But now Piggie, fresh from a prolonged interval of resting in the care of Kruger Bobs, felt that she was out on an excursion of pure pleasure. Behind her trailed a long column of men and mounts and wagons; around her was a knot of horses whom she knew well; and before her stretched away the dry and level veldt, broken at the sky-line by a range of hills that rose sharply in a jagged line which culminated in one peak lifted far above all the others.
In the very front of the column rode a score or more of the South African Light Horse, with Weldon, for the moment, in command. The man was showing, just then, something of the temper of his mount. It would have been good to leave behind him the slow-moving column and go dashing away alone, far across the level plain. A spirit of restlessness was upon him; Paddy's utterances grew vague in his ears, and he cast longing glances towards the range of hills to the southward, as if eager to explore them and find what secrets, if any, lay within their keeping. Then he reined in his broncho and forced his mind back to Paddy's conversation, still upon the deeds of the kilted heroes of the Black Watch.
"And they do say," he was observing; "that Wauchope was light in his mind--fey, them piping, petticoated Scotchmen calls it--the night before his death. Now that's something that's beyond my thinking. No dead man ever knows he's going to die. Witness the last words of most of 'em! They make up their death-bed speeches, and then they turn thrifty and save up the speeches till next time. Little Canuck dear, what would you say, if you was hit?"
"I should probably say 'Thank God,'" he answered.
"And might heaven forgive you then, little one!" he said gravely. "The Lord and the Holy Virgin may send the bullets to kill you, unless it's from the Boers who is guided by the Father of Lies; but it's small thanks in return they will be asking. Take the benefits of Providence with a shout of thanksgiving; but swallow hard and keep a stiff upper lip, when it smacks you over the head with a shillalegh." Then, of a sudden, he bent over in the saddle once more and rested his hand on Weldon's fingers which lay on the broncho's neck. "And, if I mistake not, little one, it is what you have been doing, these late days, so forgive me teaching you a lesson you've already learned by heart."
Two nights before this, Carew's letter to Alice had ended with the outcry,--
"For God's sake, how long is this going to last?"
And now the end was almost in sight. Early the next day, there had come a call for remounts for a column halted on the veldt near Reitz, and Weldon, with a score of others from his squadron, had been sent out with the mounts to join the column for the trek to the southward. As a matter of course, Weldon had asked that the score might include Paddy and Carew; and now, with them at his side, he was at the head of the column which trailed away far towards the southward, twelve hundred poorly mounted men riding in leisurely fashion towards Harrismith and the chance of rounding up an occasional Boer.