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Title: Leonie of the Jungle
Author: Conquest, Joan
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Leonie of the Jungle" ***

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LEONIE OF THE JUNGLE

BY

JOAN CONQUEST



Author of "Desert Love"



NEW YORK

THE MACAULAY COMPANY



Copyright, 1921, by

THE MACAULAY COMPANY



PRINTED IN THE U. S. A.



TO


THE SPLENDID NATIVE OF INDIA,

THE LIVING


MADHU KRISHNAGHAR



[Transcriber's Note: The name "Madhu" appears throughout this book.
The "u" in it can be correctly rendered only in Unicode, as
u-macron--uppercase U+016A, lowercase U+016B.]



CONTENTS


BOOK I

THE WEST



BOOK II

THE EAST



"And never the twain shall meet."



BOOK I

THE WEST



LEONIE OF THE JUNGLE


CHAPTER I

  "To deliver thee from the strange woman!"--_The Bible_.


"Who found the kitten?"

"Me," quavered the childish voice.

Lady Susan Hetth tchcked with her tongue against her rather prominent
teeth at the lamentable lapse in grammar, and looked crossly at Leonie,
who immediately lifted up the quavering voice and wept.

Sobs too big for such a little girl shook the slender body, whilst
great tears dripped from the long lashes to the tip of the upturned
nose, down the chin and on the knee of the famous specialist, against
which she rested.

"Stand up, Leonie, and push your hair out of your eyes!"

The thin little body tautened like an overstrung violin string, and a
shock of russet hair was pushed hastily back from a pair of indefinable
eyes, in which shone the light of an intense grief strange in one so
young.

"Leave her to me, Lady Hetth!"

The surgeon's voice was exceedingly suave but with the substratum of
steel which had served to bend other wills to his with an even greater
facility than the thumb of the potter moulds clay to his fancy.

"Leonie is going to tell me everything, and then she is going to the
shop to buy a big doll and _forget_ all about it!"

"Please may I have a book instead of----"

"Leonie, that is very rude."

"Please, Lady Hetth.  Go on, darling---what kind of book."

"'Bout tigers an' snakes, oh! an' elephants.  Weal animals.  Dolls, you
know"--she smiled as she confided the great secret--"aren't weal
_babies_, they're just full of sawdust."

He lifted the child on to his knee, frowning at the weight, and
smoothed the tangled mass of curls away from the low forehead with a
touch which caused her to make a sound 'twixt sob and sigh, and to lie
back against the broad shoulder.

It was a long and disjointed story, told in the inconsequent fashion of
a child of seven unused to converse with her elders; and continually
interrupted by the aunt, who, fretful and dying for her tea, jingled
her distracting bracelets and chains, fidgeted with the Anglo-Indian
odds-and-ends of her raiment, and disconcerted the child by the futile
verbal proddings; which are as bad for the infant mind as the criminal
attempts to force a baby to use its legs are to the infant body.

"So! and you found the dear little kitten lying quite still in the
nursery this morning?"

"Yes!  Stwangled!"

"Do pronounce your _r_'s, Leonie."

The child shivered in the man's arms.

"Who told you it was strangled?"

"Auntie!"

The man's hand closed for a moment on a heavy paper-weight as he looked
across the room at the woman who was waggling her foot and knitting her
scanty brows at the sound of the rending sobs.

"Auntie was mistaken, darling.  Kitty was asleep, tired out with
playing or running away from the dog next door."

Leonie shook her head.  "Kitty's dead," she wailed, "lying all black
and quiet, like--like my dweams!"

There was a moment's pregnant silence, during which Leonie turned round
and snuffled into the great man's collar, and he frowned above the
russet head as he drew a block of paper and pencil towards him.

"What dreams, darling?"

"Don' know--dweams I dweam!"

The specialist sat still for a second and then laughed, the great kind
laugh of a man with a big heart who adores children.

"Let's play a game, Leonie!  You tell me about the dreams, and I'll
tell you about my new motor-car, and the one who tells best will get a
big sweet!"

With a child's sudden change of mood Leonie sat up, swinging her black
silk legs to and fro, her eyes dancing, her lips parted over the even
little teeth.

"I _love_ sweets!" said she.  "You begin!"

"My car's grey!" said Sir Jonathan Cuxson.  "What colour are your
dreams?"

"_Black_!" was the unexpectedly decisive reply.  "Black with lots of
wed--wet wed--and gween eyes--lots and lots of eyes--and--and soft
things I can't see, and--noises like kit--kit--kitty makes when she
purrs!"

"Yes?"

"Yes! and people with soft feet like the--the slippers Nannie wears at
night so that I can't hear them.  And--and that's all!"

She laughed like the child she ought to have been as she bit the end
off a big pink fondant which had materialised out of one of a dozen
little drawers in the desk, then holding up the other end to the man
laughed again spontaneously and delightfully as he pushed the sweet
into her mouth.

Then he put her on her feet, tilted the little white face back till the
strong light shone into the opalescent, gold-flecked eyes, kissed the
curly head and told her to run round the room, open the cabinet doors
and look at the hidden treasures.

"May I touch them?"

"Of course, sweetheart!"

"I'm vewy sowwy _you_ didn't win," she said in her old-fashioned way,
"because you are vewy, vewy nice.  And"--she continued, suddenly
harking hack as a child will to a previous remark--"and it is all vewy,
vewy black, with a teeny, weeny light like the night-light Nannie
lights, and----!"

She stopped dead and buried her head in the middle of Sir Jonathan's
waistcoat, fumbling his coat sleeves with her nervous little hands.

"Yes, darling!" said the man, without a trace of expression in his
voice as he held up a finger warningly to the woman who had rustled in
her chair.

"And--and sometimes there's a black woman.  And I'm--I'm fwightened of
her 'cause she calls me, and--and--pulls me out of bed by my head."

"How do you mean, darling?  Does she catch hold of your hair?  It must
hurt you dreadfully!"

Leonie suddenly stood up, nervously pulling at the man's top waistcoat
button as she furtively glanced first over one shoulder and then over
the other.

"No! she doesn't touch me," she faltered, "and I--I don't always see
her.  But--but"--she laid her open palm against her forehead in a
curious little gesture suggestive of the East--"but she pulls me
through my forehead, and when she pulls I've--I've _got_ to go!  May I
_hold_ that elephant?"

The brain specialist looked straight into the strange eyes which smiled
confidingly back into his.

"Just a moment, sweetheart," said he.  "What do your little friends,
and Nannie, and Auntie say when you tell them about the dreams?"

Leonie leant listlessly against the arm of the chair, and sighed as she
flashed a lightning glance at her aunt who was turning over a
periodical on a table by her side.

"I don't tell Nannie because I think she wouldn't weally understand,
and--and----"

Silence.

"Well, darling?"

"Auntie," she spoke in the merest whisper, "got awful cwoss the first
time I did tell her.  She was going out to a dance, and I was telling
her whilst she was dwessing--it was a lovely dwess all sparkles and
little wosebuds--and I upset a bottle of scent over her gloves.  The
scent too was like my dweams, just like--like--oh! I don't know, and I
haven't any!"

Once more the man intuitively bridged the gulf.

"No little friends?  How's that?"

"Bimba died," she announced casually.  "She liked books, too.  It's
vewy silly thinking dolls are babies, isn't it; that's why I love
weading, it--it seems weal!"

Lady Hetth broke in hurriedly.

"We simply can't keep her away from books when she's in town.  Of
course when we are in the country she simply lives out of doors.  It is
very difficult to keep her amused.  She sulks when she goes to a party
and always wants to go home!"

"I don't sulk weally, Auntie, I jus'--jus' don' seem to know how to
play!"

She smiled a wan little smile at the woman who had no children of her
own, and moved away slowly with a backward doggy look at the man.

"Good God!" he muttered.  "Will you come here, Lady Hetth!"



CHAPTER II

  "When your fear cometh as a desolation."--_The Bible_.


Susan Hetth rose.

She had always intensely disliked her brother-in-law's old friend,
failing utterly to perceive the heart of gold studded with rare gems
that was hidden under a bushel of intentional brusqueness.

But as she was under an obligation to him she decided to make herself
as pleasant as possible, and to obey his orders, however irksome.

Great brain specialist, great philanthropist, she had rung him up in a
panic that morning after having vainly ransacked her memory for some
other human being in whom she could with safety confide her fear, and
from whom she could expect some meed of succour.

She knew, as everybody knew, that years ago he had given up the hours
of consultation which had seen his Harley Street waiting-room filled to
overflowing; that little by little, bit by bit, indeed, he had given
himself up entirely to research work, travelling in every quarter of
the globe in his quest for the knowledge necessary to the alleviation
of the mental troubles of his fellow-beings.  And that when he found it
or some part of it he had hurried home, and having brought it to as
near a state of perfection as possible, had flung it broad-cast to the
suffering; just as he flung the immense sums of money he made among the
destitute for whom he loved to work without thought of the morrow.

A genuine case of trouble he had never been known to dismiss, and Susan
Hetth had heaved a sigh of relief into the receiver when he fixed an
immediate appointment.

The spook of fear is not the cheeriest companion of the early cup of
tea, and Nannie's words, allied to Nannie's face when she entered
without knocking, had caused the silly, invertebrate woman to take
immediate action for once in her life.

Not for anything would she confess it, but she wished now she had
listened to Nannie when, just a year ago, she had so fervently urged a
visit to the doctor the first time she had discovered the baby girl
walking downstairs one step at a time in her sleep.

She remembered the way the ever-changing house-parlourmaids had
furtively looked at the child when she came in to dessert; how one
after the other they had given notice, declaring that although they
really loved the child their nerves would not stand the ever-recurring
shock of finding her sitting in some corner in the dark; or the
pattering of her little feet on the stairs when she occasionally evaded
the nurse and walked about the house in her sleep; and she remembered
how other nurses who brought baby visitors to tea had watched the
child, surreptitiously touching their foreheads and wagging their heads
at each other.

But, as is the way of the supine, she had put it off and put it off
until her negligence had culminated in the frightful scene of this same
very early morning, when Leonie, waking in the day nursery to find her
kitten dead, had screamed and shrieked hour after hour until the
house-parlourmaid had rushed in and given instant notice, with the
unsolicited information that the servants thought, and the neighbours
said, the child was mad and ought to be sent to a home.

Then, indeed, had terror suddenly tweaked Susan Hetth's heart, the
social one, the maternal one having long since atrophied through want
of use; for the shadow of lunacy is about the blackest of all the
shadows that can fall across a butterfly's sunny, heedless path.

Ten years ago she had lost her husband, in the year following most of
her capital had gone in a mad-cat speculation, and three years later
her gallant brother-in-law died, leaving her a yearly income sufficient
for expenses and education if she would undertake to mother his little
daughter.  Since then she had led the usual abortive life of the woman
who lives on the past glamour of her husband's success and a limited
income, upon which she tries ineffectually to dovetail herself into a
society to which she does not rightly belong.  Having noticed an
increasing plenitude of silver among the ash-gold of her hair, a
deepening of the lines of discord between her brows, and the threads of
discontent which were daily being hemstitched into her face by the
sharp needles of make-believe, covetousness, and a precarious banking
account, she had recently decided to try and annex, or rather try and
graft herself on to a certain unsuspecting male being _en secondes
noces_.

And that simply cannot be done if there is the slightest shadow upon
one's appendages.

So she sat down in the chair with as good a grace as she could muster,
and arranged her big picture hat so that the spring sun should not draw
Sir Jonathan's attention to the methods she employed to combat the
rapidity with which what remained of her prettiness, prematurely faded
by the Indian sun, was vanishing.

For a long and trying moment he sat silently staring at her, wondering
as he had always wondered what had induced his old friend to place his
little girl in such inadequate, feeble hands.

To break the tension Lady Hetth clanked a silver Indian bracelet bought
at Liberty's against an Egyptian chain sold by Swan & Edgar's, and the
man frowned as he drew a series of cats on his blotting-paper.



CHAPTER III

  "Against stupidity the very gods
  Themselves contend in vain!"--_Schiller_.


"Let me see," he said slowly.  "You have been in India I believe.  I
wonder if you know anything about it!"

"I lived _ten_ years in the Punjab."  This information was given with
the intense self-satisfaction peculiar to the feminine Anglo-Indian.
"With my husband," was added after a rather damping silence, "who was
knighted for certain--er--work he did in the Indian Civil Service."

"That doesn't mean that you know anything about the country, Mam.
Leonie has been with you almost seven years, please correct me if I
make any mistake.  She is seven this month you say.  She was four
months old when she came over from India.  Did her ayah come with her,
by the way?  No!  Had she been good to the baby--yes! yes! I know, they
always are, but these dreams indicate that the child has been badly
frightened some time or another!"

"But she _couldn't_ be frightened at four months," vacantly interrupted
Susan Hetth, who could not see the trend of the conversation, or the
need of the detailed interrogation.  "She would be _far_ too young!"

"Too _young_!" snapped Sir Jonathan.  "Rubbish!  Do you know why you
are afraid to-day of falling from a height?"

"No," replied Susan Hetth, cordially loathing the man, his methods, and
his manners.

"Because," he answered roughly, "you were frightened of falling from
your mother's or your nurse's arms when you were a few months old, and
the impression of height and fear made upon your baby mind is still
with you, _that's_ why!"

"The brute!" she thought, as she smiled the propitiatory smile of one
who is afraid and murmured, "How very interesting!"

"Is there anything else you can tell me about your little niece? no
matter how trivial a detail!  Has she ever screamed for hours as she
screamed this morning?  Does she get angry?  I mean mad angry!"

"No!" replied the aunt.  "From what her nurse and daily governess tell
me she seems to be _remarkably_ sweet-tempered.  You see I don't--I
haven't--I don't see much of her.  I'm--I've--you see I have _so_ many
friends over here!"

The man snorted.

"I must say," she continued, "I have _never_ met a child so averse from
being kissed or being made a fuss of--she _hates_ anyone to touch her,
even--even _me_, her _mother_, as you might say; but they say she is
tractable, and has never been known to lose her temper, or slap, or
scratch, as some children do--no! there is _really_ nothing to tell
about her--of course she walks a bit in her sleep, at least so her
Nannie says!"

The specialist's hand crashed on the table.  "Good God, woman!" he
flung at her, "what in heaven's name _are_ you modern women made of?
How long has she been walking in her sleep?  Tell me all you know _at
once_--and remember it's your niece's _brain_ and her future you are
talking about, so try and describe this sleep-walking with as much
interest and regard to detail as you would if you were talking about a
new dress.  Why in heaven's name didn't you send her with the
nurse--the _servant_--instead of coming yourself--I might have learnt
something about the child _then_!"

It seemed that Leonie while still quite a baby had walked about the
night nursery in her sleep; that she had been found in the day nursery
and on the lower landing, but had always gone back to bed without
waking; that she muttered a lot of rubbish which the nurse could not
understand, and was always very tired next day.  That now that she was
older she slept in a room by herself as she became unaccountably
restless and wide awake if anyone slept in the room with her.  No! the
nurse had never noticed the hour or the date, or anything, and that was
really all, and "couldn't you give the child a dose of bromide."

Which sentence served to finish the history and to bring Sir Jonathan
with a bound from his chair.

"Bromide," he snarled, "_bromide_!  Now, Lady Hetth, listen to me.
There is something more than nerves and a highly strung temperament in
this.  Next week I want Nannie, not _you_, to bring the child here on a
visit.  I know India and her religions as far as any Englishman dare
say he knows anything about that unfathomable country--yes! Mam!
religions--Hinduism--Brahminism--Buddhism--why, I've passed the best
part of my life trying to unravel certain physical and psychical
threads knotted up in India; but the years are slipping by, and time is
getting shorter and shorter, and but a tithe done out of all there is
to do; but thanks be, my boy has inherited my love for this work, and
will carry on here when I have crossed the threshold and found the
solutions to my problems on the other side.  Though I'm sure I don't
know why I'm telling _you_ all this," he finished brusquely, "we will
return to India."

"Yes!  India is very, very interesting!" piped Lady Hetth, rising and
standing on one foot so as to rest the other suffering from an
oversmall shoe.

"Very, _very_ interesting!" she continued unctuously and with the
enthusiasm she reserved as a rule for the S.P.C.K.I, which letters
stand for an attempt to graft a new creed on to the tree of religion in
India which was bearing _fruit_ at a period when we were hobnobbing in
caves, with a boulder or good stout club as reasons for existence.

"I'll write and tell you when to send the child and her nurse, and
between us we'll manage to keep her amused.  And in the meantime stop
all lessons and let her do exactly as she likes, and feed her up, Mam,
feed her up, her bones are simply coming through her skin."

Again he laughed a great rumbling laugh, as lifting the child from the
ground he felt the little hands in his mane of white hair.

"You're nice," she decided, "vewy nice."

"Like to come and stay with me?"

"Oh, yes! if you won't--won't make me----!"

She stopped short.

"Well! what--won't make you what?"

"Nothing--Auntie pulled my dwess!"

The door closed softly.



CHAPTER IV

  "The kindest man,
  The best conditioned and unwearied spirit
  In doing courtesies."--_Shakespeare_.


They met on the threshold.

Swinging back the door to let Leonie and her aunt out, Ellen, the
middle-aged maid, almost an heirloom in the family of Cuxson, bristling
in starched cap and apron, let in the erstwhile plague of her life, but
now as ever the light of her eyes, Jonathan Cuxson, Junior.

He took Lady Hetth's hand in a mighty and painful grip when after a
moment's hesitation she introduced herself.

"Why, of course!  You must be Jan!  Except for being bigger you haven't
changed a bit since I saw you years ago one Speech Day at Harrow!"  She
looked with open admiration at the very personable young man before her
who loomed large in the hall with his height of six feet two and a
tremendous width of shoulder.  His eyes were grey, and as honest as a
genuine fine day; the jaw was just saved from a shadow of brutality in
its strength by a remarkably fine mouth; the ears were splendid from an
intellectual point of view, and the set of the head on the neck, and
the neck on the shoulders, perfect.  The nose was a good nose, rather
broad at the top, with those delicate sensitive nostrils which usually
spell trouble for the owner.

"I don't believe you remember me!"

Happily the reply which must have been untrue or given in the negative
was averted by the hilarious arrival of a puppy.

Having heard the deep voice associated in its canine mind with bits of
cake and joyous roughs-and-tumbles, it had forsaken the happy though
forbidden hunting ground of the upper storeys and negotiated the stairs
in a series of bumps and misses.

Arrived in the hall it hurled itself blindly against Leonie's ankles,
and ricocheted on to its master's boots, where it essayed a _pas seul_
on its hind legs in its efforts to reach the strong brown hand.

"Oh!" said Leonie, as she fell on her knees with her arms outstretched
to the rampaging ball of white fluff and high spirits, the which
thinking it some new game squatted back on its hind legs with the front
ones wide apart, gave an infantile squeak, and whizzed round three
times apparently for luck, as tears welled up in the child's large eyes
and trickled down the white face.

"Hello, kiddie!  You're crying!" said Jan Cuxson, who like his father
had a positive mania for protecting and helping those in trouble, which
mania got him into an infinite and varied amount of trouble himself,
and led him into unexpected boles and corners of the earth.  "I'm--I'm
not crying weally!" choked Leonie, "it's--it's my kitten!"

"Oh! do stop, Leonie!" said her aunt, leaning down to catch the child's
hand and pull her to her feet.  "She's coming to stay with you," she
added, as Leonie stood quite still with that piteous jerk of the chin
which comes from suppressed and overwhelming grief, as she watched the
puppy play a one-sided game of bumblefoot in a corner.

"That's jolly," said the young man.

"Oh! she's coming as a case.  She walks a good deal in her sleep, and
as my brother-in-law, Colonel Hetth, if you remember, was such a----"

But Jan Cuxson was not listening.

He too had put his hand on the curly head and tilted it back gently so
that the light shone into the sorrow-laden eyes encircled by shadows.

Then he smiled suddenly down at the mite, and she, perceiving that a
ray of light had suddenly pierced the all-pervading gloom, smiled back,
and catching his left hand in both of hers pressed it to her forehead.

"Good Lord!" he muttered, as a thrill ran through him at the unexpected
and oriental action.

And Fate, plucking in senile fashion at the loose ends which lay
nearest her old hand, knotted two tightly together with a bit of rare
golden strand she kept tucked away in her bodice.

"And what shall we do when you come?  Can you ride?  I know of a lovely
pony a little boy rides!"

Leonie shook her head mournfully, feeling unconsciously but acutely the
penalty of her sex for the first time in her life.

"I can't wide astwide," she sighed, "I haven't any bweeches.  Jill and
Maudie Wetherbourne always wide in skirts.  But I can swim," she added
quickly, "an' jump in out of my depff.  I learnt in the baff at the
seaside!"

"Oh! come along, child, _do_!" broke in her aunt to her own undoing.

"Auntie jumps in too, though she says she doesn't," proceeded Leonie in
a gallant effort to shore up her family's sporting reputation.

"I do _not_, Leonie!  I can't imagine how you ever got such an idea
into your head!"

But Leonie, nothing daunted, shook back her russet mop of hair and gave
direct answer, to the confusion of the domestic who happily stood out
of Lady Hetth's eye-range.

"But, Auntie!  I've _often_ heard Wilkins tell Nannie that you've been
in off the deep end before bweakfast!  Oh! do let me hold him just for
ever such a little while!"

To save the expression of his face Jan Cuxson had bent and lifted the
pup by the scruff of its neck, and upon the piteous appeal put it
squirming and wriggling in the outstretched arms.

Great tears dripped all over the animal though Leonie stood on one
foot, bit her underlip, and squeezed the puppy to suffocation in a
valiant effort to restrain this appalling sign of weakness.

"Tell me what makes you cry like that?"

"My--my kitten was--was stwangled by--by someone this morning, an'--an'
she was all soft an'--an' fluffy like----"

The words ended in a paroxysm of sobs muffled in the puppy's coat
whereupon it ecstatically licked every visible part of the child's
neck, whilst Ellen, throwing decorum to the winds, knelt down and drew
the shaking little figure into her arms.

"Anybody in there!" suddenly and very gruffly asked Jan Cuxson, jerking
his head in the direction of the room where the few and favoured
awaited the pleasure of the specialist.

"No, Sir," replied Ellen, as she disentangled one of the puppy's claws
from the lace on Leonie's sleeve.  "I'm going to call my father!  I
don't think you understand your little girl very well!"

He spoke quite gently but his face was white with anger, that almost
terrifying rage which surges over and through the mentally and
physically strong at the sight, or thought, of cruelty to the small and
weak.

He whistled two exceedingly sharp notes and plunged his hands into his
pockets, where he scrunched up his keys and some loose change.



CHAPTER V

"The liberal soul shall be made fat."--_The Bible_.


"Well! well! well!"

Sir Jonathan walked over to the child and knelt down beside her as the
maid rose and straightened her crumpled apron.

"Let me have the doggie, darling!"

"No!--no!--_no_!  I--I love him.  He's all soft and cuddley.  I want to
hold him for jus' a little, little longer!"

The child's voice was shrill with excitement as she pulled back from
the encircling arms, her lips quivering, her eyes staring distractedly
first at the younger man then at the dog.

"Would you like to have Jingles, kiddie?"

The change in the child's face was electrifying, and Sir Jonathan,
rising with his eyes fixed upon her, touched his son's arm to draw his
attention to it.

Tears like dewdrops on brown pansy petals hung heavily from the lashes,
but the corners of the mouth turned up in an adorable smile, and waves
of gratitude and delight swept up from chin to brow obliterating the
agony of the past hours.

"For _me_--to _keep_?" she whispered, as she stood on her toes in an
instinctive effort to make the body reach and unite with the mind at
the highest point of this most perfect moment, whilst her little breast
heaved with the repressed sobs of her fully laden heart.

"Yes! for keeps, little one!"

The three elders stood silently, the specialist watching intently the
light which kindled in the child's eyes as she looked from one to the
other before she bent her head over the dog she had completely
surrounded with her arms.

Jan Cuxson made a movement to end a situation which was bordering on
cruelty when Lady Hetth anticipated him with her customary dire
tactlessness.

"There now, Leonie!  _Now_ perhaps you'll be satisfied.  Give Mr.
Cuxson a kiss and say thank you nicely!"

Leonie would have cheerfully put her hand in the fire to serve this
wonderful being who royally distributed gifts, and _live_ ones at that,
and only hesitated for the barest fraction of a second before, her face
suffused with crimson, she walked up to him.

"Of course if--if you want me to--I'll--I'll kiss you," she said
heroically, unconsciously squeezing the puppy under the stress of the
awful moment until it yelped, "but I'd--I'd wather----"  She stopped
and looked up hurriedly into the understanding face of the elder man.

He nodded as he caught her eye so that she finished all in a hopeful
burst.

"But I'd wather not if you don't mind!"

Lady Hetth frowned and put out her hand, murmuring something about
really having to go.

"I'll send for her and Nannie, Lady Hetth.  And keep her out of doors
as much as possible.  Why don't you take her to the Zoo this afternoon?"

"I couldn't _possibly_!" came the prompt and irritable reply.

"What about me!" interrupted Jan Cuxson.  "Eh! kiddie?  You and I
riding big, fat elephants at the Zoo!"

"_You_--and _Jingles_--and _me_!" said Leonie, disengaging her hand
from her aunt's.  "And you," she said sweetly, laying it on the elder
man's coat sleeve.

Heaven had opened wide its gates and she was for pulling everybody in
with her, and her eyes danced, and so did her patent shod feet on the
rug.

"It's _too_ kind of you, Jan!" broke in her aunt.  "I really don't like
to let you waste your time with a child!"

"Not at all, Lady Hetth!  I love kids--and the Zoo.  Where shall I
bring her to afterwards?"

"Oh!  Yes! bring her to the Ladies' Union Club where I am staying.  No!
you'd better take her to her Nannie as they don't allow children in the
Club, thank goodness.  They are staying in York Street, Baker Street,
quite convenient for you."

She trailed through the door as she spoke, pouring out a cascade of
vapid thanks and announcing also that she had shopping to do at
Debenham and Freebody's.

She hadn't, she was going to catch an omnibus in Cavendish Square,
being of those who, blindly extravagant in most things, think they
economise when spoiling their clothes and temper in a penny ha'penny
bus, instead of keeping both unruffled in a taxi, at two shillings.

Ellen, returning later triumphantly with a taxi, held wide the door, a
wide and loving smile across her plain face.

"You come too, Sir," said Jan Cuxson.  "Do you heaps of good to ride an
elephant!"

"I only wish I could, boy," said the man as he laid one hand on the
shoulder of the son he loved, and the other on Leonie's head.  "But
I've much to do in that opium case, and I'm dining out, and shall read
a bit when I get back----"

"And I'm dining out too, more's the nuisance, otherwise I could help.
Sure to be awfully late as it's a farewell dinner to a fellow at the
hospital----"

"Well!  See you in the morning!  Good-bye, sweetheart, I won't forget
the book, and just you make that lazy fellow show you everything!"

He bent and kissed Leonie as she lifted her face, which was an
unheard-of thing for her to do, and watched her as, hugging the
struggling dog, she ran down the steps and was lifted into the taxi by
her companion.

With his foot on the step Jan hesitated, then turned and walked back to
his father.

"I don't know why.  Sir, but I do wish you'd come too," he said slowly,
looking at the man he loved with a love past the comprehension of the
younger generation of the present day.

He put out his hand as he spoke and gripped the elder man's hard, then
ran down the steps, jumped in beside Leonie, and turned to wave
hilariously with her as they sped away to the Zoo.

The brain specialist went back thoughtfully to his room, and when he
had closed the door stood for a long time looking out at the little
garden with its one big tree.

"I wonder, I _wonder_," he mused.  "I'd give a good deal to get at that
ayah--well! why not?--I could start for----"  He looked round suddenly,
then laughed as he passed his hand over his eyes.  "Funny!  I thought
someone opened the door."

He moved to his desk and turned over his diary, showing blank page
after blank page.

"Strange," he muttered.  "There is nothing written down after to-day,
not a single engagement.  I must have entered them in some other book;
very careless of me."



CHAPTER VI

  "And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry
  in their desolate homes."--_The Bible_.


"Gawd!"

Mrs. Henry Higgins called upon the Almighty in the vernacular of Seven
Dials, sought gropingly for the members of her progeny who clutched her
skirt, and fortunately kept her head.

"'Enery James--no!  Gertrude Ellen--you've gotter better headpiece,
jest yer slip along to the keeper an' tell _'im_ to look slippy and
come along quick _h'and_ quiet!"

Gertrude Ellen, puffed up with pride at the pull she had had over her
brother, slipped off, as her mother continued in a raucous whisper,
"Now if that young miss don't deserve a thorough good 'iding!  I'd take
the skin off yer if any of yer did such a fing, strite I would.  Drat
yer, keep stilt cawn't yer--you'll rouse the brute!"

She shook her skirts so that the half-dozen clinging children rattled
like a bunch of keys, pushed her jet bonnet back from the shiny
wrinkled forehead, and waited, her motherly heart aquake in spite of
her drastic language.

Jan Cuxson was standing in front of the lions' cage at one end of the
lion-house, talking to his old friend the keeper, under the impression
that Leonie was close beside him; but she, having taken advantage of
their conversation and a practically empty house, had slipped quietly
away, climbed the barrier near the far window, and was _also_ holding
conversation--with a tiger from Bengal.

The animal lay outstretched with his wonderful head close to the bars,
and his unblinking opalescent gold-flecked eyes staring straight into
the opalescent gold-flecked eyes of the child as she stood on tip-toe
so that her face was almost on a level with that of the animal.

"_Poor_ tiger!" she was saying.  "I'm vewwy sowwy for you--I'm sure
you're not so vewy, vewy wicked, an' if you will bend your head I will
stwoke you behind the ear same as I did Kitty."

Mrs. Henry Higgins gasped.

Holding on to one bar tightly just near the tiger's mouth so as to
steady herself, Leonie stretched, and thrusting her hand inside began
to rub the tiger's head quite forcibly behind the ear.

"Nice?" she inquired as the animal closed its eyes under the unexpected
and unexperienced caress, then opening them lifted the beautiful head
and yawned to the full capacity of the huge mouth, affording Leonie a
front row view of the splendid ivories and pale pink tongue.

"Oh--h--h!" said she admiringly, standing flat and patting the nearest
paw.  "I _do_ like you though you _do_ fwighten me when you walk so
softly in my dweams--oh--h--h!"

She shivered with ecstasy as the tiger rolled on its back, displaying
its soft white belly as it bit its hind foot with the abandon of a
baby, then turned on its side, and leaping sideways to its feet, slunk
off to the far corner of the miserable den, which is all a civilised
country gives a wild animal in exchange for its jungle home.

Meanwhile the Higgins brood, like hungry sparrows on a rail, were
sitting open-mouthed on the lower steps provided for the benefit of
those spectators who wish to revel with safety in the degrading sight
of the royal beasts fed with lumps of bleeding meat pushed through the
lower bar on the end of a prong.

Rendered somewhat incoherent by fear, and haste, allied to the ghastly
English she had acquired in the streets and been allowed to retain in
the Council School, Gertrude Ellen had found it somewhat difficult to
arouse the keeper to a realisation of the impending disaster.

But when he _did_ look over his shoulder in the direction her dirty
little hand was pointing he swore a mighty oath and acted promptly.

"Keep still, Sir, for the love of heaven!" he whispered, catching hold
of Jan Cuxson's arm as the latter made a step forward.  "Don't let that
there animal see yer, he's the blamedest, cussedest brute I've ever had
to do with.  Never had a civil growl from him since he came here over
three years ago."

Whilst speaking the man had hurriedly discarded his boots and climbed
inside the barrier, whilst Cuxson held the child quiet by her thin
little shoulders.

"Damn that woman," went on the keeper, "why can't she keep still.  Sure
as blazes if that there tiger sees her, which don't mean if he's
_looking_ at her, he'll go nasty and have that missy's 'and off."

Mrs. Higgins, having clumped her brood into silence, was making frantic
and what she imagined to be surreptitious signals of distress with her
left arm, keeping her eyes glued on Leonie, who was clinging to the
bars with both hands whilst calling upon the tiger to come back.

He came back, half crouched, noiselessly, stealthily, the hair of the
belly almost touching the ground, for all the world like a cat about to
spring upon an unsuspecting sparrow.

He came to a standstill within an inch of the bars and threw his
pointed ears straight forward so that they stood out at right angles to
the beautifully marked face; spasmodically twitched back the mouth
without a sound issuing therefrom, and then lay down and pressed his
head against the bars.

The tiny hand was stroking the silky ears, patting the head, and
prodding contentedly into the thick fur of the neck when suddenly with
a mighty heart-quaking roar the tiger leapt up and back, and then
hurled himself at the bars.

The keeper had crept, bent double, along the inside of the barrier, and
had most suddenly and surprisingly seized Leonie by the waist and
wrenched her free from the bars to which she had tried to cling,
holding her like a vice in his arms where she vainly kicked and
struggled for freedom.



CHAPTER VII

  ". . . that man could not be altogether cleared
  from injustice in dealing with beasts as he now
  does."--_Plutarch_.


The whole house was in an uproar.

The lions were trotting round and round, stopping to listen and snuff in
the sawdust near the bars; the stumpy jaguar, black as ink, with a body
like a steel case, was rushing up and down, rubbing its forehead fiercely
as it turned; a lion and his mate were rearing themselves one after the
other against the walls, half turning from the middle to fall almost
backward in that peculiar movement which reminds one forcibly of great
succeeding waves stopped and thrown back upon themselves by some bleak
rock.

People were pushing and straining to look in at the windows, and rattling
the doors which had been hurriedly locked by the keepers who had rushed
to ascertain the cause of the tumult, whilst the tiger made the place
resound with its terrific roars as it hurled its huge weight again and
again at the bars of its cage.

"Come _on_, Mother," shouted the keeper above the din, "bring all those
children and let's get out.  They'll quieten down when we've gone.  Can't
you _read_!"

He shook Leonie slightly under the stress of his agitation as he hauled
her in front of the notice which commands you to refrain from climbing
the barrier.

"Of course I can wead," she replied with dignity; "I'm weading the
little----"

"Well! read _that_!"

"But--but"--stammered Leonie, having read with difficulty--"but I knew
the tiger, Mr. Keeper!"

"_Oh_! yes! of course!  You were tiger 'unting and brought him from the
Sunderbunds about four years ago; it wasn't the gentleman, of course not!"

"But weally," pleaded Leonie with the tears very near, "weally I've--I've
dweamed lots about him, and--and--and----"

"Take her away, Sir--she makes me see red she does.  No thank you.
Sir--very much obliged, but it's part of my duty to see that people
_don't_ climb the barrier, and I kind of failed--p'raps the little girl
what came and----"

They were outside by this time and the centre of an interested admiring
crowd; it is only bleeding meat at three o'clock as a rule which can
rouse the inhabitants of the lion house from their prison apathy.

Taking the dirty little paw Cuxson, crumpling up a note, put it into the
dirty little palm and closed the fingers tightly over it.  Whereupon
Gertrude Ellen blushed furiously, and went to her mother with her
clenched fist behind her back, where she kept it stiffly until tea-time,
when she held out the bit of paper without a word, to the tune of "Lawks
a mercy me!" from her mother, who immediately ordered more buns on the
strength of it.

"Lor' bless yer, lovey!" said Mrs. Higgins, whose bonnet was bobbing on
the nape of her neck, leaving the wisps of hair to straggle
unrestrainedly in the honest grey eyes, as she knelt on the ground and
tugged Leonie's short skirts into place.  "Yer did give us a turn,
dearie; yer might 'av 'ad yer 'and nipped orf by that there brute.  Come
'_ere_, Lil and 'Erb--I'll 'ave yer eaten by the camuls next!"

The bow-legged twins, with their spirit of adventure quashed, rolled back
to mother, and stood wide-eyed as she ran her work-worn hand through the
stranger's luxuriant curls.

"Give us a kiss, lovey, an' go an' get some tea!"

For the second time that day Leonie moved to obey the same command, but
this time there was no hesitation as she put her thin arms round the
woman's neck and kissed her sweetly once and again.

And the woman, who sensed something amiss in the quivering little body,
held her firmly, patting her gently with the same hand which dealt out
indiscriminately such resounding and often well-earned smacks among her
own; and Leonie sighed and leant confidingly against the stout, badly
corseted figure.

"How comfy," she whispered shyly.  "How soft you are.  Auntie never holds
me in her arms, and when Nannie does she's always full of bits of things
that stick _out_."

And then with a little scream of delight she was away, speeding over the
gravel in the wake of a lumbering great form wending its way in and out
of the crowd.

"Cut along, Sir, or you'll find her 'obnobbing with the gorilla next!
I've never _seen_ such a child for downright mischievousness."

Cuxson cut along as bidden and for all he was worth, pulling Leonie up in
front of the ticket office for elephant rides, and after purchasing
tickets sidetracked her to a tea-table.

     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

"Mind you bring Jingles when you come to stay!"

"Pwomise," called back Leonie from her Nannie's arms as she opened the
door to them and lifted the tired happy child from the taxi.

But she didn't because she never went.



CHAPTER VIII

  "And make my seated heart knock at my ribs
  Against the use of nature.  Present fears
  Are less than horrible imaginings."--_Shakespeare_.


Big Ben announced the approaching hour of midnight, throwing the
sonorous notes to the soft spring wind which wafted them up to Harley
Street.

Save for the light thrown by the dancing flames of a log fire, and the
orange disc made on the desk by the light of a heavily shaded lamp, the
room was dark; the silence broken only by the occasional crackle of the
wood fire and the faint rustle as Sir Jonathan turned a page.

"Notes" was written in letters of brass across the thick book heavily
bound in leather, and of which the small key to the massive Bramah lock
was kept in a pocket especially made in every waistcoat Sir Jonathan
possessed.

Slowly he read through the page he had just written, crossing a t,
dotting an i, adding or scratching out a word of the writing which was
in no way more legible than that of any other surgeon; and when he had
read he ran his hand through the mass of snow-white hair, sighed, and
pushed the book further back on to the desk.

It is an eerie sound that of someone speaking aloud to himself, and
still more eerie when it occurs in the middle of the night when the
only part of the speaker to be clearly seen is the strong white hands
moving in the orange disc thrown on the desk by the heavily shaded lamp.

And it is a strange habit this talking aloud of the solitary soul.

Mad?

Not a bit.

Dumb in the babel and din of chaotic midday, unresponsive to the
uncongenial matter around, it will talk on subjects gay and grave, and
even laugh with the silent sympathetic shades of midnight.

Nevertheless it is mighty eerie to hear it unawares.

For the twentieth time the famous specialist picked up a letter and
read it from beginning to end.

"Strange, Jim, old fellow," said he as he laid it down, "strange how I
think of you to-night.  Seeing your little one, I suppose.  But somehow
to-night more than ever I feel the blank you made in my life when you
left.  How you'd have loved the kiddie, Jim.  Strange wee soul with a
shadow already on her life--a big black shadow, Jim, which I--I am
going----!"

He turned his head and looked over his shoulder.

"Ugh!" he said, as he turned back to the desk and drew the book towards
him.

"Leonie Hetth--age seven--walks in her sleep and dreams--dreams are
evidently of India--things that walk softly and purr--a small
light--and wet red which may mean blood--green eyes and a black woman
who--who----"

Once more he ran his hand through his hair, but time irritably, then
shook his head from side to side rubbed his hand across his eyes.

"I've been sitting up too late these last few nights over that opium
case.  Don't seem to be able to collect or hold my thoughts.  Jim, old
fellow, I wonder what made you leave Leonie in the care of that damn
silly, shallow woman, and I wonder how you could ever have produced
anything so highly strung and temperamental as your little daughter.  I
sup----"

He stopped quite suddenly and rose, standing with his head bent forward.

There was not a sound!

Feeling for the arm of his chair with his face still turned to the
curtained window he sank back, only to spring upright with a bound.

Noiselessly, swiftly he crossed to the window, and pulling back the
curtain an inch or two peered out into the small garden with its one
tree and border of shrubs.

There was no sound and nothing moved.

"Strange!" he muttered, "I could have sworn some-one knocked."

He jerked back the curtains so that they rasped on the brass rod,
letting in the almost blinding glare of the full moon which drew a
nimbus from the silvery head and threw shadows which danced and
gibbered by the aid of the log fire over the walls and ceiling, and in
and out of the open safe.

He turned, but stopped abruptly when half-way across the room, standing
stock still with his back to the window.

There was a faint distinct tapping as though slender fingers were
beating a ghastly, distant drum.

It stopped--it continued--it stopped.

Then fell one little solitary rap like a drop of water falling on a
metal plate, and it died away into silence.

And Sir Jonathan threw up his fine old head and laughed.

"Surely I've got India on the brain to-night, and as surely I want a
good long holiday," he said, as he sat down at his desk and picked up
his pen.  "And I must remember to tell the gardener to clip that tree
to-morrow.  How Jan will laugh when I tell him that I was absolutely
scared by a branch rubbing against the window."

For five long minutes he sat frowning down at the pen in his hand.
Three times he commenced to write, and three times he stopped; twice he
lit a cigarette and let it go out, and deeper grew the lines between
the brows and round the mouth, until he shivered and turned quickly in
his chair.

"That felt just like a sea-fog creeping up behind; stupid to keep the
window open even in spring," he said as he picked up a log from a
basket by his side and threw it deftly into the wide-open grate, leant
sideways to separate two brass ornaments on a table which had jangled
one against the other, and sighing turned restlessly in his chair.

"Confound those great market lorries," he muttered, looking round the
room with its cabinets and shelves filled with the strange and weird,
beautiful and unsightly curios he had brought back from every corner of
the globe.  "They shake the house enough to bring it down about one's
ears."

The moon was slowly shifting as he leant back and settled himself
comfortably in the high leather chair; the room was getting darker and
there had fallen that intense almost palpable stillness which envelops
most great cities after midnight, and against which his thoughts stood
out like steel points upon a velvet curtain.

Clear and sharp as steel they shot indeed, this way and that through
his mind; but hold them he could not, analyse or arrange them he could
not, neither would his hand move towards the pen a few inches from the
finger-tips.

"God!" he suddenly thundered, striking the arm of the chair with his
fist.  "The answer is just there on the tip of my tongue--before my
very eyes--within reach of my fingers, and yet I cannot grasp it--ah!
why! could it _possibly_ be----"

He rose as he spoke and crossed to a massive bookcase packed to
overflowing with books, switched on a light hanging near, opened the
glass door and ran his hand lovingly over the leather volumes.

Then he very gently laid his hand on his left shoulder and turned with
a smile lighting up his face, which abruptly went blank in astonishment.

"Upon my word," he said, "whatever made me think that Jan had come in
and had put his hand upon my shoulder.  Old fool that I am to-night."

For a moment he stood looking into the shadowy corners, then turned
again to the case, ran his finger along a row of books until he came to
one with the title "India," pulled it out and opened it under the light.

The book opened quite suddenly and wide, and his eyes fell on the first
few lines.  Without a movement he stood staring down at the printed
words, reading to the end of the page, then he violently closed the
book, thrust it back into the case, and closing the doors, pressed
against them with both hands as though in an endeavour to keep back
something which was trying to get out.

"No! my God!  No! never! not that--not _that_ as an end--not for _that_
baby--and yet----"

He moved across to the desk, sank heavily like a very old man into his
chair and covered his face with his hands.

Then very slowly and as though against his will he uncovered his face,
and leaning forward stared across to the bookcase whilst he groped for
the pen beside the book.

"And the cure," he muttered, "the remedy--I _must_ find it--I--I----"

His heart was thudding heavily with the merest suspicion of a complete
pause between the beats, his hand trembled almost imperceptibly, whilst
his eyes glanced questioningly this way and that.

"I don't understand, I don't understand!" he whispered, just like a
frightened child as he plucked at his collar and moved his head quickly
from side to side as though trying to loosen some stranglehold about
his neck.

He turned and stared unseeingly into the fire with the look of
perplexity deepening on his face, then slowly he raised his eyes, first
to the delicate tracings of the Adams mantelpiece, then to the varied
ornaments on the shelf.

"Tish!" he said impatiently as they roved from the central figure of
benign undisturbed Buddha, to a snake of brass holding a candle, and on
to a blatant and grotesque dragon from China.

For a second he stared uncomprehendingly, then raised his head.

Inch by inch his eyes moved until they reached the top shelf of the
overmantel and stopped.  A shiver shook him as he lay back in his
chair, his widespread fingers clutched at the chair arms, a tiny bead
of perspiration showed upon the broad forehead.

Staring down at him, shining evilly in the moonlight, was a glistening,
unwavering eye.

Just a slanting mother-o'-pearl eye in the battered head of a god or
goddess of India, with features almost obliterated by the passage of
centuries.

For a full minute Sir Jonathan sat staring up at the eye which stared
back; then moving with a convulsive jerk, ran both hands through the
mane of silvery hair as though to lift some crushing load from about
his head; and turning sideways in his chair stretched out one hand
between the eye above and his own as he clumsily seized the pen in the
shaking fingers.

"Ah! my God!" he muttered, "the answer is still there, on the tip of my
tongue, before my eyes, within reach of my fingers, and I cannot grasp
it--ah!--yes----"

Slowly and with infinite pain he wrote, printing the letters in thick
and crooked capitals, whilst his breath whistled through the dilated
nostrils and one foot beat unceasingly against the desk.

"The answer to the problem concerning Leonie Hetth is in the third
volume upon----"

His hand stopped suddenly when the fingers involuntarily spread wide
apart, letting fall the pen which rolled across the book; and the
silvery head turned inch by inch until the grey eyes had lifted to the
one shining in the shadows.

And there commenced a desperate, a bitter struggle for a child's
reason, perhaps for a child's life, as the moon gently withdrew her
light.

Like the clammy wraiths of fog upon the moor, like the searching
tentacles of some blind monster of the sea, fear crept upon the
splendid old man in this still hour of the night.

It held his hands, it was folded about his mouth, it pounded violently
upon his gallant heart, whilst the eye looked him between the eyes, so
that his brain was seared as strive he might to turn away his head he
kept his face turned piteously upward.

"What is it," he muttered thickly, as though his tongue clove to the
roof of the mouth, "what is it that is pulling me, pressing upon me,
choking me!  I have no body, no--no hands--I--have--no power to
move--I----"

And then he screamed, though but a whisper fell, as with a spasmodic
jump of his whole body he flung himself round in his chair, and
cowering low against the arm, peered into the deepening shadows.

"All round about me," he whispered, "all about me those hands are
pulling, and yet--and--and----"

He laughed until his face, a white cameo against a grey velvet pall,
grinned like a mask of mirthless death, as slowly he raised one
clenched fist and shook it weakly until it fell back with a dull thud,
useless, against the chair.

"I thought I was afraid--I--I thought I saw--I saw death behind--but
I--I shall not die until--until I have written--written--what is it I
am to write--ah! yes!"

Searching sideways with his left hand he groped and found the pen, then
very carefully, very slowly turned towards the desk.

He drove the pen in fiercely, making a thick black mark; he pushed it
until the nib stuck, spluttered, and broke as he flung out both hands
as if grasping at something which evaded him.

"Gone!" he mouthed, though there was no sound of speech in the room.
"Gone--gone!" and he suddenly tore at his collar and his cuffs as
though to break some bond which held him, as he glanced furtively about
the room.

For one long moment he sat leaning forward, staring far beyond the
Indian screen upon which his eyes were fixed, and then slowly, almost
imperceptibly, his head moved.

The drawn white face had the hunted look of some animal at bay, the
agonised eyes moved as the head moved; slowly, slowly, inch by inch,
the breath coming stertorously as the mouth tried vainly to frame some
word.

The moon had gathered the last fold of her silvery raiment about her
and was creeping away through the open window just as Sir Jonathan
looked straight up into the eye gleaming malevolently through the gloom.

And as he looked the head moved gently so that the eye leered cunningly
into the distorted face beneath; it, hovered for a fraction of time on
the edge of the shelf and fell, just as the old man, with a blinding
flash of understanding sweeping his face, sprang to his feet, stood
upright, swayed forward, and fell back sideways, dead, across his
chair, staring across the room into eternity with eyes full of
knowledge and infinite horror.



CHAPTER IX

  "How have I hated instruction, and my heart
  despised reproof!"--_The Bible_.


"Oh! dear!"

The plaintive ejaculation fell on the drowsy noonday air, and the
speaker fished a chocolate out of the box, offered her in heartfelt
sympathy by her companion.

"Buck up, old thing!" said the latter.  "These very same old exam rods
were laid up in pickle for our forbears, and they survived the ordeal.
The summer's here and the holidays are due, so let's grin and bear it,
and what _does_ it matter if you _do_ mix your futures and
conditionals?  As long as it's French and you don't split your
infinitives you're all right, the splitting, I believe, _is_ a mortal
sin in some cases, though I don't quite understand how, or exactly what
it means."

Seaview House is an establishment for the finishing of young ladies,
which process includes the rounding of their anatomical angles by means
of dancing and physical culture, and the polishing of the facets of
their intelligence by the gentle manipulation of three or four foreign
governesses and professors of music, singing, drawing, etc.  These
latter smile suavely through the excruciating half-hours they allot to
each unfinished damsel, and tear their hair in private at the memory of
the daily and hourly murderous executions of the old masters at which
they must perforce assist.

And as much, and even more, attention is paid to the repoussé work on
the outside of the platter.

The hirsute covering is brushed and burnished until the heads of the
two score damsels bob about in the sun like globes of ebony, or straw,
or Dutch cheese, or ginger; finger nails shine like old cut glass, just
enough and not too much; figures are repressed or augmented until they
look more like figures and less like sacks of barley, or wood planks.
They are taught to sit down and stand up, and to cross, enter or leave
a room like humans instead of colts, to pitch the voice in a low and
gracious key, and to look upon slang as a luxury only to be enjoyed in
the absence of those in temporary power.  In fact the establishment is
quite old-fashioned but infinitely charming, and has the reputation of
having more old pupils to a score of years happily or advantageously
married, and fewer ditto employed in a useful capacity than any other
school in Eastbourne.

Which is all as it should be!

"Yes! but," continued, let's call her Annie Smith; she does not appear
in the book again so that it really does not matter about her
nomenclature.  "I could just see Leonie from my desk and she was
smiling all over her face and romping, simply _romping_ through the
French papers."

"Oh! but," sympathised, let us call her Susan Brown for the same reason
that we christened Annie Smith, "_she_ has a brain!"

Nice Susan Brown hadn't, but balanced the lack by a wealthy parentage.

"Yes! of course she has!  And _isn't_ she beautiful!"

Nice Annie Smith was as plain as a bun, but balanced her defect by a
heart of gold, and found her ultimate and perfect joy in an overworked
curate and seven children by him, all of whom were destined to sit
round the festive board like seven plain little currantless buns on a
plate.

"Yes! isn't she!  She's wonderful, I think, and oh! so very different
to all of us."

