Putting Things Right by Henry Seton Merriman

"Want Berlyng," he seemed to be saying, though it was difficult to catch the words, for we were almost within range, and the fight was a sharp one. It was the old story of India frontier warfare; too small a force, and a foe foolishly underrated.

The man they had just brought in—laying him hurriedly on a bed of pine-needles, in the shade of the conifers where I had halted my little train—poor Charles Noon of the Sikhs, was done for. His right hand was off at the wrist, and the shoulder was almost severed.

I bent my ear to his lips, and heard the words which sounded like "Want Berlyng."

We had a man called Berlyng in the force—a gunner—who was round at the other side of the fort that was to be taken before night, two miles away at least.

"Do you want Berlyng?" I asked slowly and distinctly.

Noon nodded, and his lips moved. I bent my head again till my ear almost touched his lips.

"How long have I?" he was asking.

"Not long, I'm afraid, old chap."

His lips closed with a queer distressed look. He was sorry to die.

"How long?" he asked again.

"About an hour."

But I knew it was less. I attended to others, thinking all the while of poor Noon. His home life was little known, but there was some story about an engagement at Poonah the previous warm weather. Noon was rich, and he cared for the girl; but she did not return the feeling. In fact, there was some one else. It appears that the girl's people were ambitious and poor, and that Noon had promised large settlements. At all events, the engagement was a known affair, and gossips whispered that Noon knew about the some one else, and would not give her up. He was, I know, thought badly of by some, especially by the elders, who had found out the value of money as regards happiness, or rather the complete absence of its value.

However, the end of it all lay on the sheet beneath the pines, and watched me with such persistence that I was at last forced to go to him.

"Have you sent for Berlyng?" he asked, with a breathlessness which I know too well.

Now I had not sent for Berlyng, and it requires more nerve than I possess to tell unnecessary lies to a dying man. The necessary ones are quite different, and I shall not think of them when I go to my account.

"Berlyng could not come if I sent for him," I replied soothingly. "He is two miles away from here trenching the North Wall, and I have nobody to send. The messenger would have to run the gauntlet of the enemy's earthworks."

"I'll give the man a hundred pounds who does it," replied Noon, in his breathless whisper. "Berlyng will come sharp enough if you say it's from me. He hates me too much." He broke off with a laugh which made me feel sick. "Could he get here in time," he asked after a pause, "if you sent for him?"

"Yes," I replied, with my hand inside his soaked tunic.

I found a wounded water-carrier—a fellow with a stray bullet in his hand—who volunteered to find Berlyng, and then I returned to Noon and told him what I had done. I knew that Berlyng could not come.

He nodded, and I think he said, "God bless you."

"I want to put something right," he said, after an effort; "I've been a blackguard."

I waited a little in case Noon wished to repose some confidence in me. Things are so seldom put right that it is wise to facilitate such intentions. But it appeared obvious that what Noon had to say could only be said to Berlyng. They had, it subsequently transpired, not been on speaking terms for some months.

I was turning away when Noon suddenly cried out in his natural voice, "There IS Berlyng."

I turned and saw one of my men, Swearney, carrying in a gunner. It might be Berlyng, for the uniform was that of a captain, but I could not see his face. Noon, however, seemed to recognize him.

I showed Swearney where to lay his man, close to me alongside Noon, who at that moment required all my attention, for he had fainted.

In a moment Noon recovered, despite the heat, which was tremendous. He lay quite still looking up at the patches of blue sky between the dark motionless tops of the pine trees. His face was livid under the sunburn, and as I wiped the perspiration from his forehead he closed his eyes with the abandon of a child. Some men, I have found, die like children going to sleep.

He slowly recovered, and I gave him a few drops of brandy. I thought he was dying, and decided to let Berlyng wait. I did not even glance at him as he lay, covered with dust and blackened by the smoke of his beloved nine-pounders, a little to the left of Noon, and behind me as I knelt at the latter's side.

After a while his eyes grew brighter, and he began to look about him. He turned his head, painfully, for the muscles of his neck were injured, and caught sight of the gunner's uniform.

"Is that Berlyng?" he asked excitedly.

"Yes."

He dragged himself up and tried to get nearer to Berlyng. And I helped him. They were close alongside each other. Berlyng was lying on his back, staring up at the blue patches between the pine trees.

Noon turned on his left elbow and began whispering into the smoke-grimed ear.

"Berlyng," I heard him say, "I was a blackguard. I am sorry, old man. I played it very low down. It was a dirty trick. It was my money—and her people were anxious for her to marry a rich man. I worked it through her people. I wanted her so badly that I forgot I—was supposed—to be a—gentleman. I found out—that it was you—she cared for. But I couldn't make up my mind to give her up. I kept her—to her word. And now it's all up with me—but you'll pull through and it will all—come right. Give her my—love—old chap. You can now—because I'm—done. I'm glad they brought you in—because I've been able—to tell you—that it is you she cares for. You—Berlyng, old chap, who used to be a chum of mine. She cares for you—God! you're in luck! I don't know whether she's told you—but she told me—and I was—a d—d blackguard."

His jaw suddenly dropped, and he rolled forward with his face against Berlyng's shoulder.

Berlyng was dead when they brought him in. He had heard nothing. Or perhaps he had heard and understood—everything.