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Title: The Potter's Thumb
Author: Steel, Flora Annie Webster, 1847-1929
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.

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Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=LyHQAAAAMAAJ
      (Indiana University)

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                          THE POTTER'S THUMB



                                  BY

                          FLORA ANNIE STEEL



                                LONDON

                          WILLIAM HEINEMANN

                                 1900



_All rights reserved_



                          THE POTTER'S THUMB



                              CHAPTER I


'Tis only the potter's thumb, Huzoor.'

As she raised the parti-coloured rag covering the child's body, the
noonday sun streamed down upon a pitiful sight. Yet her eyes, despite
the motherhood which lay in them, accepted it, as the sun did, calmly.
Emotion, such as it was, being reserved for the couple of Englishmen
who stood by: and even there curiosity and repulsion froze the surface
of pity, especially in the younger of the two faces.

In good sooth, not a pleasant sight for mankind, to whom sickness does
not as a rule bring that quick interest born of a desire to aid which
it does to most women. The brown skin was fair with the pallor of
disease, and the fine, sparse, black hair showed the contour of the
skull. The unnatural hollows of the temples emphasised the unnatural
prominence of the closed eyelids, round whose ragged margin of clogged
lashes the flies settled in clusters. Below this death's-head was an
over-large body, where, despite its full curves, each rib stood sharply
defined, and whence the thin limbs angled themselves in spidery
fashion.

'The potter's thumb?' echoed Dan Fitzgerald interrogatively. He was a
tall man, broad in the shoulders, lean in the flank, and
extraordinarily handsome; yet the most noticeable quality in the face
looking down at the very ordinary woman squatting upon a very ordinary
dust-heap, was not its beauty, but its vitality. 'Is that a disease?'
he added, almost sharply.

She gave the native cluck of emphatic denial. 'No! Huzoor. The child
dies because it does not drink milk properly; yet is it the potter's
thumb in the beginning. Lo! many are born so in this place. The
doctor-sahib who put the _tikka_ on the arms for smallpox said
Hodinuggur was too old for birth--that it was a graveyard. I know not.
Only this is true; many are born with this; many die of it.'

'Die of the potter's thumb--what potter?'

Her broad face broadened still more into a smile. 'The Huzoor doth not
understand! Lo! when the potter works on the clay, his hand slips
sometimes in the moulding. It leaves a furrow, so,'--her brown finger,
set with tarnished silver rings, traced a girdle round the baby's naked
breast--'then in the firing the pot cracks. Cracks like these,'--here
the finger pointed to the sherds among which she sate,--'so when
children are born as this one, we say 'tis the potter's thumb.
Sometimes there is a mark,'--again the finger softly followed the line
it had traced before--'this one had it clear when he came; sometimes
none can see it, but 'tis there all the same, all the same. The
potter's thumb has slipped; the pot will crack in the firing.'

Her voice took a cadence as if accustomed to the words.

'What _is_ she saying?' interrupted George Keene impatiently. He was a
middle-sized lad of twenty or thereabouts, powerfully made, with grey
eyes and white teeth gleaming in an aquiline, sunburnt face.

'Something ghastly,' replied Dan. 'It always is so, you'll find, my
dear boy, when you dip below the indifferent calm of these people. It's
like deciphering a tombstone. But come on. We are due already at the
World, the Flesh, and the Devil's.' Then he paused, gave a short laugh,
and flung out his hands in an impulsive gesture. 'By the Powers!' he
went on, his face seeming to kindle with the fuel of his own fancy,
'it's gruesome entirely. This heap of dust they call Hodinuggur, as
they call thousands of such human ant-hills all over India; for
wherever when you dig, the bricks grow bigger and bigger till, _hocus
pocus_! they vanish in the dust from which God made man--_that_ is
Hodinuggur; the old city, it means. What city? who knows! Then in the
corner of this particular one a survival'--his eager hand pointed to
the pile of buildings before them--'not of those old days, for no
Moghul in India dates beyond Timoor, and these people are Moghuls; but
of that Mohammedan civilisation which overwhelmed the older one, just
as we in our turn are overwhelming the Moghul--who in the meantime
bullies the people by virtue of an Englishman's signature on a piece of
parchment----'

'But I suppose we found the Diwân in possession when we annexed----'
began George stolidly.

Dan scorned the interruption and the common-sense. 'Oh, 'tis queer,
looked at any way. A mound of sherds and dust higher than the gateway
of the palace. I'll go bail that reed hut yonder on the top is higher
than old Zubr-ul-Zamân's tower. He lives up there winter and summer,
does the old Diwân, looking out over his world and the strength of
it--that's what his name means, you know. His son, Khush-hâl Beg, lives
in the next storey. A Jack Falstaff of a man--that's why I call him the
Flesh. Then Dalel, the Devil, roams about seeking whom he may devour.'

'A charming trio; and what part have I to play in the drama?' asked
George with a laugh.

'St. George, of course.'

The lad laughed louder. 'So I am in baptism. George for short. Born on
the saint's day--father a parson--fire away, old chap--don't let me
pull Pegasus.'

'Sure! my dear boy, and aren't you sent to fight them all? Sent into
this wilderness of a place to be tempted----'

'Oh, don't talk rot, Fitzgerald! I suppose you mean about the
sluice-gate; but it's sheer folly.'

'Is it? My two last subordinates didn't find it so. Perhaps the
potter's thumb had slipped over their honesty. So the authorities gave
me you--a real white man--and said it was my last chance. Think of that
now, my boy, and be careful.'

George Keene frowned perceptibly.

'That's a fine old gateway,' he said, to change the subject. As they
approached it a flock of iridescent pigeons rocketed from the dark
niches to circle and flash against the sky. It was a great square block
of a building cut through by one high arch of shadow, and showing the
length of the tunnel in the smallness of the sunlit arch beyond. On the
worn brick causeway, as they entered, half in the sunshine, half in
shade, lay the scattered petals of a pomegranate blossom which some
passer-by had flung aside.

'By Jove, what a colour!' said Fitzgerald: 'like drops of blood.'

George Keene frowned again. 'If I had your diseased imagination I'd
engage lodgings in Bedlam. Seriously, I mean it. Fellows like you are
get rid of it in words--all froth and fuss; but if that sort of thing
ever got a real grip on me--Hullo! what's that?' He flushed through his
tan in sheer vexation at his own start. From the deep recesses, which
on either side of the causeway lost themselves in shadow, came a clash
as of silver bells, and something through the arches showed white yet
shadowy; something of exceeding grace, salaaming to the _sahib-logue_;
something sending the scent of jasmine flowers into the hot air.

'That is Chândni,' said Dan, passing on regardless of the salutation,
'she generally sits here.'

George, imitating his companion, felt the thrill still in his veins.
'Chândni!' he echoed, 'that means silvery, doesn't it?'

'Moonshine also. They call her Chândni-rât or Moonlit-night as a rule.
If tales be true, there is a good deal of the night about her. She and
Dalel--but here he comes, innocently, from a side door. The Devil loves
moonshiny nights.'

The figure approaching them was not outwardly of diabolic mould, being
altogether too insignificant. The oval face was barely shadowed by a
thin beard curling in an oiled tuft on either side of the retreating
chin, and the only Mephistophelian feature was the narrow line of
moustache waxed upwards towards the eyes. The dress was nondescript to
absurdity. A biretta-shaped Moghul cap, heavy with church embroidery,
sate jauntily on the long greasy hair; a blue velvet shooting-coat, cut
in Western fashion, was worn over baggy, white cotton drawers, and
these again were tucked away into sportsmanlike leather gaiters, ending
in striped socks and patent leather highlows. Such was Mirza Dalel Beg,
the Diwân's grandson. Behind him came lesser bloods of the same type:
one with a falcon on his wrist; all with curious eyes for George Keene,
the new-comer.

'Hullo, Dalel sahib!' cried Dan in English. 'Keene, let me introduce
you in form to his Highness.'

The Mirza thrust out a small, cold, clammy hand; but thereinafter
relapsed into such absolute inaction, that George found no little
difficulty in finishing the ceremony.

'Ana, I see!' said his Highness jerkily, in a voice many tones too low
for his chest measurement. 'Glad to see you, Keene. You shoot, I lend
you gun or rifle. You hawk, we go hawk together. You hunt, you use my
crocks. Come, see my stable.'

Dan's eyebrows went up expressively. 'Don't tempt him to-day, Mirza
sahib,' he interrupted gravely. 'We are already due at the State
audience with your grandfather. Aren't you to be there as
heir-presumptive?'

Dalel crackled with a high-toned laugh which did not match his voice.
'Bosh! My gov'nor is there in swagger dress. He likes. I am different.
Good-bye, Keene. You must come often, and we will go shoot, hunt, polo,
billiard, and be jolly. Ta, ta! I go to stables.'

The two Englishmen walked on in silence for a while. Then George Keene
looked at his companion with a queer smile.

'So, that's the Devil?--that--that heterogeneous bounder----'

'Heterogeneous bounder is good--parlous good,' replied Dan, still
gravely; 'but here is our reception party, so, for heaven's sake, look
dignified, and don't shake hands, mind, unless they offer to do so.
They know their own rank, you see; you don't know yours--as yet.'

The lad, as he obeyed orders, felt that he knew very little of anything
in India; the fact being evident in the surprise with which he noted
the squalid appearance of all things, save the ruinous masonry; even of
the state-room where, on a cane-bottomed chair, set on a filthy striped
carpet, a mountain of flesh awaited them. It did not need his
companion's whisper to make him understand that this must be the
heir-apparent Khush-hâl Beg, for the fat man, coming forward to the
appointed stripe--thus far and no further--held out his hand.

'The Huzoor is young,' he wheezed in a stately dignified voice. 'But
youth is a great gift. With it even the desert need not be dull. 'Tis
only as we grow older----' He paused and crossed his hands over his fat
stomach with a sigh, as if to him the only consolation for age lay
there. Dan shot one of his almost articulate looks at his companion as
they passed on to a narrow stone stair where there was barely room for
single-file order up the steep steps. Up and up it went seemingly in
the thickness of the wall, with little loopholes sending a faint light
at the turns; up and up, breathlessly, till the party emerged on the
roof of the Diwân's tower, where, in a pavilion set round with arched
arcades, they found the old man himself, backed by a semi-circle of
shabby retainers, whose gay clothes showed tawdry in the pitiless
sunlight.

Yet Dan's whisper of 'the World' provoked no smile in his companion,
for there was nothing to smile at in Zubr-ul-Zamân, old and shrunken as
he was. So old that those steep stairs cut him off from his kind; so
old that his chin lay upon his breast, his palms upon his knees, as
though both head and hands were weary of the world. What his heart
thought of his ninety and odd years of life none knew. None could even
guess, for the simple reason that Zubr-ul-Zamân had never showed that
he possessed a heart. Of brains and skill he had no lack even now; but
of pity, love, tenderness, only this was certain, that he had never
sought them even in others. Yet the English boy had eyes only for that
wrinkled, indifferent face, while Dan Fitzgerald, seated on one of the
two cane-bottomed chairs set opposite the Diwân's red velvet one,
explained in set terms why George came to be seated in the other. Not a
pleasant tale altogether, told as it was with official boldness of
expression. Briefly, the sluice-gate of the canal had been opened too
often, and Government did not intend it to occur again.

When he ceased, the Diwân raised his head slowly, and George felt an
odd thrill at his first sight at those luminous dark eyes; a thrill
which continued as, at a sign from the old man, the court rhetorician
standing surcharged with eloquence at the Diwân's right hand, burst
into a stream of polished Persian periods which, hitting the keynote of
the empty pavilion, roused a murmurous echo in its arcades. It reminded
George of the general confession in his father's church on a week-day
when the choir was absent; one certain note followed by faint efforts
after repentance. The fancy, indeed, clung closer to facts than his
ignorance of the language allowed him to perceive, as the speech dealt
chiefly in regrets for the untoward events in the past which had made
it incumbent on '_Gee Uff Keene sahib bahâdur_' to languish in the
wilderness of Hodinuggur, though doubtless the presence of the said
'_Gee Uff Keene sahib bahâdur_' would cause that desert to blossom like
a rose, despite the want of water. These reiterations of his own name
made George feel a sense of unknown responsibility, as of a baby at its
own christening. He looked anxiously at Dan, his sponsor, but the
latter was now conversing with the Diwân in the usual explosive
sentences followed by the decorous silences due to dignity, while the
attendants brought forward divers round brass trays covered with
Manchester pocket-handkerchiefs and laid them at the visitors' feet.
George's share consisted of three, one containing dried fruits and
sugar, one of various rich cloths topped by a coarse white muslin
_pugree_, the third conglomerate. A French clock, with Venus Anadyomene
in alabaster, some pantomime jewelry, a green glass tumbler, a tin of
preserved beetroot, a lacquered tray with the motto 'for a good boy,'
and various other odds and ends. Among them a small blue earthenware
pot. Was it blue after all, or did a gold shimmer suggest a pattern
beneath the glaze? A queer, quaint shape, dumpy, yet graceful. That
broad, straight ring around it should have marred its curves but failed
to do so; strange! how these people had the knack of running counter to
recognised rules, and yet---- Here George was recalled to the present
by Dan whispering--

'Take it, man! Take it!'

Looking round he saw the latter removing something from a tray, and his
own head being full of the blue pot, his hand naturally went out
towards it.

'No! no!' continued Dan, in the same voice, 'the _pugree_.'

'But I've got one already!'

The instinctive greed of the reply made his companion smile as he
explained that the _pugree_ was put there on purpose. But, as he spoke,
the Diwân signed to an attendant who stepping forward, transferred the
blue pot to the tray of dried fruits.

'It is nothing,' came the courteous voice, setting aside all
disclaimers; 'our potter makes them.'

'I did not know they could put such a good glaze on nowadays,' remarked
Fitzgerald, yielding the point. 'A first-rate piece of work indeed;
does the man live here?'

Khush-hâl Beg turned to the speaker breathlessly. 'He is crazy, Huzoor.
The Lord destroyed his reason by an accident. The old wall fell on his
house one night and killed his daughter. Since then he lives away,
where naught can fall, like the crazy one he is.'

The stress and hurry of the speech were evident, even though the fat
man was still suffering from the stairs.

'Thank the Lord! that's over,' said Dan piously, when the last
diminishing tail of escort left them with but one orderly to carry the
spoil. 'I ought to have warned you about the _pugree_--but there! you
might have done worse--the French clock, for instance. Come! let's
strike home across the mound. I want to show you a dodge of mine on the
canal cut.'

He plunged headlong, after his wont, into professional matters till
even George, fresh from college technicalities, could scarcely follow
him, and found himself wondering why a man of such vast capacity should
have succeeded so indifferently; for Dan Fitzgerald was not a _persona
grâta_ at headquarters. To be that, a subordinate often has to conceal
his own talents, and this man could not even conceal his faults. Some
folk are so self-contained that a burden of blame finds no balance on
their shoulders; others are so hospitable that they serve as hold-alls
both for friends and foes; and there was plenty of room both for praise
and blame in Dan Fitzgerald's excitable Celtic nature.

'What's that?' cried George suddenly. With the best intentions his
attention had wandered, for everything in that circle of dun-coloured
horizon domed with blue was new to him. Dan paused, listening. An odd
rhythmic hum came from the highest hut, which was separated from the
others by palisades of plaited tiger-grass shining in the afternoon
light like a diaper of gold.

'The potter's wheel!' he cried, his face changing indescribably in an
instant. 'Come on, Keene, and let us see the man who made your first
bribe!'

He gave no time for reply, but turning at right angles through a gap
threaded his way past piles of pots and sherds until he ran the sound
to earth. Literally to earth--a circle of the solid earth spinning
dizzily in front of a man buried to his waist. At least so it seemed at
first to George Keene's ignorance of potters and their wheels. A
circle, dazzling at its outer edge, clearer at the centre where
something beneath a steady curved hand shot up, and bulged; then, as
the whirr slackened, sank into a bomb of clay.

'Salaam alaikoom!' came a pleasant voice as the worker sat back in his
seat-hole so as to ease his feet. He was a mild-faced old gentleman
with nothing remarkable about him save a pair of shifty eyes--the light
hazel eyes seen so rarely in a native's face.

'Salaam alaikoom,' returned Dan. 'The little sahib has never seen a
wheel worked. Will you show him?'

'Wherefore not, Huzoor? The sahib could come to none better, seeing we
of Hodinuggur have spun the wheel of life for years--for ages and ages
and ages.'

The words blent with the rising cadence of the wheel as he leant
forward to the task again. Faster and faster upon the wheel with a
swaying motion. Only the potter's hand poised motionless above the
whirring clay which showed--as children say--like a top asleep. Then
suddenly came the turn of the potter's thumb, bringing a strange weird
life with it. One protean curve after another swelling, sinking,
shifting, falling. The eye could scarcely follow their swift birth and
death, until the potter, sitting back once more, the slackening wheel
disclosed the hollows and bosses.

'The clay is good,' he said, as if deprecating his own skill, 'and it
fires well.'

'When the thumb does not slip,' put in Dan quietly. The potter turned
to him in sudden interest.

'The Huzoor knows the sayings of the people, that is well; it is not
often so. Yea! it slips--thus.' The wheel still span slowly, he shifted
his hand almost imperceptibly and a deep furrow scored itself upon the
biggest boss. 'So little does it,' he went on, 'a grit clinging to the
skin--a wandering thought. It is Fate. Fuzl Elâhi, the potter, cannot
help it.'

'Fuzl Elâhi? Then you are a Mohammedan?'

He shook his head. 'I am as my fathers were. The Moghuls call me so,
the Hindus otherwise; but it means the same. By the grace of God,
potter of Hodinuggur since time began. Lo! my fathers and my children
are in the clay. I dug a grave in the dust for the boy; the girl dug
hers for herself. It was deep, Huzoor. I search for it always; in vain,
in vain.' The wheel set up its rhythmic hum once more, but the hands
lay idle.

'Poor old chap,' said Dan aside, 'I suppose he is thinking of the
accident; but by the powers, Keene, it is a situation. Seated here on a
pinnacle--a crazy irresponsible creator----'

'Ask him if he made the pot, please,' interrupted George brutally. 'If
I could get a pair, I'd send them to the _mater_. Those things are
always in pairs, you know.'

'Pairs! you intolerable Philistine! A potter's vessel trying to be
matched before it's broken in pieces. Think of the tragedy--the humour
of it.'

'Will you ask, or shall I?'

Fitzgerald grinned maliciously. 'You. I like to hear you stuttering.'

George smiled, rose, and taking the blue pot from the attendant's tray
laid it on the potter's wheel.

'Did you make that?' he asked, in English. His meaning was palpable.

'No, Huzoor.'

'If you did not, who did?' he continued, his triumph mixed with anxiety
for the future; but the old man's thoughts did duty for an answer.

'Without doubt my fathers made it; since it is an Ayôdhya pot.'

'Ayôdhya,' broke in Dan, 'that means old, Keene; you'll have to send it
back. I half suspected it was valuable, from that old fox's look. But
he said it was made here, the sinner! Can you make pots like that, oh!
Fuzl Elâhi?'

The old man smiled. 'None can give the glaze, Huzoor, there is a
pattern in it, but none can catch the design. Even I know it not; that
is the secret of Ayôdhya.'

'What is he saying? What is Ayôdhya?' asked George irritably.

'Same as Hodi--old; it means here the half-forgotten heroic age. Well,
as you can't get a pair, we had best be moving. Salaam! potter-ji, and
don't let your thumb slip too often in the future.'

'God send it hath not slipped too often in the past,' he replied, half
to himself.

An hour afterwards the two Englishmen sat on the low parapet of the
canal bridge looking out over a world-circle of dusty plain, treeless,
featureless, save for the shadowy mound of Hodinuggur on one side, and
on the other a red brick house dotted causelessly upon the sand. A
world-circle split into halves by the great canal, which eastwards
towards the invisible hills showed like a bar of silver; westwards
towards the invisible sea like a flash of gold, at whose end the last
beams of the setting sun hung like the star on a magician's wand.

'_Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink_,' murmured Dan
Fitzgerald discontentedly. 'Upon my soul, it must be rough on them
watching it all day long, and knowing that if they could only get _you_
to open the sluice _they_ would get rupees on rupees from the Rajah.
That's how it stands, you see. It isn't so much for their own bit of
land, but for the bribe. I sometimes wish the overflow cut had been
higher up, or lower down; but we had to protect the big embankment
against abnormal floods. Confound the thing! what business has it to
put hydraulic pressure on us all?'

'Don't feel it much as yet,' said George cheerfully, with his eyes on
the palace, which was gaining an unreal beauty from the dust of ages.
For the village cattle were homing to the thorn-set folds, and the
cloud from their leisurely feet lay in a golden mist between the
shadowed plain and the shadowed mound rising against the golden sky. A
lingering shaft of light showed the white fretwork of the Diwân's tower
clear against the pale purple of the potter's thatch beyond.

'Perhaps not. You will, though. The wilderness plays the dickens with
civilisation sometimes.'

'Does it? I don't believe it will with mine. Not that sort. I haven't
your imagination, your sensitiveness, your poetical----'

'Pull up,' said Dan, laughing. 'You'll come to my vices soon, and as
I've pet names for most of them, I object to have them scientifically
classified. But I wish I hadn't to leave you there.' He pointed
distastefully to the red parallelogram of a house with the initials of
the Public Works Department stamped on each brick like the broad arrow
on a convict. 'It isn't fit for a youngster like you. But as it can't
be helped, there's the key. For my sake don't let the World, the Flesh,
or the Devil wheedle it out of you.'

'All right,' replied the boy, pocketing the Chubb. 'If you are engaged
to be married, go and do it right off. Promotion in due course
guaranteed.'

Dan Fitzgerald, looking down at the sliding water, was silent for a
minute. 'You've hit the right nail on the head,' he said at last.
'That's why I'm anxious; but by the powers! your work is cut out for
you if you are to keep me from getting into hot water.'

'It isn't the water that does it,' muttered George, as they strolled
off to dinner, 'it's the spirits.'

That was the truth in more senses than one. George had been living with
his superior officer for two months at headquarters, and his cool,
clear head had noted the fascination which stimulants of all kinds had
for Dan's excitable nature. But he had said nothing, after the manner
of men. Therefore it came as a surprise even to himself when that
evening something made him say hurriedly--

'Better not, Fitzgerald; you've a long ride before you.'

Dan, his hand on the whisky bottle, paused, surprised in his turn; but
George seemed to feel that key in his pocket outline itself against the
thumping of his heart.

'Are you afraid I won't leave you any?' asked the elder quickly. 'I'll
send you a bottle by post, if that's it. Come! hands off, youngster;
don't be a fool! That's enough.'

The angry red was not on his cheek only. It had spread to the boy's, as
he stood back in a sudden flare of utterly unexpected dignity.

'Quite enough, Mr. Fitzgerald. 'I've been your guest for two months, I
know; but you are mine now. This is my house, and that's my bottle.
I'll trouble you to put it down.'

For an instant it seemed on its way to the speaker's head; then it was
pushed aside scornfully; the next Dan held out his hand.

'Thanks. No one has taken that trouble for years. What made you do it?'

But the English boy's shame at his own impulsiveness was on George now,
and he laughed uneasily. 'I--I believe it was that confounded key,' he
began. Dan's smile was transfiguring.

'God bless the boy!' he cried, with the ring of tears and laughter in
his rich brogue. 'So you're the Keeper of the Key of the King's
conscience, are you? The saints protect you; for see! your sort don't
know mine. We leave off the effort after virtue where you begin, and I
spend more solid holiness in refusing a glass of sherry than you do in
keeping all the Ten Commandments. Sure the sun's got into my head, and
I must be off to the water cure.'

He was out of the room, out of the house, standing on the bridge
abutment and stripping as for dear life before George caught him up
breathlessly and asked if he were quite mad.

'Not yet!' came the joyous voice. 'I'm going to swim up stream till I'm
beat, and come down with the current--an epitome of my life!'

The rapid Indian twilight had fallen into night, but the moon had
risen, and the air was warm with tho first touch of spring which in
Northern India treads close on the heels of the new year. Fitzgerald
pausing for a second showed like a white statue on the buttress; then
his curved body shot into the shadow with the cry--

'I come, Mother of All!'

Tristram's cry when he sprang to 'the sea's breast as to a mother's
where his head might rest,' thought George, watching with the vague
anxiety inseparable from the disappearance of life beneath the water.
Ah! there he was--safe; turning his head to call out 'Don't wait,
please! Tell the syce to have the mare ready for me in half an hour.'

Yet George did wait, watching the arrowy ripple cleaving the steel-grey
path which led straight up to the steel-grey sky where the stars hung
sparkling. If, he thought, they were reflected in the still water ahead
as they were in the still water below the bridge, Dan must feel as if
he was swimming in the ether!

Decidedly, imagination was catching. George Keene was reminded of the
fact again as he stood looking over to the mound of Hodinuggur, and
listening to the last echo of the horse's hoofs bearing Dan away from
the wilderness. There was a light in the Diwân's tower, another in the
potter's hut. He wondered vaguely which was really the highest; then,
to check such idle thoughts, began on the first duty of youth in a
foreign land--home letters.

'Dear father,' he wrote fluently, 'I arrived at Hodinuggur, my
headquarters, to-day. It is----'

Half an hour afterwards he tore up the sheet angrily and went to bed.



                              CHAPTER II


It was band-night in the public gardens; mail night also; a combination
of dancing and picture papers, ensuring a large attendance in the big
hall, which had been built, gravely, as a memorial to some departed
statesman. But now English girls hurried through its dim corridors to
the ladies' dressing-room, intent on changing tennis shoes for dancing
slippers. English women took possession of the comfortable nooks
between the pillars where there was room for two. English boys lounged
about the vestibule, finishing their cigars and waiting for the band to
strike up. English men drifted to billiards and whist, or to their own
special corner in the reading-room.

A weird-looking place even at noon was the big hall set round with
paste and paper mementoes of the semi-historic festivals held beneath
its high arched roof; with shields from the Prince of Wales' ball,
flags from the Imperial installation, trophies from the welcome given
to our soldiers after an arduous campaign. But seen now by the few
lamps lit at one end it looked positively ghostly, as if it must be
haunted by a thousand memories of dead men, and women, and children who
had flitted across the kaleidoscope of Rajpore society. Up in the
gallery the native band, after playing 'God save the Queen' to the
Aryan brother outside, was tuning up for dance music. And by-and-bye a
couple would come waltzing out of the shadows into the bright
reflections of the polished floor, and waltz back again. Then three or
four couples, perhaps ten or a dozen; not more. Viewed from the other
end, where the non-dancers sat in darkness, the scene looked like a dim
reflection of something going on in another world.

And outside, under the rising moon, the builders of the hall trooped
home to the packed highways and byways of the native city, full, no
doubt, of that silent, evergreen wonder at the strange customs of the
ruling race which is an integral part of native life; that ruling race
which, with all its eccentricities, rules better than even the fabled
Vicramiditya himself!

In the far corner of the inner reading-room a girl stood looking at the
new number of the _Scientific American_, keeping a stern watch the
while on the present possessor of the _Saturday Review_. A tennis bat
lay on the table beside her, and her workmanlike flannels and tan
shoes showed what her occupation had been. For the rest, a well-made,
well-balanced girl, looking as if she walked well, rode well, danced
well, and took an honest pride in doing so. Her face was chiefly
remarkable for a pair of beautifully arched eyebrows, and her best
point was undoubtedly the poise of her head with its closely plaited
coif of hair.

A sort of snore followed by a thud, told that people were passing in
and out through the swing-doors of the outer room. Here, however, as
befitted the abode of more serious literature, all was peaceful; almost
empty in fact, and its only other female occupant was a medical lady
deep in the _Lancet_.

'Oh Gordon!' called a voice from the outer room, 'have you seen my
daughter?'

'Miss Tweedie is here, sir,' replied the young man addressed. 'She has
been for the last five minutes trying to make up her mind whether to go
and dance, or brain Dr. Greenfell for keeping the _Saturday_ so long.'

'Really, Mr. Gordon!' cried Rose Tweedie aghast. 'No indeed not--Dr.
Greenfell! I didn't really--I mean I was of course, but I don't
now--Oh, it's awfully good of you.' Then as the apologetic little
doctor moved away, pausing to say a few words to a tall grey-haired man
who was entering, she turned aggressively to the offender: 'Why did you
say that, Mr. Gordon?'

'Why, Miss Tweedie? Because you insisted yesterday that women preferred
the truth, even when it was rude. And it was true. I suppose, as your
father wants you, I have no hope of this dance; and I'm engaged for all
the others.'

Rose Tweedie's eyebrows went up. 'How lucky for you--I mean, of course,
how unlucky for me.' Then she added in more conciliatory tones, 'I'm
not dancing to-night; these shoes won't do.' She thrust out her shapely
foot with the careless freedom of a child.

'I can see no fault,' he replied artificially, putting up his
eye-glass, 'they appear to me quite perfect.'

'Your knowledge of women doesn't apparently extend to their
understandings,' she retorted quickly, her voice, as usual when she was
irritated, showing a trace of Scotch accent. 'Oh father! if you want me
to come home, I'm ready.'

Colonel Tweedie hesitated. A single glance at him suggested that the
late Mrs. Tweedie must have been a women of strong individuality, or
else that Rose had reverted to some ancestral type.

'Not, not exactly, my dear. I only--wanted to--er--speak to you.'

'Good-bye, Miss Tweedie,' said Lewis Gordon, taking the hint. 'Oh! by
the way, sir, if your daughter will remember I'm a personal assistant,
and excuse shop for an instant--Fitzgerald came back to-day from
Hodinuggur.'

Rose Tweedie's face lit up. 'Did he say how Mr. Keene liked it?' she
asked eagerly.

'I'm afraid not; but he can scarcely be expected to like the desert
after--Rajpore. I shouldn't--under the circumstances. That is all, sir;
except that he reports everything satisfactory, so far.'

The Colonel gave a little cough; it was his way of starting the
official machine inside the social one. 'I hope--for Mr. Fitzgerald's
sake it--it--er--may remain so. The past scandals have been a
disgrace--er--to the Department.

'Not to him, though,' broke in Rose hotly. 'I think he is quite one of
the nicest people I ever met.'

'And what is more, the ablest man we have in our service,' added Lewis
Gordon heartily. The girl's face softened at his tone. If he would only
speak like that always, instead of simpering and scraping!