"I found the very word to suit her in the dictionary," rather
importantly added Susan Brown, "_bizarre_----"

"Whatever does it mean?" inquired Annie Smith, who was destined never
again to run up against the word or its meaning during the rest of her
neutral life.

"Er--a kind of a--er--_je ne sais quoi_ in the temperament--not exactly
a nonconformist, you know; but just a little--well, not _quite_ like
_us_!"

"I see!" contentedly replied mystified Annie Smith.  "But I _do_ love
her; she's such a dear.  So gentle and so ready to help everybody, and
so _splendid_ at sports.  What tremendous friends she and Jessica have
become, haven't they, since the night of the scare?  I often wonder
what made her walk in her sleep like that; she's never done it since."

"Indigestion, I've always thought.  Cookie was away on her holidays, if
you remember, and her _locum tenens_, understudy, you know, made pastry
like cement; I always thought, too, that Principal gave her that lovely
little room right away from the rest of us on account of it--the
sleep-walking, I mean.  I'm sure I should have _died_ if I'd found her
standing over me in the moonlight in the middle of the night.  It must
be awfully jolly though having someone in India who writes to you every
three months.  _Isn't_ she lucky to have been _born_ in India, and to
have had an ayah, a kind of native nurse, you know, who _still_
worships her, and writes to her, and sends _real_ Indian presents, and
to have had a V.C. for a father--Leonie, I mean?"

Annie Smith laughed that happy laugh which is the outcome of a
perfectly contented mind.  "She deserves all the luck she gets, and
what luck for _us_ having her as head next term.  What a favourite she
is with everyone, even old Signer Valenti!  Oh, dear, I wish
to-morrow's exams were over; my fingers feel just like blanc-mange when
I think of that nocturne."

"Never say die, Ann!  _Have_ you heard Leonie play the Moonlight?"

"No!  What's it like?"

"Simply _awful_, just like Mam'zel when she thumps downstairs in her
felt slippers."

There fell a space of drowsy silence in which the girls lay back on the
grass incline, and solemnly munched chocolates with youth's delightful
dissociation from anything more perplexing than the passing of the
actual hour.

"No!" murmured Annie Smith, breaking the drowsy spell.  "She's _not_
like us--couldn't be with a V.C. father and India as a birthright.  But
isn't it all _wonderfully_ mysterious?"

Dear unsophisticated soul, whose _wanderlust_ was yearly arrested, or
rather satisfied, with the summer holiday by the sea, and whose rector
father acted as a weekly soporific to his congregation.

"I wonder who gave her that perfectly _horrible_ charm?" she added
sleepily.

"The ayah, I _think_," came an equally sleepy answer.  "Did I tell you
that I found it in the bath-room the other night?  It's an eye--a
cat's-eye, you know--a perfect beast of a thing; I would swear it
winked at me when I dropped it on the floor.  Anyway I left it there
and simply _flew_ out of the room to tell Leonie, and Jessica pinched,
I beg Principal's pardon, took my bath.  Ugh!  and she wears it night
and day--oh! look, here she comes----"

"Oh!" sighed plain Annie Smith, "isn't she _beautiful_!"

She was!

Unaware that anyone was watching, Leonie stopped in front of a bush of
red roses.  She neither touched or sniffed them; she just flung out her
arms, lifted her face to the blazing sun and laughed.

The simple school frock showed the wonder of her figure, with the
beautiful rounded bust, the slender waist, and the moulded limbs; the
sun drew red and yellow lights out of the heavy russet hair, gold
flecks out of the green eyes, and a flash of crimson from the rather
full clear-cut mouth with its turned-up corners.

Her skin was like ivory with the faintest tinge of pink just on the
very tip of the rather pronounced cheek-bones; her hands were small and
fine, and the fingers were like pea-pods, long and slender and slightly
dimpled.

And when she moved away towards the summer-house where she could see
the sea, she moved not at all from her waist upwards.  She held her
head and shoulders as though she had carried baskets of fruit or
washing upon the crown of her pate since her youth; her glorious bosom
was like a bed of lotus buds in the southern wind; she moved like a
deer, or a snake, or a bacchanalian dancer, as you will; but in any
case in a way which in the present tense caused the Principal to mourn
in secret, and in the future brought the condemnation of women and the
eyes of men full upon her.

And behind the summer-house she leant against the wall.

"One more term," she said, "only one more term, and then I shall be
free--free to go--free to wander--free to follow the voice which is
calling, calling!  Only one more little term!"

And Fate, grinning, pinched that one more little term between her
knotted old thumb and finger so that it was stillborn.



CHAPTER X

  "And hath gone and served other gods."--_The Bible_.


Shriek upon shriek tore the peaceful stillness of the night, and in one
second the sleeping house was transformed from a place of rest and
quiet to the semblance of a disturbed rookery.

Deathly silence followed the horrible screams of fear and the sound of
the girls calling one to the other, during which mistresses extricated
themselves from the encumbering bedclothes to rush on to their
respective landings; elder girls peered in terror from their bedroom
doors, and younger ones clung to each other or the bed-post, or the
door-knob, anything in fact which would help to support their quaking
little knees.

Once again the terrible screams rent the air, whipping everyone out of
the stunned apathy which great fear brings to some folk, just as the
Principal came out on to her landing and looked up to the second storey.

"Miss Primstinn," she called, and her voice showed no sign of the
thudding of her heart.

Pushed by one of those willing hands always so eager to thrust someone
else to the forefront of the battle, Miss Primstinn, clutching her
courage and a drab dressing-gown in both hands, half ran, half slipped
down the stairs.

"_We_ will investigate, Miss Primstinn, and the young ladies will
retire to their rooms and shut the doors."

In days long past the house had been well built after the excellent
design of a wealthy old architect who had fled the place when
Eastbourne had become a centre for girls' schools and summer trippers.

The full moon flooded the hall round which ran the galleries belonging
to the successive storeys, each crowded with girls in various designs
of night attire who hung over the oak balustrades to watch developments.

But they all leapt in unison, as though spurred into action by an
electric shock, when a deep voice boomed from the shadows round a green
baize door in the hall which led to the servants' quarters.

Then a distinct sigh of relief whistled softly through the entire house
when the electric lights suddenly blazed and the speaker was discovered
to be cook.

Cookie in an emerald green moirette petticoat and a somewhat _déclassé_
bedjacket, a tight knot of hair playing bob-cherry with her kindly
right blue eye, and a rolling-pin clutched truculently in her red right
hand.

Dear old Cookie who scolded and complained unceasingly, but who loved
the entire school with a love which took the substantial form of
delicious cakes, and buns, and jellies.

"H'I've come to h'investigate, Mum!" she called up.  "Berglers or worse
got into Miss Jessica's room through them dratted French windies, I'll
be bound.  Now just you stay where you are, Mum, an' I'll go an' see,
an' if I screams then come along.  And I think a policeman might come
in handy, there may be one on the beat."

She waddled away to another green door always left open o' nights, and
which led to the wing reserved entirely for the girls of the Upper
Sixth; and where each one revelled in her own dainty separate bedroom.

"The young ladies will retire to their bedrooms and close their doors.
Mademoiselle, I depend upon you!"  With one hand on the banisters and
one foot poised for descent, the Principal pitted her will against
overwhelming curiosity and won.

Backing like a flock of sheep before the sheep-dog, they slowly retired
and shut the doors, only to fling them wide open and rush to the
balustrade in time to see the Principal, followed by Miss Primstinn,
hurrying down the stairs to meet Cookie, who had run back into the hall
shouting at the top of her voice.

"Come along, Mum!  Quick!  Miss Jessica's dead and Miss Gertrude dying.
And where's Miss Lee-onny--fetch her someone--it's 'er friend, little
Miss Jessica, wots--wots----"

The Principal, whose face looked suddenly livid and old, laid a hand on
Cookie's shoulder.

"Run and fetch the doctor, Cook, please, it will be quicker than the
telephone!  I can trust you to keep your head.  Dr. Mumford is too far
away, fetch the new one at the end of the road."

"Please to send Brown, Mum, she's younger an' quicker at runnin' than
me.  An' I think I can 'elp you, Mum," said Cookie quietly,
unconsciously responding to the strength of her mistress's character.
"An' I'd like to fetch Miss Lee-onny, Mum, she's that to be depended
h'on an' clear'eaded."

The Principal sighed under the sudden inrush of relief which had come
to her at the mention of her favourite pupil.

She loved Leonie with a love quite separate from her affection for all
the young souls in her charge, and secretly admired the strength of
will which more than once had been pitted against her own; moreover,
accustomed to the quiet monotonous passage of time, she suddenly
realised that she needed someone young and energetic in this emergency.

And the girl she needed in her distress was kneeling on her bed with
arms upraised above her head.

The dying moon was slowly withdrawing her waning silvery light from the
billowing mass of tawny hair, tumbling in lavender-scented masses
around the girl; lingering for a moment on the eyes staring from under
the unblinking eyelids, and for a second upon the glint of even teeth
showing through the lips moving in prayer.

And then she spoke, in the eerie tones of those who talk in their
sleep; and the words were even those of India's most holy writ,
sonorous and full of a surpassing dignity, rising and falling as she
knelt motionless, her eyelids slowly closing upon the terrible staring
eyes.

"The sacrifice . . ." she chanted monotonously, "with voice, hearing,
mind, I make oblation.  To this sacrifice . . . let the gods come well
willing!"

And as the moon sank to rest there was no sound save for a little sigh
as Leonie, with closed eyes and white hands clasped upon her breast,
stretched herself upon the bed, then with a violent movement sat up,
and wide awake stared about the room.

"Yes?" she whispered.  "Yes?"

And her strange eyes, with pin-point pupils in a yellow green circle,
seemed to follow something which crept slowly round the bare walls as
far as the chintz window-curtain moving softly in the breeze of the
coming dawn.  The room was full of shadows thrown by a creeper
festooned outside the wide-open window; soft whisperings brought from
the distant corners of the earth by the restless ocean filled the air,
as she hastily twisted her hair into two great plaits with steady hands.

Then she slipped quietly to the edge of the bed and searched with her
bare feet for the crimson slippers; searched fearfully as though afraid
of what they might touch whilst her eyes glanced this way and that
through the shadowed room.

"Who is calling me?" she whispered.  "Who wants me?"

But there was no sound save for the whispering of the distant sea.

She bent her head sideways as though to listen, rose to her feet, and
standing back against the bed, looked down at the shadows which danced
about the hem of her garment.  A swift furtive glance over her shoulder
and her hand stole to the crimson kimono hanging on the brass rail,
whilst a jewelled cat's-eye winked cunningly among the embroidery of
her night-robe.

"Come in," she said suddenly and sharply, "don't stand outside the
door, come in."

And when there came no answer she thrust her arms swiftly into the
sleeves of the crimson kimono, and running across the room flung open
the door, and finding the corridor empty passed hurriedly on, leaving
the door wide so that the shadows skipped freakishly about the room in
tune to the rhythmical whisperings which the sea bore from the distant
corners of the earth.



CHAPTER XI

  "Thy brother Death came, and cried,
    'Wouldst thou me?'
  And I replied,
    'No, not thee!'"--_Shelley_.


The electric lights gave out a kind of fictitious radiance against the
dull grey of the hall windows through which the dawn was struggling.

The place was packed with girls.  Some clustered near the baize door,
standing nervously on tip-toe and with the intent of retiring
precipitately if there should be any sign of the Principal; others hung
over the stair or gallery banisters; the domestic staff stood round their
own particular door, their white faces shining dully like Chinese
lanterns; no one spoke or moved.  In fact they might have been posing for
a photographer until those above suddenly swayed and bent this way and
that, and those in the hall parted to give way to Leonie.

Clad in crimson satin kimono, with feet thrust into crimson satin
slippers and her hastily plaited hair hanging in two great ropes, she
passed through them like a flame, emanating strength and resolve and a
tremendous power of will.  Although she looked neither to the right nor
left as she ran swiftly and disappeared into the wing where lay her
little friend, there was something very pleasing in the way the girls put
out their hands to touch her as she passed; and something distinctly
encouraging in the whispered remarks that followed her, and which might
be summarised in the "_Now_ it's all right," which under the high
pressure of intense excitement almost burst from the lips of Annie Smith.

Like an arrow she sped to the bed, unconsciously pushing aside the women
who, almost frantic with fear and quite out of their bearings, were doing
their best to grapple with the problem of life or death so suddenly
placed before them.

Kneeling, she turned the girl's livid little face towards her, vainly
feeling for the pulse in the wrist and bruised neck; then sprang to her
feet, faced the Principal and took the situation into her strong, capable
young hands.

"What happened?  And have you sent for the doctor?"

Her usually sweet, clear voice was like the dull sound of a cracked
earthenware pot when flipped by thumb and finger.

"Yes, dear!" was the quick reply.  "The doctor will be here any
moment--and hot bottles and blankets are being prepared.  Gertrude could
not sleep and crept into Jessica's room to look for a German grammar for
the examination to-morrow--to-day, and found Jessica in--in this--faint."

And the elder woman suddenly laid a hand on the girl's arm and looked up
at her with the confidence she always inspired.  "Help me, dear!" she
whispered, with the dread of disgrace and an untimely ending to an
honourable career in her old grey eyes.

And Leonie smiled, answering with the superb confidence of youth, and a
slight ray of hope pierced the suffocating fog of fear, and brought
Cookie from the head of the bed where she had been standing in the shade
of a screen.

"Can I 'elp, Miss Lee-onny?"

"Cookie, _dear_--you and Miss Primstinn, Miss Leanto and--yes, and
Ellen--none of the girls--and quickly--there's not a moment to lose."

"The doctor's coming, Mum," said a voice from the half-open door.

"The doctor is coming, dear," repeated the Principal.

Leonie answered with a strange authority in her words.

"We will not wait for the doctor!"  She passed the tips of her fingers
slowly across her forehead and down her cheek to the back of her neck, as
was her habit when trying to solve some problem.  "No, we will not wait,
because--because _I_ know!"

Ten minutes later the door opened to let in a young man, who stood for a
moment outlined against a sea of faces, and then turned and shut the door
most decisively and locked it.

"Who thought of that, I wonder," he said to himself, as he watched the
four women kneeling round Jessica stretched out upon the floor.

They were going through the movements used in resuscitating the drowned,
and he, too, knelt at a nod by the side of the fat old woman in an
emerald green moirette petticoat and a somewhat _déclassé_ bedjacket, who
was breathing heavily through the unaccustomed exercise.

"Let us be--a bit, Sir!" she panted.  "She don't some'ow feel--quite--as
dead--like!  Give us a--a chance.  One--two--three--four.  It's
the--reg'lar--as does--it.  Miss Lee--onny's orders--Sir--bless er----"

She jerked her head in the direction of Leonie, and the doctor looked.

Behind her friend's head she knelt, her plaited hair twining like snakes
to the ground, her eyes closed, her mouth slightly open, and the fingers
of both hands pressing the temples of the child upon the floor, whilst to
and fro, lifeless, dull, swung the great cat's-eye from a gold chain
about the neck.

"Good God!" muttered the young doctor who, having travelled the world as
ship's surgeon, knew that the scalpel and soda-cum-gentian do not
constitute the whole of the art of healing.

As he looked a great bead of perspiration dropped from Leonie's forehead,
between the taut arms, on to her knees; and a sudden shiver shook her
from head to foot, and he heaved his overcoat into a chair, and edged
very quietly until he knelt between her and Cookie.

"It's 'orrible, Sir!" the latter whispered, as she glanced at the pupil
she loved most.

And it was.

By now the perspiration was pouring in streams from the girl's face,
whilst the slim body shook and shook like a young tree in a storm; her
teeth chattered like castanets, her closed eyes were sunk in purple black
orbits, the cheeks were drawn and grey, and the nostrils were dilating
like those of a far-spent horse.

"For Gawd's sake stop 'er.  Sir--she's a-killing of 'erself."

The doctor shook his head, took out a brandy flask and a metal box from a
leather case beside him on the floor.  He held up the ready-filled glass
syringe to the light and sent a squirt of what looked like water through
the gleaming needle.

"If the young lady shows signs of life I want you to get this brandy down
her throat _at once_, and begin to massage her heart."

"Massige! that's same as kneading dough, ain't it, Sir!"

"That's it!  Miss--Miss--oh! Leonie will want the most attention, she is
only just alive.  I will give her another two minutes, and if nothing has
happened by then I'll stop her, though it'll be an awful risk!"

"What's she a-doin' of, Sir?"

"She's forcing her own life, her vitality into her friend; she's
practically raising the dead!"

"_Lor_, Sir!"

He had just raised his hand to touch Leonie, praying to heaven for the
girl's reason, when she suddenly flung back her head.

Up through the house-top, to the stars, the heavens, rushed the terrible
cry, wailing as wails the wolf who has lost its mate, insisting as
insists one who has staked his all on one final throw, imploring as
implores the mother in the last dire throes of childbirth.

What the language was, what the words meant, to whom the prayer was
addressed, no one knew.

But at the third terrible appeal to God, or Fate, or Death, or Life, and
even as those who listened outside and those who ceased their labours in
the room stuffed their ears with their fingers and sobbed, little Jessica
opened her eyes, and smiled just as Leonie, flinging up her arms, crashed
face downwards on the floor.



CHAPTER XII

  "The fix'd events of Fate's remote decrees."--_Pope_.


Vultures drowsed in the shade thrown by the crumbling, sun-cracked,
heat-stricken mud walls and houses which lined the meandering unpaved
streets, or rather passages, of a certain village in northern India;
crows were packed everywhere, taking no notice for the nonce of the
feast of filth and garbage spread invitingly around them, and in which
sprawled the disgusting, distorted bodies of somnolent water buffaloes;
inside the houses hags, matrons, maidens, and little maids slept
through the terrific heat of the noonday hours; in the distance the
Himalayas, supreme and distressing, like a ridge across eternity, lay
behind the turrets and minarets of the town which, thanks to the Indian
atmosphere and the long distance, shone white, fretted, and--well,
exactly as you can see it any day in paint at the Academy or in Bond
Street.

Perfectly motionless upon the high khaki-coloured wall, which entirely
surrounds the village, with dust upon his aged feet and raiment and
once white turban, oblivious of the heat, the flies, and everything
that slept, sat a man with age written upon every gnarled joint, and in
every crack and fissure of the parchment-like skin.

_So_ old, and _yet_ with life, and hope, and youth eternal in the dark
hawk eye which gazed unseeingly through the outer world straight
towards the mountains.

And the old body made no sign of life, even when the vultures without
sound soared majestically heavenwards, whilst the crows rose in
shrieking disordered squads, and a kite whistling melodiously swooped
from nowhere downwards across his head to the filth of the streets.

Neither did he turn his head or his eyes when a coal-black stallion,
guided only by the pressure of its rider's knees, came to a stand
directly beneath him in the shadow of the wall, having scrambled and
slithered, jumping like a deer, climbing like a goat down the
rock-strewn road which leads to the village from the great house at its
rear; one of those abominable roads allotted to the calloused native
foot, honoured for the first time in this instance by the passage of
the prince's son and heir.

An arresting picture the rider and his horse made as the man bent low
in the saddle and salaamed, then raised his turbaned head and sat
motionless, gazing at the holy man.

Minutes passed before, with arms filled with offerings and garlands of
marigolds and jasmin swinging from his wrists, he slid from the saddle
to the ground, and took his way up the narrow tortuous path which Fate
had marked out for him through all time.

High caste, high born, as slender and delicate and as pressed with life
as a budding branch in spring, Madhu Krishnaghar stood beside the
priest in the incongruous setting of the mud walls.

A coat of fine white linen with broad orange waistband came to just
below the knees; white trousers fastened tight about the ankle fitted
almost like a stocking from ankle to knee; the slender, narrow feet
were shod in native slippers, the white turban with its regulation
folds outlined the pale bronze face with the sign of the man's religion
traced between the eyebrows; diamond solitaires sparkled in the ears,
and one necklace of great pearls hung about his neck.

"Usual large gentle eye, hawk nose, mobile mouth and small-boned oval
face" would doubtlessly have been the flippant comment of any
occidental passer-by; "meet 'em everywhere, gambling at the street
corner, or squatting in the bazaar, or riding elephants."

Yes! but--is not India's future history writ large upon that
small-boned oval face for those who, having the vision, read as they
walk warily.

For those who run hastily past life's signposts cannot and will not see
that, like the fresh green grass which hides the dug pit, those gentle
luminous eyes draw attention from the subtle cruelty of the mouth,
through which gleam the pitiless perfect teeth.

Glorying in his bull-neck and massive chin, and blinded by his insular,
inherited upbringing, the European will exclaim "Pah!" at sight of the
thin cheek and delicate oval face, failing utterly to notice the set of
the ears on the head; just as, muscle bound through worship at the
shrine of Sport, he will mistake the eastern courtesy and poetry of
movement for obsequiousness and humility, ignoring the terrible root
from which these delicate flowers spring; the root of patience; with
its tentacles ever twining and twisting through the eastern mind,
causing the very old to die placidly with a smile on their shrivelled
lips, and the young to envisage plague, pestilence, and famine with a
mere lifting of the shoulder.  Patience! the card which India does not
hold up her sleeve in the game of life she is playing; the
dull-coloured drab little bit of cardboard which she throws on the
table openly, but which we ignore amongst the highly coloured,
bejewelled pictures she places before us, smiling with the tender
luminous eyes so that we shall forget the subtle cruelty of the mouth.

Placing his offerings at the holy man's feet, and laying the garlands
gently about the bowed shoulders, Madhu Krishnaghar, the son of
princes, stooped and lifting the hem of the dust-covered garment, laid
it against his forehead, then quietly sat down a pace removed from the
ancient who took no notice whatever of his proceedings.

And time passed, linking one hour of noon to its neighbour and the
next, until the hags, matrons, maidens, and little maids awoke to the
freshness of the evening and the monotony of its tasks.

Kites called, crows screamed, men gambled in the shadows of the evening
and the upstanding, distorted, disgusting water buffalo; while the two
men, master and pupil in the religion of death, sat hour after hour
without movement, staring at the mountains, the dwelling-place of Siva
the terrible, and the birthplace of Kali his bride.

Far into the night they sat, until the last quarter of the moon had
sunk to rest, when, with one single movement, the old man sprang to his
feet, flung out his arms, and bent in utter humility and cast dust upon
his once white turban.

His voice was but a shrill cracked whisper when he called upon his god
from the crumbling top of the sunbaked, moon-drenched wall, and
turning, lifted his travel-stained mantle and laid it on the young
shoulders beside him.

An hour had passed, and more, before the holy man's tale, which ran
back through the past seventeen years, was finished.  And when it had
been told the high caste youth trembled in the ecstasy of his religion,
amazed at the enlightenment thrown upon his own enigmatical life,
uplifted at the task before him.  Yea! he trembled in the ecstasy of
his religion, forgetting that love and passion and life ran just as
riotously in his supple perfect body.

He leapt to his feet, smiting his forehead with clenched hand.

"Give me a sign, O Kali!  Show me that thou art pleased!"

And he rent his garments in joy, showing the bronze breast with the
blood-red marks of his terrible religion traced upon it; then thrusting
his fingers in his ears sank to the ground and buried his head between
his knees.

A black kid, the happiest of all good omens, bleating with hunger,
tripped and stumbled from a courtyard; yet even as it found its mother
and buried its little head in the warmth of the soft side, there had
come across the plains a weird, long-drawn-out sound, fraught with
disaster to those who believe in signs.

Long and shrill it sounded and ceased; and once again--to be lost in
peals of indecent, discordant laughter.

Uncontrolled, uncontrollable, loathesome sound which tears India's
nights to shreds.

The jackals had found at dawn.



CHAPTER XIII

  "A continual dripping in a very rainy day
  and a contentious woman are alike."--_The Bible_.


In the late spring Leonie stood at a cottage window watching the rush
of the incoming water as she listened to her aunt's ceaseless lament,
idly wondering if both would reach high tide together, and if there
would be any chance of slipping out for a swim before bedtime.

She loved her aunt with the protective love of the very strong for the
very weak, and smilingly found excuses for the daily tirade against
fate, or ill-luck, or whatever it is weak people blame for the hopeless
knots they tie in their own particular bit of string by their haphazard
bursts of energy, or apathetic resignation to every little
stumbling-block they find in their path.

Daily, almost hourly, through the splendid North Devon winter the aunt
had wailed, and bemoaned, and fretted, driving the girl out on the
tramp for hours in the wind, and the wet, and the sun, only to return
hurriedly at the thought of the weak, hapless, helpless woman in the
cottage at Lee.

Susan Hetth complained about everything, from the lack of society to
the smallness of her income, plus a few scathing comments upon her
niece's weather-browned face and the hopeless outlook for her
matrimonial future.

Her own bid in the matrimonial market _en secondes noces_ had failed,
and though Hope had not taken it lying down, the passage of the years
had not been lightened by what seemed to be a daily addition of silver
threads to the jaded ash gold of her hair, and the necessity of a still
more flagrant distribution upon her face of the substances she employed
to camouflage the passage of old Time.

Ah, me! that moment before the stimulating advent of the early cup of
tea, when divested of our motley we see ourselves in the mirror as,
thanks be, others do not, and laying eager hands upon that offspring of
charity, the boudoir cap, wonder if it has been in hobnailed boots that
the old Father has tramped across our face during the night hours,
dragging his scythe behind him.

Leonie's school-days had ended abruptly.

Nothing definite had or could have been said, but it was not likely
that the parents would see exactly eye to eye with their daughters, who
wrote reams and whispered volumes of the delightful mystery which
surrounded the girl who next term would be head of the school.

Long and excited had been the conclaves with the Principal, persuasive
or threatening the arguments used, according to the parental
temperament, and the upshot of it all was that Leonie had been asked to
go; and proud, hurt Leonie had left, with a valiant smile on her lovely
mouth, and a strange little questioning look that had only quite lately
crept into the beautiful eyes, and which neither the outpourings of
Jessica's love, a demonstration of affection from the entire school in
the shape of numerous and weird presents, or the broken-hearted kiss of
both the Principal and Cookie had been able to eradicate.

The girl felt that she had left under a cloud, which a slight attack of
what the doctor had diagnosed as brain fever had not served to line
with silver.

He had insisted upon complete change and rest, and had called twice a
day when Leonie was really ill, and four times when she was
convalescent; so upon fair Devon had they decided, Leonie cajoling and
smiling until she had obtained a year's lease, at an absurdly low rent,
of the little cottage on the left of Lee harbour as you face the sea.

It is a place of charm if you are willing to do most of the work
yourself with the aid of a daily help.

It is certainly rather like a band-box with the lid on, and the ocean
at high tide is only prevented by the harbour wall from invading your
front garden, which is the size of a handkerchief.

But if you sit at the window you can feel the spray on your face, and
if you lie a-bed the tang of the air sweeping across the Atlantic will
get you out at the double; and the smell of the pines, and the hum of
the bees in summer, and the rush of the storm, and the crash of the
waves in winter, are of God's own fashioning.

What with shopping expeditions to that crime in brick and mortar called
Ilfracombe, visits here and visits there, croquet, bridge, and picnics,
the summer and early autumn months had not dragged unduly for Susan
Hetth.

But when the last visitor had gone, and the first real storm had broken
a window, then she had sunk like a lump of lead in a bucket of cold
water out of which she refused to be lifted.

Leonie was youth incarnate, causing even the courteous folk of Devon to
turn and stare as she swung past with a cheery greeting in a skirt and
hob-nailed boots ending at her knees.

For the first month, as one always does in Devon, she had walked
herself to the verge of scragginess, then had gradually put on weight,
as is the correct method.  Her whistle could be heard in the woods and
fields, and on the beach from Lee to Hartland way; all the country folk
loved her, and scolded her for the risks she took in swimming, and she
seemingly had no care in the world.

But the great heat of summer, the shriek of the wind, and the scream of
the birds in autumn would bring a little pucker between her brows; the
storm would drive her spirits up to breaking point, the calm would
leave her eyes full of trouble; in the woods she would stop and turn to
listen, then frown and trudge along between the trees.

She was not at rest, for an unconfessed fear, a spook without name or
shape, was plucking at her will-power and her heart, a phantom of which
she would rather have died than have said one word.

So she stood twisting the blind cord and watching the rocks as they
gradually disappeared under the swirling waters.

Susan Hetth sat near the fire, which is oft-times necessary in the
spring at Lee, and tapped in irritation, and most irritatingly, with
her foot against the low fender.

She was worried.

She was not by birth or heredity a bad-tempered woman, merely one of
straw, who after the first two months of every quarter invariably found
herself in a corner which one injudicious move might render
uncomfortably tight.

Her financial situation, in fact, had become so critical, and the bank
manager's demeanour so unpropitious, that in the previous year more
than once the dawn had found her trying to decide between the Scylla of
the thankless post of lady companion to some wealthy parvenu on the
Riviera, and the Charybdis of raising money enough to allow her to
harbour paying guests in the no-man's-land of Earls Court.

Then Fate crossed her knees, and out of her lap had tumbled a widower
possessed of a substantial banking account and four children.

A few more days, a little more encouragement, and he would most
certainly have offered her his name and the half of his worldly goods
in return for her help in quelling the riotous behaviour of his
motherless brood.

But there had supervened the crisis at school.

And grasping for once in her life the necessity of immediate action if
she wished to prevent an embellished account of her niece's untoward
behaviour from reaching the man's ears, she had fled to Devon, leaving
behind a trail of dainty scented notes explaining that it was all on
account of a slight nervous breakdown from overstudy on the part of her
niece "who," she added casually, "as I think I told you, is the only
daughter of my dear brother, Colonel Hetth, V.C."

Snobbish, but quite effective as bait for a person who has not complete
control over the eighth letter of the alphabet.

That very morning, quite unheedful of the beauties of the little witch
village, she had gone to collect her mail lying at the post office,
which in summer is almost hidden in its garden of flowers; and amongst
an assortment of spring sale catalogues from emporiums, mostly situated
in South Kensington, had found a letter from the widower, begging to be
allowed to come down for a change of air, and an opportunity of laying
a proposition before her.

She had wandered up the side of the hill, unmindful of the birds and
buds almost bursting with the intoxication of spring; had pitched the
catalogues anywhere on the grass, as is the wont of the untidy who have
no bond with nature, and had tried to solve the problem as she scraped
the mud, with the aid of a twig, from her Louis-Quinze heels.

But she was harassed, poor, hapless creature, for more than one reason.

The words of alarm from the nurse, the innuendoes from departing
maid-servants, and the direct warning from the old specialist which had
long since faded from her mind, had been forcibly revived by the
happenings at the school; and being one of those who invariably plump
for the worst, and without giving the slightest thought to the
criminality of the proceeding, she had definitely decided, if she could
coerce the girl into falling in with her plans, to marry her to the
highest bidder before worse could happen.

But she was downright afraid of her niece.  Afraid of her moral
strength which dominated everything and everybody; ill at ease with the
straightforward way she had of speaking her mind on occasions, and
following up her speech with action.  Never an untruth had she known to
pass the girl's lips, not once had she heard her say one belittling
thing about a living soul, and only twice had she seen the sweetness
and gentleness swept with anger.

Cruelty to anything small or weak could transform the girl into a flame
of wrath, and her weakest spot was her overpowering sympathy with
anyone in distress, without any inquiries into the direct cause of the
adversity, which spot caused her to be considerably taken in by many of
those who had discerned it.

An almost abnormal moral strength, allied to great gentleness and pity,
combined to make a character extraordinary in one so young, and which
her aunt summed up and summarily dismissed from her mind in the trite
sentence that "she certainly did not take after her parents."

She was considered slow by the youths, and perplexing and therefore to
be avoided by the girls of her own age, and dull or frightfully
conceited by the men who had fluttered round her almost exotic beauty
until they had come up against the icy barrier of her supreme
indifference.

To those who knew her intimately, such as the fisherfolk and the
farmers, and the tramps with whom she would sit and converse by the
wayside and share her lunch, she was the most lovable, cheery soul in
the world, which, of course, meant the county of Devon.

"Damn standoffish, what!"

Such had been the verdict passed by someone married who hailed from
London town, when Leonie had refused to sit out a dance in a secluded
shady nook.

"Just a bit of heaven!" had said the tramp as he turned the corner in
the lane, leaving Leonie sitting on the milestone pondering upon the
man whose ragged clothes were out of keeping with the shape of his
nails, and the timbre of his voice with his unkempt hair.

But leaving all that aside, and in all conscience it was bad enough,
the biggest worry hung as heavy and as threatening upon the horizon as
does at times the monsoon over the Indian Ocean.

Once upon a time Susan Hetth had committed an indiscretion, nothing
_really_ wrong--she hadn't the nerve.  But the nuisance of it was,
that, in addition to the indiscretion, she had broken the eleventh
commandment and had very nearly got hanged for her lamb.

In the second year of her widowhood in the month of November, whilst
her hair was still golden and her colouring unpurchased, she had dined
_à deux_ in one of those delectable, ghost-ridden, low-ceilinged sets
of chambers which are tucked away in a certain Inn within the Fleet
Street boundary.

Which is a silly thing to do if you do not own a car and a
long-suffering discreet chauffeur.

The _diner à deux_ and a bit of a play had been the honest programme;
but the inevitable had happened in an all-enveloping blanket of a fog,
on account of which everything in the shape of a hackney carriage had
gone home, and an excursion on foot to the nearest tube rendered
hopeless by the simple fact that you could not see your hand before
your face.

Which would not have mattered a bit if only, as the fog lifted and the
clock of St Dunstan's chimed the hour of three a.m., she had emerged
from the narrow opening into Fleet Street with the aplomb or
_savoir-faire_, which are almost twins, necessary to the occasion.

She would then have beckoned to and smiled sweetly upon the young
ruffian into whom she bumped as he lounged on his way to Covent Garden
Market, and promised him just enough to bring her a taxi or something
on wheels, into which she would have got if it had materialised, and
been whirled away to safety and bed after adieux to her host uttered
with the nonchalance necessary to allay the young ruffian's suspicions.

Instead of this she had slunk from the opening with her host close
behind, had bumped into the young ruffian and with an exclamation of
dismay had shrunk back into the shadows and her host's arms.

In consequence of which action the bare-footed ruffian had shadowed
them until they had met a four-wheeler, had held the lady's dress from
the wheel and overheard the address given to the driver for which he
had received tuppence, and had disappeared into a doorway where he had
spat on his unearned increment and made his plans.

The upshot of it all being the admittance a fortnight later of young
Wal. Hickle, attired in his best and primed with her family history,
into the presence of the terrified woman.

He had simply asked for twenty pounds on the nail in return for his
silence.

And she, scared out of her wits, instead of threatening him with the
law, had given him a cheque--yes! a cheque--and he, with a flash of
that cunning which was to lead him eventually to a seat amongst the
plutocrats, had pocketed it and grinned.

"I doan' wan' mor' 'en twenty uv the best, lidy, jus' to mike a
start--an' I doan' wanter part wiv yer 'and-writin' niver.  So jes' yer
send two rustlers, wot means notes, of ten pun each, rigistered, to W.
'ickle spelt wiv a haitch, 2 H'apple Blossom Row, Coving Gardin, afore
this toime ter-morrer.  An' jes yer remember that h'as long as yer
lives I've got yer bit of 'andwritin.'  I ain't goin' ter use it, but
some dye it might come in 'andy.  'Ardly loikly as 'ow yer'd buy twenty
pun wurf of veg from Wal 'ickle eh, lidy?--it 'ud want _some_
h'explanation."

Then this soul made in the image and likeness of his God and found
good, but hidden under the civilising process of the twentieth century
which had given him the morals of a jackal and the status of a pariah
dog, sighed as he looked round the dainty room.

"S'welp me," he said, as he touched a satin cushion with his coarse,
broken-nailed finger-tips, "h'if oi h'understand wye a woman the loikes
uv _you_, wiv h'everyfink she wants, cawn't run _strite_!"

"Oh! but," whimpered the woman, "it was all the fault of the fog,
_really_ it was!"

"Garn!" replied the young ruffian as he opened the door and slammed it
behind him.



CHAPTER XIV

  "Surely I am more brutish than any man!"--_The Bible_.


And just about midsummer Fate tweaked the string to which was hobbled
Susan Hetth.

A vulgar but resplendent bachelor middle-aged millionaire, sterling,
not dollars, in order to set his gastronomic house in order, had taken
a notion for the simple life for just as long as the notion should
last, and a perfect bijou of a thatched cottage t'other side of
Clovelly for a year.

With a notion of buying the cottage at Lee in which had dwelt the three
historic maids, he had swept one day through the village in the latest
thing in cars.

Baulked in his intent, and with time upon his podgy hands, he had
rolled, minus the car, along the village path over the strippet of
water and the sunbaked grass to the harbour.

There he had bent, with ardour and misgivings, to pick up Leonie's
towel, just as the soft wind caught her bathing cloak as she stretched
out her hand with a smile of thanks.

She had grabbed at the cloak and missed it by a bit, so that it had
swept behind her, hanging from one shoulder like some Grecian drapery,
and the rotund little man had trotted round her draped side, picked up
the cloak by the big button, and completed his trot, covering her up as
he moved.

And as he trotted his little porcine eyes had glistened as they
lingered upon the perfect figure, from the slim ankles to the confused
face, and Leonie had blushed, though you could not have discerned it
through the tan, pulled the cloak tighter and hurried across the road
to the cottage gate.

But with the clumsy swiftness of the elephantine, the man had run after
her and opened the cottage gate just as Susan Hetth opened the cottage
door with the welcoming announcement that tea was ready.

"Ha!" he had snorted as he almost ran up the path, leaving Leonie to
stand still and stare in amazement at the little scene.  "And I'll have
some tea, too, Lady Susan Hetth, and how d'you do.  Long time since we
met, eh?"

Diamonds sparkled in the sun as the man stretched out an effusive hand,
and a flame of anger sparkled in the small eyes as Lady Susan drew back
frigidly.

Not being of them herself she set all the greater store on knowing
those she considered exactly the right people.

"I don't think I have----" she commenced in her most primpsy voice,
when she was interrupted with a perfectly odious familiarity.

"Now you're not going to say that you don't remember our little
meetings in Earls Court _and_ Fleet Street and"--the man spoke with an
extreme slowness as though keeping guard over each letter of each
word--"_and_ our little correspondence, come now."

Leonie frowned and moved a step forward protectingly as her aunt caught
suddenly at the door handle, and then jerked herself forward with
outstretched hand.

"Auntie, dear----"

But her aunt was speaking in the falsetto of forced levity, and Leonie
held her peace and waited for an opportunity to slip past and into the
house.

"Why, I do believe," said Susan Hetth, suddenly metamorphosed by a
certain tone in the man's voice into the terrified woman of years ago,
"Yes!  I do believe it is Mr. Walter Hickle----"

"_Sir_ Walter, _if_ you please."

"Indeed, in-deed--how _very_ delightful, and after _all_ these years!
Leonie, this is--is--er----"

"I'm one of your aunt's friends, Miss Leonie, bobbed up out of the
past.  Glad to meet you, hope we shall be friends, too."

Leonie, who had gained the door, looked back over her aunt's shoulder
and spoke with a gentle courtesy very much her own.

"I always like to meet Auntie's friends!"

Not knowing the man from Adam she spoke no untruth, but in spite of
reiterated calls to come down to tea she remained in her bedroom until
the loud-voiced guest had taken his departure.

While the two women were having yet another cup of tea Sir Walter
Hickle, millionaire, tradesman, and knight, sat down gingerly upon a
rock and made his plans.

He had made his plans as a bull-necked, offensive youth the first day
he had pulled out from Covent Garden with a barrow piled with walnuts
bought out of two rustlers, value of ten pun each.

"I'll _get there_!" he had informed the nuts as he tweaked his cap over
one eye, and his red neckerchief into place; and had sworn a mighty and
quite unprintable oath as he struck a huge fist into a horny palm at
the corner of Ludgate Circus and New Bridge Street.

"I'll _get there_!" he informed the seaweed as he lifted the soft grey
hat from his bald head and adjusted the enormous pearl pin in the pale
pink satin tie; and he sighed stertorously as he complacently patted
his knee with a podgy hand, upon the manicured plebeian fingers of
which shone two magnificent diamond rings.

And if you cannot penetrate the strongholds of Devon county, it is not
difficult to make acquaintance with her visitors, especially if your
visiting card is a gilt edge security for future excursions and
diversions done in top-hole style.

Unsuspecting Leonie, who never kept a grudge, after a week or so of
astonishment and aversion, thinking in her innocence of heart that she
perceived the trend of events, made up her mind to meet the rotund old
knight with the simple graciousness due to her aunt's would-be husband.

True, the elasticity of her graciousness did not stretch enough to
allow her to accept the never-ending invitations which poured into the
cottage; but she would tuck her remonstrating aunt into the car which
was ever at the gate, and smile delightfully upon the infatuated old
fellow who put her aloofness down to mere girlish waywardness.

Although the corporeal part of the old vulgarian grated on her
susceptibilities, she was quite willing to believe that if one chose to
dig deep enough it would prove to be only the rough earth covering a
positive mine of rare temperamental gems; and in her blindness whistled
cheerily as she thought of the joy her aunt would feel at not having to
drop her title when she changed her name, and at being able to retain
the same initials for her monogram.



CHAPTER XV

  "To sell a bargain well is as cunning
  as fast and loose."--_Shakespeare_.


"Now I want you to listen to me, Leonie!"

"I am, Auntie!"

"I mean _seriously_!  I want to talk about myself for one thing, and
our very straitened means, which do not permit us to go on living even
like this; and oh! lots of other things."

"Right, darling!" said her niece, moving across the room to sit on a
broad stool at her relation's feet, but twisting her head to one side
with a quick movement when her aunt laid her hand dramatically upon the
tawny hair.

"Please, Auntie, don't!  I can't bear to have my head touched!"

"Just what I want to talk about!" vaguely said Susan Hetth as she tried
to disentangle an old-fashioned ring which had unfortunately caught a
few shining hairs in its loose setting.

"Please don't touch my _head_, Auntie!" repeated Leonie as she sat
back.  "Let my hair _go_, please!"

"I'm not touching your hair, child," impatiently replied the elder
woman.  "It's got caught in one of my rings!"

Leonie's eyes were almost closed in a strange kind of psychological
agony; then just as though she acted unconsciously she seized her
aunt's hands and pulled them quickly from her head, tearing out the
hair entangled in the ring by the roots.

"I can't stand it, Auntie.  I have never been able to bear anyone
touching my head," she said very quietly.

"I think you're insane at times, Leonie, _really_ I do!"

The terrible words were out, and for one long moment the two women
stared into each other's eyes.

"You think I am insane at times," whispered Leonie.  "_You_--Auntie,
_you_ think I am _insane_!"

And the elder woman, floundering in dismay at the awful effect of her
unconsidered words, sank to her neck in a bog of explanation.

"No!  Leonie--no, of course not--I wasn't thinking--of _course_ you're
not mad--insane I mean.  What an idea! only I am worried about you, you
know that, don't you, dear!  _Do_ be sensible, dear.  Of course your
brain is not _quite_ normal.  It can't be with all that sleep-walking,
can it, and all your abnormally brilliant exams!"

Susan Hetth's disjointed remarks sounded like the clatter of a pair of
runaway mules, while Leonie clasped her hands tight as she sat crouched
on her stool.

"Of course people _will_ talk, you know, dear!  They did when you were
quite a baby and began walking in your sleep.  And they did, you know,
at school after that unfortunate child nearly got strangled by her
sheets--I always do think that school fare is _most_ indigestible--and
_so_ likely to cause blemishes on the skin!"

Leonie bowed her head.

"Most unfortunate that you should have snubbed young
Mr--what's-his-name--so severely--and that his sister should have been
at school with you.  Out of revenge _she_ has been talking about you
and your sleep-walking.  People are most unkind and _most_ unjust--and
you are _far_ too pretty to receive any consideration from your _own_
sex, how_ever_ much attention you may receive from the opposition--I
mean sex--opposite sex, I mean----"

Leonie sat absolutely still.

"Anyway, my child, we need not worry--there is a way out of our little
difficulties."

Sensing that something was coming Leonie sat back with the light of the
oil lamp full on her face as she stared at the clutter on the
mantelpiece.

"I _do_ so want you to do something for me, darling."

The tone of Susan Hetth's voice and the touch of her hand on the girl's
arm were as wheedling as if she were about to ask her to tramp into
Ilfracombe on some trifling midnight errand.

Leonie answered quite mechanically.

"What is it, dear!" she said.  "Say the word and I'll do it!"

"Is that a promise?"

"Ra-ther!  Anything to please you, Auntiekins!"

Susan Hetth took her fence in a rush!

"I want you to get married," she said abruptly out of pure fright, and
wrenched at her bead chain when Leonie leapt to her feet.

The girl stood quite still, outlined in her simple low-cut,
short-sleeved dress by the wall, her hands pressed back against it.

There was no sound except the soft gurgle and murmur of the water until
she spoke, quietly, but with a world of horror in her low-pitched voice.

"You want me to marry--_you_--when a moment ago you said that you
thought I was mad--you want me to marry some honest, unsuspecting man,
and bear him children!"

Susan Hetth, shocked to the limit of her Pecksniffian soul, made a
nerveless fluttering gesture of protest with her hands.

"Don't speak," said Leonie quickly, "please don't speak until I have
done.  Marriage!  I will tell you what I have thought about it while I
have been waiting for my mate."

"Oh!" exploded Susan Hetth vehemently.  "_My dear_!  Surely you have
not been corresponding with anyone!"

Leonie hesitated.

How was she to make her aunt, this shallow, unbalanced being,
understand the joyous expectancy with which she had awaited the moment
when she should meet the man born for her?

How was she to take the exquisite longings, the veiled desires, the
beautiful virgin thoughts, from her heart and lay them before this
woman who had taught her nothing but the twenty-third Psalm without its
real interpretation, plus the correct Sunday collect and daily prayers.

How explain that to her the little golden ring would not represent a
key opening the door to the so-called freedom from which fifty per cent
of women descend, via the shallow flight of steps marked a good time,
to the plain of discontent; or that to her the word love was
sufficient, in that for her it included those of honour and obey,
without any separate declaration in public.

When she spoke she spoke hurriedly, flushing from chin to brow.

"Auntie--I correspond with no man--but my--my mate is waiting for me
somewhere--calling me all the time ever since--oh! ever since I can
remember--and--and I should have married him when I had met him
if--if----"

In anger at this fresh complication, piled upon her appalling want of
tact of a few moments ago, Susan Hetth struck her hands on the arms of
her chair.

"I think you absolutely _indecent_, Leonie, to go on like this about
someone you have never even seen.  Now listen to me, and don't be so
theatrical.  I have had an offer of marriage for you by someone who
knows all about you, and who, after my assurance that there is nothing
hereditary in your family on either side to account for the strangeness
of your actions at times, is perfectly willing, even anxious, to marry
you."

"To take the risk, you mean," broke in Leonie.  "Oh!--well, go on."

Aunt Susan, somewhat out of breath from the rapidity and unaccustomed
lucidity of her words, inhaled deeply and continued.

"He will make you an astounding marriage settlement, give you
everything you want, and swears to make you per-fect-ly happy!"

"And his name?"

"Oh! don't be stupid, Leonie, of course you know whom I mean!"

Leonie leant forward, stretching out her hands, her face dead white in
the light of the lamp.

"Tell me _his name_ and don't drive me beyond breaking point, Aunt
Susan!"

"Tosh!" contemptuously remarked her aunt.  "Don't be so childish--I
mean Sir Walter Hickle, of course!"

Expecting some violent words of protest the elder woman half rose from
her chair, but appalled by the deathly silence and the look on the
girl's face, sank back, cowering in her seat, and stared in the
direction her niece's hand was pointing.

"Look, Auntie, look!"

Leonie stood with one hand pointing at the mantelpiece and the other
pressed against her throat as she tried to speak coherently.

The pupils of her eyes were pin-points as she gazed at a wooden frame
which, adorned with edelweiss and the Lucerne Lion, held the snapshot
of a complaisant individual leaning over the harbour wall, attired in a
well-fitting but ill-placed yachting suit.

"Old Pickled Walnuts!  You want me to marry him--when--when--oh! when I
thought _he_ wanted to marry _you_!"

She laughed, a laugh which sounded like the jangling of broken glass,
and died almost before it was born; and her aunt, terrified at the
sound and the expression on the girl's face, seized the outstretched
arm and shook it violently.

"What _are_ you talking about, Leonie!"

Leonie freed her arm with a shudder.

"Please don't touch me!"  Then making a desperate effort she continued
quietly, so quietly indeed that Susan Hetth looked anxiously over her
shoulder towards the door.

"Don't you know that's his nickname?  Oh! of _course_ you do!  You
_know_ he made his fortune by pickling walnuts too rotten to sell.  Sir
Walter Hickle--twist the name a bit and it's all in a nutshell--a--a
pickled walnut shell"--the little unnatural laugh broke across the
words--"and you want _me_ to marry him--Auntie!  Auntie! he's awful
enough, heaven knows, but not bad enough, nobody could be, to have a--a
mad wife foisted on him--no! never--I'll go out and work!"

There was something very decisive in the last words, but Susan Hetth,
like most weak people, found her strength suddenly in a mulish
obstinacy, which is a quite good equivalent for, and often more
efficacious than mere strength of will.

This obstinacy, backed by the knowledge that people were beginning to
gossip about the girl's aloofness and love of solitude; that the
cashing of another cheque would see her overdrawn at the bank; and that
until the girl was settled and off her hands she would not be able to
solve her own matrimonial problem, drove her to a show of mental energy
of which she would not have been capable in an everyday argument.

"Work!" she cried, "work!  What can you do?  _Nothing_--except go out
as a companion or nursery governess!--and who would take you without a
reference--and who would give _you_ one?  Tell me!"

Leonie remained silent--stunned.

"As I have told you, we simply cannot afford to live even like _this_!
I'm overdrawn as it is, and----"

"But," broke in Leonie with a gleam of hope, "but I have father's money
coming to me.  I'm not quite sure how much it is, but you can have
it--_all_!"

"It's two thousand pounds down for yourself, and two hundred and fifty
a year in trust for your children--to be given you on your _wedding_
day."

"Oh!"

It was just a little pitiful exclamation as the girl realised the net
which was closing about her feet, but from the meshes of which she made
a last desperate effort to extricate herself.

"I think I--see--a way," she said slowly.  "Yes--listen--this terrible
mystery that surrounds me, this--this curse which seems to bring
disaster or pain to everyone I love, simply makes life not worth
living--so if--if I make a will in your favour, Auntie, dear, and go
for a swim at Morte Point where the cross currents are--it will----"

But Susan Hetth interrupted violently, horror-stricken at the
suggestion made indifferently by the girl she loved as far as she was
capable of loving.

"How is suicide going to help?" she demanded shrilly.  "There would be
an inquest, every bit of gossip, everything you had ever done would be
brought to light; the verdict would be insanity----"

"Oh, _Auntie_!"

Driven to desperation and without finesse Susan Hetth flung down her
trump card.

