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THE Maestro of Balangilang opened the door of his nipa-hut and started down the crazy bamboo ladder on his way to the school. It was early. The sun was pumping back the water that had fallen through the night, and the grass-dishevelled common, the palm-groves about, the musty mountains to the east, the whole landscape, steamed like one great cauldron. Caribaos were wallowing in the mudholes, a dozen dogs were fighting at the church portals, a stream of brownies were pouring into the schoolhouse, and, in front of the cuartel, the company of native scouts were going through scientific evolutions.

The Maestro stopped at the bottom of the steps and took in the scene with a wistful attempt at admiration. A vague discouragement oozed into his soul, but he shook himself vigorously and started across. Through the viscid atmosphere he cut his way in sprightly fashion. His long legs snapped back and forth like springs. At regular intervals his chest swelled; it remained puffed out like that of a pouter-pigeon while he took twenty steps, then collapsed with the hollow report of an air gun. He was finishing up his morning calisthenics.

As he reached the centre of the plaza an unfamiliar object stopped him abruptly. It was only a cross, a rough cross made of two pieces of bamboo fastened at right angles with bejuca and stuck into the ground, but it seemed to have meaning to the Maestro. He walked up close to it and examined it carefully. He was disappointed for a moment; then his fingers, passing along the horizontal piece, touched a thorn stuck like a nail in the axis of the cross. Holding his breath, for it was not yet time to exhale, he nodded knowingly and his eyes searched the ground about him. They soon lit upon what he wanted. He pounced upon a bunch of wild palay, stooped, and was up again with something white in his hand.

It was a piece of paper, limp and bespattered with the night's rain, but on which characters in native Visayan were still visible. The Maestro pored over it closely, then his pent-up breath exploded.

"Papa Isio," he exclaimed gaily. "The Mad Pope is coming to see us."

He stopped, with thought upon his brow.

"I lost my home and punching-bag at it once," he said, musingly. "Well, we'll give him a scrimmage this time."

After which somewhat incoherent remark he folded the sodden bit of paper carefully into his pocket, took a new deep breath, and walked on. As he approached the drilling company of scouts he saw with pleasure that Lieutenant Roberts was back from his tour of inspection and was at their head.

"Hello, Roberts," he shouted, with easy cordiality, as he came within hearing distance. "Hello, Roberts, old man; putting the boys through signal-practice, eh?"

The officer, who had just assumed a fine attitude—arms folded at the height of the chin, legs glued together in a gracefully curved column, chest projected forward till it threw a shadow upon the ground—did not respond with effusion.

"Present—Hums!" he said. "Carr-ie-ie—Hums! Shoulder—Hums!"

The Maestro took off his cap and, raising his freckled face to heaven, shook his head vigorously. A wealth of carrot-red hair parted at the crown and cascaded down the temples; and with the thus restored vision of two green eyes he observed the performance of the little brown soldiers critically.

"Pretty fine, Lieut," he said, encouragingly. "Very fair team-work; they'll do. You ought to see what I've taught them, though. I'll show you after drill. It's something scrumptious."

"Parade—Rest! Attentio-ion! Port—Hums! Shoulder—Hums!" said the officer.

"Yes, they'll do for signal-practice all right," resumed the youth, in soothing, patronising tones. "But," he went on, with a little of suggestive criticism in his voice, "what about the real thing, Lieut? What about their shooting, eh? I'm blest if I've ever seen them discharge anything except blanks, have you?"

"Fours right—March! Column left!"

"Hep, hep, hep," came the column straight for the schoolmaster. The Lieutenant was muttering something in his mustache that sounded like a benediction. For a long six months, since the organisation of the company, a prudent government had denied his pleadings for permission to give his men target practice. The Scouts were an experiment, and there was a vague feeling that they should not be taught too much.

"Why is that, Roberts?" persisted the Maestro, calmly dodging the advancing phalanx and dropping into the confidential manner. "Why don't you let them shoot? Are you afraid that they might begin on your broad back? Are you——"

A sudden start of pain closed his mouth. The Lieutenant had quietly planted his heel, in passing, upon the Educational toe, crushing down upon it with all the enthusiasm of two hundred pounds a-thrill with long-suppressed rage.

