Boy by H. Hervey
Marjorie had never got on well with her brother's guardian. He was a
bachelor, stern and autocratic, and with no admiration for woman's
ways, and she instinctively felt that he did not understand her.
His love for Miles Weyburne, the son of a brother officer who had
fallen in a skirmish with an Indian frontier tribe thirteen years ago,
was a thing recognised and beyond question.
Even at the age of ten the boy's likeness to his father had been
remarkable. He had the same dark, earnest eyes, the same frank, winning
manner, the same eager enthusiasm; he was soon to develop, to the
secret pride of his guardian, the same keen interest in his profession,
with a soundness of judgment and a fearless self-reliance peculiarly
He had gained his star after scarcely a year's service, and had then
got an exchange into his guardian's regiment.
Colonel Alleson held the command of a midland regimental district.
He had the reputation of being somewhat of a martinet, and was not
altogether popular with his men.
Marjorie generally spent her holidays with her aunt in the town, and
the Colonel occasionally went to see her; but he was nervous and
constrained, with little to say for himself, and Marjorie always did
her best to show to a disadvantage when he was there. He's such a
crabby old thing, she would say, when Miles grew enthusiastic over the
grave, taciturn officer,besides, he hates girls, you know he does,
and I'm not going to knuckle under to him. Her brother had explained
that the Colonel's ideas were old-fashioned, so she sometimes talked
slang on purpose to shock him. She listened to his abrupt, awkward
sentences with a half listless, half criticising air. She was a typical
school-girl at the most characteristic age,quick to resent, impatient
of control, straightforward almost to rudeness. The Colonel might be a
father to her brotherhe never could be to her. She often thought
about her father and mentally contrasted the two: she thought, too,
though less often, of the mother who had died the very day that that
father had fallen in action, when she herself was little more than a
Miles had been spending his leave with his aunt, and the day before
his return to Ireland to rejoin the battalion, he biked over to the
barracks in company with his sister to say good-bye to his guardian.
I suppose this is another of the Colonel's fads, Marjorie
remarked, glancing at the notice board as she got off her bicycle
outside the gates. What an old fuss he is, Miles.
Has he been giving you a lesson in manners?
Not he. She tossed back her wavy, golden-brown hair as she spoke.
I should like to see him try it on.
Miles gave a short little laugh.
He got into an awful rage the other day because somebody came
through here on a bicycle. How are you to read the notice all that way
Miles was not listening to her. Hearing the sound of wheels, he had
turned round and caught sight of the Colonel's dog-cart. Marjorie
glanced mischievously at him, and just as the Colonel entered the
gateway, she deliberately mounted her bicycle and rode through before
his eyes. There was just room for her to pass. The Colonel reined in,
and looked sternly round. Stop! he said. Marjorie obeyed. Wheeling
her bicycle forward, she said in her politest manner:
I beg your pardon. Did you want me?
This is quite contrary to regulations.
Yes, I know, she answered, looking straight at him. I read the
notice, but I don't see the sense of it.
There were one or two soldiers standing near, and they exchanged
glances and smiled. Miles coloured up with shame and vexation. The
Colonel gave the reins to his groom and got down without another word.
He held out his hand to Miles as the dog-cart passed on.
I want to speak to you, he said shortly, and he walked on in front
I hope I shall see you again, Miles, he began, as they ascended
the steps leading to his quarters. I have only a few minutes to spare
now. Come up this evening, will you?
Marjorie moved towards the door. The colour mounted to her cheeks as
the Colonel stepped forward to open it for her. Miles, feeling that he
ought to say something, waited behind a minute.
I'm sorry aboutabout this, he said. I don't understand it.
I do, perfectlywell, good-bye, my boy.
His grave, stern face softened wonderfully as he grasped Miles'
What an old crosspatch he is, began Marjorie as her brother came
up with her. I daren't for the life of me ride through there again.
Did you see, Miles, he was quite white with rage when I cheeked him?
Those Tommies thought it awful sport.
What a little ass you are, said Miles crossly, to make all that
row before the men.
Marjorie looked away. It served him jolly well right, she said,
They rode home the rest of the way in silence.
Miles was away with his battalion at the front, and Marjorie was
spending a fortnight of the Christmas holidays with a school friend at
Eastbourne. The two girls were hurrying down the esplanade together one
bright, frosty morning in January when Marjorie suddenly found herself
face to face with the Colonel. His eyes were bent down, and he passed
without recognising her. With a few hurried words to her chum, she ran
How do you do, Colonel? I didn't know you were here.
He started as she addressed him. I only came yesterday, he said;
I have got a few days' leave.
Did you hear from Miles last mail? I did.
Yes. He has been very regular so far.
You must miss him awfully. Are you going this way?
Then I'll come a little way with you, if I may; I wanted to say
Putting her hands into her jacket pockets, she looked very gravely
I am sorry I was rude that day I came into the Barracks, she said
hurriedly. I have been thinking about it. It was horrid of me, when
the soldiers were there. Will you forgive me?
