent her to South Africa--to protect the wretch who had done his best to destroy her; it had made her content at times as she did her nurse's work in what dreadful circumstances! It was the source of her revolt at Jasmine's conduct and character.
But was it also that, far beneath her criticism of Jasmine, which was, after all, so little in comparison with the new-found affection she really had for her, there lay a kinship, a sympathy, a soul's rapprochement with Rudyard, which might, in happier circumstances, have become a mating such as the world knew in its youth? Was that also in part the cause of her anxiety for Rudyard, and of her sharp disapproval of Jasmine? Did she want to see Rudyard happy, no matter at what cost to Jasmine? Was it the everlasting feminine in her which would make a woman sacrifice herself for a man, if need be, in order that he might be happy? Was it the ancient tyrannical soul in her which would make a thousand women sacrifice themselves for the man she herself set above all others?
But she was of those who do not know what they are, or what they think and feel, till some explosion forces open the doors of their souls and they look upon a new life over a heap of ruins.
She sat in the gathering dusk, waiting, while hope slowly waned. Rudyard also, on the veranda, paced weakly, almost stumblingly, up and down, his face also turning towards the Stay Awhile Hospital. At length, with a heavy sigh, he entered the house and sat down in a great arm-chair, from which old Brinkwort the Boer had laid down the law for his people.
Where was Jasmine? Why did she not hasten to Brinkwort's Farm?
A Staff Officer from the General Commanding had called to congratulate Jasmine on her recovery, and to give fresh instructions which would link her work at Durban effectively with the army as it now moved on to the relief of the town beyond the hills. Al'mah's note had arrived while the officer was with Jasmine, and it was held back until he left. It was then forgotten by the attendant on duty, and it lay for three hours undelivered. Then when it was given to her, no mention was made of the delay.
When the Staff Officer left her, he had said to himself that hers was one of the most alluring and fascinating faces he had ever seen; and he, like Stafford, though in another sphere--that of the Secret Intelligence Department--had travelled far and wide in the world. Perfectly beautiful he did not call her, though her face was as near that rarity as any he had known. He would only have called a woman beautiful who was tall, and she was almost petite; but that was because he himself was over-tall, and her smallness seemed to be properly classed with those who were pretty, not the handsome or the beautiful. But there was something in her face that haunted him--a wistful, appealing delicacy, which yet was associated with an instant readiness of intellect, with a perspicuous judgment and a gift of organization. And she had eyes of blue which were "meant to drown those who hadn't life-belts," as he said.
In one way or another he put all this to his fellow officers, and said that the existence of two such patriots as Byng and Jasmine in one family was unusual.
"Pretty fairly self-possessed, I should say," said Rigby, the youngest officer present at mess. "Her husband under repair at Brinkwort's Farm, in the care of the blue-ribbon nurse of the army, who makes a fellow well if he looks at her, and she studying organization at the Stay Awhile with a staff-officer."
The reply of the Staff Officer was quick and cutting enough for any officers' mess.
"I see by the latest papers from England, that Balfour says we'll muddle through this war somehow," he said. "He must have known you, Rigby. With the courage of the damned you carry a fearsome lot of impedimenta, and you muddle quite adequately. The lady you have traduced has herself been seriously ill, and that is why she is not at Brinkwort's Farm. What a malicious mind you've got! Byng would think so."
"If Rigby had been in your place to-day," interposed a gruff major, "the lady would surely have had a relapse. Convalescence is no time for teaching the rudiments of human intercourse."
Pale and angry, Rigby, who was half Scotch and correspondingly self-satisfied, rejoined stubbornly: "I know what I know. They haven't met since she came up from Durban. Sandlip told me that--"
The Staff Officer broke the sentence. "What Sandlip told you is what Nancy woutd tell Polly and Polly would tell the cook--and then Rigby would know. But statement number one is an Ananiasism, for Byng saw his wife at the hospital the night before Hetmeyer's Kopje. I can't tell what they said, though, nor what was the colour of the lady's pegnoir, for I am neither Nancy nor Polly nor the cook--nor Rigby."
With a maddened gesture Rigby got to his feet, but a man at his side pulled him down. "Sit still, Baby Bunting, or you'll not get over the hills to-morrow," he said, and he offered Rigby a cigar from Rigby's own cigar-case, cutting off the end, handing it to him and lighting a match.
