Boy's Love by John Strange Winter
It was towards the close of the afternoon of a
warm June day that a short, sturdy, fair-haired
boy, wearing a dark blue uniform with a touch of
scarlet here and there about it, sat down at a long
desk to write a letter. It was headed, "Duke of
York's School, Chelsea, S.W.," and began, "My dear
When he had got thus far, the boy paused, leaned
his elbow upon the desk, and rested his head upon
his hand. And then after a minute the hand slipped
downward, and rubbed something out of his
eyes--something hard to get rid of, apparently--for
presently one bright drop after another forced its
way through his fingers and fell on to the desk
And yet, truth to tell, even those bright drops did
not help to get rid of the something, the something
which had a firm foothold in the heart below,
making it swell till it was well-nigh to bursting.
This was his letter:--
"My DEAR MOTHER,--This is my last day at
school. To-morrow I am going to Warnecliffe to join
the 25th Dragoons; they call them the Black Horse.
I am very glad to leave school and be a soldier
like my father, but,"--and here the blurred writing
was an evidence of the trouble in the boy's
heart--"but I don't like losing my chum. You know,
he is Tom Boynton, and we have been chums for
more than three years. He is orderly to the
dispenser, and has leave to go out almost any time.
I am very fond of him, and haven't any other chum,
though he has another chum besides me. I think
he likes me best. I do love him, mother; and I
lay awake all last night crying. Tom cried, too,
a little. He is going to the Scarlet Lancers, and
I don't know when I shall see him any more. I
wish we were going into the same regiment.
"I got your letter on my fourteenth birthday, the
day before yesterday. Tom is seven months older
than me. He would have left school before if he
had not been orderly to the dispenser. We both
got the V.G. Jack Green is going into my regiment.
I shall come home when I get my furlough--and
if Tom gets his at the same time, can I bring him
too? Tom hasn't any father or mother at all.
This is a very long letter. I hope you are very
- "I am your affectionate son,
He read the letter over, brushing his cuff across
his eyes when he came to that part of the paper
which showed traces of tears, and then he folded
it and directed the envelope, after which he had
finished. Then he got up, took his cap, and with
the letter in his hand, went forlornly out of the
When he had got rid of it, he went in search
of his chum, Tom Boynton, whom he met just
coming away from his last service as "Dispenser's
Orderly" with a heaving chest and eyes almost as
red and swollen as poor Ted's own.
Ted turned back with him and took hold of his arm.
"Taken your last physic out, Tom?" said he,
with a gallant attempt at manly indifference to the
dreaded parting of the morrow.
"Aye," returned Tom in a choking voice and
with eyes carefully averted.
The dispenser had just bade him "good-bye," and
had told him in wishing him "God speed" that he
was very sorry to lose him, and would most likely
have to wait a long time before he again had help
as efficient; and then he had given him a tip of
half-a-crown, and had shaken hands with him. So
Tom's heart was quite as full as Ted's, and of the
two, being the older and bigger and stronger, he
was far the most anxious to hide the emotion he felt.
"Have you seen Jack?" he asked, giving his head
a bit of a shake and crushing his trouble down right
"Jack Green?" asked Ted shortly. He was not
a little jealous of Jack Green, who was his chum's
"Aye! Where is he?"
"I haven't seen him--not all the afternoon,"
returned Ted curtly.
"I'll go and find him," said Tom, disengaging his
arm from Ted's close grasp.
The two lads parted then, for Tom swung away
in the direction of the playground, leaving Ted
staring blankly after him; and there he stood for
full five minutes, until, his eyes blinded with pain,
he could see no longer, and then he turned away and
hid his face upon his arm against a friendly
But by-and-by his jealousy of Jack Green began
to wear away. Perhaps, after all, he argued, Tom
only wanted to hide his trouble. Tom was a big
lad, and was even more ashamed than Ted of being
betrayed into weeping and such-like exhibitions of
weakness. So, by the time they turned in for the
night--the last night--Ted had forgotten the pain
of the afternoon.
"Tom," said he, going over to his chum's bed,
which was next to his, "Tom, I've come to talk to you."
"Yes," whispered Tom in reply. The lights were
all out then, and most of the boys were fast asleep,
so big Tom drew his chum's head down to his, and
put his arm round his neck.
"It's the last night, Tom," said Ted in a strangled
"Yes," said Tom, in a whisper.
"We've been chums for three years and more,"
Ted went on, "and we've never been out of friends
yet. P'raps I shall get an exchange to your
"Or me to yours," answered Tom eagerly.
"I shan't have no chum now," Ted went on,
taking no notice of Tom's words.
"You'll have Jack Green," said Tom.
"Yes, there'll be Jack Green, but he ain't you,"
Ted answered mournfully. "He'll never be my chum
like you was, Tom; but if ever I've a chance of doing
him a good turn, I will, 'cause you liked him."
"Will you, Ted?" eagerly.
"Yes, I will," answered Ted steadily. "And,
Tom, it's our last time together to-night--we mayn't
ever get together again."
"I know," sighed Tom.