Certainly, he said nervously, putting his hands behind him, and
You see, I want to be friends with you, she added frankly,
because of Miles. He thinks such a lot of youthe dear boy;
Her dark eyes, generally so mocking and mischievous, had grown
suddenly earnest, and his heart warmed towards her, as he held out his
Good-bye, Marjorie, he said, you are very much alike, you and
Are we? she said simply, flushing a little. I didn't know. I am
She walked back to her chum with a beating heart. He's not so bad,
she said to herself. I wish he liked girls.
Spion Kop had been abandoned, and the British Army was in orderly
retreat, when Miles found himself cut off with the remnant of his
company, by the enemy. The death of his captain had left him in
command, and realising his responsibility, he made up his mind to act
promptly. We are cut off, men, he explained briefly to his soldiers;
will you hoist the white flag, or trust to me to bring you through?
No surrender, and we stand by you, sir, answered the serjeant
major gruffly. Is it agreed, boys?
There was a general assent.
It was a gallant deed, that desperate dash to rejoin the division,
though accomplished at a terrible cost. Miles, leading the forlorn
hope, was soon to pay the price of his daring. They were all but
through when he fell, shot by a chance bullet.
An hour later his battered troops came up with the British forces.
Three or four stragglers dropped into camp as the serjeant major was
making his report.
Ah! said the colonel, expressivelyyou got through?
Yes, sir, beastly hard work, too.
Who brought you?
Lieutenant Weyburne, sir.
I thought so. He's the kind of fellow for that sort of thing. Is he
He was shot, sir.
Shot, poor boy. What will Alleson say?
It was Wednesday morning, and the entire strength of the Depôt had
turned out on parade. The Colonel, tall and dignified in the faultless
neatness of undress uniform, was standing in his characteristic
attitude, with his hands behind him and his head thrown slightly back.
His blue eyes looked out, grave and watchful, from under the peak of
his fatigue cap, and the tense interlocking of his gloved fingers was
the only sign of his mental unrest.
Yet the vision of Miles was before himMiles bold, earnest,
high-spirited, Miles in the full joy of life and strength, with the
light of affection in his eyes; Miles again with his boyish face white
and drawn and his active young form still in death.
He had loved the boy, his boy as he always called him, more even
than he had realised, and life seemed very blank without the hope of
seeing him again.
It was two days since his name had appeared in the lists of killed
and wounded, and that afternoon the Colonel went down to see Marjorie,
who had returned from Eastbourne a few days before. She looked
unusually pale when she came into the room, and though she ran forward
eagerly enough to greet him, her eyes were tearful and her lips
quivering, as she put her hand into his.
I thought of writing to youbegan the Colonel nervously,
I'm glad you came, said Marjorie, very glad. I shouldn't mind so
much if we knew just how he died, she added sorrowfully.
We know how he would face death, Marjorie!
She put her arms on the table, and hid her face with a stifled sob.
He was your boy, and you'll miss him so, she went on. There's no
one like him, no one half so dear or half so brave. If I were only a
boy I might try to be like him and make you happybut I can't, it's no
She was looking up at him with those dark eyes of hers, just as his
boy had looked at him when he said good-bye three months ago, and he
could not trust himself to speak.
I suppose you get used to things, she said with a sigh.
The Colonel put his hand on her head. Poor child, he said in a
husky voice, don't think about me.
Miles loved you, she answered softly, going up close to him. I'm
his sister. Let me love you, too.
He drew her to him in a tender fatherly manner, that brought instant
comfort to her aching, wilful little heart.
Your father was my friend, Marjorie, he said,the staunchest
friend man ever had. I have often wondered why we failed to understand
You don't like girls, said Marjorie, that's why.
The Colonel smiled grimly.
I didn't, he said. Perhaps I have changed my mind.
Lord Roberts had entered Pretoria, and the Colonel sat in his
quarters looking through the list of released prisoners. All at once he
gave a start, glanced hastily around, and then looked back again. About
half way down the list of officers, he read:
Lieut. M. Weyburne (reported killed at Spion Kop).
Miles was alive: there had been some mistake. The bugle sounded. It
was a quarter past nine. He walked out on to the parade-ground with his
usual firm step, smiling as he went. Miles was alive. He could have
dashed down the barrack-square like a bugler-boy in the lightness of
People who met him that day hastened to congratulate him. He said
very little, but looked years younger.
Three weeks later there came a letter from Miles, explaining how he
had been left upon the ground for dead, and on coming to himself, had
fallen unarmed into the hands of the Boers. He had never fully
recovered from his wounds, and by the doctor's orders had been
invalided home, so that his guardian might expect him about ten days
after receiving his letter.
It was a happy home-coming. The Colonel went down to Southampton to
meet him, and when he reached his aunt's house he found a letter from
Marjorie awaiting him. The Colonel's a dear, she wrote; I understand
now why you think such a lot of him.
Miles turned with a smile to his guardian.
You and Marjorie are friends at last, Colonel, he said.
Yes, my boy, he returned gravely; we know each other better now.