'Well, father, what is it?' she asked when he had gone. The other
readers had drifted away, and the medical lady looked as if even the
last trump would not rouse her from the post-mortem she was perusing,
so to all intents and purposes they were alone. Colonel Tweedie gave
another little cough; it was an unusual occurrence in private matters,
and she repeated her question with quickened interest.

'I want you, my dear, to go and speak to--to Mrs. Boynton. I've--I've
asked her to come into camp with us this time.'

'Why?'

Pages full of words would fail to give a better idea of Rose Tweedie's
mental outlook than this simple interrogation. Briefly, she must have a
reason, good, bad, or indifferent, for everything. Her father, being
her father and knowing this, had several ready.

'Dacre's wife isn't strong enough to face the sand, and you must have a
chaperon--I mean another lady--you never need a chaperon of course, my
dear--but if anything happened--besides, we shall be very busy, and it
will be lonely--I thought it better than leaving you at home--it isn't
as if she were quite an outsider--she is Gordon's cousin, and he is my
personal----'

'The widow of a cousin, you mean,' she interrupted with emphasis. 'A
cousin he scarcely knew; and he never even saw _her_ till he returned
from furlough last year.'

'Didn't he, my dear?' said the Colonel feebly. 'Still, they are
relations. Call each other by their Christian names, and----'

This time a laugh interrupted him; rather a hard laugh for a girl.

'What a number of cousins the Rajpore ladies must have!' she began.

'Not Mrs. Boynton, Rose; not Mrs. Boynton,' protested the Colonel with
spirit.

'No, I admit it. She is perfectly lady-like. I don't really dislike her
a bit.'

'Dislike! my dear Rose! who could dislike so--so----'

'I admit it again, father. She is charming. I catch myself watching
her, just as if I were in love with her like all the nice men are.'

'Really, my dear Rose----'

'Well, dear, why not? She is perfectly sweet. Then she has such tact.
Do you know she never allows an ungentlemanly man to fall in love with
her? I often wonder how she manages it. It's awfully clever of her.'
Rose, standing by the fire, shifted a log with her foot and the sparks
flew upwards. 'Of course I would rather have had a girl; but I suppose
it wouldn't have done. There! don't worry, dear! Go off to your whist.
I'll settle it all.'

'My dear girl----'

She told him calmly that there was no need for gratitude, and Colonel
James Tweedie, R.E., head of a great Department, slunk away abashed to
the card-room. Rose was very fond of her father, though she understood
him perfectly--after the manner of modern children; accepting him
reasonably, with all his weaknesses, as the parent Providence had
assigned to her. And why, if she would have him, should he not marry
Mrs. Boynton? The mother, who had died when Rose was born, had been
well remembered; the Colonel was still middle-aged, and when his
daughter married might have long years of solitude before him. Would it
be fair for her to object? It was another of Rose Tweedie's
characteristics that this question came uppermost in her dealings with
both friends and foes. No! it would not be fair; there was no reason
against it. None.

So she walked off calmly to the big hall, waiting to see Gwen Boynton's
graceful figure--paired with some worthy partner, of course--come
swaying out into the ring of light. But she was disappointed; for the
very simple reason that the lady she sought was sitting with Lewis
Gordon in the most comfortable corner in the whole building.

'Miss Tweedie!' said an eager voice behind her, as she stood
instinctively marking the rhythm of the dance with one foot. 'Have you
seen Mrs. Boynton? I can't find her anywhere.'

She turned gladly. It was Dan Fitzgerald, representing, as he always
did, humanity at its handsomest. 'So you're back! No, Mr. Fitzgerald.
She is not dancing, anyhow; but as those are the last bars, that is
cold comfort. What a pity! when you came down to the hall on purpose.'

He flushed up like a girl; and she pointed to the gardenia in his
button-hole.

'You don't go in for decoration except on state occasions,' she
continued, 'and then you weren't at tennis. I always keep a look-out
for you there; that back-handed return of yours from the line beats me.
I've been trying it with the _chuprassie_ bowling at me, but it didn't
come off somehow. You must teach me when we are in camp.'

'Of course I will,' replied Dan cheerfully. Lewis Gordon would have
simpered and said, 'Delighted, I'm sure.' The remembrance vexed Rose by
its very appearance; as if it mattered what Gwen Boynton's cousin said
or did. And the vexation accounted for the phrasing of her next words.

'Mr. Keene sent me a message, didn't he? No! How stupid of him! It was
about his _Nature_. I was to have it, and he was to let me know what he
wanted me to do with it.'

Dan's face, which had showed perplexity, cleared. 'Ah, it's the
magazine you're meaning. Sure you puzzled me entirely, for it is not
nature you want, Miss Tweedie, though, 'tis true, one can't have too
much of a good thing.'

It was a distinct compliment, or meant to be one, but Rose listened to
it gaily, and five minutes after, despite her shoes, was whirling in
and out of the shadows, full of the keen enjoyment which dancing brings
to some people.

Lewis Gordon, lounging lazily in his dark corner, noticed her with a
certain irritated surprise. It was a more inconsequent, therefore a
more womanly action than he expected in a girl who annoyed him by
refusing to take either of the two places he assigned to women folk in
his Kosmos. There were those of whom wives and mothers could be made
discreetly, safely; and those who would be utterly spoilt by the
commonplace process. He turned to his cousin feeling no such difficulty
in regard to her classification. Yet in the dim light nothing could be
seen save the outline of a small head, a huge fur boa, and long curves
ending in a bronzed slipper catching the light beyond the shadow in
which they sat.

'Shall we not dance?' he asked. 'It is the best waltz of the three.
Then I could bring you some coffee and we could rest--on our laurels.'

'No, thanks. I was engaged to Mr. Fitzgerald for the last, and I must
give him time to cool down.' The voice was sweet, refined, careless.

'I believe you are afraid of Fitzgerald.'

There was a touch of hauteur in the sweetness now.

'It is the second time this evening you have hinted at that, Lewis. I
suppose--being a sort of relation--you know something of that boy and
girl entanglement before I married your cousin. Is it so?'

Her unexpected and unusual frankness took him aback into faint excuse.

'There is nothing to apologise about, I assure you,' she went on,
regaining her carelessness. 'You may as well know the facts. I was
engaged to Mr. Fitzgerald. We were both babies, and my people
disapproved. Then your cousin proposed, and good sense came to us; for
we were not suited to each other. _Du reste_, Mr. Fitzgerald and I are
still friends, and he is the best dancer in Rajpore.'

There was a pause, before he said quietly, 'Why not be quite frank,
Gwen, and say he is in love with you still? Surely that is palpable.'

'Perhaps. But I prefer to leave such questions alone, even with my
cousin. Especially since that cousin has done me the honour of telling
me many times that he is devoted to me himself.'

He smiled at her deft evasion.

'What is the use of any one being devoted to you, Gwen, if you are
going to marry Colonel Tweedie?' he replied half jestingly.

'I did not know I was going to marry him; but I am certainly going to
look after Miss Rose Tweedie in camp--if she will have me. Do you think
I shall want a new riding-habit, Mr. Gordon?'

'I really cannot help you on that question, Mrs. Boynton.'

She leant towards him, so that he could see the laugh pass from her
pretty eyes. 'Don't be foolish, Lewis. You have been too good and kind
to me for that. You, who know my affairs as well as I know them myself,
must see that I have scarcely any choice between marrying again, and
going home to live with my mother-in-law, or starving in some horrid
poky lodging. How I should hate either! I can't live without money,
Lewis. I don't spend much--but it goes somehow. Then my pension as a
civilian's widow is but genteel poverty. Clothes are so expensive to
begin with; yet even your best friends don't care for you unless you
are well dressed.'

The real regret in her tone made him quote a trite saying about beauty
unadorned.

'Rubbish!' she interrupted, sinking into her cushions again. 'Beauty is
like the blue teapot; you must live up to it. I must marry some one who
can afford a well-dressed wife. I must indeed, in common honesty to my
future creditors. Personally I should prefer it to the mother-in-law.
Besides, if I went home I should never see you again, Lewis. I should
not like that--would you?'

If the words in themselves were a direct challenge, they came from the
shadow where she sat, so daintily, so airily, that half a dozen replies
were possible without trenching on sober affirmation or denial. Yet her
hearer hesitated. There must always be a time when a man settles
whether or no he shall ask a certain woman to be his wife, and this was
not the first time the idea of marrying his cousin had occurred to
Lewis Gordon. He was not the head of a Department, but he was in a fair
way to become one in the future. He had money of his own, and she liked
him in a way. As for her? she was perfection as a companion. As a
wife?----

'My dear Gwen! I should hate it,' he said fervently, being certain of
so much. But when he had said the words, they sounded too little, or
too much, so he took refuge in jest again. '_Faute de mieux_ I should
prefer the family party; that is to say, if you could induce your
future stepdaughter, Miss Rose, to bear with my presence.'

The light on the bronze slipper shifted, showing an impatient movement
of the pretty foot.

'Impossible, I should say,' came the voice, airy as ever; 'but as you
seem to be imitating the barber's fifth brother to-night, why not
settle that she should marry? Girls do, sometimes, especially in
India.'

As she spoke a couple swooped out into the almost empty circle of
polished floor. The waltz, nearing its end, gave them a swinging
measure, and those two were dancers indeed. One could not choose but
look, until, as the last chord crashed, they stopped as if petrified,
to smile at each other, before hurrying away. Lewis Gordon watched
them, his hands on his knees, a cynical smile on his face.

'By all means!' he said languidly. 'Suppose we say Dan Fitzgerald, and
so get rid of our two _bêtes-noir_ at once.'

Mrs. Boynton started from her cushions and gathered her boa together.

'What nonsense we are talking! Stupid nonsense into the bargain--which
is intolerable. I am ashamed of myself. Come! let us have some coffee
and forget our folly.'

Her companion rose to accompany her with a shrug of his shoulders. I
beg your pardon, even though I fail to see the enormity of my offence.
Fitzgerald, if he were once settled----'

She interrupted him with a gay laugh. 'So you aspire to the barber's
office in other ways; would like to _ranger_ your friends. When I am
duly installed as chaperon I must consult you on matrimonial questions;
but not till then, if you please, Lewis. Ah! there is Mrs. Dacre, I
haven't seen her for an age; not since I went to Meerut.'

He took his dismissal placidly, as men do in a society where they
cannot claim the undivided attention of at least one woman. Besides,
Gwen Boynton's chief charm lay in the impossibility of forgetting
that--provided she did not wish to do something else--she would be
quite as gracious to the person who cut into your place as she had been
to you. Furthermore that he was sure to hold as good a hand, and know
the game as well as you did; for Mrs. Boynton, as Rose Tweedie had
remarked, admitted no inferior players to her table. Seen now in the
full light of the coffee-room she showed slight and graceful in the
soft grey draperies which she wore as half mourning for the late Mr.
Boynton--a perfectly unexceptional man who, on the verge of retirement,
had lost all the savings of a long bachelorhood in one unfortunate
venture, and had died of the disappointment. Beyond a perfectly lovely
mouth and the faultless curves of chin and throat, there was nothing
remarkable in her face; nothing at least to account for her remarkable
charm. That, however, was indubitable; even Lewis Gordon, sipping his
coffee outside the circle which gathered round her quickly, kept his
eyes upon her. So he noticed hers turn more than once to Dan
Fitzgerald, who stood at the table waiting to replace Rose Tweedie's
tumbler of lemonade. 'She is afraid of him,' he thought. 'I wonder why?
Perhaps she hasn't got over her fancy either; that is the only thing I
can think of likely to create a difficulty.' Then he went off to
button-hole another Secretary about business, and forgot even Gwen
Boynton.

Yet, if half an hour afterwards he had by chance wandered into that
portion of the gardens devoted to zoology he would have seen something
to confirm his suggestion. For the two figures leaning over the iron
rail surrounding the ornamental water were those of Mrs. Boynton and
Dan Fitzgerald. The moon shone on the water; the clumps of bamboo and
plantains on the central island showed softly dark; masses of feathery
tamarisk trees and the sweeping curves of a sandhill or two beyond the
garden shut out the world. Otherwise it was not a suitable spot for
sentimental interviews, by reason of the ducks and geese, whose sleepy
gabblings and quackings were apt to come in unsympathetic chorus to
lovers' talk, while the adjutants, standing in pairs side by side,
their heads under their wings, were over-suggestive of Darby and Joan.
The conversation between these two, however, was sufficiently sensible
to stand the test of their surroundings.

'It is really absurd,' she said in (for her) quite a querulous voice.
'I accept a pleasant invitation to make myself useful to the Tweedies,
who have always been most kind to me,--and my cousin. And why every one
should jump to the conclusion that I am going to marry a man who is
almost old enough to be my father I cannot imagine. Really the world is
too idiotic.'

'You don't lump me in as the world, do you, Gwen?' he answered in a
lower tone. 'Surely you make a difference--surely there's some excuse
for me, dear? I haven't seen you for six weeks, Gwen; you've been away,
remember. And I hurried so for that promised dance, which you forgot.
Yes; we'll say you forgot it. Then every one is talking of your going
into camp with the Tweedies, wondering at your giving up the pleasures,
the society, hinting at some reason----'

'If you can't trust me, Dan, that is an end of everything,' she
interrupted sharply. 'No, don't!--please, don't! One never knows who
mayn't come this way. Do let us be reasonable, Dan. We are not boy and
girl now, to squabble and make it up again. You tell me always that I
love you--have always loved you--will never love any one else; and
perhaps you are right. Isn't that confidence enough for you?' She tried
her utmost to keep an even tone, but something made the unwilling smile
on her lips tremulous.

'It is, dear, and it isn't,' he said, his face showing soft and kindly
in the moonlight. 'If I were only as sure of the rest of you as I am
that you love me! But it was so, Gwen, in the old days; yet you threw
me over. I knew it then, and it made me go to the devil--more or less.
For if I had had the pluck to say, "You sha'n't," you would have been
happier. I spoilt your life as well as my own by my cowardice. And I'm
as bad as ever now, Gwen,--afraid to make you poor. Why don't I speak
up, Gwen, instead of giving in to the worst part of you?--instead of
waiting for promotion and making you more extravagant by paying the
bills?'

'You needn't have reminded me of that!' she cried hotly; 'I'm not
likely to forget it.'

He stared at her for an instant in sheer downright incredulity. Then he
laid his hand on hers sharply, and with the touch something that was
neither dislike nor fear, yet which seemed to alarm her, came to her
face.

'Don't say that, Gwen! you don't--you can't mean it. For you know it is
all yours--that I'd starve to give you a pleasure. Ah, Gwen! if you
would only marry me to-morrow you'd never regret it. Why shouldn't you,
dear? There's no fear; look how I've got on since you gave me the hope
two years ago when I came to you in your trouble. If I had only had the
pluck then to marry you straight away----'

'But it was impossible,' she broke in quickly, as if to lure him from
the point. 'What would people have said? It was so soon.'

'What do I care? But now there is no reason--no reason at all. I'll get
my promotion all right. Keene is there at Hodinuggur, so nothing can go
wrong again. Gwen, why shouldn't you marry me to-morrow?'

'To-morrow!' she echoed faintly; yet for the life of her unable to
repress that tremulous smile.

'Yes. Ah! my darling, you don't know what the uncertainty means to a
man like I am. You don't know--you don't understand. If I only had you
to myself, I would not fear anything. And you wouldn't, either, if I
had the chance of teaching you what it means to a woman to have some
one between her and the world--some one to hold her fast--some one----'

She shrank now from his increasing emotion.

'Don't! oh, don't! you frighten me. And don't be hurt or angry, dear.
I've promised to marry you sometime--I have indeed. Oh, Dan, how
foolish you are!'

She laid her delicately gloved hand on his arm, as he leant over the
railings, trying to hide the bitter pain her look had given him; but he
only shook his head.

'You can't make me different from what I am,' she went on almost
pettishly; 'you can't, indeed.'

'I could, if I had the chance. That is all I ask.'

'And you will have it some day, Dan. Perhaps you are right, and I
should be happy. Only, what is the use of talking about it just now? We
have settled so many times that nothing can be done until your
promotion comes. That will be next year, won't it? if nothing goes
wrong at Hodinuggur. Oh, Dan, do cheer up. I have to go out to dinner,
and it is getting late; but I'll drop you at the Club, if you like. I
didn't mean to hurt your feelings; you know that; but you are so
impetuous. Dan, do come! the geese are making such a noise, I can
scarcely hear myself speak.'

It was true. Something had disturbed the peace of the pond, for a
confused gabbling and quacking filled the air. Dan tried to fight
against it for a minute, then with an inward curse gave up the
struggle. As they walked back to the carriage Gwen felt grateful to the
birds. They had saved the Capitol, for a very little more of Dan's hurt
feelings might have made her promise anything. It was her way when
brought face to face with pain. To make up for what he had suffered she
was very gracious to him as they strolled along the winding walks set
with English flowers, and the barred cages where big yellow tiger's
eyes gleamed out of the shadows; gleamed quite harmlessly of course.
But when she returned that evening to the rooms in the hotel which she
occupied during the winter months her mood had changed; for Lewis
Gordon had been at the dinner. She went over to her writing-table, took
out a bundle of receipted bills and looked at it with a distaste seldom
displayed towards such a possession. How foolish, how wrong, how unfair
to poor Dan it had been to let him pay; and what a dreadful tie to her,
for of course if he did not get his promotion she could not possibly
marry him and then the obligation would be unbearable. Gwen, brooding
over the situation by the fire, felt aggrieved. She was one of those
women who, paradoxical as it may seem, gain the power of exciting
passion by their own absolute lack of comprehension as to its first
principles. To say she had no heart would have been an unkind calumny.
She was really very fond of Dan; more fond of him when he was absent
perhaps than when he was present, but she had not the remotest
conception of what his love meant to him. So as she sat thinking of him
in her seamless dress--Gwen's evening dresses always had a seamless
look, and the lace about her fair shoulders always seemed pinned on
with cunning little diamond brooches glittering and sparkling--she told
herself that it all depended on promotion, and that, in its turn,
depended largely on a boy whom she had never seen, who had gone to live
in the desert with the sole purpose of forcing her to keep her promise.
A queer tie indeed between that branded bungalow set in the sand, and
her refined little sitting-room.

And at that moment George, pondering over a cigar in the verandah
before turning in, was meditating, not upon the mysterious mound of
Hodinuggur, with the light in the Diwân's tower challenging the feeble
flicker in the potter's house, but on something far more mysterious
than either--his dinner. That dinner of six courses, compounded out of
the desert fowl in various stages of existence, to which his factotum,
a man whose imaginative faculty outran his creative power, had given
such topsy-turvy yet familiar names. Wherefore? Why was it deemed
necessary to feed a sahib on salt-fish concocted out of chicken and
anchovy sauce, and then to give dignified support to the fraud by
handing round the conventional egg-sauce? George gave up the puzzle and
went to bed depressed by the consideration that if Hodinuggur was
strange and unkenned to him, he was quite as strange and unkenned to
it.



                             CHAPTER III


Chândni was standing in her cool recesses of shadow at the farther end
of the gateway which adjoined the little strip of bazaar leading past
the palace. A bazaar but a few yards long, yet retaining in that small
space a specimen of all the vices which in past times had made the
Moghuls of Hodinuggur infamous. A couple of young men with uncovered
heads were dicing on a string bed thrust under a patched, dyed awning
stretched from balcony to balcony. A group of half-a-dozen more were
quarrelling vilely over a quail fight beside the liquor-seller's booth,
gay in its coloured bottles. Two or three of various ages, heavy with
drugs, were sprawling and nodding in the gutters. Just across the
street a sutara-player was twanging away, and above him a girl,
powdered and painted, bent over the wooden balcony flinging snatches of
hideous song on the passers-by, and shrieking with coarse laughter at a
naked monstrosity who, as he begged, made capital of his misfortunes.
On this girl, with her grease-smirched hair and Brummagem jewelry,
Chândni, from her shadows, cast glances of scorn, which she transferred
after a time to Dalel Beg, who sat crouched up against a plinth smoking
a rank hookah and sipping a 'rajah's peg' of brandy and champagne. He
had discarded European dress entirely, and the few clothes he wore
smelt horribly of musk.

Against the darkness of the arch behind her the woman's tall figure
showed like a white shadow. Not a scrap of colour anywhere save in her
stained lips and the pomegranate sprig she twirled idly in her hand.
Keeping time with it to the thrum of the sutara; keeping time also with
a clash of the silver anklets hidden by the long gauze draperies of her
Delhi dress.

'Yea! Dalel!' she said mockingly, and the creamy column of her throat
vibrated visibly with her smooth round voice. ''Tis over true what the
little sahib said of thy coarse attempts. The pack of us are fools. The
sahib-logue's drink yonder steals what brains God gave thee; then Meean
Khush-hâl was never aught but a big belly, and the Diwân--Heaven keep
him for the best of the lot--sits too high. There remains but Chândni
the courtesan, and she----'

'Hath failed,' broke in Dalel with a forced explosion of malicious
laughter. 'Lo! thou hast not had a civil tongue for others since he
flouted thee. Sure the plant must be trampled in the dust ere it
blossoms. Have patience, heart's delight.'

He was too weary even in his malice to seek the amusement of watching
the rage grow to her face as she stood behind him.

'Whose fault----' she began hotly; then with a louder clash of the
anklets ended in a laugh. 'Lo! 'tis past. And what care I? 'Tis naught
to me, but if the treasure-chest of Hodinuggur be empty, 'tis good-bye
to Chândni. She goes back to Delhi.'

'Nay! nay!' whimpered Dalel with a maudlin shake of the head, as he
sought comfort in finishing the tumbler. 'We will succeed yet; but the
boy hath no youth in his veins. I know not how to take him as the
others. Yet have we done our best----'

'Best,' echoed the woman scornfully. 'Stale old tricks. A gold piece
under his plate at dinner forsooth! That was soon over in a beating for
the servant who should have seen it put there. A dish of oranges
stuffed with rupees which the same servant, wise man, kept for himself.
A gun he would not take! a dinner he would not eat! a horse he would
not ride! Even a woman he would not look at. What care I? there be
others who will. Stale old tricks indeed! insipid as uncooled water on
a summer's day, or that thing yonder'--she pointed to the opposite
balcony--'compared to me. Think not I did not see thee ere I came out,
oh! Dalel. Not that I care. There be others, and Delhi is but a day's
journey.'

'Mayhap the tricks are old,' he muttered in sullen discomfiture. 'Hast
new to advise?'

She laughed. 'Not to thee; thou hast not the wit for it. And there is
naught new. The crazy potter is right when he saith the world is in the
dust. Sure every ploughman knows, that no matter what the surface be,
the sand lies under all. Thou hast but to dig deep enough.'

She had moved forward to lean against the plinth. In the action her
thin draperies clung to the long curve of her limbs from hip to ankle.
Her right hand supported her head, which was thrown back against it, so
that the arm framed her face. It was the attitude of the Medea in
Pompeian frescoes; the face of a Medea also till the downward glance of
her eyes met an upward one from the sutara-player. Then with a flash
and a laugh the pomegranate blossom flew out into the sunlight and fell
at the young man's feet. Dalel clutched at her savagely amid a volley
of coarse English oaths.

'Let me go, beloved!' she giggled. 'Did I not say the sand lay under
all? What! art jealous? jealous of Chândni the courtesan? Wouldst have
me Dalelâh since thou art Dalel? If that be so, I will put thee in good
temper again.'

She snatched at an old banjo hanging on a nail, sank down amid her
draperies like a cobra on its coil, and began recklessly to sing
'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,' while Dalel waggled his head, but half
mollified.

'Thou canst not dance it though,' he maundered sleepily. 'Not as 'twas
pictured in the English papers at the Jubilee Institute. Thou art no
good at all. I will change thee for a half-caste girl. Yet if there be
no money in the treasury? Lo! Fate is hard, and I have done my best.'

And still the song of civilisation went on, full of incongruous
barbaric intervals. The girl in the balcony retreated in a huff before
an accomplishment unknown to her: the quail-fighters laughed at the
noise. Only George Keene, wandering about one of the inner courts of
the palace, seeking a good spot whence to sketch a certain blue-tiled
mosque, found himself unconsciously whistling a refrain, and paused to
listen in sickening suspense. Yes, it was! Fitzgerald was right when he
said the country was being ruined by culture! What an inconceivable,
unthinkable contrast to that great ruined courtyard, its blue tiles
decorated in endless writing with the Attributes of God. At least how
inconceivable it would have been six weeks ago, when he had first seen
the mosque with Dan as his companion. For George Keene was becoming
accustomed to being, as it were, depolarised. It would have made him
very angry had any one told him that Hodinuggur had already altered his
outlook on life, though it could scarcely have failed to do so. To
begin with Dalel Beg's occidental follies, grafted on to a sound stock
of ancestral vices, made him, as he leered over a billiard cue and
tried to induce George to bet, quite a startling study. Not so
disturbing, however, as the sober, gentle, inoffensive villagers with
the confession, 'It is God's will,' on their patient lips. Content to
toil and die, smiling over the fact. Surely, something ailed the
terminology of religion if these were Heathen, and certain Western folk
in his father's suburban parish were Christians? Then there was the mad
potter in whose walled yard George listened to the oddest old-world
tales, and the Diwân with whom the lad played chess. To tell truth, he
never climbed up for that purpose to the tower without a breathlessness
not altogether to be accounted for by the steepness of the stairs. Face
to face with the old man, sitting still as a statue before the pieces,
George felt himself face to face with something he could not set aside
with a sneer. Yet he might have been playing with an automaton for all
the interest Zubr-ul-Zamân displayed, while he, on his part, was
agonising in anxiety. But once his hand had left the piece, the old
man's would rise from his knee, hover over the board for a second, then
swoop down unerringly with the murmur, 'My play is played.' And the
move generally disposed of all George's deep-laid plans, for the Diwân
was a passed master in chess. Yet the lad returned again and again for
a beating, being dogged in his turn. He was, in fact, on his way from
one when Chândni and the banjo started his thoughts along a familiar
channel. Certainly they were an odd people, and somehow it was
difficult to write home letters which should at once reflect the truth
and give satisfaction to the British public.

Meanwhile Chândni, desisting with Dalel's first reliable snore, threw
the banjo aside and reviewed the position. There was no mist of reserve
between her and her profession. She had been born to it, as her
forebears had been. Her success in it was rather a matter for pride
than shame; her only anxiety being the future. Should she linger on as
she had been doing in hopes that out of sheer conservatism Dalel Beg
would attach her to him permanently by some of the many possible
marriages? Or should she risk the life of a go-between in her old age,
return to Delhi and amuse herself? The reappearance of the painted girl
in the balcony decided her; she would not give way to such creatures as
that until the emptiness of the Treasury was indubitable. Yet as she
sat rolling the little pellets of opium for her midday dose between
her soft palms she looked at her lover distastefully. He was no good,
and if the sluice-gates were to be open that year she must bestir
herself--she and the Diwân. So much was settled before she swallowed
the dream-giver and threw herself full length on the bare string bed
set deep in the shadows. Then the silence of noon fell on that sinful
slip of bazaar. Even the quails ceased to challenge from their hooded
cages, and the sutara-player with the pomegranate blossom stuck in
behind his ear had forgotten the giver in sleep. But out in the fields
the peasants were at work on their scanty crops, and George Keene as he
entered the red brick bungalow paused to listen to a cry which never
failed to impress him. The cry of praise to the giver with which the
villagers drew water from the wells which stood between them and
death. Truly in that wilderness of sand, water was the mother of all
things. What wonder if it became the motive power in life? What wonder
that, like the silver sword of the big canal, it cut the world into
halves--the people who wanted, and the people who did not want the
sluice-gates opened. With a laugh at his own fancy he went in to
lunch, wondering this time what form the desert fowl would take: it
certainly was the mother of all food! Hodinuggur might have its serious
aspects, but on the whole it was farcical as well as tragical, and
'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay, counterbalanced that cry of thanksgiving.

And that same evening, while he was reading the last number of the
_Nineteenth Century_ in the verandah, Chândni had an interview with the
old Diwân on his tower, which, had George been aware of it, would have
seemed to him farcical beyond belief, though it was deadly earnest to
the actors. She sat at the old man's feet so as to be within earshot of
a whisper, since walls, especially in an Indian palace, have ears. That
was why Diwân's chair was set out in the open under the star-gemmed
dome of the sky which paled to its circled setting of plain that, seen
from the height, seemed in its turn to curve, cup-like, to meet the
sky. The decent domino she had worn on her way was cast aside out of
sheer coquetry, so that her supple figure, unadorned save for the heavy
chaplets of jasmine flowers shrouding the filmy muslin, might stand
outlined above the low parapet among the stars. For Chândni was shrewd.
The ordinary jewels of her class might have aroused memories in the old
man, and she wished to impress him with her individuality.

'Nay, daughter,' he said approvingly, 'I well believe failure was not
thy fault. As for thy plan--speak.'

She drew her lips closer to his ear, and laid one hand on his knee, as
if to hold his attention.

'Father! all men care for something. He cares not for what he has been
given. Let us try others. If they fail, well and good. Now there is one
thing such as he favour--God knows why?--but I have seen them myself in
the bazaar at Delhi--sahibs who have come over the black water to buy
ragged rugs and battered brass pots. Why? Because, forsooth, they are
old! The crazy potter would say it was because they remember them. I
know not. But this boy pokes about the old things--questions of the old
tales.'

Zubr-ul-Zamân nodded approval. 'True, he favoured the Ayôdhya pot; but
he returned it.'

Chândni's eyes sparkled, then fell. 'So! that is one thing to begin
with. Then he is of those who watch flowers grow and birds build their
nests; who paint colour an paper for the love of it. Again, when the
fowler fails in all else he baits the snare with pity, and sets a
decoy-bird a-fluttering within the net. This boy gives quinine to
the old wives, and fish-oil to the babes born with the Potter's
thumb-mark.' Her laughter crackled joylessly.

'Words--words,' muttered the old man impatiently. What wouldest thou
do?'

She drew closer, and the movement sent a wave of perfume from the
jasmine chaplets into the air.

'Lend me Azîzan for a week, and thou shalt see.'

Scent, so people say, is the most powerful stimulant to bygone
memories; perhaps that was the reason why her words brought such a
pulse of fierce life to the old face. 'Azîz! Nay! she is of the house.'

'Why not say of the race, father?' retorted Chândni coolly. 'Nay! in
such talk as ours truth is best. Thinkest thou I am a fool when I
go to dance and sing in the women's quarter? Is it not sixteen years
since the potter's daughter disappeared on the night of the great
storm'--hath not this fifteen-year-old the potter's eyes--Heaven shield
us from them!' Her hand went out in the two-fingered gesture used to
avert the evil eye in West as well as East.