The Maestro's eyes followed the officer, marching at the side of his company. His mouth opened in a broad grin that displayed a startling vacuum where once had been two good teeth, now lying peacefully on the sod of the old Berkeley gridiron.

"Guess it's school-time," he said.

He sprinted fifty yards, leaped an eighteen-foot ditch, hurdled a little goat, bucked a carabao around till its tail was where its head had been, and bounded into the schoolroom.

Two hundred brown niños sprang to their feet.

"Guda morrneen," they howled, in unison.

"Good-morning," answered the Maestro, briskly. "Come, let's get at this. No shirking, quick! Arm exercise! One, two; one, two."

He led them through a furious set of exercises in which he himself took part enthusiastically, the perspiration cascading down his nose.

"You poor, scrawny weaklings," he said, at last, beaming upon the breathless little assemblage. "Never you mind; I'll make men of you."

Then he started to go. "Give them reading," he shouted to his native assistant from the door, "and breathing exercises every half hour."

But he came back, on an after-thought, and placed under the nose of his faithful colleague the piece of sodden paper he had picked up on the plaza.

The man's skin went yellow beneath the brown. "Papa Isio," he whispered.

"Just, what I thought," said the Maestro, nodding to himself. "And he says he is coming here, doesn't he?"

"Yes, sir. He will come and burn the pueblo. That is the way he burned Cabayan last year."

"Gol darn it, don't I know it?" ejaculated the pedagogue, fiercely. "And didn't I lose my brand-new seven-dollar Spalding punching-bag? Well, we'll set him on his head this time."

"Yes, sir," meekly answered the assistant, who had not caught the full import of the explosive questions.

But the maestro did not hear him. He was out already and making his way to the cuartel. Roberts was dismissing the company when he arrived.

"Hello, you take them now," said the officer, as he saw the Maestro—Professor of Military Gymnastics also, by common consent—near him. "And, by the way," he added, with suppressed glee, "how's the toe?"

The Maestro did not answer. He was working at the inside of his khaki jacket. With some trouble he drew out a flat, oblong box. From this he took a piece of yellow leather and a shining object that looked like a bicycle pump. He inserted the mouth of the pump into a hole in the leather and worked the handle up and down in rapid movement. The thing began to swell and take shape. Finally it looked like a great leather egg. He threw it on the ground, toward one of the loafing soldiers, and the latter, as an automaton worked by some powerful spring, hurled himself headfirst at it, grasped it inside of both arms, and lay on it, while the rest of the company poured upon him in an avalanche.

"How's that, eh?" asked the schoolmaster, turning upon the Lieutenant an eye that winked.

He did not wait for an answer. At a signal the company had formed into a long, crouching line. He placed himself behind it, took a quick step, and booted the pigskin a resounding whack. At the sound the whole line galloped off in ferocious pursuit, and when, after describing a beautiful parabola, the ball bumped along the ground, it was smothered at the second bounce beneath the gross weight of the company.

"And how's that?" asked the Maestro, in tone still more compelling.

He turned to his men. "The 'Varsity," he called, a trifle pompously.

Eleven men stood out from the rest and lined up in a team.

"Six, eight, fifteen!" he shouted.

The team went through the pantomime of a fierce mass on centre.

"Four, fifteen, twenty-two."

The team swirled around in an end-run.

Then he hurled signals at them, and, in quick succession, with a tangle here and there, it is true, they went through an entire repertory—cross tackle bucks, straight openings, tandems, kangaroos, revolving masses, double and delayed passes, fake kicks. They massed and bucked the air about as if it offered no resistance. It was beautiful to see.

"And now, behold!" said the engineer of this fine performance, pausing solemnly.

He drew a line in the earth with his heel and placed the ball upon it. The quarterback took his position near the ball and the rest of the team gathered some twenty yards away.

"Five, twenty-four, six X!" barked the Maestro.

There was a rapid movement among the men, and then they shot out in a long V. On the walk at first, then on the trot, then at full gallop the V swept down toward the line. The quarterback stooped, picked up the ball, and dexterously passed it as the formation thundered down upon him. The ball disappeared, swallowed up within the V, which, passing the line with tremendous impetus, rumbled on like a battering-ram to a glorious touch-down.

"The flying wedge," announced the Maestro, in the tone of the knickerbockered flunkey ushering his Grace, the Lord Hunter of the Billion Mark, into the Reception Hall. "Barred out in the States, but, lordy, we're so far way, and it's such a good one, that I thought I'd give it to them anyhow. Well, what do you think of my team-work, eh?"

