But his attention was diverted by a gleam from one of the benches. Metallic parts lay heaped in a pile. He poked at them with a stiff-fingered gauntlet; they were oddly familiar. They were, he thought, very much like the parts of a bullet-gun.
The man turned his face away, his mood quickly altered by the girl’s words.
The second story that mutely reinforced the shrill indictment of that little Belgian girl was a description he had heard of some poor devil being shot for cowardice at dawn. A perplexed, stupid youth of two- or three-and-twenty, with little golden hairs that gleamed on a pallid cheek, was led out to a heap of empty ammunition boxes in a desolate and mutilated landscape of mud and splintered trees under a leaden sky, and set down on a box to die. It was as if Bunny had seen that living body with his own eyes, the body that jumped presently to the impact of the bullets and lurched forward, and how the officer in command??who had been himself but a little child in a garden a dozen years or more ago??came up to the pitiful prostrate form and put his revolver to the head behind the ear that would never hear again and behind the eye that stared and glazed, and pulled the trigger ??to make sure.??
yet I often thought him an idiot myself, and bad as my own poker was, I knew enough of the game to judge that his—when he wasn’t attending—fully justified such an outburst from his wife. Why her sally disturbed me I couldn’t have said; nor why, when it was greeted by a shrill guffaw from her “latest,” young Bolton Byrne, I itched to cuff the little bounder; nor why, when Hayley Delane, on whom banter always dawned slowly but certainly, at length gave forth his low rich gurgle of appreciation—why then, most of all, I wanted to blot the whole scene from my memory. Why?
“It is my son! my son!” and she fainted.
Some idea may be gathered of the importance of this engagement when I say that there were near two hundred officers alone in the hospital, which was one of the largest convents in the town. As Father O'Rourke foretold, promotion was rapid and easy, and Captain Ranald MacDonnell was named as Colonel, commanding the regiment in the place of his brother, killed, as already related. He went through the hospital twice a day and never failed to visit me, inquiring particularly of my condition by order of his father, the General, and also brought me news of my own promotion as Lieutenant, with many kindly wishes for my speedy recovery—and I know no more grateful cataplasm for a mending wound than promotion.
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