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Grandmother Dear Part 19

"What a goose you are, Molly!" exclaimed both Ralph and Sylvia. "How could any stories ever be written if people went on about them like that?"

But Molly's honest puzzled face made grandmother smile.

"I know how you mean, dear," she said, "I used to think like that myself.

No, I don't know _exactly_ the very words Mr. Sawyer said to himself, but, judging from my knowledge of the whole story, I put myself, as it were, in his place, and picture to myself what I would have said. I told you I had altered it a little. When your uncle wrote it out it was all in the first person, but not having been an eye-witness, as he was, it seemed to me I could better give the _spirit_ of the story by putting it into this form. Do you understand at all better, dear? When you have heard the whole to the end you will do so, I think. All the part about Carlo I had from his own lips."

"Thank you, grandmother dear. I think I understand," said Molly, and she was philosophical enough to take no notice of the repeated whisper which reached her ears alone. "Oh, you _are_ a goose!"

It was not till the next evening that grandmother went on with the second part of her story.

"What do all those stars mean?" asked Molly, peeping over her grandmother's shoulder before she began to read. "Look Sylvia, how funny!" and she pointed to a long row of * * * * at the end of the first part of the manuscript.

"They mean that some length of time had elapsed between the two parts of the story," said grandmother.

"Oh, I see. And each star counts for a year. I suppose. Let me see; one, two, three----"

"Molly, _do_ be quiet, and let grandmother go on," said Ralph and Sylvia, their patience exhausted.

"No, they are not counted like that," said grandmother. "Listen, Molly, and you will hear for yourself."

"The first part of my little story finished in the snow--on a cold December morning in England. The second part begins in a very different scene and many, many miles away from Ryeburn. Three or four years have passed. Some of those we left boys are now men--many changes have taken place. Instead of December, it is August. Instead of England we have a far away country, which till that time, when the interest of the whole world was suddenly concentrated on it, had been but little known and still less thought of by the dwellers in more civilised lands. It is the Crimea, children, and the Crimea on a broiling, stifling August day. At the present time when we speak and think of that dreadful war and the sufferings it entailed, it is above all the _winters_ there that we recall with the greatest horror--those terrible 'Crimean winters.' But those who went through it all have often assured me that the miseries of the summers--of some part of them at least--were in their way quite as great, or worse. What could be much worse? The suffocating heat; the absence, or almost total absence, of shade; the dust and the dirt, and the poisonous flies; the foul water and half-putrid food? Bad for the sound ones, or those as yet so--and oh, how intolerably dreadful for the sick!

"'What could be much worse?' thought Jack Berkeley to himself, as after a long killing spell in the trenches he at last got back to his tent for a few hours' rest.

"'My own mother wouldn't know me,' he said to himself, as out of a sort of half melancholy mischief he glanced at his face in the little bit of cracked looking-glass which was all he had to adorn himself by. He was feeling utterly worn out and depressed--so many of his friends and companions were dead or dying--knocked down at that time quite as much by disease as by Russian bullets--in many cases the more terrible death of the two. And things in general were looking black. It was an anxious and weariful time.

"Jack threw himself on the bed. He was too tired to undress. All he longed for was coolness and sleep--the first the less attainable of the two, for the thin sides of his tent were as powerless to keep out the scorching heat as the biting cold, and it was not till many more months of both heat and cold had passed that any better shelter was provided for him or his fellows.

"But heat and flies notwithstanding Jack fell asleep, and had slept soundly for an hour or two when he was suddenly awakened by a voice calling him by name.

"'Berkeley,' it said, 'you are Berkeley of the 300th, aren't you? I am sorry to awaken you if you're not, but I couldn't see your servant about anywhere to ask. There's a poor fellow dying, down at Kadikoi, asking for Berkeley--Jack Berkeley of the 300th.'

"'Yes, that's me,' said Jack, rubbing his eyes with his smoke-begrimed hands, which he had neither had energy nor water to wash before he fell asleep. 'That's me, sure enough. Who is it? What does he want?'

"'I don't know who he is,' replied the other. 'I didn't hear his name.

He's not one of us. He's a poor devil who's out here as a correspondent to some paper--I forget which--he's only been out a short time. He's dying of dysentery--quite alone, near our quarters. I'm Montagu of the 25th Hussars--Captain Montagu, and our doctor, who's looking after him, sent in for me, knowing I'd been at Ryeburn, as the poor fellow said something about it. But it must have been after my time. I left in '48.'

"'I don't think I remember you,' said Jack meditatively. 'But you may have been among the upper boys when I was one of the small ones.'

"'Sure to have been,' said Captain Montagu. 'But about this poor fellow.

He was so disappointed when he found I was a stranger to him that I said I'd try to find some other Ryeburn boy who might remember him. And some one or other mentioned you, so I came over to look you up.'

"'Very good of you,' said Jack, who was still, however, feeling so sleepy that he could almost have wished Captain Montagu had _not_ been so good.

'Shall I go back with you to Kadikoi? Very likely it's some one I did not know either, still one can but try.'