The Lieutenant pondered a moment in silent malevolence.

"Yes," he said, "pretty fair for signal-practice. But what about the real thing, eh? Why don't they get at each other? I don't see them scrimmage, do you?"

A cloud obscured the radiance of the Maestro's visage.

"Well," he said, ruefully, "we're in the Philippines. My team can run signals, but you can't expect them to play. And," he added, in sudden consolation, "your Scouts can drill, but they won't fight."

The situation had become tense beyond words, and the Maestro gracefully evoluted.

"Papa Isio is coming," he said. "I picked up his announcement this morning in the middle of the plaza."

"Papa Isio is a common carabao thief," said the Lieutenant. "Besides, our troops have killed him already five distinct times and he doesn't exist. And it's not up to me, anyhow. Go see Hafner."

So the Maestro went off to see Hafner. Leopold Joseph Hafner, First Lieutenant of Scouts, U. S. A., Commandant of the Post of Balangilang, was reclining in an easy-chair on his veranda, a bottle of gin under his nose. He greeted his visitor with a blank stare. The Commandant disapproved of pedagogues, and, in fact, of civilians in general.

"Hello, Lieut," shouted the Maestro, with an irreverence that would have sent a shudder along the spine of a neutral witness. "Here's a piece of paper for you."

The Commandant examined the paper.

"Well?" he said, at length, with an indifference calculated to crush.

"Oh, nothing. Only that Papa Isio is coming. That's the way he announced his visit when I was at Cabayan last spring, and he burned the town down and my punching bag, and made hash of the——"

He stopped with a little gurgle of dismay. Hafner had risen from the ranks by a Teutonic adhesion to regulations, and rumour, supported by his mannerisms, had it that his début in the army had been culinary. The remark about the fate of the inhabitants of Cabayan was harmless; the little gurgle was not.

"And what business is that of yours?" asked the Commandant, with a snort.

"Not much. Thought you'd like to know, so as to get ready——"

"Sir," interrupted the Commandant, pompously, "the American Army is always ready."

"I was speaking of your Scouts, sir," the Maestro corrected, suavely.

He had been maneuvering toward the door during the latter part of the dialogue, and with the last word he waved an airy good-by and hop-skipped-jumped down the stairs.

The next day Papa Isio was in town.

The Commandant and his Second Lieutenant were aware of the fact at the same time. For, startled out of their morning slumbers by a screeching tumult, they sprang to their windows to see the whole population of Balangilang driving past as if the demon were after them—men, women, children, half-dressed, dishevelled, their eyes bursting out of their sockets, carrying bundles of hastily snatched goods or squalling babies. And from this multitude, flying by like nightmare creatures, there came one long, wailing cry: "Papa Isio! Papa Isio!"

Against the black-blue background of the mountains, over which one golden ray of sun was just sliding like a long rapier lunging toward the heart of the city, volutes of smoke were rising heavily in the water-logged air. Beneath, spiteful red tongues leaped up and out again with explosive cracklings. The whole eastern part of the pueblo was burning.

The officers ran to the cuartel. The men were in an uproar. With the force of habit, acquired through the countless parade drills which had been their sole military experience, they had made a concerted rush and were ferociously fighting among themselves for the combs and brushes and shoe-blacking.

"Here, here," thundered Roberts, while Hafner fumbled at the iron door of the storeroom where was the carefully guarded ammunition; "here, here, you don't need to comb your hair. Get your guns and cartridge-belts."

His additional persuasion was physical and evidently potent, for when the men filed past Hafner to get their ammunition they all had their rifles in hand and their belts around their waists, though some had not had time to don other garments generally regarded, in more social crises at least, as indispensable. They poured out, were rapidly formed in front of the cuartel, and, as they deployed across the plaza, from the smoke ahead Papa Isio's mad mountaineers emerged in convulsive charge. A drainage ditch cut the town transversely and the Scouts dropped neatly into it; then their rifles slid out between the grass tufts like venomous things.

"Fire at will!" bellowed the Commandant.

Here the Regulations, which hitherto had unwaveringly rewarded Hafner for his respect of them, suddenly went faithless.

