And Carew, meanwhile, could not fail to note the increasing anxiety with which Alice Mellen wrote of her cousin. From Alice's letters, it appeared that Ethel, totally unnerved by the death of Captain Frazer, had begged so piteously to be released from her hospital work that she had finally been sent home to Cape Town. She had seemed to be far from well, when she had left Johannesburg; nevertheless, she had no sooner reached home than she had plunged into the midst of the whirlpool of social life where she was said to be the gayest of the gay.
Cape Town, that fall, was facing the end of the war and the consequent departure of the swarm of young Englishmen who had made their headquarters there during the past two years. Accordingly, it resolved to make the most of the short time remaining to it; and the early weeks of the year saw the little city neglecting all other things for the sake of making merry with her fast-vanishing heroes. And, in all the round of merry-making, Ethel Dent was in evidence, bright and flashing as the diamonds that blazed on her shoulder, and as soft. Her wit was ceaseless, her energy untiring. Always the middle of a group, she yet always held herself within range of her father's protection. He watched her proudly; yet his pride was sometimes mingled with alarm, as he saw the waxy whiteness of her ears and the dark shadows which lay beneath her eyes. It was plain to him that all was not well with the girl; yet he was wholly at a loss as to the cause of the trouble.
Strange to say, he never once thought of Weldon; neither did his mind linger long upon the Captain. True, Ethel and Captain Frazer had been good friends; but so had Ethel been good friends with many another man. The secret of that last hour of the Captain's life was buried in two hearts. Weldon could not speak of it; Ethel would not. And so, in the eyes of her friends, Ethel's experience had been sorrowful, but scarcely touched with tragedy. The heroic passing of a casual friend is no cause for a lasting change in the nature of a happy-tempered girl.
However, Alice had noted the change and, quite unable to account for it, she had commented upon it to Carew. Her letter, coming that same morning, had quickened his slow-forming resolution to speak. Taken quite by itself, her account of Ethel would have made scant impression upon him. Taken in connection with what he had seen of Weldon, it forced him to draw certain conclusions which, though wrong in detail, were comparatively accurate in their main outlines.
He and Weldon came back from their walk, wrapped in the silence of perfect understanding. Carew had asked few questions; Weldon had made even fewer replies, and those replies had been brief. Ethel's name had scarcely been mentioned between them. Their talk had mainly concerned itself with Captain Frazer, his life, his passing, the void he had left behind him. Only one sentence had related to the scene in the hospital; but its brief, tragic summing up of the situation had been sufficient. Carew had made no answer, save to walk on for a few steps in silence, with his hand resting on the shoulder of his friend.
That night, he wrote to Alice. The letter was long and full of detail. It told what he knew, what he had inferred and what he feared. It begged her, in the name of their own sacred happiness, to help him win the same happiness for these two who, longing to come together, were straying always farther apart; and it ended with the words with which he had begun his talk with Weldon, that noon,--
"For God's sake, how long is this going to last?"
Paddy waved his thumb disrespectfully towards the rear of the column.