"But--I--I haven't told you the--the _worst_," she stammered, dabbing
her eyes with her handkerchief, and peering from behind it at Leonie
who, wearily pushing the hair off her forehead, stood apathetically
waiting.

"That--that man"--she jerked her head at the mantelpiece--"has--has a
hold on me!"

"What---do you mean Sir Walter--do you owe him _money_?" Leonie stared
in amazement as she spoke.

"Oh, no--it's worse!" came the reply, followed by a curtailed but
sufficiently dramatic recital of the past indiscretion, to which Leonie
listened spellbound.

"And you _do_ believe that it was just a bit of bad luck, and that
there was nothing _really_ wrong in it all, don't you, dear," insisted
the woman who, like ninety-nine per cent of humans, forgot the real
tragedy of the moment in the recital of her own pettifogging escapade.

"Absolutely," replied Leonie flatly.

"And you _do_ see the necessity of giving in, now that he has
threatened me with exposure if you refuse him when he proposes, _don't_
you, dear?"

"Absolutely," replied Leonie for the second time.

There followed long minutes of silence which the swirl of the waters
alone dared to break, and then the girl spoke.

"My life," she said very softly to herself; "my lovely, beautiful free
life done.  The wind, and the birds, and the sea--Auntie--oh,
Auntie--_Auntie_!"

And she turned and flung herself against the wall with her face crushed
into her upstretched arms.  "Think of it," she whispered hoarsely,
"think of it, my youth, my spirit, my body given into that old man's
keeping.  I who have kept my thoughts, my lips, my eyes for my mate
that was to be; I who have longed for his love, for the hours and the
days, and the months, and the years, even unto death, with him.  How
could----"

There was a click of the gate, and she flung round from the wall,
dry-eyed, dry-lipped, desperate, as her aunt hurriedly rose.

"It's him--Sir Walter, Leonie--are you going to accept him?"

"Of course," came the steady reply, and Leonie looked the elder woman
straight in the eyes, which darted this, that, and every way.   "Will
you go upstairs, please."

     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Just before dawn Leonie slid in through the window, and the water,
trickling from the bathing dress which clung to the wonderful figure,
formed little pools on the faded carpet.

"Nothing will ever make me clean," she whispered,
"nothing--nothing--nothing.  There is no ocean big or wide or deep
enough for that, oh! God--my God!"

For five long minutes she stood absolutely still, looking straight and
unseeingly at the mantelpiece.

Then as a rooster somewhere shrilly heralded the coming day she awoke
to her surroundings and moved.

Like a beaten dog she crept to her bedroom, and stood staring at the
reflection of her haggard face in the mirror.  A bird suddenly burst
into a song of welcome to the dawn which was dyeing the sky rose pink,
and she crossed to the window-seat, dropped to her knees, and buried
her lovely head in her outstretched arms, amid the ruins of her
beautiful Castle of Dreams.



CHAPTER XVI

  "For Fate has wove the thread of life with pain!"--_Pope_.


When _empty_ Rockham is a haven of delight, whether the little
connecting coves be awash with the tide, or the limpets, in an unglued
state, are airing themselves awaiting the return of the water.

You can wander at will, if you have the right boots on, over the
never-ending sharp ridges of the rocks; you can pass hours gathering
_laver_, though it is not at its best just there; and you can find
sea-anemones and such treasure-trove as pit props, and boxes of butter,
yea! and even casks of wine after a storm if the gods be kind to you.

Also you can don your bathing dress in comfort behind the wreck, one of
many, which has remained as witness to the force of the terrific gales
and the ripping propensities of the saw-teethed rocks.

Walk in from Lee or Mortehoe, Woolacombe or Croyde, over fields in
which lambs stand on their front feet in exuberance of youth, or caper
on their back ones until called to order by their maternal parent; or
through lanes lined with primroses and violets, or roses, or nuts, or
berries, according to the season, whilst on the top twig of the high
hedges yellow-hammers, chaffinches, robins and the like gossip to you
about the hawk hovering in the distance.

Arrived there, pause on the edge of the incline.  _Don't_ go down if
you see a paper bag fluttering in the breeze, because a paper bag is
but a forerunner of lanky locks dripping on a towel-covered shoulder,
and bare and uncomely feet fiddling in the warm sand, whilst adjacent
is the rock over which the faded blue bathing dress hangs out to dry.

Wait for the empty hour and then fly into the second cove, and the
next, and the next, but--_don't forget the tide_!

The sand-covered rough-haired terrier stood with his head cocked on one
side, looking at the wonderful, waving, glistening mass in front of him.

It certainly looked like seaweed, but it didn't smell like it, and long
bits of it floated in the air just like golden threads; besides, there
was something uncanny about it which sent thrills into the roots of his
rough hair, causing it to rise in clumps along his spine.

It looked as if there were something dead underneath, too, and yet it
didn't; anyway it certainly did not look as though it were meant to be
played with or barked at; and he hastened back along the treacherous
narrow passage, which connects the two last coves, in search of
him-who-knew-all and was never afraid.

"No, old fellow!" was the only response he got to his invitation to
"come and see."  "I've already been fooled over anemones, and rooks,
and passing cloud shadows, and very dead starfish--nothing' doin', so
calm yourself!"

But the dog backed into a pool, emitting barks which were strangled at
birth, snapped at a bit of rock which caught him unawares upon his
unprotected flank, trotted forward, backed again into the pool, and
turning, ran down the passage, came back and did it all over again.

Talk about water-drops wearing away a stone, why they are simply not in
it when compared with a dog's method of wearing down your resistance.
After the fifth repetition of the above tactics the man rose,
stretched, put his pipe in his pocket, and hurling a pebble at the
delighted quadruped, followed in its wake.

"Just look at that, and don't say I've brought you here for nothing,"
said the terrier, as plainly as he could with eyes and quivering body
and tail.

The man looked and held up a finger, which caused the dog to sit up and
beg, and walked as softly as possible up to Leonie who, tired out with
worry, heartache, and a long swim, was sitting fast asleep on that one
slanting, delightfully comfortable rock seat, with her hair spread out
over her face, and down to her knees, mantle wise, to dry.

It is a somewhat ticklish job to lift an unknown lady's hair and tell
her abruptly that you think the tide is on the turn, and the man stood
in perplexity, while his brain refused obstinately to register anything
more practical than an overwhelming admiration for the picture before
him.

However, with the attempt to unravel the problem, his hand went
instinctively to the pocket which held his pipe, and the slight
movement simultaneously upset his balance and solved the problem.

He slipped with a rasp of nails on rock, waved his arms in a manner
likely to cause envy in any mere flag-wagger, and recovered himself
with all the clatter and confusion inseparable, under such
circumstances, from the saving of self-respect and the knees of skirt
or breeches.

Quite unconscious that her stockings and high boots were upon another
rock, her skirt only reached just below the knee and her legs and
beautiful feet were bare, Leonie sat up as straight as she could and
peered from between her masses of hair; upon which the dog, thinking
that he alone was responsible for the discovery of this wild beast,
yelped and barked and growled as he slid in and out of the pools.

Pushing her hair back, and shielding her eyes from the sun and her face
from the man, she flashed one swift glance from his shoes to his hair;
that non-looking, all-seeing glance of woman which leaves fork
lightning at the post, and causes you to wish you had spent a little
more time upon your toilet.

Although she had barely looked at him, Leonie could have described the
man before her down to the minutest detail.

No doubt about it he was good to look upon, with his steady eyes, the
straight ultra-refined nose with slightly-distended nostrils, and a jaw
which, in shape and strength, belied the almost feminine beauty of the
mouth.

He stood well over six feet, though you would hardly have thought so
because of the massive shoulders which seemed to have been created to
carry the troubles of the entire world.

His hands, the outward, visible and infallible sign of the inner man,
were perfect male hands, long and thin with square-tipped sensitive
fingers, and a certain look of steel about the back and wrists.

But although he had been looking at her steadily for quite a minute,
owing to some inexplicable overpowering sensation which had seized upon
him, he would most certainly not have been able to tell you the colour
of her hair or that her feet were bare.

"I beg your pardon," he said quite suddenly and a little hoarsely, "but
my dog brought me to you--and as I think the tide is on the turn, I
thought----"

But any further description of his thoughts was cut short in most
unseemly fashion as, with an ear-splitting bark, the terrier hurled
himself into the girl's lap, standing up to put its fore-paws round her
neck, wriggling and squirming until the four feet, collar, and head
were thoroughly knotted in the beautiful hair.

Leonie held on to her scalp to lessen the pain as stray hairs were
literally dragged out by the roots, whilst tears of agony streamed down
her face on to the man's hands as he held the squirming animal and
endeavoured to loosen its bonds.

"Cut it!"

"What!  All that!"

"Oh!  I can spare it, but I can't stand the pain much longer, and I
can't bear having my head touched.  Look, I'll hold the dog firmly on
my lap and bend my head, it won't hurt quite as much then, only do be
quick!"

She put both hands on the shivering dog, who seemed to have sensed that
something had gone agley, and pressing him down upon her knees bent her
head, and her hair fell in waves about the man's feet as he unclasped a
pocket-knife.

What there was in the attitude, whether it was the humility of the bent
head or the utter abandon of the waving hair about his knees, the man
never knew, but he suddenly began to hack savagely and ruthlessly at
the great strands until the dog was freed and flung far on to the sands.

Then he bent and took hold of Leonie, lifting her bodily from her seat
into his arms, crushing her desperately against his breast.

Just for one moment he stared down with blazing eyes, the nostrils
quivering slightly, and the lips drawn back enough to show the white
even teeth, whilst the rough tweed of his coat marked her cheek, and
the strength of his arms and hands bruised her body even through her
clothes; then he frowned, pushed her hair almost roughly right off her
face, and looked at her with the dawn of recognition in his eyes.

And for just as long Leonie lay quite still, her eyes half closed, her
scarlet mouth opened slightly, enough to show the small white teeth.

And then, she was standing on her feet with her hands clenched in his
against his breast.

"_You_!"

"And _you_!" she replied, striving gently to release her hands.

"Forgive me!  For God's sake forgive me!  I--I have no excuse!"

A seagull perched itself on the point of a jagged rock, uttered its
raucous cry and was gone towards Bull Point Lighthouse shining in the
sun; a flock of rooks suddenly swirled from the cliffs, screaming
battle upon their opponents as Leonie answered.

"There is nothing to forgive!  Some things are beyond our ken.  Will
you get me my boots and stockings?"

Her hands shook ever so slightly under the strain of the control she
was forcing upon herself, and the pupils of her eyes were strangely
dilated, looking like bits of night sky set in a moon circle; but she
spoke and moved quickly as the man, having brought the foot-gear and
unwound the cut hair from the abject dog, leant down and picked up a
tough seaweed root.

"No!" she said sharply, laying her hand on his.  "No!  It's too late to
beat him!"

"I _must_!"

"I say _no_!"

"But you don't understand!"

Her lashes lay like a fringe on the cheek over which swept a flood of
colour as she whispered so softly that the lap of the water almost
drowned the word.

"_Please_!"

Save for the murmur of the water there was no sound whatever in the
rock-strewn empty spot; and save for the swaying of the seaweed in the
pools there was no movement as those two stood close to each other and
Fate counted time.

Then Leonie smiled radiantly and sat down upon a rock with a stocking
in each hand.

"Come and lunch in the next cove!" her companion said in a
matter-of-fact voice, carefully winding the cut strands of hair and
slipping them, without asking permission, into his breast pocket.
"It's not so sunny in there, and I've cold soup and cold chicken,
salad, jelly and cream--will you?"

"Ra-ther!" said she, beginning to lace her boots.  And picnicking _is_
fun in the last cove at Rockham.  The air smells so heavenly, the wind
is so soft, the clouds so lumpy and white; and there are little caves
in which to dress and undress for the purpose of bathing, to boil the
kettle, or hunt for those little bits of over-dried wood which go off
with the report of a pistol and plop out to singe your garments.

And so _very_ few get as far!

Somehow the tide is generally on the turn, and if by chance it is not,
the tortuous and narrow passages between the coves, with their rocking
rocks and hidden pools, are enough to twist the ankles and temper of
anyone who is not Devon born or bred.

"Yes!  I am due to sail for India about this day month," said Jonathan
Cuxson, Jan for short, a little later, as he drove the cold drumstick
of a Devon chicken into the paper bag containing salt, while Leonie,
holding the fellow leg in both hands, or at least the fingers of both
hands, gnawed right heartily at the middle thereof, and the pardoned
dog sat quivering with hope deferred.

"Isn't this perfectly wonderful," he went on, and Leonie mumbled
"whum-whum" as interestedly and politely as her bone would allow.  "I
mean our meeting like this!"

She smiled and sat forward, resting one hand upon the rocks, and the
puppy, with a lamentable slump in manners, crawled up from behind and
gently relieved her of the bone which still had luscious scraps of
white flesh adhering to it, and a dream of a shining gristly knob at
the end.

"Your idea of picnicing is somewhat luxurious," she said, taking a
cardboard plate full of jelly which he had smothered in cream.  "Tell
me what you are going to make of your life!"

"You must blame or thank Mrs. Pugsley for the luxury.  I'm at
Woolacombe, perched on the top of the hill, and she simply spoils me.
Will you have a cigarette?"

Leonie shook her head, and the two great, hastily twisted plaits
wriggled like shining snakes, causing the dog to lay one paw on his
bone and snarl.

"I don't smoke!"

"How delightful!" said Jan Cuxson.  "I was sure you didn't--I love
women who smell of lavender."

"Won't you smoke--your pipe--and tell me what you are going to make of
your life."

"They--the plans--have all been fogged up this morning !" he said
slowly after a moment's pause.  "How strange it all is.  Do you know
that I was going up to town next week to hunt up _you_, of all people?
Do you remember anything of my father's death?"

"We don't talk about it," said Leonie quietly, and the man looked at
her with a sudden questioning in the steady eyes.

"I am taking on his work, you know, specialising in the brain.  I have
got through all my exams quite decently, thanks, I think, to his
wonderful notes, have travelled a bit in the east, and before settling
down intended to go to India--what for do you think?"

Leonie shook her head.  "Holiday?"

"Er--yes, almost.  You know I simply _loved_ my father, and his very
last entry in his book of notes was about _you_.  One line was this:
'Most interesting--shall go to India and find the ayah.'  He died of
heart failure, you know, and he must have written the last line before
he died--it is: 'The answer to the problem concerning Leonie Hetth is
in the third volume upon----'  There was nothing after that--I thought
he would be awfully pleased if I carried out his last wishes, and meant
to hunt you up and see if you were still--er--bothered with dreams and
then----"

He stopped short as Leonie leapt to her feet and ran back from a wave
which had most unexpectedly swirled upon her from behind a rock.

"Quick!" she laughed, "quick--the tide will be in.  Where's the dog?"

The dog was cavorting with a crab in a pool.

"Jingles!" sternly admonished his master, who was heaving everything
pell-mell into his haversack.  "By the way, what became of Jingles the
first?"

A shadow crept into Leonie's eyes as she thought of the pain and
disaster she invariably seemed to bring to those she loved most.

"He--he was run over--it was my fault, I whistled him across the road
and a car caught him.  If we hurry," she continued, "we shall be in
time for tea--Auntie will love to see you again!"

"Oh! of course--I'd almost forgotten her--will she?"



CHAPTER XVII

  "He that rebuketh a wicked man getteth
  himself a blot!"--_The Bible_.


By all the ill-luck in the world Sir Walter Hickle was sitting in the
patch called the garden, turning a small parcel elatedly over and over
in his pocket, as Leonie, and her companion, and the dog came sliding
down the hill towards the cottage.

For the time being Leonie had totally forgotten the proceedings of the
night before, which had metamorphosed her radiant self from a free into
a bond woman.

"Oh!" she said, putting one hand unexpectedly on Jan Cuxson's arm and
digging her stick fiercely into the ground, as the man in the garden
half rose from his chair and sank back with a frown.

"Oh!" she repeated.

"Tired, dear?"

Neither of them noticed the little endearing word which had slipped out
so naturally, but Leonie's face was wan and her eyes were dead as she
dragged herself down the last few yards, while her aunt fluttered down
to the gate to meet them, with her mind and skirts in a whirl.

"Jan Cuxson!" she exclaimed, offering a limp hand, and "How _very_
nice," she continued, lying quite successfully.  "I should have known
you anywhere.  _Do_ come in and have tea!"

And in the same breath, and with that strange cruel cunning of the
shallow mind, which is the abortive twin of decent feminine intuition,
she leapt at the difficulty she saw threatening, and tried to dispel it.

"Let me introduce you to Sir Walter Hickle, my niece's fiance."

Sir Walter ambled forward with outstretched hand as Cuxson, nodding
curtly, bent to pick up Leonie's stick, which had clattered to the
floor.

A malicious gleam shone in the elder man's little eyes as he looked at
the splendid young fellow who had seemed, physically anyway, so fit a
match for Leonie as they tramped down the hill together; and though
there was no sign of his inward perplexity and repulsion in Jan
Cuxson's face as his eyes swept the obese figure of the notorious old
knight, his jaw took a sudden, almost ugly, outward thrust with the
birth of a mighty resolution.

Leonie walked to the gate with him when he took his departure, having
refused tea from a certain undefined feeling that he could not even sit
in the same room as the man whom he intended to do out of the odd trick.

He crushed Leonie's hand as he looked straight into her eyes, so
desperate and ashamed, and spoke very gently and deliberately as he
slipped his hand to her wrist and pulled her a little closer.

"I shall be in the last cove to-morrow at eleven, waiting for you."

And naturally Leonie had responded to the mastery in the voice, as all
women do respond when the voice is the right one; and a soft wave of
colour swept from chin to brow as she turned from the gate, and walked
through the doorway straight to her bedroom; while her future lord
pranced furiously among the bric-a-brac, and her aunt's beads and
bracelets clashed against the china as she wrung her hands over the tea
things, and portending disaster.

Leonie sat down on her bed with her eyes shining like stars.

The lid of her life's casket had opened wide, and from under a hideous
heap of fear, disgust, lost illusions, and despair, hope had sprung,
spreading her iridescent wings in the warmth of love.

She sat until the shadows crept about her, then got up from her bed
with a little laugh, and descended to give battle for her life and
freedom.

Think of every synonym connected with the word tumult and you will get
a vague idea of the storm which crashed about the girl's defenceless
head as she stood with her back to the door of the tiny sitting-room,
with a perfectly gorgeous diamond ring sparkling and flashing in front
of her upon a table.

"I cannot marry you, Sir Walter, I simply cannot do it," she was
saying, slowly and distinctly.  "You must let me go.  So please give
the ring to somebody else, there are heaps of girls ever--oh, ever so
much nicer than me!"

She smiled sweetly as she picked up the ring and held it out to the
man, who snatched it from her as he sprang to his feet, and hurled it
through the window.

Then he moved to the other side of the table and leant both clenched
fists upon it as he looked Leonie up and down.

"You needn't wear the ring, my girl," he said slowly, "but no one picks
Walter Hickle up one day and throws him down the next.  You're going to
marry me this day month, you take that straight from me.  Let's hear
why you've changed your mind so sudden; willing to marry last night,
unwilling to marry to-day.

"Come on, now, out with it!" he suddenly shouted, bringing his hand
with a crash on the table as Leonie hesitated, blushing divinely.

"Only--be-cause I--I don't love you, Sir Walter, and it's--it's _not_
right to marry without love!"

"Posh!  There wasn't so much of this 'ere right to marry last night.
Fallen in love with that young feller-me-lad, I suppose.  Where did you
meet him?  What were you doing?  How--how----"

Leonie turned the handle of the door, but shrank back as the man, with
a bound, flung himself at her and wrenched her hand free; and Susan
Hetth clashed her bracelets and bits as she put her hands tightly over
her face, in her fright forgetting the mixture of colours she heaped on
it daily in the hope of stemming the neap tide of old age.

"Get out, you there!" snarled the man, lashed to fury by the whip of
jealousy.  "Get out, go away, wash your face--you look like a--a--like
a damned fut'rist, get _out_!"

And not daring to pass the two near the door, she prepared to get, with
a great loss of dignity, through the bow window; in fact, one foot was
just over the sill when the man called her back.

"Come back," he bellowed, "I want you as witness to what I'm goin' to
say to your niece, the young lady what plays fast and loose with honest
men.  Fast and loose, I _don't_ fink!"

Leonie shuddered as the veneer of refinement cracked under the strain
of the man's rage, showing the brutality and grossness immediately
underneath.

She pulled her hand free, and backed towards the mantelpiece, against
which she leant, staring at him.

"I am not going to marry you!"

The voice was low but positive, and the quiet in the room was intense
as Sir Walter bounced up within a foot of her and shook a fat
forefinger in her face.

"Aren't you," he said, "aren't you!  And I'll just tell you three
things what'll make you change your tune, my girl.

"One," he placed the fat forefinger on the ill-bred thumb, "an' the
least important, you'll marry me 'cos you're an 'etth, daughter of
Colonel Bob Hetth, V.C., an' your fut'rist aunt ain't--hasn't half
rubbed it in about the Hetths never breaking their word, I give you
mine!"

"Please leave my father's name out of this," quietly replied Leonie,
her face dead white from the sickening thudding of her heart.

"Well, if you don't keep your word, Miss tiger cat, I'll run you in for
breach of promise, an' bring your father's name into court!"

"You couldn't!"

"_Couldn't_!--couldn't what?" stormed the man.

"Run," said Leonie gently, and added sweetly, and with great vulgarity,
"you're too fat!"

"Two!" continued Sir Walter, purple in the face, but wisely ignoring
the insult to his person.  "You'll marry me 'cos no one else'll have
you.  You're batty, my gel--gone in the top storey--can't even go out
to work for your living 'cause you ain't always to be trusted.  I know
all about yer, but I'm willin' to take the risk.  There won't be any
trapersin' round the 'ouse after dark once yer married to me, I give
you my word.  Course, if you like to go on spungin' on your aunt,
obligin' her to live in a 'ole like this, well, that's your look
h'out--'ardly up to mark tho', being an 'etth, daughter of a V.C."

His small eyes gleamed as they rested on Leonie's stricken face.

"Stop, please," she said hurriedly, "I can't stand any more just now.
I--I couldn't really.  Will you give me a week to think it over?"

The man laughed contemptuously.

"A few days, a few hours, then?"

There was something horrible in the humiliation of the girl's pleading,
but it made not the slightest impression on the ex-costermonger, who
had at one time been accustomed to enforcing his commands with the
buckle end of his waist-belt.

"Not a minute, not a second," he chortled, seeing the end of the chase
in sight.  "Think of the 'old I have on yer aunt.  Lady Susan Hetth,
sister of Colonel Bob 'etth, V.C., creeping out h'of a gentleman's
rooms at three h'o'clock of the mornin' an' payin' me 'ush money--think
of h'it.  _Now_ what 'ev you got to say.  Why don't you be sensible an'
quiet, gal?  I've _got_ yer, it ain't no use kickin'.  Be sensible an'
I'll smother you in di'monds, give yer two Rolls-Royce, yacht, Monty
Carlo any time, Park Lane--make every other woman want ter scratch yer
eyes out--what more _could_ yer want?  Now what have yer got to say!"

What was there to say?

Aunt Susan tried to obliterate herself behind the window curtain; Sir
Walter, thumbs in armholes, tilted himself backwards and forwards on
toe and heel as Leonie came forward and leant with both hands the
table, as she looked from one to the other without speaking.

In fact the silence became intolerable to Sir Walter, who had expected,
and would have thoroughly enjoyed a heated altercation, in which he
would have known exactly where he was.

"Well, what 'ev yer got to say, my gel?"

Leonie looked from one to the other.

"I will marry you this day month, Sir Walter."  She threw up her hand
as he laughed triumphantly.  "Wait one moment!  But until that day I
will have nothing to do with you, _nothing_.  I will not meet you nor
go out with you, nor bother about a trousseau, nor the future in any
way.  I shall go out and come in when I like, and go where and how I
like.  I shall meet whom I like.  I won't deceive you, I shall meet Jan
Cuxson just as often as I like.  And I should advise you not to
interfere with me in any way.  He is young and strong, and, as an old
friend of the family, might resent it.  You can trust him, he is a
gentleman--which means--oh, well!--you will find the exact meaning in a
French dictionary."

She crossed to the door, turned, and looked, slowly from one to the
other.

"Is the bargain concluded?"

"Yes!--I'll take yer on those terms--but you'll pay a 'undred per cent
interest on the month, I've lent yer--an' _then_ some I give yer _my_
word!"

The door shut quietly as the man sank into a chair.

"Batty!" he said as he mopped his bald head, "absolutely balmy.  But
it's worth while--it's worth while--let her have 'er month--let 'er--I
shall have a whole lifetime to break 'er in."



CHAPTER XVIII

  "Why fret about them if to-day be sweet!"--_Omar Khayyám_.


The great grey breakers heaved themselves skywards, paused for half a
second, split and crashed down upon the rocks the next morning as
Leonie and Jan Cuxson sat on the sands under the lowering sky.

They had argued, analysed, plotted, and planned, only to find that each
road they launched out upon full of hope, terminated in the blind alley
of the old man's power over the girl.

"I've just got to go through with it," said Leonie, "there is simply no
way out."

The man caught both hands in his.

"Dear heaven, how I love you, child!  How I long to pick you up, as I
did all those years ago, and carry you out of all this to happiness.
Leonie!  Leonie!  You must marry me, I love you so."

And she had sat quite still, not daring to move for fear of the mighty
passion which surged about her.

Yes!  Quite true!  They had only met twice; but there is a certain kind
of love, exceeding rare it's true in Europe, which from an
infinitesimal seed is capable in one second of blossoming into a tree,
fruit and all, in the shade of which you can sit content until your
life's end.

It simply sprouts all over the East.

Wishing to prevent a conflagration Leonie spoke quite calmly as she
withdrew her hands.

"And I couldn't marry you, even if I were free, because--at times--as I
have just told you--they say that I--I--am not responsible for my
actions?  I'm--I'm supposed to be----"

"Be quiet!"

Cuxson pulled her fiercely into his arms, crushing her cheek against
his.

"Tell me all, every detail."

They sat there as the tide went out, and the man registered the facts
of the tragic tale in his mind, eager to be out on the trail of the
mystery overshadowing the girl he loved.

"Mad!" he laughed when she had finished, "_mad_!--no more than I am,
and I'm sane enough in all conscience except in my love for you.  I
shall go to India, and wring or bribe the truth out of that ayah.  But
we needn't worry about the date of starting yet a while, and between
then and now we shall have found a way out of this seeming impasse.
What is it?"

Leonie had twisted herself suddenly out of his arms, looked over her
shoulders and shivered.

"It is what I was telling you about, a sensation of someone standing
close behind me."

"It's nothing, Leonie, just imagination," said Jan Cuxson.

For how could he see a certain high caste native of India walking
slowly down the gangway from the great ship just docked at Tilbury, and
smiling inscrutably as he placed his foot in the country which held the
white woman he sought?

Leonie turned her head quickly, and shivered again, violently.

"It was just as though someone had called me," she said, speaking just
above a whisper.

"Look at me, dear!"

Leonie looked straight into the honest grey eyes, and the fear died out
of her own as she met the steady gaze.

"I'm slow, dear, dead slow, plodding I suppose they'd call me, but once
I'm on to something I never let go until I've won.  Things are black,
sweetheart, but something is telling me that I shall find a way out.
When--when is----"

Leonie lied.

It was beyond her power of will to place a limit to her sudden newborn
happiness; she would not give a definite date, and relying on the
certainty that the man would never allow anyone to gossip to him about
the wedding, she lied--deliberately.

"Oh! there's _plenty_ of time, don't let's talk about it."

She sprang to her feet and flung out her arms to the sea.

"Let's forget, Jan, let's forget!  Let's steal something from Fate and
be happy.  Let's be friends, pals; we can't be anything else, because I
am in honour bound.  And--and--I'm _so_ hungry "--she turned her
radiant, laughing face to him--"I'll race you to Barricane for tea."

She was off as she spoke, with Cuxson close behind.  They jumped from
rock to rock, they slipped, they slithered, they splashed up to their
knees in pools and out again.

The man did not break the compact when he caught her in the shadow of
the wreck and drew her into the shelter of his arms.

"Pal!" he whispered.  "Little pal!"

And she lay quite still until the thud of their hearts, caused by the
strenuous exercise, had given place to the stronger, steadier beat of
steadfast love; then she slipped down, ducked under his arms and was
away, and her laugh was caught by the wind and blown back to him as he
ran in hot pursuit.



CHAPTER XIX

  "Write them upon the table of thine heart!"--_The Bible_.


Leonie's wrist watch very softly chimed midnight, announcing in gentle
tones the birth of her wedding-day, as she sat with her chin in her
hands staring out to sea.

She frowned and pulled savagely at the band until it broke; there was a
faint crash, and a faint splash, as the watch, hurtling through the
air, ricocheted from a rock into a pool as the girl stretched her arms
above her head, leant back, and closed her eyes.

Her last midnight swim, the last time she would slip the bathing dress
over her beautiful virgin body, the last time she would revel in
freedom, oh! the last time of anything decent, and pure, and sweet.

She had not lost her heart or her head, in fact she had gone through
none of those amorous gymnastics which seem necessary to the cardiac
state of being in love.

She _loved_, and she knew it, and confessed it on her knees at night,
and when she walked, or swam, or rode, or carried her food on her back,
or braided her hair in the day.  She was loved and she knew it, and
thanked her God when she lay down to sleep at night, and when she
shopped, or placated her petulant relation, or played bridge or the
piano equally badly, or got wet through in the storm, and tanned by the
wind.

Many times Sir Walter had almost been on the verge of giving her her
desire.

_Almost_!  Because it only needed two things to make him toe the line
of sensual infatuation; the first being the graciousness of every line
of her beautiful person when she met him by chance; and the second, the
ungraciousness of her distinctly unpleasant manner upon the same
occasion, over both of which he promised himself as he inwardly raged
at her frequent, prolonged and unexplained absences, he would shortly
have full control.

The month had slipped by so quickly, the month in which she had
indifferently left to her aunt and fiance the choosing of her
trousseau, and the arrangement of the ceremony; also the honeymoon,
that subsequent insight into purgatory which she was to endure as best
she could in an isolated, thatched cottage t'other side of Hartland
Point.

A month during which she had walked, and talked, and walked again with
Jan Cuxson, who caused her heart to thud heavily even though he did not
touch her hand in greeting, or parting, or at any other time.

They had gathered _laver_--that most delectable vegetable-seaweed--at
the base of the Woolacombe rocks; dug and scratched for the elusive
cowrie shell in the sands of Barricane Beach; devoured Mrs. Parker's
teas of bread and butter and cream, jam and cake, laid on snow-white
cloth upon trestle table; and watched their flat-pebbled ducks and
drakes skip more or less successfully across the waters.

They had tramped to Croyde, George Ham, Saunton, and all the other
lovely spots, and whistled over the lighthouse wall at Bull Point to be
regaled by tea on a tray, handed over by one of the perfectly charming
family of Howgego, which comprises the lighthouse keeper, his wife, and
his bonny daughter.

All this had been done by stealth.

Creeping about the cottage in stockinged feet at dawn, polishing the
high boots before retiring to bed until they shone again; packing the
haversack, creeping out of the cottage, vaulting the wall to the left
to evade the gate which either jammed or creaked, and away up the steep
incline, also to the left, and to wherever love listed.

Upbraidings at night are quite bearable when the heart is aglow, and
the future dimmed by present happiness; but upbraidings in the early
morning are quite intolerable when the outlook into the future shows a
black abyss through the medium of an empty stomach.

She had seized upon every passing moment, wringing the uttermost out of
it that she might have something put by with which to fill in the
blanks of the drear future, the vacuum where should have been a
tumultuously throbbing heart of love, and a pulse of life and passion.

Also did she glean and garner, so as to be tucked in stray corners,
memories of a flower in a hedgerow, a boat on the wing, a look in a
dog's eyes, and the indescribable smell of a mixture of tobacco, sea
air, and leather; and all the other little genuine antique, and ever
new odds-and-ends of the collection labelled Love in the heart museum.

Not a word had she said about the wedding.

Cowardly?  Yes, indeed!  But if a prisoner were given a bottle of
champagne to drink just before his death by hanging, it's odds on that
instead of merely tasting a few drops he would drink the whole bottle,
and go to his doom with the exultant thought of something nice, anyway,
having happened to cheer him on his final exit.

She simply radiated love, and allowed neither the frequent upbraidings
of her distracted aunt, nor the hourly approach of the fatal day to dim
the sunlight of the hour in hand.

"Never you worry," she said one day, when her aunt had waylaid and
implored her to have her wedding-dress fitted, "We'll pin it with
safety-pins if it doesn't hang right, and as long as I'm at the church
door on time, nothing else really matters.  And I've given you my word
on that."

And she had vaulted the wall and taken a short cut through the golf
course until she had come up behind the man who loved her; and he,
reading the trouble in her strange eyes, had drawn her hands to his
heart and held them tight.

How often had they stood in the shade of the fir trees in the heat of
the day, with the intoxicating smell of the pines in their nostrils,
and the soothing sound of the humming of many bees in their ears.

They had stood so still, so close, and so very much alone.

Oh! he loved her and her ways!

Loved the rarity of her beauty, and the vitality of her body, loved the
extreme care she took not to allow her fingers to touch his when
passing a cup or a hefty sandwich.

Revelled in the surge of colour which swept her face when sometimes he
caught and steadied her on a rock; and the way in which, when sitting
on the sand, she would suddenly scrunch up her knees with her arms for
no apparent reason, and bury her scarlet mouth, and the eyes which
betrayed her, in the rough tweed of her skirt.

He exulted in the little half-catch of her breath, the little happy
laugh, the extra polish he knew she put on her boots just for his sake;
and, above all, that perfect sense of virgin woman which emanated from
her, allied to the promise of a passion which most inhabitants of a
northern clime would have utterly misconstrued and misunderstood.

Yes!  He revelled and he exulted in every minute of every hour spent
with her; blinded with love, led astray by the thought of months ahead
in which he felt that Fate surely would find a way out for them, he let
the time slip by, up to the moment when Leonie said good-bye quite
gravely, shaking her head without a smile at the usual invitation to
meet on the morrow.



CHAPTER XX

  "Working spells
  Upon a mind o'erwrought!"--_Thomas Hardy_.


Secure in the solitude of her last few hours of freedom; oblivious of the
fact that her aunt, enraged and alarmed at the unseemly and most untimely
absence of the morrow's bride, was idiotically wringing her hands as she
ran up and down in front of the cottage; worn out and weary with despair,
Leonie, in her bathing dress, had gone to sleep with the full moon
shining down upon the small, pale face, full of shadows.

Jan Cuxson, uneasy at the girl's curt refusal to meet him during the last
twenty-four hours, had started to walk to Woolacombe from Ilfracombe
where he had spent a wretched, restless, futile day.

He had tramped through the sleeping village of Lee without a look at the
historic cottage once inhabited by the Three Old Maids, and along to the
other little cottage on the sea front where the absence of light in
Leonie's room caused him to guess that she was abroad.  He passed as
quietly and quickly as possible, having determined to avoid the place for
fear of meeting the aunt, or old Hickle, and losing his self-control.

As long as you know exactly where to lay your hand on them you don't
worry overmuch about your gold cigarette case, or your favourite pipe, or
the diamond brooch you pin haphazard into your laces; but mislay them for
a moment and see what a turmoil of inquietude you will be in!

Never doubting the honesty of his beloved, tricked as it were by her
happy, care-free attitude, the man had drifted contentedly in the sun of
love, and the month of June; but to-night a bank of clouds was rising to
meet the moon half-way upon her celestial journey, and the winds of doubt
and uneasiness were lifting the corners of that warm, comforting mantle
of serenity which we seldom have a chance to take down from its peg in
the wardrobe of life.

Yesterday she had left him with a flat refusal to meet him, and her eyes
had been like the eyes of the dead, and her hands had been like ice, and
her voice had been most uncompromisingly final.

All day he had argued with himself, surmised and made excuses, sunned
himself in the cove at Rapparree, assuring himself stubbornly that
everything was quite all right; and at last, dinnerless, desperate, and
afraid, had started off hot foot to find her; intending to crush the
resistance out of her with the outpourings of his love, and force her to
risk everything for the sake of a life-long happiness.

It was just about one o'clock when he scrunched past the rusty old wreck
and clambered up and over the rocks and through the opening to the second
cove; and his heart leapt as he steadied himself when his eyes found that
which they had eagerly sought; then missed a beat as, for some unknown
reason, he stood stock still, and drew back into the shadows.

Leonie was standing knee deep in a pool.

The saw-edged rocks rose behind her, shining like steel in the moonlight;
great strands of seaweed swirled about her, for all the world like
snakes, weaving in and out of the burnished hair which spread itself
fanwise on the water about her knees.

Save for the thinnest, finest silk bathing dress which clung to the
perfect body, as does the soft fragrant skin to the peach, she was nude,
and so unaware of eyes upon her that the man held his breath, fearing she
might spy him in the shade.

He knew, as everyone knows, that through the criminal teaching of the
girl-child in Europe, she would have had it instilled into her mind as
soon as it was capable of understanding, that the slightly draped _tout
ensemble_ of her glorious body was something to be thoroughly well
ashamed of, though on other occasions, by means of slit skirts and
excessive dêcollétage, she could expose in sections just as much as she
liked to the eyes of any alien waiter who hung over her with the sauce,
or any chauffeur who helped her into a car.

Her eyes were wide and staring straight in his direction, and that she
was asleep he had not the faintest idea.

So clearly was she outlined against the rock that every line of the
lovely limbs, every exquisite curve of the beautiful bosom showed as
plainly as if she had been standing in the broad light of noon as she
stepped out of the pool.

With face upturned, and arms outstretched to the moon, she stood
undulating slightly with the exquisite movements of the nautch girl,
which has nothing to do with the _danse de ventre_ and other such
disgusting muscular exhibitions.

Watch a spider's thread floating in the air at dawn, then you will get
some idea of the gentle, supple, alluring movement.

The wind, blowing up before the storm, blew against her hair, and it
streamed out in front of her; her arms, twining and twisting, slid in and
out of the silky mass until she appeared to have at least four; her
exquisite feet seemed to beat upon a human figure which was really
nothing but the shadow of the rock behind her, and Jan Cuxson, in the
shadows, suddenly smote his forehead as she lifted up her voice and cried:

"Kali!  Kali!  Kali!"

The word thrice repeated rose softly on the night air, but struck like a
hammer upon the ears of the man who, in studying the brain, had found
himself often and inextricably entangled in the religions and mysteries
of the East.

"My God!" he whispered, "My God, she is asleep and----"

But he never moved as Leonie suddenly showed that she was aware of his
presence.

It was not that she saw him, or that she knew him; she was simply aware
that a man was watching her.

Not once did the eyelids close over the glaring eyes shining like two
green phosphorescent stones; not a sign of recognition showed in her face
as she laughed the sweetest little laugh in the world and moved towards
him.

Jan Cuxson had travelled pretty widely in the last few years, and had
seen almost every kind of dance in the various ports at which he had
called, and the towns he had visited in the East, but for absolute
voluptuousness, and the portrayal of physical passions, he had never seen
anything to compare with this which he watched horror-stricken by the sea.

"What have they done to her?  What have they done to her?  What spell has
been cast?  What cruel thing have they done to her?"

Over and over again the questions raced unanswered through his brain.

For at the thrice repeated cry he had understood in a flash that
fastidious, pure, innocent Leonie was unconsciously performing the
preliminary rites customary to the worship of Kali, the goddess of death,
the wife of Siva, the daughter of the Himalayas; which rights might best
be described as a prolonged and terrible orgy of every passion known to
man.

And well was it for Leonie Hetth that Jan Cuxson was straight and
thoroughbred, and that his love was pure, else might it have gone badly
with her, bringing her perchance to the door of the madhouse; for there
is but a hair's breadth between those who are wakened roughly from the
sleep in which they walk, and act, and speak, and those who rave in
padded cells.

She held out her beautiful, bare arms in invitation, and as he remained
quite motionless, glided ever so swiftly to him, so close that he felt
the sweetness of her breath upon his cheek.

"Behold!" she cried softly in perfect Hindustani, "Behold!  O my beloved!
has the Sweet One! the Gentle One! the most blessed Mother looked with
graciousness upon her children!  May our lips cling in worship, yea! and
our bodies in worship!  She looketh with soft eyes upon our love, blessed
is she, O! Durga! most terrible, most fierce, most cruel!"

Jan Cuxson hesitated.

If he put his arms about her she might waken at any moment, and then the
shame and horror of it all.

If he did not respond might she not hurt herself in her wrath as do those
who worship the Black One, and of whom he had heard in his travels in
India.

What on earth was he to do?

And where was he to find the strength to resist the overpowering appeal
of the sweet passion she offered him.

He loved her, desired her, hungered for the touch of the sweet mouth, and
there she stood in her youth, her innocence, her beauty, asking to be
held against his heart, touching his hands gently with her finger-tips,
desirous of his mouth, his hands, his love.

And even as he hesitated wild anger swept over the beautiful face, making
it terrible to behold as she raised it to the moon with a laugh that made
the man shudder to his soul, and gasp as she suddenly tore her bathing
suit from her and held it towards him in both hands.  He unconsciously
took it from her, whereupon she shook from head to foot with wild
unseemly laughter, and her glorious hair swept about her, hiding her
completely from the desperate eyes that watched her.

"Behold, O Parvati! who steppeth lightly upon the mountains!  Behold! has
he chosen my raiment, therefore shalt thou be pleased!  Yea! and even
shall there be blood upon it!" [1]

And swinging her arm she struck it again and again against the rocks
until the flesh was torn and the blood streamed, causing the man to move
hurriedly with intent to waken the girl he loved, even at the risk of her
reason and his ultimate happiness.  But he stopped.

Leonie was standing still with uplifted arms, dripping blood upon her
face whilst her sweet, clear voice rose sonorously in the _Vega_ hymn
known as the Love Spell.

Jan Cuxson had studied Hindustani in preparation for his travels in
India, but he frowned as he listened, for he did not understand one
syllable.

And then his eyes opened wide in astonishment as he caught the meaning of
a word here and there, and "Sanskrit!" he muttered in amazement.

Pulling a piece of pale green seaweed from the rock, she twined it and
whispered, "This plant is honey born; with honey we dig thee; forth from
honey art thou engendered; do thou make us possessed of honey.

"At the tip of my tongue, honey; at the root of my tongue, honeyedness;
mayest thou be altogether in my power, mayest thou come unto my intent.

"Honeyed is my in-stepping, honeyed my forthgoing, with my voice I speak
what is honeyed, may I be of honey aspect.

"Than honey am I sweeter, than the honey plant more honeyed; of me,
verily shalt thou be fond, as of a honeyed branch.

"About thee with an encompassing sugar-cane have I gone, in order to
absence of mutual hatred; that thou mayest be one loving me, that thou
mayest be one not going away from me!"

Leonie swayed slightly as the words passed faintly and yet more faintly,
like a moan, from her lips; her eyes were closing slowly, very slowly;
and she slipped to her knees, her bleeding arms held out towards the man
before whom she knelt, as the breeze blew her glistening hair this way
and that, exposing for a second, then hiding the glories of the exquisite
white figure from the eyes which could not help but see.

Drooping lower and lower she stretched herself, face downwards, upon the
sand, closed her eyes as the moon sank suddenly behind a dense mass of
clouds, and peacefully went to sleep.


[1]In one of the rites concerning the worship of Kali, women's garments
are thrown in a heap, from which men choose indiscriminately.  The
garment he chooses gives the man a right to the woman who owns it.



CHAPTER XXI

  "And wilt thou leave me thus
  That hath given thee my heart?--Say nay!  Say nay!"--Sir T. Wyatt.


What in heaven's name was he to do now?

Touch her he would not; let her know that he had seen her in all her
unhidden beauty he could not; yet the gurgling and rustling and
whispering between the water and the stones told him that the tide was
racing in, and that what he intended to do he must do right quickly.

All he wanted to do was to gather her up in his strong arms, and
wakening her with kisses carry her to safety.

Safety from the sea, safety from the unknown spell which had been laid
upon her, safety from the horrible future; a safety he felt which could
only be found within the circumference of his arms folded about her in
love.

But instead he looked round for the garments she must have left
somewhere, and seeing them, stepped quietly across the widening pools
and gathered up the soft, sweet-smelling heap of dainty raiment;
clenching his hands tight upon them to prevent himself from burying his
face in the perfumed delicate things which he had not the right even to
touch.

A little knot of pale pink bébé ribbon came away in his hand, and he
twisted it around the seaweed ring she had twined about his finger,
then untwisted them both and slipped them into his pocket, and stooped
to pick up something which had slipped from the garments and tinkled on
the rocks.

"Oh, you beauty!" he said as he held the jewel out in his open hand,
and "Oh, you brute!" he said again is the cat's-eye winked cunningly at
him with the knowledge of all ages in its lustrous depths.

Then he went back, crushing his flimsy burden to his heart; and placing
it upon a rock near the sleeping girl, strode off to the opening of the
little connecting cove, where he stood in the shadows and called;

"Leonie!  Are you there, Leonie?"

Leonie stirred, settled down again to sleep, and stirred each time the
voice rang insistently.

Who knows if love would have brought her back to consciousness and the
immediate necessity to rise and clothe herself, and flee for safety?

Anyway, the tide decided and sent a little wave that thoroughly
drenched her and brought her to her knees shivering and bewildered.

"Tide in!"

She glanced round hurriedly and drew her hand across her eyes.

"Funny!" she said as she retreated before a wave which surged over the
rocks and swirled up behind her.  "But--why--I've nothing on!  And my
arm!--why, I'm simply cut to bits.  And--and oh! I've been
dreaming--and how dark it is; there must be a storm coming!"

As she spoke she hurriedly flung herself into her clothes, biting her
lips as the lace and ribbons caught in the horrible gash in her arm,
and was standing waiting for the water to recede before she jumped,
just as a voice as from heaven itself called.

"Leonie! where are you?  Leonie, the tide is coming in!"

She did not wait, she jumped clear, stumbling and falling on the other
side, ripping her feet until they bled.

Then she got up and ran blindly, impelled by terror pursued by the fear
of something far more terrible than death.

"Jan!  Jan! help me!"

Without a word he caught her and lifted her, holding her closely.

Never a word he said as they raced through from one cove to the other,
neither when the waters buffeted him nor when weeds twined about his
feet, and rocks impeded him.

Swiftly he carried her up the slight incline and laid her on the grass,
took off his coat, ripped out his shirt sleeve, and tearing it into
strips, bound up the bleeding arm.

Then sitting down beside her he leant over sideways and picked her up
bodily, clear from the ground into his arms; no mean feat with a toilet
jug full of water, let alone with a hefty maiden weighted with grief.

He held her in that heavenly, comforting clasp known and practised by
stout old nurses and some mothers, within which you feel that you can
defy anything, even to the onslaughts of peevish Fortune.

His left arm was under and round her shoulders, his left hand gently
pressed her head against his breast, his right arm was round her just
above the knees, and he rocked her gently.

Oh! the heavenly, comforting bliss!

History was repeating itself, for Leonie, with great dry sobs shaking
her from head to feet, was snuffling into Jan Cuxson's collar as she
had snuffled into his father's years ago.

"Beloved!"

Sobs.

"Beloved! there is nothing to cry about--_nothing_!  As I am holding
you now, so shall I always hold you, and no harm can come to you from
ocean, tempest or life.  _Nothing_ can hurt you because I love you!"

Sobs.

"_Leonie_!"

She lay absolutely still, unconsciously counting the beats of his heart
which was thudding heavily against her right shoulder, and waiting for
the moment when she would find the strength at last to turn down her
"empty glass."

"Leonie! you've got to listen to me now, and I am not going to ask you
to decide because Fate has decided for you.  And oh! beloved, beloved,
thank heaven that there is still time, that you are still free, that
heaven instead of hell is waiting for you.  Yes! dear heart.  Fate has
decided!"

He stroked her hair as he looked down into the little face crushed
against his shoulder, and shifted her a wee bit that she might rest
more comfortably.  Leonie closed her eyes and trembled from head to
foot as Fate pinched the decision between claw-like thumb and finger so
that it was stillborn.

"Dear," continued Jan Cuxson as he gently patted her shoulder with his
left hand, "dear, oh! my dear, just as I hold you now, so I shall
always hold you.  I am going to keep you, marry you, and take you right
away to India next week; I'll telegraph that my things are not to be
put on board to-morrow.  You must have a nervous breakdown to-day,
_you_ darling, just to think of _that_," and his laugh rang out against
the sullen stillness of the dawn, "then we will slip away, and get
married, and--oh! Leonie, I _love_ you."

Leonie said no word, but from her head to her feet swept a thrill which
the man felt from his feet to his head.

He laughed again, laughed as a god might laugh with the world in his
hand, and crushed her fiercely to him.

"Beloved!  I love you! love you! love you!  And you?  Tell me you love
me!  Why, you dare not look me in the face and say no!  You love me,
dear!  You are part of me; you are bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!
Sorrow shall not touch you when you are all mine, your joys shall be my
joys!  And--beloved, my children shall be your children!"

With a sudden movement Leonie wrenched herself from his arms and on to
her feet, whilst a driving cloud surrounded them, and a growl of
thunder came over from Lundy Island way.

"Love you!" cried the girl.  "Yes!  I love you, if that is the right
word to describe what it is I have in my heart for you.  No! don't
touch me!  Listen, I would live for you, _die_ for you in love.  Pain
through you would be joy, joy through you would be heaven."

She clasped her hands to her breast, then threw them out towards him,
palm uppermost, in a wonderful gesture of passionate surrender, but her
face was terrible to see, with eyes like burned out fires, and great
smears of blood across her mouth and cheek.

"All that I have for you and more--oh! much more--but--I--I cannot
marry you!"

The glass went down with a little clatter upon the coldest of life's
cold marble slabs as Jan Cuxson, grasping the girl's arms, pulled her
roughly towards him.

That he had caught the arm right on the lacerated wound he had no idea
as he stood looking down into the eyes which were on a level with the
top button, of his coat.

"Beloved! beloved!  You are tired, distraught!  You don't know what you
are saying!  You are to go straight home and sleep, for _hours_, then
come out refreshed and gloriously happy to meet me where and when you
like!  And we will fix everything down to the very smallest detail, oh!
dear heart, think of it! and this day week we will sail for India!"



CHAPTER XXII

  "That day is a day of wrath--a day of clouds
  and thick darkness."--_The Bible_.


"India!" repeated Leonie, "India!"

She flung round towards the sea, standing on the very edge of the
cliff, the violence of the wind against her the only barrier between
her and certain death.