"During the final rush of the attacking party," they say, categorically, "firing should be at will, for then the rapidity of fire and the flatness of trajectory are more to be relied upon than accuracy."

But—alas!—the peculiar moral characteristics of the Balangilang Scouts had not been considered when the Regulations were elaborated.

The flatness of trajectory worked poorly. At first pop the majority of the Scouts emptied their magazines like bunches of firecrackers. Most of the bullets sped towards the rising sun, to whisper the story of their masters' unsteady nerves to the trees in the hills. To be just, however, it must be recorded that some ploughed up the ground directly beneath the marksmen's noses. Even then the mere noise—which was positively tremendous—might have checked the advance of the attackers had they not been Papa Isio's own Dios-Dios crew of mad, weird fellows, hurled on by that religious spirit which kills so finely. Their Mad Pope was sending them to everlasting glory, and Death would only expedite the voyage. On they came, howling, mouth-distorted, muscles convulsively tense, a foaming, maniacal band. At their head a big black man with rolling eyeballs bounded, waving a long lance ending in a blood-dipped standard. The war drums hummed in rhythm.

The Scouts were not at ease. Some were still peppering at the sun, but the majority were fighting their rifles, trying to reload them with stiff, clutching fingers that did not work expeditiously, or pounding at them with a rage that told of something jammed. Running up and down behind the line, the two officers were waving their swords, shouting and cursing in an attempt to reinstill in their men that automatic regularity which had been their fond pride. But the strings were broken and the puppets worked spasmodically. The incoming rush was only a hundred yards away. Suddenly, with a wonderful burst of speed, the big standard-bearer spurted ahead of his companions. A Scout rose from the trench and aimed his rifle, when the blood-dripping rag described a rapid parabola and was sticking flaccidly on the soldier's khaki, the handle quivering behind. Hafner saw the hands go up, clutching at the sun.

"With the bayonet—charge," he bellowed.

"Hold on," screamed Roberts, in frenzied warning; "they haven't had that yet!"

And then he found himself surrounded, pushed, jostled, swept away in a furious stampede. Though they "hadn't had it," the men were charging, but it was in the wrong direction. Across the plaza they avalanched, toward the stone church, and when Roberts flowed in with the tumultuous current, he had a vision of the Commandant, purple and spitting with rage, at his elbow. The heavy doors clanged shut behind them.

There was a moment of silence. The men were panting in a corner with the "I-couldn't-help-it" air of a young dog whose inherited tendencies have proved too strong for his acquired characteristics. The officers looked at each other blankly.

"Well," said Roberts, "we ought to hold 'em here, sure."

"Hold them!" screeched the Commandant. "Why, blank, blankety, blank, blank, these forsaken, evil-parented, divinity-doomed curs should drive the measly, meanly-pedigreed carabao thieves clean off this evil earth. Why, doom my soul——"

"Well, let's see about it," said Roberts, briskly, while his superior choked in a befuddlement of rage.

He ran up the gallery steps to one of the six great windows which overlooked the plaza. He peered out guardedly, then with more confidence; his nose went out, then his head; his shoulders followed, his whole bust, and he was standing in the opening, his whole wide area in full view. His lower jaw hung in limp astonishment.

For what he saw was not at all what he had expected to see.

The Dios-Dios men were not surrounding the church. For some inexplicable reason they had stopped at the ditch. From his elevated position the Lieutenant could see them inside the trench, huddled like fish in a basket. Their fine ardour had singularly cooled. Grovellingly they flattened themselves at the bottom of the ditch, fighting for the underneath position, squirming in such convulsions as are ascribed to a certain gentleman of mediæval legends when sprinkled with holy water. And when Roberts searched for some possible explanation, a fresh surprise puckered his lips in a low whistle. For, strewn over a space extending some fifty yards on the near side of the trench, there were six or seven bodies lying face downward, with arms outstretched toward the church. The Dios-Dios men had not stopped at the trench; they had passed it and had been driven back to it by some mysterious catastrophe. Among the bodies Roberts recognised that of the big epileptic leader of the charge, his gory standard a red spot in a bunch of cogon.

The movements in the trench were increasing in vehemence. Suddenly Roberts knew the cause. To his ears, inattentive from the very intensity of his visual observation, there now came a significant sound. At regular, business-like intervals the sharp ping-ing of a Mauser carbine split the air, dying off in a long-drawn whistle. The Lieutenant succeeded in locating the sound. It came from a deserted hut—seemingly from its roof—at the upper end of the ditch.