"Gun out of action: record the error of the day," piped the thin precise voice of the Colonel from the head of the table.
A chorus of quiet laughter met the Colonel's joke, founded on the technical fact that the variation in the firing of a gun, due to any number of causes, though apparently firing under the same conditions, is carted officially "the error of the day" in Admiralty reports.
"Here the incident closed," as the newspapers say, but Rigby the tactless and the petty had shown that there was rumour concerning the relations of Byng and his wife, which Jasmine, at least, imagined did not exist.
When Jasmine read the note Al'mah had sent her, a flush stole slowly over her face, and then faded, leaving a whiteness, behind which was the emanation, not of fear, but of agitation and of shock.
It meant that Rudyard was dying, and that she must go to him. That she must go to him? Was that the thought in her mind--that she must go to him?
If she wished to see him again before he went! That midnight, when he was on his way to Hetmeyer's Kopje, he had flung from her room into the night, and ridden away angrily on his grey horse, not hearing her voice faintly calling after him. Now, did she want to see him--the last time before he rode away again forever, on that white horse called Death? A shudder passed through her.
"Ruddy! Poor Ruddy!" she said, and she did not remember that those were the pitying, fateful words she used on the day when Ian Stafford dined with her alone after Rudyard made his bitter protest against the life they lived. "We have everything--everything," he had said, "and yet--"
Now, however, there was an anguished sob in her voice. With the thought of seeing him, her fingers tremblingly sought the fine-spun strands of hair which ever lay a little loose from the wonder of its great coiled abundance, and then felt her throat, as though to adjust the simple linen collar she wore, making exquisite contrast to the soft simplicity of her dark-blue gown.
She found the attendant who had given her the letter, and asked if the messenger was waiting, and was only then informed that he had been gone three hours or more.
Three hours or more! It might be that Rudyard was gone forever without hearing what she had to say, or knowing whether she desired reconciliation and peace.
She at once gave orders for a cape-cart to take her over to Brinkwort's Farm. The attendant respectfully said that he must have orders. She hastened to the officer in charge of the hospital, and explained. His sympathy translated itself into instant action. Fortunately there was a cart at the door. In a moment she was ready, and the cart sped away into the night across the veld.
She had noticed nothing as she mounted the cart--neither the driver nor the horses; but, as they hurried on, she was roused by a familiar voice saying, "'E done it all right at Hetmeyer's Kopje--done it brown. First Wortmann's Drift, and then Hetmeyer's Kopje, and he'll be over the hills and through the Boers and into Lordkop with the rest of the hold-me-backs."
She recognized him--the first person who had spoken to her of her husband on her arrival, the cheerful Corporal Shorter, who had told her of Wortmann's Drift and the saving of "Old Gunter."
She touched his arm gently. "I am glad it is you," she said in a low tone.
"Not so glad as I am," he answered. "It's a purple shame that you should ha' been took sick when he was mowed down, and that some one else should be healin' 'is gapin' wounds besides 'is lawful wife, and 'er a rifle-shot away! It's a fair shame, that's wot it is. But all's well as ends well, and you're together at the finish."
She shrank from his last words. Her heart seemed to contract; it hurt her as though it was being crushed in a vise. She was used to that pain now. She had felt it--ah, how many times since the night she found Adrian Fellowes' white rose on her pillow, laid there by the man she had sworn at the altar to love, honor, and obey! Her head drooped. "At the finish"--how strange and new and terrible it was! The world stood still for her.
"You'll go together to Lordkop, I expeck," she heard her companion's voice say, and at first she did not realize its meaning; then slowly it came to her. "At the finish" in his words meant the raising of the siege of Lordkop, it meant rescue, victory, restoration. He had not said that Rudyard was dead, that the Book of Rudyard and Jasmine was closed forever. Her mind was in chaos, her senses in confusion. She seemed like one in a vague shifting, agonizing dream.
She was unconscious of what her friendly Corporal was saying. She only answered him mechanically now and then; and he, seeing that she was distraught, talked on in a comforting kind of way, telling her anecdotes of Rudyard, as they were told in that part of the army to which he belonged.