"Tell me," she cried, pointing to the heaving, raging mass of waters
with a hand above which shone dully a blood-soaked bandage.  "Tell me
what I did to myself down there just now.  I awoke in a different place
from which I went to sleep.  I had no--I am cut and bruised.  Terrible
things happen wherever I am--they follow me.  I woke one night in a
pitch dark room and saw two green eyes staring at me from the wall.
They were my eyes--reflected in a looking-glass--_mine_--they shine at
night like a cat's--and there's a voice calling--often.  Oh!  I tell
you I'm haunted, bewitched, _cursed_!"

"Come to me, beloved."

She turned and went like a child into the outstretched arms, and he,
having wet his handkerchief on the mist-damped grass, bent the weary
head back against his shoulder, and wiped away the blood-stains from
the despairing face.

"You walk in your sleep, Leonie, by reason of the workings of an
overwrought brain, that is all.  India is the problem, and your ayah is
the answer.  _I_ think she frightened you somehow, made some deep
impression on you, on your baby brain, and we are going to India to
find her.  It's very simple, dear, once find the cause we can easily
find the remedy, and it will be much better if you come with me.  By
the way, who gave you that cat's-eye?"

He had made a slip.

"When did you see it?" answered Leonie quickly, "I never showed it to
you!  Were--were you down _there_ near me, _before_ you called?"

"No," steadily lied the man, "but the thing slipped through your blouse
one day--it's a brute.  Who gave it to you?"

"My ayah!  Do you know, I think you are quite wrong about her.  Auntie
says Mother told her that she nearly broke her heart when I left India,
seventeen years ago, and she writes to me regularly every three months.
Only last week I had a letter from----"

"Do you speak Hindustani?" interrupted Cuxson abruptly, with a frown on
his face.

"Not a word!"

"Or Sanskrit?"

"Oh! no, neither, but the letters are in English, evidently written by
one of those letter writers, who get so much for each letter they write
for the illiterate poor.  And in every one she says how she loves me
and longs for my return, and although she is very happy in the service
of some Ranee in the north of India, she wants to give it up and come
to me."

There was a pause, broken by the nearing thunder and the crash of the
waves against the cliffs.

"Don't let's worry about that yet, dear, as everything is settled
splendidly and----"

But Leonie pulled away and stood facing him with her hands in his
against his heart.

"Do you really _love_ me?"

The whisper was almost lost in the tumult of the breakers beneath.

"_Love_ you, Leonie, _love_ you!"

"What would you _forgive_ me through love?"

"_Forgive_ you!  Everything!  Dishonour could not touch you, and
everything else I should forgive!"

Leonie tried to speak as she looked past him to the little green track
between the downs which led to the world, and all it contained for her;
and he, obtuse male, content in the plans he had mapped out entirely to
his own satisfaction, and having blissfully taken the girl's consent to
the programme for granted, failed to read the agony written across her
face in capital letters.

"Tell me that you will be content, dear.  I'm rich enough, but nothing
compared with--oh! tell me, what do you like--what do you want--what do
you _really_ care for!"

She freed her hands and turned to look out to sea, where the day had
been born in agony upon a bed of sullen, unbroken water.

Then she looked straight down at the waves flinging themselves against
the cliffs, drenching her with spray, moaning, fretting at the barrier,
retiring only to do the same thing over and over again.

"What do I want, O Man whom I love?  I want a white house within high,
white walls, on the edge of the sea.  I want my arms full of
children--yours and mine.  I want love, oh! love and yet more love,
that is what I want!"

The man twisted her round and held her at arms' length, her heels
within an inch of the edge, her body bent back over the chasm, and her
hair, spreading like a banner in the tearing wind, swept about his
shoulders and across his face, intoxicating him with its perfume and
silken caress.

Passion swept over him, he shook her like a reed, and her foot slipped
off the earth into nothingness.

But not a word said she, though she prayed that he might suddenly let
go his hold and send her crashing to sweet death on the rocks beneath.

You see what happens when you are decent and honest and have a mind to
keep your word--just death rather than dishonour, and pain to others.

Whereas if only she had been dishonest, and therefore commonplace, she
would either have chucked her given word to the devil, or the deep grey
sea over which she stood, and cleared for her own happiness and a
marriage licence; or kept her word in one sense while making deedy
little plans of triangular pattern for future reference.

"Is that what you want, oh! heart of mine?" said Jan Cuxson, exulting
in the sensation that his hands alone held her metaphorically and
actually safe from the depths beneath.  "And that is what I am going to
give you, beloved, and more, much more in exchange for the treasure you
will put into my hands.  Oh! Leonie, my love----"

And yet he did not kiss her, but pulled her farther inland and let her
go as she essayed to free herself, having come to the absolute breaking
point.

What a wooing!

The copper coloured clouds were massed above and about them, the trees
bent and straightened and bent again before the wind, the sea heaved in
huge unbroken waves right to the horizon; Lundy Island, Hartland, and
Baggy Point had disappeared in a driving sheet of rain.

How beautiful she looked as she stood in the storm, cut, bruised and
dishevelled.

Just for one moment she looked into the eyes of the man she loved,
whose hands were outstretched for the treasures she could not lay
therein; and then she turned and fled as a great streak of lightning
rent the clouds, and thunder like heavy artillery crashed about their
heads.

She had not gone twenty yards when she stumbled and fell heavily.

Her boots were being hurled here and there by the waves in the cove
where she had left them; her left foot was cut and bleeding badly, but
a sudden desperate courage came to her when she felt herself raised and
steadied.

"I shall carry you to the foot of the hill near your cottage!"

She struggled as he lifted her, struggled so violently that he put her
on her feet.

"Don't touch me, Jan, don't come near me, because I--because----"

And the mantle of his satisfaction and content being suddenly rent into
a thousand shreds by the knife edge of his intuition, he put both hands
on her shoulders, looked down into the misery of her eyes, and very
gently said one word.

"Because?"

"Because," and she began to laugh without making any sound, her mouth
twitching, her shoulders shaking, "because I am to be married _to-day_
at noon!"

"To-_day_! but you said----"

"I lied."

"You lied--to _me_!"

She made a little sound which reminded him of an animal agonising in a
trap, whilst the fury of his own pain drove him to hurt her even more.

"Why--_lie_?"

"Why?" her eyes blazed as she defied the storm, her hell and fate.
"Why?--because I love you, because I love you so much that I wanted to
cheat life out of one month of happiness.  And I have had it--I have
had it--and I love you----"

She flung her hands up to the stormy skies and brought them down,
clenched against her breast.  "I love you, _God_ hear me, I _love_ you!"

And with a terrible cry that went wailing out to sea she fled away
through the lash of the blinding storm.



CHAPTER XXIII

  "The lighted end of a torch may be turned towards the
  ground, but the flames still point upwards."--_The Satakas_.


The church was simply packed!

The lucky ones, almost all women, wedged tight and fast, crushed their
beautiful clothes against their neighbours' lovely raiment in the pews.

The unlucky ones stood in rows in the side aisles, just as their
commoner sisters stand in rows upon the pavement edge to watch some
passing show.

Some, less hindered by superfluous adipose tissue, had managed to seat
themselves upon the tomb of one Sir William de Tracy, who had one time
unduly concerned himself in the murder of a certain Thomas à Becket.

Indeed he built this church in atonement for his unseemly conduct,
though something seems to have gone agley in the architectural penance,
as the ghost of Sir William is to be met o' nights upon the sands of
Woolacombe--so 'tis said.

Some of the still younger fry among the spectators, I mean worshippers
in this solemn ceremony, clasped the heads in effigy of dead squire, or
dame, or knight, in order to get the necessary purchase for the task of
pulling themselves up for just one second in the supreme attempt to
catch a glimpse of the principals in the parade.

Except for the setting of this beautiful house of God it might have
been an _entr'acte_ at some theatrical first night; same comments upon
actors and audience; same criticism upon dress and morals; same yawning
and fidgeting.

What _had_ they not suffered and sacrificed to flatter the vulgar old
millionaire!  Anyway they expected a good deal in return for the
excruciating journey down by rail or car, the whole day lost out of the
season in London town, _and_ the wedding present.

Unless you own the genuine thing in rank or reputation, how
_frightfully_ difficult it is to send an astute vulgar old millionaire
the one present which will open his doors to you.

If you do own the genuine thing, an electro-plated toast-rack will be
all-sufficient.  If you _don't_, well it's simply no good worrying
around the bottom rung of the ladder which he has climbed, and from the
top of which he sits making faces of derision at you.

The principal performers had just disappeared into the vestry as the
old clock chimed twelve, and Jan Cuxson, swinging back the churchyard
gate, strode up the narrow tomb-lined path to the church door.

Every woman turned to look at him as he passed.

"Look at 'e now, Mrs. Ovey!  He be staying with me.  Did 'ee iver zee
sich a butivul face.  Jist like a picture.  Sit 'ee still, young
Gracie, an' doan 'ee walk over thikee graves, now!  I tell 'ee 'e'd
make a proper bridegroom, 'e wud!"

"Iss, I reckon!  'Er 'av done mighty fine fer 'erself, 'er 'ave; Mrs.
Tucker tol' me all 'bout 'un, but 'er be terr'ble young, b'ain't 'er,
for the likes of thikee ol' man?"

The country women patted and pulled at their best clothes, and turned
their sweet, slightly bronzed faces, with skins like satin, up to the
blazing sun.

"Iss, vrai! that 'er be Mrs. Pugsley!  But did 'ee iver zee the likes
on they ther zatins an' laces an' juels they vine wimen be wearin'?"

"Iss! an' luk at th' ol' paint an' stuff ther be ol over ther vaces?
Dear, dear now, ther lips be terr'ble raid, b'ain't 'un?  Luks lik'
they'd bin stealin' cherries!  An' ther eyes be terr'ble black!  Luks
lik' the'd bin fightin' with ther 'usbands."

Silence fell, during which sweet music stole through the church windows
to fall like a benison upon the charming simple folk who, by their
courtesy and gentleness, make Devon such a blissful county to dwell in.

"Can't think, now," suddenly remarked Mrs. Ovey, "w'y thikee young lady
'av chose Mortehoe Church fer 'er weddin'!"

"I've year'd tell that 'er vather be related to zum lord 'oo 'elped
kill some ol' parson, yers an' yers gone by!  Gracie! now wat be th'
ol' man's name now that taicher tol 'ee 'bout?"

"Tracey!"

"Iss, iss!  I've year'd tell 'e be buried zumwher yer 'bouts, an' th'
ol' bridegroom be proper zet to be married down yer!"

"After th' weddin'," continued Mrs. Ovey, supplying information, "all
th' vine volks be goin' on to Lay Hotel vur summat t' ate.  Arter that
they tu be goin' vor 'oneymun over ta 'ardland in li'le ol' 'ouze.
Poor li'le lady, an' th' ouze they be goin' to be so small ther b'ain't
no room vur zervants nor nothin'!"

"My now, Mrs. Ovey, but that young feller be proper 'ansom, b'ain't 'e
now?  I reckon it be a pity that 'er 'adn't zeen 'im befor 'er vixed up
with old 'un.  I remember when Bill was courtin' me, 'ow----"

And so on and so forth, whilst inside the "vine wimen" from London Town
made comments after their own kind.

"Some women have all the luck," remarked an enamelled dame, whose
bridge and dressmakers' debts were on a par with those of her three
daughters who had safely, oh! quite, but most unsuccessfully survived
many seasons, "I wonder how Susie managed it?  Gawky young miss, isn't
she?  Just out of school.  Um--um--um!"

"_Really! is_ she!  Strange in her manner--you don't mean it--oh! of
_course_ not, dearest!  _Fancy_! hates society, swims at night, walks
ten miles a day--yes, of course! not quite cosmos, what d'you call
it--um--um--um?"

"Miraud Soeurs, I believe--yes--did you like that draped effect?  I
suppose he did--poor old Susie's up to her eyes in debt!  Didn't the
happy bride look ghastly?  Wonder how she came by the accident--and
what it was--and means--um--um--um!"

"Yes! _very_, in a bizarre way.  I'm damned sorry for her.  Did you
hear about the girl in the shop basement?--heavy!  I should think
so--put the screw on what?--hear the bride's settlement is simply
enormous--um--um--um!"

And as they gossiped and criticised, tearing each other to pieces
without zest, having already done it so often that their minds
resembled rows of backyards piled with the rags and bones of their
mutual enemies--or so-called friends--the organ played softly, and the
sun through the stained glass flung dazzling lozenges of colour upon
the tiles and pillars.

Then came that unmistakable rustle of anticipation, followed by the
satisfied sigh of those who have patiently waited either for the
hoisting of the black flag upon the prison wall, or the appearance of a
popular bride in the doorway of the church.

There was a shimmer of white and silver, and a strenuous tussle in the
pews and aisles as the stereotyped march from "Lohengrin" crashed
through the little church.

Jan Cuxson made one step backwards, and stopped as his heel struck
against the wall, then stepped forward and stood right in the path of
the bridal party.

Straight down they came without a halt; gushing women who did not know
her darted forward to shower the bride with their unwanted
congratulations, hesitated and darted back with self-conscious giggles
as they met the stony, unresponsive eyes in the death-white face.

Very slowly she passed, with the fingers of one hand resting on the arm
of the corpulent, self-satisfied man beside her; the other arm,
bandaged from elbow to wrist, was held in a sling across her breast,
the fingers nearly touching the one jewel she wore, a sleepy cat's-eye
hanging from a slender golden chain.

The happy bride was looking straight in front, down the road to
Calvary, where stood a man outlined against the burst of light flooding
through the door.

She neither slowed nor hastened as she passed through the lane of
twitching mouths and popping eyes and approached him; then she stood
quite still, a gleaming, living statue in shimmering satin and lace,
and removing her hand from her husband's arm, laid it with a little
gracious gesture on Jan Cuxson's, and he, bending low, gently kissed it.

An artist made the record lightning sketch of his life when in a few
lines he drew the dignity, the despair, and the tenderness of the
girl's face, upon whose brow and above whose heart rested weirdly two
great crimson stains flung by the sun through the coloured windows.

For one brief second her moonlit eyes looked straight into the steady
grey ones; then the heavy lids sank slowly, and the faintest rose
colour swept from brow to chin, causing the artist to murmur to
himself, "The ice floes are breaking!" as, like the gallant gentleman
he was, he tore the sketch slowly across and across.

Two little words had been whispered loud enough to reach the ears
beneath the orange blossom.

"I forgive!"

When he had said it Leonie once more laid her hand upon her irate
husband's arm, and passed out into the sun to be met with the shrill
cheers of the children who flung basketsful of wild flowers upon the
bridal path, and the church was filled with a sound like a swarm of
startled bees.

"Um--um--um!"



CHAPTER XXIV

  "Many waters cannot quench love;
  neither can floods drown it."--_The Bible_.


The girl kicked aside the jumble of clothes littering the cabin floor,
and bending her head squatted upon the bunk, and incidentally, and quite
indifferently, upon a crêpe-de-Chine blouse which badly needed washing,
and casually watched her mother who was scrabbling through a cabin trunk
in a manner reminiscent of a terrier ratting in a hedge.

"Why on earth couldn't you stay on deck?" demanded the mother angrily, as
she lifted the transformation from her brow and heaved it on to the upper
berth, thereby unashamedly exposing a head not unlike a gorse common
devastated by fire.

"I can't find that--oh! here it is.  What a state it's in.  D'you think
the Chinese man could iron it?"

_That_ was one of those hybrid négligés which can serve its turn as a
bath gown, a bedroom wrap, or, covered with a genuine native-made tinsel
shawl (bought at Teneriffe but made in Birmingham), can pass as an
evening gown in the tropics.  The cabin was on one of the liners which,
calling at odd places like Genoa, Naples, Algiers, etc., allows you to
pick up letters brought by the mail boat to Port Said.  The inhabitants
of the inner, double berthed black hole, called by courtesy a cabin, were
the mother and her last unmarried daughter who lived in Surbiton.

The mother had successfully acquired a reputation as a world-wide
traveller, and husbands for her numerous daughters amounting to a net
total of six, by dint of travelling the latter backwards and forwards
over those heartbreaking routes which suffer from two weeks or more of
going without a break.

Try from Aden to Sydney with one break at Colombo, and the above long and
somewhat involved paragraph will be easily understood.

"I say, mater, guess who gave me these--have one?"

Mater sat back on her heels, bumping her head against the washstand,
plucked a Simon Artz from its cardboard nest, lit it, and emitted volumes
of smoke from mouth, and nostrils, until the cabin resembled the
smoking-room of any West End ladies' club.

"Oh! don't ask silly questions, it's too hot!  Who?"

"The Grizzly Bear!"

"_No_!"

"He _did_!  He'd been ashore!"

"_No_!"

"Yes!  I'd been talking to him, and had just turned to say something to
the Babe when he slipped down the gangway.  I do wish we weren't so hard
up.  It's an awful rag going ashore.  He came back an hour ago, found a
letter, and has been sitting up and taking notice ever since.  It was a
man's handwriting, I saw the envelope!"

Mater flung everything pell-mell into the trunk, pushed it back with the
aid of her daughter's heels under the berth, bent her head and sat down
beside her.

"He looked so different that I actually asked him for a cigarette, and he
gave me the box, and if it hadn't been for Mrs. Tomlinson-Tomlinson's
hateful little brat--you know--Muriel--we should have had a good long
talk.  The little wretch actually sat on the arm of his chair; it's
extraordinary how he lets children worry him."

"Yes! dear Lady de Smythe has christened him the wet nurse!"

Which leaves no doubt whatever that some time, somewhere the dear lady
had been clawed by the grizzly.

"Why don't you get into your black sequin to-night!  It'll be frightfully
hot going down the Canal, and you can slip on the scarf if you go up on
the boat deck, as everyone does the first time they go through the Suez."

"Yes!  I might--the blue _does_ want ironing!" replied the daughter,
taking a hand in that weird game of "make-believe" which the majority of
women play between themselves.  For what ultimate benefit it is
impossible to say, since from the moment the cards are shuffled they
know, to a nicety, the tricks and manoeuvres of each player.

Anyway the sequin was fished out from somewhere, and shaken and pulled
this way and that.

It consisted of a skirt of a kind, a waistbelt, two shoulder straps, and
a big jet butterfly poised just where, for the sake of decency, it was
necessary, and as a toilette allied with the boat deck would doubtless
prove most attractive to the man who was not in search of a wife.

The man it was intended to subjugate, meanwhile, was lying full length on
his deck chair intent upon a letter, oblivious of the noise of the
harbour and the racket necessary to the boat's imminent departure.

Jan Cuxson had read the letter five times and was just starting on it for
the sixth, subconsciously congratulating himself on his foresight, or
horse sense, which you will.

His cabin was like nothing on earth, and in it, upon the outer edge of a
dead maelstrom of his entire wardrobe, stood John Smith, cabin steward.

John Smith is not his name, but who does not know and bless him if they
have ever travelled on this particular boat.

He has a big, very black mole on the extreme tip of his nose, and is the
cheeriest, most optimistic soul on the ocean wave, yea! even those
out-size waves in the Bay at its worst.

After the first lightning perusal of the God-sped letter, Jan Cuxson had
given divers urgent orders for as much as possible of his gear in the
hold to be thrown ashore.

Imagine it, and the boat almost due to sail!

He had then rushed to his cabin and initiated the maelstrom, until common
sense had smitten him between the love-fogged eyes of his desire;
whereupon he had heaved a huge sigh of utter contentment, propped himself
against the door for the second perusal, rung the bell, countermanded all
he had ordered, and left John Smith to it.

He had pulled the letter out of its envelope, growled at a vendor of
Egyptian wares, and turned with a whole-hearted smile at the sound of a
small voice.

"Is 'oo velly unhappy, Mr. Bear?"

The man did not know that he had become the object of that loathsome
habit of nicknaming all and sundry which a certain clique on every boat
consider so smart.

"I'm the happiest man on earth--water, I mean, little one.  Yes! come
along up--and why Mr. Bear?"

Followed a scramble, a gurgle, and arranging of infinitesimal frills.

"Mummie calls 'oo Mr. Grizzly Bear because you're cwoss!  Mrs.
Tom--Tom--li'son says Mummie's cwoss 'cos 'oo wouldn't take the buns she
wanted 'oo too.  Why didn't 'oo take the buns--buns nice, I fink!"

An agitated nurse swooped down at this crucial moment and recovered that
which she had lost, leaving the man laughing aloud to the astonishment of
all near him.

_Laugh_!  Why he had not laughed since he had left Mortehoe Church,
neither had he smiled at any time upon the boat, or upon anybody except
the children; and now he laughed, all on account of an atrocious scrawl
on many sheets of thin paper which he started once more to read.


"I hope," ran the scrawl of the man for whom Cuxson had fagged at Harrow,
"that this catches you at Port Said, because"--followed a badly expressed
bit of business.  "London's had the shock of many seasons, by the way.
You know that old brute, Pickled Walnuts, well I won't say anything about
the old scallawag because he's dead.  Well! he married the other day,
you'd sailed I think, I didn't go to the wedding.  Did you know Susan,
old Hetth, V.C.'s sister by marriage--up to her eyes in debt--sold her
niece to pay them, I suppose, to the old millionaire--wonder what hold
she had on the girl.

"Anyway they went off somewhere in Devon for the honeymoon, God help her.
It seems that she had had an accident the night before, or something, and
fainted, or something, directly after dinner--the wedding dinner, I mean.
Did you ever learn composition on the Hill?  I _didn't_!

"The woman who looks after the cottage put Lady Hickle to bed and tucked
her up; placed a bottle of port in--all came out at the inquest--old
Hickle's room, and left the house.  Next thing, about two o'clock in the
morning, a shepherd or something saw a blaze and went to look.  Cottage
on fire, old Hickle burnt to a cinder, and the girl hauled out of bed
just in time, gibbering in French or something in panic I suppose.

"The charwoman thinks the curtains caught fire in the candle, and that
the port had made the old man sleep heavily and that he was suffocated by
the smoke.

"Full moon, too.  What a sight it must have been!  Place burned to the
ground.

"I believe Lady Hickle is quite a girl and very beautiful--and is
starting on a tour round the world or something--she'll get most of his
millions, I believe.  By the way, who _do_ you think have fixed it up.
Dear old Bumble and Diana Lytham.  Heaven be good to him.  Your turn
next, old boy!  Well she'll be darned lucky who gets you, see how well I
trained you, d'you remember, etc., etc."


The man sat still for some long time, then suddenly sprang to his feet
and went aft.

The dressing bugle had sounded but he had not heard; the dinner bugle had
sounded and still he had not heard, as he stood at the stern watching the
swirling wash of the slow-moving boat.

"Full moon, too!  She was hauled from her bed gibbering in French or
something."

He quoted the words, and crushed the letter savagely in his hands, for
even in the fullness of his joy he remembered Leonie's words, "Terrible
things happen wherever I am--they follow me."  But in the greatness of
his love he figuratively shrugged his shoulders, gathered his beloved
into the safe haven of his arms, and closed the moonlit eyes with kisses.

Whilst a jet butterfly fluttered in vain over a very décolleté expanse
which covered a heart agitated by rage and disappointment on the boat
deck.



CHAPTER XXV

  "And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee."--_The Bible_.


Leonie and her aunt were having tea at the Ladies' Union Club, of which
the latter was almost an original member.

You know the place where, arriving on foot or with the trail of the
omnibus upon you in the shape of a two-penny ticket grasped tightly in
your right hand, you receive a stony stare as welcome from the hall
porter, and one of dead fish glassiness from the rest of the staff.

There is a certain air of geniality diffused around a taxi arrival, but
a _car_!--two or eight cylinder--owned, borrowed, or stolen, well!
there you win in honours, no matter _what_ kind of private address you
camouflage with that of your club.

Having cleared a way across the tobacco-laden atmosphere, through which
can be spied ladies, young and old, inhaling and exhaling with more
vigour than grace, they had ensconced themselves in the seat for two
which lies isolated from the jumble of chairs and couches.

That seat having the advantage of isolation, your conversation does not
gladden the ears of your neighbour nor theirs yours.

You know what that is like--if you don't, well, it's the kind that if
written would read in italics: _Ayah--kitmutgar--pukka--chotar
hazri--syce_, with reference, ultra-distinct and emphatic, to
_Government House_, _Simla_, and my dear old friend, _General
Methuselah_.

Just those little British odds-and-ends which go to the ruling, more or
less, of the land of the peacock.  Add to that the general, what shall
I say, touch-and-go attire of the majority of the members.  You know
what it is like.

Lace collars over reconstructed tailor-mades; pseudo-suède gloves,
chiffon scarfs, generally ropey and heliotrope of hue; odd-coloured
jerseys affiliated to odd-cut skirts, plus jangling oriental bracelets
and chains, and mix that with a few puckered, leather-hued countenances
and you get the club's principal ingredient.

Anglo-Indian.

Anyway the place is conveniently situated, and quite bearable if you
can put up with the waiter or the somewhat overdecorated and
ever-changing waitress telling you, in front of your guest, that you
"can only 'ave cakes and bread-un-butter forrer shilling,
every-think-else-is extra."

Cheery, when you may have been doing your best to make an impression!

Of course every member (if she ever gets as far as this) of every
ladies' club will here draw her pharisaical skirts about her and edge
nearer to her neighbour.

"_Did_ you read this"--quotes--"_awfully_ good, isn't it?  Of course
it's meant for the Imperatrix--the Toga--the Ninth Century--the Spook."

It _isn't_!

It's just typical.

Is there any one thing in any one ladies' club to differentiate it from
its sister establishment--especially in the canteen?

I will pay one year's town subscription to any woman knowing, of
course, the difference between husks and food, who will honestly
declare that her heart has _not_ plumped to her boots after a
spur-on-the-moment invitation to a _man_ to lunch or dine at her club.

By spur-on-the-moment I mean when she has not had the time to negotiate
with the cook, via the head waiter.

You do not need the menu to tell you that plaice is here your portion;
or a lightning glance to ascertain that the exact number of your prunes
is six, and that of your guest half a dozen; or just a sip of your
coffee--well! there you begin to talk feverishly and to press liqueurs
and cigarettes upon the suffering guest.

But to come back to the club tea-room.

"My dear," Susan Hetth was saying, jangling with the best, and pitching
her voice so that it literally, though slangily, beat the band, "I
really think, considering your position and recent bereavement, that
you _should_ wear----"

"Please be quiet, Auntie," said Leonie, who in a grey and pale mauve
confection looked like a field of statice against a pearl-grey sky.  "I
came here to talk about you, not clothes.  You see I want to tell you
how I have settled things before I sail."

Her aunt fretted with a teaspoon, and spoke in the absurd peevish way
which had been so attractive at seventeen.

"For the last time, Leonie, I want you to listen to me!"

"Other way round, Auntie," said Leonie, who had chosen the club, of all
places, for a last _tête-à-tête_ with her relation, in the hope that
the presence of others would serve as a dam to the flood of tears which
had streamed almost unceasingly during the last month.

"But it's absurd, idiotic----"

"Auntie, dear, we've been through all that a hundred times, and a
hundred million times more won't make me change.  I will _not_ touch a
penny of Sir Walter's money----"

"Oh!  Leonie, your _husband_!"

"Not my husband in any sense at all, except for the awful name.
Why"--and she spoke with sweet intense enthusiasm--"do you know they
are going to build a house in Devon for blind babies out of my marriage
settlement, and endow it, and have resident teachers--think of it----"

Leonie broke off to manipulate the tea-things to the rhythm of a
one-step.

"And all the rest of the money, Leonie, oh! it's scandalous!"

"Oh, that!" said Leonie, manoeuvring the milk out of a broken milk-jug.
"Except for Sir Walter's special bequests, it all goes back to the
family.  They've almost all come to see me at the hotel, such honest,
nice people; and oh! so grateful.  Mrs. Sam Hickle is moving to Balham
from the Waterloo Road to open a fruit shop, she brought me a huge
basket of vegetables, carried it into my room herself; and a young Bert
Hickle, who has a whelk-barrow in the Borough, brought me a whole
turbot which had soaked through its newspaper wrapping.  He gave it to
the page-boy to carry, and I _do_ wish you had seen their faces when
the tail suddenly burst through, just as the page-boy was gingerly
laying it down on a most appropriate resting-place, a marble consol."

Leonie laughed just as the music stopped, a ringing, happy laugh which
caused people to stare and then nudge, or kick each other
surreptitiously as they recognised her.

"It's all settled about you, Auntiekins.  I'm paying your debts, which
aren't so terrific, only foolish, and giving you five hundred pounds to
go on with.  That, with your own income, will be all right if only you
will live in the country instead of hanging on to the edge of a society
which doesn't want you.  Still, you do exactly as you like, dear, only
remember that I shall only have just enough to live on when I've got
through the thousand pounds, and don't run up any more debts."

"Why not _invest_ the thousand, Leonie, _sensibly_."  Susan Hetth's
voice was dull, choked doubtlessly by the dust of her castle ruins.

"I've got to go to India!"

"Why, for goodness sake?"

"I don't know, Auntie, I've simply got to go!"

"How silly," said Auntie, as she forced a cigarette inartistically into
a holder, adding abruptly, as her commonplace mind jumped at a
commonplace loop-hole, "Where is Jan Cuxson?  I should think----"

Leonie answered quickly, breaking her aunt's words.

"I have no idea!  I haven't heard from him since he left England."

"Huh!" said Susan Hetth, putting up an absolute smoke screen, "and what
will you do after the money is spent, pray?"

Leonie stared wide-eyed into the tobacco haze.  "That," she said
slowly, "is on the knees of the gods!"

Talking being temporarily suspended by the band in the death throes of
the overture to Zampa, the two women sat silent; one frantically trying
to solve financial problems, the other with her head a little on one
side as though trying to catch the thread of some conversation.

A strange thing happened as the band stopped.

Leonie rose quite suddenly, with a half-eaten cake half-way to her
mouth.

"I must go!" she said quite flatly, placing the cake on a plate and
looking at her aunt without seeing her.

"_Go_!" shrilled Susan Hetth, putting her fourth cup of tea down with
an irritated slam.  "Where on earth _to_?"

But Leonie turned and walked away with never a word of explanation, and
her aunt, with the thrifty side of her plebeian soul uppermost, turned
to the task of getting through as much as possible of what was left of
the two teas for which two shillings had been paid.

The porter looked hard at Leonie when she asked for a taxi, hesitated
for a moment, looked hard again, and refrained from putting the
question hovering on his tongue.

"Seemed quite dazed like," he explained later to his wife in Camberwell
as she juggled with sausages, "pale as death, with a kind of funny look
round her eyes!"

"To the British Museum," Leonie said through the window as the taxi
door closed, and the funny look round her eyes deepened into a line of
perplexity between the eyebrows, as the cab bore her swiftly to her
destination and her destiny.

She walked swiftly up the steps to the institution she was visiting for
the first time, and through the glass swing doors, just as though she
was hurrying to an appointment; she turned, without hesitating, sharply
to the left up the long flight of stairs, passed through the rooms
filled with relics of Rome found in Britain, and stopped.

Just for a second she put the palm of her ungloved hand against her
forehead, sighed quickly, with her head bent forward, then passed
through the doorway, turned to the left, stopped and said "Yes?"

And the man, in faultless western clothes save for the white turban
which with its regulation folds outlined the pale bronze face, with a
look of satisfaction in the dark eyes, salaamed before the beautiful
woman who had looked at him questioningly.

"Allow me!" he said simply, bending to pick up the glove she had
dropped, the smile of satisfaction deepening as he looked at her again.

She had turned from him, and stock-still was staring into the glass
case which lined the wall.

Closer she pressed, until her nose, flattened against the glass looked
like a white cherry.

"Kali," she read, "Kali, the Goddess of Death.  I thought--I----"

Lower she leant to look at the square stone image numbered thirty-seven.

High breasted, squatting on her crossed legs, garlanded with skulls,
with five hands, holding a sword, a thunderbolt, a skull, a snake, a
cup, and the other two raised in blessing, the goddess leers at you
like a very old woman from behind the glass.

Leonie turned swiftly to find herself alone; and the hunted look in her
gold-flecked eyes deepened to horror as she gathered her skirts about
her, and fled blindly through the rooms, and down the stairs, and out
of the building.

Heading straight down Museum Street for Oxford Street, she ran across
the road at the risk of her neck and the wrath of a taxi-driver; gave
one terrified backward glance at a law-abiding student from India, who
was going to his cheery lodgings in Bloomsbury; and fled into the
tea-rooms which lure you outside with the pretty apple-painted ware in
the window, and where inside, one beautiful little blonde head shines
like a field of ripening wheat.

Safe, she crouched down behind the window curtain with her eyes fixed
unseeingly on the distorted figures of the Java frieze.



BOOK II

THE EAST



CHAPTER XXVI

  "But when the desire cometh,
  it is a tree of life."--_The Bible_.


The first-class passengers, leastways the passengers travelling first
class, lay stretched out side by side, one sex to starboard, t'other to
port, divided, however, more by the fear of the eyes of the other sex,
than by any hatch piled with chairs, or ship rule pinned upon the
notice-board, and signed by the chief.

Surely the hours of the tropical nights passed in sleep on deck are
those in which we should return thanks for lacking the gift of seeing
ourselves as the officer going on, or coming off watch, the fugitive
apprentice, or some stray passenger see us.

Human chrysalis, wrapt in the cocoon of sheet or unsightly night
attire, with starboard boudoir cap awry, exposing the steel cracker or
the lanky lock; unsightly pedal extremities peeping from the unfeminine
pyjama; ruby lips, uncarmined, ajar; whilst to port like rocks from the
ocean, unshaven chins rise unrebuked from blanket billows, and pyjama
button and buttonhole play touch across the unseemly, unrestrained and
unconfined masculine torso.

It was one of those insufferably hot nights you get sometimes as you
turn into the Hoogli, when the smell of the land comes in sickening
wafts, and the enchantment of the East is considerably lessened in your
opinion by the oppression of the atmosphere.

You are going up the Hoogli! you are passing the Sunderbunds! you can
almost see the tigers squatting in rows at the water's edge! it is the
East! it is India!--also it is infernally hot, and having retired to
your cabin to disrobe, you anathemise your stable companion who has
been likewise inspired; curse your overworked cabin steward who has
heaved your bedding on to the wrong site; re-arrange everything and bed
down.

Everyone was asleep when the light of the full moon caused a subdued
lustre under the awnings, and a greenish light in Leonie's wide-open,
staring eyes, as she suddenly swung herself over the side of her bunk
and slid unhurt to the floor.

She made an arresting picture as she stood listening intently, her
flimsy garment falling away from her shoulders, leaving the slender
white back bare to the waist, while she held handfuls of the
transparent stuff crushed against her breast, upon which lay a jewel
hung from a gold chain.

Her feet were bare, her arms were bare, and her tawny mass of hair hung
in two thick scented plaits to her dimpled knees; and she repeated some
words over and over again like one insane or delirious.

"_Ham abhi ate hai--ham abhi ate hai_."

Which being translated means "I come--I come."

Without the slightest hesitation she opened the door of No. 1
state-room, which she had had to herself after Port Said, and which, as
anyone who has travelled on this particular boat will know, gives on to
the dining saloon; passed swiftly along the narrow passage past the
notice board and the head steward's cabin, and stood among the human
cocoons on deck.

For a moment she paused irresolute, turned, and swiftly mounted the
companion-way to the bridge deck, her bare feet making no sound, her
beautiful body shining like ivory through the flimsy garment she held
gathered to her breast.

Oh! well for her was it that the ship slept, and that the awnings made
it almost impossible for those on the bridge to see what took place on
the deck.

Though a report of sleep-walking on board would only have served to
broaden the lines of laughter in the chief officer's mercurial soul,
and deepen the lines of cynicism around the second officer's cynical
mouth when the one relieved the other on the bridge at the matutinal
hour of four a.m.

And very well for Leonie was it that the captain had forbidden sleeping
on his deck, and that the high caste native who had come aboard at
Colombo was sitting on the port side as she approached.

Owing to his high caste, and the purity of his habits, the young native
had passed the days apart from his fellow-passengers since he had come
aboard; and the days left were too few for the white folk to show any
curiosity concerning the handsome man.

You don't feel curious about anything after almost five weeks
seafaring; you feel kind of stunned.

Leonie, therefore, had not noticed him particularly as he sat apart
with his delicate oval face behind a book when she approached, or
passed his chair; neither had she felt the gentle luminous eyes resting
upon her from the nape of her sunkissed neck to her slim ankle.

Nor did he now, long after midnight, make any sign when, without
touching the rails, she came swiftly up the companion-ladder, bending
her bronze head to miss the edge of the awning; and he made no movement
as she sped past him, crossed the deck to the starboard rail, and
putting both hands upon it, swung her body back as you do when you are
going to vault clear.

No movement of his body, but he gave a jerk of his will-power which
brought the veins out like whipcord upon his forehead, and drove the
nails deep into the palms of his hands.

And in response, Leonie's arms slackened.  She stood quite still,
staring out to where the Sunderbunds lay hidden under mist; then she
put one bare foot upon the lower rail, and swinging herself up, sat
sideways, leaning far over; in such a position that the slightest lurch
of the ship would have sent her headlong into the water.

The native's eyes narrowed to slits, and his nostrils dilated strangely
as he pitted his will against the force which was impelling her.

He dared not speak, he dared not touch her.  For he knew that one
moment of recognition, one breath of scandal touching himself and the
woman he trailed, meant the crumbling of the altar he was building
stone by stone to his god.

For that reason he had taken the mail instead of the slow boat she had
chosen, and had thought long before deciding to come aboard, even at
Colombo.

He was afraid because of the evening she had answered when he called
her across London to his side, by the image of Kali the Terrible in a
glass case; afraid that she might recognise him and be on her guard,
undoing all that he had done in the last year in obedience to the
mandate of the old priest.

Sleeping Leonie, having descended from her perilous seat, stood for a
moment with outflung arms, looking across the waters; then turned and
walked swiftly and softly like a cat, straight up to the man who rose.
Sweetly she laughed up into his face as she laid one little hand upon
the great white cloak which swung from his shoulders, unaware that in
moving her hand her own garment had slipped, and that her beauty lay
exposed like a lotus bud before his eyes.

She came so close that her bare shoulder touched the fine white linen,
and the curves of her scarlet lips wet but a fraction of an inch from
his own; and her whimpered words in the eastern tongue were as a flame
to an oil well.

"This plant," she murmured, with the light of unholiness in her
gleaming eyes, "this plant is honey born--at the tip of my tongue
honey--mayest thou come unto my intent!"

He answered softly in the same sonorous tongue and she swayed towards
him like a flower.

"About thee with an encompassing sugar-cane have I gone, in order to
absence of mutual hatred; that thou mayest be one loving me, that thou
mayest be one not going away from me!"

Where is the dividing line?

What is it that causes the saint suddenly to fling aside his holiness
and hurl himself headlong to perdition? or the sinner to hurl aside his
evilness and fling himself headlong into a monastery?

The jogging of memory, mostly, I think.

For what resolutions can not be conceived, and accomplished, or broken
by the scent of a flower, the touch of a hand, or the feel of a piece
of stuff.

Love, sudden, overpowering oriental love consumed the man, passion
scorched his soul, and desire shook him from his dark head to the
slender feet.

He was awake and the girl was asleep, and craving to set his seal upon
her in her unconsciousness, he bent towards her until the fierceness of
his breath disturbed the lacey frill about her breast, bringing to view
the jewel suspended from a golden chain.

Instantly his joined hands were raised towards his face mechanically in
prayer, his eyes burned with the fanaticism of his creed, and his face
became old in knowledge.

The dividing line? the lifted veil?  Nay! nothing but a jewel with the
form and the colouring of a cat's-eye, which had cunningly winked up at
him from the secret places of the girl's bosom; so that she returned to
her cabin with her body unscathed, and her soul on the edge of the
precipice.

And the most razor-tongued, detested colonel mem-sahib of the line in
India thanked her stars that the mosquitoes had roused her frantically,
but just in time, to see the trailing edge of Leonie's indecorous night
attire disappear through the door.

Aloofness, allied to perfect shoes and silken hose, will find a woman
more enemies on board than all the pretty faces and frocks in the
world; and if, in addition, she _can_ heap on such items as a seductive
face and figure; and if gossip via the newspapers can and _does_ supply
information as to the contents of her pass-book, plus savoury rumours
concerning mysterious incidents in her past; well! 'twere better for
that woman to stop at home, bob her hair, and take to that field of
literature which is not bound on any side by the hedge of convention.

So it came about that her friends, after stumbling up the gangway at
the Kidderpore Docks, with handkerchiefs held against their noses to
protect them from the effluvia wafted from Garden Reach, lifted their
eyebrows slightly at the frostiness of the adieux between their guest
and her fellow-passengers.

And no one in the scramble and flurry noticed the elderly pock-marked
ayah who had been engaged as Leonie's bodywoman as she lifted the hem
of the mem-sahib's skirt and laid it against her forehead, and touched
the instep of the high caste native when he passed behind the girl and
disappeared in the crowd of his countrymen which opened up a way before
him.

An ayah, who, to the utter astonishment of her friends, had given up
the high position of head body-woman to a Ranee of the North, in order
to accept the humble post of ayah to a mem-sahib.

A post she had gained by the baffling methods of the East which bind
each man's work to that of his neighbour with an unbreakable,
untraceable chain; and gained too, over the sleek heads of many of her
sister ayahs, who, armed with countless and phenomenally laudatory
chits, had squatted patiently for hours in the servants' quarters of
the bungalow at Alipore.



CHAPTER XXVII

  "For lo! the winter is past,
  and the rain is over and gone!"--_The Bible_.


"That's Lady Hickle!"

The two men turned in their saddles as Leonie went by at a canter near
the rails.

The raking great waler forging ahead like an engine of destruction was
kept in check by Leonie, exuberant with health, the knowledge of a
perfect seat and hands, and that uprush of spirits which an early ride on
the Maidan brings--to some of us.

"Not _the_ Lady Hickle?"

"The same!"

"Well, I'm damned! she's only a girl, and _what_ a seat!  Chucked the
millions, too, didn't she?  Having a good time?"

John Thorne frowned as he backed his horse before answering.

"We're great friends," he said shortly, and the other man tapped his
teeth with his whip.

Thorne hadn't the slightest intention of implanting a snub, as the other
man knew, knowing him and his most unfortunate manner.

Friends, yes! they were friends, two strong, super-sensitive characters
drawn in sympathy one to the other; and John Thorne would have liked to
have been a good deal more than a friend, but he had the sense to realise
that the only kind of woman he could ever ask to share his rising
fortune, bad manners, and worse temper, would be of the type designated
in the short and unromantic word _cow_.

One of those slumbrous, sleek creatures who stand knee deep and content
in a field of domestic trivialities; ruminate placidly upon the happy
little events of the past hour; and always find a hedge under which to
shelter at the first intimation of a storm.

Lucky, lucky cattle who do not know the temperamental ups and downs, the
mental lights and shadows, the physical and psychological upheavals, or
the intense joys and griefs of the more highly strung goat.

At that moment Leonie rode back slowly with some friends, and smiled at
John Thorne.

"No!" Thorne went on meditatively, "no, she's _not_ having a good time.
I can't quite make it out.  You see, although she was only married for a
day, the defunct tradesman husband rather overshadows her father's
splendid career--old Bob Hetth, V.C., you remember.  It _would_ in this
caste-bound country.  Caste amongst _us_, ye gods!  Then her clothes are
really lovely, oh! ripping! make Chowringhee confections look as though
they'd come from the _durzi_ or the Lal Bazaar.  And it seems that she's
living on her capital, and that her hair curls naturally----"

The other man laughed out loud.

"Oh! you needn't laugh.  Wait until you've been stationed as long as I
have in Calcutta, then you'll----"

Leonie had turned and was coming up at a gentle trot.

"Gad! isn't she beautiful?" said the newcomer.

"Yes!  I think that's _really_ her trouble," replied Thorne as he moved
to meet her.

"Good morning, and don't come too near the Devil.  We were out in the fog
this morning and it has made him as touchy as anything.  Isn't it a
simply perfect morning!"

For a moment she sat and looked at the funnels and masts swarming the
placid Hoogli, turned her head as a far-away siren announced the arrival
of a liner, gave a little sigh as she looked up at a kite sailing
care-free overhead, and came back to earth with a smile.

"How d'you do," she smiled, upon the introduction of the other man.  "And
don't come too near the Devil, he's nervy; in fact I think he will burst
with suppressed energy if I keep him standing longer.  Shall we canter as
far--oh!----"

"Hell!" finished Thorne after his kind, causing the corners of Leonie's
beautiful mouth to lift as she raised a reproving finger.

The razor-tongued, most feared and detested colonel mem-sahib of the
line, in the whole of India, rode up with a seat which would not have
disgraced the sands of Margate.

Thinking that she might as well share the pig-skin, she had, upon her
husband attaining his majority, taken a dozen riding lessons somewhere
near Regent's Park; had hacked irregularly ever since, and still, when
off her equine guard, talked about a horse's ankles.

"Don't come too near the Devil, Mrs. Hudson, he's _so_ fidgety."

"Nonsense!" brusquely replied the lady as she nodded to the men.  "It's
you who are fidgety; comes of all your sleep-walking, brain fag or
whatever you call it; you've--you've inoculated the poor darling," she
added, clapping her hand on the Devil's hind-quarters.

Thorne made an ineffectual grab as the Devil reared so straight that
Leonie's face was hidden in the mane, and backed his horse as the waler
came down with a terrific clatter on the hard ground, scraping the
colonel mem-sahib's foot as she wheeled about, emitting silly little
cries, whilst men tore up from all sides with desire to help.

Up again he shot, pawing the air until it seemed that he surely must fall
backwards, and men and women stared aghast until Leonie, raising her arm,
brought her whip down between the silky ears.

"Damnation!" said John Thorne as Leonie patted the Devil's neck as he
danced nervously on one spot.

"Time I took him home," she said.  "The syce?--no!  I daren't give him to
anyone as he is--oh! good morning----

"Saw your _haute école_ stunt, Lady Hickle," burst out a lad who rode a
fallen star in the shape of a discarded discreditable polo pony.  "Simply
topping--but the Devil's a nervy demon, you _shouldn't_ ride him--he'll
get away with you one of these fine days.  What happened?"

"He bumped into my horse, he's not safe to be out amongst us--indeed, he
is _not_.  Lady Hickle, I have been in Cat----"

The rest was lost in precipitate flight with the colonel mem-sahib's arms
closely hugging her pony's neck, to the joy and the infinite delight of
the rest of the spectators.

Unseen, uncouth John Thorne, furious at the scant courtesy shown to the
lady of his dreams, had brought his whip down heftily, just above the
mangy tail of the colonel mem's pony.

"I think I'll ride alone, if you don't mind," said Leonie with a ripple
of suppressed laughter in her voice.

"All the way to Alipore?"

"Oh! it's not far, and I daren't trust the syce, the Devil would simply
_eat_ him."

The boy sidled in between her and Thorne, to the latter's infinite
annoyance.

"Are you still keen on the _shikar_ stunt, Lady Hickle?"

He gazed at her adoringly, and she smiled back into the honest, merry
eyes.

"_Shikar_ stunt?"

"Yes! you remember--Sunderbunds--dâk bungalows--_shikari_--wild animals
in bunches--discomfort and all the rest.  Say yes!  Oh! _do_!" as Leonie
slowly shook her head,  "It'll be such a rag!  Major and Mrs.
Talbot--she's a fine shot--you and me, and we've got to get another
fe--woman 'cos a simply top-hole fellow walked into the club last night,
who's wonderfully keen on it; we're kind of related, his father was my
mother's second cousin."

"And the higher the fewer," interposed Thorne, as Leonie laughed.  "And
what's the top-hole fellow's name?"

The youngster eyed the elder man with disapproval.

"Name--coming brain specialist--setting the old fossils in Harley Street
by the ears--forgotten more than they've ever learned--name--why, Jan
Cuxson.  Won't you come, Lady Hickle?"

Leonie had suddenly bent to adjust her stirrup leather.

Her face was dead white, her eyes like stars, her mouth like a gate to
heaven.

Almost a year and not a word, not a sign!

Tortured by doubt, racked with love, she had gone her way silently;
blaming herself one moment for the ease with which she had shown her
love; staking her all the next on the honesty of the man who had kissed
her hand in forgiveness in the old Devon church.

Making excuses, heaping the blame upon herself, wearying, wondering--and
now!

She lifted her face, which shone like the Taj at noon, and the worshipful
company of men looked at her, almost stunned by its incomprehensible
radiance.

"Yes," she said softly, without thought of the Devil's nerve-storm.
"Yes, I will surely come!"

As she spoke there was a terrific report as the hind tyre of a passing
car burst with due violence, a sudden convulsive bound as the Devil leapt
with all four feet off the ground, and a thunder of hoofs as, with the
bit between his teeth, he cleared for the open just as a man on a
sixteen-hand bay turned in at the race-stand opening.



CHAPTER XXVIII

  "To turn and wind a fiery Pegasus
  And witch the world with noble horsemanship!"--_Shakespeare_.


The onlookers behaved in the orthodox runaway-horse manner.

Women screamed, or took the opportunity to manipulate a surreptitious
powder-puff.

Men shouted and waved their topees, or shouted and performed equestrian
gymnastics, and the jockeys _en masse_ cursed their masters' presence,
and the more or less mythical value of their respective mounts.

Just for that one moment in which anything occurring out of your
ordinary rut leaves you practically stunned into inertia.

Then things began to shape themselves, and for one unbelievable second
caste was thrown to the soft wind which was sweeping up the last rags
of mist.

Military mingled with commerce, the I.C.S. which, written in full,
means God's Anointed, looked _at_ instead of _through_ the railway;
jute condescended to the tourist, and white ejaculated to kaffyolay as
they all sat gazing after the retreating form of the Devil and the
pursuing shapes of one or two, who, fairly decently mounted, were
pegging away stout-heartedly in a perfectly vain, but praiseworthy
effort to save Leonie from certain death.

And then a sigh of relief went up.

A bay, stretched out, was flying like the wind, hoofs thundering on the
hard ground, tail streaming, as, urged by his master's heel and voice,
he strove to get to the tank before the runaway.

The distance and the speed were too great, the horse and kit were not
sufficiently familiar to allow the spectators to identify the one man
who seemed to have a plan in his head, and a horse under him.

The women strained their eyes in an endeavour to distinguish him, men
kept theirs glued to Leonie who was riding straight and apparently
making no effort to check the Devil, and policemen, forgetful of their
dignity, their status, and their red turbans, hung over the rails near
the grand-stand entrance with a riff-raff of taxi chauffeurs, pukka
chauffeurs and syce.

For the first two hundred yards across the brown grass of the Maidan,
Leonie thoroughly enjoyed the tearing gallop, having failed to grasp
the fact that the Devil was bolting; but after having spoken
soothingly, and pulled firmly without making any impression, somewhere
about the middle of the polo ground she awoke to the fact that
something had to be done.

"They're in it!  No! missed, by Jove!"