"'You're very tired,' said Montagu, sympathisingly. 'I am sorry to give you such a long walk. But the doctor said he couldn't last long, and the poor fellow seemed so eager when he heard your name.'

"'Oh, he _does_ know me then?' said Jack, his interest reviving. 'I didn't understand.'

"'Oh yes. I mentioned your name when I heard it, and he said at once if it was _Jack_ Berkeley he would extremely like to see him. It was stupid of me not to ask his name.'

"'I'll be ready to go with you in a moment,' said Jack, after frantic efforts discovering in a bucket a very small reserve of water with which he managed to wash his face clear of some part of its grimy covering.

'My servant's gone to Balaclava to see what he could get in the way of food for a change from these dreadful salt rations. He brought me a bottle of porter the other day; it cost three shillings, but I never enjoyed anything so much in my life.'

"'I can quite believe it,' said Captain Montagu feelingly. 'Your servant must be worth his weight in gold.'

"In another minute they were on their way. The sun was beginning to sink, fortunately; it was not _quite_ so hot as a few hours previously. But it was quite as dusty, and the walking along a recently and roughly made track, not worthy the name of road, was very tiring. It was fully five miles to Kadikoi--five miles across a bare, dried-up country, from which all traces of the scanty cultivation it had ever received were fast disappearing under the present state of things. There was not a tree, hardly a stunted shrub, to be seen, and the ground--at best but a few inches of poor soil above the sterile rock, felt hard and unyielding as well as rough. It was a relief of its kind at last to quit the level ground for the slope leading down to Balaclava, where, though they were too small to afford anything in the shape of shade, the sight of some few, starved-looking bushes and some remains of what might once have been grass, refreshed the eye, at once wearied and dazzled by the glare and monotony of the sun-dried plain.

"The tent to which Captain Montagu led the way stood by itself on some rising ground, a little behind the row of nondescript hovels or mud huts representing what had been the little hamlet of Kadikoi. It looked wretched enough as the two young men made their way in, but everywhere looked wretched, only the bareness and comfortlessness impressed one doubly when viewed in connection with physical suffering that would have been hard to endure even with all the alleviations and tenderness of friends and home about one.

"The doctor was just leaving the tent--his time was all too precious to give much of it where it was evident that his skill could be of no avail--but before going he had done what he could for the sick man's comfort, and he lay now, pale, worn, and wan, but no longer in pain, and by the bedside--a low narrow camp stretcher--sat a young soldier, holding from time to time a cup of water to the dry lips of the dying man. Clumsy he might be, but there was no lack of tenderness in his manner or expression.

"That's one of our men that the doctor sent in,' whispered Montagu; 'the poor fellow there had been lying alone for two or three days, and no one knew. His Greek servant--scoundrels those fellows are--had deserted him.'

"Jack cautiously approached the bed.

"'This is Mr. Berkeley--Jack Berkeley of the 300th, whom you said you would like to see,' said Captain Montagu gently, stepping in front of Jack.

"The sick man's eyes lightened up, and a faint flush rose in his cheeks.

He was very fair, and lying there looked very young, younger somehow than Jack had expected. _Had_ he ever seen him before? There was nothing remarkable about the face except its peculiarly gentle and placid expression--yet it was a face of considerable resolution as well, and there were lines about the mouth which told of endurance and fortitude, almost contradicting the wistfulness of the boyish-looking blue eyes.

Jack grew more and more puzzled. _Something_ seemed familiar to him, yet----

"'How good, how very good of you to come. Do you remember me, Berkeley?'

said the invalid, feebly stretching out a thin hand, which Jack instinctively took and held gently in his own strong grasp.

"Jack hesitated. A look of disappointment overspread the pale face.

"'I am afraid you don't know me. Perhaps you would not have come if you had understood who it was.'

"'I did not hear your name,' said Jack, very gently, 'but, of course, hearing you wished to see me----' he hesitated. 'Were we at Ryeburn together?'

"'Yes,' said the dying man. 'My--my name is Sawyer--Philip Sawyer--but you only knew my surname, of course.'

"Jack understood it all. Even before the name was mentioned, the slight nervous stammer, the faint peculiarity of accent, had recalled to his memory the poor young junior master, whose short, apparently unsuccessful, Ryeburn career had left its mark on the lives of others besides his own.

"_Jack_ understood--not so the sick man. He was surprised and almost bewildered by the eagerness with which his visitor received his announcement.

"'Sawyer, Mr. Sawyer!' he exclaimed. 'You cannot imagine how glad I am to see you again. I don't mean--I am terribly sorry to see you like this--but I have so often wished to find you, and I could never succeed in doing so.'

"He turned as he spoke to Captain Montagu.

"'I'll stay with him for an hour or two--as long as I can,' he said.

'I think,----' he added, glancing at the extempore sick-nurse, and hesitating a little. Captain Montagu understood the glance.

"'Come, Watson,' he said to the young soldier, 'Mr. Berkeley will sit with--with Mr.----'

"'Sawyer,' said Jack.

Chapter end

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