What was she going to do when she arrived? What could she do if Rudyard was dead? If Rudyard was still alive, she would make him understand that she was not the Jasmine of the days "before the flood"--before that storm came which uprooted all that ever was in her life except the old, often anguished, longing to be good, and the power which swept her into bye and forbidden paths. If he was gone, deaf to her voice and to any mortal sound, then--there rushed into her vision the figure of Ian Stafford, but she put that from her with a trembling determination. That was done forever. She was as sure of it as she was sure of anything in the world. Ian had not forgiven her, would never forgive her. He despised her, rejected her, abhorred her. Ian had saved her from the result of Rudyard's rash retaliation and fury, and had then repulsed her, bidden her stand off from him with a magnanimity and a chivalry which had humiliated her. He had protected her from the shame of an open tragedy, and then had shut the door in her face. Rudyard, with the same evidence as Ian held,--the same letter as proof--he, whatever he believed or thought, he had forgiven her. Only a few nights ago, that night before the fight at Hetmeyer's Kopje, he had opened his arms to her and called her his wife. In Rudyard was some great good thing, something which could not die, which must live on. She sat up straight in the seat of the cart, her hands clinched.
No, no, no, Rudyard was not dead, and he should not die. It mattered not what Al'mah had written, she must have her chance to prove herself; his big soul must have its chance to run a long course, must not be cut off at the moment when so much had been done; when there was so much to do. Ian should see that she was not "just a little burst of eloquence," as he had called her, not just a strumpet, as he thought her; but a woman now, beyond eloquence, far distant from the poppy-fields of pleasure. She was young enough for it to be a virtue in her to avoid the poppy-fields. She was not twenty-six years of age, and to have learned the truth at twenty-six, and still not to have been wholly destroyed by the lies of life, was something which might be turned to good account.
She was sharply roused, almost shocked out of her distraction. Bright lights appeared suddenly in front of her, and she heard the voice of her Corporal saying: "We're here, ma'am, where old Brinkwort built a hospital for one, and that one's yours, Mrs. Byng."
He clucked to his horses and they slackened. All at once the lights seemed to grow larger, and from the garden of Brinkwort's house came the sharp voice of a soldier saying:
"Halt! Who goes there?"
"A friend," was the Corporal's reply.
"Advance, friend, and give the countersign," was brusquely returned.
A moment afterwards Jasmine was in the sweet-smelling garden, and the lights of the house were flaring out upon her.
She heard at the same time the voices of the sentry and of Corporal Shorter in low tones of badinage, and she frowned. It was cruel that at the door of the dead or the dying there should be such levity.
All at once a figure came between her and the light. Instinctively she knew it was Al'mah.
"Al'mah! Al'mah!" she said painfully, and in a voice scarce above a whisper.
The figure of the singing-woman bent over her protectingly, as it might almost seem, and her hands were caught in a warm clasp.
"Am I in time?" Jasmine asked, and the words came from her in gasps.
Al'mah had no repentance for her deception. She saw an agitation which seemed to her deeper and more real than any emotion ever shown by Jasmine, not excepting the tragical night at the Glencader Mine and the morning of the first meeting at the Stay Awhile Hospital. The butterfly had become a thrush that sang with a heart in its throat.
She gathered Jasmine's eyes to her own. It seemed as though she never would answer. To herself she even said, why should she hurry, since all was well, since she had brought the two together living, who had been dead to each other these months past, and, more than all, had been of the angry dead? A little more pain and regret could do no harm, but only good. Besides, now that she was face to face with the result of her own deception, she had a sudden fear that it might go wrong. She had no remorse for the act, but only a faint apprehension of the possible consequences. Suppose that in the shock of discovery Jasmine should throw everything to the winds, and lose herself in arrant egotism once more! Suppose--no, she would suppose nothing. She must believe that all she had done was for the best.
She felt how cold were the small delicate hands in her own strong warm fingers, she saw the frightened appeal of the exquisite haunting eyes, and all at once realized the cause of that agitation--the fear that death had come without understanding, that the door had been forever shut against the answering voices.
"You are in time," she said gently, encouragingly, and she tightened the grasp of her hands.
As the volts of an electric shock quivering through a body are suddenly withdrawn, and the rigidity becomes a ghastly inertness, so Jasmine's hands, and all her body, seemed released. She felt as though she must fall, but she reasserted her strength, and slowly regained her balance, withdrawing her hands from those of Al'mah.
"He is alive--he is alive--he is alive," she kept repeating to herself like one in a dream. Then she added hastily, with an effort to bear herself with courage: "Where is he? Take me."