The jockey bunched himself in an ecstasy of relief, and his mare danced
with a fellow-electrical feeling as the Devil, wheeling sharply from
the sparkling water in the tank, missed the lone tree by a foot; then
gathering fresh impetus from the ever-nearing sound of thudding hoofs,
tore towards the rails enclosing the two tracks.

They are not high, but they are fairly close together, and four in all,
and a horse, blind from fear or temper, is quite as likely to let you
down at the first as at the fourth.

But Jan Cuxson saw a gleam of hope.

Surely the runaway would slacken, surely no horse could possibly take
four fences at that terrific speed; and if he did slacken, then the
bay, as nimble as a cat in spite of his weight, would catch up, and
something would be done before they dashed headlong across the
tram-threaded, crowded Kidderpore Road.

Except for admiring her seat and seeming calm acceptance of her
inevitable and horrible end, he had not bothered about the girl as a
human being; but he frowned suddenly in a vague effort of recollection
when she stretched out her hand in a beckoning gesture for help to the
man she heard racing to her rescue.

"By Jove!" he cried, and "_By_ Jove!" repeated the others behind, and
"By _Jove_!" echoed the distant on-lookers as, without hesitation or
click of hoof on wood, the Devil rose to the first, the second, the
third and the fourth rail, skimming them like a bird, while the bay,
just two rails behind, crashed over them with nothing to spare.

Inky words take a long time to write, but Leonie's perilous career
towards the river was merely the matter of a few cyclonic minutes,
leaving the drivers of bullock and water-buffalo carts, _gharries_ and
trams no time in which to make an opening for her tempestuous passage.

"Wah!  Wah!" shouted a group of natives, draped in gaily coloured
shawls, who watched admiringly the woman's perfect seat, caring not an
_anna_ that she might be thrown and break her neck or be crushed to
death.  In fact, the halo of death encircling the woman's head lent
enchantment to the sport, causing some of the more wealthy to bet upon
her end.

A woman, white or brown, more or less in India of what account? though
it were a different matter in the case of the sahib who rode in
pursuit, with a mouth like a steel trap and eyes of fire.

Two women, with babes astraddle on the hip, turned to watch Leonie,
then stuffing more betel nut into their already crimson mouths, moved
lightly through the dust towards the bazaar.  Crouched at the foot of a
tree, inhaling the smoke from the bowl of his rude native pipe, an old
man under the benign influence of the drug, lost in dreams, took no
notice whatever of the disturbance around him.

But the drivers, with raucous cries, twisted the tails of their kine to
port or starboard, or beat them forcibly, and the tram driver, roused
from the lethargy engendered by the cool of the early morning, by the
shouts and cries, put on his brake, bringing his tram to a stand-still
just as, with a terrific clatter of hoofs, Leonie dashed past the front
of it with Cuxson at her heels.

There was a moment's uproar when, wishing for a better view, the driver
of a tawdry _ekka_ urged his half-starved pony forward.

The bay caught the side of the pony's bleeding mouth, causing the
wretched animal to rear from pain and twist sideways into a bullock
cart.

In its usual leisurely way the bullock swung itself also sideways, and
almost under the bay's feet, causing him to lose a precious second, for
which Cuxson made up by a ruthless use of his spurs, whilst before
Leonie's eyes, quite close, through the trees, appeared the funnels and
masts of the river craft.

"Oh!" she said involuntarily, having retained no impression during her
motor drives of the road to Kidderpore; as the Devil tore with her
across the old polo ground and the old Ellenborough course, straight to
the crowded Strand Road.

And then she sighed a little sigh of relief, for the bay heaved
alongside and a hand stretched for her bridle.

Side by side they clattered across the Strand towards the Prinseps
Ghat, standing just as ostracised and white as the Marble Arch.

Would the two horses crash headlong into the columns, or would the
Devil yield in time to the strong hand pulling on the bit?

Neither.

Terrified by the shouts of the populace, and the shrill whistling from
the river, he raced along so close to the left side of the monument
that Cuxson's boot scratched against the stone.

But as they crashed across the Strand and the sharp incline on the
other side of the railway lines appeared, Cuxson, knowing that the
moment had arrived, dropped his reins, and gripping the bay with his
knees, leant over towards Leonie as she dropped her reins, and
loosening her grip on the pommel, prepared to break her neck or her
back or both as she slipped from the saddle.

Then she felt an arm round her waist.

She knew intuitively her rescuer's intention, _but_----!

Would a man's left arm be strong enough to lift her across her horse's
hind-quarters at the terrific speed they were going, combined with her
weight?

Would he be able to hold her until his horse slackened speed, or would
they both overbalance and hurtle to the ground together?  Would there
be time to stop the horse, or would they all be hurled into the water?

The questions had hardly flashed through her mind when she felt herself
lifted and swung.

For one petrifying moment the bay, pulled savagely until blood stained
the bit, reared with its double weight within a yard of the steep
incline, then, yanked cruelly by its master, swung sideways and came
down; just as the Devil, striving at the last moment to check his wild
career, hesitated for one half-second, then, pushed by his own terrific
impetus, slid over the incline, and turning a complete somersault
backwards, crashed into the water.

     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Leonie's scarlet mouth trembled, and her yellow-green eyes gleamed as
the man she loved pressed both her hands in his against his coat, until
the high relief of the button was marked upon her skin, even through
her glove.

"You," she said, so softly that the one note sounded like the chime of
a temple bell.

"You!" he said, giving her arms a little savage wrench, then letting
her go as the sound of approaching hoofs heralded the arrival of the
first of the hunt to be in at the averted death.

A score or more of natives in their vivid colours, which seem so atune
with all that has to do with love, mattered not at all; but Leonie
turned and pointed casually to the Devil, enjoying his matutinal bath,
as the boy flung himself from the discredited polo pony on which he had
done his best.

He seized both her hands and held them very tightly, then catching
sight of Cuxson, let them go suddenly.

"Of course!" he said, "of course you would--you lucky beggar!"  Then
added triumphantly, "But anyway, _I_ told her so!"



CHAPTER XXIX

  "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine!"--_The Bible_.


Guy Dean, the cheery optimistic lad who worshipped openly at Leonie's
beautiful feet, and who was seeing the world at the behest of his
wealthy old father, had been as good as his word.

Bursting with excitement, he hurled himself into his racing-car one
Sunday morning, about a fortnight after Leonie's hasty ride riverwards,
and passed like a whirlwind through the fairly empty streets of
Calcutta and the suburb of Ballygunge to the Jodhpur Club.

She was waiting for breakfast under the trees with some friends,
discussing the four-some they had just finished, and watching the
arrival of various cars which were parked, with some difficulty, with
the others which had arrived earlier.

"Sounds all right," said Cuxson, as he looked with disfavour upon the
club's breakfast _pièce de résistance_, namely fatty sausages and
mashed of all things.  "I am beginning to feel quite thrilled.  Let's
see, it will take us about a day to get to Tiger's Point by launch from
Kulna, and there we find monkeys, adjutant birds, spotted deer, and
tigers all ready."

"Don't rot!" said young Dean.  "I've bribed the finest _shikari_ in the
whole of Bengal to stage-manage the whole thing; he did seem rather
contemptuous over the _chotar shikar_, as he called it, I must say,
until I began to juggle with backsheesch, and then he bucked up
considerably and said he would do his very best to provide sport for
the mems.  The programme includes a ruined temple but not a tiger,
'cause he says it would be too risky a job at such short notice; also,
and the real reason _I_ should say, there hasn't been a tiger seen,
anyway killed, since one was wounded and caught near that same Hindu
temple umpteen years ago."

Leonie wrinkled her forehead at the last sentence, and looking up
caught Jan Cuxson's eyes upon her.

"That sounds _so_ familiar," she said perplexedly, "I----"

"The tiger at the Zoo which we knew all those years ago was trapped
near a ruined Hindu temple in the Sunderbunds, Lady Hickle," he said
quietly, watching the curious dilation of the pupils in the greenish
eyes as he spoke.

"The very one!" broke in young Dean, as he suspiciously eyed a
proffered curry.

"How did you come to think of the stunt?"

"I ran up against a perfectly top-hole native prince at polo last
month.  Amongst other things we started talking elephant and
_bagh_--tiger, you know," laughed the lad, who always seemed to be on
the point of bursting with high infectious spirits.  "No, take it away,
I will _not_ eat a cold _chupattie_ of the consistency of a bicycle
tyre--as I was saying, we talked tiger, and somehow or other he
suggested a few days' pursuit, through the Sunderbunds, of the spotted
deer, muntjak or sambur----"

"Neither."

"Well, they're _spotted_."

"Dogs, perhaps."

Ignoring the execrable repartee, the boy turned completely round to
Leonie.

"By the way, Lady Hickle, if you ever go to Benares, don't forget to
get off _en route_ and visit the tomb of what's-its-name, it's quite
near--oh!  I forget--but it's on one of this fellow's father's estates.
They don't let many people go and see it--afraid, I expect, of paper
bags but if you _do_ go you'll find an elephant or two hanging about to
take you to the place in state.  He's, the native prince, got some of
the finest elephants in the whole of this mosquito-ridden land--makes a
hobby of them."

"What happened to the original tiger?"

"Noah pushed him into the ark."

The lad grinned, and offered his cigarette to Leonie, who shook her
head.

"Oh! stop fooling, Dean.  Did a sahib manage to trap the brute, or
what?"

"Yes! and sent it across to Blighty and shoved it into the Zoo.
They're frightfully sick about that tiger being in a cage; they
wouldn't have minded a sahib killing it for the good of mankind it
seems, but putting it behind bars is an insult to some god, or
something like that.  Are you any good as a gun, dear lady?"

Leonie smiled at the tardiness of such an important question.

"Fair," she said, refusing an unkempt pot of marmalade as she turned to
Cuxson.  "I used to pass most of my holidays with the Wetherbournes,
you know them, don't you?  They were awfully keen on sports, and had a
rifle-range, but I could beat them any day with a revolver."

"That doesn't matter, Lady Hickle," said the lad blithely.  "All you'll
have to do'll be to bob up and down in the tiger-grass in the approved
style; keep your trigger away from the bush, and so as to feel
thoroughly creepy, your eye out for pugs; which, in case some of you
don't know, means tiger-tracks, not the dog with the beastly curly
tail--and--oh, jolly!--here come the Talbots--just in time for the
_khubber_ which means tiger-news for those whose Hindustani is not as
perfect as mine.  Mrs. Talbot, don't pass us by, we have plenty of room
and some superb sausages."

Edna Talbot laughingly sank into a chair next Leonie whom she liked,
and immediately became enthralled in the discussion.

Honest, sweet little woman, with an honest plodding husband in a native
regiment, inhabiting the dreary crumbling fort, without a murmur,
whilst living in hopes of better things to come.  Soft-voiced,
considerate towards her native servants who worshipped her, one of the
finest shots in India, and a true upholder of the British Raj in word,
action, and clothes.

A perfect oasis, in fact, among the desert of her sisters, who storm in
season and out at their native staff, before whom they likewise show
themselves in ill-considered négligé, with their unbrushed hair down
their backs, and their bare feet thrust into the evening shoes of last
night's dance.

So it came about without any undue fuss that, after surviving the
excruciating heat of the railway journey, three sahibs, two mem-sahibs,
and their servants steamed out of Kulna in two launches to Tiger's
Point, where awaited them the finest _shikari_ in all Bengal, with an
adequate retinue in which was included a _chukler_ or skin dresser.

And who would notice the look in an ayah's eyes as she wiped her
beloved mem-sahib's ant-ridden bunk with cotton-waste soaked in
kerosene, and who on earth would connect the jungle guide with the
British Museum.



CHAPTER XXX

  "A mighty hunter, and his prey was man!"--_Pope_.


It was the second evening and they were nearing the ruined temple.

Walking silently and in single file along a faintly discernible track
is an eerie proceeding if you are not used to the Sunderbunds.

True, in this jungle there are no serpent-like creepers festooned from
tree to tree to impede your progress, or luxuriant and rank vegetation
to hide snakes and other poisonous reptiles; neither is there a canopy
of thick dark leaves above to obliterate the light of day, or the stars
at night.

But the space between the crowding sundri trees which predominate, is
packed with an undergrowth of light shrubs through which you have to
force and tear your way if you lose the track; and you trip and twist
your ankle at every step on the abominable sundri breathers which
thrust themselves through the soil at every inch, and vary in thickness
from a stick of vermicelli to a good stout bough.

"Look," will whisper your _shikari_ as he sinks silently to the ground;
and look you do with all your eye-power, and yet fail to see the
spotted deer gazing at you, motionless from sheer fright, only a few
yards away in the undergrowth, so at one is the animal's colouring with
the dappled shadows on the leaves.

What depths of humiliation you plumb when the deer flees to safety
through the trees and your _shikari_ sighs.

Leonie as a gun had proved a dire, undiluted failure.

As a companion no one could beat her.  Nothing tired her, nothing
dismayed her.  The terrific heat, the untoward hours and meals, the
sting of mosquito, and the rip of the thorn left her unmoved.

She and Edna Talbot had gleefully climbed the ladder up to one of the
two _suapattah_ huts, which are a kind of shelter of leaves built for
the sundri wood collector upon high platforms near the water, and in
which they had passed their first vermin-stricken night.  They had
climbed cheerfully down the next morning without a word of complaint
about the hours of torture they had endured as they sat at the hut door
in the light of the moon, whiling away the time until the jungle cocks
should crow by watching various shapes come down to the creek to drink.

But the first time a deer, hypnotised by fear or curiosity, had stood
stock-still before her, simply asking for death, Leonie put her gun
down and shook her head.

"I can't," she said sturdily.  "I simply _could not_ kill except in
self-defence."

And although young Dean sighed lugubriously over his lady's
defalcation, Jan Cuxson adored her utterly for her womanliness, and
translated the remark the head _shikari_ made as he handed back to the
mem-sahib the rifle he had examined.

"He says he knows that in time of need you would be brave, and would
have no fear even of a man-eater, but he says that you _must_ carry
your rifle because you can never tell in the jungle what may be
awaiting you round the next corner."

As none of the party knew that the temple stood well hidden but quite
close to the edge of one of the smallest creeks, open only to the
narrowest native craft, they had no idea they were being taken there by
a most circuitous route; and the _shikari_ who did know thought that
the silent guide was doing it purposely in order to give the sahibs an
opportunity to add yet more to the ever-increasing bag of
odds-and-ends, also to his backsheesch later on.

They were all longing to get to the ruins; more than desirous for their
evening meal; aching to remove their boots, and the dust, and other
evidence of a hard day's tramp.

"We are almost there, mem-sahib," said the very fine old _shikari_ who,
by the way, is a real personage, as he noticed a certain lack of
elasticity in Leonie's movements.  "Let us hasten, because at the fall
of the shadows, all that is evil will come down to the waters, and
behold! as this jungle is cut across and yet across with water-ways,
the evil ones may even cross the sahibs' path."

"How much farther is it?"

"Another half-mile of this path, sahib, then through a glade without
trees, then another mile and we find the outer wall of the temple."

The perfect English came from a small knot of natives difficult to
distinguish in the shadows.

Leonie swung round and stared, and turning to Jan Cuxson put her hand
on his arm.

"Funny, isn't it?" she said softly.  "But do you know I am sure I have
heard that voice before, and all this"--and she waved a hand
vaguely--"seems so very, very familiar."

The head-man halted them once more at the edge of the clearing.

Strange bare spots these clearings which occur now and again in the
Sunderbunds, looking for all the world as though they _had_ been
cleared by man some time or another for building purposes.  Well, who
knows if that doughty adventurer, Khan Jehan, did not prospect
thereabouts centuries back.

"We will now place the mem-sahibs in the centre of a widening circle,"
said the _shikari_ patiently, showing no sign of the detestation in
which he held all sports-women, and the amount of trouble and anxiety
their presence always entailed in a _shikar_, however insignificant.

To lose a sahib would be bad enough, but to see a mem-sahib seized and
carried off before your very eyes, well, by the power of all the gods,
that would mean ruin if not death; for, being a very wise old man,
however good the news, he always prepared for the worst.

"I dislike these clearings at the setting of the sun, O defender of the
poor!" he explained to the major, who kept his wife close and was
beginning to wish he had not brought her, even if she were far and away
the better shot of the two.  "The trouble is upon one without even the
warning of a cracking twig.  Neither have I any love for the temple,
for behold! one, even a great _guru_ up to within a few moons of this
day, lived there in worship, making sacrifice to the Black One.  Yet is
he not there to welcome us.  Maybe he has fallen victim to the _bhoot_
of the great cat whom he once fed."

Luckily for their peace of mind the sahib log only understood a quarter
of a man's lament, and did not trouble their heads about ghosts.

"Aye, verily am I bewitched to allow of such tarrying, likewise to let
such fear enter my head," he muttered to himself, and as a cloak to his
misgivings sharply ordered ten men to proceed to the centre of the
clearing in a semi-circle, and there await further orders.

They did as they were ordered, and were standing motionless when
suddenly without a sound a great striped body leapt straight from the
shadows of the surrounding trees upon a boy who had out-distanced his
companions.

The instant double report of Jan Cuxson's rifle deadened the lad's
horrible screaming and the growling of the wounded beast as it crouched
flat, almost hidden behind the human body in the undergrowth, with tail
lashing, and great claws tearing the boy's shoulder, as the rest of the
terrified coolies ran shouting back to the party.

"Fire, sahib," commanded the _shikari_.

"Can't," tersely replied Major Talbot.  "I shall kill the boy if I do;
the brute's making a shield of his body.  I'll creep round to the flank
and----"

"Fire, sahib," urged the native.  "Better to kill the lad as he is
badly wounded," then added, "Tesch," as Talbot shook his head.  "Stay
here, sahib, to protect the mem-sahibs, I will creep to----"

"_God_!"

The word simultaneously escaped the three men as they and Edna Talbot
raised their rifles.

Leonie was walking across the space, neither hastening nor hesitating,
towards the tiger which crouched, growling softly, with its tail
sweeping the ground.

Did she hypnotise the brute, or did her supreme courage build an
invisible barrier between the two?

Who knows!

Anyway she calmly approached within five yards, raised her rifle, took
deliberate aim, and fired just as, with a hoarse-coughing roar, the
tiger sprang.

There was the dull thud of a bullet, a snarl, and the animal fell back
across the boy's body, twitching convulsively.

Without one moment's hesitation, while the rest of the party stood
helpless owing to her position, Leonie, letting fall her rifle and
drawing her revolver, walked right up to the writhing brute and fired
straight into the terrible mouth.

With one supreme effort the tiger reared itself on its hind legs, gave
a choking, strangled cough ending in a spurt of blood and froth which
drenched Leonie, and fell back dead; and the entire native staff,
shouting in wonder and joy, tore across the clearing and prostrated
themselves, in grateful layers around the girl's heavily booted feet.



CHAPTER XXXI

  "For her house inclineth unto death!"--_The Bible_.


We lie beneath the mosquito net, we undress behind the purdah, we sit
on the verandah, or stroll in the compound; we dance, we ride, we eat,
we sleep, ever heedless of the eyes watching, and of the hidden form;
but above all of that relentless will which causes some of us
uncontrollably to do odd things at odd moments under the Indian stars,
to our subsequent disgust and wonderment.

Leonie, with Jan Cuxson behind her, stopped outside the temple door,
which, hanging upon one hinge, moved slowly to and fro in the night
breeze.

And at the side of the altar, in the black shadows of the doorway which
led to the secret places of the temple, a pock-marked native woman,
draped in an orange coloured _sari_ embroidered in silver, laid one
hand upon the priest's arm and pointed with the other.

"Behold the Sahib," she whispered with a snarl of hate at the corners
of her mouth, stained crimson with betel juice.  "He who seeks her in
wife," she continued, pushing the _sari_ back from about her head so
that the thirteen silver rings she wore in her crumpled left ear
tinkled faintly, and her nose-ring of gold set with small but real
turquoise gleamed dully, "and once wedded she will return across the
Black Water.  O father of the people, O wise one, I love her and thou
didst promise."

She suddenly beat her breast, and the heavy silver bracelets jingled
faintly, then shrank back against the painted wall as a young man, even
the jungle guide, and beautiful to the verge of unseemliness, stealing
from the shadows, smote her fiercely across the mouth, and pulled the
_sari_ roughly over her head.

"Hold thy peace and watch," he whispered, with a swift movement of the
arm, most suggestive of a cobra uncoiling itself with intent to strike,
as Leonie turned away from the doorway with a shudder.

She took two steps and stopped irresolute, with the rays of the full
moon shining upon her upturned perplexed face.

Then she stared down at the myriad things which crawled and hopped in
and out of the gleaming bones which lay about in little heaps, or
scattered in ones and twos, even up to the door and into the dim
interior.

Too absorbed, neither Jan nor Leonie noticed the murmur of voices from
the far end of the court, nor the reek of the tiger's blood which came
from her stained dress and the carcase of the dead beast which was in
the process of being skinned, and around which hovered the native staff
awaiting the distribution of the coveted tiger's fat.

Which more by faith, than any medicinal property it contains, is
supposed to work miracles in stressful times of rheumatism, and cattle
sickness.

Jan Cuxson, trying to grasp and knot together the tag ends of a dawning
knowledge, stood behind his beloved, patiently awaiting her next
desire, instead of picking her up in his arms as he should have done,
and carrying her off to safety, a good wash and a better dinner at the
other end of the court.

He was surprised when she spoke quickly and below her breath.

"Take me away," she whispered hoarsely as he caught her outstretched
hands and pulled her fiercely into his arms.  "Take me away, the place
is evil--evil I tell you--and"--she raised her hand and passed it
across his face, laughing softly, "I think I am bewitched--something
is--is--pulling--is------"

She looked back over her shoulder, stared hard for a moment, and then,
tearing herself free, ran like a hunted deer through the crumbling
doorway into the blackness of the temple.

"Who fears, O Woman?" whispered the man, whose beauty touched the
unseemly as he sank to the ground.  "Who fears?"

Half-way up the temple Leonie stopped, standing in a silver pool of
moonshine which blazed like the blade of a knife through a hole in the
roof; lighting up the ruined altar, the grass-grown stones, and the
image of a female deity carved in bas-relief upon a huge block of
granite.

Nude was the woman carved out of stone, and of so dark a blue as to be
almost black; with tongue protruding and hair in waving masses, through
which were thrust four arms; garlanded with skulls she danced wantonly
upon the body of a man, with two hands raised in blessing, in the third
a knife, in the fourth a bleeding head.

Kali!  Kali!  Kali!

If only Jan Cuxson had been able to do something, anything, what a mint
of trouble he would have saved himself and others, but instead, he
stood rooted to a spot just inside the door, incapable of moving hand
or foot, held by a force he did not even guess at, and therefore could
not fight, watching Leonie as she moved slowly forward, as though she
were walking in her sleep towards the blood-stained altar.

"So will she always come," murmured the old priest as he laid his hand
caressingly upon his well-beloved pupil.  "So will she always come.
Love?  Pah! who fears the love of man in the Black One's temple?  Who?"

And there was no answer from the shrouded future.

Leonie stood still, quite still, unconscious of the eyes about her, and
everything save the terrible problem she was trying to solve.

Then suddenly she cried aloud, and the words, like wings, beat against
the roof and walls.

"I know!" she cried, "I know!  I know!"

And whirling round towards the spell-bound man, she turned her hands,
palm downwards, with a wonderful eastern gesture of renunciation, and
crumpled into a heap before the altar, and the three watching figures
stole noiselessly back into the secret places of the temple as Cuxson,
freed, strode hastily up to his beloved.

He gathered up the unconscious girl as tenderly as a woman, oh! a good
deal more so, and turning her face to his shoulder, carried her out of
the temple; stopping for a second to hold her more securely in his left
arm as he bent to pick up something which glittered in the moonlight: a
piece of orange silk heavily embroidered in silver, for which Leonie
had ransacked the Old, the New, and the Lal Bazaars; a bit of her
ayah's _sari_ torn and caught in a sundri breather.  "And she stayed
behind on the boat," said Jan to himself, with a flash of inspiration
as he turned the thing over in his hand, and slipped it into his pocket.

And though his heart ached over his beloved's mental and physical
distress, he inwardly rejoiced at the untoward occurrences of the day
which had supplied his solid, trustworthy brain with the outline of a
key to the problem.

Dear, stolid old Jan, who, given the time, could beat anyone at
unravelling the hardest, hard-tied, knotted problem.

With a tale of sudden faintness he gave her into the care of Edna
Talbot, who cooed and fluttered over her like the woman she was, in
spite of her workmanlike appearance and her outrageous craving for a
big meal.  And she herded the sahibs to the far end of the court, where
lay the sick man, after the big meal in which Leonie had joined right
heartily; a little white about the face, truly, and shadowed about the
eyes, but normal and content, with not the vaguest recollection of what
had happened after the killing of the tiger.

"Oh! don't be dense," Edna Talbot said quite brusquely when Guy Dean,
having brutally ignored the suffering native, suggested returning to
the others.  "You surely don't want to make a triangle."

"Triangle--what!"

"Well, you know the old saying about two being company, don't you?"

"Of course I do--that's where it comes in," replied the lad not over
lucidly, "_I_ want to make the two!"

The major laughed at the rueful countenance, as he clapped the boy on
the shoulder.

"You'll get over it all right, old fellow; it's just like inoculation,
a feeble taste of something which might have been ever so much worse.
Trust me, you'll get over it!"

"_Never_!" stoutly maintained young Dean as he heaved a stone at
something which fled across the court, his mental vision failing to
register a picture of the future in which Jill Wetherbourne, daughter
of Molly and Jack, occupied the principal position.

Later, Leonie, sitting with Jan Cuxson on a block of fallen masonry,
smiled sweetly upon the head _shikari_, who, salaaming, prayed her to
honour him by accepting a little memento of the _shikar_ which had
terminated so successfully upon the slaying of the tiger.

In his open palm he held two small bones about two and a half inches in
length, two little superstitious tokens which ensure sons to the woman
who treasures them, and which, he told her in his broken English, were
only found in the tiger, one on each side of the chest, unconnected
with any other bone at all.

"It is a charm, O! Mem Sahib, defender of the poor, which will
assuredly bring you happiness.

"And may the sons of the sahib grow straight as the pine tree," he
added slowly in his own tongue, as he felt the sahib's eyes fixed
steadily upon him.

"What did he say to you, Jan?"

As the shikari turned away Cuxson caught the girl's hands and crushed
them up against his heart.

"I will tell you some day!"

"Tell me _now_!"

"No! not now!  It is of love that I should have to speak, and in all
these past weeks you have not let me touch your hand or speak to you of
love.  You have put a barrier between us, a barrier of a misplaced
fear, which has grown higher and stronger since I have had to confess
to failure in finding any trace of your old servant.  India is wide,
dear, and its villages uncountable, and _I_ am not distressed over the
empty return of these last months; all that worries me is, that while
prowling about the Himalayas out of reach of the post, I never knew
what had happened to you, or that you were in India."

Leonie sighed as she opened her hand and looked at the small bones.

"Tell me now, Jan!" she insisted.

"No!  Leonie, I cannot.  There will be no one near us when I do tell
you, and except as a souvenir of that very fine old man, you need not
keep them, because my love is a still greater and surer charm to bring
you the great happiness they promise."



CHAPTER XXXII

  "And thou shalt become an astonishment,
  a proverb, a byword."--_The Bible_.


When Leonie returned to Calcutta she found that the tale of her
courageous act which had preceded her, and of which home and local
papers had exhausted themselves in praise, had not served to endear her
to that little white community, which suffers from social myopia, and
the self-adjusted chains of what it most mistakenly calls caste.

Not likely that the feminine members of Jute, military, railway, or law
circles _would_ open their arms any wider to this young, and beautiful,
widowed creature with the mop of naturally curling hair, now that, if
so minded, she could verbally and positively flap one of the finest
tiger skins that had ever come out of Bengal in their heat-stricken
faces.

In fact some of the young ones as they wrestled with the nightly
problem of their own dank, straight particular bit of woman's glory,
would doubtless, if questioned, have upheld the Hindu custom of
completely shaving the widowed head.

Many, in fact, had been the meetings of these younger mem-sahibs in
bungalows, or flats, at Firpoes, or in clubs, where, under the pretext
of criticising the latest fashions from overseas, they discussed the
pros and cons of accepting this person into the haven of their
Anglo-Indian bosom.

The elder ones kept out of the clatter, having suffered and fought in
similar crises in their own day as had their mothers, and their
mothers' mothers before them since the days before the mutiny; being
moreover resigned to the corrugated appearance of their faces, and the,
in consequence, perambulatory instincts of their lords.

"Her _undies_," said a woman who, with the excuse of borrowing a book,
had essayed to spy out the land of Leonie's cabin.  "I saw her running
ribbons in them--the most _ex_-quisite crêpe de Chine, hand embroidered
and trimmed with _real_ lace!"

"How _de trop_!" had answered a matron, whose household _linge_ and
personal _lingerie_ showed complete only in the sections of finger
napkins and undervests, as is the way of a careless, untidy woman's
linen stock.

"Well, that's easily understood," chimed in a third.  "After all she
_is_ trade."

And the no's had carried it.

Wherefore, although in ignorance of the verdict, she did exactly what
every other woman did, and went where they went, she most certainly did
_not_ have what one would call a good time.  She loved the Maidan and
golf at the Jodhpur Club, or Tollygunge, before breakfast; she
cordially loathed shopping and duty calls; grudged the hours lost out
of life in the daily afternoon siesta, and took part in dances, bridge,
dinners, and all the usual monotonous effort to kill time, with the air
of an indifferent, disgruntled statue.

Gossip was no joy to her, scandal she would not tolerate, and the women
commenced the task of ostracism by means of half-uttered phrases and
little invidious smiles; and most men voted her _odd_ owing to a
certain indescribable barrier which they invariably encountered when
they approached her over impulsively, and which really did _not_ tally
with her enticing, bizarre beauty.

Yes! they voted her odd, certainly, but in the secret places of their
hearts and bungalows some of them would ponder.

Had not the major sahib's bearer curled himself up on the mat beneath
the bed and gone to sleep, while the major sahib, after the ball, had
sat in his shirt-sleeves upon that bed until three in the morning; and
over and over again mentally slid up and down the room with supple,
slender Leonie in his arms, where, in the earlier hours of the night,
she had rested seemingly content for one half-second before he had let
her go under the palms.

And, "Damn it all, she's not a flirt," did not a certain youthful sahib
who worshipped openly at her shrine exclaim, as he thought, in the
unpleasantly heated watches of the night, of that moment when she had
smiled down sweetly into his adoring eyes, as his cheek brushed her
hand while she was arranging her habit, and he her stirrup leather.

How _were_ they to know that, distracted by an ever-increasing fear,
and lost in an overwhelming love, Leonie had no more remembrance than
the man in the moon of the fact that she had danced with the one, and
smiled upon the other.

It was the final flare of the season in the shape of a ball at
Government House; one of those mixed massed gatherings to which you are
invited either on account of your rank, or your unblemished reputation,
or the fact that you've had the forethought to inscribe your name in
the visiting-book.

Leonie was standing with Jan Cuxson near an open door under a revolving
fan which disturbed the outer masses of the hair she had piled
haphazard upon the top of her small head, catching the great coils
together with huge pins, and strengthening the entire structure by
means of a finely wrought, diamond-hilted steel dagger, looted in the
Mutiny by a not over-punctilious forbear.

"I wonder you don't cut your hair to bits," had once remarked before a
multitude, an envious dame, whose curls reposed cosily in a box o'
nights, and who had grave doubts as to the sincerity of Leonie's tawny
locks.

"I run it through in its sheath," Leonie had replied, pulling the
sheathed dagger out as she spoke, so that her hair had fallen in a
jumbled scented mantle all over her, causing the men to put their hands
in their pockets, or behind their backs, and the women to mechanically
pat their heads; just as you fidget unconsciously with your veil, or
the curls above your ear, when someone of your own sex, and far better
turned-out, happens upon your horizon.

On this night her absurdly small feet made her head look almost top
heavy, just as the uncorseted small waist emphasised the width of her
shoulders, and the violet shadows enlarged the opalescent weird eyes
looking wearily on the scene around her.

Why didn't she go back to England if she hated it all so much?

Because she couldn't!  Because India held her and she waited upon Fate
as patiently as ever did Mr. Micawber.

"Lady Hickle ought to go to the hills, she's looking absolutely fagged!"

The male voice drifted in through the window upon a pause in the music.

"Well! continuous _sleep-walking's_ not likely to make you look your
best, is it?"

The damnable giggle at the end of the remark brought a frown to Jan
Cuxson's face as he picked up somebody's wrap from a chair, put it
round Leonie and led her unresistingly down the steps into the grounds.

It sounds better to say "grounds" rather than "compound" when speaking
of Government House.

"I--I _hate_ all this," Leonie said impulsively as she sat down on a
marble seat.  "I hate India--I--I----"

She flung her head back, and it came to rest upon the man's shoulder,
and she shivered ever so lightly when he pressed it still further back,
pinioning her arms so that she could not move.

"Leonie."

The sudden authority in the voice brought a light to the eyes on a
level with his mouth; she moved unconsciously, and Cuxson suddenly
letting her go caught both her hands in one of his, pulled her round
sideways, and jerked them up to his chin, and she laughed softly as she
fell slightly forward; and laughed even more softly when he crushed her
back again against him with his hands upon her breast.

Both heedless in their love of the eyes watching, of the hidden form,
and above all of that relentless will which causes some of us
uncontrollably to do odd things at odd moments under the Indian stars.

If _only_ he had not hesitated, if only he had turned the face to him
then and there and closed the gold-flecked eyes with kisses.

But instead he held her crushed to the point of agony against him with
his mouth upon the sweetness of her neck, leaving the gold-flecked eyes
to open wider, and still wider as they stared straight into the
shrubbery around, where the flaming poinsettia flowers looked black
under the stars.

"Beloved!  Leonie, listen----"

"_Don't!_ please don't!"

She pulled herself free and knelt on one knee upon the bench, with both
hands outstretched against him; and he, not grasping the psychological
points of the moment, sat down dumbly beside her, instead of mastering
her physically, or mentally on the spot as it behoved him to do.

Heavens! what fools some men can be with that jungle animal woman
within their hands.

"Leonie, listen dear, I want you to marry me, dear--soon!"

The words fell upon Leonie's clamouring soul as dismally as the
raindrops of your childhood fell upon the window-pane when you were
waiting to start for a picnic.

"You don't know what you are saying!" she replied.  "It is criminal
even to think of such a thing--mad as I believe I am--mad as I shall be
when I end in a padded room!"

Her voice was barely a whisper, but it cut like slate on slate, and her
eyes stared straight ahead as she continued speaking rapidly, almost
uncontrollably, and yet with a certain air of relief as though glad to
give vent in words to the horror which pressed upon her brain.

"Although you pretend it is only sleep-walking," she went on, heedless
of his efforts to interrupt her, "you know perfectly well there is
something wrong with me.  You know it, so did your father, so does
Auntie, people here are whispering it.  Yes! they are, they _are_," she
reiterated, "and they are _right_.  Something more than just being
frightened by my ayah happened to me in India all those years ago, oh!
you know it did, I'm under a spell or bewitched--sometimes I have
a--a--" she struck her forehead with her open hand as she crouched back
upon the bench like some animal at bay--"a--oh! my God--you see--I
cannot even say what it is.  Can't you tell me, Jan?  Can't you help
me?  _You_--you say you love me--you say you have found a clue--for
pity's sake follow it, follow it and save me--you--you----"

"Leonie, _look_ at me!"

Something in his voice forced her to look at him, and her eyes shone
like flat pieces of opalescent glass so contracted were the pupils, but
they widened even as she looked into the steadfast grey eyes, and her
mouth relaxed into the shadow of a smile.

Good heavens, why didn't he take her in his arms and smother her up
against his heart, or put a bag over her head, or failing the bag, put
his hand before her eyes?

What fools some men can be with the woman they love within their reach.

But instead he left her, hurt and humiliated and desolate, to sit half
crouched by herself, whilst her eyes, against all striving, slowly
veered round to the shrub.

He held her hand, it is true, whilst he talked, but what good is _that_
to a frightened woman whose heart is crying for protection, and whose
body is clamouring to be forced into submission?

"Dear," he said as Leonie stared at the poinsettia bush, "I am on the
track at last, and in a very little time shall know exactly what
happened to you all those years ago.  There is only one link missing,
and that I shall surely find, as I find everything when I set my mind
to it.  Then the whole thing will be cleared up, and this mysterious
cloud lifted from you.  Look at me, dear!"  Leonie turned and looked at
him blankly, and as he continued speaking, slowly, and as though
against her will, turned her eyes back to the poinsettia bush.  "I want
you now in your distress.  I want you in the storm as well as in the
sunshine, dear; I love to see you smile, it would be heaven to _make_
you smile.  Marry me, beloved, _now_.  Dear, won't you?  Let me lift
the cloud from my _wife_.  Oh!  Leonie, think of it--my _wife_!"

Leonie answered mechanically, as though she were repeating a lesson and
had not heard one word of the man's pleading.

"What have you found out?  And what is missing?"

"I have found the woman who was your ayah."

Leonie pulled her hands away, and pushing the hair off her forehead,
sat quite still listening, but not hearing the music as it floated
through the night air, watching without seeing the couples as they
strolled about the grounds.

And then she answered, but without any real interest, although very
distinctly, shivering slightly as the man put the wrap over her bare
shoulders.

"Have you?  And who is she, really?  Of course I know her
name--but--but what do you know about her?  I have had no answer to my
letters since I've been out here, is the poor thing still working?"

"She's--not exactly working for a living, dear, and she is--is----"

He stopped short with a world of perplexity in his eyes, then went on
as slowly and mechanically as Leonie had done.

"Perhaps, dear, I--I had--better not say any more until--until I have
everything quite clear."

And he drew his hand sharply across his eyes as Leonie sighed.

"Very well!" she replied gently.  "Just as you think best."

"Tell me you love me, Leonie, let me be sure of that, let me just hear
you say it once."

She put out both her hands, and he took them and kissed them.

"Dear, do you count me as _so_ little?  Don't you know, cannot you feel
that a love like mine endures for ever?"

"Do you still want the little white house behind the white
wall--Leonie, _do_ you!"

"Oh! Jan!"

"Well, marry me--marry me, beloved, and give me the right to protect
you--from trouble, and these slanderous, murderous tongues."

Leonie's face was lovely to behold, swept by a wave of colour, and with
eyes like stars; but she shook her head although a little smile parted
the crimson mouth.

"No! Jan!  Nothing will make me change.  Not until we know and until I
am cured.  Do you think I would risk our love, and our happiness?  I
shall never, never marry you as long as I have this--this longing
to--this desire to--to--oh! what is it.  Find out what has happened to
me, find out what I do when I walk in my sleep--just how mad I am, and
if the madness can be cured, and if it can, _then_ I will--will----"

"Yes, dear?"

"I will--will----!"

It was no pretty sight to watch her striving to speak, her mouth
opening and shutting without sound, her hands against her throat.

Then she looked at him suddenly, smiling sweetly, and put both hands in
his, while he, sick with pain and unconfessed fear, changed the
conversation abruptly by the grace of understanding.

"I think you ought to go away, Leonie--to the hills--for a change.
It's getting frightfully hot, why don't you?"

"Yes!--I might--I think I will--I'm so tired of everything--so
very--very tired!"

"Where to, dear?"

Leonie bent her head a little sideways as though listening, made a
strange little movement with both her hands, then placed the open palms
against her forehead and replied:

"To Benares!"

She had barely whispered the words, so quietly did she speak, as the
poinsettia flowers bent slightly--to a passing breeze--may be!



CHAPTER XXXIII

  "Dona praesentis cape laetus horae, ac
  Lingue severa."--_Horace_.


Leonie's first long-distance journey was just like other people's first
long-distance journey in India.

And being of the type which revels in the new and unknown, she loved it.

Who wouldn't!

The seething masses of dusky humanity enchanted her; she delighted in
the glaring colouring, the clank of the holy man's chains, the
incessant call of the water carrier and sweetmeat vendor, and the clang
of iron on iron which announces the train's departure.

She absolutely thrilled on disrobing the first night in the little
bathroom while her ayah spread her sheets and pillows and blankets upon
the lower berth; and when her bodywoman disappeared through the door
leading to the servants' compartment, she lay for a time watching the
stars, and the glimmer of passing mosque, or temple, or tomb.

Then she laughed aloud in sheer content, wedged Jan Cuxson's box of
chocolate biscuits safely into the side of the bunk, and turned to the
side table to look for light literature in the shape of a magazine.

Having acquired the pernicious habit of eating biscuits and reading
before going to sleep, she frowned upon the discovery that her ayah
appeared to have left the books upon Howrah Station; and had stretched
her arm to rap upon the wall to summon the woman, when her eye caught
sight of a paper volume lying under the opposite bunk.

India is certainly a most dusty land, but a traveller can keep his
railway compartment and boots spotless by distributing a few _pice_ to
the dusky, cheery youngsters, who, salaaming, solicit the favour of
using boot polish, or floor brush, to the mutual benefit of self and
the sahib.  Leonie, therefore, felt no repugnance when, clutching the
table with her left hand, she made a long arm and secured the book,
which proved to be a guide to India's most famous beauty spots.

She turned the leaves casually and laughed.

"Why!  I'd completely forgotten it," she said aloud, turning the book
sideways to look at an illustration.  "The wonderful tomb Guy Dean
insisted upon my visiting if I ever went to Benares.  How beautiful!
Must be the tomb of some ancestor of that young prince he was talking
about.  Oh! how beautiful, and--oh! how helpful!  I suppose some
Englishman must have left the book in the train by mistake."

She had picked up a bit of paper which had fallen from the book; a
rough time-table with directions in English as to the best means of
getting to the world-famed monument.

"That decides it," she said sleepily as she switched off the light,
pulled a miniature mosquito net, deftly arranged by the ayah, over her
head, and the sheet up to her neck.  "We get to the station
to-morrow--sometime--disembark--put luggage into cloak-room--find
elephant and--and dâk bungalow--and--oh! almost full moon--how--_how_
delicious---ride out and see the--the----"

She slept, oblivious of the fact that she was carrying out implicitly
the programme mapped out for her.

Travelling in India is real sport when the train doors are likely to
swing open at no given spot, soft-footed natives to enter
surreptitiously and disappear as quietly upon sight of your open eyes;
and guards to clamour for your ticket, while a mob collects outside
your door at the junction to look at the pretty unveiled mem-sahib
awakened from her slumber by a dignified bearer with his offering of
_chotar hazri_, which means the thrice blessed early tea-tray.

Her restless spirit was soothed by the rush of the train through the
endless plain; strange scenes, strange sights wrenched her mind from
the terrible question everlastingly throbbing in her brain; and her eye
was not quick enough to distinguish one delicate oval face from
another, or to notice that at each stopping place her ayah meandered
down the length of the train to a compartment where, in consequence of
his high caste and rank, a man sat utterly alone--unconcerned and
totally oblivious of the screaming, chattering crowd upon the platform,
of beggars, pilgrims, and _bonâ fide_ native travellers.

True, for one moment at the station where she alighted for the
world-famed tomb, she glanced back hurriedly at a native who placed
himself between her and an unsightly epileptic; and she looked back
once again as her intuition rapped out a message she did not grasp, and
her ayah suddenly besought her help with the coolies.

A dilapidated tonga, drawn by a pony of the same description, took her
and her servant to the dâk bungalow, built on a concrete platform in a
jungle clearing about two miles outside the village.

There she gave carte blanche for the arrangement of the evening trip to
the guide who materialised serenely, all smiles and extreme deference.
Bathed, and fed, she had her hair brushed for half an hour by her ayah;
refused the offer of massage, which process she abhorred, and turned in
and slept the afternoon away upon her own bedding spread on a charpoy.

Later she bathed again, attired herself in a simple low-cut, white silk
dress, dined, and wrapping herself in a heavy white Bedouin cloak,
wedding present from Jill Wetherbourne, who had got it from her
godmother in Egypt, seated herself on the verandah to await the arrival
of whatever means of locomotion the guide had chosen to take her to the
tomb.

And down the jungle path loomed the shape of a great elephant, moving
at a gentle shuffle but an almost incredible speed.

Without audible instructions it stopped in front of the verandah, threw
back its trunk, twined it gently about the middle of the _mahout_ or
driver, lifted him from his seat behind its ears and placed him on the
ground; then on a word, trumpeted shrilly in greeting to Leonie.

"Oh!" said she as she almost sprang from her chair in delight.  "Oh!"

The _mahout_ salaamed, standing in the moonlight at the animal's head.

He made a vivid eastern picture, dressed as he was from head to foot in
white, with two pleated side-pieces to the turban, hanging in suchwise
as to conceal half the face; and the guide, who had been squatting on
the edge of the path, also salaamed, smiling in glee at the mem-sahib's
delight.

"Behold, mem-sahib," he said, "is the elephant even Rama, the pearl of
the prince's stables."  His English was not quite as intelligible as
these printed words, but Leonie made shift to understand.

"I have never seen such a beautiful elephant," she said, walking up to
the great beast, followed by the guide, the ayah and the bungalow
factotum.

The mem's statement was quite within the range of possibility seeing
that her elephant lore had been gathered from the Zoo and other
low-caste specimens with their straight backs, mean tails, and long
stringy legs.

"Does the--the _mahout_ speak English, because my Hindustani is not
very good.  I would like to have the--the beauty of the animal
explained to me, and why it has its face and body painted; and why does
he, the _mahout_, I mean, wear those side pieces to the turban, they
are very unusual."

A moment's pause, during which the _mahout_ stood like a rock, and then
the guide, shuffling his feet, answered to the effect that the driver
could not speak English, but that her humble servant would translate if
the mem-sahib would deign to listen to his mean speech; that the man
was the prince's best beloved--_mahout_, he added after a second's
pause, and that the side pieces were part of the uniform worn by the
prince's head-mahouts.

Not a bit of which information was true, _mais que voulez vous_?

So they all walked round Rama the beautiful, the guide translating the
soft Hindustani into lamentable English.

Rama, it seemed, was a _koomeriah_, a royal or high-caste elephant, and
still a youth, being but forty years of age, _vide_ his ears.  His
height was ten feet at the shoulder, and would the mem-sahib note the
perfect slope of the back down to the beautiful, long, feathery tail.
Also the massive chest and head, with the prominent lump between the
eyes so bright and kind, and full of knowledge.  Notice also the deep
barrel, and short, so very short, hind legs, the heaviness of the
trunk, the plump cheeks which would indeed grace a comely elephant
maiden; count the eighteen nails upon the lovely feet, and place her
hand upon the soft skin which fell in folds about the tail.

Leonie did as she was bid and ran her hand also down the nearest
magnificent tusk, with tip cut off and ringed about the middle with
bands of gold inlaid with precious stones.

"Perfect ivory," continued the guide, "five feet in length with tip,
curving upwards with the curve of the sickle moon, and sloping slightly
from each other as though in anger."

Leonie smiled at the guide's verbal imagery, and put her hand upon a
cream coloured mark near the base of the broad trunk.

"Why, I thought it was paint!" she said, speaking over her shoulder to
the _mahout_, who, unperceived, held a fold of her white cloak in his
hand.  "This is paint, surely," she added, running a finger-tip down
the vermilion and white lines which covered the great beast's face and
sides.

It seemed that the yellowy-white blotches raised the animal's value
above that of sacksful of rubies, and the painting of the face and
sides served two purposes; one to render it easier for the animal to
find favour in the eyes of the gods, the other to bring about the same
result in the eyes of man; even as does woman when she accentuates the
night blackness of her eyes with antimony; and the slenderness of her
finger-tips with henna.

In state procession it seemed that Rama the perfect carried a gold and
jewel encrusted howdah upon his beautiful sloping back; that what was
left uncovered of his anatomy was hung with a net of silver, with
tassels of pearls; that strings of seed pearls were entwined in the
glorious meshes of hair in the beautiful tail; and that his nails were
manicured, bracelets of golden bells hung about the ankles, and buckets
of perfume poured into his bath.

"The _mahout_ has placed the humble cushioned seat this night upon the
back, mem-sahib, so that nothing shall be between the mem-sahib and the
light of the moon."

Leonie gave orders that a succulent cake full of currants and flavour
should be brought forthwith from her hamper, and having pushed it as
far back into the mouth as possible, where it was demolished to the
accompaniment of the most disgusting masticatory noises, laughed aloud
when the elephant stood on its short hind legs to show its
appreciation, and said thank you by means of a soft purring sound in
the throat.

The process of getting to the knees reminded Leonie somewhat of a
sailing vessel she had seen rolling in a rough sea, but she settled
herself comfortably in the cushioned seat and waited with glee for the
_mahout_ to get into position upon the animal's neck and order it to
rise.

"What is he waiting for?" she asked, as he made no movement.

"He wishes to know where the ayah is to sit," answered the guide.

"_Ayah_!" said Leonie, and laughed gently.  "But I am going alone!"

The _mahout_ said something swiftly.

"The way is many miles through the jungle, mem-sahib; there is no dâk
bungalow, no people, the mem-Sahibs and also the sahibs go always
accompanied."

"I am going alone," said Leonie quietly.  "Tell the _mahout_ to get up."

Upon a word of command the elephant got to its feet, and raised one
knee; the _mahout_ placed one foot upon it and swung himself up to his
seat upon the short neck, said something to the elephant, who moved off
up the jungle path, while the servants salaamed deeply to Leonie, and
again even more deeply in the direction of the elephant's head.



CHAPTER XXXIV

  "Some little talk awhile of me and thee
  There seem'd--and then no more of thee and me."--_Omar Khayyam_.


The elephant trumpeted before the gate.

The two halves of the door opened from within, clanged against the
sides, and the _durwans_ in scarlet and silver bent almost double as
they salaamed before the white woman who passed under the red-stone,
centuries-old gate upon the back of Rama the Great and Perfect.

The elephant knelt and Leonie stepped on to the marble pavement,
placing her hand for one instant upon the _mahout's_ arm to steady
herself.

She looked up and down the double line of cypress trees and gave a
little cry, which was almost one of pain, at the sight of the glory
before her; and pressing her hands above her thudding heart, longed
with all her soul for the man she loved and had denied.

For a moment she stood absolutely still, the heavy cloak swinging
gently in the slight breeze, then walked down the steps, and like some
ghost passed noiselessly beside the lily strewn water tanks towards the
marble, wondrous Tomb.  Madhu Krishnaghar, waiting until she was well
out of earshot, spoke to the elephant, bringing it to its feet, and
gave a sharp order to the keepers of the door, which caused them to
speed from the scene as fast as their feet would carry them towards the
village where they had been commanded to stay until sunrise, leaving
the girl, a prey probably to that inexplicably sensuous feeling which
the desolation, and beauty, and pity of this place arouses in _some_,
alone with the man who loved her as men love in the East.

He followed her slowly beside the water tanks, and absorbed in his love
and the joy of being alone with her, failed to catch the sharp call of
apprehension when Rama, as faithful as a dog, and far more intelligent
than many humans, rapped the ground smartly with the end of his trunk.