Zubr-ul-Zamân scowled at her.

'There be other girls and plenty; take them,' he began. 'Besides, she
is betrothed. I will not lose the dower.'

'Wherefore shouldest lose it? I said a week, and Zainub, the duenna,
will see to safety. He will but paint her picture.'

The Diwân spat piously. 'And what good will such accursed idol-making
do?' he asked more calmly.

''Twill bring the quarry within reach; he lives too far away now. Give
me the girl, my lord, else will I know that the Diwân Zubr-ul-Zamân
Julâl-i-dowla Mustukkul-i-jung is afraid of the potter's eyes.'

'As thou art, daughter of the bazaars,' he retorted fiercely. 'Shall I
set them on thee and thine?'

Chândni essayed an uneasy laugh. 'I will do her no harm,' she muttered
sullenly. 'I will not even speak to her if thou wilt. Zainub shall do
all.'

Half-an-hour afterwards Chândni, wrapped in her white domino, paused on
her way home at the door leading to the women's quarters and knocked.
After a while an old woman appeared at the latticed shutter. The
courtesan whispered a word or two, the door opened, and the two
disappeared down a dark passage.

''Tis Chândni come to dance.' The whisper ran through the airless,
squalid rooms, causing a flutter among the caged inhabitants. Out of
their beds they came, yawning and stretching, to sit squatted in a
circle on the bare floor, and watch Chândni give a spirited imitation
of the way the mem-sahibs waltzed with the sahib-logue. It was not an
edifying spectacle, but it afforded infinite satisfaction to the
audience. An audience which has to take its world at second-hand, and
in the process has grown careless as to abstract truth. The young women
tittered, the old ones called Heaven to witness their horror, and then
they all sat without winking an eye while the courtesan sang the songs
of her profession.

But little Azîzan's light eyes saw nothing at which to smile or to cry
in either performance. She was young for her years, and very sleepy;
besides, she was betrothed to an old man whom she had never seen,
because, as all the other girls took care to tell her, she really was
too ugly to be kept in the family. And that sort of thing takes the
zest from life.

When the entertainment was over, Chândni sat and talked with Zainub,
the duenna, until dawn, with that careless disregard of bed-time, which
makes it quite impossible to foretell at what hour of the day or night
a native of India will be asleep or awake.

But George Keene, over the way in the branded bungalow, was safely
tucked up in sheets and blankets, whence nothing short of an earthquake
would have roused him.

An earthquake, or else a prescience of the hideous caricature Chândni
had been making of the _trois temps_ over in the palace.



                              CHAPTER IV


George Keene was trying to translate the cloth-of-gold sunlight into
cadmium yellow, with the result that the blue of the tiles in his
sketch grew green, and the opal on the pigeon's breasts as they sidled
along the cornice, was dimmed to dust colour.

The courtyard with its blind arcades of Saracenic arches surrounding
the mosque, lay bare and empty, as it always did save at the hours of
prayer. He looked across it with a dissatisfied expression, noting the
intense colour of certain tiles which were mixed up with those more
modern ones bearing the Arabic letterings. The former reminded him of
the Ayôdhya pot, and set him a-wondering if he should ever have an
honest chance of procuring one like his first bribe. The old potter,
his authority in such matters, had told him they were still to be
found, more or less broken, in the digging of graves, or the sinking of
wells. Hitherto, however, he had failed to hear of one. Yet, the
possibility remained, since those tiles, which must be centuries older
than the _café chantant_ sort of proscenium on which they were inlaid,
had survived. The latter he saw clearly, now he came to draw it, had
been added on to an older building behind; probably a Hindu temple. So,
when all was said and done, that figure of a grave and reverend
Mohammedan moulvie, which he had intended to put in the foreground,
might not have so much right to be there as a priest of Baal. It was a
confusing country!

When he looked up again from his work, he gave a start; for a totally
unexpected model was squatting on the flags of his foreground. A mere
slip of a village girl; and yet was she of the village? More likely a
stranger--perhaps one of the southern tribes of whom the potter told
tales--since her dress was odd.

It consisted of a reddish purple drapery, more tike wool than cotton in
texture, with a stitched border in browns and creams such as the desert
folk embroider on their camel trappings. It was an admirable piece of
colouring against that blue background, and he began upon it at once,
reckless of the averted face; for he was accustomed to be thus watched
furtively from afar, and knew that the least notice would end in
instant flight, as of a wild animal. Besides, the faces were apt to be
disappointing. This one, however, was not, and his first glimpse of it
gave him quite a shock. Without being beautiful, it was most peculiar;
a golden brown face, with a long straight nose, and a wide, curved
mouth; golden brown hair under the reddish purple of the veil; golden
brown eyes, and a golden brown arm circled with big bronze bracelets
stretched out so that the hand rested on----!

He gave an irrepressible exclamation and half rose from his seat. Down
fell his box and brushes, and over went the dirty water streaming
across his hard-won sunshine. He mopped at it hastily with his
handkerchief--as hastily as he dared; but when he looked up the girl
had gone. He sat down and eyed the spot where she had been
suspiciously; not because of her disappearance--there had been time for
that--but because he was doubtful of his own eyes in thinking that her
hand had rested on an Ayôdhya pot. If so, what a rare chance he had
lost; if not, he must be going to have fever, and had better go home
and take some quinine. Go home, however, _viâ_ the potter's house, and
ask that inveterate gossip if he knew anything of an odd-looking child
with light eyes--here George gave a low whistle, paused in his packing
up of paint-boxes, and looked round again to where the girl had
squatted, feeling that it was foolish of him not to have noticed the
resemblance before. Doubtless the girl was a relation of some sort,
though the old man had always strenuously asserted that he had none
living. Perhaps he had meant no male ones; yet, strangely enough, Fuzl
Elâhi did not seem to share that contempt for girls which all the other
natives of George Keene's acquaintance professed. He often talked about
his dead daughter, and whenever he talked he became excited and
restless; indeed, the fear of thus arousing him made George somewhat
reticent in his description of the girl he had seen, which he confined
as far as possible to the dress.

'She is not of Hodinuggur, Huzoor,' declared the old man confidently.
'They who wear wool live far to the south. They never leave the
hearthstone where their fathers lie buried. 'Tis the old way, Huzoor,
and we of this place did it also long ago.' Suddenly his eyes lit up,
he let the wheel slacken and clasped his hands closely over the dome of
clay in its centre. It shot up under the pressure like a fountain.
'Perhaps the Huzoor hath seen one of the old folk; they come and go,
they go and come. I see them often; my fathers and their fathers, but
never my daughter. She will not come, she will not come.' As his voice
died away the cadence of the wheel recommenced, only to stop with a
jar. 'Huzoor! Have _you_ seen her? A slip of a girl with a fawn face
tinted like a young gazelle's? Not black like these people--but sun
colour and brown--all sun colour and brown with little curls on her
forehead----'

For the life of him George could not help acknowledging the thrill that
ran through him. The man was mad, of course, hopelessly mad; yet if he
had seen the girl he could scarcely have given a better description.
Perhaps he had seen her, knew all about her, and only pretended
ignorance, to serve his own ends; that overweening desire, for
instance, to pose as one apart from commonplace humanity, at which
George alternately laughed and frowned.

'Your daughter is dead, potter-ji, how can I have seen her?' he said
rather brutally; yet what else was there to say with that glaring
daylight shining down remorselessly on the squalid reality of the
scene? It was an ordinary potter's yard, no more, no less; the kneaded
clay on one side of the wheel, the unbaked pots lying on the other. In
the outer yard a couple of children were playing in the dust, while
their mother sought a satisfactory ring in one of the pile of
ready-baked water-pots before bringing it with her to haggle and
bargain over the price. Overhead a kite or two wheeled in circles, and
down the slope, of course, lay the palace and its inhabitants; who were
very ordinary examples of impoverished native nobility in its worst
aspect. So George Keene meant to be brutal, his common-sense demanded
it of him. But that evening, as he sat smoking as usual in the
verandah, he saw a light flickering about the ruins, and told himself
that, despite his reticence, the potter was in one of his restless
moods, when he would seek for his daughter all night long, returning at
dawn with a handful of dust, which he would knead to clay and mould
upon his wheel into odd little nine-pins. Sometimes he would bury these
in pairs upon the mound--George had seen him doing it--more often he
would give them to the village children as toys. George had seen them,
too, with sticks for arms and bits of charcoal for eyes, doing duty as
dolls. He had laughed at the oddity of it all; but now in the soft
darkness the thought sent that thrill through his veins once more. This
would never do! He had been too long mooning about Hodinuggur sketching
and playing chess. It was time to ride down the canal, bully the
workman at the brick-kilns, and have a day or two at the bustard in the
desert; so then and there he called to the factotum and gave his orders
for breakfast to be ready twenty miles off the next morning. That would
settle his nerves.

When he returned, after four days, absence, he set to work rationally
to finish his sketch. The cloth-of-gold sunshine was brilliant as ever,
the blue tiles glowed, the prismatic pigeons sidled along the cornices.
He told himself that Hodinuggur was not such a bad place if you refused
to allow imagination----

'The Huzoor gives medicine to the poor,' came a voice behind him.
'Mother is ill; I want quinine.'

It was the girl with the Ayôdhya pot in her hand. George Keene laughed
out loud in the satisfaction of his heart at his own wisdom.

'What is the matter with your mother?' he asked judiciously.

'She is sick, I am to get quinine,' repeated the girl. 'I came once
before, but the Huzoor jumped up; so I became frightened and ran away.
Since then I have come often, but the Huzoor was not here.'

George felt vaguely that he too had run away before something
ridiculously commonplace and simple, and in the effort to bolster up
his dignity, his tone became pompous and condescending.

'You are not frightened now, I hope?'

The queerest demure look came to her downcast eyes.

'Wherefore should I be afraid? The Huzoor is my father and mother.'

George had heard the saying a hundred times. Even now, incongruous as
it was, it pleased him by its flattering recognition of the fact that
his benevolence and superiority were undeniable.

'But, unfortunately, I don't carry quinine with me,' he began.

'If the Huzoor were to bring it to-morrow when he comes to put paints
on paper, his slave could return and fetch it,' she interrupted
readily. He looked at her more sharply, wondering what her age might
be. 'Shall I come, Huzoor?' she continued, with a certain anxiety in
her grave face.

'What else?' he answered quickly. It would suit him admirably, since he
could come armed with rupees wherewith to bribe the Ayôdhya pot from
her, and with canvas and oil-colour more suitable to the portrait
which, as he looked at her golden brown face and reddish purple
draperies, he resolved to have. He would paint her against the dark
mound of the ruins rising formless and void upon a sunset sky, and he
would call it----

'You had better tell me your name,' he said suddenly, 'then I shall
know to whom I have to send the quinine in case you can't come.'

Her white teeth flashed between the long curves of her mouth.

'I am Azîzan, Huzoor. I am quite sure to come, and I will bring the pot
for the medicine.'

It was almost as if she had divined his intention, he thought, as he
watched her pass out through the gateway behind him. It was a queer
chance altogether, all the greater because the name Azîzan was
familiarly commonplace. Briefly, it happened to be that of his
factotum's wife. He had, of course, never seen that estimable female,
but he had often heard her addressed in tones of objurgation when delay
occurred between the courses, thus--'_Azîzan! egg sarse. Azîzan! salt
fish is not without egg sarse_.' From which George inferred that she
was responsible for the kitchen-maid's portion of the Barmecidal feast.
The remembrance made him smile as he packed up his colours, resolving
to do no more till he could begin in earnest on that most interesting
study. He would have thought it still more interesting if he could have
seen it slipping into the white domino which old Zainub, the duenna,
held ready at the gate, where she had been warding off possible
intrusion by the bare truth, that one of her palace ladies was within.
For the custom of seclusion renders intrigue absolutely safe, since
none dare put the identity of a white-robed figure to the test, or pry
into the privacy of a place claimed by a veiled woman.

'Now mind,' scolded Zainub, as they shuffled back to the women's
apartments, 'if thou sayest a word of this to the girls thou goest not
again; but the old bridegroom comes instead.'

'I will go again,' said the girl gravely, 'I liked it. But the sun made
my eyes ache without the veil. Yes! I will go again, amma-jân'
(nursie).

To tell the truth, she had small choice. We have all heard of an empire
whereon the sun never sets, and where slavery does not exist. Even
those who shake their heads over the former statement, applaud the
latter. But slavery, unfortunately, is as elusive as liberty, and when
not a soul, save those interested in making you obey, is even aware of
your existence, individual freedom is apt to be a fraud. This was
Azîzan's case. Born of an unknown wrong, she might have died of one
also, and none been the wiser. The zenana walls which shut her in, shut
out the penal code of the alien. If she had chosen to be prudish, the
alternative would have been put before her brutally; but she did not
choose; for naturally enough, as she said, she liked the masquerade,
even if the sun did make her head ache. So she sat all that afternoon
under the lattice-window, whence, if you stood on tiptoe, you could see
the flags in front of the mosque, and thought of the morrow; naturally,
also, since it was a great event to one who had never before set foot
beyond the walls of the women's quarter.

Yet George had to wait a long time the next day ere she appeared and
squatted down before him confidently. 'It was the black man who came
with the Huzoor's things,' she explained quite openly. 'Mother would
not let me come while he was here. The Huzoors are quite different;
they are our fathers and mothers.'

The repetition of the phrase amused George, and tickled his sense of
superiority. It scarcely needed stimulus, for, like most of his race,
he was inclined to consider the natives as automata, until personal
experience in each case made him admit reluctantly that they were not.
So he wondered vain-gloriously what certain politicians at home would
say to this candid distrust of the black man, produced the quinine, and
then offered Azîzan five whole rupees if she would let him draw a
picture of her, as he had of the mosque.

'Is that the mosque?' she asked dubiously.

George's reply was full of condescension, which it would not have been
had he looked on Azîzan in the light of a girl capable, as girls always
are, of mischief; for the sketch was accurate to a degree. It ended in
an offer of ten rupees for a finished picture of that odd, attractive,
yellow-brown face. It was now resting its pointed chin on the tucked-up
knees, round which the thin brown arms were clasped; and the smile
which lengthened the already long curves of the mouth George set down
to sheer greedy delight at an over large bribe, which, to tell truth,
he regretted. Half would have been sufficient.

'Then the Huzoor must really think me pretty.'

The words might have been bombs, the sigh of satisfaction accompanying
them a thunderclap, from the start they gave to his superiority. So she
was nothing more nor less than a girl; rather a pretty girl, too, when
she smiled, though not so picturesque as when she was grave.

'I think you will make a pretty picture,' he replied with dignity.
'Come! ten rupees is a lot, you know.'

'I'll sit if the Huzoor thinks me pretty,' persisted Azîzan, now quite
grave. And her gravity, as she sat with the reddish purple drapery
veiling all save the straight column of her throat and the thin brown
hands clasping the Ayôdhya pot, appealed so strongly to George Keene's
artistic sense, that he would have perjured himself to say she was
beautiful as a houri twenty times over if thereby he could have made
her sit to him.

She proved an excellent model; perhaps because she had done little else
all her life but sit still, with that grave tired look on her face. So
still, so lifeless, that he felt aggrieved when, without a word of
warning, she rose and salaamed.

'I must go home now, Huzoor,' she said in answer to his impatient
assertion that he had but just begun. 'I will come to-morrow if the
Huzoor wishes it.'

'Of course you must come,' he replied angrily, 'if you are to get the
ten rupees. Why can't you stay now?'

Azîzan might have said with truth that a hand from the gateway behind
the sketcher's back had beckoned to her, but she only smiled
mysteriously.

George, left behind in the sunny courtyard, looked at the charcoal
smudges on his canvas with mixed feelings. He had the pose; but should
he ever succeed in painting the picture which rose before his mind's
eye? To most amateurs of real talent, such as he was, there comes some
special time when the conviction that here is an opportunity, here an
occasion for the best possible work, brings all latent power into
action, and makes the effort absorbing. Something of this feeling had
already taken possession of George; he began to project a finished
picture, and various methods of inducing his sitter to give him more
time. Perhaps she had found it dull. Native women, he believed,
chattered all day long. So when she came next morning, he asked her if
she liked stories, and when she nodded, he began straightway on his
recollections of Hans Andersen; choosing out all the melancholy and
aggressively sentimental subjects, so as to prevent her from smiling.
He succeeded very well so far; Azîzan sat gravely in the sunshine
listening, but every day she rose to go with just the same sudden
alacrity. Then he told her the tale of Cinderella, and the necessity
for her leaving the prince's ball before twelve o'clock; but even this
did not make Azîzan laugh. On the contrary, she looked rather
frightened, and asked what the prince said when he found out.

'He told her that he thought her the most beautiful girl in the world,
so they lived happy ever after,' replied George carelessly.

It was two nights after this incident that old Zainub the duenna paid a
visit to Chândni in her shadowy recesses.

'What is to come of this foolishness?' she asked crossly. ''Twas a week
at first; now 'tis ten days. She used to give no trouble, and now she
sits by the lattice in a fever for the next day. That is the plague of
girls; give them but a glimpse outside and they fret to death. So I
warned Meean Khush-hâl sixteen years agone, when the mother took refuge
with us during her father's absence on the night of the storm; but he
listened not when he had the excuse of the wall. Yea, that is the
truth, O Chândni! 'tis well thou shouldst know the whole, since thou
hast guessed half. Mayhap thou wilt think twice when thou hast heard.
Ai! my daughter! I seem to hear her now; I would not pass such another
year with this one for all the money thou couldst give. Nor is it safe
for me, or for thee, Chândni, with those eyes in the child's head. Let
be--'tis no good. Would I had never consented to begin the work! I will
do no more.'

'True!' yawned Chândni, lounging on her bed. 'Thou art getting old for
the place--it needs a younger woman. I will tell the Diwân so.'

Zainub whimpered. 'If aught were to come of it, 'twould be different;
but thou thyself hast but the hope of beguiling him to some unknown
snare within the walls.'

'An unknown snare is the deadliest,' laughed the other shrilly. 'What
care I for the girl? 'Tis something to have him meet a screened inmate
of the palace day after day; many things may come of that. If Azîzan
pines, tell her the wedding is delayed; tell her anything----'

'Tell her!' broke in the old duenna between the whiffs of the hookah
whence she sought to draw comfort. 'Sobhân ullah! There is too much
telling as it is. _He_ tells her--God knows what!--not sensible
reasonable things, like the tales of a parrot, about real men and
women; but upside-down rigmaroles about beggar-maidens and kings and
sighs without kisses. Lo! she hath them pat! But now, because I bid her
hold her tongue from teasing me with them when I wished to sleep, she
flung out her hands so, quite free like, saying if she might not speak
them she would think them, since they were true words. He had told her,
and the sahib-logue ever spake the truth.'

Chândni burst into high pitched laughter. 'So! the little Moghulâni
learns fast! 'Tis not strange, seeing the blood which runs in her
veins. The cross breed hath but given it strength. Lo! if this be as
thou sayest, she would not thank thee for stopping her ears with the
cotton of decency. Thus, for the eyes' sake, Zainub, thou hadst best
let well alone, and give the girl the rein--while thou canst.'

In good sooth the old dame felt the truth of Chândni's words, and
knew herself to be between two stools. Either by interference, or
non-interference, she ran the risk of Azîzan's anger; more, perhaps, by
the latter than the former. So the girl in her odd dress continued to
steal out in the fresh mornings--for March had come with its hot
glaring noons--to sit between George and the mosque, and to steal back
again, obedient to that beckoning hand from the gate; Zainub's
authority remaining sufficient for that, backed as it was by an
ill-defined fear on the girl's part, lest the fate of Cinderella should
befall her before the proper time. There was little conversation
between the odd couple; chiefly because Azîzan had none, and seemed to
know nothing of her neighbours and the village. Her mother? Oh yes! she
was better for the quinine. She was a purdah woman, more or less, and
lived yonder--this with a wave of the hand palacewards. Yes! she had
heard there was a potter, but she had never seen him. Oh, no! they were
not related. Her dress? It was very old because they were very poor.
Her mother had had it by her; it was very ugly. She would rather have
'Manchester'; but they--that is to say, her mother--would not give it
her. The Ayôdhya pot? That was old also. She had asked her mother, and
she was willing to sell it. When the Huzoor had finished the picture
her mother would come, if she were well enough, and settle the price.
If not, the Huzoor might go 'yonder' and speak to her mother. The
Huzoors were their fathers and mothers. It was not like a black man.
This much, no more, George gleaned during the morning hours which
passed so swiftly for them both. He in a novel absorption and pride in
the success of his own work. She? It is hard to say. She sat listening,
while the pigeons sidled and coo'd, the blue tiles glowed, and the
blind arcades shut out all the world save George and his stories. They
were of the simplest, most uncompromising nature; partly because his
sense of superiority made him stoop, perhaps unnecessarily, to Azîzan's
level; partly because his knowledge of the language, though long past
the stuttering stage, did not extend to niceties of emotion. But loving
was loving, hating was hating, when all was said and done. Sometimes
the crudity of his own words made the lad smile, as, by the aid of his
own complexity, he recognised how entirely they dealt in first
principles; and then Azîzan would smile too, not from comprehension,
but from first principles also. The woman's smile born of the man's.

It was different, however, when he laid down his brush with an elated
laugh. 'There! that's done! and you have sat like--like anything.
Earned your ten rupees and--Azîzan! my dear little girl--what is the
matter?'

First principles with a vengeance, and the sunlight turning tears to
diamonds as they rolled down those sun-coloured cheeks! He rose,
divided between pity and impatience, and stood looking at her almost
incredulously. 'Come, don't cry--there's nothing to cry about. Look!
how pretty you are in the picture; but it wouldn't have been half so
pretty if you hadn't sat so still. I owe you more than the ten rupees,
Azîzan, and that's a fact. What shall it be--money or jewels? What
would you like best?'

She did not answer, and with the same careless superiority he stooped
and turned her downcast face to his; he was used to turning it this way
or that at his pleasure. But this somehow was different; so was the
sun-colour and brown he saw. Sun-colour indeed! He was only
one-and-twenty, and the brightness and the glamour which seemed to fall
in a moment on everything, as he saw the heart-whole surrender of her
eyes, dazed him utterly; only one-and-twenty, and he had never before
seen such a look as this that came to him from the sun-coloured face;
but it was brown also! Truth is truth. It was not a sense of duty, it
was a sense of colour which prevented him from kissing it then and
there. So much may be said for him and his morality, that the
difference between a brown and a white skin was the outward sign of the
vast inward gulf between sentiment and sheer passion. The transition
was too abrupt; for the time it shocked his culture, and brought a look
to his face before which poor little Azîzan gave a cry, and fled, just
as she had fled on that first day when George had spilled the dirty
water over the sunshine. He had spilled it now with a vengeance,
and--over the sunshine of her face, sent shame--needless shame.
'Azîzan!' he called after her, his pulses bounding and beating,
'Azîzan!'

Then he paused, since she would not; and told himself that there was no
need for pursuit. She would come back, for there, as she had left it,
lay the Ayôdhya pot. Yes! she must come back. He could scarcely think
of her without it clasped in her thin hands; so silent--yet all the
time----? He gave a little laugh, tender, half regretful. Dear little
Azîz! What a brute, what a fool he had been to bring that look to her
face! His brain was in a whirl; he could think of nothing save her shy,
confident eyes, and ask himself if, when all was said and done, that
world beyond the desert held anything better despite its palaver and
pretension? Did it not come back in the end to the old ways, to the
first principles? He laughed recklessly at his own thoughts more than
once as, scarcely seeing the ground beneath his feet, he made his way
homewards to the branded red brick bungalow.

The factotum was standing in the verandah.

'The mem-sahib is waiting for the Huzoor,' he said calmly,

'The mem! what mem?'

'This slave knows not. She came half an hour gone, and said she would
await the Huzoor's return.'

'Wait! where?'

The man pointed to the sitting-room. 'In there, Huzoor. She has since
fallen asleep in the sahib's arm-chair.'

George stared helplessly at the bamboo-screen which, hanging before the
open door, prevented him from seeing inside. Who could it be? Rose
Tweedie? The mere thought sent the first blush of the morning to his
cheek, by bringing him back with a round turn to civilisation.

'Here! take these things,' he said, thrusting the picture and the pot
hastily into the servant's hand; 'and see!--wipe my boots--they are not
fit to be seen.'

And as the factotum carefully brushed the dust of Hodinuggur from
George's feet, the latter had forgotten everything in wonder as to who
the 'mem' could possibly be.



                              CHAPTER V


It was a lady, whom he had never seen before, fast asleep in his
arm-chair; _the_ arm-chair of bachelor's quarters, which, having served
as a deck lounge on the way out, brings a solitary luxury afterwards to
the bare sitting-room.

Its present occupant appeared to find it comfortable, for she did
not stir. It must be confessed, however, that there was not much to
disturb even a light sleeper, for George's entrance was shy, and his
surprise sufficient to petrify him for a time. She was dressed in a
riding-habit, and a pair of neatly-booted feet rested on the only other
chair in the room. Evidently she had made herself quite at home, for a
helmet and veil lay with her gloves familiarly beside the cup and
saucer set out on the table for the young man's breakfast. Altogether
there was an air of easy proprietorship about the figure which lay with
throat and cheek sharply outlined against the Turkey red cushions; one
hand tucked behind the fair, rumpled hair, the other resting slackly on
the knee. It increased George Keene's shyness by making him feel an
intruder even in his own room, and without a word he turned,
instinctively, to leave it. As he did so a glitter on the floor at his
feet made him stoop to find a diamond pin. He stepped aside to lay it
out of harm's way on the mantelpiece, and in so doing caught a closer
view of the half-averted face.

When he slipped out again into the verandah, he stood with his hands in
his pockets and whistled softly; it was a habit of his when taken
aback. A most surprising adventure indeed! An Englishwoman--a perfectly
beautiful one into the bargain--at Hodinuggur alone! How on earth had
she come there? From Rajpore, seventy odd miles of sheer desert to the
north, or from the south? The Chief's camp had arranged to cross the
sandy strip in that direction, perhaps on its return to look in on
Hodinuggur, but that did not account for her being alone.

The factotum having disappeared into the cook-room, George, in order to
avoid calling, strolled thither, intent on further information. In so
doing he became aware of his groom at work on a strange horse. The
Huzoor was right, said the man with a grin, it was the mem's, and was
it to have three or four pounds of grain? George, noticing the little
Arab's hanging head, suggested a bran mash, and went on feeling as if
he had tumbled into another person's dream. Yet no more was to be
discovered. The mem had come, sent her horse round, and gone to sleep
in the sahib's arm-chair. Furthermore, what did the Huzoor mean to do
about his breakfast?

George, who, to tell truth, was beginning to feel the pangs of hunger,
hesitated between awaking his guest and taking his bath. He chose the
latter alternative, moved thereto by the remembrance that he would be
none the worse for a clean collar and what he termed 'all that sort of
thing'; but half an hour afterwards, when he returned to the verandah
with the refreshingly clean look of a newly-tubbed young Englishman,
the situation had not improved. It had become worse, for, while the
lady still slept, George felt ravenous; nor could he turn to his pipe
as a palliative lest she should wake suddenly to find him reeking of
tobacco--for he had always been a bit of a dandy, and fastidious over
such things. This did not prevent him from feeling injured. No woman,
be she ever so beautiful, had a right to take possession of a fellow's
breakfast as she had done; and yet it was not so much her fault as the
detestable Indian lack of pantries and larders, which led to every
plate and knife, every eatable, save the desert-fowl in the cook-room,
being, as it were, under the immediate guardianship of the Sleeping
Beauty. Even if the store-closet had been in the bedroom, he might have
'vittled free, off sardines and captain's biscuit. And still she slept.
At last, in sheer desperation, he determined to wake her; and, raising
the screen, was beginning a preparatory cough, when the sight of the
breakfast-table suggested the possibility of a raid. The next instant
his shoes were off and the boyhood in him uppermost, as he stole in,
his eyes on the sleeper. 'A good conscience, and no mistake,' he
thought, as he annexed the loaf and a tin of sardines. 'One of the
Seven Sleepers, surely!'--this as he passed more leisurely to a pat of
butter and a knife and fork; these he piled on the loaf, with a
spoonful or two of marmalade. Apparently she had no intention of
awakening for days! This thought led to a cup and some tea from the
canister, finally to a milk jug; the latter proving fatal, for in
retiring backward with his spoil through the screen, its contents
dribbled on to his best suit, and the effort to prevent this,
overbalanced the spoon of marmalade, which fell with a clatter.

Some people wake to the full enjoyment of their faculties, and with the
first glance of those grey-blue eyes, George saw that concealment--with
half the breakfast-table clasped to his bosom--was impossible. He
blushed furiously, and began to apologise; which was foolish, since
excuses, if due at all, were clearly owed by the sleeper. She did not,
however, make any.

'How kind of you not to disturb me before, Mr. Keene,' she interrupted
in a charming voice. 'Have you been in long?'

Her coolness increased his apologies, making him assert on the
contrary, he had but just returned. Only being rather in a hurry for
his breakfast----

'Apparently,' she interrupted again. 'Dear me, what a very
miscellaneous meal it would have been! But, as I am awake, hadn't you
better put it all down before the marmalade runs into the sardines?
Then, as I am quite as hungry as you can possibly be, you might tell
the man to bring breakfast.'

George, if a trifle taken aback by her nonchalance, felt grateful for
the opportunity, given with such easy grace, of getting at his shoes
again before beginning explanations. On his return he noticed that she,
also, had made use of the time to tidy her hair and restore a general
daintiness of appearance. As he entered she was stooping to look under
the table as if to seek something she had lost.

'It is a little diamond pin,' she said; 'I left it here with my
gloves.'

'No,' he answered quickly, off his guard. 'It was on the floor--I
mean--I--I think it is on the mantelpiece.'

'Thanks, so much!' She took it gravely ere going back to the arm-chair.
Then she looked up at him archly.

'Was I snoring dreadfully when you came in first, Mr. Keene?'

For the third time since he had become aware of her presence he
blushed.

'Snoring?--oh dear no,' he began angrily.

'That is a relief. I was afraid I must have been, to make you perjure
yourself so. As if any sane woman could believe that you went about
Hodinuggur in that costume! I believe you have been in for hours and
hours, and I'm so sorry, Mr. Keene; but you will forgive me when you
hear my tale of woe.'

