|Newspaper Title||Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889 - 1915)|
|Trove Title||A Lost Life: A Complete Tale|
A LOST LIFE. I
" I can't see those three palm trees, said the major, a grey-headed " ranker" who supported a wife and family of six in West Kensington out of his pay.
He and the best part of the regiment under his command were winding their way along the desert, through thick thorny scrub, between treacherous looking low parallel ranges.
"I can't make out those palm-trees,' said the major ; " Lieut. Lovett, shoot the guide at the first sign of his play- ing false."
Lieut. Lovett's gone with two files of men and the guide to the top of the ridge to reconnoitre, sir."
Lieut. Lovett and the two files ol men never came back, and the major said no more, for a volley from the ridge stretched him lifeless.
Officer after officer, sergeant after sergeant, fell, marked out by their uniforms as distinctly as if they had been branded. The Arabs evidently
had some renegade among them well up in English uniforms.
Still the column fought its way on doggedly. At last there was only one commissioned or non-commissioned officer left-a smooth-faced boy, fresh from school, just rushed through Sandhurst. But still the magic of discipline held tho men together, And then he, too, was picked off by the sharpshooters ; and if he had been a Crimean veteran, the effect could not have been more instantan- eous. The men, who were half of them little better than recruits, com- menced a saur qui peut, each man rushing for the nearest boulder or thornbush to shelter himself for one minute from the murderous hail of bullets which poured from tho ridges. The Arabs had been waiting for this, like vultures for a lion to die, and sprang out of the scrub with spear
and knife to make shambles.
Next moment one of the rank and file sprang forward to where the dead boy lay, sword in hand, clutching the colours which he had seized as the colour-sergeant fell. Quick as lightning he caught hold of the sword, and waving it in the air, thundered out the command " Form company square." The men, when they saw the familiar signal and heard the familiar word of commnnd, sprang into their places with one accord. They were again a regiment and not a flock of sheep without a shepherd. They had a strange commander ; a fine man enough he must have been once, but his ruined complexion and bloodshot eyes, with their look of devil-may-care, told the tale of dis- sipated years. Still, the men felt they had a, master among them once more, and neither bullet nor blade could make any impression on their firmness, though their numbers diminished woefully fast, and, owing to their commander being one of the rank and file like themselves, the sharp-shooters could not pick him out. Their ammunition was failing, and they knew that in a few minutes death must await them as surely as it did an hour ago, when each was cowering to save himself, when sud- denly they heard the noise of a machine-gun, and saw the swarthy hordes of Arabs mown down. The heart of everyone but the man with the bloodshot eyes beat high. He did not value his life. In another moment he was dead, pierced to the heart by a shot fired by an Arab in his flight at random. A moment after tho general dashed up at the head of his cavalry, and the main force appeared at the top of the ridge. The Arabs were in full flight, and the hussars were ordered to complete the rout. It appeared that there had been double treachery. The regi- ment's guide was one of the enemy, who had led them into a trap, and with the enemy was an Arab in the
service of the English, who had slipped away at the earliest opportunity and taken the alarm to the
general,who had hastened to the rescue with his whole force. The general found the soldiers crowded round a fallen comrade, a man in a private uniform, with the regimental
colours in one hand and an officer's sword in the other.
He leaped from his horse, and while the men told the story of the man whose presence of mind had saved them, he unbuttoned the dead man's tunic and shirt, for he had caught a glimpse of a slender gold chain round.the swarthy neck. The chain was attached to a leathern wallet, brown with sweat, and wet with the blood from his death wound. It hung next his skin. The general opened it reverently, and as he examined it the rough soldiers standing around him were moved, for tears rolled down his checks. The wallet, contained only three things -a tress of hair fair and silky ; the miniature of a beautiful young girl with a deli- cate high-bred face; and a letter, addressed : " Captain, the Honourable Charles Le Grey,-Whites." The paper inside was coroneted, and the writing splashed with tears. Tho note was
"My first and last darling.-After this terrible morning I can never, never marry you-I can never see you again. But, by my hope of heaven, I am yours and yours only till I die. She whose fondest wish on earth was to beyour wife. G.C."
" G.C.," Gwendolin Carbis," said the general in a husky' voice, and he
kissed the letter and miniature fondly, and returning them to his wal- let,put them in his pocket. " Bring the body to my tent,' he commanded and they "hastily knocked up a stretcher, and on it they laid the body of Private Harris, with the boy officer's sword in his hand, and the tattered colours of the regiment laid over his body as if he had been by commission as well as by fact-their commander.