Having been told by his beloved master to stand where he was until his
return, and being obedient even unto death, he did not move; but he
eyed the form which had slipped in through the gates with dislike, and
shuffled his feet in distrust as the man disappeared behind the cypress
trees.

It was only a foolish curiosity-bitten _shudra_; a wretched member of
the lowest and most servile class, who, passing on his way to his
miserable hovel, had noticed the gate open at the untoward hour of
midnight, and the absence of the ferocious _durwans_.

His low caste, which is the least of all, had prevented him, up to this
day, from entering what he thought must surely be paradise; and now he
took the risk and slipped in, not only stricken with curiosity, but
obsessed with a desire to tell a wonderful tale to his patient wife and
four sons, who, because they were _his_ sons, were doomed to remain of
the lowest servile caste; as would be their sons far, oh! far beyond
the third and fourth generation.

How was he to know that a woman with unveiled face was visiting the
tomb at midnight, or that she was beloved by his master whose word was
life, or death, to those who served him.

Leonie passed through the silver gates into the tomb, and stood beside
the marble, flower-strewn sarcophagi, which lie side by side, and over
which, day and night, hangs a lighted lamp.

She did not move when a whispered golden sound fell gently through the
shadows.  Like a cobweb thread, so fine it was; like a thread of gold,
so sweet it was; rising and falling, to rise again in one throbbing cry
of love, pleading, insisting, despairing.

The echoes caught and held it in the dim corners of the marble cupola,
and answered cry with cry until the place seemed full of the sobbing of
lost souls.  Back and forth, at the girl's feet and around her head,
surging over the dead lovers, beating against the walls and roof, to
die away, sobbing, sobbing like a weary child.

Leonie, transfixed with ecstasy, stretched out her hands to catch the
dying notes; and for that infinitesimal fraction of a second, when the
golden sound crossed the boundary of human sense, felt as though she
stood upon the edge of eternity.

She turned to see the driver of elephants standing like a bronze statue
outside the doorway; but speak she could not in that dim place fragrant
with the loves of the past, neither could she support the divine pain
alone, and picking up a rose and a sprig of bay from the marble, tucked
them into the V of her bodice and walked out.

But she did speak, to remonstrate, in the sweetest, most imperfect
Hindustani in the world, when the man followed her at a quite
respectful distance.

"It is not safe for the mem-sahib to go alone," he answered.  "A wild
animal, a man, a snake, might be in hiding.  The mem-sahib should have
been accompanied by her guide."

Thus spoke Madhu Krishnaghar, who had not one evil thought about, nor
intent towards her, and who, having pushed the mandates of his religion
into the background for this one night, was living in the intoxication
of the actual moment.

Leonie walked round the outside of the marble dream bathed in
moonlight, occasionally stopping to ask a question of the man who
followed.

"Is it the tomb of an ancestor of the present prince?" she inquired
haltingly.

"No! mem-sahib! look at the lettering in black marble inset in the
white; right round the tomb run those verses from the Koran.  A
Mohammedan emperor built it--_I_ am a Hindu," the pause was scarcely
noticeable as he added quietly, "as is everyone upon the prince's
estates."

She stopped in front of one of the four towers which stand at each
corner of the marble terrace, and looked upwards.

"I am going up," she said.

"Nay! mem-sahib.  These towers are climbed only with a guide and a
lamp.  They are not clean, they are not safe.  A snake, a pariah dog, a
man might be on the stairs which wind round and round, and are as black
as a night of storm."

Leonie had climbed the few outer steps and was standing inside the
door.  Not once had the untowardness of the whole proceeding struck
her, nor had she given a thought to the fact that the man with her was
a low-caste elephant driver, not fit to touch her shoe-string.

She made no reply, and disappeared into the darkness.  You can see
fairly well up to one half of the tower, then pitch blackness surrounds
you, and you begin to feel cautiously with hands and feet for that
reason; also because just about here your head begins to whirl owing to
the stifling atmosphere, and the architect's corkscrew design.

She had no idea that the man, alarmed for her safety, was following
her, and she stopped and gasped near the top, wondering how much
farther she had to go, and almost wishing that she had not started; and
so black was it that she did not even see the white turban which was on
a level with the step upon which she stood.

Then there was a glimmer of light and more.  Presently it grew quite
light and she staggered up the last few steps, and reeled on to the
small round cupola of the tower unprotected by rails.

Well for her was it that Madhu, divining the danger, raced up the last
steps in one bound, reached her as she stood swaying on the edge, and
drew her quickly, roughly back into his arms, where, forgetting his
role of servant, his religion, caste and colour, he held her safe and
crushed against his heart.

She, with her eyes shut and her head spinning, remained there without
understanding one word of what the man was saying.

"And having held thee in my arms, how am I to let thee go," he
whispered, with his mouth near the scented masses of her hair.  "Nay, I
cannot, thou white, wonderful flower in a land of drought.  Behind the
purdah will I place thee, hidden from all eyes but mine.  Thy
body-woman shall not touch thee, for _I_ will be thy servant, and _my_
hands will draw the lace from about thy bosom, and _my_ hands will
perfume thee, and my love shall encompass thee until thou swoon upon
the ground even at _my_ feet.  Waiting for thee I have known no woman,
and I will have no wife but thee, and many sons shalt thou bear me.
Yea! each year shall see thee bowed beneath the fruit of love, for I
will not spare thee.  And thou shalt be honoured before all men; a high
estate shall be thine, and a flood of jewels and gold and grain shall
flow at thy small feet which I shall kiss.  And thou _shalt_ veil thy
face, for I would kill him, _torture_ him who looked upon thee."

Leonie opened her eyes and stared at the shimmering whiteness of the
tomb, and she smiled and did not move, for the witchery of the full
moon had fallen upon her.

"Red!" she whispered, pointing to the dull glow of dead bodies burning
somewhere near, and laughing till her teeth flashed between her scarlet
lips.

The man searched with one hand and found a small flat jewelled case in
the folds of his turban, and opening it, with the long, deft fingers
took out two pellets.

He watched her as she lay upon his arm, and suddenly forced the pellets
between her teeth, and himself laughed, as she grimaced at the bitter
taste but swallowed them.

He had not the slightest intention of doing her any harm, but with the
whole of his vividly mature brain and virgin body, he delighted in the
effect of the drug upon the woman he loved.

There was no doubt about it that she suddenly awoke to the passion of
the man looking down upon her, and responded to it.

Wave after wave swept her from head to foot, causing her body,
untrammelled by whalebone, to tremble against his, and he loosened the
white cloak and let it fall, holding her pressed to him in her thin
silk dress, laughing down at her, delighting in her eyes, her mouth,
her throat.

Handsome men are an everyday sight in India, but this man was as the
gods, and Leonie, beautiful, drugged Leonie, looked at him from the
corner of her eyes as looks the wanton, and laughed.

"I will not kiss thee," he whispered, watching the colour sweep her
face at his words, and smiling at the thudding of the heart beneath his
hand.  "Nay, I will not bruise thee nor cause thee blemish until the
purdah hangs between us and the world.  Look not at me thus-wise, and
lift not the glory of thy lips, for I will not seize thee as a beggar
seizes upon the _pice_.  I am thy king and thy slave, and I will carry
thee to the gate.  Nay, move not thy body for fear I throw thee upon
the ground and set my seal upon thee.  Lie still! and yet--why not, why
_not_! perchance _has_ the hour struck."

The man was crazed with love, and the girl intoxicated with the drug,
and they were perched up there above the world alone, in the stillness
of the Indian night.

He hastily wrapped her in the cloak, and taking her into his arms, hid
her face against his shoulder, and stood for a moment staring out
towards the spot from whence had come the ill-omened jackal cry.

"Not yet," he whispered.  "Not yet!"

Sure-footed as a goat he carried her down the winding stairs out into
the moonlight, and across the terrace, and up the marble steps, and
placed her upon the wide marble seat, and sat sideways upon it behind
her, unwitting of the miserable wretch who watched from between the
cypress trees.

Leonie sat quite still until the mystery of the place, or whatever it
is, entered into the innermost recesses of her being; and she held out
her arms to the light burning day and night above the dead lovers, and
sobbed.

Madhu Krishnaghar laid his hand upon hers on the cold marble of the
seat, and lost himself in ecstasy at the tears which welled into the
strange gold-green eyes and fell, then opening the collar of the white
linen coat, he lifted a necklace of priceless pearls over his turban
and passed it over the girl's head, holding it lightly until one end
had slid down into the scented laces of her bosom where lay a cat's-eye
on a golden chain.

"Thou white doe," he said, "thou virgin snow," and added fiercely,
"give me the rose from above thy heart, that I may press it to my
couch."

Obediently Leonie gave it, faded and warm, and looked at him with a
strange little gleam of anger in her eyes; and he, understanding that
the effect of the drug was passing, and that wrath maybe would follow
love, led her by the hand down through the double row of cypress trees
towards the gate.

Alas! a twig cracked under the wretched _shudra's_ foot, snapping with
the report of a pistol in the stillness of the night; and the man,
feeling the hands of his gods upon him, fled like a hunted hare towards
the gate.

Madhu Krishnaghar, with his face one blaze of fury, stood still and
called.

"Rama," he called.  "Rama, hold," and as the wretched creature,
forgetting the animal in his fear, sped past him, Rama curled his trunk
swiftly about him and jerked him to a standstill.

Useless to strive against that strength; useless to fight against the
gods or raise his voice in shrieking prayer.

For had he not looked upon the unveiled face of his master's woman.

Slowly Madhu Krishnaghar led Leonie up the marble steps and stopped.

"Thou dog," he said gently, "thou low-caste dog!"

Then he drew Leonie into his arms and covered her completely with the
heavy coat.

But the man, submitting to fate with the terrible resignation of the
East, let fly one last poisoned arrow.

"The dog goes to his death," he cried.  "But behold, the shame of the
lord is great, for have not the eyes of the low-caste dog rested upon
the woman's face."

"_Usko marro_!  Kill quickly!" thundered the son of princes, and turned
indifferently away.

But even as the elephant threw the man upon the ground, and placing his
foot upon his head, tore him in twain, Leonie wrenched herself free,
and flinging up her arms to the moon, laughed and laughed until the
night echoed and re-echoed with the horrible sound, stopping only when
the smothering folds of the cloak were thrown about her.



CHAPTER XXXV

  "And thou shalt grope at noonday."--_The Bible_.


Jan Cuxson, hurt to the quick at Leonie's refusal to marry him, also at
her rejection of his offer to accompany her upon her travels, shut his
hurt away, and set his mind to the completion of his task.

His suspicions had been aroused by the finding of that orange and
silver scrap of _sari_ near the temple, when the ayah had presumably
been left miles behind on the launch; and fully realising the futility
of employing the methods of the West against the subtlety of the East
he decided to pit native craft against native cunning.

The only result of the investigation, however, was that Leonie's
present ayah had been traced back via the Ranee's house to the days
when she had been in the service of the Colonel-Sahib Hetth, V.C., but
beyond that was a blank wall.

She had suddenly left the Ranee's service to become body-woman to
Leonie; without a single reference to the time when she had been nurse
to Leonie as a baby.

Who was keeping her silent, and why?  And what was she doing, and who
was she with in the deserted temple in the jungle?

Whose tool was she?

Certainly not the Ranee's.  She was wrapped up in her duties toward the
fast ageing Rajah, and her only son, who seemed much the same as other
sons of princes.

Having finally decided that the answer to the problem lay in the
temple, to the temple he decided to go, more with the intention of
having a look round than with any definite plan.

The decision was made with the fixed though unspoken determination that
if the solving of the problem should involve a sojourn of ten years in
India, for ten years he would remain.

He hired a guide and a coolie, both of whom looked exactly like any
other guide and coolie, and having much to think out, and sure thinking
being anything but a rapid process with him, also because he did not
wish to draw too much attention to his movements, he chose as a means
of conveyance the ugly flat-bottomed public paddle-boat which floats
unconcernedly down the Hoogli from Calcutta, through the bigger creeks
of the Sunderbunds, and up the Pusaka River to Kulna.

If you want a few days' rest, or time in which to unravel a knot, pray
take that means of locomotion; you can be dropped anywhere into a
_nukur_ or native boat which will deposit you for a few annas on any
island you choose, but don't do it if you are in a hurry, or are filled
with a desire to see the lesser creeks, and the quite small ones, where
tigers are supposed to sit in rows upon the water's edge, monkeys to
swing across the water by means of the creepers interlacing the dark
and dismal trees, and crocodiles to lie in tumbled masses waiting to be
turned into portmanteau, dressing-case, or shoes.

Cuxson's method and brain were rather like his gait; as he had said in
Rockham cove, he was _slow_!  He could not and never had, even at
Harrow, been able to run a hundred yards without becoming most
uncomfortably blown; but he could walk anyone to death at a set
plodding steady tramp, accomplishing twenty miles without turning a
hair; while after a series of terrific spurts, and enforced periods of
rest, his companions would give up dishevelled, sweating, and
unpleasantly mortified miles away from the desired goal.

Problems, mathematical or medical, were treated in just the same way.
The more brilliant of his fellow-students would seize upon a pen, fill
reams of paper and slap the result down triumphantly at the end of an
hour, to find themselves later, and again with mortification at the
bottom of the list, or not on it at all; whereas Cuxson, after hours of
searching here and there in the convolutions of his grey matter, would
light on a thread, a grain or a speck of dust which he would proceed to
turn inside out, or tear to pieces; the outcome of which process would
be printed at length in the _Lancet_ or some such-enlivening journal.

So he lay on the long chair in the corner reserved for sahibs, and was
not too uncomfortable, nor in any way uneasy as to the result of his
investigations, although all that he had to build his hopes upon was
the word of a native, and a piece of orange silk picked out in silver
with the dust of a sundri breather adhering, which lay in his
pocketbook with a ring of seaweed, and some glistening strands of tawny
hair.

The serang, meanwhile, parleyed with certain gatherers of _golaputtah_
which is a special palm leaf growing in the Sunderbunds for the express
purpose of thatching boats and _suapatti_ huts; and having discussed
the ins and outs, and pros and cons of the situation with every male
upon the boat, had transferred the sahib with his guide and coolie to a
native boat, after a gratifying give and take in silver rupees which
are so much nicer to handle than dirty notes.

And an old priest made sacrifice of a black kid unto his god, having
been apprised in the mysterious native way of the approaching arrival
of the last person on earth he wished to see.



CHAPTER XXXVI

  "What hath night to do with sleep?"--_Milton_.


"What a nuisance!"

Leonie turned on her bed and frowned through the chick at the two girls
who had ensconced themselves in long chairs on the verandah outside her
bedroom.

Broad-minded and big-hearted, she had tried to overcome the intense
irritation which the Eurasian manner of speech invariably aroused in
her.  Some get accustomed in time to the parrot-like monotony; some
don't; and to the end of his days the young, immaculately groomed and
turned-out assistant in Hamilton's will wonder why the beautiful girl
with gold-flecked eyes had suddenly frowned, and placing the trifle
intended for a wedding present upon the glass counter, had left the
shop with an appallingly inadequate excuse.

Fortunately for him the pukka European has not been endowed with the
gift of hearing himself speak as others hear him.

Like the broken flight of maimed birds over a lawn in the process of
being mown is the Eurasian speech and intonation; with the inevitable
dip in the middle, the rise at the end of each sentence, and the
ceaseless clipping of syllables.

And Leonie frowned as she lay under the mosquito netting awaiting the
warning of the dressing bell, and even felt thankful to a crow which
suddenly perched itself on the top twig of a fir tree, and shrieked its
condemnation of the sunset, the star just above its head, and the
chatterers in the chairs.

In an effort to break through the overpowering lethargy which lately
had fallen upon her at odd moments of the day, she lifted herself on to
her elbow, only to sink listlessly back on the very hard bed.  After
all, why worry over problems to which there seemed no answer?  Why fret
over the silence of the man she loved when she had curtly refused his
offer of companionship; for there always comes a time when mere man,
subjected to the unsatisfactory daily menu of snubs and refusals, tense
moods, and moody silences, will refuse it, and clear for a diet, which,
although somewhat lacking in salt and spice, will have the advantage of
being substantial, therefore satisfying.

Also there was no doubt about it the social ostracism of Calcutta had
followed her to Benares; she had not failed to notice that the people
packing the hotel looked at her furtively, smiling spasmodically when
caught in the act, and seemed ill at ease when left alone with her.

Another thing which annoyed her intensely was the habit she had
developed of peering into the shadows of the compound at odd moments,
and listening for a sound she could not even describe to herself, and
which she never heard; while through the blazing hours of the day, and
the stifling hours of the night, like a black thread woven into a
tissue of gold, ran the ghastly fear which had been with her since the
day when a schoolgirl had taunted her, and to which she had given voice
near the poinsettia bush to Jan Cuxson.

She had _done_ Benares en tourist.

She had watched the worshippers thronging the Praying Steps at dawn
from the deck of a boat rowed slowly up and down the holy river; had
enticed the monkeys with gram from the niches in the Doorga Kond, the
world-famed Monkey Temple; gazed fascinated and with reverence at the
firing of the pyres about the dead bodies shrouded in white or red
according to their sex upon the Burning Ghats; averted her eyes
steadfastly from the bloated bodies in process of being torn to pieces
by crows or vultures as they floated on the soft bosom of Mother Ganges
to everlasting peace; and had passed restful hours in the wonderful
ruins of the Buddhist temple some miles outside the city.

She had done all that others have done and will do, and still she
waited, doing absolutely nothing and with no excuse for loitering in
the hotel with its long broad verandah; learning much of the city's
history from the charming manager who walks with a stick, and has the
blue-green-brown shadow of the peat bog in his eyes.

"Shoo, you brute!" said one, of the girls on the verandah, and
continued speaking when the crow had flown farther afield.  "Well, the
manager says we are not to go to the bazaar to-night on any account!"

"Why ever not?"

"Says there's a row or something brewing--something to do with the
natives and their religion!"

The girl with the reddish-brown hair put a final polish to the nails,
which damned her everlastingly, as she spoke condescendingly of one
half of her forbears; while the other, a _bonâ fide_ blonde as to hair,
half opened the long sleepy brown eyes, which, combined with the shape
of her silken-hosed leg from ankle to knee branded her even before she
uttered a word.

"Don't believe it," the latter replied.  "It's a do on the part of the
guide to get more backsheesh; you simply can't trust these natives a
yard.  I'll tell you what, though," she sat up with an energy
surprising in one of her kind, "let's ask Lady Hickle.  She's _such_ a
pet, and there's _nothing_ she doesn't know about the place, she's been
here a whole month."

Followed a short spell of peace in which Leonie raised her hand to
summon her ayah squatting on the dressing-room matting, and put an end
to the incessant chattering.

But bolts do not wait upon the clapping of hands before they crash down
upon your defenceless head from out the blue, and the one destined for
her from all time hurled itself at her from out a wispy cloud of
Eurasian gossip.

"Oh! but we can't do that!" announced the peevish high-pitched voice.

"Why not?"

"Ma says we're not to be with her alone.  There's all sorts of weird
tales going round about her.  Thought you knew.  They say she killed
her first husband, and tried to stab someone in Calcutta with that
dagger she wears in her hair; that she lives on the q.t. with a
native--he gave her that gorgeous necklace of pink pearls; has been
seen with him in the compound after dark--Ma watched--and she's
positively dotty at the full moon.  Fact!  Mrs. Oswald told Ma that
there's no doubt that she's quite mad at times."

The blonde slid her slightly bowed, silken-hosed limbs to the ground,
her face the colour of greenish putty through the superstitions of one
half of her forbears.

"Let's go and find your ma!" said she.  "It's full moon to-night."

And after their departure Leonie sat very still on the edge of the bed,
with one foot tucked under her, and the other bare and very perfect
stretched down to the matting; the netting fell in folds behind her,
and her eyes stared into the corner where a one time nameless, unshaped
spook, having taken form and name at last, stood mouthing at her from
the shadows.

She started violently and looked down when her body-woman touched the
arched instep with her wrinkled, dusky hand.

Keenly intuitive, as are all the peoples of India, she had crept
noiselessly across the matting and crouched at Leonie's feet in her
desire to be near the beloved child in her distress.

There was a heaven of love and a world of indecision in the monkey
eyes, but not a trace of fear when the beloved child suddenly twisted
the _sari_ from about the sleek head and pock-marked face and shook her
violently by the shoulder.  Instead she rocked herself gently to and
fro, crooning in the toneless cracked voice of the native woman who
tends a white child and loves it.

"Missy--baba, it's ayah!" went the tuneless song, "it's ayah--it's
ayah--be not afraid, baba--baba--it's ayah--ayah--ayah."

Over and over again she repeated the words with her eyes on the
terror-stricken face above her.

"Why!" said Leonie, frowning till her straight brows met as she pressed
the palms against her temples, "why, you used to sing that in--in--you
used to call me--in the name of all the gods, woman, tell me--help me,
oh! help me to understand!"

Great tears stood in the native woman's eyes, and she opened her mouth
to speak, then turned her head slightly and looked towards the chick
which had rustled; scowled, and bowing her head ever so little placed
the palm of her hand against her forehead for an instant.

"Won't you or _can't_ you speak?" said Leonie almost roughly, her voice
ending on a sharp note which changed to a little bubbling uncanny laugh
as she sat back on the bed holding her ayah at arm's length.

She took no notice of the dressing-bell when it clanged throughout the
building, nor of the swish of the water as it was heaved into the tin
bath in the bathroom, but sat on with the plaits of her hair coiled
like snakes on each side of her, and the whiteness of her bare arms and
shoulders shining in the light from the bathroom.

"Ayah! ayah!" she said in a dull sing-song sort of way, "do you know
what they say?  Do you know what they think?  They think, they say I'm
_mad_!  And do you know I think I am.  Sometimes there's the sound of
drums in my brain, great big drums beaten by giants, and sometimes the
sound of bells.  And the sound of the bells is hot, it burns great
scars on--on--and there are hours for which I can't account, and cuts
and bruises on my feet and--and----"

Very quietly the native woman rose, and passing one arm behind the bare
shoulder drew a hand across the low broad forehead, singing in her own
tongue so softly as to be almost inaudible.

"I dream of blood, ayah," went on Leonie, "so often--so often--it is
warm to the fingers and drops so--so slowly--and----"

The ayah pressed her fingers a little as she drew them behind the ears
to the nape of the neck, and raised her voice ever so slightly in the
Vega chant she had learnt as a lullaby.

"The women," she crooned, "that are lying on a bench, lying on a couch,
lying in a litter; the women that--are--of--pure odour--all--of them
we--make--sleep!"

The cracked voice sank suddenly as her child's face softened and
relaxed, but the dark hand passed to and fro ceaselessly above the eyes
and down behind the ears.

"It walks so softly, ayah--it's--it's in that--corner now--look! can't
you see--its--its eyes--and the small--light--and she is--she is
calling--calling--just as she--has--has--always----"

The tawny head fell backwards on to the white _sari_ picked out in
coloured silk, pulling it away from the head, and the marriage dower of
thirteen silver earrings in the left ear, and the turquoise studded
nose ring which shone dully in the dim light.

"And it's dark--it's--quite----"

Leonie slept, and her neighbours in the dining-room went through
certain anatomical gymnastics such as lifting the eyebrows, shrugging
the shoulders, and pursing the lips, all of which are supposed to
denote suspicion; while the native woman kept guard behind the reed
blind through which she watched a figure clothed in spotless white
flitting among the shadows of the trees.

When those shadows marked the hour of midnight she sprang quickly to
her feet.

With one violent uncontrollable movement, Leonie had risen to her knees
with the tips of the fingers of one hand against her lips and her eyes
slanting sideways towards the window near her bed.

"Hush!" she whispered.  "Listen!"

Very softly, very sweetly there fell upon the night air the single
stroke of a temple bell.

Once it fell, and twice, and yet again.  And as it stopped the night
was filled with the dull faint throbbing of many drums.

Calling! calling! calling!


Hidden in the shadows close to the reed blind, Madhu Krishnaghar
watched the girl with intent half-shut eyes as, outlined against the
dim light from the dressing-room, she twisted the heavy plaits of hair
about her head, pinning them with the diamond hilted dagger; then
stripping her flimsy garment from her, lifted the sheet from the bed,
and twisted it deftly about her waist; watched her as she mechanically
took a white _sari_ embroidered in silver from the ayah, and without
hesitation folded it in true native fashion about her body and small
head.

The light of his religion flared into a flame of love and passion
almost uncontrolled when Leonie, lifting the chick, stood by his side
in the full light of the moon, with a smile of welcome on her lips, and
the light of unholy knowledge in her eyes.

Quite close to him she stood with one hand upon his arm, as he hung
garlands of scented flowers about her neck, and then with a little
beckoning gesture was gone; and the ayah crouching on the floor, beat
her withered breast with her withered hand, a world of doubt in her
monkey eyes.

Like two white moths they flitted through the gloom and the hanging
ropes of the banyan trees, down the narrow native path, and on through
strangely empty streets and deserted bazaar to the Praying Ghats.

The air beat about them with the incessant throbbing of many drums,
calling to prayer--calling to sacrifice.

Calling! calling! calling!



CHAPTER XXXVII

  "Let us pass our lives at Benares, living by the banks
  of the divine river, clad only in a single garment, and
  with our hands uplifted over our heads."--_The Vairagya Sataka_.


The Praying Ghats or Steps lay desolate in the light of the full moon.

Hundreds of small lights twinkled and flickered before the countless
temples; hundreds of fading flower garlands, hung about the temple
doors or festooned about the gods--some of which are quite
indescribable--perfumed the night air; and to the right and to the left
the smouldering bodies on the Burning Ghats cast a crimson glow on the
slow, silvery waters of India's most holy river.

Of worshippers there was not one.

Of the countless priests who crowd the steps at dawn there was but one.

The mad priest.

Naked save for a loin cloth, he stood as he always stands from dawn to
dawn with feet wide apart and hands upraised to the heavens, outlined
against some one of the Rajah's palaces which crown the top and stretch
the length of the terraces like a mighty rampart between the holiness
of the place, and the fret and traffic of the outer world.

The holy man's arms, his legs, his emaciated body are covered with a
fine ash powder, his long hair is matted with cinders and cow-dung, his
mad eyes stare across the river into the infinite, at that which _we_
cannot see, as he stands shouting unintelligible, maybe mad words,
maybe not, to the glory of his goddess, Kali the Terrible.

Was he born mad? no one knows!  What does he eat or drink?  A handful
of rice, a sip of water from his glittering bronze vessel!  When does
he sleep?  No one can tell you.

Who knows! who cares!

He is a holy man! the mad priest of the Holy City!

He alone had taken no heed of the incessant resistless throbbing of the
drums behind him in the city; neither did he take notice of the two
white figures as they ran lightly, swiftly, hand-in-hand down the
sunken, crooked, granite steps to a place between the praying rafts at
the water's edge.

For a moment Leonie hesitated with the water lapping her feet on the
third step, then she turned her head slowly, and looked straight into
the man's eyes which had been fixed intently on the nape of her neck.

She gave a little sigh, drew out the dagger and let fall the plaited
glory of her hair, and lifting the garlands from about her neck threw
them out on to the waters; then with a native woman's movement pulled
the _sari_ backwards from her head, and unwound it from her shoulders
which gleamed like ivory in the moonlight.  Slowly, but without
hesitation, even as the man dropped his shawl and long white garment
upon the waters, she untwined the _sari_ from about her body, dropped
it across a _suttee_ stone, and the dagger upon the step behind, and
stood swaying gently with naught but the sheeting about her waist and
limbs.

The man, naked save for a loin cloth, stood like some splendid bronze
statue two steps lower; straight as a pine was Madhu, the descendant of
princes, with a width of shoulder most unusual in the native of India,
and which served to emphasise the slimness of the waist.  Muscle
rippled under the bronze skin of back, and chest, and limbs; and
between the breasts gleamed the painted symbol of his religion, just as
it shone between the brows.

The lean face with its hawk nose, and curved mouth set close in a
straight line, had the look of an eagle as he stood gazing up at the
girl with burning eyes, in which fanaticism, heightened by the lapping
movement of the holy water about his knees, warred with an overwhelming
passion roused by the slenderness of the white girl's waist, the
virginity of her beautiful breast, and the satin whiteness of her skin.

And she placed her hand in his and followed him submissively down the
steps.

The waters bathed her ankles, her knees, her waist, as she made a cup
of her two hands and drank of the holy water; the jackals yelled from
the far shore, and the unseemly body of a dead youth floated past face
downwards a few yards away.

For some long minutes she stood with her face uplifted, then dipping
her hands again into the water raised them and poured it upon her head
until she glittered as though beset with diamonds.  Strange little
movements she made to right and left with both hands, circles she drew
on the face of the waters, and the man within an inch of her beautiful
body stood with arms folded hiding his hard clenched hands.

Raising both arms straight above her head she called aloud in answer to
the spirit which moved her:

"Flowing on, devoted to it," she cried in the soft words of India's
holy writ, "by day and by night flowing on; I, of desirable activity,
call upon the heavenly waters!"

From the temple above the mad priest took up her words as he scourged
himself in the ecstasy of his worship, and shouted:

"Kali!  Kali!  Kali!"

Which eerie solitary cry brought the pigeons out of their nests in
thousands, to wheel and whirl madly in their fright before resettling
in the facade of the palaces, of the niches and nooks of the temples,
and the slender minarets of the Mosque of Aurangzeb.

Bending backwards Leonie laughed up at the priest above, whose body was
running blood, then descending the last three steps worn by the feet of
thousands of pilgrims, and tilted by time and the resistless waters,
flung out her arms and sank beneath the surface while the great plaits
of hair floated towards the man and crept about his waist like loving,
living arms.

Three times she sank, and three times she rose, singing gently to
herself, while great tremors shook the man from his turbaned head to
his slender feet.

Love or religion?  Who knows!

Are they divided by much more than the breadth of a hair?

Leonie turned and walked up the steps, the wet heavy sheeting hobbling
her about the knees and ankles, clinging to her as the skin to the
peach, her dripping hair making little pools of holy water upon the
holy steps; until, standing upon the one where lay the little crumpled
heap of her silken _sari_, she unplaited it and shook it out in the
night breeze.

She picked up the _sari_ and the dagger, and ran a finger along the
razor edge, looking sideways at the man who moved not an inch when she
drove the point of the blade beneath the skin above his heart until the
blood ran; neither did she move when he dipped his finger in his own
blood and marked her between the brows with the sign of Kali.

The mad priest, frothing at the mouth, swooned upon the slanting temple
roof, the drums were silent, the jackals had ceased their indecent
noise, being intent doubtless upon the task of tearing some body to
pieces before the arrival of the hosts of enemy pariah dogs; and
Leonie, beautiful, bewitched Leonie, holding the white _sari_ picked
out in silver against her breast, held out her hand, and with the
sweetest, maddest laugh in all the world sped like a deer up the great
nights of steps.

And at the top when the man, moving swift and as surefooted as a buck,
closed in upon her, her heavy drapery folded itself soddenly about her
ankles so that when she essayed to save herself she twisted round and
fell backwards.

Her mouth quivered in a smile, and her eyes, like stars, flashed back
into the flaming ones so near her own as the man, lost to all but his
consuming love for the girl, bent above her, and with slender hands
crushed her back against the edge of the steps until the skin of her
shoulders was torn and bruised.

"As the creeper!" he said, whispering the words of the Vega hymn with
his eyes staring straight into her eyes.  "As the creeper has
completely embraced the tree so do thou embrace me, that thou mayest be
one loving me, that thou mayest be one not going away from me!"

He smiled softly as she half raised her arms and whispered to her, the
words sounding like a summer breeze blowing upon the hill-top.

"As the eagle, flying forth, beats down his wings upon the earth, so do
I beat down thy mind, that thou mayest be one loving me, that thou
mayest be one not going away from me!"

And his delicate finger-tips pressed about her temples as he whispered
to her.

"As the sun goeth at one about the heaven--and--earth here, _so do I go
about thy mind_, that thou mayest be one loving me, that thou mayest be
one not going away from me!"

Slowly he bent still closer, and gently put one hand upon the gracious
curve of her slender throat; and Leonie, wanton, seductive, bewitched
Leonie smiled as she too whispered in the tongue of India's holy writ.

"Let yon man love me; being dear to me let him love me; ye gods send
forth love, let yon man burn for me.

"That yon man may love me, not I him at any time, ye gods send forth
love, let yon man burn for me!"

The silence which followed was pierced by the call of the holy conch
shell, so low, so sweet, to prayer, to sacrifice.

Those who have not heard that call can never understand, those who have
heard will forgive this feeble description of the intoxicating,
soul-shattering, maddening sound.

Soft and sweet it will steal insidiously into your ear, your brain, and
the whirlpool of your senses until you stand rooted in ecstasy in a
flooded field of sweet desire.  Rising swiftly and shrilly it will tear
like racing waters at the ramparts we and our forefathers, have
assiduously and mistakenly built around our inner selves; built until
you and I and our neighbour have been metamorphosed through the ages
from that mighty thing which went forth and took exactly what it
wanted, to the almost shapeless slug form which, in the peace times of
the present enervated century, contentedly eats lettuce in the damp
seclusion of an overturned flowerpot.

Yes! that call will pull those ramparts to pieces about your feet; and
at the last indescribable, insistent scream of triumph which sears your
brain and soul, it would be wise to be on the look out, and to keep a
strong hand upon the vows you may have vowed, and upon those of the
commandments you may not already have broken; because at that strange
seductive sound the solid chunks of love, honour, chastity and right
thinking; everything, in fact, that is in any way decent and above
board is likely to break into a thousand infinitesimal, unconsidered
atoms, and be blown broadcast by the wind of indiscretion.

Leonie lay still, unconscious of the sound and the subtle change
creeping over the man who bent down to her, and who, high caste,
over-educated, overstrung, aflame with love and afire with the
sensuality of his religion, slowly tightened his hand upon the gracious
curves of the slender throat.

Years ago Kali, his dire deity, had been outraged by denial in her
desire for sacrifice, and since then, in her wrath, the black goddess
had scourged the land with plague, pestilence, famine, and earthquake.

Truly sacrifice of goats and buffaloes had been made until the altars
and the courts of her temples ran blood; offerings had been made to her
priests of grain and jewels, yet had she continued to whip the land
until thousands died of hunger and disease.

Why should not his hand bring the long-desired and long-sought peace to
his well-loved land, and what more fitting place and time for sacrifice
than the steps of the Holy River, under the light of the full moon
which is Kali's lamp?

Ah! and why should he not have his earthly reward in love, one short,
full hour of the delight he had denied himself, and then, even upon the
_suttee_ stone, that little memorial of the burning alive of the young
widow upon the funeral pyre of the beloved husband, drive the diamond
hilted dagger through the soft breast in worship of his god, and
through his own heart that he might follow his beloved quickly as she
passed to Paradise.

Yes! sacrifice of the woman he loved that his god might be twice
pleased.

He was crazed with the delirium of his religion, mad with the call of
the senses lashed to frenzy by the restraint which had been unnaturally
forced upon him throughout his life; his eyes had the look of the eyes
of those gods who spy down upon you from the shadowy corners of India's
temples, and his nostrils dilated as he touched the dagger in her hand.

Only for a moment!  For even as he touched it the single beat of a drum
fell heavily upon the air, causing him to sit back on his heels with a
smile upon the full curved lips, and a light of sudden understanding in
his eyes.

There was more toward than a mere sacrifice!

The Holy City was, and had been for days, in a positive ferment of
religious excitement; the bazaars were thronged with pilgrims who, by
boat and train and on foot, had hurried to the city of a thousand
temples.

Something unusual was in the air although no one could clearly explain
what it was; something was to happen although no one could name the
hour or the day!

Rice, and flowers, and jewels cemented with blood had been thrust into
and pressed down until they completely filled the great crack which had
suddenly appeared before the altar of the oldest and most venerated
image of Kali, the Goddess of Destruction, in the Holy City; and the
foreigner had been warned not to place his profane foot within the
precincts of the city upon this night of the full moon.

The native laughed as he sprang to his feet, standing bare and
exceeding beautiful beside the indescribable graven images; and he
laughed as he searched in the folds of his turban, and having found the
pellets bent down and pressed them between Leonie's teeth, then jerked
her to her feet, steadying her with his eyes.

He flung her back against the kiosk wall, and encircling her with his
arms drove them fiercely down and against her as he met his splendid
teeth in the whiteness of her shoulder--in love; and taking her hand
sped with her to the inner places of the city, shouting as he ran in
the frenzy of his religion.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

  "Neither let her take thee with her eyelids."--_The Bible_.
  "And making a tinkling with their feet."--_The Bible_.


The bazaars were moving in one solid mass in the direction of, but not
to, the Cow Temple.

For hours the endless streams had moved inch by inch through the narrow
streets lined with shops and gaily painted houses, towards the heart of
India's Holy City.

Young women and old, young men and old, children, fakirs and holy men
pressed patiently forward, impelled and called by some mystic summons
they could not explain.

There was no pushing nor striving, neither was there laughter nor any
kind of merry-making, although a flower garland hung around every neck,
although the multi-coloured raiment was of the best and cleanest and
brightest, and the different marks of the different religious sects
shone as though fresh painted between the eyes and upon the face and
body.

The holy cows walked slowly with the people, hung with garlands and
painted on the face and sides; holding up the traffic as, unafraid,
they snuffled their velvety muzzles in the unguarded baskets of grain,
and pushed their way unconcernedly and by holy right across the human
stream into the Cow Temple as they passed the ever-open door.

There was certainly no pushing nor striving to get one before the
other, but underneath the calm pulsated a certain restrained
excitement, to be read in the light of the thousands of eyes, and the
extraordinary spasmodic, almost uncontrolled, movements of the delicate
dusky hands.

Mothers would suddenly jerk their children up into their arms and press
their little faces against one of the thousands of tiny shrines, where
the gods sit all day and all night behind the bars through which are
thrust offerings of flowers, of food, of jewels.

Men would suddenly strip themselves of all except the loin-cloth and,
casting their clothing at the feet of some holy man, proceed calmly
upon their way.  One out of a number of beautiful, fragile girls, with
cast-down painted eyes and half-veiled face, for no apparent reason
would sidle up against some man; rest for one moment against him, and
continue with him upon the road, his arm about her, crushing her body
to his; and the drums throbbed, and the horns screamed in and around
the temple of their goddess.

Yet one did strive, and, heedless of rebuke, did push her way
ruthlessly through the throngs, slipping on the greasy pavement covered
with refuse and cow-dung; sliding, ducking, squirming her way in and
out, breathless and dishevelled, with a simple brown _sari_ slipping
from about her sleek head and pock-marked face.

Her monkey eyes flashed this way and that in search of something or
someone she could not find; her withered hands beat her withered
breast; the sweat streamed down her face until at last the crowd gave
way, and looking upon her as one mentally afflicted, helped her
stumbling passage up to and through the temple gateway.

Priests stood at the entrance to the outer court of the temple.  They
did not stand there, as do the ushers in the West, in order to keep the
riff-raff, those humble, poverty-stricken children of God, from
occupying the plush-covered seats in His House; but knowing the
intimate connection between religion and the senses, and the limited
space of the court of sacrifice and the temple itself, they stood there
in order to keep a finger upon the pulse of that mass of humanity's
passions.

The full moon flung her silver on to the stained worn flags of the
roofless court; hundreds, thousands even of tiny wicks in tiny
earthenware saucers flickered in the niches and on the outer edge of
the walls; hundreds of torches flung a smoky veil around the restless
figures passing in and out of the narrow entrance, and over dark heaps
which lay at the foot of the walls and in the corners.

Black heaps which, lay upon dark carpets, heaps big and small which
seemed to move, around which hung an overpowering, sickening stench of
blood.

Heaps revealed when touched by the fluttering drapery of some
worshipper to be the decapitated bodies of goats and bullocks lying in
their blood, and from which would rise the millions of ever-moving
flies which had given them a semblance of life in the torch-light.

Millions of flies, bloated offences, which settle for a second heavily
on your face or arm and fly slowly back to their feasting.

It had been a day of stupendous sacrifice, and the place ran blood.

From the inner temple came the sweet never-stopping clang of a silver
bell, as in one continuous stream the worshippers climbed slowly up the
flight of steps, passed in, struck one note by swinging the tongue of
the bell to announce their arrival to their goddess, and passed out;
while babies of both sexes, naked save for a silver bead upon their
rotund little bellies in the male, or a profusion of tiny bracelets and
a nose-ring in the female, heaped the flower offerings in masses at
Kali's feet.

Kali!  Ah! formidable, terrible image graven in stone!

Pictures, highly coloured and blatant reproductions which will shock
your artistic sense, can be bought for a few annas at the native shops
which swarm outside the temple walls; but it is probable, nay, it is
certain that not a single one of the Europeans who may read this book
will ever see the original goddess in all her terror, and all that
inexplicable power with which she holds the Hindu multitudes in the
palms of her black hands.

Black, and crowned and heaped with jewels, she looks down at, or
through, or over you with her slanting fish-shaped eyes.  Her small
ears, her flat nose, her arms, her pendant breasts are smothered in
priceless gems; a huge red tongue protruding through the stretched
mouth hangs far down upon the chest, ready to lick up the flames of
sacrificial fires; a magnificent tiara binds the black hair which
streams in masses behind her small distorted body; rows of pearls,
flower garlands, and a string of skulls hang about her short neck; one
hand holds a knife, the other a bleeding head, two are raised in
blessing, while behind her shines a sun of flaming tongues of fire, and
over all is spread an umbrella.

Yet it is not the horror of the repulsive physique hewn in stone which
holds you breathless before her; you know it is stone you are looking
at, just as you know that the Sphinx is stone; but as with the Sphinx
you feel the life of centuries throbbing through the carved monster;
you feel that its breath, which is about you, is the wind which has
swept across the desert places and teeming cities of the East; you feel
that the eyes which are upon you have seen all things; in fact you are
almost mesmerised by the force of ages into falling upon your knees in
worship, before you suddenly wrench yourself violently round to face
the sun outside the open door; and even as you do it involuntarily put
your hands to your neck, upon the nape of which, by the suggestion of
unconfessed fear, you have felt the stealthy, longing, jewelled fingers.

On this night the slanting fish eyes of the goddess seemed to look
through the doorway, and to linger upon the exquisite figure of a child
dancing upon the extreme edge of the terrace between the two flights of
steps.

Dancing!--hardly that, as she stood, her body swaying slightly in the
whirl of her mixed emotions, and totally unconscious of four young men
who, arms entwined, stood below, watching the beauty of her body and
her movements with half-shut eyes.

Her ankle-length, full muslin skirt swung this way and that, as she
moved slightly from her bare, over-slender waist, which accentuated the
wonder of the young bosom out of all proportion in any but an eastern
maid of ten years.

Jewels flashed in her delicate nose and ears, and on her slender
fingers and parted toes, for was she not on the eve of her marriage,
this little maid?  Who, finding herself upon this unwonted night, alone
for the first time in her life, had broken purdah, with her senses
strung by days and nights of never-ceasing preparation for her
marriage; during which she had been massaged by skilful, cunning hands;
bathed and perfumed, forced to dance, forced to over-feed; until roused
to a pitch of terrible excitement by drugs and curiosity, and the
religious ecstasy of all around her, she had crept out alone, and into
the temple with the teeming multitude to dance for the glory of her
goddess.

Her little feet made patterns in the dust as she turned slightly, this
child of ten, until her snake-like arms seemed stretched in invitation
to the four pairs of burning eyes fixed upon the virgin beauty of the
little body.

Who noticed in all that crowd when four pairs of hands shot up and
seized her about the knees, lifting her gently down, or who, in the
tumult, heard the cry smothered in the muffling cloth of a white coat
in a distant shadowed corner.

And one dead body more or less in the morning, what does it signify or
matter in a place which reeks of blood?

And just as this happened, and just as a dishevelled pock-marked woman
stole swiftly up the temple steps, every face turned in one direction,
and wave after wave of indescribable excitement swept the multitude.

And yet there was nothing, no sound, no sight to account for it; only
the high priest, tall and terrible, with the face of a Roman emperor or
a Jesuit, came from behind the altar and stood at the open door,
looking first at the throngs and then at a mass of black cloud which,
as is sometimes the way in India, had suddenly spread itself towards
the east, and was slowly climbing the heavens.



CHAPTER XXXIX

  "The gods approve
  The depth, and not the tumult of the soul."--_Wordsworth_.


"What a frightful row the natives are making in the city," was the
fractious comment of one heat-distracted tourist to another through the
mosquito netting which divided the two beds.

"Disgraceful!" peevishly assented the other as she turned restlessly
upon the thin, hot mattress, and heaved the one thin sheet to the foot
of the hot bed.

A sharper note had topped the heavy murmur which, like the rumble of a
distant sea, had beaten the air without ceasing throughout the night.

A film operator would have said that a crowd had woken up; a London
policeman, that a crowd was turning nasty, as the sharp note went
crescendo right along, until it took the definite tone of thousands of
human voices upraised in unrest of some kind.

This way and that surged the multitude, bowing unconsciously before the
gusts of passion which swept from every quarter.

The fret of the thousands of feet upon the paving sounded a silky
accompaniment to the strange throaty murmur of fast rising religious
hysteria; sharp, uncontrollable cries stood out like steel pencilling
against the velvet monotony of the throbbing drums; the never ceasing
tinkle of rings, and clanking of bracelets and holy chains against the
blare of the horns sounded as out of place as a child singing in a
thunder storm.

The high priest, with the face of Rome, with a beckoning gesture, drew
towards him other priests.  Some also with the face of Rome, and some
with the face of the field labourer; some, gaunt and stern; some, jolly
and rotund; well, just like any gathering of clergy, of any creed, you
can see any day, in any country of Europe.

The chiming of the silver bell had stopped when the worshippers, upon
the peremptory command of the priests, fled pell-mell out of the temple
and down the steps to join the frenzied crowd; while from the direction
of the Praying Ghats there arose a roar of voices as two slim figures
sped swiftly up the narrow lane, which seemed to open of its own accord
before them.

The woman, clad from the waist downwards in one linen piece, came
running swiftly, lightly, undisturbed, almost hidden in the masses of
her hair blown before her by the rising wind.

Her naked body gleamed in the mixed lights; one hand, thrust out
through the hair, held a dagger with diamond hilt; the other was
clasped in the hand of the man who ran evenly and steadily beside her.

There was not apparently an inch of space to spare in all those narrow
streets; but by the madness of religion which drove the packed humanity
back against the walls, a way was made for her who appeared to the
multitude as the long-promised earthly incarnation of the Goddess of
Death.

When she had passed, those who were against the wall remained there,
standing crushed to death, supported by the indifferent neighbours who
had helped to drive in their ribs; and those who had slipped to their
knees in religious fervour, or by reason of the state of the street,
also remained prone upon the ground, the mass of people treading
indifferently upon their broken backs and necks, while the threatening
heavens were rent with screams of physical agony and cries of sensuous
delight.

Straight up the steps ran Leonie, and into the interior of the temple,
just as a priest, a lad, with his face twitching spasmodically, and
calling upon his god, fell dead at her feet, smitten by the force of
his religion.

Leonie, throwing up her arms, laughed as she put her cut and bleeding
foot upon the boy's neck--laughed until the place pealed and echoed
with the unseemly clamour, causing the crowds outside, held only in
check by the mental force of the handful of priests, to strain against
the invisible hypnotic barrier, and cry to high heaven for a sacrifice.

Then Leonie turned about and ran out on to the terrace, standing a
ghastly, beautiful figure before the multitude; and only a pair of
monkey eyes, in a pock-marked face, hidden by the deep shadows of a
corner inside the temple, saw the high priest with _roomal_ in hand,
creep stealthily up behind the girl.

No one in the tumult heard the growling of the elements; no one noticed
the clouds bent on enveloping the moon; no one but the pock-marked
woman understood what was towards for the appeasing of the outraged god.

"Blood!" screamed the tight packed ranks; "a sacrifice of blood!  Kali
is hungry!  Kali is thirsty!  Give unto the Black Mother that which she
demands!"

Leonie flung up both arms and laughed, even as the high priest drew
back one step, scowling at the averted sacrifice.

"A sacrifice!" went up the cry from thousands of throats; "a sacrifice!
a sacrifice!"

Again Leonie flung out both arms, and, just as the _roomal_ was
slipping over the small head, with the scream of a tigress whose cub is
in danger, the ayah leapt straight at her beloved child, wrenching the
knotted handkerchief from the priest's hand.

A horrible cry of disappointed blood lust shook the very earth; drums
beat, horns screamed, daggers flashed in the dense mass, and fingers
met round many a throat.

They were mad indeed the people, but none so mad as Leonie as she stood
with feet apart glaring down at the ayah's sleek head, which she held
by the hair, in one hand.

So mad was she that the priests drew back as from one divine; all but
the high-caste youth who stood unnoticed amongst them and who advanced
one step as Leonie raised her face to the moon.

"She of the full moon," she chanted, "was the first worshipped one with
depths of days, of nights.  They who, O worshipful one, gratify thee
with offerings, those well doers are entered into thy firmament!"

To which the waiting multitude thundered a response.

"A sacrifice!  A sacrifice!  A sacrifice!"

Over and over again went up the cry as men and women and children fell
foaming to the ground, "and conches and kettledrums, tabors and drums,
and cow-horns blared."

Then came a silence, deep, sinister, and foreboding; only for one
second before it was broken by a gasp, the catching of the breath in
ecstasy of thousands of mankind.

And followed screams of pure delight as Leonie flung back her hand, in
which gleamed the diamond hilted dagger, just as a terrific peal of
thunder crashed upon the searing flash of lightning, which flamed from
the dense clouds as they swept over and blotted out the moon.



CHAPTER XL

  "Could I come near your beauty with my nails,
  I'd set my ten commandments in your face!"--_Shakespeare_.


Leonie was sitting on the edge of her bed waiting for the _gharri_ to
take her to the station; she had lunched and breakfasted in her
bedroom, in fact she had lived there since her interview with the
manager, which had been indescribably unpleasant for him, in that it
had been so distressing to the gentle girl as she had sat and nodded
her head and looked at him out of agonised, forgiving eyes.

The hotel _en masse_, at least the feminine portion of it, had had a
prior interview with the manager which had been _superlatively_
unpleasant for him.

Coerced by a force which was closely allied to the brute; almost
shouted down when he essayed to argue in favour of the hounded girl;
threatened by the immediate transfer of the entire visiting list to the
books of a rival hotel, he had ultimately owned to defeat; and Leonie
sat on the edge of her bed, staring vacantly into the denuded
dressing-room, while the native staff, yea! even unto him who had done
her no service, buzzed round in the vicinity of her door.

Strange things had happened, things undefined, and therefore not
capable of bearing the light of honest dissection or discussion.

What _had_ happened during the night of rioting--so-called--in the
city?  What had been the meaning of those white-robed figures which had
fluttered near her door?  And oh! why had her faithful ayah been found
on the edge of the river the morning after, stabbed through the heart?