George, with an odd little rapture at the thought, told himself he
could forgive her anything because she was so beautiful.

'I'm Mrs. Boynton,' she went on; 'you will have heard of me, I expect,
from Rose?'

He told her that he had heard of her from most people at Rajpore, which
was the truth; but he did not say, which was also the truth, that their
praises of her looks seemed to him miserably inadequate. No doubt,
however, she saw this in his eyes, though she had too large an
acquaintance with the expression to take any interest in it. Nice boys
always admired her immensely, and this one looked very nice, with the
beauty of cleanliness on him from head to foot, so she detailed her
adventures with that confidence in sympathy and help which is such a
charm to very young men. To say sooth George deserved it, for he was
one of those who are born to stand between their womenfolk and that
necessity for taking the initiative which--_pace_ the strong-minded
sisters--most women cordially detest, and which is the cause of half
the nervous exhaustion of the present age. So after a very short time
he took possession of her future even more decidedly than she had taken
possession of his bungalow. Briefly, the case lay thus. Colonel
Tweedie's camp, owing to the increasing heat, had changed its route
slightly, and was due, as the incoming post would doubtless let George
know, at Hodinuggur next morning. To do this it had doubled up two
marches across the desert into one, so as to include some inspection
work before turning at right angles along the canal. Owing to this and
some good sport on the way, every one had started by daybreak through
the Bâr; that is to say, hard waste land dotted with tufts of grey
caper-bushes, and stunted trees, just high enough and thick enough to
prevent one seeing more than twenty or thirty yards in any direction,
since beyond that the clumps became a continuous hedge shutting out the
world. Colonel Tweedie and his immediate staff having ridden on in
haste, the shooting party, beguiled by the prospect of bustards, had
spread themselves through the jungle on one side of the track, followed
by their horses and grooms. Mrs. Boynton, however, preferring such road
as there was, had been walking her horse along it in the expectation of
being rejoined, when the sudden firing of an unseen gun made her Arab
bolt. First along the track, then missing it at a bend, the beast had
swerved into some bushes, where a thorny branch had caught in his long
tail, making him perfectly unmanageable. After a mile or more, he had
apparently broken into the track again, and sobered down to a walk,
much to her delight. Then a solitary native traveller had passed, and
assured her, as she imagined, that she was right for the sahib-logue's
camp; so she had trotted on, until, fearing she might lose the track
once more, she had been foolish enough to walk her horse back on its
traces, thus completely losing all her bearings. Finally, at a fork in
the almost invisible path, she had been forced to confess that she had
not the least idea in which direction her destination lay, north or
south, east or west; the sun, therefore, being of little use to her as
a guide. (Here her pretty smile growing a trifle tremulous, made George
profusely indignant with the desert.) Then, regaining her head, she
remembered to have heard Mr. Fitzgerald--who, as Mr. Keene would know,
had of course joined the camp on its entrance into the division--say
that the more open country lay eastward, and so she had ridden as
straight as she could into the shadows, that being her best chance of
steering aright. (Here George grew clamorous over her courage.)
Nevertheless, it had almost failed, she said, when on a sudden the
great silver streak of the canal had appeared from among the bushes,
and she had ridden along its banks till she came to a treeless waste
with a big mound looming in the far distance.

'I knew it must be Hodinuggur,' she finished with a sort of caress to
her own comfort among the pillows, 'by Mr. Fitzgerald's description,
and I knew you from Rose Tweedie's, so I felt it was all right. And
now, Mr. Keene! don't you wonder I didn't snore, considering I had been
in the saddle for eight hours?'

George protested it was virtue itself for her to wake at all; but that
she would have the whole day to rest, as it was manifestly impossible
for her to return to the camp; absurd also, since the latter was to
come on to Hodinuggur next day. So he would send to the Diwân and
borrow a camel sowar, who would ride over with a note telling of her
safety in the bungalow, and asking for anything she might require. For
the rest, all he had was at her service.

'But I shall be turning you out of house and home, shan't I?' she asked
kindly.

The young fellow's eyes softened. 'I don't think I ever thought of it
as a home before,' he said with an embarrassed laugh at his own words;
'but won't you come to breakfast? It's awfully nasty, I'm afraid----'

'Then we can fall back on the sardines and the marmalade,' she
interrupted gravely. This gravity was with her a perfect art, and gave
a great charm to her gentle raillery.

Perhaps the food was nasty; if so, George, for one, did not mind except
for her sake. He thought of nothing but her comfort; of how he could
welcome her to take possession of everything, himself included. Was she
not the most beautiful, the most fascinating, the most perfect woman he
had ever seen? Did she not deserve the best he could give her? So,
while she was writing the note for the camel sowar, George slipped away
to give instructions to the factotum. The bedroom must be swept and
garnished, and the things pitched away anywhere. The drawers must be
re-papered, a towel put on the dressing-table, and---- What a beastly
hole it was, he thought ruefully as he left the man to his own devices;
but half an hour afterwards his face cleared; for the factotum, having
been in good services, had risen to the occasion. Not only was there a
towel on the dressing-table, but two empty beer-bottles had been
modestly draped into candlesticks, with the gilt ends of the pugree he
had received from the Diwân, while the remainder of the muslin was
festooned about the looking-glass. Azîzan's portrait stood on the
mantel-shelf with the Ayôdhya pot in front, and two dinner plates on
either side, the arrangement being completed by two of his best ties
knotted in bows about his hunting crop, and the kitchen fan. A tinsel
veil, borrowed from the compounder of _egg-sarse_, did duty as a
bed-spread, supported by his Cooper's Hill tennis muffler as an
antimacassar. In the middle of the room the factotum still lingered,
benign and superior, one hand holding a hammer and tacks, the other a
pair of striped silk socks, with the decorative effect of which he was
evidently enamoured. In addition, a figure swathed in white sat
modestly behind the dressing-room door.

'It is my house,' said the man, with a large smile. 'Since it is not to
be tolerated that the abode of princes should lack a female slave, the
woman, at my command, takes the part of ayah. The Huzoor may rest
satisfied. Azîzan's knowledge of the mems equals this slave's of the
sahibs.'

Azîzan! The smile left George's lips at the name; and before leaving
the room he thrust the portrait into a cupboard, replacing it by an
illuminated text which was lying neglected under a pile of wire
cartridges.

'The Huzoor is right,' declared the factotum cheerfully. 'The mems have
them ever in their rooms. Lo! nothing is amiss.'

George, as he turned at the door for a last look, felt that the advice,
'Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together' emblazoned in
Gothic characters, holly, and mistletoe, which a maiden aunt had sent
him as a Christmas present, did indeed put the finishing touch to the
solitude of the wilderness.

'But where are you going?' asked Gwen.

'I? Oh! they'll give me quarters in the palace, I expect. Perhaps I'd
better go over now and see about it. Then I've inspection work,
and--and a heap of other things. So perhaps I'd better say good-bye.
I've told the servants about lunch and all that sort of thing. And your
traps will be here before dark.'

A very nice boy, indeed, thought Mrs. Boynton, and showed her thought.
So George went over to the palace feeling quite intoxicated because he
had been instructed without fail to dine in his own house; and after he
had settled about his quarters with Dalel, and had ridden off on his
fictitious tour of inspection, he dug the spurs into his pony out of
sheer lightness of heart, and went sailing away over the desert,
careless even of the direction in which he went.

Dalel meanwhile had repaired to the shadowy arches in a state of
boastful superiority. His friend Keene was coming over to stop in the
palace. They would play cards, and be jolly, and drink. And the lad
always carried the key of the sluice-gate on his watch-chain.

'It is a chance indeed,' said Chândni, with a queer look. Then after a
time broke in on Dalel's vapourings by snatching the banjo from the
wall and breaking into a respectable and plaintive love-song.

'Lo! thou hast thy way, and I have mine,' she laughed recklessly. 'Let
us see who succeeds best.' So slipping on the decent white domino, she
set off for the palace, and turned down the dark passage leading to the
women's apartments. Doubtless it was a chance which must not be
neglected.

Between his desire not to disturb Mrs. Boynton's kindness too early,
and his dislike to becoming a prey to Dalel at the palace, George in
the end had to gallop his pony the last four miles, and then found
himself with but ten minutes in which to dress. But he dashed up the
narrow stair leading to the odd little arcaded room placed at his
disposal by the Diwân, feeling confident in the factotum's forethought;
and, sure enough, on the silk coverlet of the high lacquered bed lay
his dress-clothes and white tie complete. Nothing else, except his
sleeping-suit; so, choice being denied him, he flung himself into
ceremonious black, discovering as he did so that two or three jasmine
blossoms and a sprig of maidenhair fern had been pinned into the
button-hole of his coat. The factotum was evidently determined he
should play the right game. As he ran down the stairs again he wondered
whence the man could possibly have procured the fern, and then
remembered having seen a few fronds clinging, far down on the
masonry of his well, into which the canal water filtered. The seed
of this hill-born plant must have filtered with it; just as these
strange items of knowledge--the shibboleth of dress-clothes and
button-holes--filtered into the brains of these odd people. Life in
Hodinuggur was really very amusing, and full of delightful surprises.
Yesterday he had been waiting--without a collar!--for a Barmecidal
feast, to-day in swallow-tail and a button-hole he was going to dine
with the most beautiful woman in the world! and there, like a fairy
tale, was the branded bungalow illuminated out of all recognition. And
inside were more wonders in a table set out with flowers, and Mrs.
Boynton coming forward to greet him with a bouquet of jasmine and
maidenhair amid the soft ruffles of her white dress. It was humiliating
yet still amusing, having to confess it came, not from his courtesy,
but the factotum's sense of duty. Then the very sight of the man
himself, in spotless raiment, lording it over Mrs. Boynton's kitmutgâr
was pure comedy. In fact when, dinner being over, George was left face
to face with three napkin-swathed black bottles hung with foolscap
tickets of port, sherry, claret, engrossed in the village
schoolmaster's best hand, he gave one look at Mrs. Boynton before
exploding into laughter, while she vowed to keep the _menu_ to her
dying day, if only to show the folly of allowing facts to interfere
with fancy.

By and by, when coffee came in--the factotum diffident over the
breakfast cups but triumphant over the under-footman with hot milk and
sugar on a dinner-plate--they laughed again; yet the laughter brought a
moisture to George Keene's merry grey eyes. In a vague way the boy knew
what had happened, knew that the most beautiful woman in the world had
not only taken possession of house and home, but of body and soul; and
he was glad of it, despite the moisture in his eyes--glad to the
heart's core as he chattered away confidentially, while she listened
graciously, thinking what a charming boy he was, and what an excellent
husband he would make by-and-bye for any girl. What an admirable
son-in-law, in short, he would have made if she had had a daughter and
he had had money; for women of her sort view mankind chiefly from the
matrimonial point of view, and seek to give variety to the question by
importing into it all their female friends.

'That reminds me,' she said, as she listened to the hope that she was
fairly comfortable which George tacked on to his good-night. 'You have
the most fascinating blue pot on your mantelpiece. Where did you get
it?'

'Do you really like it?' he asked eagerly; 'if so, you can have it.'

'My dear boy!' she laughed, 'I don't mean to appropriate _everything_
you possess.'

He looked at her with shining happy eyes. 'But it isn't mine as yet; it
belongs to some one, though, who wants to sell it, and if you would
give it to me, now, I'd finish the bargain to-morrow morning and you
shall have it back by breakfast-time if it is to be had for love or
money.'

Love or money! The old formula came carelessly to his lips.

Azîzan meanwhile, crouching behind one of the palace arcades, and
wondering when she would hear his foot on the stairs, was echoing the
thought in another language. She was trembling all over from
excitement, and fear, and hope; of what, she scarcely knew, she did not
understand. They had dressed her in her best beneath the flimsy white
veil which pretended to conceal the finery it really enhanced, and
surely, she thought, if he had deemed her pretty when in that dreadful
old shroud, he would be still kinder now. They had bidden her ask for
the Ayôdhya pot, and take him to settle the price with her mother. But
of doing this she was not sure; she was sure of nothing save that she
must see him again--must see him to make certain that he was not vexed.
And then she would tell him that traps were being laid for him--at
least she might tell him--but come what might she must see him; ay! and
he must see her as she ought to be seen.

It was not a very safe interruption for George to have found awaiting
him in the long moonlit shadows of the arcades had he been in the same
mood as the girl; not even though all the plotting and scheming would
have seemed incredibly absurd to him at any time, and in any mood.
Indeed, even by the dim light of the cook-room, where the factotum was
putting away a copy of the _menu_ among his certificates as proof
positive of his acquaintance with the appetites of the ruling race,
Chândni's snare would have met with the derision it deserved; but in
the dark intricacies of palace politics it seemed simple enough,
especially to one of her vile experiences.

But as it so happened George never went near the palace. He sat on the
canal bridge till dawn, smoking one pipe after another, and looking
aimlessly, dreamily at the dark windows of the bungalow. No one could
have foreseen this, not even the lad himself. He had no intention of
out-watching the stars when the balmy air and a feeling of measureless
content first tempted him to pause and set aside the forgetfulness of
sleep for a time--or would it have been sleep when _she_ was in the
desert alone, with God knows what ruffians about? A rage grew up in him
at the thought of Dalel and his kind, until the palace itself became
distasteful. So, almost before he realised that he was on the watch,
the gurglings of many camels and the thud of a mallet told him that the
advanced guard of the big camp had arrived, and sent him across to the
camping ground to warn the tent pitchers to be as quiet as possible.
'May the angels of the Lord pitch their tents around us this night,
used to be the favourite bidding prayer of a certain Scotch divine when
he ministered to a volunteer congregation, until one day a veteran
happening to be there said audibly, 'Then I'm hopin, they'll no mak
muckle noise wi' the tent-pegs.' A tale which shows the danger of
imperfect local colouring; a fact which was to be brought home that
night both to Dalel and Chândni, for even then George did not return to
the champagne and the snares. That incomprehensible love of the
picturesque on which the latter had counted, kept him engrossed in the
novel sight of a canvas city rising like magic from the bare sand.
First came an autocrat with measuring tape and pegs mapping the ground
into squares; then, one by one, in its appointed place, a great ghost
of a thing, flapping white wings against the purple sky, to rise stiff
and square above? fringe of even silvery ropes.

It was not until a saffron-coloured glint in the east startled him into
the thought that he was a confounded ass, that George, out of sheer
lightheartedness, ran all the way back to the palace, stumbled up the
steep stairs, and threw himself into the high lacquered bed to fall
asleep before the saffron had faded into daylight. Perhaps it was as
well, since even the Hodinuggur sun, which had been at work since the
beginning of all things, might have stared to see a masher in dress
clothes knocking into a Moghul palace with the milk. It stared instead
at a more familiar sight; at a girl, face down on a bare string bed in
the women's quarters, sobbing as if her heart would break.



                              CHAPTER VI


Naturally enough George overslept himself. Naturally also he woke to
feel himself hustled and bustled, for he was due to meet the incoming
camp at the borders of his district at a certain hour; a feeling he
proceeded to vent on the factotum for being late with the early tea
which that worthy had had carried over from the bungalow in an odd
little procession, tailing off to some of the large-eyed village lads
and lasses learning betimes the customs of their rulers. In addition,
George had promised Mrs. Boynton an answer about the Ayôdhya pot, and
now, even by hurrying, which he loathed, he could scarcely find time to
seek Azîzan in the old place. Still he did hurry, and leaving the camel
which he was to ride gurgling in the courtyard, wasted five minutes in
tramping up and down the flags in front of the mosque; finally, in
vexation, returning by the short cut through the bazaar. In these early
hours it had a deserted, yet still dissipated air, the few loungers
looking as if they had been up all night. Only the quails challenged
cheerfully from their shrouded cages. In the arched causeway, however,
he came on Dalel Beg, most offensively European in costume and manner;
for he too was bound on reception-duty.

'Aha! Keene, old chappie,' he began with a leer, 'you sleep well after
burra-khana (big dinner) with the mem. By Jove, you keep it up late.'

George could scarcely refrain from kicking him then and there. But the
thought that these people had possibly put their own construction on
his absence from the palace made him feel hot and cold with rage and
regret. To avoid the subject--the only course open to him--he hastily
held out the Ayôdhya pot which he was carrying, and asked the Mirza if
he had any idea to whom it belonged.

Now the Mirza's oblique eyes had been on it from the first; but at the
question they narrowed to mere slits of compressed cunning.

'Ah, so! very good. I know. Yes, yes! it belong to you, Keene, of
course. Bah! it is worth nothing. I hate old trumpery matters. You are
very welcome.'

'You mistake, sahib,' retorted George haughtily, 'this does not, did
not belong to your grandfather; it belongs to an old woman who lives
near the palace. She promised to sell it to me, and now I'm rather in a
hurry to complete the bargain. Mem Boynton sahiba wants it, and they
leave to-morrow or next day.'

Dalel Beg, who had been turning the pot over and over in his hand,
laughed.

'So you say it is another----'

'Certainly it is another,' interrupted George, annoyed beyond measure
by his manner; 'it belongs, as I said, to an old woman. She has a
daughter called Azîzan----' he paused, doubtful of putting Dalel on any
woman's track.

'Azîzan!'--the Mirza signed his attendants to fall back with unwonted
decision before he went on,--'Azîzan! tell me, Keene, a young girl?
with eyes of light like potter's?'

Evidently he knew something of, and was interested in, the girl, and
George, now that it was too late, regretted having mentioned her name.

'Can't wait any longer now, I'm afraid,' he replied, glad of the
excuse; 'just send one of your fellows up to my quarters with the pot,
will you? Thanks, I've no time to lose.'

Left thus cavalierly, Dalel Beg scowled after the young Englishman;
then with a compendious oath turned back to the side door whence he had
emerged, and, stumbling in his anger up the dark stairs, appeared again
in Chândni's presence. He almost flung the pot beside her as she lay
curled up on her bed, and then, driven to words by her arrogant silence
began a volley of furious questions.

What mischief had the woman been up to? How came it that the English
cub had seen Azîzan? Azîzan, who after all was his half-sister, one of
the race, though they did keep her out of his sight. And that oaf, that
infidel---- His wrath was real, for beneath the veneer of modern
thought the fierce jealousy of the Moghul lay strong as ever.

Chândni gave a jeering laugh, 'Thou art too handsome for the maidens, O
Dalel; too wicked also even for the race. Thou needest one like me to
keep thee straight. Lo! there is nothing to know, nothing to tell.
Hadst asked last night, the answer might have been other. I set a snare
and it failed; for thou wert right--the boy is no boy, but a milksop.
May fate send him death and us a black man in his place, else I stop
not here!'

Her jingling feet struck the ground with a clash and she yawned again.
In truth she was tired of Hodinuggur, and longed for the Chowk at
Delhi. Dalel, with a sneer adulterating his frown, looked at her
vengefully, 'Wah! thou art a poor creature, putting the blame on
others, after woman's way. Thy wiles are useless, forsooth, because
the boy is a milksop. Then a strange mem comes and he sits drinking
wine--my wine, look you, for his servant required it of me--until the
dawn; then comes home tipsy after losing himself among the tent-pegs.'

This was Dalel's version of the incident. It interested his hearer into
provoking details by denial.

'It is a lie,' she said calmly.

'Daughter of the bazaars, 'tis true! did I not wait till nigh three
with champagne and devil-bone, yet he came not? Did not his servant
tell me but now I had stinted them in wine? Did not the tent pitchers
say he wandered as a madman among the pegs? Was he not at me, even now,
to get this pot for this mem, this woman?' So far his anger had swept
him past its first cause; now he remembered and harked back to it. 'How
came he by the pot, I say? how hath he seen a woman of our race?'

'Ask the Diwân,' she replied coolly; 'for me that measure is over, I
will dance to another tune.' And as she spoke, though her feet scarcely
shifted, a new rhythm came to these jingling bells. ''Tis odd,' she
murmured in a singing tone, as she lifted the pot and held it out at
arm's-length, 'we come back to this old thing at every turn, and now
his mem wants it. Leave it with me a space, O Mirza Dalel Beg. I will
set it yonder in the niche where I take the seed of dreams; it may
bring wisdom to them.'

Dalel gave a contemptuous grunt.

'Thou art no better than an old spay-wife with thy dreams and omens and
fine talk. Sure the Hindu pig, from whom I took thee, hath infected
thee with his idolatrous notions----'

'See, I go not back to them and him,' she interrupted quickly, 'leave
it, I say, if thou art wise. If the sahib seek it of thee, say one of
thy women knows the owner and makes arrangement. Tis true, and thou
lovest the truth, O Dalel.'

As usual, her recklessness cowed him, and when he had gone and she sat
rolling the opium pellets in her palms, the Ayôdhya pot lay in the
niche. Something had declared in its favour, and wisdom lay in
humouring the mysterious will which nine times out of ten insisted on
playing the game of life in its own fashion. Then she lay back half
asleep, half awake, her hands clasped behind her smooth head, her eyes
fixed on the shifting pattern beneath the glaze. The sun climbing up
sent a bar of shine through a chink in the balcony roof. It slanted
into the recesses, undulated over her curved body and reaching the
niche made the Ayôdhya pot glow like a sapphire. But by this time
Chândni was dreaming, so she did not hear the merry laughter of a
cavalcade passing through the Mori gate on its way to the canvas city
in the camping ground. A cavalcade of aliens, with Rose Tweedie on a
camel, her English side-saddle, perched on the top of a native pad,
giving her such height that she was forced to stoop.

'Another inch, Miss Tweedie,' cried George gaily, 'and you would have
had to dismount; you will have to cultivate humility before trying
Paradise!'

'Sure Miss Rose is an angel already,' put in Dan Fitzgerald.

But Lewis Gordon rode gloomily behind; partly because he himself was in
a shockingly bad temper, partly because the camel he rode was a
misanthropist. And these two causes arose the one from the other, since
it was not his usual mount. That, when Rose Tweedie had taken advantage
of Mrs. Boynton's absence to desert the dhoolies which were the only
alternative conveyance across this peculiarly sandy march, had been
impounded for the young lady on account of its easy paces. He
remembered those paces ruefully, as, with low-pitched indignation he
wondered why she could not have stuck to the more ladylike dhooli. Yet
she looked well on the beast and rode it better than most men would
have done on a first trial; than he would, at any rate. But these were
aggravations, not palliations, of her offence; still, when, on
dismounting, she came straight up to him, her natty top-boots in full
evidence, the huge sola hat, borrowed from her father, making her slim
upright figure show straighter and slenderer than ever, he was forced
to confess that if she did do these horrible things she did them with
infinite _verve_ and good taste.

'I'm so sorry, Mr. Gordon!' she exclaimed eagerly, 'indeed I didn't
know of the exchange father made till we had started, or I'd have stuck
to the dhooli--indeed I would. What an awful brute it was! I saw it
giving you a dreadful time. Do let me send you over some Elliman?'

'I'm not such a duffer as all that, Miss Tweedie,' he began.

'I didn't mean that, you know I didn't; but if you won't have the
Elliman, take a hot bath, it's the next best thing I know for
stiffness. You can tell your bearer to take the water from our
bath-fire. And thanks so much, I enjoyed the ride immensely. Mr.
Fitzgerald raced me at the finish, and I beat by a good head.'

'A particularly good head, I should say,' he replied, out of sheer love
of teasing, for he knew how intensely she disliked his artificial
manner with women. The fact annoyed him in his turn. It was another of
her unwarrantable assumptions of superiority; nevertheless he followed
her advice about the bath.

Indeed Hodinuggur for the rest of the day claimed suppleness of joint,
in the mind at least. We all know the modern mansion where, entering a
Pompeian hall you pass up a Jacobean staircase, along Early English
corridors, and Japanese landings to Queen Ann drawing-rooms; mansions
of culture, where present common-sense is relegated to the servants'
attics. Hodinuggur was as disturbing to a thoughtful person unused to
gymnastics; perhaps more so because a certain glibness of tongue in
slurring over chasms and ignoring abysses, became necessary when, as
fell to Lewis Gordon's lot, most of the day passed in interviews.
Solemn interviews of State, then personal interviews with an ulterior
object, finally begging interviews _pur et simple_. The other members
of the camp, however, had an easy time of it, their attendance not
being required. Dan Fitzgerald passed most of his day in vain hopes of
a _tête-à-tête_ with Mrs. Boynton, for he was on tenter-hooks to
explain the feeling with which, on returning late to the camp, he had
found it in commotion over her loss; but Gwen, who always dreaded Dan
when he had reasonable cause for emotion, avoided him dexterously,
chiefly by encouraging George, who was nothing loth to spend his day in
camp. At first the lad felt no little vexed to find himself shy and
constrained among so large a party; but this feeling wore off quickly,
and when he came, ready dressed for tennis, into the drawing-room tent
at tea-time it seemed quite natural to be once more amid easy-chairs
and knick-knacks, to see the pianette at which Rose sang her Scotch
songs with such spirit littered with music, and to find her busy at a
table set with all manner of delightful things to eat. He was boy
enough to try so many of them, that Dan had to apologise for his
subordinate's greed before they trooped out laughing to the very
different world which lay beyond the treble plies of the tent--that
mystical veil of white, and blue, and red, which, during the camping
months, hangs between India and its rulers, giving rise to so much
misunderstanding on both sides. It is the fashion nowadays to
accentuate the faults of the latter, but much of the bad name given by
superficial observers to Anglo-Indian society, is the result of that
curious lightheartedness which springs from the necessity for
relaxation, consequent on the gloveless hold India exacts on the
realities and responsibilities of life. The saying, 'Let us eat and
drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die,' is hurled unfairly at
pleasure-seekers all the world over, simply because merriment has
become associated with a low type of amusement. If we change the verbs,
the blame vanishes; since to live happily is the end and aim of all
morality. For happily means worthily to those who have any moral sense.
Then in India the pursuit of pleasure must needs be personal, for there
are no licensed purveyors of amusement. You cannot go to a box-office,
buy seats, spend the day seriously, dine at a restaurant, and take a
hansom to the play. As a rule you have to begin by building the
theatre. So it is in all things, and surely after a hard day's work in
bringing sweetness and light (and law) within reach of the heathen,
even a judge with a bald head may unbend to youthful pastimes, without
breaking the Ten Commandments!

But Colonel Tweedie was not bald, and he played tennis vigorously
in what Rose called the duffers' game, with Mrs. Boynton, the
under-secretary, and Lewis Gordon who pleaded shortsightedness as an
excuse for not joining the Seniors against the Juniors, where Rose and
George challenged all comers. Yet he owned it was pretty enough to see
the former sending back Dan's vicious cuts with a setting of her teeth
ending in a smile either at success or failure. Pleasant to see the
alertness, confidence, confidentialness between the boy and girl; to
hear his quick 'Look out,' evoke the breathless 'I've--got it,' as the
ball whizzed to some unguarded spot. It was a fierce struggle and the
wide-eyed villagers who had trooped out to see the strange doings on
their ancestral threshing-floor, gathered instinctively round the
harder game.

'Ari, sister!' murmured a deep-bosomed mother of many to her gossip, as
they squatted on one of the heaps of chaff which had been swept aside
from the hard beaten floor. 'That one in the short skirt is a
_budmârsh_.[1] Her man will need his hands.' Yet an unrestrained
chuckle ran round the female portion of the audience as Dan,
over-running himself in a hopeless attempt after the impossible,
scattered a group of turbaned pantaloons, who, retreating with shaking
heads to re-form further off, muttered in wondering rebuke, 'Hai! Hai!
does not shame come to her.' But a third section, ranged in rows, gave
an exotic 'hooray!'--a ridiculous, feeble little cheer, started by a
young man in a black alpaca coat, and accompanied by still feebler
clapping. This was the village school and its master, claiming its
right to be a judge of 'crickets.'

'You have the better half of creation on your side, Miss Tweedie,'
remarked Lewis, when, the games being over, the men were resuming their
coats. 'What is more, the rising generation of the worser half also.
The boys were unanimous for the "Miss"; we miserable men being left to
the support of past ages. India is doomed. Another decade will see
woman's rights rampant.'

She turned on him readily, as she always did. 'The boys applauded
because the rising generation, thank heaven, is being taught to love
fair play--even towards women.'

'At it again!' interrupted Mrs. Boynton plaintively, 'really I must get
you two bound over to keep the peace.'

'Then I shall have to hire another camel for my luggage,' said Lewis
gravely, 'for Miss Tweedie knocks me and my arguments to bits.'

Gwen turned aside impatiently, saying in a lower voice, 'How foolish
you are, Lewis! One would have thought you would have tired of it by
this time.'

'On the contrary,' he replied in his ordinary tone: 'the bloom is
perennial. I wither beneath the ice of Miss Tweedie's snubs, and revive
beneath the sun of her smiles like--like a bachelor's button.'

And Rose did smile. Her contempt always seemed to pass by the man
himself, and rest on his opinions. Even there, much as she loathed
them, she was forced to confess that they did not seem to affect his
actions; that it was impossible to conceive of his behaving to any
woman, save as a gentleman should behave. Yet this thought aggravated
the offence of his manner by enhancing its malice aforethought, and
made her frown again.

'Come! there is light enough for a single yet, Mr. Keene,' she said
imperiously, and George, with one regretful glance at Mrs. Boynton,
obeyed. Lewis Gordon looked after them, shrugged his shoulders, and
strolled off to the messroom-tent.

'It really is shameful of Lewis to tease Miss Tweedie as he does,'
began Gwen, who, finding herself unavoidably paired with Dan, instantly
started what she thought a safe topic of conversation. He looked at her
with absent eyes.

'A shame, is it? but when a man likes a girl he is very apt----'

She broke in with a petulant laugh. 'Are you asleep, Dan? What could
induce you to think that?'

'What? Why, love of course! Set a thief to catch a thief. A man can't
be in love himself without----'

He certainly was not asleep! but she managed to double back to safer
ground. Yet his words recurred to her that evening during the half hour
_tête-à-tête_ which she accorded with the utmost regularity to Colonel
Tweedie in his capacity of host; Rose meanwhile singing songs to the
younger men who gathered round the piano, leaving those two decorously
to the sofa.

'There is a little song I want Mrs. Boynton to hear,' called the
Colonel during a pause. 'I forget its name--you haven't sung it
for a long time, and I used to be so fond of it. A little Jacobite
song--really a charming air, Mrs. Boynton.' Rose flushed visibly--at
least to the feminine eyes in the party--and shook her head.

'But you must remember it, my dear,' persisted her father; 'do try.'