Al'mah motioned, and in a moment they were inside the house. A sense of something good and comforting came over Jasmine. Here was an old, old room furnished in heavy and simple Dutch style, just as old Elias Brinkwort had left it. It had the grave and heavy hospitableness of a picture of Teniers or Jan Steen. It had the sense of home, the welcome of the cradle and the patriarch's chair. These were both here as they were when Elias Brinkwort and his people went out to join the Boer army in the hills, knowing that the verdomde Rooinek would not loot his house or ravage his belongings.
To Jasmine's eyes, it brought a new strange sense, as though all at once doors had been opened up to new sensations of life. Almost mechanically, yet with a curious vividness and permanency of vision, her eyes drifted from the patriarch's chair to the cradle in the corner; and that picture would remain with her till she could see no more at all. Unbidden and unconscious there came upon her lips a faint smile, and then a door in front of her was opened, and she was inside another room--not a bedroom as she had expected, but a room where the Dutch simplicity and homely sincerity had been invaded by something English and military. This she felt before her eyes fell on a man standing beside a table, fully dressed. Though shaken and worn, it was a figure which had no affinity with death.
As she started back Al'mah closed the door behind her, and she found herself facing Rudyard, looking into his eyes.
Al'mah had miscalculated. She did not realize Jasmine as she really was--like one in a darkened room who leans out to the light and sun. The old life, the old impetuous egoism, the long years of self were not yet gone from a character composite of impulse, vanity and intensity. This had been too daring an experiment with one of her nature, which had within the last few months become as strangely, insistently, even fanatically honest, as it had been elusive in the past. In spite of a tremulous effort to govern herself and see the situation as it really was--an effort of one who desired her good to bring her and Rudyard together, the ruse itself became magnified to monstrous proportions, and her spirit suddenly revolted. She felt that she had been inveigled; that what should have been her own voluntary act of expiation and submission, had been forced upon her, and pride, ever her most secret enemy, took possession of her.
"I have been tricked," she said, with eyes aflame and her body trembling. "You have trapped me here!" There was scorn and indignation in her voice.
He did not move, but his eyes were intent upon hers and persistently held them. He had been near to death, and his vision had been more fully cleared than hers. He knew that this was the end of all or the beginning of all things for them both; and though anger suddenly leaped at the bottom of his heart, he kept it in restraint, the primitive thing of which he had had enough.
"I did not trick you, Jasmine," he answered, in a low voice. "The letter was sent without my knowledge or permission. Al'mah thought she was doing us both a good turn. I never deceived you--never. I should not have sent for you in any case. I heard you were ill and I tried to get up and go to you; but it was not possible. Besides, they would not let me. I wanted to go to you again, because, somehow, I felt that midnight meeting in the hospital was a mistake; that it ended as you would not really wish it to end."
Again, with wonderful intuition for a man who knew so little of women, as he thought, he had said the one thing which could have cooled the anger that drowned the overwhelming gratitude she felt at his being alive--overwhelming, in spite of the fact that her old mad temperament had flooded it for the moment.
He would have gone to her--that was what he had said. In spite of her conduct that midnight, when he was on his way to Hetmeyer's Kopje, he would have come again to her! How, indeed, he must have loved her; or how magnanimous, how impossibly magnanimous, he was!
How thin and worn he was, and how large the eyes were in the face grown hollow with suffering! There were liberal streaks of grey also at his temples, and she noted there was one strand all white just in the centre of his thick hair. A swift revulsion of feeling in her making for peace was, however, sharply arrested by the look in his eyes. It had all the sombreness of reproach--of immitigable reproach. Could she face that look now and through the years to come? It were easier to live alone to the end with her own remorse, drinking the cup that would not empty, on and on, than to live with that look in his eyes.
She turned her head away from him. Her glance suddenly caught a sjambok lying along two nails on the wall. His eyes followed hers, and in the minds of both was the scene when Rudyard drove Krool into the street under just such a whip of rhinoceros-hide.
Something of the old spirit worked in her in spite of all. Idiosyncrasy may not be cauterized, temperament must assert itself, or the personality dies. Was he to be her master--was that the end of it all? She had placed herself so completely in his power by her wilful waywardness and errors. Free from blame, she would have been ruler over him; now she must be his slave!