As if anyone in India with any sense at all _would_ make inquiries
about the last event.

All that and a lot more! and quite enough to slam the gates of heaven
or the hotel upon any lovely woman on her own!

Yes! but--did all _that_ really do the actual slamming?

Not a bit of it!

It was the most convenient excuse the womenfolk could find to hang upon
the peg of jealousy which had been knocked into the wall of feminine
conceit and bad intent, by the hammer of Leonie's beauty, and
irritating indifference to both men and women, especially the former.

Let any woman lure to her side some other woman's own particular bit of
masculine property; poach successfully upon her understocked male
preserves; and figuratively, maybe verbally, most assuredly positively
if she live east of Blackfriars, the claws of jealousy will be
sharpened upon her; _but_--ignore the bit of masculine property, pass
it by on the other side, consider it as belonging to somebody else,
leave the preserves severely alone, and vials of execration, anathema,
and denunciation, which are all synonyms for the same thing, will be
poured upon her because of her lack of the appreciative faculty.

Fact!

Very few women can see the difference between joyfully hoarding genuine
antique pewter, and wearing a second-hand négligé.

So Leonie was fleeing home via Calcutta, and she sat without movement,
hating herself and the world, even the man who, having taken her at her
word, had left her alone to stumble as best she could along the
crooked, lonely road which would end, as far as she could see, in a
padded cell.

"How could you?" she suddenly cried aloud, and the natives made
surreptitious signs, and withdrew to a certain distance out of respect
to the disorder of her mind.  "How _could_ you leave me!  Didn't you
_know_ that it is because I love you so that I would rather _die_ than
let you share my curse?  But couldn't you have done _something_, tried
to follow that clue, gone somewhere, oh! done _anything_ just to show
that----!"

The rumble of wheels cut her agitation short, and drew the native
element closer to the door, in order that it should be quite near the
mem-sahib when she appeared--with her purse in her left hand.

And while she sat on her bed, and later on in the train, striving to
break the mental thongs which bound her to some intangible stake, Jan
Cuxson was sitting in the secret places of the jungle temple, striving
to break the bonds of raw hide by which he had found himself fastened
to a ring in the wall.

As he struggled he speculated savagely upon that insensate sense of
security, common to most Britishers, which had caused him to try and
find the Hindu temple under the guidance of an unknown native.

He mentally reviewed his journey from the boat to the temple, fighting
through the tiger-grass, breaking through the delicate impeding
branches of the sundri trees, crushing the sundri breathers under his
heavy boots as he tramped behind the guide, having failed to notice,
owing to the resemblance that exists between one ordinary native and
the next, that the guide and coolie of the jungle were not the guide
and coolie of the paddle boat.

He remembered that once he had stopped dead and laid a detaining hand
on the guide's shoulder, as through the darkening forest had come a
cry, eerie as it wailed through the shadows, to be taken up ahead of
them, and echoed and re-echoed until it became faint in the distance
and died away altogether.

"What's that?"

The native had not hesitated.

"The cry, O Sahib, Protector of the poor, of the jungle owl as it seeks
its food!"

Cuxson, unobservant for once, and anxious to get to the end of the
trail again failed to notice that it was still far too light for any
member of the owl family to be abroad.

Also, when he sat down on a fallen tree trunk to readjust his boot
strap, he had mistaken for the booming of a huge jungle insect
something which whizzed through the space where his head had been a
second before.

It is true he had questioned the guide as to the route they were
taking, pointing out that it was not the one traversed in the _shikar_.

To which the guide had replied that doubtless the _shikari_ had taken
the sahibs many miles out of their way to ensure a big toll to the
sahibs' guns, and those of the mem-sahibs.

Jan Cuxson had accepted every explanation.

Extraordinary is this complacent sense of security of the British male
when he butts into the paths and customs of countries of which he knows
literally _nothing_; and he had arrived at the temple all in good time.

Silence, intense and rather overwhelming, had hung about the forbidding
place which allied to the abomination of desolation had disconcerted
him, and made him turn to the guide for further reference.

He had frowned, and involuntarily recoiled towards the wall when he
found that his guide had disappeared, and that he stood alone in the
heart of the jungle.

But strangely enough, even as he stood staring at a white wall in front
of him, a sudden apathy had fallen upon him, also a strong
disinclination to move hand or foot; in fact, he remembered laughing
stupidly, and pulling out his cigarette case with the intention of
soothing a distinct sense of irritation aroused by something which
hammered incessantly upon his inner consciousness, warning him to be on
the look out.

He remembered also looking once or twice in the direction of the temple
door with the feeling that someone was on the point of coming out
towards him, and then he had slipped contentedly to the ground, yawned,
and gone to sleep.

All the sounds of a jungle dawn had greeted him on his awaking: a
monkey had swung itself up to the top of the ruined wall where it had
sat grimacing at him; an adjutant bird had clapped at his boot with its
huge bill as it stalked past him towards the door; and he had found
himself bound by waist and wrists to a stout ring in a wall which still
held traces of brilliant colouring.



CHAPTER XLI

  "And unto wizards that peep and that mutter."--_The Bible_.


Like some infuriated bull he had fought and tugged at his chains and
shouted for deliverance, until clouds of birds flew skywards in fright,
and blood had spurted from his finger-tips and stained the shirt about
his middle.

Thongs of hide sound inadequate against the strength of a man, but
steel chains are weak compared with them for resistance, and to strive
against them simply results in pure agony if they have been thoroughly
soaked by the Indian dew which almost amounts to rain, and dried by the
Indian sun which almost amounts to a furnace.

Of course, in a properly constructed novel he would have been left in a
position which would have enabled him to gnaw the hide with his strong
white teeth, or rub it until it wore through against some sharp stone.

But this he could not do because his wrists were bound behind, leaving
the space of a foot or two between his waist and the wall; and when he
leant back he had the tragic outline of a modern Prometheus bound; when
he strained forward, that of one of Muller's pupils undergoing
treatment for the development of the chest.

Neither could he, contort himself as he might, have brought his teeth
within gnawing distance of deliverance; moreover, ruins exposed for
centuries to the soft manipulation of a jungle climate, show no sharp
stones; they are rounded and polished by the passage of time, soft
feet, and that which crawls upon its belly.

At length, however, peace quite strangely fell upon him, and though he
could not move, the agony of his hands and lacerated waist vanished
entirely; such perfect peace that he leant back against the wall and
idly tried to count the myriad tiny dainty hoof marks in the dust
between the doorway facing him, and the ruined archway on his left.

He did not think it strange when turning his head he discovered an
ancient priest seated against the wall with his mahogany coloured old
body outlined against the dull blues and reds of the painted stones;
and his eyes, bright with religious fervour, fixed through the
crumbling arch, beyond the delicate sun-dried leaves, the blazing sun,
and the steel blue heavens, upon Eternity.

The fine old man had no intention of torturing the white man, he had
merely bound him to the ring until his goddess should inspire him, her
servant, with her wishes concerning this stranger who was intimately
connected with the white woman in the care of his beloved disciple,
even Madhu Krishnaghar.

Neither did he intend to starve the white man nor bring him to the
point of madness from thirst; but accustomed to hours and days of
self-subjection in which he neither ate, drank nor felt the need of
material sustenance, he failed to take into account the inner cravings
of a man when he had been tied for two nights to a ring in the wall.

And he sprang to his feet and crossed the floor when Cuxson, after an
interval of forty-eight hours during which he had neither eaten nor
drunk, tortured by cramp from his waist to his feet caused by the
strangling hold of the hide thong, with his heart pounding the blood
against his brain until it shook, and his arms feeling like burning
staves ending in blocks of ice, suddenly scrambled somehow to his
knees, shouted, and fell forward with the soles of his feet against the
wall, and the whole weight of his heavy body hanging upon the wrists.

It was but the work of an instant and a flashing knife and he lay face
down upon the floor at the feet of the priest who passed swiftly
through the doorway out into the jungle, and returning as swiftly,
bound great green shining leaves about the wounds, and squatting on his
heels gently massaged the black and swollen arms.

A holy man! a Hindu priest touching the contaminating flesh of an
infidel!  Impossible!

There are many methods of purification from contamination, but the main
point in the priest's mental process of self-extenuation _was_ that an
infidel awaiting the verdict of the Great Mother should not be allowed
to _die_.

Therefore more green and glistening leaves were placed upon the floor,
and food, and water in coarse earthenware, set upon them, until Cuxson
had revived sufficiently to eat, and enter into conversation with the
priest, who, seeing no reason to withhold the information sought, and
secure in the knowledge that the spreading jungle tied the sahib to the
temple even more securely than the thongs of hide, gradually unfolded
to him the dark history of the girl he loved.

"Eighteen years," began the tranquil voice of the old man, "as the
sahibs count the passing of the moons, have gone since a high caste
woman knelt at full moon in this temple at the foot of the altar of
Kali, the Goddess of Destruction.

"Kali the Black One; daughter of the Himalayas, wife of Siva!  Durga
the inaccessible, Uma so sweet!

"Chandika the fierce, Parvati who steppeth lightly upon the mountains.

"Bhairavi the terrible, Kali of death, Kali!  Kali!"

The old priest, who had leapt to his feet under the exaltation of his
worship, sank down again upon the floor, and continued his tale in the
Indian tongue.

"The high caste woman, chief wife of a great prince of Northern India,
held in her arms her first, her only son, a weakling, a sickly babe
nigh unto death.  Thrice had she been shamed by the birth of a woman
child, and now her crown, her glory, her great gift unto her lord was
like to die.

"Followed only by her body servant she had sped from her palace in the
shadows of the Everlasting Hills, even unto the southernmost limits of
Bengal, a pilgrim to this holy, secret temple where I pass my last days
in sacrifice and worship; I, even I, foremost _guru_, once teacher of
the Thugs, those beloved servants of Kali--before the law of the white
man forbade their sacrifices unto the goddess."

Jan Cuxson, knowing of the sacrifices both human and animal offered in
bygone days to the terrible goddess, shivered as the horror of the
place seemed to close in upon him.

"The high caste woman demanding from the Goddess of Death the boon of
life for her son, cast her jewels upon the altar and made promise of
cattle and grain and her three daughters as handmaidens in the secret
places of the temple.  And I, aforetime great among the Thugs, lamented
that I had but a coal black kid to offer as a sacrifice, for behold,
Kali demands _life for life_, and _will not be denied_.

"Flowers flung by the woman, O white man, strewed the stone floor upon
which I have worn a path during the passing of the years; hundreds of
small lights flickered in every corner, causing the shadows to dance
about these weary feet and the eyes of the great gods to shine from the
corners of the roof; and without I heard against the wall the rubbing
of the great tiger as it waited for the blood sacrifice which it
nightly devoured before the dawn, the striped cat upon which Kali rides
forth at night on her journeyings through the jungle.

"Even as I plunged the sacrificial knife into the neck of the unworthy
sacrifice, I heard footsteps as of one running swiftly; and behold,
there came a low caste, pock-marked woman up the middle of the temple,
who flung herself at the feet of Kali, laying a sleeping babe upon the
altar steps."

"Ah!" barely whispered Jan Cuxson with his eyes fixed upon the
fanatical old face.

"And behold, the low caste woman was ayah in the services of one, even
a great colonel-sahib, who, being raised above his fellows, was
hastening back across the Black Water to his own land, taking with him
his one wife, and the one child of their union.

"Loving the white girl child with the great strange love of the servant
of India for the offspring of the _feringhee_, the ayah had secretly
brought the babe in the absence of the mem-sahib upon visits of
farewell, that I might dedicate her to the goddess, binding her in
spirit for ever to the land of her birth."

The white man sat in silence when the old man sprang to his feet,
standing relentless and formidable in the light of the one lamp.

"See'st thou?  See'st thou, sahib, my sin?  The sacrifice was within my
hands, and yet I spared the child because of the woman's beseechings.
I hesitated, yea!  I even asked a sign.  Aye! and the sign was good,
twice pleasing to the Goddess of Death, for behold the owl hooted not,
neither was the voice of the jackal uplifted as the doe, coming from
the _right_, looked through the open door.

"With the high caste woman I made covenant, that her male child in
return for his life should be a servant of the Black One, obeying in
all things the mandates of her priests.

"And I held those sleeping babes upon my arm, and within the lips of
the girl child I placed the _goor_, the sacred sugar, and around her
neck the _roomal_, the noose of sacrifice.  And I cut the sign of Kali
between the breasts of the man child and between the breasts of the
woman child, and marked him between the brows with her blood, and
marked her upon the forehead with his blood, so that his mind should be
her mind.  And her will I bent to _my_ will, that her eyes should open
in sleep at the light of the full moon, and that she should go forth
upon the mission of the Black One, making sacrifice to the spouse of
Siva.

"And yet, though she be bound to the secret temple and to Kali, and to
the son of princes until death shall release her, the Great Mother is
not pleased, nay, her wrath is terrible at the averted sacrifice, and
India, my land, has suffered through my fault."

The priest stood motionless, staring down unseeingly upon the man at
his feet who spoke softly.

"And what became of the white child?"

"The white child, the infant _feringhee_?  She lay asleep in my arms
with eyes wide open, and the high caste woman, picking up a jewel, even
one of the colour and shape of cat's eye, smeared it with the blood of
the kid, placed it above the heart of Kali, and then hung it by a
slender golden chain about the neck of the woman child.  And the women,
content, departed, bearing with them the united babes, but since that
ill-begotten night my land has travailed in agony, stricken with plague
and pestilence and famine!"

"And?"  Cuxson scarcely breathed the word.

The light of the moon slipped over the ruined wall, drawing a nimbus
round the old white head as the tall thin figure in the snow-white
garments swayed slightly.

"I waited for the command of Kali, and after many years I sent my
beloved disciple, the son of princes, across the Black Water to bring
the white woman by the force of his will back to the land of her birth
and up to the altar steps.  And now I wait--I wait--for a little,
little while."

The old voice rose to a thin shout of triumph which lapsed into silence
as, totally oblivious of his prisoner, he sank to the ground, lost,
quite suddenly, in that wonderful abstraction of the East in which the
native can find escape from the trials of life at odd moments, and in
unaccountably odd places.

During the long silence that followed, Jan Cuxson sat patiently puffing
at his pipe and trying to piece the strange tale together, until at an
advanced hour of the night he once more felt the hawk-like eyes fixed
upon his face.

Eagerly he picked up the thread of the story as though there had been
no lapse.

"You mesmerised her, you say, eighteen years ago, and you pretend you
can still bend her to your will?"

"Nay, Sahib!  Through me Kali the Terrible imprinted her will upon the
babe's tender mind those many moons ago!"

Cuxson shook his head.

"You can't make me believe _that_--it's rubbish--like the mango tree
and rope trick--it's impossible, simply _impossible_ to make
strong-minded, level-headed people do things against their will."

In such wise does the westerner account to his own satisfaction for the
mysterious workings of the East.

The old man said no word, but looked steadily between the young man's
eyes.

"If the sahib will look to his right hand!"

Cuxson turned his head and started.

Eyes glaring, tail thrashing the ground, and ears flattened to the
great head, a tiger half crouched.

"The devil!" he ejaculated, as the mouth of the great animal twisted
spasmodically.  "Here's a fix."

"The sahib will place his hand upon the tiger's head."

"Not much!"

"The sahib is afraid!"

The quiet scorn of the words struck Cuxson like a whip, and he
stretched out his hand impulsively towards the smooth head with
flattened ears and glaring eyes.

There was not a sound, though the tail swished the ground, and the huge
mouth opened slowly, showing the splendid ivories.

"The sahib, if he is not afraid, will close his hand firmly upon the
throat!"

Cuxson's hand closed gently upon the striped skin; then he exclaimed
sharply on perceiving that the only thing his hand grasped was air.

"Why--what--how the----!"

The old man nodded his head gently, and answered without a smile.  "It
was the will of the Black One that the sahib should see the steed upon
which she roams the jungle at night!"

But Cuxson was British, and would not be convinced.

"I don't believe it," he said shortly.  "That was a tame animal, which
strays in and out of the temple like a tame cat."

"Will the sahib look at the dust upon the ground.  Is there sign of
feet, marks of the body, or the lashing of the tail upon the dust?"

Truly the dust, save for the deer marks, was undisturbed, but Cuxson
shook his head stoutly, and refused to believe the evidence of his own
eyes.

"The sahib will not believe!  Then will I make her, the white woman,
see thee, the man she desires as husband, a prisoner in the House of
Kali, covered in blood, and she will hasten forthwith to thee--and to
me!"

Cuxson sprang to his feet with murder in his eyes, but stopped and
flung out his hands as though to thrust aside some obstacle.

The priest laughed softly.

"O babe in wisdom!  Behold, thou shalt not be bound, yet shalt thou not
stir beyond yon temple wall until she come, and with her the son of
princes who yearns for her; then shall I lift my will from thee and tie
thee to the wall that thou mayst behold the double sacrifice of _love_
and _life_ made to Kali the Terrible."

The priest was gone, and Jan Cuxson sat down upon a fallen block of
masonry, covering his face with his wounded hands; and faintly from the
temple echoed the voice of the priest as he prayed to his god before
projecting his will across the space that divided him from the white
woman.

Only for a little moment of despondency, and then he sat back and shook
his great shoulders with the light of battle in his eyes, and grim
determination in every line of the powerful jaw.

How he was going to circumvent the priest and save his beloved he did
not know--he had no plan, but--he was going to pull it off.

"The son of princes," he said, addressing a monkey which had flung a
stick at him from the top of the wall, "why I'd trust my dear,
bewitched or not, with a thousand sons of princes.  I love her and she
loves me, you gibbering bit of fur, and d'you think _anything_ could
stand against _that_.  Let her come!  Just let her be within reach of
my arms, _then_ you'll see what you will see.  Let the priest play into
my hands, and bring her here, the sooner the better, for _that_ is
exactly what _I_ want."

And he laughed as he refilled his pipe, blessing the old priest for his
consideration in annexing naught but his rifle and revolver.

Which is just about the simplest way of starting to get out of a tight
corner.

Ignoring all obstacles, owning to no defeat.  The splendid heritage of
the English speaking race.

CHAPTER XLII

  "A good name is better than precious ointment."--_The Bible_.

  "And in its light the Star of Love aglow,
  Shone with her beacon fire, a guide
            and guardian still."--_Dante's Inferno_.


In the middle of the night Leonie lay face downwards upon her bed in
the great Eastern Hotel.

All the luggage she had brought with her from England was stacked
around the small room, and even in the dressing-room; in fact, there
was that unfinished, unpacked air about the whole place which is
inseparable from anyone in India who is in the throes of going home.

She had returned on the wings of panic from Benares, only to find that
the gossip which had been circulated about her had arrived well in
advance; and that, like crows after a dust cart, what remained of the
city's female population was busy pulling her to a thousand pieces with
claws and beaks sharpened by the million irritations of the hot weather.

A dignified bearer had salaamed gravely, and handed her a chit upon her
arrival at the bungalow, where her friend was braving the pestilence of
the hot weather in comradeship with her husband, who, in the secret
places of his heart, wished to goodness she had gone to the hills with
the rest of 'em.

Her luggage, the letter stated, had been shifted to the hotel, where a
room had been taken for her, and there would, it seemed, be plenty of
accommodation on the _City of Sparta_ which would be sailing in three
weeks' time for home.

And that was all!

It is wise in the hot weather to pull the purdah, which is the Indian
way of saying to shut the door, in the face of a young and unattached
girl with a tawny head and opalescent eyes; especially if the dust has
long been undisturbed upon the threshold of the secret places of the
male heart supposed to be entirely in your keeping.

For days she had remained in her room, not daring to face the curious
glances, and subdued whispers, of the few visitors to be met with in
the marble desolation of the front hall; and not for worlds would she
have used the telephone for fear of the direct snub the wire would
surely have transmitted.

Food she hardly touched; sleep she did, heavily, waking dull and
unrefreshed; and for hours she would sit and stare into the corners, or
peer over her shoulder into the stifling shadows, or study her face in
the mirror, wondering if her strange eyes were the eyes of a mad woman.

The bearer had caused her long moments of worry.

The morning after her arrival at the hotel, instead of the little,
dusky, nimble, monkey-eyed man of the night before, there had entered
one, tall and dignified, who had cleared a space on the table beside
her bed, deposited a bunch of flowers and the _chotar hazri_, or early
tea, and raising his hand to his turban had departed.

Quite a usual procedure!  But wakeful Leonie, who had indifferently
watched him through the mosquito curtain and from under the pillow
frill into which she had burrowed her head, frowned when something
familiar in the man or his movements had particularly attracted her
attention.

Most natives look alike to the newcomer in India, but she frowned again
as she chewed the crust of buttered toast and racked her brain
fruitlessly for a clue.

One by one she went over each city and place she had visited, each
railway journey she had made, each hotel she had stayed in.  Then had
poured out a cup of tea and given it up.

Having fruitlessly worried over this seemingly insignificant detail of
an Indian day's routine, she had impatiently countermanded the early
tea for the following mornings, and had indifferently left the really
lovely flowers which came up regularly on every tray, to the fantastic
arranging of the little dusky man who looked at her like a wistful
monkey, and slipped nimbly about the room in her service; and who,
likewise, rejoiced greatly over certain backsheesch which he, with the
joy the native has in all intrigue, imagined to be the outcome of love.

I wonder if Europeans in India know with what interest their bearers or
ayahs watch, and what detailed accounts they could and do give of their
masters' or mistresses' love affairs, great and small, legitimate and
illegitimate.

It is to be surmised that they do _not_!

They were not the eyes of the nimble little bearer that were watching
from the bathroom on this particular night, when Leonie very quietly
raised herself in her sleep and, flinging back the netting, sat staring
silently into the corner nearest the door.

She half knelt, half sat, with a faint look of surprise on her face,
which changed slowly to absolute amazement, then to the faintest
suspicion of love and happiness, during which transition her smile
reflected the glorious lights of the seventh heaven.

"Oh, beloved!" she exclaimed, and laughed softly, the sound falling
eerily in the absolute stillness of the night, the shadows dancing
eerily upon the plaster walls as she threw out her arms.

She flung them out in a beautiful abandonment of love, and the hidden
eyes glistened as they watched the fingers slowly curl and clench as a
look of horror crept gradually over the whole face, blotting out its
sweetness and light, changing it into a veritable mask of terror.

A horrible dream!  A nightmare!

If you like!  The label of casual explanation, tied by the string of
ignorance, never did much harm to any psychological package.

Leonie was apparently asleep and evidently seeing things, so perforce
she must have been dreaming, for what else _could_ she have been doing!

Anyway her heavy, unrefreshing sleep, induced by fatigue, mental
weariness, or a super-will, was very gradually being turned into a
thing of moving shapes.

The shadows in the corner had lightened and darkened and lightened
again, lifting at last to show a half-ruined, roofless room and a
banyan tree outside an almost perfect archway.

A wick in a coarse earthenware saucer flickered feebly in one corner,
two deer pattered swiftly across the flags and out of the door, and
very slowly a man jerked himself on to his knees and twisted his
death-white face towards the coming dawn.

Jan Cuxson suffering the tortures of the damned, chained by his
rashness and his love to a ring in the wall with thongs of raw hide,
which were drawing blood from his wrists and staining his shirt about
his waist.

This way and that he wrenched and tore, then stopped quite still
glaring into the shadows.

This way and that again, hurling himself back, against the wall,
flinging himself forward until the agony of the thongs seemed to be
beyond all human endurance.

Just for one ghastly instant, one second, he stopped, staring straight
into the eyes of his beloved, seeming to call insistently for help, his
face distorted until it lost all human semblance; then pitched forward,
hanging unconscious upon the thongs just as a priest, thin and gaunt,
with knife gleaming in his hand, rushed towards him; and Leonie, with a
piercing shriek, sprang straight out of bed, flung herself violently
against the wall, and woke up with her hands feebly groping over the
coloured plaster.

And next evening the news that Lady Hickle had left the hotel without
her luggage, destination unknown, streaked like lightning through the
almost deserted Chowringhee, the Strand Road, the Maidan, and clubs and
bungalows.

What a godsend is a bit of gossip in the hot weather, when your
neighbour's looks, wardrobe, and morals have been threshed bare; when
the mail has not arrived; and the hill news has only served to upset
your temperamental digestion; in fact there were little whirlpools of
excitement in the Saturday Club's stifling atmosphere, serving to add a
passing zest to the heat-stricken evening hours and pegs which no
amount of ice seemed to cool.

Every man, high or low caste, white or not, who met Leonie,
figuratively cast himself at her slender feet.

Men ran to do her service, they smiled in doing it, they mopped their
heated brows and cheered up, even at one hundred and two in the shade,
when she happened along to ask some good office with a smile on her red
mouth.

She had paid her outrageous bill, left orders concerning her outrageous
luggage, and walked out of the hotel almost unnoticed, because of the
witchery of her most gracious manner which served to make her path
easy--where men were concerned of course; and without let or hindrance
she had cashed an outrageous cheque at her bank which left a few rupees
to her credit, and had walked through the building to give orders as to
her mail, and ask advice of the fair-haired, courteous young Englishman
who rose from his table as she turned away with the sweetest words of
thanks for the trouble he had taken in finding out for her how to get
quickly to the Sunderbunds.

"I wonder why she's going there, of all places, in this infernal heat,
and in such a desperate hurry, and I wonder if she's going alone!" he
said half aloud as he drew beetles on his blotting-paper, and frowned
as somebody, breathless from heat, sank heavily into the chair on the
other side and slapped some documents on to the table.

Leonie was acting quite subconsciously in all she did on that blazing
morning.

Which does not mean that she was still walking in her sleep with her
eyes wide open, or that she was not aware of her own movements.

Not at all.  She was wide awake with a fixed determination to get to
the temple in the Sunderbunds as quickly as she could.

Why?--well, who knows?

As far as the dream was concerned her mind had been a perfect blank
when she had awakened the previous night groping over the plastered
walls; but branded across it, in letters of blood, had been the one
word Sunderbunds, standing out clearly against the fog which surrounded
something terrible she could not understand.  No, she did not
understand, but she knew that everywhere she looked she saw the
lettering; and that every sound she heard, the soft slur of the lift,
the throb of the motor engine, the call of the indefatigable kite,
cried the one word aloud; and that in some inexplicable way the
resistless summons was connected with the man she loved.

What was she to know of the working of an eastern mind in the secret
places of a Hindu temple?

Neither did it strike her as strange that a taxi, with its flag up for
hire, should be standing opposite the bank door, blocking the way for
arriving vehicles; or that, having persistently refused many irate
would-be hirers, and patiently listened to the asperity of their
remarks, the driver should have opened the door and held it back as she
walked straight across the pavement, got in, and, without hesitating
gave the address of the Whiteway Laidlaw Company.

It might have seemed odd to a stranger; still more odd would it have
appeared to any chance passer-by if they had overheard the following
short conversation as Leonie got out at the shop.

"Can you drive me afterwards to Kulna?" she asked in her best but
inefficient Hindustani.

"Even so, mem-sahib," promptly replied the lithe, good-looking son of
the East as he salaamed.  "If the mem-sahib will pardon her servant he
would advise driving to Jessore and resting the night there at the dâk
bungalow, that is if the mem-sahib is not in too great haste!"

Leonie frowned, only understanding half of what was said.

"Don't you speak English?"

"No, mem-sahib; but my brother, who lives near the New Market but a
minute's drive from here, speaks the mem-sahib's language.  Also, he is
a good bearer, having travelled widely.  If the mem-sahib permits, I
will call him to accompany her on her journey to Jessore."

"Very well!" said Leonie, beckoning to a boy, who sprang towards her
with a huge basket which, for a few annas, he would carry round the
entire building after her, and into which she would throw her purchases
of all sizes and shapes.

He emerged some time later jubilantly staggering with basket and hands
full.

What a priceless mem-sahib who had not once complained about the price!

The brother had materialised!  Oh, those brothers and fathers, and
mothers and sisters, and all those relations who are always so
strangely near at hand in India!

"If I may offer a suggestion," said the soft voice in the delightfully
choice English of the educated native of India who has sojourned in
England, "it would be that we drive only to Jessore, stopping at
Bongong dâk bungalow for tiffin.  If the mem-sahib is sight-seeing, I
will arrange everything in the most convenient and pleasant manner for
her.  From here to Kulna in one day would be a long and wearisome
journey in this great heat."

Leonie half turned with the slightest frown as she passed her hand over
her eyes.

Once again had come that suggestion of something familiar--a suggestion
too fleeting to be caught.

"You can do exactly as you think best as long as I start for the
Sunderbunds to-morrow morning."

"The public boat does not start for three days, mem-sahib."

"I can hire a private launch, can I not?  Money is no object, only
speed."

"Easily, mem-sahib.  Consider it arranged!"

Leonie lifted her head for half a second, showing her face deathly
white, the crimson line of her beautiful mouth and the shadow-encircled
eyes emphasised by the dark green silk lining of her topee.

She glanced quickly at the dignified figure beside her on the pavement
and looked away.

You do not, as a rule, recognise people you have met in your sleep;
neither had her memory been impressed with the passing glimpses she had
caught of the handsome face in the British Museum and during the
_chotar shikar_.

No, in spite of the tugging of her memory, there was nothing to link
this person in the spotless white turban and full-skirted coat of the
bearer to her fastidious self.

Neither did that strange anonymous gift of glorious pearls which was
round her neck even then, or an unaccounted for mark upon her shoulder,
help her in any way.

She leaned back listlessly as her newly acquired bearer arranged the
newly bought suit-case and the various packages.

It was an absurd way of starting out on a jungle trip, picking up a car
any old how out of the streets, and a bearer from the labyrinths of the
bazaar without even glancing at his chits, which, even it she had,
would probably have been forgeries.

She had certainly had the sense to put on her knee-high boots and
knee-length skirt, a low collared shirt waist and sports coat, also a
topee; but, wishing to leave no clue as to her future movements at the
hotel, she had slung everything else pell-mell into her trunks, locked
and left them to be fetched and stored at her bank.

It had obviated the calling of a car and the giving of an address to
the hall porter, but it had forced her to buy everything she might be
likely to require for a day or two's sojourn in the waste places of an
Indian jungle.

She had thought of everything with one exception, and that, of course,
the one item which should have been the most important on the list.

Of weapons of defence she had none.

But then, what was she to know of the workings of the mind of the man
sitting with his back to her as the car turned and sped swiftly down
the streets, which seem to stretch endlessly, until you strike the
heavenly tree-lined road which leads you through Dum Dum and other
well-known places to the river edge.



CHAPTER XLIII

  "Thence shall I pass, approved
  A man, for ay removed
  From the developed brute; a god,
  Though in the germ."--_Browning_.


Blazing hot simply did not describe the degree of heat which pressed
down upon and around Leonie as she sat totally unconscious of it on the
verandah of the Bongong dâk bungalow.


For the benefit of those who have not experienced the assorted joys of
travelling in India, a dâk--pronounced dork--bungalow is a travellers'
rest, humble or spacious, presided over or not, as the case may be, by
a simple and courteous native.  They are to be found dotted about
everywhere--in jungles, on roads, and outside ruined cities; and there
you can stay for an hour or a night, sleeping in comfort, provided you
have brought your own bedding and mosquito netting; eating according to
the contents of your hamper.

In the cooler hours vivid flashes of orange and black, or black and
red, or turquoise blue and green, or white flit across from tree to
tree; parrots chatter, crows scream, and the brain-fever bird soothes
or irritates you according to your mood, and you tap your fingers on
the table in time to the metallic anvil cry of the coppersmith bird,
until a tiger-ant or some such voracious insect claims your undivided
attention.

In the heat of noon the only sounds to break the intense stillness are
the metallic anvil cry of the aforesaid coppersmith bird, and the
never-ceasing call of his brain-fever brother.

Except for your own there is no movement whatever--the voracious insect
is always with you.

Quite alone in the bungalow, with her back to the open bedroom, Leonie
sat undisturbed, with her eyes fixed unseeingly upon the tree-lined
road, and a torrent of disconnected thought swirling through her mind.

Exactly what she was doing, and why she was doing it, she had no idea;
she only knew that do it she must, and was content to let it rest.

Programme or plan she had none, only an intolerable desire to get to
the ruined temple in the jungle.

For what?

She had no notion!  She had to get there quickly, that was all she knew.

She sat on, with her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands,
without stirring; in fact you would have sworn she was asleep so still
was she in the silence broken only by the two birds.

She could see the car a little way down the road awaiting her, with the
driver curled up sound asleep beside it at the foot of a tree; the
bearer asleep too somewhere, she surmised hazily, as the sound of the
packing of the hamper had altogether ceased.

And then something, instinct maybe, or whatever you like to label the
incorporeal look-out in our psychological crow's nest, whispered to her
that it might be wise if she awoke to her surroundings.

There had not been a sound, nevertheless she felt that somebody stood
quite near to her.

She did not move her head, but her eyes flashed quickly to right and
left, and she frowned ever so slightly when she remembered that her
revolver had been left behind in Calcutta, safely tucked away at the
bottom of her dressing-case.

As is the usual way when a revolver is owned by woman.

Nothing stirred except the little curls on the nape of her neck, which
quivered when she shivered involuntarily.

It happens every day in India!  The land where curtains take the place
of wooden doors, and a deferential servant on noiseless, unshod feet
glides into your chamber unannounced, and stands patiently behind you
until it pleases your august self to turn and acknowledge his humble
presence.

That's what you think, anyway.

And it takes quite a time to become accustomed to the noiselessness of
this proceeding, and to control the start which gives you away
completely.

Leonie could stand the uncertainty no longer, she suddenly swept round
in her chair, and remained quite still with her mouth slightly open,
and her eyes fixed upon the face of her bearer.

He was just behind her chair, his white full-skirted coat touching the
back of it, his arms folded; but as Leonie turned he took one step back
and salaamed with both hands before his face, completely hiding the
blazing eyes for the one second sufficient for them to regain their
normal placid, indifferent look, as he gently made it known that all
was ready if the mem-sahib desired to depart or to sleep.

Yes, his eyes _had_ blazed as they rested upon the gracious lines of
this woman he loved, but whom, before he had known her, he had vowed,
in the transports of his religion, to bring unto his god.

Yes! and the whole body of this magnificent being, vowed to holiness by
his parents, _had_ trembled as he stood close to her sweet-scented
person; so close that it had seemed as though he stood knee deep in a
bed of clover at dawn.

Yes! and he was alone with her, with the knowledge of his power upon
her mind; yet he would not have touched one hair of her head, nor laid
a finger upon her against her will, even though she was absolutely at
his mercy, and the inner room was misty with shadows.

They are gentlemen of the finest type, these pure bred sons of India;
not the ravening beasts of prey towards women described so minutely,
and with such nauseating detail, in various religious and altruistic
pamphlets; little literary atrocities written mostly by men and women
who have gathered their experiences of the East from an exhibition or
two at the White City or Earl's Court, and their data from their own
scurrilous minds.

Bad types there are in every country!  But for pity's sake let these
social reformers stick to the West, and start on those who make it
unpleasant, if not unsafe, for an honest, well-groomed woman, with
pretty feet and veiled face, to walk slowly by day, or by night,
through the so-called decent streets of London town.

Let them leave the fine, cultured men of India to their own gods and
their own customs, remembering that their ways are not our ways; for
which those of them who have tarried in our country, return thanks as,
laying an offering of thanksgiving before their god, they lift the
purdah, behind which awaits the modest, gentle little maid; perfumed
with the scents of the East instead of the aroma of whisky or brandy
pegs allied to the tobacco of Turkey or Virginia; and unbesmirched by
the close embrace of the fox-trot which caused a certain Maharajah, on
a visit to England, to remark to an Englishwoman:

"Why!  I thought----"

Well, perhaps 'twere better that the damning commentary should be left
unwritten.

It was late in the evening when Leonie questioned her servant.

"Does the serang know exactly where I want to go?  And how quickly can
he get there?"

She was having dinner, and quite a good one, in the front part of the
living-room in Jessore's dâk bungalow.  This room can be divided into
two by means of a curtain drawn across, and you can listen, in fact you
are obliged to listen, if there is another party ensconced behind,
either to the furtive love-whispers of those who should not be there,
or the frank abuse of each other of the _bonâ fide_ couple suffering
from intense heat and long years of matrimony.

Leonie spoke over her shoulder in the direction of the bedroom, where
the bearer was arranging the mosquito net, her toilet things, and her
new-bought dainty night attire.

It you are the right type or caste everything always goes smoothly for
you in India; if you are not it most emphatically does _not_; so she
had not given a thought to the extraordinary ease with which her wishes
seemed to be carried out, in fact forestalled.

"It is the same serang who took the mem-sahib when she went on the
_shikar_ and killed the man-eating tiger.  The two coolies to carry the
mem-sahib's luggage have been hired, and the boat will be moored
to-morrow night!"

"To-morrow _night_," said Leonie, the light from the adjoining room
throwing up her white face against the shadows of the quickly falling
night.  "But it took us _two_ nights to get there last time."

"We are going a shorter way, mem-sahib.  The launch will be moored in a
big creek on the front of the island at which the mem-sahib landed last
time.  A small boat will take us through the very narrow creek, which
encircles the island, to the other side near which the temple stands.
There will not be much walking for the mem-sahib, she can proceed
immediately to the temple in time to see the sunrise, or pass the night
in a _suapattah_----"

"Oh! never _that_!" said Leonie most decidedly, thinking of her last
experience.

"But this hut is clean, mem-sahib!"

Leonie turned right round in her chair.

"How do you know that the last hut was not?"

"All huts are dirty, mem-sahib."

There was not a sign of confusion on the calm well-bred face, and he
stood like a statue as Leonie, unconsciously striving for light in the
darkness, continued her questioning.

"How did you know I wanted to go to the same place--to the temple, I
mean?"

"I did not know, the mem-sahib told the chauffeur!"

At the last word Leonie lifted her head, and her eyes rested intently
upon the handsome face in the doorway between the two rooms.

"No!  I did not!"

"The great heat of the day doubtless caused the mem-sahib to forget the
order she gave to her servant."

Never argue with a native of India, because educated or not he will
invariably, and with the utmost courtesy, make you feel at the end of
the argument that, if not a born, you are at least an excellent
temporary liar.

"Did your parents have you taught your remarkable English?"

"The mem-sahib is too kind to inquire."

In India you do not show curiosity about your servants' private affairs
or their families, it is not expected, it is not understood; and at the
silence which followed the answer Leonie, feeling herself rebuked, rose
from the table, and walked out on to the verandah to hide the colour
which swept her face from chin to brow.

In the middle of the night, when suddenly and unaccountably aroused
from a restless doze, she spoke sharply as her eyes rested on a white
figure prone upon the floor in the reflected light of the moon.

"_Bearer_!"

Her voice was indignant, and the man with one movement rose to his feet
and salaamed.

"What _do_ you mean by sleeping in my room?"

Dear heaven, how he loved her as she sat like an image of wrath behind
the mosquito net with the sheet pulled up to her neck.

"There are three doors to the mem-sahib's bedroom, and as the blinds
fit badly, except for the presence of her servant, there is nothing to
prevent a pariah dog, a jackal, or a thief from entering."

"Please leave my room and sleep somewhere else.  I do not like it, and
I am quite safe."

Leonie, feeling acutely the want of dignity in her bunched-up attitude,
did not know what to say when the man refused suavely, but point-blank,
to leave her.

"I regret that I cannot obey, as the mem-sahib is in my care, and I am
responsible for her safety; but until the day breaks I will keep watch
at the foot of the bed where the mem-sahib's eyes cannot rest upon her
servant!"

Oh!  Leonie!  Leonie!  With that strange, angry, and unaccounted-for
mark still upon your shoulder, if only you knew what a fuss you were
making over nothing.

But she said thank you quite nicely when _chotar hazri_ was placed
beside her bed in the early morning, to the refreshing sound of water
being heaved into the tin bath in the dressing-room.



CHAPTER XLIV

  "If thou faintest in the day of adversity,
  thy strength is small."--_The Bible_.


Jan Cuxson was walking round and round the ruined chamber, pausing at
the doors as he passed them to look out at the seemingly never-ending
jungle; he would have reminded any onlooker of some caged beast as he
went monotonously round and round.

He was rather a desperate sight, too, with harassed eyes in a gaunt
face, and his open shirt exposing a somewhat emaciated chest; not that
he had been starved, far from it; but eat you ever so heartily, fill
your interior with all the fatty substances, real or artificial, in the
world, worry will push in your cheek and temple, draw canals of woe
from your nose to your mouth, and force your cheek-bone, nose, and ribs
into high relief.

Of course he ought to have had a many days' growth of beard all over
the face; but, owing to one particular fad, he had not; and thank
goodness! for it would have been simply appalling to have had to end
the book with the hero looking like a woolly hearthrug.

His fad which saves the situation was that when travelling either for
hours or for days his safety razor invariably travelled in his pocket;
and the old priest had smiled when he caught him in the act of
lathering his face, less successfully, it is true, than more, with a
finger tip smeared in ghee, which is clarified fat; and had come back
later with a handful of stuff which looked for all the world and felt
almost as sticky as French almond rock, a certain vegetable root,
slightly acid of smell, which lathers beautifully in hot or cold water,
and which, in some districts, the natives use as soap.

He was simply in an agony of mind.

He had stormed, and threatened, and pleaded in turn, and offered the
whole of his kingdom in exchange for her safety--all of which had made
about as much impression upon the priest as a few snowflakes would upon
the Himalayas.

His one and only attempt at escape, which had taken place twenty-four
hours before, had been a dire failure.

Roaming around the courtyard outside his chamber, which seemed
curiously near, and yet cut off from the rest of the temple, he had
heard the tinkle of silver anklets, the sound of a native woman's
high-pitched laugh, and the bleating of a goat.

And the thought struck him that if a woman had come to seek counsel of
the priest she must have come through the jungle by some safe road
known to the native, and she would have to go back by the same road;
and if he could only find the way into the temple itself, and watch her
from the shadows, what would be easier than to follow her and reach
Leonie in time to save her from the disaster and death threatening her.

Although the thought of the death straight to which Leonie was coming,
blindfolded by the curse upon her, made his blood run cold and turned
his heart to stone at the knowledge of his own impotence, the picture
of what might happen to her at the hands of the native crazed with
religion and love well-nigh drove him frantic.

He was absolutely at the priest's mercy.

A stronger will than his own allowed him to wander so far and no
farther; indeed, he had been powerless even to reach the block of
stones from behind which the priest appeared when upon visiting bent,
and around which he disappeared when he went to worship before his god.

"I am like a damned hen with a chalk circle drawn round it!" Cuxson had
exclaimed when he tried over and over again to pass the invisible line;
and he cursed aloud as he felt the deep sleep creeping upon him at
various hours of the day and night, and from which there was no escape,
try as he would to keep awake.

But upon the day when he heard the tinkle of silver anklets and the
bleating of the goat, something, just as curiously incomprehensible,
had urged him to walk to the ruined mass of stones which hid the
priest's entrance and exit; and he had walked across the sun-stricken
court without let or hindrance, or covering to his head, and had found
on the other side a low doorway almost choked with jungle growth.

He had not paused to think nor plan; he had merely bent his tall figure
and crept through and down the narrow, decaying passage, along which,
dotted irregularly here and there, shone little lights in tiny
earthenware saucers.  He had paused once or twice, sickened by the
sight of offerings of which a description is not necessary, and
shivered, strong man though he was, when he had met the eyes of gods
leering, or glaring at him from little hewn-out shrines in the
crumbling masonry.

His feet made no sound, for the narrow way was choked with the dust of
ages, and he gave no thought to what might lurk in the shadows in the
shape of beast or reptile, so intent was he on reaching the place which
held the woman, and which had seemed near when she had laughed, and
unaccountably far away as he stole stealthily forward.

The passage twisted at every few yards, and once he had found himself
at a dead end in what he thought must be the priest's living room, as
far as he could make out by the dim light coming through a tiny
aperture high up in the wall.  He had dimly seen a bed of leaves, a
single covering, and an earthenware platter and jug, before he turned
quickly and retreated when something hissed softly and rustled among
the leaves.

Having got back into the passage and made some considerable headway, he
was almost choked, when on turning a corner he had been enveloped in a
sickly sweet smell of many flowers, allied to some sickening odour to
which he could give no name; and then he had stopped dead, and
flattened himself against the wall as he realised that he had come out
by the side of the altar into the temple itself.

Arranged neatly on each side of the doorway were glittering brass
vessels, brass trays, and little piles of tiny earthenware saucers; to
his left was tethered a black kid, which lay contentedly upon a heap of
dying flowers; near it was what appeared to be a miniature guillotine
stained almost black; and above his head, in front of him and hanging
from a hook in a huge, upstanding block of granite, glittered, a short,
needle-pointed knife.

One knife?

Nay! two, three, a dozen, scores, thousands, thousands of glittering
knives whirled around his head; and hundreds of goats grinned from
corners and capered about his feet, and millions of evil eyes winked at
him from the dusky shadows; and voices rose in choirs, male and female
voices, whispering, laughing, singing.  Louder, still louder, rising
like some all-conquering flood, while silver anklets clashed until the
brain was nigh to splitting with the din.

He must see, he _must_ see, and watch the women who laughed shrilly and
often; he must see the front of that great block of stone which barred
his way to Leonie.  Yes!  Of course that was it, just that one great
block of stone which kept him from his love.

Jan Cuxson made a mighty effort to move his heathen foot over the inch
of threshold which separated him from the holy place.  His breath came
in gasps, and the veins stood out in knots upon his forehead as he
pushed with both hands at the empty air; he fought like a mad dog to
overcome that mighty force arrayed against him which neither advanced
nor retreated, but was just _there_.

Then as something out of the void struck him cruelly between the eyes
he gave a mighty shout which made no sound at all, and fell with a
crash, scattering the brass vessels and tiny earthenware saucers to the
four corners of the space around the altar.

Sunstroke?--well, _hardly_.

Because the next morning, when he awoke with the hide thongs fastening
him by the wrist and the waist to the ring in the wall, he felt fit,
and fresh, and extremely wide awake.

Perhaps it was that the blow, or whatever had struck Jan Cuxson down on
the threshold of the temple, had served to sharpen his wits; anyway,
for some unknown reason, words uttered by the priest on the first day
of his imprisonment began to repeat themselves over and over again in
his brain, as he sat uncomfortably with his back to the wall and his
eyes fixed with a certain crafty understanding upon a piece of rusty
metal half hidden under a fallen brick.

Wherefore he wheedled and cajoled when the priest came to visit him
until the thongs were unfastened and his somewhat prescribed liberty
restored.

"Only until the shadows fall, sahib," the old man said as he gathered
the hide thongs in his hands.  "Tonight is the night of the full moon
and the white woman is even now approaching."

"Leonie---I mean the mem-sahib--is in the _jungle_--with whom?"

"Verily, sahib, with the man who loves her!"

"Oh, my _God_!" said Cuxson slowly.  "How do you know?"

"_We_ need no wires or poles to carry us news, sahib!  We have a surer
way, aye, and a quicker one.  Struggle not to-night, sahib, when I tie
you to the ring in the wall.  Bound you must be, for the Black One has
spoken; and it is her pleasure that I shall lift my will from you, even
as I did by mischance yesterday.  India has suffered through this white
woman; my people have been tormented by her, and Kali, the Black One,
has commanded that the sufferings of the land shall be wiped out in the
white woman's blood, and the torments of the people in your torments."

It has been said that Jan Cuxson was plodding to a degree akin to
slowness.

He was!  But you may be sure that if an idea came to him even at the
eleventh hour it would be a good idea and would be developed until it
reached an advanced stage of perfection.

Some time after the priest had departed he drew the piece of metal,
which proved to be the broken blade of a knife, from under the fallen
stone, slipped it into his pocket, and was as well content as his
harassed mind and overwrought imagination would allow him to be.



CHAPTER XLV

  "Behold, thou art fair, my beloved,
          thou art fair!"--_S. of Solomon_.

  "Yea! he is altogether lovely."--_S. of Solomon_.


With her bearer's hand to balance her, Leonie stepped off the gangway
into the rocking, canoe-shaped boat, made in the dim past by digging
out the interior of some tree trunk, and in the bows of which were
huddled the coolies with her luggage.

Two bronze-hued rowers, nude save for the loin cloth, paddled the boat
round the bends of the narrow creek with a dexterity due to habit; and
then by chance or misfortune wedged her firmly into a glutinous
mud-bank from out of which it took the five men two hours and every
ounce of their united strength to push her.

It is not wise to wade waist or knee deep in a Sunderbunds creek, and
clear a boat with a yo-heave-ho, for fear of some festive mugger, which
means alligator, lurking in the mud.

She had therefore no option but to pass the night well above the jungle
perils in the _suapattah_ hut, like a cockatoo screeching defiance at a
cat from the safety of its perch; and to which safety you climb almost
flat on your face by means of a rocking, slender bamboo ladder, and
with about as much grace as a monkey manipulating a stick.

There was a sharp tussle of wills after the dinner of which Leonie
partook on the small platform which comes between the top of the ladder
and the low door of the hut.

Having arranged her bedding and mosquito curtains as best he could, and
seen to it that one of the low caste coolies negotiated the ladder with
a gourd of water upon his head and placed it upon the floor in the
mem-sahib's bed-chamber, her bearer, when Leonie retired for the night,
drew up the ladder and curled himself up in a corner.

Almost stifled by the heat of the interior she came out again in search
of fresh air, and stared in amazement at the white figure as he sprang
to his feet perilously near the edge of the platform.

No! nothing would move him from his post during the night, nothing.

"But I am perfectly safe up here," remonstrated Leonie, "when you have
gone to the other hut I can quite easily pull the ladder up!"

"Even so, mem-sahib," quietly replied the man, "but the mem-sahib is
not accustomed to these heights; there are no railings to the platform,
and one false step would send her crashing to the ground."

"But I am going to _bed_," Leonie persisted.  "Besides, if I did move I
can see quite plainly, it's almost full moon!"

There was a barely perceptible pause and then;

"Yes, mem-sahib, it is the full moon!"

Leonie, stricken dumb in the belief that the story of her mental plight
had reached even to the bazaar, turned back and re-entered her
so-called bedroom, drawing a purdah made of _golaputtah_ leaves across
the door, and leaving her bearer to his own devices and thoughts.

Which were utterly of her as he divested himself of his outer raiment,
and nude save for the loin cloth, sat like a bronze statue in the
overpowering heat of the night; and even as "the eagle flying forth
beats down his wings upon the earth," his thoughts beat down so
forcibly upon her mind that at midnight she arose in her sleep and
lifting the purdah walked out on to the platform.

She walked straight forward, too far from the man for him to pull her
back; and in too deep a trance for him to have stopped her with safety
to her brain.  His face was that of one tortured as he rose to his feet
and threw out his hands; and the sweat came out in great beads upon his
forehead under the supreme effort of will, which pulled her up within
an inch of certain death.