'Oh yes! please do try! I should so like to hear it,' echoed Gwen
curiously, her eyes full on the blush. Rose, conscious of it, felt
herself a fool, and looked still more uncomfortable.

'Talking of Jacobite songs,' remarked an indifferent voice beside her,
'I wonder, Miss Tweedie, if you know a great favourite of mine, called
"Lewie Gordon"--don't laugh, you boys, it's rude. If so, please sing
it. I haven't heard it for years; people are always afraid of making me
vain.'

She gave him a quick, grateful look, as, with a nod, she broke into the
song.


             'O send Lewie Gordon hame,
              And the lad I daurna name,
              Tho' his back be to the wa',
              Here's to him that's far awa'.'


She sang with greater spirit than before, a sort of glad recognition of
his kindly tact leading up to the decision of the climax:


             'That's the lad that I'll gang wi'.'


Yet after all, amid the chorus of thanks, she heard him say in his
worst manner, '"The lad I daurna name!" how like a woman!' And he added
to the offence; for, when the little under-secretary remarked
diffidently that he had always understood that the song referred to
Charles Edward, though whether to the old or the young Pretender he
could not say, Lewis, as he dawdled away to his nightly task of
breaking up the _tête-à-tête_, murmured that at any rate it referred to
a _pretendu_. But Rose had caught Gwen's appealing look from the sofa
also, and rising, closed the piano with a bang and suggested a round
game. If her intention was to punish the offender, who hated that form
of amusement, she failed ignominiously; for he sat on the 'Stool of
Repentance' with perfect nonchalance, and, when it came to her turn,
paid her such double-edged, charmingly caustic little compliments, that
she had to join in the laugh they raised. It was, in fact, past
midnight ere the Colonel, with many allusions to the delight of such
company, said they really must go to bed, and they trooped in a body
out of the big tent to seek their several quarters.

'I'm glad not to make a casual of you to-night,' said Mrs. Boynton
softly to George.

'Almost wish you were,' he replied, giving a rueful look towards the
red brick prison on the farther side of the canal. 'This is home; that
is exile.'

Dan nodded his head sympathetically. 'I know that feeling. It comes
from jungle stations. And the bungalow does look cheerless in
comparison. Odd; for one naturally associates a camp with wars and
tumults, battles, murders, and sudden death; all the evils of a
transitory world, in fact. But you must have noticed, Mrs. Boynton, the
extraordinary air of peace, security, almost of permanence which tents
have in the moonlight. Look! might they not be solid blocks of marble
fastened by silver cords?'

'I noticed it last night when I was watching them being put up,' began
George unguardedly. Mrs. Boynton looked up quickly. Rose, who was
leaning against a rope by the door of her tent which stood next the
mess, glanced along the line of the camp.

'Silver cords and marble blocks,' she echoed. 'Yes! but it sounds like
the New Jerusalem.'

'I always thought,' remarked Lewis Gordon argumentatively, 'that it was
the tents of Midian. I'm sure some one told me so when I learnt hymns.
Or was it hosts of Midian and tents of Ishmael? Anyhow, they had
nothing to do with Paradise, and I for one have been prowling round
long enough. So good-night, Gwen; don't grow wings in the night,
please; it would be so disconcerting. Good-night, Miss Tweedie.'

Being close beside her he held out his hand.

'Good-night; I hope you are not very stiff.'

'I almost wish I were, for then you would sympathise with
misfortune--like a woman,' he replied in a low voice, and as he passed
to his own tent next hers, she heard him quote the lines--


             'Tho his back be to the wa',
              Here's to him that's far awa'.'


She looked after him, her face showing soft in the moonlight, then,
with a good-night to the others, disappeared in her turn.

George lingered, giving still more rueful glances at the bungalow. 'I
suppose I must be off too. Oh! by the way! it's all right about the
Ayôdhya pot. Dalel Beg tells me his women know the owner, so you will
have it to-morrow. Good-night, Fitzgerald.'

Dan, thus left alone to walk two tents-length with Gwen, felt that fate
was on his side at last; more probably _she_ was, since her fine tact
told her it was never wise to ignore his passion entirely. Besides,
something in her shrank from treating him always as a mere outsider.

'I've been longing for this chance all day,' he began at once in a tone
that was in itself a caress.

'Do you think I am quite blind?' she interrupted, a trifle petulantly;
'the only wonder is that every one in the camp didn't see it also. You
are so reckless, Dan! Of course you wanted to tell me how you felt when
I was lost, and all that; as if I couldn't imagine it!' she gave in to
a smile that was almost tender as she spoke--'Why, Dan! I can see you!
with a face yards long, and the whole camp, Chief and all, under orders
in half a minute. Fire-escapes, life-preservers, first aid to the
wounded, everything mortal man could devise to avert disaster, ready
before the rest had time to think! Do you suppose I don't know what you
are, Dan?' The odd, composite ring in her voice sank as she added, in a
lower tone, 'sometimes I almost wish I didn't.'

They had reached the place where their ways separated; hers to the last
tent forward, his to the second row, and she held out her hand with a
smile to say good-night. His heart beat hard at her half-reluctant
admission of praise; besides, Gwen Boynton was not the sort of woman
who could smile thus, and yet expect to end the interview then and
there; perhaps, again, she did not wish it so to end. In her relations
with this man, she often found it difficult to know what she did, or
did not, desire.

'Gwen,' he said eagerly, standing close, with his warm nervous hands
clasping hers, 'did you think of me--then?--when you knew you were
lost, I mean--did you, Gwen?--I don't often ask anything of you, my
darling--you might tell me--It isn't much to ask--Did you, Gwen?'

She gave something between a laugh and a sob. 'Did I? Oh! Dan, you
know I did. There, that is enough--you said that was all you wanted.
Good-night, Dan.'

He went over to his quarters happy as a king. As for Gwen, the personal
influence his immediate presence had over her passed away quickly, and
that which his real absence from her life invariably produced did not
come to soften the curious dread with which she recognised, that in her
trouble of the day before, her first thought had indeed been for him.
How foolish she had been in letting him re-enter her life at all! but
he had come back in her first loneliness when the future had seemed
very black. Now it was different, now it was once more that choice
between poverty and comfort which she had made in her girlhood. With
what pain, none--save Dan, who, alas! always understood--would believe.
And if the choice was necessary then, what was it now with her acquired
habits, her knowledge of the world? They would both be miserable if
they married without money. Then the thought of the bills came, as it
always did to remind her of the tie they imposed. Even if Lewis, whom
she liked and respected, were to make up his mind to marry, she could
not accept him without dismissing Dan. Yet how could she dismiss him,
even for his food, until that money was repaid? Poor Dan! he loved her
dearly, and in a way she cared for him as she had never cared for any
of her other lovers. Yet the decision which had turned out so
comfortably ten years before was still the right decision. Many of
those lovers had been as devoted to her; and yet they had recovered
from their rejection. Then the remembrance of George Keene's admission
that he had been out watching the stars made her smile. He was a nice
boy, who already deemed her an angel; but Lewis objected to wings, and
of the two that was the most convenient view for the woman.

While she was coming to this conclusion George had been looking after
her interests, for on his return to the bungalow he had been startled
by the sudden uprisal of a veiled female from a shadowy corner of his
verandah.

'I am Azîzan's mother,' said a muffled voice. 'The Mirza sent me. I
have been waiting the Huzoor's return. There is the pot if the Huzoor
will give ten rupees for it. It is much, yet the pot brings luck.'

'Ten!' echoed George in delight, taking it from her. 'Yes! you shall
have that; then I owe Azîzan also. Shall I pay you?'

'My daughter is as myself,' replied the voice. 'It is ten for the
picture, and ten for the pot.'

George fetched the money and counted it carefully into the shrouded
hand.

'That is all, I think?' he asked.

'Huzoor, that is all. May the blessing of the widow and the fatherless
go with the merciful Protector of the Poor.'

But while he was thinking, as he undressed, how pleased Mrs. Boynton
would be, the veiled figure was pausing in the moonlight to speak to
the factotum.

'You have seen nothing, you are to say nothing. And the Diwân sends
these to the servant-people.' Then came twenty careful chinks, this
time into a clutching hand, and Chândni, hurrying back to the city,
laughed silently to herself. The idea of bribing the little sahib's
servants with his own rupees would please Dalel, and put him into a
good temper again; so if this plan matured, her future would ripen with
it. As she passed the sleeping camp she paused, wondering in which tent
lay the mem who had succeeded so easily where she had failed. The
lights were out in all save two, and the double row of glistening white
roofs struck even her insensibility with a savage recognition of
undeserved peace and security. They were no better than she; no better
than those shadowy crouching figures of the village bad-characters set
out here and there to keep watch and ward, on the principle of setting
a thief to catch a thief; a plan which at least secures a deserving
criminal should thefts occur. For it was in the East that the strange
hybrid between altruism and egotism which we call a scape-goat was
invented by mankind.



                              CHAPTER VII


One of the lights Chândni saw came from Lewis Gordon's tent. He was
hard at work, not altogether from sheer industry. Sleep with him--oddly
enough in one claiming such serenity of temperament--had to be
approached discreetly, and for many days past a disturbing current of
thought had required the dam of good solid official business before he
could trust himself safely to the waters of Lethe. He had not been
constantly in his cousin's company for six weeks without learning to
appreciate her infinite charm. She was emphatically a woman to ensure a
husband's success as well as her own. A man would never have to
consider enemies with her at his side, whereas with many others--Rose
Tweedie for instance--it might be necessary to fight your wife's
battles as well as your own. This comparison of the two arose from no
conceit on his part in imagining that any choice lay with him. Simply,
he could not avoid comparing the only two women in his daily
surroundings. At the same time he was fully aware that Gwen would marry
him if he asked her, and the question which had at first assailed him
in the hall at Rajpore, recurred again and again, disturbing him
seriously by alternate attraction and repulsion. He had seen too much
of fascinating wifehood to care for possessing a specimen himself, yet
Gwen would marry him because she considered it would further their
mutual interests; and that, surely, was a more reliable foundation for
a permanent contract than a girlish affection. Quite as pleasant, too,
as the hail-fellow-well-met liking, which seemed to be Rose Tweedie's
notion of love. George Keene and she were like a couple of boys
together. The remembrance jarred, though he went on working with a
smile at the thought of her eager readiness to take up the glove on all
occasions.

Rose, meanwhile, lay awake next door frowning over the same readiness,
and then frowning at her own frowns, since what was it to her if
Lewis Gordon were nice or nasty? He himself did not care what she
thought, and would end by marrying his cousin, though in his heart of
hearts----

Rose sat up in bed angrily. What did she know or care of Lewis Gordon's
heart? _Dieu merci!_ Gwen Boynton was welcome to it, but she should not
drag George Keene captive as she seemed welcome to do. George was too
good to hang round a pretty woman, like Lewis----

This was intolerable. To escape the tyranny of thought she rose,
slipped on her white dressing-gown, lit the lamp she had extinguished,
and sat down to read a stiff book till she felt sleepy. The process was
not a long one, for she was really fatigued, and ten minutes saw her
turning down the lamp once more.

What happened next she scarcely knew; only this--a glare of light--a
feeble crash. Then fire in her eyes, her face, her hands--fire at her
feet, licking along the thin carpet, soaking up the folds of her filmy
dress. The bed lay close at hand; she was on it in a second, wrapping
the blankets round her, and beating out the runnels of flame, with
eyes, brain, and body absorbed in the immediate personal danger. When
that was over, and she looked up, she sprang to her feet on the bed
with a cry. The fire was everywhere, creeping up the sides of the tent,
filling it with suffocating smoke. She wound her trailing skirts round
her and made a dive for the first outlet--for her only chance of
escape! The thick wadded curtain swinging aside let in a wind, making
the smouldering cotton flame; but the next instant she was outside,
constrained to pause, wondering if by chance it was nothing but a bad
dream. For the camp lay serene and peaceful in the moonlight; not a
sound, not a sign, even from her own tent. She stood positively
irresolute, staring back at what she had left. Was it a dream? Then,
suddenly a faint drift of smoke rose through a crevice in the cloth.

'Mr. Gordon!--Mr. Gordon!' She burst through the thick, guided by the
light in his tent to the nearest help. 'Your knife--quick! my tent is
on fire! Quick, or the whole camp will catch!'

The blood was flowing from a cut over her forehead, one arm showed bare
through scorched muslin, the draperies caught round her were singed and
blackened, the stamp and smell of fire was on her from head to foot.
Lewis, starting to his feet, stared at her.

'Oh, quick! please, quick! Your pen-knife--anything! Cut down the
tents--Mr. Fitzgerald said it was the only----'

He had grasped the position ere she could finish, snatched up a
hunting-knife and was out; she, with a pen-knife, close at his heels.

'Good God! how the wind has risen,' he muttered, as they ran. 'No, not
mine!--The mess-tent first; the wind is that way.'

As they flew past her tent, the scene seemed peaceful as ever; but ere
the guy-ropes of the next were reached, a swirl of smoke and flame,
prisoned until then by the outer fly of canvas, swept straight up into
the sky in the first force of its escape; then bent silently to the
breeze. So silently!--not a roar, not a crackle--just a pyramid of fire
splitting the taut canvas into long shreds, which the wind flung in
pennants of flame on the mess-tent as those two hacked silently at the
ropes. There was no time for words; no time for thought. A quiver
came to the solid-looking pile, a shimmer in the moonlight. Another
rope--another--then a sudden sway, a crash of glass and china from
within. Down! but with a creeping trail of fire within its folds!

There was no lack of helpers by this time. Knives, hatchets were at
work right and left upon the ropes lest the message of fire should find
the tents taut. Colonel Tweedie was shouting confused orders in front.
Dan Fitzgerald, after a quick inquiry if all were safely out, was back
in the rear row, where the danger grew with delay. The din was
deafening, yet the flames made no noise; it was the dark humanity
yelling, as it capered over the big tent, treading out the curling
snakes of fire. Seen against the glare of a burning pyramid behind, the
figures showed like the demons in a mediæval Judgment beating the lost
souls down to the worm which dieth not.

Rose, standing to rest, now that abler arms were at work, felt a
hurried touch on her shoulder, and turned to see Lewis Gordon holding
out an ulster which he had fetched from his tent.

'Put it on,' he said unceremoniously, 'or you'll catch cold.'

She flushed with surprise, then, as she complied, realising for the
first time the havoc fire had made in her dress, continued to blush
with an odd feeling of resentment.

'Where is Mrs. Boynton?' she asked quickly, to cover her confusion. 'I
suppose you--I mean, she is safe, of course?'

'Of course. I haven't seen her though; but I heard your father calling
to her. She must be with him. I'll see.'

'Mrs. Boynton? God bless my soul, isn't she with Rose?' cried Colonel
Tweedie, who was still shouting excited orders to the crowd of coolies.
'She answered me and her tent is down. She must be out.'

'Mrs. Boynton! Has any one seen Mrs. Boynton?' Gordon's cry ran down
the line without response.

'Gwen!--Gwen! the fools must have cut the thing down on top of her!' He
had dashed up to the mass of ropes and canvas lying without beginning
or end, in hopeless chaos. 'Gwen! Gwen!--are you there?'

A muffled cry was audible now in the hush of the workers.

'Not stunned, that's one thing,' he muttered to himself before shouting
encouragement. Rose was at his elbow and caught his whisper.

'The sparks, for God's sake, Miss Tweedie! I trust you. If the tent
smoulders she may suffocate before we--Coming, Gwen, coming directly!'

But no obstacle against eager help was ever more successful than that
tortuous heap of heavy canvas, full of blind folds and entangled ropes,
stayed fore and aft, and still fastened beyond possibility of removal
to the bamboo-strengthened sides and the yet uncut guys. The seekers
dived into the folds again and again to find themselves meshed; while
Rose, with a sickening fear at her heart lest she should miss one,
watched the sparks and shreds drifting by in clouds settling here,
there, everywhere, and needing swift command to the little band of
helpers. 'Quick, quick!--yonder by the corner. Another there! Stamp it
out--quick! Well done!'

'What is it? what is it?' A new voice rose above the turmoil as Dan
Fitzgerald came running from the rear grasping the truth as he ran.
'No, no?' he panted. 'No use, Gordon--too long. Get to the guys, for
God's sake--the thickest--half a dozen men. Colonel, the right corner,
please, sir; Gordon, the left; Smith, round to the back. They are not
cut there, and see that the pegs hold--they _must_ hold. Miss Tweedie,
put a man to each stay as the front rises. I want the doorway--the door
_must_ show. Brothers,' he continued in Hindustani to the men who were
fast falling into place, 'we have to raise the tent again. _Remember,
the tent rises at the word!_ Gordon, are you ready? All ready?----

He paused, gave a rapid glance at the sparks, and lowered his voice.
'It has to be done sharp, Colonel, or----' Again he hesitated between
fear of letting the prisoner know her imminent danger, and fear of not
enforcing the necessity for speed. Rose understood, and racked by
anxiety as she was, felt a thrill of recognition at Dan's quick thought
which, even in such a moment, enabled him to remember that, as Mrs.
Boynton knew but little Hindustani, he could continue in that language.
'The tent is certain to catch fire, but it may be smouldering now; so
we must risk it. Remember that I _must_ get in and out before the
canvas yields, or---- So be sharp. Gordon! you give the word!'

There was an instant's silence, broken by a voice. Then a shout, a
heave, and Rose straining at a rope as she never strained before, felt,
rather than saw, something rise, pause, sink; rise again fluttering,
swaying.

'Higher! higher!' shouted Dan, standing close in, ready for a dive at
the door. 'All together, Gordon. Shâh-bâsh, brothers! My God! it's
caught already!'

A blot of shadow near her showed the coming doorway, and, half clear as
it was, she saw Dan dash into it with the cry, which was echoed from
outside as a little runnel of fire quivered up the half-stretched
canvas.

'Stand fast! stand fast!' shouted Gordon at the guy. 'Run in, half of
you, to the bamboos; they may hold longer than the stays.'

Rose was at one in a moment and clung to it, seeing nothing, thinking
of nothing, but that irregular square of shadow. When would he come
through it again? The tangles within! how would he thread them? For the
pole having slipped from its supporting pegs had slid along the ground
and would not rise more than half-way; so the inner fly-sides must be
hanging in a maze--a maze of smouldering canvas. Horrible! a burning
pall! Ah! would he never come?

Suddenly came another cry, as a great sheet of fire ran up the right
ridge and the men at the rope fell backwards under the slackened strain
of the parting canvas; yet still the corners held. But for how long!
Oh! would he never come out?

'Mr. Fitzgerald! Mr. Fitzgerald! be quick, oh please be quick.'

It was a foolish, aimless little cry, yet somehow it raised a new idea
in her mind. What if he had lost his way in that hideous tangle? She
was at the blot of shadow in an instant calling again and again. Too
late! surely too late, for the bamboo lintel to which she clung so
frantically swayed. Not down yet--yes! down, and she with it, half
kneeling still. She heard a cry from Lewis bidding the others run in on
the fire and stamp it out; but as she staggered to her feet still
holding on to the lintel something else staggered out beside her.

'All right,' gasped Dan, before the great shout of relief rose up
drowning his voice. When it had passed and they crowded about him, he
had set Gwen's feet on the ground and drawn the folds of blanket from
her face, though his arm was still round her as she clung to him,
scarcely believing in her safety.

'Only frightened--half suffocated,' he went on, struggling to get back
his breath. 'Couldn't some one bring her a glass of water--don't move
yet--they will bring it to you here. It is all over--except the
shouting.'

Rose standing aside, giddy with sudden relief, could hardly believe it
could be over. Yet the coolies were rubbing themselves and laughing
over their sprawl in the dust when the tent collapsed, and the tent
itself was blazing away unheeded on the ground. Yes! it was over, and
so quickly that George Keene, roused by the crash of the messroom-tent,
came too late for anything save sympathy. He gave that to the full; not
unnecessarily, for in truth the condition of the camp was pitiable.
Lewis Gordon's tent, being the only one to windward of the original
outbreak, was left standing; the rest were either smouldering in ashes
or severely damaged beyond the possibility of re-pitching without
repair, while the extent of other injuries must remain unknown till
dawn brought light, and time allowed the fires to die out undisturbed;
for any letting in of air while the wind remained so high might cause a
fresh blaze.

Colonel Tweedie, looking a perfect wreck in his striped flannel suit,
fussed about uncertain and querulous, while George and Dalel Beg, who
had arrived from the palace, competed for the honour of putting up the
ladies during the remainder of the night; Dalel, minus the least
vestige of European attire, being re-inforced after a time by Khush-hâl
Beg, breathless but dignified, bearing the Diwân's urgent prayer to be
allowed the honour of helping a beneficent Government in its hour of
need.

Dan with an impatient frown on his face waited for decision till his
patience failed. Then he buttoned-holed Lewis--who amid all the wild
costumes looked almost ridiculously prim in his dress suit--and
expounded his views vehemently, the result being that the Chief
concluded in favour of the palace. If, as was possible, they might be
forced into halting for several days, the old pile would hold them all,
and a regiment besides. So, after a time, odd little square dhoolies,
smelling strongly of rose-attar, came for the two ladies, and in them,
duly veiled from public gaze, they were hurried along, much to their
amusement. The gentlemen after a raid on Lewis Gordon's wardrobe,
following suit, all except the under-secretary, who, coming last, found
nothing available save a white waistcoat and a pair of jack boots, in
which additions to a pyjama sleeping-suit he looked so absurd that the
others sat and roared at him, as men will do at trifles when still
under the influence of relief and excitement, until George carried him
off to his bungalow, promising to return him next morning clothed and
in his right mind. Thus the night ended in comedy for all save Mrs.
Boynton. To her, clothes were anything but a triviality, and as she lay
among silk quilts and hard roly-poly bolsters in the little strip of a
room to which she and Rose were taken, pending the preparation of a
state suite upstairs, she mourned sincerely over the probable fate of
her wardrobe. Had it remained in the leather trunks escape might have
been possible, but, knowing they were to halt for a day at least, she
made the ayah hang up all the dresses round the tent. Poor Gwen seemed
to see them, like Bluebeard's wives in a row, getting rid of their
creases, and the thought of under-garments which might be uninjured
gave her no consolation.

Rose was more calm, remembering that her riding-habit had, as usual,
been moved in order to be brushed, and would most likely be produced
next morning. Besides, she was worn out by the excitement, and forgot
even the smart of a large scorch on her arm in the memory of that five
minutes during which she had waited for Dan to come out of the fiery
maze. Despite her boasted nerves, the stress and strain of it all came
back again and again, making her set her teeth and clench her hands.
Yet Gwen, who had so narrowly escaped a dreadful death, was grumbling
over the loss of her dresses. Rose, lying in the dark listening to the
plaintive regrets, felt scornfully superior, not knowing that her
companion was deliberately trying to forget, to ignore, a like
memory--the memory of her own feelings when Dan fought his way to her
at last. If that sort of thing went on he would end by marrying her in
spite of her wiser self; and then they would both be miserable. She was
not a romantic fool, and yet--a very real resentment rose up against
him as she remembered her own confidence, her own content. She felt
vaguely as if he had taken advantage of her fear, and that something
must be done to prevent a recurrence of this weakness on her part. If
she could only pay back the money he had paid for her, matters would be
easier to manage. As it was, even Lewis, with his easy-going estimate
of women, would not stand the knowledge of her indebtedness to another
man, so something must be done, something must be changed. That, oddly
enough, was the underlying grievance which found expression in petulant
assertions that Fate was doubly hard in making her fair; had she been
dark like Rose, the part of Eastern Princess she would have to play
until another consignment of civilised dresses arrived from Rajpore
would have been fun. As it was, she would look a perfect fright.

She did not, however. Had she not been aware of this fact ere she made
her appearance next morning in the long flowing robes and veil of a
Delhi lady, she must have gathered it from the looks of her companions.
But she had appraised herself in one of the big mirrors in the suite of
state apartments halfway up the stairs, and decided that she would wear
a similar costume at the very next fancy ball.

This in itself was sufficient to chase any save immediate care from a
mind like hers. In addition, even a stronger character would have found
it difficult to avoid falling in with the reckless merriment which had
seized on all the other actors in the past night's incident. Partly
from relief at its comic ending, partly because the charm of absolute
novelty, the zest of the unexpected, enhanced the pleasure of extremely
comfortable quarters--for Lewis in his capacity of personal _aide_ had
decided against the dark state suite of apartments on the second storey
in favour of the roof above, with its slender balconies, long arcades,
and cool central summer-house open on all sides to the air. Here, high
above the sand swirls, safe from the sun, they would be far better off
than in tents during the growing heat of the days Gwen, leaning against
a clustered marble pillar, looking down on the red-brown slant of
windowless wall spreading like a fort to the paved courtyard below,
said it was like living on a slice of wedding-cake. A solid chunk
below, above a sugar filigree; whereat George, delighted, assured her
that the whole palace itself viewed from afar had always reminded him
of the same thing. Filigree or no filigree, she said it was charming,
and the central hall of the twelve-doored summer-house was a marvel of
decoration; fast falling to decay no doubt, yet losing no beauty in the
process, since the floriated white tracery overlaying the background of
splintered looking-glass was so intricate that the eye could scarcely
follow the pattern sufficiently to appreciate a flaw. Seated there in
coolest shadow you could see through the inner arches to the long slips
of vaulted rooms on all four sides; through them again to the blue sky
set in its rim of level plain, save to the north where the view was
blocked by the Diwân's tower rising a dozen feet or more from the
terraced roof, with which it was connected by a flight of steps barred
by a locked iron _grille_. Thus the roof lay secure from all intrusion
except from the courtyard, whence an outside stair, clinging to the
bare wall, gave access to the state rooms below, and thence, still
slanting upwards, to the lowest terrace of roof. Rose, leaning over a
balcony looking sheer down to where the servants, like ants, were
running to and fro over the preparations for breakfast, declared she
would use one of the four little corner-rooms of the summer-house as
her bedroom. All it needed was a curtain at the inner arch, when it
would be infinitely preferable to those dreadful rooms downstairs all
hung with glass chandeliers and silvered balls, which made her inclined
to hang herself in sympathy. In the hopes rather, suggested Lewis, of
improving the style of the decoration; a remark which brought the
usual frown to the girl's face. In truth, Rose Tweedie in her trim
riding-habit did not suit her surroundings half so well as Gwen Boynton
in her trailing tinsel-decked robes. On the other hand, Colonel Tweedie
would have done better in not yielding to the temptation of playing
'Sultan' to Mrs. Boynton's 'Light of the Harem'; for native costume
does not suit an elderly Englishman. But the opportunity had been too
strong for him.

'My dear father,' said Rose helplessly, when she first caught sight of
her parent in a khim-khâb coat and baggy trousers. She might have said
more, had not Mrs. Boynton's grave compliment on his appearance sent
the girl away impatiently to lean over the balcony once more, and
wonder if they were ever going to bring breakfast.

To her, when he appeared, went Dan Fitzgerald, without even a look at
the others.

'Thanks, Miss Tweedie,' he said in a low tone. 'I hadn't time to say it
last night. I _had_ lost myself, and your voice---- However, it can be
only "_thank you_," and you have that.'

Rose, with a smile, let his hand linger in hers for a second as their
eyes met; honest, friendly eyes.

And George Keene also passed straight to her.

'Better! That is all right. By Jove, you were bad, when I found you
outside the fuss when it was all over. You would have fainted, if it
hadn't been for the whisky and water--which, by the way, I stole from
Gordon's flask----'

'You didn't tell him?' interrupted Rose quickly.

'Not I! I knew you wanted it kept dark about the scorch. It's better, I
hope? Why, you have curled your hair over the cut on your forehead.
What a dodge!'

His young face was overflowing with a sort of pride in her pluck, when
Mrs. Boynton came up. She was in a mood which craved attention, and
some of her slaves had passed her by to give Rose the first word.

'What are you two discussing so eagerly?' she began. 'Good-morning, Mr.
Keene. How delightfully commonplace you look in exactly the proper
breakfast costume for a young Englishman!'

George blushed. He would have given worlds to say that she looked
anything but commonplace, but was too young to venture on it. But he
looked the sentiment, and Gwen smiled bewilderingly back at him. She
was made that way, and could not help it.

'Isn't it quaint up here?' she went on, leaning over the balustrade and
looking, as Rose had been doing, at the servants filing up the steps
with silver dishes of sausages and bacon, and all the accessories of an
orthodox English breakfast, regardless of the feelings of their
pig-loathing hosts. 'I declare, I have fallen in love with everything.'

'Yourself included, I hope,' added Lewis, joining the group; or, to put
it politely, you have fallen in love with everything, and everything
has fallen in love with you. And no wonder. The fact is, Gwen, that you
do suit your present environment to perfection. I should not have
believed the thing possible--but so it is.'

As he sat on the coping with his back to the landscape, he bent forward
looking at her critically--'No!' he went on; 'I should not have thought
it possible, but you look the part.'

'It must be awful, though, to be a native,' remarked George fervently.
His eyes were on Colonel Tweedie as he spoke. That conspicuous failure
was, however, only partly responsible for his opinion. In a more or
less crude form the childish hymn of gratitude for having been born in
order to go to a public school survives wholesomely amongst young
Englishmen.

'I don't know,' dissented Gordon languidly. 'A civilised conscience is
a frightful interference with the liberty of the subject. Personally, I
object to the native views of comfort, pleasure, and all that. But I
can imagine some very good fellows preferring them. They are not nearly
such a strain on the nervous system. For instance, Gwen, were you
really the Shah-zâdi you look, there would have been no necessity for
sending back those brocades over which I found you weeping half an hour
ago. You would have appropriated them without demur. Wouldn't she,
sir?'

The Colonel gave his little preparatory cough, and looked grave.

'It wasn't a brocade, Colonel Tweedie,' protested Gwen. 'It was simply
the most lovely piece of old-gold satin in the world. It stood up of
itself, and yet was absolutely invertebrate in its folds. Perfect! The
same on both sides too. I had half a mind to be double-faced myself,
and take it when Mr. Gordon's back was turned.'

'Why didn't you?' retorted the latter cynically. 'You are the only one
of us who would not be criminally responsible for the action. Isn't
that so, sir?' He was mischievously amused by his chief's evident
dislike to the subject.

'Should I be responsible?' asked Rose, surprised.

'Your father would be, for your action. Wouldn't you, sir?'

This was too much even for reticent dignity.

'I--er--don't--I mean, doubtless; but--er--it is not--er--a subject
which comes within the range of practical politics.'

'I should hope not,' cried Rose. 'My dear dad! fancy your being
responsible for my actions. It isn't fair!' Her face of aggrieved
decision made the others laugh.