"Why did you not use it on me?" she asked, in a voice almost like a cry, though it had a ring of bitter irony. "Why don't you use it now? Don't you want to?"
"You were always so small and beautiful," he answered, slowly. "A twenty-stamp mill to crush a bee!"
Again resentment rose in her, despite the far-off sense of joy she had in hearing him play with words. She could forgive almost anything for that--and yet she was real and had not merely the dilettante soul. But why should he talk as though she was a fly and he an eagle? Yet there was admiration in his eyes and in his words. She was angry with herself--and with him. She was in chaos again.
"You treat me like a child, you condescend--"
"Oh, for God's sake--for God's sake!" he interrupted, with a sudden storm in his face; but suddenly, as though by a great mastery of the will, he conquered himself, and his face cleared.
"You must sit down, Jasmine," he said, hurriedly. "You look tired. You haven't got over your illness yet."
He hastily stepped aside to get her a chair, but, as he took hold of it, he stumbled and swayed in weakness, born of an excitement far greater than her own; for he was thinking of the happiness of two people, not of the happiness of one; and he realized how critical was this hour. He had a grasp of the bigger things, and his talk with Stafford of a few hours ago was in his mind--a talk which, in its brevity, still had had the limitlessness of revelation. He had made a promise to one of the best friends that man--or woman--ever had, as he thought; and he would keep it. So he said to himself. Stafford understood Jasmine, and Stafford had insisted that he be not deceived by some revolt on the part of Jasmine, which would be the outcome of her own humiliation, of her own anger with herself for all the trouble she had caused. So he said to himself.
As he staggered with the chair she impulsively ran to aid him.
"Rudyard," she exclaimed, with concern, "you must not do that. You have not the strength. It is silly of you to be up at all. I wonder at Al'mah and the doctor!"
She pushed him to a big arm-chair beside the table and gently pressed him down into the seat. He was very weak, and his hand trembled on the chair-arm. She reached out, as if to take it; but, as though the act was too forward, her fingers slipped to his wrist instead, and she felt his pulse with the gravity of a doctor.
Despite his weakness a look of laughter crept into his eyes and stayed there. He had read the little incident truly. Presently, seeing the whiteness of his face but not the look in his eyes, she turned to the table, and pouring out a glass of water from a pitcher there, held it to his lips.
"Here, Rudyard," she said, soothingly, "drink this. You are faint. You shouldn't have got up simply because I was coming."
As he leaned back to drink from the glass she caught the gentle humour of his look, begotten of the incident of a moment before.
There was no reproach in the strong, clear eyes of blue which even wounds and illness had not faced--only humour, only a hovering joy, only a good-fellowship, and the look of home. She suddenly thought of the room from which she had just come, and it seemed, not fantastically to her, that the look in his eyes belonged to the other room where were the patriarch's chair and the baby's cradle. There was no offending magnanimity, no lofty compassion in his blameless eyes, but a human something which took no account of the years that the locust had eaten, the old mad, bad years, the wrong and the shame of them. There was only the look she had seen the day he first visited her in her own home, when he had played with words she had used in the way she adored, and would adore till she died; when he had said, in reply to her remark that he would turn her head, that it wouldn't make any difference to his point of view if she did turn her head! Suddenly it was all as if that day had come back, although his then giant physical strength had gone; although he had been mangled in the power-house of which they had spoken that day. Come to think of it, she too had been working in the "power-house" and had been mangled also; for she was but a thread of what she was then, but a wisp of golden straw to the sheaf of the then young golden wheat.
All at once, in answer to the humour in his eyes, to the playful bright look, the tragedy and the passion which had flown out from her old self like the flame that flares out of an opened furnace-door, sank back again, the door closed, and all her senses were cooled as by a gentle wind.
Her eyes met his, and the invitation in them was like the call of the thirsty harvester in the sunburnt field. With an abandon, as startling as it was real and true to her nature, she sank down to the floor and buried her face in her hands at his feet. She sobbed deeply, softly.
With an exclamation of gladness and welcome he bent over her and drew her close to him, and his hands soothed her trembling shoulders.
"Peace is the best thing of all, Jasmine," he whispered. "Peace."
They were the last words that Ian had addressed to her. It did not make her shrink now that both had said to her the same thing, for both knew her, each in his own way, better than she had ever known herself; and each had taught her in his own way, but by what different means!