"I wish," Ted said hesitatingly--"oh, Tom,"
with a sorrowful catch in his voice and a great gulp
in his throat, "I--I--do wish you'd kiss me--just
And so Tom Boynton put his other arm around
his chum's neck, and the two lads, who had been
friends for three years, held one another for a minute
in a close embrace; an instant later Ted Petres tore
himself away and sprang into his bed, dragging the
clothes over his head, and burying his face in the
pillow in a vain attempt to stifle his sobs. And
before another day had gone over their heads they
had parted, to meet again--when--and where?
Seven years had gone by. A fierce and scorching
sun shone down with glaring radiance
upon long stretches of arid and sandy country,
covered sparsely with coarse rank grass and
brushwood--the country which is called the Soudan;
the country where so many brilliant lives ended,
sacrificed in the cause of a crusade as hopeless as
the crusade of the children--who sought to win
Heaven with glory where the flower of the nations
had failed--sacrificed to the death in the too late
attempt to succour a gallant soldier, the noble
victim of an ignoble policy.
And between the brilliant glaring sky and the
sun-scorched arid earth, there hung a heavy cloud
of gunpowder smoke while the flower of two races
fought desperately for conquest. In the midst a
square of British troops, with set white faces and
sternly compressed lips, with watchful eyes well on
the alert, and in each brave heart the knowledge
that the fight was for life or death. And on all
hands swarms of stalwart Soudanese, reckless of
life and counting death their chiefest gain, shouting
on Allah and the prophet to aid them, and dying
happy in the certain faith of entering paradise if
but one Christian dog should fall to their hand.
Oh, what a scene it was! Only a handful of men
at bay, while mass after mass of the enemy came
down upon them like the waves of the incoming
tide upon the sea shore; and as at times a
rock-bound coast gives way and falls before the
encroaching advances of the ocean, so that ill-fated
square gave way before the overwhelming numbers
of the soldiers of the Prophet, and in a moment
all chance for our men seemed over.
Ay; but the British lion can up and fight again
after he has had a roll over which would crush the
life out of most of his foes. And so that day, by
sheer hard desperate fighting, the square closed up
and was formed again, and of all the enemy who
had dashed into the midst of it, not one lived to
tell the tale.
But, oh! what though the enemy fell half a score
to one? How many a brave life was laid down that
day, and how many a bullet had found its billet
was proved by the shrieks of agony which rose and
rang above all the tumult of the fight.
It happened that our old friend, Ted Petres, no
longer a short and sturdy boy but a fine-grown
young fellow of one-and-twenty now, found himself
not very far from the place where the square had
been broken--found himself fighting hard to win
the day and check the mad on-rush of the sons of
the Prophet. As the ranks closed up once more,
he, as did most others who were in the rear,
turned his attention to the seething mass of blacks
thus trapped, and to his horror saw his comrade,
Jack Green, down on his knees, striking wildly here
and there against the attacks of three Soudanese.
Quick as thought--the thought that this was the
first time he had ever had a chance of fulfilling his
last promise to his boy's love, Tom--Ted flew to
his aid, sent one shouting gentleman to paradise,
and neatly disabled the right arm of a second just
as the third put his spear through poor Jack's lungs.
To cleave him to the teeth was but the work of
a moment, and Ted Petres accomplished it before
the follower of the Prophet had time to withdraw his
spear! but, alas! poor Jack's life was welling out
of him faster than the sands run out of a broken
hour-glass! It was no use to lift him up and look
round for help; Jack Green had seen his last service,
and Ted knew it. But he did his best for him in
those last moments, and help came in the person of
one of their officers, one D'Arcy de Bolingbroke
who, though badly wounded in the arm himself, was
yet able to lend a hand.
"Petres, you're a splendid fellow," he exclaimed.
"I shall recommend you if we live to get out of this.
You ought to get the Cross for this."
"Thank you, sir," returned Ted gratefully.
And then between them they managed to get the
poor fellow to the doctors, who were hard at work
behind a poor shelter of wagons and store-cases.
But it was too late, for when they laid him down
Jack Green was dead and at ease for ever.
One of the hospital orderlies turned from a case
at hand, and Ted uttered a cry of surprise at the
sight of him. "Why, Tom!" he cried, starting up
to take his hand, "I didn't even know you were with us."
There was no answering gleam of pleasure on Tom
Boynton's face; he stared at Ted, stared at the face
of the dead man lying at their feet, then dropped
upon his knees beside him. "Oh, Jack, Jack, speak
to me," he cried imploringly.
"It's too late, Tom," said Ted, bending down. "I
did my best, but it was too late, old man. I did my
Tom Boynton looked up in his old chum's face.
"You let him die?" he asked.
"We were three to one," returned the other humbly.
"You did your best, and you let him die," repeated
Tom blankly. "And he was my chum," he added
"Tom," cried Ted passionately, "I was your chum too."
"You!" with infinite scorn; then bending down
he kissed the dead face tenderly.
Ted Petres turned away, blind with pain. He
might have won the Cross, but he had lost his
friend--the friend who had loved him less than that other
chum of whom he had not the heart now to feel jealous.
And that was how they met again--that was the
end of Tom Petres' boy's love.