'Perhaps it isn't, Miss Tweedie,' remarked Lewis gravely; but I can
assure you that we officials are all responsible for our female
relations in the first degree. A merciful Government has, however,
drawn the line at cousins. So Mrs. Boynton could only lose her own
pension, if she were found out.'

Gwen made a _moue_ of derision.

'That is not much to risk. I wish I had known this before. Lewis! do
you think you could prevail on them to give me another chance with the
satin?'

'What on earth is delaying the breakfast?' fussed Colonel Tweedie,
moving off. He hated _persiflage_, especially between his guest and his
secretary.

'Coming, sir, coming,' said George, leaning over to look; 'there is a
regular procession of silver dishes filing up Jacob's ladder.'

'Oh dem silver dishes,' hummed Rose gaily, leaning over to look, too.
'How funny it is, isn't it?'

'Funny!' echoed Dan, 'it is simply appalling.'

Perhaps the sudden sense of the utter incongruousness of it all
accounted for the silence which followed, as they stood on the balcony,
which clung like a swallow's nest to the bare walls. Below them, beyond
the courtyard, lay the shadowy arcades of the bazaar and the great pile
of the Mori gate. Beyond that again the bricks and sand-heaps of
Hodinuggur, with the village creeping up to be crowned by the grass
palisades where the potter sat at work.

'Talking of bribes, said Dan absently, after the pause, 'I've often
wondered how a fellow feels when he has been informed that her gracious
Majesty has no further need of his services. They seldom go beyond that
nowadays, but that must be bad enough.'

'Very much so, if the bribe has been insufficient, assented Lewis,

'Mr. Gordon! how can you?' began Rose, pausing, however, at the sight
of his satisfied smile.

'You should adopt the sun with the motto "Emergo" as your crest, Miss
Tweedie. It would suit both your thoughts and deeds,' he replied
teasingly.

'Don't mind him,' put in Dan; 'he always was weak in his grammar, and
doesn't know that rise must be the correct present tense of Rose.'

'But, really,' persisted Lewis, when the laugh ended; 'if a man _had_
taken a bribe, the first thought to one of his _genre_ would naturally
be if the game was worth the candle. If he _hadn't_--why, dismissal
from the public service is not always misfortune. There is the
disgrace, of course, but, personally, I have never been able to
understand the sentiment of the thing; it appears to me strained. Half
your world, as a rule, dislikes you; it believes you capable of
murdering your grandmother at any moment. Yet the fact doesn't distress
you. It is inevitable that some people should think ill of you. So why
should you care when they invent a definite crime for you to commit? It
doesn't affect your friends.'

'Well, I don't know,' said George Keene sturdily. 'That's all very
philosophical, but I believe I should shoot myself.'

'No! you wouldn't, old chap; unless you wished people to consider you
guilty.'

'This conversation is becoming gruesome,' put in Mrs. Boynton; 'let us
change it; though Lewis is right, for Government service seems to me a
doubtful blessing----'

'But an assured income,' interrupted Dan, with a laugh.

Lewis Gordon turned on him quite hotly. 'I like your saying that,
Fitzgerald--you of all people in the world. Why, man alive! if I had
your power I would chuck tomorrow, and die contractor, engineer,
K.C.I.E.' and the richest man in India!'

Gwen Boynton looked up in quick interest. 'Really! do you mean that
_really_, Lewis?'

'I won't swear to the K.C.S.I.' or the superlative, but Fitzgerald
knows perfectly that I always say he has mistaken his line of life. We
want hacks. People to obey orders, not to give them.' As he spoke he
glanced meaningly at Colonel Tweedie walking about fussily, and then at
his friend's face.

Dan swung himself from the balustrade where he had been perched. 'Some
one must give orders, and I mean to stick on for my promotion. It must
come next year. So that is settled. Are you not coming to breakfast,
Mrs. Boynton?' She met his smile without response as she turned away.

'Dear me! the others have gone in already, and I was so hungry. But one
doesn't often get the chance, Mr. Fitzgerald, of considering an old
friend in a new character. It was quite absorbing--for the time.'

So the balcony was left to the sunlight, and some one who had been
watching it from an archway in the bazaar, withdrew to the shadow where
she rolled the little pellets of opium in her soft palms and prepared
for her midday sleep. The burning of the tents had been a real piece of
luck, the mem--that was she no doubt in the native dress--would be in
the palace for two or three days, and women were women whether fair or
dark. This one, too, looked of the right sort. Chândni's dreams that
day were of a time when she would have the upper hand in Hodinuggur and
become virtuous, for it paid to be virtuous under the present
Government. Dalel should start a women's hospital. Then the Sirkar
would give him the water every year, and the necessity for scheming
would disappear. In the meantime they must not be niggardly. That did
not pay with women, since, if they were of the sort to take bribes,
they were of the sort not easily satisfied.



                             CHAPTER VIII


'Come and see our mad potter before you go home, Miss Tweedie,' pleaded
George Keene, 'he really is one of the shows, isn't he, Fitzgerald?'

They had been doing the sights of Hodinuggur as an afternoon's
amusement; tennis in a riding-habit having no attractions for Rose.
Mrs. Boynton, however, on the plea of being a zenana lady, had elected
to remain on the roof, Colonel Tweedie keeping her company until the
time came for his return visit of state to the Diwân on his tower.
Lewis might have made the same choice had he been given it; but he was
not. So he had preferred loafing round the ruins to toiling after
problematical black buck with the sporting party, and made a pleasant
companion, as even Rose admitted; being ready with information on most
points, and between the references talking affably with Dan regarding
the respective merit of Schultze _versus_ brown powder; thus leaving
the younger couple to themselves. So his change of manner stood out
with unusual distinctness as Rose turned to him for consent to George
Keene's invitation.

'As you please, Miss Tweedie; we are your slaves. A mad potter sounds
cheerful; he is the man, I suppose, who made that jolly little pot
Keene sacrificed to my cousin's greed this morning. When you are as old
as I am, my dear fellow, you will really keep the pretty things out of
the sight of ladies. I always do, nowadays. There was a little woman at
Peshawur, I remember--she had blue eyes--who wheedled----'

'Mrs. Boynton was most welcome to the Ayôdhya pot,' blurted out George
hastily.

'_Cela va sans dire!_ It is just because we love to give the pretty
things to the pretty creatures that it becomes unwise to let the pretty
creatures see the pretty things.'

'Then it is your fault, to begin with,' interrupted Rose hotly.

'Exactly so. I'm sure, Miss Tweedie, you have heard me say a dozen
times that we men are to blame for all the weaknesses of women. They
are simply the outcome of our likes and dislikes; and they will remain
so until there is a perpetual leap-year.'

'For heaven's sake, Keene,' said Dan, laughing, 'lead the way to the
potter's or there will be murder done on the King's Highway! Don't mind
him, Miss Rose! He "only says it to annoy because he knows it teases."
He doesn't really believe anything of the kind.'

Lewis, his eye-glass more aggressive than ever, murmured something
under his breath about the inevitable courses of nature, as Rose, with
her head held very high, followed George Keene into the potter's yard.

It was a scene strangely at variance with the party entering it.
Indeed, old Fuzl Elâhi, who had never before set eyes on an
Englishwoman, would have started from his work had not George detained
him with reassuring words:

'He tells his yarns best when he is at the wheel,' he explained as he
dragged forward a low string stool for Rose. 'And I want you to hear an
awfully queer one called "The Wrestlers." You know enough of the
language to understand him at any rate.'

'Miss Tweedie is a better scholar than most of us,' remarked Lewis
Gordon curtly from the seat he had found beside Dan on a great log of
wood; one of those logs so often to be seen in such courtyards--relics,
perhaps, of some ineffectual intention of repair long since forgotten.
This one might, to all appearance, have fallen where it lay in those
bygone days of which the potter told tales, when the now treeless
desert had been a swampy jungle on the borders of an inland sea.

The afternoon sun, slanting over the grass palisades, played havoc with
the humanity it found gathered round the wheel by sending their shadows
distorted to long lengths across the yard, and tilting them at odd
angles against the irregular wall of the mud hut beyond. Altogether a
conglomerate pyramid of shadows, with the potter's high turban
dominating it as he sat silent, spinning his wheel. And as the clay
curved and hollowed beneath his moulding hand a puzzled look came to
the light eyes, which, usually so shifty, were now fixed with a sort of
fascination upon that strange figure in the riding-habit.

'It is not there,' he muttered uneasily, 'I cannot find a clew.'

George gave Rose the triumphant glance of a child displaying a
mechanical toy when it behaves as it ought to behave. The potter was
evidently in a mad mood, and might be trusted for a good performance.

'Now, Fuzl Elâhi, we want "The Wrestlers," please. The Miss sahiba has
never heard it.'

'How could she?' broke in the old man sharply. 'She does not belong to
that old time. She is new. I cannot even tell the old tale if she sits
there in the listener's place. I shall forget, the old will be lost in
the new; as it is ever.'

'Change places with me, Miss Tweedie,' put in Lewis with a bored look.
'I am not regenerate out of the old Adam, am I, potter-ji?'

But as he rose the pliant hand went out in a gesture of denial. 'There
is room on the log for both, and crows roost with crows, pigeons with
pigeons. The big Huzoor can sit on the stool if he likes. I know him. I
have seen him many and many a time.'

'Only once, potter-ji,' protested Dan, as he and Rose changed places
and the wheel began to hum.

'The post is going from Logborough junction to St. Potter's burgh,'
murmured Lewis discontentedly. 'If we are going to play round games I
shall go home.'

'Do be quiet, Gordon!' put in George eagerly; 'he is just beginning,
and it really is worth hearing.

But Lewis was incorrigible. '_Proxime accessit_,' he went on, to Rose,
'what crime in your past incarnation is responsible for your being
bracketed with me in this?'

'Oh, do listen,' protested George again.

'Listen! Who could help listening to that infernal noise?--I beg your
pardon, Miss Tweedie, but it is infernal.'

It was startling, certainly. A shrill moan coming from the racing,
rocking, galloping wheel as the worker's body swayed to and fro like a
pendulum. It seemed to rouse a vague sense of unrest in the hearers, a
dim discomfort like the remembrance of past pain. Then suddenly the
story began in a high-pitched persistent voice, round which that
racing, galloping rush of the wheel seemed to circle, hurrying it,
pushing at it, every now and again sweeping it along recklessly.


      'It was a woman seeking something,
       _Over hill and dale, through night and day, she sought for
         something_.


       The wrestlers who own the world wrestled for her,
       On the palm of her right hand wrestling for her,
       "She is mine, she is mine," said one and the other,
       _While over hill and dale, through night and day, she sought
         for something_.


       "O flies? you tickle the palm of my hand,
       Be off and wrestle down in your world."
       So they brought flowers and grass as a carpet,
       Wrestling on as she sought for something--
       _Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
         something_.


       "Your carpet is hot, be off, you flies."
       So they brought her trees and water for cooling,
       Wrestling on as she sought for something--
       _Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
         something_.


       "The grass grows long with the water," she cried,
       "Be off, O flies, and tickle your world."
       So they brought her flocks to devour the grass,
       Wrestling on as she sought for something--
       _Over hill and dale, through day and night, seeking for
         something_.


       "They have trodden my palm as hard as a cake."
       So they caught up a plough and ploughed her hand,
       Wrestling on while she sought for something--
       _Over hill and dale, through day and night, seeking for
        something_.


       "You have furrowed my palm; it tickles and smarts."
       So they brought a weaver and wove her lint,
       Wrestling on while she sought for something--
       _Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
         something_.


       "Foul play! Foul play! Look down and decide,"
       "Not I, poor flies, I must search for something."
       So they caught up a town to watch the game.
       "He is right! He is wrong!" cried old and young.
       "He is wrong! He is right!" And so war began.
       While they wrestled away and she sought for something,
       _Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
         something_.


       "What a noise you make; I am tired of flies."
       So she swept them into a melon rind.
       "Be quiet, flies! lie still in the dark."
       She clapped her palm to the hole in the rind.
       "I'm tired of it all, I will go to sleep;
       When morning comes I will seek for something--
       _Over hill and dale, through night and day, I must seek for
         something_".


       She rested her head on her palm, and slept,
       Down in the valley close to the river;
       Slept to the tune of the buzzing flies,
       Wrestling and fighting about fair play.
       And while she slept the big Flood came,
       And the melon pillow floated away.


       And all within swarmed out to the sun--
       Grass, and herds, and ploughs, and looms.
       People fighting for none knows what.
       "I have made a new world," she said, with a laugh.
       "A brand-new world; and the flies have gone.
       But the palm of my right hand tickles still,
       May be it will cool when I find what I seek."
       So she left her new world down by the river,
       Left it alone and sought for something--
       _Over hill and dale, through night and day, seeking for
         something_.'


The galloping wheel, which had responded always to the mad hurry of the
recurring refrain, slackened slowly. Rose gave a sigh of relief, and
glanced at Lewis Gordon to see if he too had been oppressed by that
shrinking recognition of a stress, a strain, a desire, such as she had
never felt before; but he was leaning forward, his chin on his curved
hand, intent on listening, so she could not see his face.

'By the powers,' came Dan Fitzgerald's voice above the softening hum,
'the old chap has made an Ayôdhya pot--the same shape, I mean.'

'He always does when he tells this story,' broke in George, quite
pleased with the success of his entertainment. 'I don't think he quite
knows why he does it, however. Sometimes he says the woman was looking
for one; sometimes that she always carries one in her left hand to
balance the world in her right. But he always takes the unbaked pot to
the ruins and buries it with two of those odd little ninepins, he calls
men and women, inside it. He is as mad as a hatter, you know.'

'Several hatters,' assented Gordon fervently, 'but it is an interesting
theory of creation.'

'Now don't,' protested Dan, sitting with his long legs crunched up on
the low stool close to the potter. 'It is too human for dissection
by the Folklore Society. But I'm surprised at one thing. The
wrestlers--they are persistent figures in Indian tales, Miss
Tweedie--are generally represented as giants. They are pigmies here.'

'The Huzoor is right and wrong,' replied the potter in answer to an
inquiry; 'the pâilwans were neither pigmies nor giants. They were as
the Huzoor--two and a half hâths round the chest--neither more nor
less.'

'That's a good shot,' remarked Dan in English, 'forty-five inches
according to my tailor. You have an accurate eye, potter-ji,' he added
in Hindustani, 'only half an inch out.'

'Not a hair's-breadth, Huzoor,' replied the old man mildly. 'The
measures of the pailwâns is the measure of the Huzoor. I have it here;
my fathers used it, and I use it.'

He sought a moment in the little niche, hollowed, close to his right
hand, out of the hard soil forming the side of his sunken seat, and
drew from it a fine twisted cord of brown, red, and cream coloured
wool. It was divided into measures by small shells strung on the twist
and knotted into their places.

'Hullo!' cried Gordon eagerly, 'that must be hundreds of years old.
Those are sea-shells, and very rare. Simpson at the museum showed me
one in fossil the other day. I wonder how the dickens the old man got
hold of them?'

'Two and a half hâths,' repeated Fuzl Elâhi absently, 'the potter's
full measure for a man in the beginning and the end.' He leaned forward
rapidly as he spoke, passed the cord round Dan Fitzgerald's chest, and
drew the ends together. The curled spirals of the two shells lay half
an inch apart. 'So much for the garments,' he muttered. 'Yea! I knew
it. The measure of a true pâilwan to a hair's breadth.

'And what am I, potter-ji?' asked George, laughing.

The puzzled look came back to the old man's face. 'The Huzoor may be a
pâilwan too. Times have changed.'

'Rough on a fellow, rather!' exclaimed the boy, still laughing. 'Here,
Fitz! chuck me over the thing. Is that fair, Miss Tweedie?'

She laughed back into his bright face, as he pulled his hardest to make
the two second shells meet, then shook her head.

'Not on yourself, Mr. Keene. You are more of a hero than that, I should
say.'

The potter's eyes were on her, then back on George. 'Everything is
changed,' he muttered again, 'even the measure of the pots.'

'Then you measure them, do you?' asked Gordon, to whom George had
handed the cord, and who was now examining it minutely.

'Surely, Huzoor. The first one of each batch. Then the hand learns the
make.'

'Try what make you are, Gordon?' suggested Dan.

'Not I. Here, potter-ji, catch. Miss Tweedie and I, according to the
best authority, are abnormal; we are not ordinary pots, so I, for one,
decline to be measured by their standard. And now, if some of us are to
be in time for such trivialities as dinner, we ought to be going.'

The potter rose also and stepped out of his hole. Seen thus at full
length, he showed insignificant, his hairy, bandy, almost beast-like
legs, contrasting strangely with the mild high-featured face, with its
expression of puzzled anxiety, as he laid a deprecating hand on George
Keene's sleeve.

'Wants bucksheesh, I suppose,' murmured Lewis. 'I have some rupees
somewhere, if you want them, Keene.' But it was not money; it was only
leave to speak to the 'mâdr mihrbân.'

'That's a nice name for you, Miss Rose,' said Dan softly--'Mother of
mercy--a name to be glad of.'

She blushed as she went forward a step, asking, 'What is it? what can I
do for you?'

He stooped to touch her feet with his supple hands ere replying.
'Huzoor! it is a little thing. Fuzl Elâhi, potter of Hodinuggur, has a
daughter somewhere. Perhaps she has gone to the Huzoor's world; it is
new, I do not know it. If the "mâdr mihrbân" were to see her, she might
tell her to come back--just once--only once. I would not keep her. But
now I have no answer when my father says: "Where is thy little
Azîzan?"'

'Azîzan!' echoed George quickly. But the old man seemed almost to have
forgotten his own request. He stood looking past the strangers, past
the village, past even the ruins, into the sunset sky.

'I will send her--if I see her,' said Rose gently, with tears in her
eyes; for George had told her the story of the lost daughter, and the
sudden, diffident appeal touched her. Yet the vast gulf between her and
the old man touched and oppressed her still more, as she left him
standing alone beside his wheel.

'Well!' said Lewis Gordon, when in silence they had reached the road
again. 'You may call that amusement, Keene, if you like; I don't. When
I get home, I shall have a sherry and bitters.'

'He _is_ rather a gruesome old chap,' admitted George cheerfully. 'I
felt a bit creepy myself the first time I heard that song--by the way,
Miss Tweedie, talking of creepiness, did I tell you about the Potter's
Thumb? I didn't! Oh,--that is really a grand tale.' He told it,
happily, as an excellent sequel to the show, while Dan, in one of his
best moods, piled on the imaginative agony about Hodinuggur generally,
until Lewis announced his intention of returning to the palace by the
longer way. He would be late, of course, but that was preferable to
having no appetite for dinner!

'By Jove! seven o'clock,' cried Dan, looking at his watch. 'And you and
I, George, have to get over to the bungalow. We must run for it.'

Rose watched them racing down the path, laughing and talking as they
ran, with a troubled look.

'Fine specimens, Miss Tweedie,' remarked Lewis after a pause. 'I don't
think you need fear their cracking in the fire.'

'I--I--' faltered Rose, taken aback by his comprehension.

'Am Scotch! That's sufficient excuse. I notice we seldom get rid of our
native superstition. Besides, it _was_ uncanny--the yard-measure and
the Potter's Thumb, and that horse-leech of a woman, who was never
satisfied. I felt it myself.'

She knew he was speaking down to her as a nervous woman; yet she did
not resent it, because it was a distinct relief not to be taken
seriously.

'I wish they had not been measured, for all that,' she persisted. 'You
will own it was odd, won't you?'

'Not so odd as Dan himself! He has been cracked ever since I knew him.
And Keene is one of the sterling sort, certain of success; besides, he
measured himself! Now, before you go upstairs to dress, if your Scotch
blood is still curdling, as mine is, have a half of sherry and bitters
with me. Crows roost with crows, you remember.'

His friendliness beguiled her into playfulness.

'Crows indeed! then I've a better opinion of you than you have of me. I
thought we were meant for the pigeons.'

'To bill and coo?'

If she could have boxed his ears, it would have relieved her feelings.
As it was, she raced upstairs, in a fury, without vouchsafing one word
of resentment, and paced up and down her tiny room with flaming cheeks.
Could a girl be expected, for ever and aye, to be on the outlook for
such openings? Of course Gwen Boynton would have laughed easily--would
not have minded, perhaps; but then Gwen was charming--everything
apparently that a woman ought to be!

Rose looked at herself in her dusty habit. She would have to go down to
dinner in it, and challenge comparisons with Gwen in her silks and
tinsel. Why should she? No one would care, no one would have a right to
care if she did stay in her room with a headache. The next instant she
was ashamed of the impulse. What did it matter?--they were welcome to
their opinion. As for her, she would adopt no feminine excuse; she
would leave those little devices to men's women. So she brushed her
habit, and went out, with a heightened colour, to join the others.



                              CHAPTER IX


Rose Tweedie's sneer against men's women lacked point, since it so
happened that Mrs. Boynton, in the opposite corner-room of the
pavilion, was, at the very moment, setting aside the temptation of
pleading a headache as an excuse for not appearing at dinner. And she
had more reason to seek quiet than the girl, though a new dress lay
ready on the bed; for Gwen loved to dazzle her world, and had spent
some of her leisure in instructing a native tailor how to run up a web
of coarse native muslin bought in the bazaar into a very decent
semblance of a fashionable garment. But the pleasure of the trick had
gone out of it. Something had happened. Something incredible, yet,
given the surroundings, natural enough. Something about which she must
make up her mind. It seemed scarcely a minute ago since she had passed
in swiftly to the solitude of her room in order to think. She, Gwen
Boynton, in native dress, with a white scared face and something in her
hand. Now she had to pass out of that room again as an Englishwoman,
and the transition left her oddly undecided. Indeed, as she paused for
a moment ere taking the plunge, with one hand on the embroidered
draperies doing duty as a door, it seemed almost as if she were
awaiting some command, some voice which would relieve her of
responsibility. Then she smiled and passed on to meet the surprised
admiration of her little world; for she had never looked better in her
life, and she knew it. The creamy muslin suited her in its careless
folds, her excitement showed itself becomingly in flushed cheeks and
bright eyes, and the chorus of wonder at her cleverness made her
gracious beyond compare. They had been away so long, she said, airily,
that she had had to amuse herself somehow, and were there not miles of
muslin to be bought in every bazaar, and many men to put stitches into
it? Any one could have done it. Rose, listening with a certain contempt
in her look, told herself that Gwen said truth; any one could have done
it who thought it worth while to take so much trouble for the sake of
personal effect; yet a regret rankled somewhere, mingling with the
resentment which came as Gwen called attention, somewhat garishly, to
more of her good works. Did they not admire the room? When Colonel
Tweedie had gone off to the Diwân she had consoled herself by pulling
about the furniture; and did not the Ayôdhya pot look sweet on the
corner-stand she had improvised out of three bamboos, a brass platter,
and a yellow silk scarf?

'You should have packed it away in your box at once,' remarked Lewis
coolly. 'Keene may repent his good-nature, or some of us may steal it.
The colour is admirable.' As he spoke he walked over to the stand as if
for closer examination.

'Don't touch it, please,' cried Mrs. Boynton hastily. 'You--you will
spoil my draperies.'

'A thousand pities, when they are so artistic,' put in Colonel Tweedie,
glad of the opportunity. 'That is dinner, Mrs. Boynton. I've had it
laid in the small pavilion so as to keep this as your drawing-room.'

'Thanks! but everything is delightful; simply fascinating! In spite of
what Mr. Keene said this morning, I begin to wish I were a native.'

'For the sake of the satin?' asked Lewis, who was following close
behind with Rose. Gwen flashed back a brilliant look at him.

'No! not the satin. That game would not be worth the candle.'

Apart from the question of satin, Mrs. Boynton had excuse for admiring
the _mise en scène_. The violet sky, spangled with stars, seemed made
apparently but for one end--to hap and hold that terraced roof which
was clearly outlined against it by the light streaming from the
pavilions on to the fretted white marble balustrades. At the corners
were shadowy cupolas, and there in the arched summer-house at the
farther end, close upon the velvet darkness, was a table set with
silver and glass, fruits and flowers. At one side, so as to divide the
ladies equally, was Rose, in her habit, doing the duty of hostess with
a little air of gravity and preoccupation; at the other, Gwen, in her
soft clouds of muslin, keeping the men in a state of admiring
gratification through their eyes and their ears. They gathered round
her too, when, dinner being over, they adjourned to the balconies for
coffee and cigars. It was deliciously cool; a faint breeze stirred
Rose's hair as she sat a little apart from the others watching the
twinkling lights go up and down the stair which formed the only tie
between that world on the roof and that world in the courtyard below.

'We ought to go to bed early,' said Lewis, Coming to stand before her.
'You are half-asleep--no wonder, after last night!--and Gwen is what
superstitious Scotch folk call "fey." Then, if we have to join that
detestable hawking-party to-morrow morning, we shall have to get up at
five.'

'You needn't go unless you like,' she replied curtly. 'Mrs. Boynton has
cried off.'

'I am not Mrs. Boynton's personal assistant, Miss Tweedie; I happen to
be your father's--so duty calls.' As he spoke he seated himself on the
balustrade and leant forward, his elbows on his knees, to watch the
group on the other side of the arcade.

'If I didn't know that Gwen despises that sort of thing,' he went on in
dissatisfied tones, 'I should say she had rouged this evening. Her way
of showing fatigue, I presume; though, of course, neither of you have
the common-sense to confess you are tired. Women are all ascetics at
heart; at least they believe in the virtue of martyrdom. They have
different ways of showing it, that's all. Gwen spends her fatigue in
dress-making and conversation to please, and you, I'll go bail, haven't
even a proper bandage on that scorched arm----'

'Mr. Gordon!'

'Yes! I saw you imagined I was blind--suppose we say like to imagine
it; but I really had my eye-glass, Miss Tweedie. Besides, it doesn't
require microscopic sight to see some things.'

'What a profound remark!' interrupted Rose, to hide her pleased
surprise at his unusual consideration. At the same moment Gwen's gay
laugh rang out, soft yet clear. Either the sound or the speech annoyed
the hearer on the balustrade, for he frowned as he slipped his dangling
feet to the floor.

'As profound as I can make it this evening, for I'm not ashamed to
confess myself dog-tired. Couldn't tell a crow from a pigeon; so I
shall be off. Good-night, Miss Tweedie, I wish you would persuade Gwen
to go to bed. It is easier to give good advice than to take it.'

Rose remained looking at the twinkling lights, and wondering if Lewis
were really jealous of his cousin, till seeing the others go back to
the central summer-house she followed suit.

'Tired!' echoed Gwen sharply, in reply to her information that Lewis
Gordon had stolen away. 'Are we not all tired? I feel as if I had been
up since the beginning of time seeking for something I could not find.
My bed, perhaps. Good-night, Rose.'

They were an odd couple, as they bent to kiss each other in that
mirrored room, where the oddness was reflected again and again in the
myriad scraps of looking-glass on the walls. Each curved fragment
giving and taking an eternity of Gwen's and Rose's bending to kiss each
other.


   'I am tired of it all, I will go to sleep;
    When morning comes I will seek for something,
    _Over hill and dale, through night and day, I must seek for
      something_.'


The remembrance evoked by Gwen's chance words sent a little shiver
through the girl; and with it came a sudden pulse of sympathy for the
woman who, now that she saw her close, did indeed look haggard and
worn.

'No wonder you are tired,' she said gently. 'Even I feel as if I could
sleep for days.'

'But you are coming to hawk surely,' broke in George. 'Do, please! it
won't be any fun without you.'

'Not a bit,' assented Dan. 'Gordon ordered your horse, I know, and told
them to take you your tea at five punctually.'

'You must go, Rose,' put in Gwen with a shrug of her white shoulders.
'Diana _Chasseresse_ mustn't disappoint her votaries. I'm glad my habit
was burnt.'

She did not look it, and Rose, as she went off to her corner room
wondered if Gwen could be jealous of her. The idea was absurd, but
pleasing; and she fell asleep placidly over variations of the
possibility.

But just over the way with that dark mirrored room between them, Gwen
lay awake, with one hand thrust under the pillow where she could feel a
tiny paper parcel. Should she keep it, or should she not? Should she
say anything of the scene burnt in on her memory, or should she not?
She seemed to see it as a spectator, not as the only actor in it. To
see a woman in native dress in that room set round with eyes; the
Ayôdhya pot in her hand, and in her tinsel-edged veil the jewels which
had fallen from its false bottom. Jewels which if sold would buy her
freedom, perhaps save her, and Dan too, from a great mistake. It was a
chance. A chance most likely unknown to any one in the wide world save
herself, for who would have knowingly sold a pot containing three huge
pearls and an emerald for ten rupees? Nor was she bound to give more to
the seller. Land was bought so, but if the mines were found afterwards,
that was the buyer's good luck, even if he had guessed. Facts like
these, accepted apparently by the honest and honourable, go far to give
such as Gwen immoral support. No one could possibly know; she herself
would not have known save for that chance slip, and the eyes made keen
and eager through fear of some slight injury to the treasure.

It was a chance of escape from the danger which had come home to her
sharply in the past twenty-four hours. The danger of yielding to her
own weakness about Dan made clear by his actions; the new danger,
suggested by his words, of her losing her hold on Lewis. Could the
latter really be attracted by Rose? The events of the evening gave
colour to the possibility. If so, there was no time to be lost. She
must be free; free to do as she chose. No one would know. Nobody
would dream of bribing one so powerless as she. And if the jewels had
been put there knowingly, it was only her risk. No one else was
responsible--Lewis had said so----

So she argued, coming round always to the same thought, till the first
glint of dawn brought sleep, as it so often does to weary eyes. Perhaps
in the thought that the sun will rise, the world go on, no matter what
we do, or think, or say.

She slept so soundly that all the bustle of the hawking party failed to
disturb her; and when that was over the long stretch of terraced roof
lay empty of all sound or sign of life, save for the green parrots
shrieking and swooping about the carven work. A pair of them had built
in a loophole, whence the young ones kept up a simmering, bubbling
noise, like a boiling tea-kettle; a comfortable homely sound out of
keeping with the bare beauty of stone, and sunlight, and hard blue sky.

Down in the courtyard below, two badge wearers in scarlet and gold
lounged on the stairs, barring the roof from intrusion, chatting to the
passers-by, and discussing the news which had just been brought in by
the camel which was crouching beside a pile of fodder in the centre of
the yard, while its owner stretched his limbs, cramped with riding all
night across the desert, in front of the cook-room. Halfway up the
stairs on the landing leading to the state-rooms, Mrs. Boynton's ayah
squatted, combining business with pleasure, by being within reach of a
call and her forbidden hookah, at one and the same time. A bundle of
letters lay beside her, intended as a peace-offering against the
possible smell of smoke.