All at once, with a start, she caught Rudyard's arm with a little spasmodic grasp.
"I did not kill Adrian Fellowes," she said, like a child eager to be absolved from a false imputation. She looked up at him simply, bravely.
"Neither did I," he answered gravely, and the look in his eyes did not change. She noted that.
"I know. It was--"
She paused. What right had she to tell!
"Yes, we both know who did it," he added. "Al'mah told me."
She hid her head in her hands again, while he hung over her wisely waiting and watching.
Presently she raised her head, but her swimming eyes did not seek his. They did not get so high. After one swift glance towards his own, they dropped to where his heart might be, and her voice trembled as she said:
"Long ago Alice Tynemouth said I ought to marry a man who would master me. She said I needed a heavy hand over me--and the shackles on my wrists."
She had forgotten that these phrases were her own; that she had used them concerning herself the night before the tragedy.
"I think she was right," she added. "I had never been mastered, and I was all childish wilfulness and vanity. I was never worth while. You took me too seriously, and vanity did the rest."
"You always had genius," he urged, gently, "and you were so beautiful."
She shook her head mournfully. "I was only an imitation always--only a dresden-china imitation of the real thing I might have been, if I had been taken right in time. I got wrong so early. Everything I said or did was mostly imitation. It was made up of other people's acts and words. I could never forget anything I'd ever heard; it drowned any real thing in me. I never emerged--never was myself."
"You were a genius," he repeated again. "That's what genius does. It takes all that ever was and makes it new."
She made a quick spasmodic protest of her hand. She could not bear to have him praise her. She wanted to tell him all that had ever been, all that she ought to be sorry for, was sorry for now almost beyond endurance. She wanted to strip her soul bare before him; but she caught the look of home in his eyes, she was at his knees at peace, and what he thought of her meant so much just now--in this one hour, for this one hour. She had had such hard travelling, and here was a rest-place on the road.
He saw that her soul was up in battle again, but he took her arms, and held them gently, controlling her agitation. Presently, with a great sigh, her forehead drooped upon his hands. They were in a vast theatre of war, and they were part of it; but for the moment sheer waste of spirit and weariness of soul made peace in a turbulent heart.
"It's her real self--at last," he kept saying to himself, "She had to have her chance, and she has got it."
Outside in a dark corner of the veranda, Al'mah was in reverie. She knew from the silence within that all was well. The deep peace of the night, the thing that was happening in the house, gave her a moment's surcease from her own problem, her own arid loneliness. Her mind went back to the night when she had first sung "Manassa" at Covent Garden. The music shimmered in her brain. She essayed to hum some phrases of the opera which she had always loved, but her voice had no resonance or vibration. It trailed away into a whisper.
"I can't sing any more. What shall I do when the war ends? Or is it that I am to end here with the war?" she whispered to herself.... Again reverie deepened. Her mind delivered itself up to an obsession. "No, I am not sorry I killed him," she said firmly after a long time, "If a price must be paid, I will pay it."
Buried in her thoughts, she was scarcely conscious of voices near by. At last they became insistent to her ears, They were the voices of sentries off duty--the two who had talked to her earlier in the evening, after Ian Stafford had left.
"This ain't half bad, this night ain't," said one. "There's a lot o' space in a night out here."
"I'd like to be 'longside o' some one I know out by 'Ampstead 'Eath," rejoined the other.
"I got a girl in Camden Town," said the First victoriously.
"I got kids--somewheres, I expect," rejoined the Second with a flourish of pride and self-assertion.
"Oh, a donah's enough for me!" returned the First.
"You'll come to the other when you don't look for it neither," declared his friend in a voice of fatality.
"You ain't the only fool in the world, mate, of course. But 'struth, I like this business better. You've got a good taste in your mouth in the morning 'ere."
"Well, I'll meet you on 'Ampstead 'Eath when the war is over, son," challenged the Second.
"I ain't 'opin' and I ain't prophesyin' none this heat," was the quiet reply. "We've got a bit o' hell in front of us yet. I'll talk to you when we're in Lordkop."
"I'll talk to your girl in Camden Town, if you 'appen to don't," was the railing reply.
"She couldn't stand it not but the once," was the retort; and then they struck each other with their fists in rough play, and laughed, and said good-night in the vernacular.