The thing was clear now. The mysterious sharpshooter had the Dios-Dios men enfiladed. And the movements in the ditch were not all actuated by search for shelter. They were convulsive somersaults; stiff hands clutched at earth and grass. A little red stream began to trickle out of the lower end of the ditch.

The Dios-Dios men were becoming demoralised. The report of a Mauser is difficult to locate to the most experienced; to the fanatics the thing was impalpable mystery. And the plaza was deserted. If there had been only some human presence to rekindle their rage, they might have gone on in their mad race. But there was nothing. The Scouts were secure in the big stone church. The long, flat plaza was dead; the sun dripped into craniums like molten lead, and from the nowhere hailed the weird missiles, shattering arms, puncturing bodies, bursting open heads. One man crawled back, two followed, ten in a bunch, and in another minute the tall grass was all alive with sinuous movements and there was nobody in the trench, nothing except limp heaps of what looked like cast-off clothing.

The door of the hut marked by Roberts flew open as if by explosion and the Maestro burst out, a smoking gun in his right hand, a revolver in his left, another revolver and a bolo in his belt. With a piratical yell he raced across the plaza, his long legs working smooth as well-greased machinery, his red hair flying behind him. When midway along the trench he leaped upon a mound left by the excavators and stretched out in bold relief. A strange war-cry, beginning with something about some husky wow-wow (whoever he might be), passing on to a no less interesting fact about a whisky wee-wee, rising through a tremulous crescendo about some sort of a yah, and culminating in a long, shrill whoop, reverberated atrociously over the deserted battlefield. Then the gun that had waved through these vocal convulsions dropped back to the Maestro's shoulder, and a rapid fusilade gave a pronounced accentuation to the waving of the grass along the line of smouldering nipa-huts.

Roberts tried to dodge away from the window, but he was too late. The Maestro, through with his flourish, had turned and spied him. Roberts could see the tooth-lacking mouth agape in a broad grin. The Maestro waved his hand amiably. "Come on," said the gesture, reassuringly. "Come on; it's all right now." A violent blush rose to the officer's face.

But he had not time for self-analysis. Along the ruins, at the farther edge of the plaza, the Dios-Dios men were reforming. The panic-stricken groups were being coalesced in a triple line, and between these lines a strange being, in a long robe and incongruous helmet, was slowly passing in weird ceremony. It was the Mad Pope himself. He was locking the lines hand in hand. As he passed before his followers, each took his bolo between his teeth and grasped the hand of the man to the right; and over the clasp the illumined leader made the sign of the cross. It was grotesque, but not laughable. The puerility of garb and ceremonial was lost in the significance of the result. The Dios-Dios hysteria flamed anew. It was as if a monkey had invoked the Death Angel and the Death Angel had answered.

Roberts was leaving the window in haste when his last sweeping glance over the plaza froze him again in attention.

It seemed to him that the red rag which signalled the position of the leader of the first charge had moved. It seemed nearer, fully ten paces nearer, to the ditch than when he had first espied it. And now, even as he looked, the thing advanced sinuously and a bronze body glistened between the bunches of grass in a rapid crawl of ten feet or more toward the unconscious schoolmaster who, with his back to the subtle danger, was now watching alertly ahead.

The Lieutenant's hands went to his mouth in a warning halloo.

"Hey, there," he shouted, "look out in back there. In back, in back."

But the Maestro did not understand. The word "back," which he caught, was not to his liking.

"Oh, hell!" floated back the irreverent answer. "I'm all right. Come on, you fellows. I'll hold them."

Roberts desisted. There was no time for further dialogue. The Dios-Dios lines were beginning to move forward. And besides, at that particular moment, the Lieutenant did not care much what happened to the amiable pedagogue. He clattered downstairs.

The men were lined up, blinking before the flashes of Hafner's sword and language. The doors were thrown open and the company rushed out. Almost at the same time, from the other side of the plaza, the triple line of hand-locked fanatics began to move forward.

