"Think you the Captain--I mean the Adjutant; but he'll always be the Captain to me--would he take it amiss, think you, little one, if I sent him a bit of the joint, for the sake of old times? He'll like be eating truffled ostrich and locust sauce at the mess; but Paddy'd like to have a hand in his Christmas dinner. It's all I can do for him, and he's done much for me."
"Try him and see, Paddy," Weldon advised. "If I know Captain Frazer, he'll have nothing to-day that will please him more."
With feasting and story-telling and the inevitable letters to wife and sweetheart, the sunshiny day lost itself in twilight and the twilight in the chill of night. Along the line of the blockhouses for miles away, lights began to twinkle out from the narrow loopholes. Throughout the camp, answering lights twinkled back at them till the night was spotted thick with dots of yellow, winking up at the yellow stars above. And around the camp and the blockhouses lay the dark, measureless veldt, and the veldt was very still.
Stillness was not in the camp, however. Even the gluttonous Queenslanders had recovered from their woes of the morning; and, from end to end of the great enclosure, there was a spirit of merrymaking born of the feast day, the dinner and the unwonted allowance of rum. In the groups scattered about the camp fires, tongues wagged freely of home, of boyhood, of adventures in past years. War talk was tabooed that night. According to his custom, Tommy ignored the present and ranged at large over the remote past and yet remoter future.
Carew, with the easy adaptability which marked him, was the central figure of one of the groups where he acted as a species of toastmaster, to direct the trend of the stories and lead the singing. Weldon sat slightly apart, watching the firelit group before him, while his mind trailed lazily to and fro, from home, with its holly wreaths in the windows, to Cape Town where the flower-boxes edging a wide veranda would be a mass of geranium blossoms now, and where, in the shady western end, would sit a tall girl with hair the color of the yellow flame. Strangely enough, to his honest, straightforward mind it never occurred to doubt that she was thinking of him, sending a Christmas wish in his direction. More than once she had given proof of her liking for him, her interest in his concerns. Her blue eyes had met his eyes steadily, kindly. Weldon had certain old-fashioned notions of womanhood which not all of his social life had been able to beat out of him. Far back in his boyhood, his mother, still a social leader at home, had told him it was unmanly to flirt. A good and loyal woman would have no share in flirtation; women of the other sort could have no share in his life. Weldon was no Galahad. He had danced and dined with many women, had given sympathy to some, chaff to others; nevertheless, his relations with them had been curiously direct and simple. Quite unconsciously to himself, his mother's code had become ingrained in the very fibre of his being. And now he was ready to stand or fall by his judgment that Ethel Dent, Cooee as he called her in his secret heart, was as good and loyal as a woman could be. The future seemed to him so obvious that he made no effort to forecast it. He was content to wait.
"Christmas is nearly over, Weldon."
He roused himself abruptly, as Captain Frazer dropped down at his side.
"Yes; but the revel will outlast the day," he answered, laughing. "Tommy is in his glory now, and it will take more than taps to make him subside."