The sun climbed up silently, shifting the shadows on the silent roof.
That was the only movement, until suddenly a figure in a white domino
peered through the _grille_ which barred the flight of steps leading to
the Diwân's tower. Then came the grate of a rusty key in a lock, and
the figure flitted, silently as the shadows, to the summer-house, and
paused in the mirror-room. Perhaps the transformation which Western
taste and Mrs. Boynton's clever fingers had wrought in its adornment,
was pleasing, perhaps the reverse. The _burka_, however, is of all
disguises the most complete, since it blots out form, colour,
expression, even movement. The figure showed indeed like a white
extinguisher in the centre of the room, until, with a swaying of ample
folds it glided over to the corner stand where the Ayôdhya pot stood
out from Gwen's artistic drapery. Then something slid out, still
shrouded in white folds, from the extinguisher, raised the vase, shook
it slightly, replaced it, and slid back again in a horrible
invertebrate protoplasmic sort of movement, calculated to send a shiver
through a spectator. But there was none. The thing had the whole roof
to itself save for that fair-haired sleeper in the corner room who lay
with one hand clasping a little packet hidden under her pillow. Her
face was turned to the doorway in full view of those latticed eye-holes
belonging to the _burka_, which after a time came to look in on her
from the half-raised curtain, and let in with a shaft of sunshine, a
vista of blue skies and marble balustrades with two red and green
parrots pecking at each other. It may have been the light, more
probably the disturbing effect the dim consciousness of other eyes
fixed on our own has upon most people, which roused Gwen Boynton. But
she opened hers suddenly and started up in bed, her heart throbbing
violently, though the curtain had fallen and not a sound was to be
heard.

'Comin', mem sahiba, comin',' came in immediate answer to her
imperative call as the ayah, thrusting her hookah aside, snatched at
the letters, and shook what smoke she could from her voluminous
garments. A trifling delay, but enough to allow the thing up-stairs to
flit round the summerhouse again; even to pause a second at the
_grille_.

'It makes too much noise. I will leave it open,' it muttered as it
disappeared up the steps with the rusty key held in its formless clasp.

'Where were you?' asked Gwen, her heart still throbbing. 'And who was
that who looked in on me from the door? There was some one: I'm sure
there was some one.'

'Me, mem sahiba,' grinned the woman readily. 'Me, ayah. Look in several
time. Mem always neendi par; sota! sota! like baba.[2] Ayah waitin'
close to bring dâk. Many letters for mem sahiba.'

Mrs. Boynton looked at her doubtfully. It was not the ayah whom she had
seen; of that she felt certain. On the other hand, if the woman really
had been sitting outside it was more than probable the whole thing was
a dream. No harm had come of it, anyhow; so five minutes after she was
dividing her attention between early tea and a long epistle from an
absent admirer. Gwen's victims were always excellent correspondents,
perhaps because of that gracious indifference in which lay her great
charm, since a letter had quite as good a chance as a man of whiling
away her kindly, sympathetic leisure.

But when the ayah was brushing at the pretty hair Gwen's mind reverted
to the question which had kept her awake. As so often happens--the
learned say by unconscious cerebration--it appeared to have settled
itself. Independently of Dan, or any secondary matter of that sort,
money would be useful. Most useful, seeing she had just lost the best
part of her wardrobe and had a season at Simla in immediate prospect.
Now she came to think of it, Hodinuggur owed her some reparation for
the loss it had inflicted upon her. Besides, it would be wiser to wait
and see if the presence of jewels in the pot were suspected by any one
or not. If the latter, it would clearly be flying in the face of a good
Providence to mention her discovery. So, by the time she was ready to
face her world, that world seemed quite simple and easy to face.

Chândni thought the same thing as she sat at the Diwân's feet in the
big balconied room of the tower overlooking the canal, telling him in
whispers of the success of her plan so far. The jewels were no longer
in the pot. The mem must have them, for, as she had found out through a
khitmutgâr, the mem had been alone during many hours, and had been
making a mess in the room with trumpery platters and pots.

'She may send it back yet,' said the Diwân cautiously. 'Lo! I am old,
and this I have learnt through long years: Trust not a woman not to
change her mind till she be dead.'

The courtesan laughed. ''Tis as well for some men she is born so,
father. But a night's thought is as death to a woman. Life is too short
to give more to such things. And that night is over without a sign.
Give her yet one more, an thou wilt; after that, say that Chândni hath
dug the channel. 'Twill be thy task to turn the water into it.



                              CHAPTER X


Among those things which come by Nature and are not to be taught, may
be reckoned a pretty seat on horseback. One may be a good rider without
it, a poor one with it; but when grace and skill are combined a man
certainly shows at his best on horseback. It was so with Lewis Gordon.
He sat his lean little country-bred as if it belonged to him; not as
the usual phrase runs, as if he were part of his horse. For that is a
description which ignores the essence of the thing to be described;
which is, surely, the mastery a man has over something which is _not_
himself. Part of his horse! The very words conjure up a man paralysed
to the waist and jelly above, agonising over a cavalry seat.

If Lewis Gordon were grateful to Providence for anything, it was for
making and keeping him a light weight, and thus rendering him
independent of Australian or Arab mounts. The fourteen-hand pony which
he had picked up--a mere bag of bones--at a native fair, had to be hard
held when trotting alongside of Colonel Tweedie's big Waler, yet she
had only cost him a tenth of the price. As she forged along, quivering
with impatience, Bronzewing was a pretty sight, the sunlight shining
red through her wide nostrils, and shifting in golden curves over the
bronze muscles which were almost black in shadow. Rose Tweedie always
admired it immensely, and, illogically enough, felt inclined to be more
lenient on the rider. She told herself it was because he wore
spectacles on horseback, and they were less offensive than the
eyeglass, which permitted variations of method in his outlook. She did
not even fall foul of his indifference when he dawdled about, a picture
of aimless dejection, at the hawking party; in fact, she had a sneaking
sympathy with his feelings. It was dreary work watching unfortunate
grey partridges beaten up from one bush by coolies, only to be pounced
on by a hawk ere it could reach the shelter of the next cover. She also
shared his disgust at Dalel Beg, who, in top-boots, red coat, and
doe-skins, took a keen interest in the gorging of young hawks on the
entrails of the still struggling victims, and gave shrill 'yoicks' and
'gone a ways' at each fresh flutter. Khush-hâl Beg watching the sport
from a bullock-cart on which he reclined among cushions was purely
comical; his son purely offensive.

'I think,' remarked Lewis slowly, 'he is the worst specimen of
civilisation I ever met; and I think this is the deadliest
entertainment I ever was at. And both those facts mean something.'

Rose laughed, and suggested that it would have been different had they
come across bustard. They, she had heard, were worth hawking. Her
companion shook his head.

'I've seen it on the frontier at its best. You lose the essence of
sport; that, I take it, lies in pitting your strength, or skill, or
endurance against the quarry. In hawking you ride behind the skill; and
as the country is easy, the whole thing resolves itself into the pace
of your horse; in other words, what you paid for the beast.'

'Not always! I'd back Bronzewing against the field any day,' cried Rose
impulsively.

He looked up with quite a flush of pleasure. 'Well! she should do her
best to win the gloves for you, Miss Tweedie.'

The reply came as naturally as the remark which provoked it, but it
made the girl feel suddenly shy and say hastily--

'She looks as if she wanted to be off now; how that partridge startled
her!'

'Not a bit of it. She is only longing, as I am, for a hunt.'

'A hunt?'

'Yes! a partridge-hunt. Have you never seen one?' He gave a rapid
glance round. 'There are too many bushes here, but Keene may know of
some fairly-open country, with perhaps a thorn-hedge or two for you to
jump--that is to say, if you have had enough of this festive scene.'

Five minutes after, George Keene, Dan Fitzgerald, Lewis Gordon, and she
were sweeping along in line across low sand-hills in order to dip down
into a harder plain among stretches of level, dotted sparsely with low
caper-bushes, with here and there a patch of cultivation showing
vividly green against its whitey-brown frame of desert, and here and
there a bit of plough ready for the summer crop.

There is nothing more invigorating in the world than riding in line at
a hand-gallop across such country in the freshness of early morning,
especially when the party has gay hearts and light heads. Rose felt
that it was worth all her purely feminine amusements put together, and,
with a flush of enjoyment on her face, besieged Lewis Gordon with
high-pitched questions as to what they were going to do; he calling
back his answers, so that their voices rose above the rhythmical
beating of the horses' hoofs.

'We are going without dog or coolie, gun or any lethal weapon
whatever--as the code says--to ride down and capture the grey partridge
or _Ammoperdix bonhami_! Have you seen it done, Fitzgerald?'

'Heard of it only. The pace must be good.'

'Racing speed; no less. Therein lies the fun.' He gave a quick glance
at Rose's tackle, and frowned. 'You should have a stronger bit,' he
began when she interrupted him.

'It is the same as yours.'

'Perhaps. But a lady can't ride like a man, especially in this sort of
work. If I had noticed it before, I----'

'Nonsense! I always ride with a snaffle, and Shâhâd is as steady as a
house.'

'That is no argument. In my opinion a lady should----'

The rest of the wrangle was spared to the company, for at that moment a
partridge buzzed out of a bush at their feet, Bronzewing's equanimity
gave way, and with a snort of eagerness she burst after it, Shâhzâd
following suit; both beasts heading straight as a die after the quarry,
heedless of their riders or their discussions.

'Give him his head, Miss Tweedie,' shouted Lewis, as he shot past. 'He
has done it before and knows the game! Off we are!'

Off indeed, helter-skelter, behind the grey-brown buzz of wings showing
against a blue sky.

'Ride it! Ride it! Keep an eye on it! I'll do back,' came Lewis
Gordon's voice, boyishly excited, as, with hands down, he veered the
mare a point or two by main force, until, as she caught sight of a
heavier' clump of bushes comprehension came to the game little beast,
and she headed straight for it.

'Where? Oh! Where?' cried Rose distractedly to Dan Fitzgerald, who was
now racing beside her.

'Right ahead--there--don't you see?'

Just a brown speck against the blue sky still, but skimming faster and
faster to meet the brown horizon. There still, no--yes--

_Gone!_

Rose gave a cry, which was echoed by an exclamation from Dan, as
instinctively they reined up, feeling the chase was over. George,
hurrying up from behind, where his pony had been playing the fool,
found them staring disconsolately at the bushes.

'Lost it, I suppose,' said Lewis, as he rejoined them. 'It is always
difficult to keep it in sight on the horizon. However, you have had a
good burst, Miss Tweedie. See! we started there--a good mile back. Have
you any idea how you got here?'

'None! I suppose I rode; but I saw nothing but a sort of big bumble-bee
buzzing in front of me. Shâhzâd did the rest.'

'As I said, not for the first time, which confirms me in saying he is
only a Gulf Arab, for partridge-hunting is a Persian sport. Only don't
tell your father, please; he would never forgive me.'

As he turned in his saddle, resting one hand on the mare's quarters in
order to speak to Rose, voice and face full of almost boyish enjoyment,
the girl felt that this was a new development of his character, and
that she liked it better than the old ones.

'Now, as we go along, I'll explain. That bird took us by surprise,' he
went on eagerly. 'Four is an ideal number, though I've had rare fun
riding partridge single-handed. Number one ought to make the pace,
keeping both eyes on the bird. Number two keeps his on the going, so as
to save Number one from coming to grief over rough country. Number
three rides cautious, landmarks the flight, and is ready to turn if the
bird breaks back--you can't when you are going full speed, unless the
bird towers. Number four rides cunning, cuts off curves, and heads for
likely covers. The whole aim being to press the partridge so hard that
it has no time to settle in shelter, but, after skimming down to a
bush, runs through it, and takes to wing again on the other side.'

'And gets away, I suppose,' muttered, George Keene, still out of
temper. 'Don't see the fun of it.'

'Wait a bit,' retorted Lewis gaily. 'Now you must remember that the
_rôle_ you have to play depends on how the bird breaks. There is no
time to settle. The nearest in must ride it, the rest choose their
parts as best--steady, mare, steady!'

It was only a faint '_te-tetar--te-tetar_,' in the far distance, but
Bronzewing started, and even George's pony cocked its ears; while
humanity went on breathlessly in line, the horses' feet at a walk
giving out a hollow sound on the hard soil, the yellow sunshine casting
hard shadows.

'Look out!' cautioned Lewis, in a whisper. 'There's a partridge running
on ahead; by you, I think, Fitzgerald.'

'Don't see it?'

'Farther to the left. The mare sees it. We must trot a bit, or it won't
rise fair. Steady, lass, steady!'

'I see it,' came in excited tones from George, 'by the big bush, Miss
Tweedie.'

'That's another,' cautioned Lewis again. 'Take care and don't----'

_Whirr, buzz! Whirr, buzz!_

'Ride it! Ride it!'

The cry came from two quarters; but Shâhzâd was already extended, and
Rose forgetful of everything save those brown wings low down against
the horizon. She was closer on them this time, for she could see their
skimming swoop as they neared a heavy clump of cover. Yet she felt she
must lose them, as she had done before, when to her relief she saw
Lewis shoot ahead.'

'All right,' he shouted, 'I'm on. Look out for yourself.'

There was a cut of his thong against thorns as he rose Bronzewing to a
hedge which Rose had not seen. But she had scarcely steadied herself in
the saddle from the half-considered leap in his wake before the
partridge was down and up again at right-angles to its first flight;
Lewis meanwhile bringing the mare round all he knew, and shouting,
'Ride it, Miss Tweedie! ride it.'

Shâhzâd, still steadied by the jump, was in hand, and, therefore, on
the track in a second, snorting in mad hurry and excitement, and the
bird was not quite so fast this time, or Rose was riding straighter,
for she saw the last skim of the wings change to running feet as it
touched the grey brown earth which tinted so perfectly with its
plumage.

'Not there! not there!' came that warning voice from behind. 'It's run
on. The next bush--put Shâhzâd over it.'

A leap, a scurry, a flutter, and the quarry was up again, heading in
its hurry for an impossible open, backed by bare plough. Bronzewing
being now alongside, Rose found leisure to glance round for the others.

'Gone after the second partridge,' said Lewis. 'I was afraid of it.
There's a hedge twenty yards ahead, Miss Tweedie, I'll mark.'

They were over it, almost in the stride, and now the bird was below the
horizon, a mere shadow of darker brown against the plough.

'I've lost it! I've lost it again!' The despairing cry came from Rose's
very heart as she tugged vainly at Shâhzâd. When she succeeded in
bringing him up, she saw that Lewis was slipping from the mare.

'AH right!' he cried cheerfully, dropping his white handkerchief on the
ground, 'it's somewhere about! That's the place I marked; now for sharp
eyes.'

Up and down the bare furrows he searched, followed by Bronzewing, her
reins dangling. Up and down, with such patience, that Rose, gaining
confidence, began to search also. Only, however, to lose hope, as
minute after minute brought no result.

'I don't believe it's here,' she remarked at last; and with the words
saw Lewis Gordon stoop to pick up something she had passed by, thinking
it was a clod of earth.

'Your first partridge!' he said with a kindly laugh, as he placed the
bird upon her lap. There it lay unhurt, wide-eyed and motionless as it
had lain among the furrows.

'Why doesn't it fly away?' asked Rose, with a little catch in her
breath, as she gently stroked the mottled back.

'It will, soon. At present it's winded. Give it five minutes, and we
could ride it again; but we won't. It flew game, and I needn't ask if
you enjoyed it.'

No need, certainly. The very horses panting, nose down in each other's
faces, seemed discussing past pleasure.

'It is safe from kites now,' said Lewis. 'Throw it up, Miss Tweedie.'

The next instant a skimming flight had ended in a covert of thorns and
Lewis was on his mare ready to start.

'It wouldn't head for the open again, I bet, he said, 'they get as
'cute as an old fox after a time. To your left, please, that rise
yonder is Hodinuggur.'

'But we might ride again, surely? It would give the others time to come
up, began Rose, fiercely bitten with the game.

'Best not. The ground here is bad going; all littered with bricks.
And you could barely hold Shâhzâd that last time. A snaffle is hard
work--for a lady.'

Rose refrained from open retort. Lewis had given her a morning's
amusement, and she owed him something; for all that, she made a mental
determination to ride partridge as often as she chose with a snaffle.
His objection was only part of that wholesale depreciation--here a
partridge buzzed out of a bush, and partly from impulse, partly from
sheer opposition, she gave Shâhzâd the rein. A bit of bravado in which
she reckoned without the excited horse. Ere she had gone fifty yards,
she realised it had the bit between its teeth. What was worse, she saw
that Lewis realised it also.

'Look out for bricks,' he called, spurring Bronzewing alongside for a
moment, 'and don't try to follow when the bird breaks back, as it is
sure to do, for cover.'

The words were still on his lips, when the partridge towered and
turned. Shâhzâd, no novice at such tricks, pulled up short, nearly
throwing Rose over his ears. Then, with a bound, he dashed off
sideways, catching Bronzewing on the flank as she swerved, and throwing
her rider's foot from the stirrup. The mare staggered, pulled herself
together smartly, set her hoof on a loose brick, and came down heavily;
while Rose, tugging vainly at her beast, went sailing away to the
horizon, with the memory of that crashing fall seeming to paralyse her
strength. When she did manage to turn, Bronzewing was on her feet; but
her rider lay where he had fallen. The girl's heart stood still an
instant in that utmost fear which will come first--was he _dead_? Yet,
as she galloped back she told herself, fiercely, that it was
impossible; people fell so often, and did not hurt themselves. But not,
surely, to lie as he lay, with eyes wide open and one arm under him as
if he had pitched head-foremost. Rose had never seen an accident
before, and at first all her helpfulness seemed lost in a senseless
desire to gather him up in her arms and hold him safe. Then the thought
of her own foolishness came to her aid. He had been right! Women were
no good!' A man would have known what to do, and as she thought these
things, she searched, comically enough, in his pockets for a flask, as
if unconsciously reverting to the first resource of the male animal;
but she could find none, and there was no water. What was to be done,
save to chafe his hands and call to him vainly, while a perfect agony
of negation clamoured against her growing fear. He could not be dead!
He was such a good rider. He must have fallen before and not been
killed. Why should he be killed this time? He could not be killed on
such a bright sunny morning--when they had been so happy--when he had
been so kind. Ridiculous, trivial little thoughts, such as make up the
sum of such scenes.

Finally she rose, resolved by her very despair. Water and help she must
have. If no nearer than the palace, then to the palace she must go.
Shâhzâd had taken advantage of liberty to seek a wheat field, but
Bronzewing would carry her with the stirrup over. The mare, however,
distrusting strangers, sidled off, still circling faithfully round her
master. Then the girl's hopes and fears centred themselves on the
immediate necessity for success. She coaxed, wheedled, cajoled,
forgetting all else, till all of a sudden Bronzewing paused to whinny,
and Rose, looking round instinctively, recognised the magnitude of her
past despair in the light of her great relief as she saw Lewis Gordon,
raised on one elbow, looking at her in a dazed sort of way. She was on
her knees beside him in a minute, confessing the past fear she had so
strenuously denied while it existed.

'I thought you were dead!' she cried. 'I thought you were dead.' She
was trembling and shaking all over, quite visibly, and he gave an
unsteady laugh.

'Thumped the back of my head; that's all. No!' a spasm of pain passed
over his face as he sat up. 'My collarbone's gone. Well! it might have
been worse. The ground is uncommonly hard.'

Worse indeed! Rose could not speak for a lump in her throat; but the
loquacity of escape was upon him.

'Must have pitched on my shoulder, luckily. I don't in the least
remember how it happened. We were partridging, I suppose; but my mind
is an absolute blank. No wonder! my head is just splitting; but I can
walk home all right.'

And when she proposed riding Bronzewing for help, he negatived it
firmly on the ground that the mare wasn't broken in for a lady; a man
never having such a strong hold on his individual quips and cranks as
when he realises that he has been within an ace of losing them
altogether; whence comes the proverbial captiousness of convalescents.

So she had to be content with giving him a hand up and walking beside
him, feeling a sad trembling in the knees joined to a general sensation
of having gone to pieces. He, on the contrary, talking and laughing in
magnificent, manly fashion.

'You had better tell me how it happened,' he said, as they neared the
palace. 'People make such a fuss, that it is as well to be prepared.
Did you see me come to grief?'

Rose hesitated for a moment to own up; then she did it wholesale.

'You told me not to ride because of the snaffle, but I did. I lost
control of Shâhzâd; he charged Bronzewing. She put her foot on a loose
brick, and--and I'm very, very sorry.'

'Stupid little beast,' he said, looking round at the mare, who was
following them like a dog. 'I expect she wants re-shoeing.'

The evasion was kindly meant; but she regretted it. It seemed somehow
to set her aside. But this was her portion in all things, for with
Lewis in his room, scientifically bandaged by Dan and nursed by his
cousin, Rose's part resolved itself into doing audience for her
father's fussing. He had a capacity for it at all times, but Fate had
provided him with special reasons for it now. Another delay! and when
it was absolutely necessary that he should hold a Canal Committee at
Delhi early in the week, how was he to manage without his personal
assistant? Then there were private reasons for annoyance which he did
not confide to Rose, but which that clear-sighted young lady fully
understood. If Lewis had to remain a few days longer at Hodinuggur, his
cousin would remain also; in which case Dan Fitzgerald would stay to
look after them. Now Dan, ever since the fire, had been in the
Colonel's black books. He had, as it were, thrust himself forward and
made himself conspicuous. Finally, any woman must feel gratitude to a
man who had saved her life. It was all of a piece--all the result of
disobedience to his superior wisdom. Why had Rose set fire to the camp?
Had he not warned her a hundred times against sitting up to read? Why
had she charged Lewis? Had he not begged her fifty times to ride in a
more reserved and ladylike fashion?

Rose could only fall back on George for comfort, and he, for reasons of
his own, was utterly unsympathetic. A broken collar-bone, he said, was
nothing--except an awful nuisance to every one else. To tell truth, the
only person in that up-stairs world who was satisfied at the new turn
affairs had taken was Gwen Boynton. It suited her admirably in more
ways than one. So she sat after lunch and talked with Colonel Tweedie
in the balcony until his ill-humour vanished in a bland flood of
conviction that this eminently charming woman really was full of
sympathy for his difficulties, and thoroughly impressed with his
responsible position. In fact, when she had apologised for returning to
duty and her patient, he came and let loose his satisfaction upon his
daughter. Nothing was more useful to a man having authority than the
companionship of a really sensible woman of the world. It enabled you
to do justice to yourself, to adopt the course you considered best
without undue hesitation. Therefore he would start for Rajpore, as he
had always intended to do, on the following day, taking Mr. Fitzgerald
with him to supply Gordon's place. He knew something of the current
work, and it would be a kindness, serving to show--er--that--er--there
was really nothing against him at headquarters.

'That was very considerate of Mrs. Boynton,' interrupted Rose quickly.
She saw the meaning of this man[oe]uvre so far that it roused her
resentment, even though, after all, it would be better for Dan than
dangling about with a sore heart while Gwen nursed the sick man. Better
for George also, since the _partie carrée_ could not well consist of
three and a dummy. George should talk to her, and so be kept from
dangling also.

Thus Dan himself was the only one to look blank at the proposal, and
even he admitted its reasonableness when Mrs. Boynton pointed out the
many advantages it would have. This was during the _tête-à-tête_, in a
bell-shaped cupola, which she allowed him over their tea. To tell
truth, Gwen always behaved with the strictest and most impartial
justice to all who had claims upon her, and she would have felt herself
unkind had she allowed poor dear Dan to go away feeling aggrieved. She
was very sorry he had to go, or rather, to be strictly accurate, she
was sorry that common-sense dictated that he should go. Had all things
been consenting, there was no one in the wide world she would so gladly
have had for a husband. Now, when a woman of Mrs. Boynton's type, which
is at all times kindly disposed to lovers, has an idea of this sort
firmly fixed in her mind, she can be very kind indeed, even in her
dismissals. So Dan was perfectly happy after he had sat beside her, and
given her a second cup of tea, and handed her the bread and butter,
though he made wry faces over her lecture on the necessity for
subordinating his opinions to Colonel Tweedie's.

'And, Dan,' she said, when the _tête-à-tête_ had lasted long enough,
'as you are going to Delhi, you might take a parcel for me to Manohar
Lâl, the jeweller's. It is quite small, but you might just send it
round--the shop is in the Chowk--by the bearer. I wouldn't trouble you,
but it is a chance, as you are going that way. It won't bother you,
will it?'

'Bother,' echoed Dan in the tones which men in his condition use on
such occasions.

'Then, I'll give it you now. I was going to send it by post, so it is
addressed, and all the instructions are inside; but it would be safer
if you took it--as you happen to be going.'

She repeated the phrase as if to convince herself of its truth. Yet
when, on returning with her commission, Dan seized the opportunity of
taking the parcel to kiss the fingers which held it, she felt something
of a traitor. Even though, in sending the jewels she had found to be
appraised, she told herself she had no other intention beyond, if
possible, getting enough money to repay the loan she had so unwisely
taken. That was all; and this chance of sending to Delhi by a safe hand
had decided her so far--no more.

'Good-bye, dear Dan,' she said; 'I always miss you so much when you go
away.'

That night Chândni reported progress to the Diwân. The mem's ayah had
let out that the big Huzoor, Fitzgerald sahib, was the greatest friend
the mem had. She must be a regular bad one, if all tales were true. And
the big sahib was going to Delhi, the most likely place in which jewels
would be sold. She would write to her craft, who were good clients of
the goldsmiths, and bid them keep a sharp look-out. It would at least
do no harm.

'Thy father must have been the devil,' said Zubr-ul-Zamân admiringly;
'yet will I reward thee, as thou hast asked, if all goes well.

'Does not all go well?' laughed the woman. 'The fire, and the fall?'

'And the girl?'

'Oh, naught of the girl!--the lance-player hits not the peg first time.
That part is done, that tune played, for good or evil. The bridegroom,
they say, comes next week. 'Tis well; we want no evil eye to change the
luck.'



                              CHAPTER XI


The _dîners à la russe_ on the roof had not passed unnoticed by the
world below. How could they? Over such strange doings curious tongues
must need wag, setting other curious eyes to peep and peer; especially
in the women's apartments, where life was so empty of novelty and where
a crowded squabbling glimpse, from some lattice, of arrival or
departure was all the inmates could hope for, beyond, of course, the
ceremonial visit which the English ladies paid to a circle of selected
wives.

But there, in company dresses and company manners, the chief women of
three generations had found it impossible to ask enough questions to
throw any light on the one absorbing phenomenon of utter shamelessness
in their visitors; and after Colonel Tweedie's departure disputes began
to run high in that rabbit-warren of dark rooms and darker passages,
centred round a bit of roof walled in to the semblance of a tank, which
lay to the right of the Diwân's tower.

The elder women, led by the old man's last remaining wife, a still
personable woman of forty, upheld the theory which has had so much to
do with British supremacy in the past; namely, that the sahib-logue,
being barely human, must not be judged by ordinary human standards. As
likely as not, their women were not women at all. The younger party,
however, consisting largely of Dalel Beg's many matrimonial ventures in
the forlorn hope of a son, declared that the true explanation lay the
other way; namely, in the excess of frail humanity. Both positions
being argued with that absolute want of reserve which is the natural
result of herding women together away from the necessity for modest
reticence which the presence of even their stranger sisters brings with
it. That lack of reserve in the mind by which nature compensates
herself for the seclusion of the body, and which makes those who have
real experience of the working of the zenana system put their finger on
it as the plague-spot of India; a plague-spot which all the women
doctors sent to bolster up the system by exotic and mistaken
benevolence will never cure.

And to the war of words, Azîzan listened listlessly as she crouched for
hours beside that slit in the prison wall, whence on tip-toe she could
see the flag-stone before the mosque on which she had sat when he was
painting her picture. She had ceased to cry, ceased to do anything save
mope about in the dark with dull resentful eyes taking in the emptiness
and hopelessness of all things; even her desires going no further than
a vague wish that she could have seen the flag-stone where the sahib
had sat, instead of that dull, uninteresting, unconsecrated one. But in
that house of languid, listless, useless women her dejection might have
passed unnoticed save for the fact that old Zainub, the duenna, began
to be troubled with an old enemy--the rheumatism.

Up-stairs on the roof, the connection between Azîzan's tears and
Zainub's sciatica would have seemed far-fetched, obscure; down-stairs,
however, it was self-evident, clear as daylight. Briefly, Azîz had the
evil eye, like her grandfather the potter, and she was using it, as her
mother had used it. Sixteen years before, after nursing that mother in
the damp dungeon, where useless cries could be deadened, Zainub had
nearly died of rheumatic fever. Not from the damp, of course; simply
from the evil eye. Nothing, in fact, had saved her life then, save a
promise to protect the baby. And now for the sake of money, she had
brought grief on the child, and unless that grief could be assuaged,
the result was certain; she would die. The pains were already upon her,
and a dozen times a day she cursed her own folly in helping Chândni;
Chândni who, when the ruse failed, had thrown her over with a paltry
fee. Yet old Zainub, even while she blamed herself, confessed that no
duenna could have foreseen such a coil about nothing; but then the
world was full of strange new wickedness. In the old time no girl in
her senses would have met the suggestion of carrying on the intrigue on
her own account as Azîzan had done, with vehement denial and glowering,
unhappy eyes. The thought of them sent additional twinges through poor
old Zainub's bones. George Keene, who had taken up his quarters in the
state-rooms of the palace, so as to be near Lewis Gordon at night,
never dreamt how narrowly he escaped the invasion of an old beldame
beseeching him to remove a curse from her. He had for the time almost
forgotten the Azîzan episode; even the surprise which the potter's
mention of his daughter's name had aroused he set aside for the
present. There would be time enough for inquiry when he was alone once
more; when the absorbing interest of the present had gone out of his
life.

So the tragedy down-stairs was completely hidden from those up-stairs.
It is so often in India. Occasionally we gain a glimpse behind the
veil; for instance, when the periodical scare as to the number of human
brains required to keep up British prestige seizes on some cantonment.
A scare which it may interest the 'Peace with Dishonour, party to know
is apt to follow on any lowering of the Lion's tail. Then there are two
simple syllables, known doubtless to many readers of this veracious
story as they are to the writer of it, which if uttered casually--say
in dinner-table conversation--will of a certainty lead to your servants
leaving your service without delay. These things sound unreal,
farcical, no doubt; so would George, as he handed their bread and
butter to the ladies up-stairs, have deemed the fear which prompted old
Zainub's wheedling words as she crouched by Azîzan's bed plying her
with greasy sweetmeats.