It was a race for the ditch and the Maestro, and a comfortable one, seemingly, for the Scouts, who had but half of the distance to go. But Roberts, through with the temporary vexation caused by the Maestro's peculiar ways, led his men at a furious pace. His sword in his left hand, his revolver in his right, his whole big frame vibrating with the effort, he raced ahead with an energy that seemed very unnecessary to Hafner, who, puffing, was falling farther and farther behind. For the Dios-Dios men were being seriously hampered in their advance. The Papa's hand-locked formation doubtless had its advantages morally, but it had also its disadvantages materially. The Maestro's carbine was working busily, and soon there were dents in the Dios-Dios lines, and some of the handclasps were strong with the tenacity not of life, but of death. The Scouts had the race well in hand, but still Roberts tugged ahead, snarling with the effort. Behind the Maestro he could see a tell-tale undulation of the high grass, nearer and nearer. He was only a few yards from the trench now. Suddenly a panther-lithe form bounded from the ground behind the schoolmaster and a big black man with upraised arms, terminating in a kriss, stood out in relief. Roberts's revolver spit. The black arms whizzed down with a velocity hardly lessened by the limpness of death. There was a dull thud; the schoolmaster rolled slowly into the ditch, and the big black man pitched headlong down upon him.

"By ——, too bad," muttered Roberts, and then his revolver spluttered. The situation was not bad. The Scouts had gained the trench in good time. Bunched together and firing by platoon, they were doing better. The Dios-Dios line received each volley with a shivering bow, and if this involuntary courtesy proved the firing to be still too high, it no less showed that it was at least within whistling distance. The ardour of the advance waned gradually; at last the lines stopped in indecision. The more rabid fanatics were still tugging forward, the others were holding back, and the lines vibrated between the two impulses without advancing. It was the psychological moment.

"Time for a charge, eh?" Roberts shouted, turning to his superior.

But that gentleman was sleeping quietly, his face in the grass, and a shivered lance-handle by his side.

"With the bayonet—charge!" bellowed Roberts, taking command.

He took a few steps in advance and found himself alone. The Scouts were satisfied with their position; they settled a little deeper in the trench and peppered away valiantly.

"Charge, darn you, charge!" screeched Roberts, pricking the nearest men with his sword.

But the few minutes of oral instruction upon charging, given in the church, proved inadequate. Three or four—those who had come in closest contact with Roberts's persuasion—started out convulsively, took a few steps, and suddenly flopped back into the ditch like frogs into a puddle.

The Dios-Dios lines were stiffening now. With the Maestro's rifle quiet, their immunity from punishment was encouraging. Back of them, upright on a mound, the pseudo-sainted form of Papa Isio stood with arms stretched to heaven in fervent exhortation. The more valiant began to prevail. The lines began to move forward again.

"Oh, Lord," groaned Roberts, "if the little skunks would only charge."

And then from the depths of the trench there slowly emerged a strange, inchoate, human thing. As it rose it segregated; one half of it fell off in a big black, limp body. The rest continued unfolding, up and up, till finally it stood in full view, a weird, bloody, red-haired, dishevelled spectre. It tottered unsteadily on the talus and then a shrill, unearthly voice quavered:

"Five, twenty-four, six X!"

There was a movement in the trench.

"Five, twenty-four, six X!" again wailed the lamentable voice.

A little group of men sprang out of the trench and charged in a V a-down the square; the rest of the company poured out in helter-skelter pursuit. Before this incongruous advance the Dios-Dios lines, who had seen enough miracles for one day, broke, turned, and fled. A small body held their ground, and the Scouts struck them with a crumpling crash. For three minutes it was bayonet against bolo, and Roberts's revolver turned the scales. In another minute the plaza was cleared and the last of Papa Isio's forces were disappearing among the burned huts with bayonets at their backs.

When Roberts returned with his elated soldiers he found the pueblo occupied by a detachment sent from Bago. A stretcher was starting on a tour of the field, but Roberts ran ahead of it to the centre of the plaza.

His attention had been caught by a vague movement there. Through the high grass he could see something struggling and bounding in sudden, sharp movement.

It was the inevitable Maestro. He was on top of Hafner, who also had come back to life, and was "kneeing" him with characteristic enthusiasm.

"Mr. Referee," screamed the gentle educator, when he had been pulled away by Roberts, aided by a corporal's squad; "Mr. Referee, he crawled after you blew the whistle! Put that ball back, you scalawag. Our ball!"

Then he fainted, which, considering the day's work, was about the proper thing to do.