For one long moment she stood with arms upstretched to the moon shining
in all its glory, then swung round and crossed to where he stood
against the hut.

"Yes?" she said gently.  "You called me!"

The man drew his breath quickly as he looked at her, and forgot his
gods in his love, and his passions in the innate nobility of his soul.

She looked for all the world like a mere schoolgirl in her over-long,
kimono-shaped, diaphanous night garment, with her hair hanging in two
great plaits, and her eyes and mouth lit by the suspicion of a smile.

"Sit down!" he said gently, and she sank to the ground as easily and
with all the graceful suppleness of a native woman.

"Yes!" she repeated.  "You called me!  What is it you desire?"

She made a little gesture inviting him to sit beside her, and he sank
to the ground, lying prone at her knees with his chin in his hands,
staring straight into the green eyes which shone strangely, and looked
at him unblinkingly.

"Tell me what you think of me," he said, speaking in the merest whisper
out of the depth of his love.  "Tell me, and I will tell you what I
think of you--thou lotus bud," he finished desperately in his own
tongue.

Leonie answered in the sweetest, purest Hindustani, using the beautiful
strange metaphors of India to describe the human body.

"Thou art," she said.  "Thou art--how can I tell thee I----"

She stopped, laughing down at him as she put both hands out on a level
with her chin, palm upwards, towards him, in a little supplicating
gesture.

"_Tell_ me!"

"Behold," she said softly as she passed the tips of her fingers from
his forehead to his chin.  "Behold is thy face softly rounded like the
egg of a bird, and thy brow is even as a tautened bow----"

A great tremor shook the man at the touch of her hand, but he made no
movement as he broke across her words.

"And thy face so fair, so dear, is even like the _pan_ leaf, and thy
dark brows like the _neem_ leaf disturbed by the wind, when thou art
displeased with him who so loveth thee.  Yet when thou art not angry,
are thy drooping lids like the water-lily in their sweet repose.  Thy
ears, those can I not see--ah!"

Leonie laughed softly as the very tips of her fingers passed down the
side of his face.

"And thine are like vultures with drooping head, and thy nose----"

"Thine," he interrupted, twisting his head to evade the exquisite agony
of her touch, "is like a _sesame_ flower, and thy nostrils even unto
the seed of the barbarti, and thy lips--oh! thy lips are the
_bandihuli_ flower."

He raised his face with agony in his eyes, closing them as she lightly
touched his mouth.

"_Thy_ mouth is even as the _bimba_ fruit, which is warm and soft, and
thy chin is like a mango stone, and thy neck like unto a conch shell
which I encircle with both hands."

She spanned his neck with the outspread thumbs and little fingers of
both hands, and laughed as he pulled them apart and buried his face in
his arms.

"Dost fear?" she said.  "Dost fear that I shall strangle thee?  _Dost
fear_?" she repeated with a certain sharp note in the voice which
caused the man to look up quickly and straight into her eyes, upon
which she laughed quietly.

"Tell me," he insisted gently, "tell me what thou thinkest of me!"

"Ah!" she whispered, "thy shoulders are like the head of an elephant
and thy long arms are as the trunk, and the strength of thy breast is
even as that of a fastened door--which love perchance may open," the
heavy lids half-closed over her eyes as she slowly drew the finger-tips
of both hands down towards the slim waist, and the man's teeth drew
blood from his under lip.

"Thy middle is like a lion's, so slender is it, and----"

He stopped her fiercely as he twisted on to his right elbow and seized
both her hands in his left.

"And the suppleness of thy arms, and the softness of thy limbs are like
the young _plaintain_ tree, and thy fingers are the buds of the
_champaka_ flower."  He spoke rapidly, crushing her hands cruelly.
"The bone of thy knee showing whitely through thy garment is shaped
even as the shell of a crab, and the whiteness of the bone from thy
knee to thy slender ankle is like a full-roed fish----"

"And thy feet and thy hands, O Lord, are as the young leaves of plants!"

To which he replied through the teeth that were closed.

"And thine so small, so dear, are as lotus buds--lotus buds swaying at
dawn in the wind of love."

She smiled divinely as she stretched one perfect bare foot from under
her garment, and bent her head to catch the words as he passionately
whispered the Vega hymn.

"Want thou the body of me, the feet; want thou the eyes; want the
thighs; let the eyes, the hair of thee, desiring me, dry up in love.

"I make thee cling to my arm, cling to my heart; that thou mayest be in
my power, come unto my intent.

"They----"

He stopped, convulsed with passion, and bending kissed her feet.

"Ah! thy hands, thy feet, are like lotus buds--lotus buds which I love,
even if they be drenched in blood."

He leapt to his feet and caught Leonie's wrist in the vice of his hand
as she sprang upright in one movement, laughing as she pointed at his
mouth.

"Blood," she whispered, "blood--it is warm--it drops slowly--slowly----"

She ran her fingers across his mouth, and shook with hideous silent
laughter as she showed him the tips stained red.

"Come," she said, "come--she is calling--calling----" and she struck at
the hand which gripped her shoulder, and tried to shake herself free.

"Come!" said the man, looking straight into her eyes, "come with me."

She slid her hand into his, and followed him docilely as he lifted the
reed purdah and entered her bedroom.

"Lie down!"

He lifted the netting and pointed to the bed.

As he towered above her the scarlet mouth in the uplifted face was on a
level with his shoulder, as she smiled distractingly and raised her
hands palm upwards in a little supplicating gesture.

"My Lord!" she whispered.  "My Lord!"

The temptations of all the ages, and the overpowering passion of his
own glowing East rose about him like a flood; he shook from head to
foot as she laid herself down and drawing the sheet about her whispered
again, "My Lord!"

They were alone in the jungle, and his will was hers; she was as a bit
of wax upon which he might imprint his seal; there was no one to say
him nay if he should draw her unto his intent.

And he loved her.

Yes! he loved her, and because of the overpowering strength of this
love he knelt beside her and placed his fingers upon her temples.

"Sleep, beloved," he whispered, "sleep--the women that are of pure
odour--all of them--we--make--sleep."

And Leonie slept peacefully and undisturbed until the dawn, because
Madhu Krishnaghar, with his face buried in his arms, who lay across the
threshold of her bedroom, was one of the splendid type that India
breeds--an Indian nobleman.



CHAPTER XLVI

  "Out of the abundance of the heart,
          the mouth speaketh."--_The Bible_.


One thing after another happened to prevent Leonie from continuing what
remained of the journey during the cooler hours of sunrise.

One coolie strayed and was not retrieved until the other two men were
hoarse from shouting, then another ran something into his foot, which
was only extracted after a mighty fuss, and something akin to a major
operation, skilfully performed with the bearer's knife and a few thorns
plucked from the bush.

Last but not least, as they were on the point of starting, a snake
about two yards long had blithely wriggled its shining length across
their very path; and nothing short of hours of prayer and offerings to
their gods would move the coolies along that path after such a sign of
ill omen; no! rather than budge an inch they would have laid down in
their tracks and died of snake-bite, or a marauding tiger; and Leonie
was far too wise a traveller to lose sight of her luggage for one
second--in India.

Although she had no idea why she was in such haste, she inwardly
fretted at the hours lost, but passed them with outward patience in the
shade of the jungle trees; eating what was brought her, and sleeping
away the afternoon stretched on a rug; unconscious of the fact that her
bearer sat behind her head, fanning her face gently, and with the
lightest and deftest of fingers removing the various insects, long and
short, fat and thin, smooth or horny, which seemed to have taken
unlimited return tickets for the journey over her body.

They had been for some time on the way, the coolies trapesing behind to
the tune of some monotonous chant; and the moon was beginning to fling
handsful of silver out of her heavenly mint when Leonie, overcome by a
most unromantic craving for tea, gave the order to halt.

"How much farther is it?" she asked, as she busied herself with a
spirit lamp and a tin of evaporated milk.

Her bearer looked up at the moon.

"Another half-hour, mem-sahib, and we reach the outer walls of the
temple--ah! allow me----"

Leonie had dropped a teaspoon and was bending to pick it up, but
instead, straightening herself with the kind of snap an over-strung
violin string gives when it breaks, took one step forward and fixed her
eyes on her servant's face.

"Of course," she said, speaking half to herself, "of course--no wonder
I thought I knew you--I saw you in London once--and it was you I saw on
the station--and your voice----" she clasped her hands together and
took a step quickly backwards--"you were the guide in the tiger hunt,
you--you have been following me--you are dogging me--hunting me
down--why--tell me why?  What harm have I done you?--tell me?"

Her eyes, which were shining strangely in the quickly falling night,
swept the man before her from head to foot, and she instinctively threw
out her hands and took another step backwards as she realised at last
his extraordinary beauty.

"Why is the mem-sahib _afraid_?  What has her servant done to cause
trouble to her soul?  He meant but to lighten her load, and make smooth
her path."

Leonie, with the desire common among women to hide the tell-tale
expression of their faces by the movement of their hands, knelt and
began fiddling among the tea things.

"Sit down," she said abruptly, pointing to-the ground on the other side
of the earthy tea-table, "and tell me everything."

"Nay, mem-sahib!  A humble native may not sit in the presence of a
white woman."

Leonie lifted her head.

"Sit down," she said simply.

And there in the heart of the jungle, by the side of the fire that had
been lighted to scare off any animal, they sat, those two splendid
specimens of two splendid races divided by custom and colour, while he
told her the strange story of the night on which they had both been
dedicated to the Goddess of Destruction, and the happenings thereafter.

"Do you mean to tell me that you willed me to come to you in the museum
that day in London?"

He looked straight into her perplexed eyes as he answered slowly:

"I felt that if I could draw you through the ebb and flow and the
floods of London traffic, I could do as I would with you on the plains
of India.  I did not know you--_then_!"

"And the priest has made me come to the temple--against my will?"

"Even so."

"And what is to happen to me there to-night?"

"A danger threatens you, beautiful white woman, a great danger
threatens you from which I alone can save you, yea! and will in spite
of all the gods!"

"_You_ will save _me_--_you_--and why?"

"Because I love you!"

The words were out, and Leonie, springing to her feet, drew back as the
man rose and stood motionless in the dancing shadows thrown by the fire.

"What do you mean?  Oh, how dare you----"

"How dare I--_dare_ I--tell you that I love you and want you for wife?
Why should I not love you from your beautiful head to your perfect
feet?  Why should you not be my wife?  Because I am what you call
_black_? because of this colouring of my skin which, outside my own
land, damns me to eternity, and bars me from all that I desire?  Nay,
you _shall_ listen, and you _shall_ answer!  You _will_, will you not?"

The voice had dropped from the pitch of fierce denunciation to the
sound as of a deep river flowing in pleasant places, and Leonie nodded
mutely, succumbing, as is the way of woman, to the entrancing pastime
of playing with fire.

She closed her eyes and clasped her hands tightly together when the
man, stepping across the barriers of interracial convention, came and
stood just behind her shoulder without touching her withal, and spoke
in his own tongue.

"Ah, woman, I would call thee wife.  Behold, I have much to offer: a
great name, vast wealth, palaces, broad lands, jewels, elephants,
villages; the esteem of my people, the love of my father and of my
mother, of whom I am the only son.  All of which is nothing, nothing
compared with my love for thee.  A love as virgin as the snow upon the
Everlasting Hills, swifter than Mother Ganges, deeper than the Indian
Ocean, and higher than the vault of heaven.  What matter custom, or
law, or regulation, or colour, when such a love as mine is offered?
Thou as my wife, _thou_, and thy children my only children.  Am I not
beautiful? even as beautiful a male as thou art a female?  Would not
the days and the nights, the months and the years be as
heaven--together?  _Love me_--nay! say but that I may call thee wife.
Give me thy promise and I will save thee!"

"Save me?--from what?"

Leonie turned and faced this splendid lover, shivering slightly as a
low moaning wind rustled the leaves of the trees and stirred the
undergrowth.

"Even from death!"

"Death?" she said quietly, looking straight into the man's eyes.
"_Death_--for _me_?  Why I thought I was being willed to the temple to
make sacrifice to your god?"

"To-night thou must surely die unless I save thee."

"Oh! you are mistaken," came the quick, decisive reply.  "Why, if I was
murdered, the whole Empire would be up in arms."

"The British Raj would not know," was the quiet answer.

"Oh! but----"

"You have not seen the Fort of Agra, the sad, dead palace.  There, in
the dungeons, is a beam stretched across the hidden wells and marked
with the fret of a rope.  Many a beautiful woman has swung from that
beam by neck, or feet, or wrists, and her body dropped through the well
into the Holy Jumna without the knowledge of any save her master and
her executioner."

"Oh!--oh! don't----"

"Twice," continued the quiet voice relentlessly, "the sacrifice has
been averted, but _now_ the hour has come.  Thou art here alone, none
knowing, and I--I _alone_ can save thee.  And will not Kali, our
mother, raise her hands in blessing upon us united, even as we were
united when babes, and being appeased, lift the curse from off the
land.  She is soft and gentle, treading lightly upon life's stony
paths, Uma so sweet, Parvati, daughter of the eternal snows.  Oh!
woman, say that thou wilt be my wife, for behold, are we not marked
with the same mark which----"

"Mark?  _What_ mark?" Leonie questioned abruptly, looking back over her
shoulder, her mouth perilously near to his as he bent his head slightly
towards her; and there fell a little silence in which the thudding of
his heart could be felt against the silk thread of her jersey.

"Between thy breasts, thou white dove, hast thou no mark?"

Leonie tried to speak, and failing, nodded her russet head.

"Even so, it is the mark of Kali which the priest cut upon thee and me,
uniting us all those moons ago in the Mother."

She turned completely round and faced the man with a little look of
wonder in her eyes.

"I have so often wondered about the--the little mark," she said.  "But
you see--how could I marry you--I could not, do not--love you!"

"Love," he said quietly.  "_Love_!  Thou wilt love me, aye! thou wilt
love me in thy waking hours, even as thou wouldst have loved me in thy
sleep if--if the gods had not intervened."

"You--have--been with me--in--my--sleep?" she whispered.

"When thou didst walk in thy sleep!"

CHAPTER XLVII

  "For jealousy is the rage of a man;
  therefore he will not spare in the day
  of vengeance."--_The Bible_.


Suddenly she was struck with the full horror of those lost nights in
which the man beside her had been her companion.  She stretched out her
hands and turned them over this way and that, scrutinising them with
horrified eyes.  She touched her mouth with her finger-tips and drew
them with a shudder down her neck, and her breast, and her waist, as
she looked upon the beauty of the man before her with his passionate
mouth and gleaming eyes.

"You--you have been with me when I have walked, unconscious in my
sleep; you have----"

He interrupted her hastily, divining her thoughts.

"Yea!" he said, "I have been with thee when, under the influence of
_my_ god, thou hast walked in thy sleep.  I have watched over thee and
helped thy cut and bleeding feet over the roughness of the roads, as I
would help them over the perilous road of life.  I have not touched thy
hand save in support; I have not touched the glory of thy mouth with my
mouth, because thou couldst not give me thy _consent_ so to do!

"Dost think it has been a child's task to keep my hands and my kisses
from thee?  Behold, I had but to make a sign, and thou, in thy
unconsciousness, would have come unto my intent!  Oh, thou bud of
innocent fragrance; thou fruit ready to the plucking of loving hands!
Aye, thou wert, thou art in my power; and even have I seen thee in----"

"Ah!" said Leonie sharply as her hand slid to her shoulder and the
words came through her closed teeth--"You _lie_!"

"Lie!"

"Yes, _lie_!  You have not touched me you say; neither have you kissed
me, but _you_, and _only_ you, can tell me what the mark is on my
shoulder--a mark I shall carry to my grave."

The man threw back his turbaned head and was about to make reply, when,
with those shrill cries which betray great fear, a troop of monkeys
passed them, chattering as they ran swiftly on all fours, or swung even
more swiftly from tree to tree; and the native looked after them, and
up to the sky, and over his shoulder along the narrow path by which
they had come, showing black and white in the alternate lights and
shadowings of the moon.

"Answer me!" said Leonie more sharply than she knew, and with a woman's
superb indifference to any event or signs of approaching event outside
her own love orbit.

"Nay, answer thou me!" replied the man who, expert in the knowledge of
jungle signs, yet put aside all thought save of his love for the woman.
"Tell me that thou wilt be my wife and the mother of my sons, thou
beautiful woman!  Tell me that thou wilt come unto me this night,
wedded to _me_, by yon old priest; and that, within the arms of Uma so
sweet, of Parvati who steppeth so lightly, I may set my seal upon thee.

"Lifting from thee, as I and the priest _only_ may lift, that which
thou callest the curse from about thee, bringing thee to happiness in
the shadow of the temple."

But something had happened to Leonie, bringing her to a pitch of
excitement foreign to her in her waking hours.  She looked swiftly to
right and left, and over her shoulder, and up the narrow path they must
go to the temple; and up to the sky she could see faintly through the
trees, and into the eyes of the man watching her intently.  Then she
clasped her hands tightly and moved close to him, her face as white as
death.

"And the sahib, the white man, where is he?"

The native of India weaves and fashions the cloth of his cloak of love
out of many colours.  Gorgeous colours, blinding, dazzling, in which
predominate the scarlet of passion and the emerald of the supreme
male's jealousy.  And all, from the sweeper to the highest of birth and
caste, wear this wondrous garment in India, though not one out of the
teeming millions fashions his cloak upon the pattern of his neighbour's.

Madhu Krishnaghar, the son of princes, with eyes dimmed by the
brilliance of his own particular garment, failed to perceive that
Leonie, too, was wrapped in a love mantle.

The occidental mantle, made of honest homespun, uniform in colour, and
with a wide hem to allow for shrinkage; but guaranteed to stand all
weathers and to last a lifetime.

He might have been flicking a fly from his sleeve, so indifferent was
his answer in his blindness.

"The white man?  He is bound to the temple walls, awaiting the woman he
allows to walk unveiled and alone throughout India."

"Ah!" said Leonie, with that little hush in her voice which is heard in
the mother's when she first sees her new-born babe.  "I am sorry," she
continued quietly, "so sorry I have not been honest with you.  I cannot
marry you because----"

She stopped and turned as with a sound like the tearing of silk a flock
of birds suddenly flew from the tree tops and whirled away into the
night.

"Because?  _Because_, woman?"

For a moment Leonie unconsciously watched the flight of the birds, then
swung round, arms stretched wide, eyes shining, and her face aglow.

"Because I love the white man in the temple who is tied to the wall,
_that_ is why!"

Her voice rang clear and true under the sky, and she stepped back
quickly and threw out her hands as the man spoke.  For the banked-down
fires of his passion and his love, and the hurt to his race, and his
own sudden-born agony flared in one half-second into a mighty, awful
conflagration.  The flame of his words licked at her feet and the hem
of her garments, blazed across her hands with which she hid her face,
and swept right over her from head to heels, and yet he did not touch
her nor raise his voice one half tone.

"Thou _woman_!  Then shall no man have thee, for I will drive my dagger
through the white man's heart before thine eyes, and watch thee, thou
beautiful thing, wed him in the shadow of death."

And Leonie, catching the look in his eyes and the set of the mouth,
knew that he meant what he said; and she laid her hand on his arm, so
that his agony was increased a thousandfold as he looked down upon her
whom he had lost.

"You would not, could not do _that_?" she whispered.

"Could not kill the _feringhee_?" and the hate in the old mutiny word
was terrible to hear.  "What else should I do to him who has stolen the
sun from my sky, the fragrance from my rose?"

The man seized her by the wrist, and, pulling her to him, bent down,
whispering soft, passionate words.

"Shall I tell thee, love flower, what love is?  It is the gold of noon,
and the silver of night, the might of the lion, and the soft cooing of
the gentle dove.  As the slender vine around the straight palm, so will
my love twine around thy heart.  Yea, and even as the banyan tree sends
out branches to draw dew from the rounded breast of earth, my love
shall yearn towards thee.  Day and her lover, Night, with the Dawn and
the Sunset their children; the stag and the gentle doe, with their
fierce horned offspring, and their offspring as round and smooth even
as thy throat.  So will our union be, for behold, my love for thee is
so surpassing that our sons could but be of the most perfect manhood,
and our daughter, why, she will be after thine own fashioning."

The man's eyes shone as he felt the trembling of the girl, and he
pressed her, tempting her, revelling after the strange way of the East
in the agony of the defeat his victory would bring him.

"And to save the life of the white man, thou opening bud of the passion
flower, wilt thou not come unto such a love as mine; to the shadowed
corners of my palaces, to the fragrance of my courts, wilt thou not?"

Then a strange thing happened, unheeded by the two sorely tormented
souls.

A great form crashed across the path behind them, followed by the
bounding passage of a herd of deer; and from all around came the sounds
of animals fleeing in panic, as Leonie lifted her face to the man's
with a desperate resolve in her stricken eyes.

And the man, reading the answer, bowed his head to her stone cold hands
and crushed them to his heart.

"Thou wilt marry _me_--_to-night_?"

"For the sake of the man I love," came the steady answer; "to save his
life I will be--your--your wife.  No, wait!  On these conditions.  That
he is set free and shown a way to safety--that I follow him in
secret--and see that he is safe--and that you tell him that I am dead.
Swear that to me before your gods and I will keep my promise; swear
that you will tell him that I am dead."

And Madhu, the son of princes, put both hands to his forehead and bowed
before the woman; then stood erect, with hands upraised to heaven,
silent, wrestling with temptation; and having won, he spoke, his face
transfigured, his eyes half closed in agony.

"Thou star of heaven!  Thou highest point of the Everlasting Hills,
behold hast thy great love triumphed.  I love thee, but my heart could
hold no wife who loved another as thou hast shown thou lovest this man.
I----"

But, alas!  Leonie, swept off her balance in her great relief, broke
across his words.

"Let us hasten quickly, quickly.  You will tell the priest; you will
help me to set him--the man I love--free.  Oh, come quickly, quickly!"

In her callous but uncalculated desire to use this man as a lever
wherewith to heave aside the mountain of trouble which threatened to
overwhelm Jan Cuxson; and, with the inexplicable cruelty of the woman
who loves, and will blissfully put a whole community to torture as long
as her beloved is saved a single hurt, she asked the one impossible
thing.

He moved so quickly, fiercely, closely to her that she backed until she
stood in a patch of moonlight which shone upon her face.

Higher she raised her face, and still higher, as she looked back
straight into the eyes intent on hers.

And Madhu Krishnaghar laughed savagely as he looked down upon her.

"Go!" he commanded; "go up the path to the temple gate to meet thy
fate.  The Mother claims thee, and may thy blood and the blood of the
white man who has stolen thee from me flow upon her altar before she
shakes the earth in the fury of her displeasure."

Tortured, his soul sought relief in the fanaticism of his religion
which flared in his eyes; consumed with love, he called her back as she
turned to do the bidding of a stronger will than her own.

"Come!"

She stopped and turned, gave a vacant little laugh, and crept into his
arms when he held them out, and closed them about her without touching
her.

"Ah!" he whispered, "now that thou comest to me unknowingly I will have
none of thee.  I love thee, love thee, love thee!  Go to thy death that
my task may be well finished, and that everlasting torment may be
fastened upon the soul of him who stole thee from me!  Go, beloved of
my soul, rose of the morning, delight of my heart!  Ah, my love, my
love, go to thy death----!"

And he opened wide his arms and pointed up the path, and Leonie went
where he pointed; and never once looked back at the man standing with
his arms stretched out towards her, whilst monkeys chattered, and
parrots screamed, and the jungle teemed with flying, frightened shapes.



CHAPTER XLVIII

  "A whirlpool of uncertainty,
  a prison of punishment,
  a basket of illusion,
  the open throat of hell."--_The Spring Sataka_.


A brick and some plaster clattered about Jan Cuxson's feet as he
crossed the temple chamber and stood looking out at the jungle, and the
animals of all sizes and shapes which were hurtling through the
undergrowth.  For a minute he stood twirling the rusty knife blade
between his fingers, then hid it carefully behind a block of broken
masonry.

"Better so," he muttered, "not much good as a weapon of defence, but
better than nothing; might put the old man on the track if he happened
to find it on me when he comes to tie me up.  My God! to think of it;
I, strong and healthy and sane, at the mercy of that old priest,
actually under his will--hypnotised, forced to do exactly what he tells
me.  Please heavens the ghee will hold the plaster together round the
ring, and oh! I can't stand _much_ more of this suspense."

He had come to the end of his endurance.

Day had followed night, and night had followed day monotonously,
without a change in the heartbreaking dreariness of their round.

During the day he had watched the jungle over the outer wall for hours,
rewarded by an occasional glimpse of deer; once by a striped yellow
shade which had slunk between the trees, causing him to yearn for his
rifle; at night he had lain gazing at the stars, comfortable enough
upon a thick bed of leaves, untroubled by the mosquito which, as he had
learned, does not thrive in the Sunderbunds Jungle; and day and night
over the wall, or up at the stars, he strove to look into the future
and found a dreary blank.

But upon _this_ night he turned with a smile and a question on his lips
when the priest suddenly emerged from behind the heap of stones and
hurried across the flags towards him.

"Haste, sahib!  The Mother is infuriated at the long waiting, and I go
to make sacrifice to appease her.  _Haste_, for it is not good for man
if she stamps with both her holy feet.  Come, and struggle not!  Nay,
look not at me in such fashion lest I lay the stress of my will upon
you."

He looked so frail, that for an instant the white man had been tempted
to fling himself upon him, and find deliverance for himself and his
beloved by choking the wizened neck, or cracking the old pate against
the stones.

But one is rather at a disadvantage when thoughts are liable to be
read, and plans disclosed before they are even matured; and he walked
submissively towards the ring in the wall, and seated himself
abjectedly upon the floor, just as a handful of plaster inserted itself
between his neck and the open collar of his shirt, and the back of his
head bumped the wall.

"Something like a slight----"

"Haste, sahib!  I must away to placate Kali, the Goddess of
Destruction.  There is not long now to wait for the great sacrifice for
which she has waited all these weary years; and then, and only then,
shall the plague, and the pestilence, and the famine be ended, and the
people of India return to their old-time happiness."

He never once removed his eyes from those of the man beneath him, and
Cuxson sighed with relief, well content that the glaring eyes should
not move beyond his face.

Having knotted the thongs tightly, the old man straightened himself,
and smiled up at the silvery heavens in the ecstasy of his worship.

"Such sacrifice, O Mother, as thou hast longed for, and which has long
been forbidden thee through the might of the white man who rules us.
The temple is strewn with flowers, and the flames of hundreds of lights
shine in thy fish-shaped eyes, thou daughter of the eternal snows."  He
looked down suddenly to Cuxson, and bending, whispered in his ear.
"The white woman approaches, O _feringhee_, even she who has caused
this land to travail in agony all these years.  And you shall see her,
she shall come to you and know you not, and you shall hear her voice
upraised in worship as she lies upon the altar at her Mother's feet
while you are bound to the ring in the wall.  She has done well in
worship, even in sacrifice, but it is in her rich warm blood that Kali
the Terrible would lave her hands.  Struggle not, for behold, although
I have lifted my will from you that you should be tormented even as my
race has been tormented by a woman of your land, yet will the ring and
the hide hold you fast."

Like some huge bird of prey he ran swiftly back across the flags and
disappeared behind the mass of stones, and Cuxson, not daring to move
for fear of tightening the thongs, sat almost numb with anxiety as he
wondered if his luck would hold at the crucial moment.

Except for the crash of the frightened animals as they fought their way
through the undergrowth, there was no sound whatever in the place, but
as the moon took her seat above the exact centre of where once had been
the temple roof, he moved, and leant forward as far as the two feet of
raw hide would allow him, and from between his clenched teeth there
came one word:

"_Hell_!"

For the silence had been suddenly broken by a girl's sharp, hysterical
laugh, and though the sound was but a travesty, yet it was surely
Leonie's laugh.

Twisting his arms in the space the two feet of raw hide allowed him,
the slow, sure, desperate man with a mute appeal to _his_ God, sought
and caught the iron ring in his hands.

And in the jungle clearing where the fire smouldered dimly, and the
coolies, flat on their faces from abject terror, refused to move, Madhu
Krishnaghar sat, garbed as a servant, his brain in a whirl of religion
and hate, and his heart filled with love of the white girl he had sent
to certain death.

Suddenly he sprang to his feet, and tearing his raiment from him flung
it wide, and stood nude save for the loin cloth about the slender
middle, and the turban which outlined his tortured face, looking like
some lost bronze statue in the deserted places of the jungle.  He
raised his hands to heaven and prayed.

"O Mother, spare her!  O great god, have pity upon her," and the
suddenly risen wind took up his words and lifted them above the tree
tops, wafting them perhaps--and why not--to the God of Infinite Love.

Yet even as he prayed Leonie crept up to the doorway of the temple,
staring unblinkingly at the far end of the interior illuminated by the
flickering wicks of the hundreds of little lights.  She inhaled deeply,
and half closed her glaring eyes as the overpowering sickly perfume of
flowers, and some other indescribably sickening odour went to her head
like cheap wine.

"Yes?" she said questioningly, although no sound had broken the intense
stillness, and stood quite still with her head a little on one side,
then dropped to one knee and commenced to unlace her high boots, the
slap of the laces pulled through the holes cutting the silence like a
knife.

With her hands clasped to her breast, and walking on the tips of her
bare toes, she moved through the shadows towards the light, alone and
obedient to a will that had no pity.  Flowers were strewn thick in
every direction, and over them she passed to her death, while the eyes
of the priest never once left her face as he crouched in the opening
which led to the secret places of the temple; he even smiled when she
came to a standstill in front of the altar and swayed, slightly
overcome by the heavy atmosphere even in her trance; and he nodded his
head gently when she bent down and gathering handsful of the flowers,
flung them up above her head and laughed the hysterical, crazy laugh
which had reached the ears of the man she loved.

At her feet were _thalees_, brass plates laden with offerings of grain,
of woven stuffs, of gold and silver; at her right hand a crimson silk
_sari_ lay upon a heap of fallen stones, and upon it was a garland of
white flowers; and the slanting mother-o'-pearl eyes of the Goddess
Kali looked down from out the black face at this girl who was to be
sacrificed in atonement for the misery she had unwittingly brought upon
the land of India and her people.

Leonie's hands moved mechanically to her hair, which she unfastened and
shook out in all its glory; then they moved to the fastening of her
jersey, and one by one her garments slipped to the floor, leaving her
nude save for the covering of her hair.

Leaning down she lifted the _sari_, and with one quick movement twisted
it about her waist and across her breast; slipped the garland of white
flowers about her neck, and flinging back her hair raised her hands
above her head and shouted.

She did not sing or cry aloud, she shouted with her mouth wide open,
and her head thrust forward between her uplifted arms, a degrading
picture of religious sensuality; and gathering up armsful of flowers
from the floor, ran lightly over to the priest upon the tip of her bare
toes which were stained a hideous red, and putting the palm of one hand
against her forehead salaamed and said "Yes?" questioningly.

He laid no hand upon her, he made no sign and spoke no word, but she,
as drugged by another's will as if she were under the bane of opium,
followed him unhesitatingly into the secret places of the temple.  Her
bare feet made no sound on the dust of centuries; her eyes looked back
unwaveringly into the eyes of the gods who leered down upon her; her
hair caught around those others of which it is not seemly to write; and
before them all she cast her flowers, and upon them all she laid her
open palm.

And Jan Cuxson held his breath when she quietly sidled round the block
of fallen masonry, and standing in a moonray glanced at him from the
corner of her eyes.  Hung with flowers, she looked like a bacchante,
with one beautiful arm and shoulder showing bare through her mantle of
tumbled hair.

And his eyes caught the shadow of the priest cast by the passage lights
on to the floor as he stood hidden by the fallen stones, and he kept
still, but he called to his beloved, striving by his will to break her
chains, and truly at the sound of the loved voice the frozen horrors of
her face seemed to break like ice-floes before the sun in spring.

"Leonie," he called gently, "Leonie, come to me, come here to _me_!"

Her eyelids suddenly closed upon the staring gold-flecked eyes; her
mouth quivered in a little smile as she let fall the flowers about her
bloodstained feet and ran swiftly across to Jan; kneeling she touched
his face gently with her finger-tips, and stretched her hands across
his shoulders towards the thongs which bound him to the ring in the
wall.

Her hair fell upon him as she leaned towards him, and a memory of the
day he had found her in Rockham Cove flashed across his mind; her
mouth, her beautiful scarlet virgin mouth had almost touched his when
the priest's power, closing down, jerked her back into the horrible
travesty of her sweet, gentle self.

She sat back upon her heels and laughed, and said one word in
Hindustani which is best translated as dog, although it means
infinitely more and worse; and having uttered it she smote him across
the mouth with the flat of her hand and rose to her feet.

She stood for a moment laughing silently, looking down upon him, and
turning, ran swiftly across the flags to the block of fallen stones.
There she paused and glanced at the white man bound to the wall with
the light of battle in his eyes, before she disappeared, beckoning to
the priest who followed as she ran down the passage of the gods, making
obeisance before them as she passed.



CHAPTER XLIX

  "The soil out of which such men as he are made
  is good to be born on, good to live on,
  good to die for, and to be buried in."--_Lowell_.


Leonie lay motionless on the stained stone before the altar; her hair,
pulled back clear from her neck, swept behind her head like a cascade
of rust-coloured water to the floor; her hands were clasped between her
breasts, and her great unfathomable eyes stared up into those of the
stone woman who looked down at her and seemed to laugh with joy at her
long coveted prize.

In every corner black shapes danced; advancing, retreating, springing
towards the roof and vanishing utterly.  The place seemed infested with
goblins, or devils, things of untold evilness and vice, although, in
reality, they were but the shadows thrown by the little lights which
were like tongues licking the lips of darkness in sensuous anticipation
of the coming feast of blood.

The old priest stood looking up at his god with perplexity in his
sunken eyes.

Arrayed in snow-white garment, with long hair hanging down, he held the
knife of sacrifice in one hand, and in the other the sacred _roomal_.

The terrible picture shone softly in the light of the full moon which
struck straight down upon the altar through a hole in the ruined roof.

"Tell thy servant thy pleasure, O Black One!" prayed the priest,
swaying slightly to and fro.  "Make him understand it the _roomal_
shall be knotted about the neck of this white sacrifice, or if the
knife shall draw a necklace of red about the white neck and upon the
white breast.  Give me an answer, O Mother, that I may right the wrong
of many moons ago.  A sign, a sign, O Mother!"

As he spoke; and for no apparent reason, Leonie's hands unclasped, her
arms opened and fell towards her sides, leaving the beautiful breast
bare with the jewel in shape and colour of a cat's eye winking craftily
with the cunning and knowledge of the sins of all ages, just above the
heart.

The priest shouted in worship, and his words, caught, echoed and
re-echoed from the dome, drowned the sound of footsteps running at high
speed across the flower-strewn floor.

Madhu Krishnaghar, naked save for the turban which bound his handsome
head and the loin cloth which girt the slender middle, sped like the
wind to the rescue of his beloved.

In the black shades of the jungle, understanding at last that for him
there could be no life outside the life of the white woman he loved,
and no happiness outside her happiness, he had raced Time down the
jungle path, through the outer gates and temple door, pausing not for
the fraction of a second; realising, as he ran, that upon his speed
alone depended the life of his beloved.  And even as the priest flung
back his arm with a scream of ecstasy, the knife was wrenched out of
his hand from behind.

O Madhu, you splendid heathen, who defied the anger of your strange
gods for the love in your noble heart.

"Ha!" said the old man as he swung round in fury; then he smiled and
opened wide his arms.  "Thou!  O my son! _thou_!  Thou wouldst offer
the great sacrifice thyself to our most gentle mother.  And art thou
not in the right?  Thine has been the task and the toil, therefore is
it meet that thou shouldst have the reward."

He laid his hands upon the shoulders of the youth, who straightway
gripped the veined old wrists and raised the withered arms high up
above their heads, while their eyes met in a sudden-born, subconscious
enmity, and the knife lay glittering along the wrinkled brown skin.

Only for an instant, and Madhu let go his hold, and turning, stood
looking down upon the jewel above the woman's heart.  As he looked, the
thing, catching the reflections of the lights, shone strangely bright
upon the snow-white skin, and the lust of blood swept him from head to
foot.

He longed to drive the dagger through the breast above the shining
jewel; he craved to see the whiteness of the skin stained with red, to
throw himself upon the still form and shut the dead mouth with kisses.

He was mad with passion, intoxicated with the heavy perfumed air, drunk
with the atmosphere of his surroundings, and his slim body shook as he
ran the needle-point of the dagger into his own breast.

He closed his eyes in the ecstasy of that pain which is twin to the
ecstasy of desire fulfilled, and in their closing woke suddenly to the
purity of his strange love.  He turned with a snarl and hit up the old
man's hand as it almost touched the nape of his neck, and stretching
wide his arms made a shield of his body between Leonie and the intent
he read in the priest's eyes, just as a brick fell and split to pieces
at their feet.

"Linger not, my son," said the old priest fiercely.  "Behold! the rites
have been performed, the chants sung, and the offerings made.  Drive
the knife home, and give drink to thy mother of that which she loves.
Hasten! for she is angry at thy slowness, and the very earth trembles
at her wrath."

But Madhu Krishnaghar looked straight back into the fierce, suspicious
old eyes, and moved quickly towards the priest who, taken by surprise,
retreated hurriedly.

"Father!" came the words in the musical, steady voice.  "O servant of
the Black One, I cannot, nay, I will not, for I love yon white woman
with a love passing all understanding.  Nay, hearken!  A sacrifice
there must be this night, and there shall be one.  Even me, O my
Father.  Let it suffice, for behold is my love so great, that she, the
slender white flower, seems but one with me.  Let her go, let her go,
and lay me on the stone, warm with the life of her dear body, and drive
the knife through my heart, that through my love peace may be made with
thy god and my god!"

The whole world seemed bound in a great terrible silence as the two men
stood staring at each other in the soft silver light of the moon; then
the old man smiled gently, with the cunning of all time in his eyes,
and creeping close to his pupil spoke in the merest whisper; tempting,
as have always tempted, those who desire to gain their own ends, and
who justify all means as long as that end is gained.

"Thou lovest her, my son.  The infidel white woman, the sacrifice long
dedicated to thy god.  And why not, for thou are marked even with the
mark which shows between the breasts like lotus buds.  But thinkest
thou, O son of princes, O descendant of the great, that thou art fit to
mate with her.  She is white, a daughter of the all-conquering race;
thou--thou art black--a pariah--a dog--thou wouldst be whipped from her
presence, thou high-born son of India."

The old man never moved his eyes from the young face, and neither the
one nor the other saw the great striped terrified beast which slunk
past them and disappeared into the shadows, seeking protection in its
terror.

"But why shouldst thou let this woman, whom thou lovest, go?  Why not
make sacrifice of love as well as life to the great one?  Behold is she
soft and white and all-pleasing!  Why, therefore, should she not come
unto thy intent neath the eyes of the Sweet One, while I make offerings
in the shadows towards thy well doing; so that the Black One will be
twice pleased."

Of all the horrible temptations in that place of horror!  And where in
the name of all the gods did the native, unshackled by convention or
code, find the strength to resist?

For while the priest whispered the young face was swept by a flood of
conflicting emotions--which passed--leaving it as pure, as
soul-stirring as the Taj Mahal at dawn.

"No!  O Holy One!  I will not--I love her--I love her--I will not!"

The words were firm and the young mouth like steel, and the eyes looked
steadily back into those of the priest as the latter rushed upon him in
mighty, inhuman wrath.

"And I say that thou shalt, thou begotten son of evil.  I say that thou
shalt encompass this woman with thy might, and then offer her in
sacrifice to Kali, the Goddess of Death.  I say that thou _shalt_."

It was a case of will pitted against will, for the old man knew that
the younger would not dare raise hand against him for fear of
everlasting damnation.

And Madhu Krishnaghar girded himself for the battle by putting his love
for the white woman in the forefront of his mind.

And as they fought, desperately, with one last terrific pull which
caused the hide to cut down to the wrist bone, Jan Cuxson wrenched the
ring he had loosened from the wall, and stood swaying, sick with pain.
Sweat poured down his face and bare chest, and blood flowed from his
wrists while his burst finger-tips fumbled clumsily with the deep
embedded thongs.

"I did it--I did it," he kept on repeating savagely, as his knees
trembled and his body turned cold in agony.  "I did it--I did it--God
grant I am in time--in time."

Free at last, smothered in blood, dragging his heavily booted feet with
difficulty, he sought and found the broken blade, staggered across the
floor, stooped, and entered the passage of the gods where the imprint
of his beloved's bare feet marked the dust of ages.

And Leonie lay quite still; to all appearance dead, with her open eyes
turned back beneath the lids and her mouth half open showing her even
teeth.

Not a word passed between the two men as they fought for her, one for
her life, the other for her death.  This way and that they moved; the
one trying to escape from the direct range of the relentless
will-power, and yet keep himself between the girl and the religious
fanatic; the other striving to press his opponent back even to the
altar stone.

Like iron to a magnet Madhu's hand was closed about the dagger hilt,
and try as he would he could not relax the grasp nor fling the knife
far back into the shadows; neither could he keep his footing, for
strive as he would the priest's magnetic power, developed and trained
through years and years of study and practice, drove him back inch by
inch towards the god who looked down upon them with her fish-shaped
eyes.

A glint of triumph shone in the eyes of the priest, and twisted the
corner of his mouth as the heel of his enemy thudded against the stone
upon which lay the white girl; and he concentrated every ounce of his
strength for the last moment when, by sheer force of his will, the
knife should be lifted and driven down, deep, even to the hilt.  And
the white man hastened as best he could, reeling at every step, with
blood streaming from his wrists and spattering upon the stones beneath
the leering eyes of the gods.  Not one of the three heeded the low
moaning of the wind as it swept past the temple and through the trees,
to die away into a great, uncanny, unnatural silence, unbroken by sound
of beast or bird.

Fate feeling for her shears, and peevish through want of sleep maybe,
or mayhap irritated by their obstreperous behaviour, jerked the strings
which bound those marionettes called humans to her palsied old fingers.

The old priest, misjudging the pull given to his string, in what he
mistook to be his triumph, _laughed_.

It is better to laugh last indeed, but oft-times it is best not to
laugh at all, for who can foresee the particle of dust which may enter
your indecently and injudiciously wide open mouth to choke you in your
ill-timed mirth.

Only for an instant did he triumph above his enemy, but for just that
instant he loosened his will power; and Madhu Krishnaghar, sensing the
relief, and whipped by the laugh to one final desperate effort of his
failing powers, raised his hand and flung the knife far back to fall
with a clatter in some distant corner.

It was done.

Youth had mocked at experience, life at death, love at opposition, as
it has done since the beginning of time, and will do, let us hope,
until the end.

For as the knife hurtled into the shadows, Madhu bent swiftly and
lifted Leonie into his arms, holding her in this his last moment of
heaven upon earth, tenderly and firmly, as he glared defiance over her
head at the priest.

And he, understanding at last that he had failed, cast himself at the
feet of his god who, in her fury, stamped with both her blood-stained
feet.



CHAPTER L

  "Greater love hath no man."--_The Bible_.


There was a shout from the doorway leading to the secret places of the
temple as Cuxson, covered with blood and dust, half-crazed with horror,
paused for a moment as he took in the awful picture before him.

Leonie, with her hair almost sweeping the ground, lay half clothed and
seemingly dead in the arms of a native, whose face was a picture of
triumphant love for all to see; and a wild-eyed priest beat his breast
before the horrible image of the terrible, all powerful Goddess of
Destruction.

He sprang forward with another shout, which was lost in the shriek and
crash of the raging elements.

For even as he moved there was a terrific roar as of tons of exploding
dynamite, and a shriek of wind as it tore through the building, blowing
out the little flickering lights, leaving the place pitch black save
for the steady light of the full moon.

Then he swayed like a drunken man as the floor rose in a great wave and
yet another, heaving the flags this way and that, cracking and
splitting in every direction as it subsided.

"Leonie!" he shouted, though no sound could be heard above the
appalling din.  "Leonie!  Leonie!"

He saw her lying in a pool of moonlight as though asleep, and near her
knelt the native, with arms outstretched above her, sheltering her.

There was a moment of complete dead silence, and then with a tearing,
rending sound the dome and the temple walls split from top to base; and
with a thundering crash the great block of stone upon which was carved
the image of Kali the Terrible split in two, toppled over and fell upon
the kneeling priest.

Herds of screaming beasts hurled themselves through the riven walls and
fled across the temple floor, fighting blindly to escape.  Monkeys in
hundreds scrambled over the mounds of fallen bricks, chattering and
calling like lost, frightened children; a tiger with one bound landed
noiselessly a few feet from those two in the moonlight, half reared
with a short coughing roar and bounded as noiselessly away.  And God
alone knows what saved the three from instant death among the tottering
ruins.

The power of Love perchance.

The son of princes sheltering the girl slowly, oh! slowly straightened
himself, when a prolonged silence seemed to indicate the end of the
greatest earthquake that ever swept the Sunderbunds Jungle.

Blood streamed from the side of his head, battered in by a broken
fragment of the high altar that had been hurled through the air; his
left shoulder was in splinters, crushed by the collapse of the roof
which must have killed Leonie if he had not covered her with his body;
blood spouted from some great severed artery in the arm which seemed to
hang by a thread from the splintered shoulder; yet was his face aglow
with light and love, and his eyes afire with happiness as he raised a
tawny tress of hair and pressed it to his lips.

He was dying, quickly, yet he turned his head and smiled at the sound
of Jan Cuxson's boots scrambling over the impeding heaps of stone.  For
one second only the torture of the sacrifice required of him flared in
the soft brown eyes; and then in the pride of his great race, and with
an effort of will beyond all telling, he put his unbroken arm round the
woman he loved so well, lifted her, got somehow to his feet, and
walked, aye! walked steadily across the few yards which separated him
from the white man.

Cuxson, not realising his terrible plight, with eyes only for the woman
_he_ loved, wrenched Leonie from his hold and swept her from head to
foot with frantic eyes.

"What have you done to her?" he demanded fiercely.  "Before the
earthquake what did you do to her?  Tell me--or by God I'll----"

He stopped the bitter words in time to save himself from everlasting
remorse.

For Madhu Krishnaghar suddenly straightened his battered body, and
looked the white man in the eyes.

"She is safe, O white man, safe and unharmed.  Take her, keep
her--carry her by the--the short road without the--the temple
gates--to--happiness, _I_ give _her_--to--you--because _I_--I
love--her--for ever!"

There was a moment's terrible silence in which the two men stood
divided, yet united, in their great love for the one woman.

The native of India put his hand to his forehead and salaamed before
the woman for whom he had sacrificed all, then turned slowly around
towards the place where the image of his god had so lately stood.

"Kali!" he called, and his young voice was as the clashing of golden
bells at sunset.  "Kali!  Mother of all--I come!"

And unwitting of the great reward awaiting those who attain everlasting
peace through the victory of the greater love, he crashed face
downwards, dead, upon the flower-strewn floor, and passed for ever into
the safe keeping of the one and only God.



CHAPTER LI

  "When the day breaks and the shadows flee away!"--_The Bible_.


Jan Cuxson lifted Leonie's face to the light of the moon, and caught
his breath at the sight of the turned back eyes and drooping mouth.

This was the outcome of it all!  _This_ was how she was left to him;
saved from physical hurt but with her mind for ever bound by the will
of yon dead priest.  Hypnotised, mesmerised, to be under the influence
of the Goddess of Destruction until her death; maybe to pass her life
in the security of a padded cell; she, his Leonie, his love, his
wife-to-be.

He crushed her in fierce despair against his heart as the ground moved
gently under his feet, and prayed aloud to his God to bring the riven
walls down upon them there in the moonlight, that in merciful death the
awful fate of his beloved might be lifted from her.

The only answer to the desperate prayer was silence and shadows
enveloping them like a mantle, and he lifted his stern face to the
radiance of the moon, with the light of battle in the grey eyes.

"I will find a way out, dear heart," he cried, as he turned her face
gently against his shoulder.  "There is a way and I will find it."  And
he strode as hastily as the masses of fallen stone would allow him
towards the door and the short path which would lead him to the water's
edge and safety.

As he skirted the half of the fallen altar which lay across the body of
the priest, he paused for a moment and looked down upon the man who had
won even in death.

As he looked the fingers of the out-flung hands twitched, and a violent
shiver shook the old frame.  Slowly, very slowly the gnarled old arms
were gathered in under the breast as inch by inch the Hindu priest
raised himself from the floor.  The lower limbs were hidden, crushed
under the fallen stone, and the old head hung down between the
shoulders, the grey hair tangled in a wreath of jasmin flower.

He lifted his face, and the dim old eyes looked wistfully up into the
grey ones staring down at him out of the shadows.

"Thou hast conquered, sahib, thou hast conquered in love," he
whispered.  "And she is safe, for behold my--my power--has gone--from
her.  I--even I--have not obeyed, and my god--has destroyed me!"

Lifting his voice he cried aloud and died.

And as he died Leonie turned her face from the shelter of her lover's
shoulder and closed her eyes, and opening them again laughed sweetly as
she looked up into his face.

"You, Jan, _you_!  Why--whatever has happened, and--why--wherever are
we?"  And he looked down into the sweet face and laughed aloud, an
exultant, ringing laugh which was caught and echoed and re-echoed from
the dome until the place seemed filled with the sound of happiness.

"There has been a bit of an earthquake, dear, and you got hit on the
head by a piece of falling brick.  See, sweetheart," and he swept the
masses of hair together and twisted it between her head and his coat,
"turn your face this way until I have you safely out of here, it's nice
and soft, and shut your eyes, darling----"

"Yes! but," said Leonie, as she turned her face as bidden and closed
her eyes with a sigh of great content, "but--but how did we escape?"

"You were saved, dear!"

"Saved!--from what?  By whom?"

She tried to turn her head, but he held it pressed close against his
heart.

"From death--dear heart!"

"And by whom--tell me--Jan--by whom?"

Jan Cuxson paused a moment as he looked across towards the still figure
of Madhu Krishnaghar stretched peacefully upon the ground.

"By the whitest man that has ever lived, dear!--by him!"

And he turned without another word and strode through the temple and
out of the gates to the narrow way which led to safety.  And where the
trees met in an arch above his head he stopped and looked back, and
Leonie, turning her face, passed her hand wonderingly over the tousled
masses of her hair and the silken drapery about her body.

"Where are we going to?  Where are you taking me?"

He shifted her completely into his left arm, pulled at a golden slender
chain round her neck with his right hand, caught it in his strong white
teeth and wrenched it in two.

And he answered her as he flung the jewelled cat's-eye far out into the
jungle.

"To Devon, beloved, to Devon and happiness!"

And as he closed her red mouth with kisses the earth shook gently under
his feet, and the temple, with a terrific crash, caved in; burying for
ever the dead priest, the broken image of Kali, the Goddess of
Destruction, and Madhu Krishnaghar, son of princes, her splendid Indian
lover.



THE END





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