'Eat some, my pigeon--a morsel, beloved! Why wilt not be comforted,
child? Say what is in thy heart, and if Zainub's old hands can compass
it, 'tis thine.

'I want nothing. Let me be,' muttered Azîzan.

Zainub rocked herself to and fro, partly in despair, partly to allay a
sharper twinge of the enemy, and looked round dismally as if for some
inspiration of comfort. There was not much to suggest it in those bare
walls, inexpressibly squalid, dirty beyond belief; save the cemented
floor, which underwent a daily sprinkling from a skin water-bag, and a
daily lashing with a reed broom. There was a mark of the passage of
that skin bag up the narrow stairs in a cleaner streak along the grimy
walls, and a mark of that reed broom in the spatter-work dado of slush
round the room. The smoke of rushlights blackened the arched niches,
their oily dribblings seamed the once whitewashed walk below, and
centuries of cobwebs hung on the rough rafters. There was no furniture
of any sort or kind, excepting the low stool on which Zainub crouched,
and the string cot whereon the girl had flung herself recklessly. Not
even resting fairly, but half on, half off, each listless curve showing
her indifferent despair; her flimsy veil crushed into a pillow, her
unkempt yet braided hair showing she had not thought of it for days. No
uncommon sight in the zenana, when so and so's 'constitution is
disturbed,' as the phrase runs.

'Would it soothe thee to talk of it?' whined the old lady.

'No! no!' Azîz sat up in sudden anger. 'I hate him. I hate everybody.'
Then, her own confused emotion being strange and new to her, she sought
refuge with a whimper in her old sullenness.

'Ari! pretty one,' replied Zainub, relieved at something tangible.
'Thou art right to hate him. Yet grieve not, since he hath gained
naught of thee. Thou hast passed him by scornfully.'

On the face turned to the dirty wall something like a smile quivered.

'He hath the pot--the Ayôdhya pot,' murmured Azîz half to herself. 'He
kept that--he liked that.' The duenna beat her shrivelled hands
together and laughed shrilly.

'Wah illâh! he hath kept it, sure enough, but he will rue it. Look you!
I know not the ins and outs; yet will the pot bring him evil. Yea! even
though he hath given it to the mem up-stairs.'

Azîzan was on her feet ere the words were finished, her eyes aflame,
her whole figure trembling with excitement.

'He hath given it away! Mai Zainub, is it truth? He hath given it to
the mems! Ah! how I hate them. It is mine! I will have it back. I
will--I will.'

She flung herself once more on the bed, almost choking with her
passionate cries, wild in her uncontrolled jealousy, while Zainub,
mystified and half impatient, deprecated the foolish, impossible
desire. Did she not want revenge? Well, the pot was to bring it about.
It would bring money to the treasury also, and before that
consideration what mere personal whim could stand? Finally, it was not
hers, but the Diwân's, who had a right to let the pot go as he chose.

Azîzan's ultimatum came swiftly with a savage gleam in her light eyes.

'Then I will die; and others shall die, too.' The girl was no fool; she
could see through the secret of Zainub's docility by the light of many
a covert allusion of her companions to her strange eyes. Well, if the
power was hers she would use it, so give her back the Ayôdhya pot or
take the chance. Zainub crept away disconsolate; even with her
life-long experience of the vagaries in which hysterical girls indulged
she demanded shrilly of High Heaven if there had ever been contrariety
equal to Azîzan's. To set aside the possibility of revenge! Still she
must do her best, and if the mem had the Ayôdhya pot in the palace
there was always a chance of being able to steal it. As a beginning she
spent some of Chândni's rupees on sweetmeats, and, hiding the tray
under her domino, set off to pay her respects to Mrs. Boynton's ayah.

'The _burka_ is certainly a most mysterious garment,' remarked Gwen, as
she lent over the balcony just as Zainub shuffled through the courtyard
on her errand. 'Did I ever mention the fright I had one morning? I woke
thinking that a pair of those latticed goggles were glaring at me; but
it was only Fuzli looking in to see if I was awake. Still it alarmed
me.'

'Women have a hard time of it,' said Lewis languidly from the arm-chair
at her side, where he was playing the part of interesting invalid after
four days of unwelcome fever. 'How I should hate to have nerves!'

'We are not a whole army of martyrs, however,' objected Rose swiftly.
'I, for one, decline to be credited with them.'

As she sat pouring out the tea with George Keene's help her face rather
belied her words. She looked fine-drawn and eager, her eyes bright, yet
tired. Gwen smiled confidentially at her companion.

'People in good times never have nerves, so you and Mr. Keene have no
excuse for them at present. By the way, you must have been successful
with the partridges today, for I assure you, Lewis, they were not in to
breakfast till past twelve.'

Not much in the words--much in the manner. It made Rose bring her cup
of tea to the balcony and stand looking with a satirical smile at the
pair seated there before she turned to George.

'We think Mr. Gordon is in a good time also! don't we, Mr. Keene? You
should break something too; Mrs. Boynton would be quite equal to
another patient.'

The crudeness, not to say rudeness, of her own words startled her into
adding hastily, 'For she is a good nurse; isn't she, Mr. Gordon?

'First-class for one,' he replied coolly; 'but I doubt her managing
three. Therefore, if Keene is going to break something, as you suggest,
it would be as well if, for a change, you took some care of yourself.
At present you look miserably ill.'

Rose flushed into health at once.

'I? Rubbish! If you have quite finished tea, Mr. Keene, let us go on
with that match at tennis.'

'There they go, supremely happy,' commented Gwen from her post of
vantage after a pause. 'I'm a shockingly bad chaperon, but that is your
fault, Lewis, for getting fever. Do you think _monsieur le père_ will
be very angry?'

He shifted irritably. 'My dear Gwen, don't overdo it, for goodness
sake. I'm grateful; you know that quite well. But if you want me to
believe that Keene is in love with Miss Tweedie, I must decline to
agree. The lad is palpably in love with you; as we all are. As for
Miss Tweedie, I decline to have any opinion at all. Girls of her type
are beyond me. She looks ill, of course, but no woman can stand
half-a-dozen hours in the saddle before breakfast and half-a-dozen
singles before dinner, with, I suppose, half-a-dozen problems before
lunch and half-a-dozen books before bed. The thing's absurd, and as you
don't seem able to stop it, it is as well we are leaving Hodinuggur so
soon.'

His distinct loss of temper made Gwen change the subject outwardly, but
retain it inwardly as a justification of her tactics. They had been
very simple. A word to George of gratitude for his care of Rose, a
playful remark to the latter on her marked anxiety for the patient's
comfort had left the elder woman mistress of the situation. She was in
no hurry, however, to bring it to a crisis. Time enough for that when
they should nave returned to civilisation, and she had that letter from
the jewellers which might even now be waiting for a certain Mrs.
Arbuthnot at the post-office at Rajpore.

Perhaps she might not have found Rose so ready to acquiesce in plans
through which the young girl saw perfectly if they had not fallen in
with the latter's convenience. It was easier that Lewis Gordon should
believe her occupied with George, and better for the boy than dangling
after Gwen all day; _he_ was too good for that sort of thing. She told
herself this savagely, many times a day; even when, with a worldly
wisdom beyond her years, she was playing the part of elder sister and
confidant to the lad's ardent admiration. As for him, he was supremely
happy between the occupations of worshipping the most perfect woman in
the world and being companion to the jolliest girl he had ever known.

The day had been hot and sultry, unusually so for the time of year, and
as the four stood saying good-night to each other for the last time on
the roof the sheet lightning was shimmering in a faint haze low down on
the eastern horizon.

'Rain,' said Lewis Gordon in a low voice to Rose. 'Lucky for that dusty
dhoolie journey to-morrow evening. In the meantime, I hope it may cure
your headache.'

'I have no headache,' she replied coldly.

'I'm glad you did not say no head; that perjury could have been proved.
Good-night.'

He turned to his cousin and let his hand linger in hers affectionately,

'Don't be alarmed if the storm is a bad one.'

'Of course I shall be alarmed,' she answered gaily. 'Then you and
Mr. Keene will have no peace; for you don't suppose I intend to stay
on the roof in order to be struck by lightning. I shall turn you out
down-stairs at a moment's notice.

George with adoring eyes on his divinity suggested eagerly that if he
returned to the bungalow the ladies could move down at once. Gordon no
longer required any one at night, and it would be more comfortable.'

'Nonsense,' cried Rose impatiently. 'I don't believe it will rain.
Anyhow, I shall stay where I am, storm or no storm.'

'Nerves or no nerves,' parodied Lewis, 'Keene shall come into my room,
Gwen, and I will order his to be got ready for emergencies. Then, if
nature does convulse, you can seek shelter without disturbing us. Even
Miss Tweedie will allow the wisdom of that arrangement from a
masculine, and, therefore, selfish point of view.'

She did allow it, inwardly. The worst of Lewis Gordon was his knack of
being right in a way which forced her into disagreement. This
consciousness accentuated her obstinacy, and even when Mrs. Boynton,
pathetic and plaintive in a trailing white dressing-gown, sat on the
edge of the girl's bed beseeching her to let discretion be the better
part of valour, she would not yield. She was not going to give colour
to Mr. Gordon's caricature of womanhood. Besides, it was close
down-stairs. She had a headache, and liked the air. Finally, she was
not afraid of being left alone; Gwen could go down if she wished.

As she watched the little procession bearing pillows and blankets file
down the stairs, with the ayah in the rear, protesting that 'big storm
come kill missy baba for laugh old Fuzli,' she felt glad to be left
alone. Her head did ache; what is more, her pulses were bounding with a
touch of sun-fever. It would be gone by morning; yet Lewis, perhaps,
had been right also in saying that she had been exposing herself too
much. The inclination to rest her hot head on the cool marble
balustrade and sit there under the restful sky was strong, but with an
instinct of fight she set it aside almost fiercely, and after looping
back the curtains of the corner-room so as to let in what air there
was, lay down decorously. But not to sleep. A dreary disturbing round
of thought kept her awake, sending her back and back again to the same
point--the assertion that she had certainly been overdoing it. That was
the cause of her depression. Until suddenly, causelessly, her native
truth rebelled against the self-deception, and she sat up in the dark
pressing the palms of her hot hands together. What was the use of lying
to herself? Was it not better to confess frankly that with all his
faults Lewis Gordon interested her more than any one else in the world?
Perhaps it was love--yes! she cared for him as she cared for no one
else in the world, and was it not detestable to blush and deny the fact
instead of being straightforward? At any time this indictment of her
honesty would have been intolerable; now, with fever running riot in
her veins it forced her to exaggerated action. She had been behaving
like a romantic school-girl in a novel. In future there should be no
possibility of her denying the fact that she had wilfully, and without
due cause, fallen in love with a man who did not love her. Yes, fallen
in love! Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes shining when the light of
the candle she lit fell on them. As she passed quickly into the
mirror-room the thousand facets gave back her eagerness, her
determination, as she deliberately chose out Lewis Gordon's photograph
from a folding frame standing below the Ayôdhya pot. She stood for a
moment looking at it, struggling with her pride, then she passed back
into her room again and thrust it under her pillow. That was an end of
all lies at any rate. After that she would never be able to deny the
truth. She gave an odd, almost happy little laugh as she crept into her
bed again, where, after a time, she fell asleep with one hand guarding
something under the pillow: just as Gwen had guarded something in her
corner-room a few nights before.

No doubt it was the growing coolness of the night which soothed the
girl; on the other hand, it may have been the testimony of a good
conscience not ashamed to confess facts. The lightning shimmered over
her sleeping face, and, as it shimmered, showed a black arch of cloud
looming from the east. By and by the wind rose, bringing with it the
fresh earthy smell of distant rain.

It was now between second and third jackal cry, that is to say, the
deadest hour in the Indian night, when even natives and dogs sleep. Yet
there were two figures stealing round the base of the Diwân's tower to
the piled ruins of the old wall which had fallen on the potter's house
long years before; fallen suddenly in the night, after just such a
storm as that now sweeping up with the wind.

'Ari, heart's core!' pleaded a cracked voice, 'sure the rain begins
even now, and God knows what the old stairs be like. 'Tis sixteen years
gone since they were used. Holy Fâtma, what a flash! 'Tis no night for
women-folk to be out; be wise and leave it. To-morrow, perchance, when
they pack up the things, I may lay hands on it.'

'Be still, mai! What good to talk when 'tis settled? What didst say?
Straight up to the hole in the wall, three steps down to the ledge,
along that to the window slit in the Diwân's stair, so by them to the
gate; thou hast the key. No, 'tis open, thou sayest. Is not that right?
Lo, mai, 'tis easy.'

'In the old days; but the lattice parapet is gone, they say, and a
false step--O Azîz, be wise! Would God I had not told thee of it.'

A faint laugh echoed into the pitchy darkness. 'Thy aches and pains
would never have reached the pot otherwise, O mother!'

The hint was not lost on old Zainub. She stumbled on hastily until a
shimmer of lightning showed an opening half hidden by _débris_ in the
base of the tower into which she crept.

'See, here are the matches,' she whimpered, 'and witness, O Azîz! I
have done all, even to letting thee wear the old dress, since it
pleaseth thee, though wherefore, God knows----'

''Tis light and strong,' interrupted the girl hastily. 'Stay you here,
mother; I will be back ere long.'

A box of Swedish _tändstickors_ made for the British market with a
portrait of Mr. Pickwick on the cover, was an incongruous item in the
scene, yet one of them looked tragic enough as it sent a glow through
Azîzan's brown fingers and showed a broken flight of steps.

'I will be back ere long,' she repeated at the first turn. Then the
light went with her into the very heart of the wall.

Zainub sat crouching in the dark, shivering and groaning. 'Ai! my
sins,' she muttered, hiding her face from a sudden flash of lightning,
'the pains of Jehannum are on me already. I perish of fear; the breath
leaves my body.' She rocked herself backwards and forwards ceaselessly,
moaning and muttering; a weird figure guarding the stair up which
Azîzan was toiling by the light of other _tändstickors_. Beyond the
possibility of a half torpid snake, or a shower of loosened bricks from
above, there was as yet no danger, even to one so unused to effort as
the zenana girl. Thus she had time to think of what she was to do when
she reached the roof. For one thing, she had to steal the Ayôdhya pot;
for the rest, she was not sure, but something ready for impulse lay
tucked away in the waist-folds of the old woollen dress. A glimmering
slit showing its arched top against a lighter darkness of sky brought
her back to the present. This must be the hole in the wall; and beyond
it lay a chasm of night. She lit another match and held it over the
gulf. The flame burned steadily, for the stair, in winding through the
wall of the tower, had brought her to leeward of the storm. Nothing
was to be seen save the blackness of clouds above, the blackness of God
knows what below. Then as she stood peering out into the darkness a
shiver of silent lightning revealed a silver plain far down beneath her
feet, and above, to the right, silver balconies and cupolas. That must
be the roof whither she was bound.

The expenditure of more matches disclosed the three steps downwards,
and at right angles a ledge along the wall ending in a buttress some
thirty feet off. That must be the support of the Diwân's stair. Both
steps and ledge had once been protected by a latticed parapet; now they
were edged by the blackness of the gulf. The ledge, however, seemed
perfect as ever, and the rest was, after all, mere fancy; especially at
night when you could not see. Should she risk it? The match she held
left indecision on her face as it flickered out. The storm, close at
hand, took breath as it were for the onslaught in a long pause of
intense, silent darkness. Then a sudden shimmer shot over the old
tower, spreading a silver mantle upon the slender figure of a girl
clinging to the wall. Darkness again; and then once more the same
sight. A girl with her face against the wall moving step by step
slowly, deliberately. Nearer and nearer each time to the buttress. Then
a little cry, too inarticulate for comprehension, rose on the still
air, and when the next shaft of light came it found nothing but the
bare wall. The figure was gone.

So much might have been seen by any watcher on the roof, but there was
none. It lay still, deserted. The very wind, stirring the folds of the
curtain Rose had looped aside, made no noise, and the light and the
dark played their game of hide and seek in silence. An odd game in the
mirror-room, and the arches on arches of shadow leading to it. Each
separate scrap of looking-glass would blaze out like a star, sending a
beam on the blue bowl of the Ayôdhya pot, then dive into the dark
again, carrying a reflection of the scene with it in triumph. Miles of
shadowy arches, millions of blue bowls glowing amid countless stars;
thousands of looped curtains showing a girl asleep on a white bed.

After a while the stars carried a new sight; a girl in a strange dress
crouching by the bed. The lightning shimmered keenly over this group
several times, bringing into glittering relief something held by the
crouching figure, and something held close to a flushed cheek by the
sleeping girl. The one was a knife, the other a photograph of a young
man in an immaculate coat and an irreproachable tie. Different things,
indeed, yet the girls who held them differed little. They were both in
dreamland; for Azîzan, as she crouched beside Rose, felt that she was
in a new world. The whiteness, the stillness, the solitude, guarding
the pure sleep of girlhood--the refinement, the peace, made her think
involuntarily of the dead laid out for their last rest. She gave a
quick little sigh; her hand relaxed its grasp, then tightened again, as
a flash showed the photograph clearly. It was a picture of some one. If
it was his picture, why then----

She struck a match softly and peered closer. No! She paused, taking
advantage of the light to look at the sleeper. Rose stirred.

'Who is it?' she murmured, in the low quick tones of those who talk in
their sleep.

The watcher's hand closed silently round the match extinguishing it.

'I am Azîzan, Huzoor.'

The immediate answer had its effect. Rose nestled her head to the
pillow once more, and from the ensuing darkness her breathing came soft
and regular. Suddenly, with a crash the thunder rolled right overhead,
the wind hushed, the heavy drops of rain fell, each in a distinct plash
for a second, then merged into a hissing downpour on the hard roof.

Rose started up in bed, just as the quivering shaft of lightning blazed
through the mirror-room upon a girl in an odd dress, holding the
Ayôdhya pot close to her breast. A girl with odd light eyes.

'I am Azîzan, Huzoor.' The words seemed still in her ears, recalling a
confused memory of the potter and her own promise.

'Your father wants you, Azîzan,' she said half in a dream, and the
sound of her own voice woke her thoroughly to darkness. Had she been
dreaming? The wind rising, now the storm had broken, swept rain-laden
through the open door, extinguishing the matches she struck hastily, so
that the first glimmering of her own candle was echoed by the ayah's
lantern as the latter came paddling over the streaming roof with
petticoats held high over her trousered knees, and shrill denunciations
of the missy-baba's obstinacy high above the storm. Rose Tweedie's
thoughts flew to Lewis Gordon's warning, and his wisdom reminded her of
her own foolishness. That was not a dream; and she blushed violently
over it as she thrust the photograph out of sight before her attendant
rolled the bedding into a bundle and staggered with it down-stairs. As
the girl followed ignominiously in the mackintosh and umbrella supplied
by that injured official, she told herself she must indeed have had
fever, to commit such a ridiculous piece of folly. Her ears tingled
over the very recollection of what had perhaps saved her life.

Meanwhile, the girl with the Ayôdhya pot, whom Rose, in her absorbing
shame, had decided must have been a dream, was stumbling down the
broken stairs once more, her courage gone, her chaos of emotion reduced
to one heart-whole desire to reach Zainub in safety. How she had
crossed the ledge again she scarcely knew; she had dropped the
_tändstickors_ on the way, and, as she felt her way step by step in the
dark, she was sobbing like a frightened child. Half-way down a
displaced brick in the outside masonry allowed the lightning to glimmer
over a sort of landing, where she paused for breath. God and his
Prophet! What was that huddled up on the next step? She had to await
another flash ere she could decide; and in the interval her heart beat
with sickening, fearful curiosity.

'Mai Zainub! Mai Zainub!' Her cry of relief and content came swift as
the flash. There was no answer save renewed darkness, bringing
downright terror with it. Still that was a human form warm under her
touch.

'Mai Zainub! Mai Zainub!'

There was no flutter beneath the hand seeking the heart. Could she----?
Then came a blaze of light, and the familiar face all unfamiliar; the
fixed eyes wide open, the jaw fallen.

The next instant she was dashing down the stairs recklessly; down and
down, out into the open, over the _débris_; anywhere, so as to leave
that horror behind. The wind caught her, the rain blinded her, the
thunder crashed overhead, as she ran on blindly, till with a cry she
slipped on a loose brick and fell, stunned, against a mass of broken
masonry. So she lay, looking almost as dead as the poor old duenna
huddled up on that landing in the secret stair, where, with one final
twinge at her heart, the rheumatism had left her for ever.

An hour after, when the storm had passed, and a faint greyness told
that the dawn was at hand, a feeble light began to flicker about the
ruins: up and down, up and down, as if it sought for something. It was
Fuzl Elâhi, the potter of Hodinuggur, looking for his dead daughter. He
had looked for her after every storm for sixteen years; and this time,
with the Miss sahib's promise to send her back lingering in his memory,
he sought in hope.

When the sun rose, three things were amissing from the palace at
Hodinuggur: the Ayôdhya pot, Azîzan, and the old duenna.

Up-stairs, while George, and Gwen, and Rose, all for private reasons of
their own, acquiesced, Lewis Gordon declared that some servant must
have broken the former in dusting the room, and, as usual, made away
with the pieces.

Down-stairs the same unanimity prevailed. Azîz and Zainub had their
reasons for running away. They would be found ere long, since no one
near at hand dare shelter them, and the old woman could not go far.

If the folk up-stairs had known of the disappearance down-stairs, they
might have connected the two losses, but they did not. So none of these
three things were traced, and no one cared very much: especially Gwen
Boynton. The pot might have reminded her of Hodinuggur, and now she was
leaving it there were some things she intended to forget. Besides, no
one now could ever say she had taken the jewels.



                             CHAPTER XII


'I never was so tired of any place in my life,' remarked Mrs. Boynton.
'It was not so bad at first; but nothing would ever induce me to
attempt the wilderness again.'

She was back in the big hall at Rajpore once more, the centre of a
circle assembled to bid her welcome; for Gwen was not the sort of
person to come or go unnoticed. She looked charming in a new dress
which she had ordered on the morning after the fire to be ready
against her return. The band was playing, the dim lights were twinkling
above the polished floor, people were coming and going through the
swing-doors, and Dan, devoted as ever, was waiting for his promised
first waltz. A sheer bit of vanity was this promise on Gwen's part; she
liked to re-enter her familiar world looking perfection, and Dan was
the best dancer in the room. Yet she lingered with her hand on his arm
to glance at Lewis Gordon, who, still wearing a sling, stood on the
outside of the circle trying not to look bored.

'And I don't think civilised people ought to go to those wild places
and live in uncivilised ways,' she continued, clinching the argument
against Hodinuggur. 'It is demoralising living on the roof without
doors and windows. Look at my cousin. I don't believe he will ever
settle down to work again.'

'"No locks had they," etc.' quoted Lewis. 'I shouldn't have thought you
were likely to disapprove of Arcadia anyhow, or Hodinuggur either. I
assure you, Graham, Mrs. Boynton played the "Light of the Harem" to
perfection.'

She met the general chorus of belief with a little shudder, not all put
on.

'I hope not. If I thought that, I would have elected to stay in my room
till I could appear like a Christian. But it only bears out my
contention. Civilised people should eschew barbaric environments. They
are not safe.'

'A bad look-out for me,' laughed George, who had been given three days,
leave in order to escort the party to headquarters. Gwen turned to him
in kindly familiarity.

'You! Oh, I'll except you as beyond temptation, if you like. Shall you
be here on my return? the next is ours, remember.'

She knew quite well that the boy had remembered little else since she
had given the promise half an hour before; but she knew also how sweet
the reminder would be with all those older aspirants standing by. And
she was always anxious to please when she could. Lewis Gordon, however,
lifted his eyebrows and walked over rather aggressively to Rose
Tweedie.

'Why aren't you dancing?' he asked. I am unfortunately a cripple; but
Keene, I am sure, would be horrified if he saw you sitting down. May I
tell him?'

'No, thanks. I don't feel up to dancing to-night. I fancy I have been
overdoing myself a little over tennis and riding at Hodinuggur.'

There was no challenge in her manner, but Lewis chose to suppose one.

'Your wisdom, Miss Tweedie, is of that truly feminine type which begins
when the cake is finished. But it is refreshing to find you have these
womanly weaknesses; without them you would be unassailable.'

'If the carriage is here,' remarked Rose quietly, 'I think I shall go
home. If you see my father, Mr. Gordon, tell him I have done so.'

His manner changed in an instant.

'I will tell him now, and join you, if I may, for a lift back to the
Club. I am out of it also: my brute of a bearer has bandaged me all
wrong, and I must get it altered.'

Rose, with an ambulance certificate, would have liked to offer help,
but had to be silent. Even on such a charitable errand Mrs. Grundy
would have been horrified at a visit to a bachelor's quarters. And
while she acknowledged the limitation, Rose felt irritated by it as she
stood waiting by the door for Lewis Gordon's return, and watching Mrs.
Boynton skim by like a swallow under Dan's guidance. Why should the
married women have all the chances?

'She waltzes beautifully, doesn't she?' asked Lewis, finding her so
engaged.

'She does everything beautifully,' replied Rose coldly.

It was not a good beginning for their drive together; but it was always
so, and as she watched the carriage taking her companion on to his
quarters after it had set her down, she told herself disconsolately
that they seemed to have a bad effect on each other, and to show to the
very worst advantage in each other's company. She, at any rate, was
never so painfully uncompromising in her condemnation of other people's
foibles; perhaps because she did not care whether they existed or not.
But she did care dreadfully when Lewis was in question; that was the
worst of it.

Mrs. Boynton was not long either in leaving the hall; in fact, George
Keene's promised waltz was but half through when she exclaimed at the
lateness of the hour, and after salving over his disappointment with an
invitation to tea on the morrow, bade her coachman drive home. An
order, however, which she changed at the gates of the garden, so that
the carriage instead of turning westward towards the civil station,
chose the eastward road towards the native town. Towards the
post-office also, which lay close to the Dukhani Gate of the city. For
a letter, addressed to a certain Mrs. Arbuthnot, should be waiting 'to
be called for'; and at that hour, a few minutes before closing-time,
all but subordinates would have left the office. So a veiled lady
asking for a letter would run no risk of being recognised. Yet as Gwen
Boynton drove home again along the dark Mall, with the expected letter
still unread in her pocket, she told herself there was really no need
for such precautions; only it was as well to prevent those gossiping
native jewellers from advertising the fact that mem Boynton sahiba was
so hard put to it that she had to sell her trinkets. That was all; yet
each passing carriage, as it flashed its lamp rays on her face, seemed
desirous of proclaiming the fact that she had been citywards to the
eyes of its unseen occupants. She felt a feverish desire to know who
those occupants might be, and a distinct dislike to and distrust of the
whole business rose up in her, making her glad to find time had run so
short that she must dress at once for the dinner-party given to welcome
her back to Rajpore. With a feeling of relief from immediate certainty,
she threw the letter, still unopened, on the sitting-room table as she
passed it. But half an hour after, when she returned in her trailing
white garments, the sight of it changed her mood. It would be better to
know. After all, the jewels might be paste and worth nothing. It would
almost be a relief if it were so.

She sat down by the table and turned the envelope over and over in her
delicate hands. It might mean so much; it might mean so little. And
what in either case did she intend to do? She had literally no idea, as
with reluctant fingers she tore slowly at the envelope.

It seemed to her as if ages had passed before she realised that she was
staring down at those few words telling her, briefly, that the jewels
sent were worth six thousand rupees, and asking her if she would have
the money in notes or by bill of exchange.

How simple it was! No question of taking or leaving. Only whether it
should be in notes or by bill of exchange. And six thousand would not
only pay Dan--if indeed she decided on that--it would leave something
over for the coming season at Simla. A welcome something indeed! when
all one's wardrobe had been burnt; and people were so particular how
she was dressed. Then, if one came to think of it, did she not deserve
some compensation for that loss of her dresses? Trivial thought! going
further towards decision than any of the others. In the midst of her
meditations a white-robed servant appeared at the door saying
indifferently--

'Gordon sahib salaam deta.'

Another triviality; yet she rose quickly, thrusting the letter into her
pocket. So he had come already! She had known well enough that he would
miss her, that he would come to seek her, but this was soon indeed. She
gave the permission to show him in calmly, and yet the woman's triumph
at her own power came uppermost, as, awaiting his entry, she turned to
finish the fastening of a bunch of white gardenias. Her back was
towards him, but he could see, and she knew that he could see her
framed by the long mirror, like a picture. Her hair a golden setting to
the diamond stars, her white arms whiter than her white dress, whiter
than the furred cloak hanging loosely from her white shoulders, or the
huge ostrich-feather fan dangling from her slender waist. Lewis thought
instantly of Fedora in the ballroom scene; then, that on the stage or
off it he had never seen a more utterly desirable woman to present as
your wife for the world's approval. That is a feeling which decides
many marriages.

'It seems a shame to trouble you,' he began, 'but the bearer _is_ such
a fool. The sling is always too high or too low, and I want to go to
the club. I thought you wouldn't mind seeing to it, and I saw by the
light in this room that you were still here.

Every word of this speech, though the speaker was unconscious of it,
showed Gwen that her cousin had been thinking the very thoughts she
wished him to think. Translated by her feminine finesse it stood thus--

'You are too lovely to be bothered, but then, you do everything so
well. It is too deadly dull without you, so, knowing I could rely on
your sympathy, I kept a look-out for some sign of your presence.' Now,
when a woman hears everything she desires in the words of a man, her
reply is generally a return in kind. In this case, words were of less
importance than those pretty, soft, white hands so solicitous over his
comfort.

'Is that better?' she asked. Her concern was absolutely honest, for
she was a woman every inch of her, loving to cosset and care for her
men-folk. Those hands were so close to his cheek that their softness
seemed to thrill through him. After all, was it not a wife's part to
flatter and cajole? to make life soft and sweet? Who could do that
better than she?

'Dear little hands,' he said, laying his suddenly on one and pressing
it tight to his breast. Then a quick passion blazed in his eyes.
'Gwen,' he cried, 'oh, Gwen! how sweet you are!' The ring in his own
voice satisfied him. Yes! this was happiness, and he stooped to kiss
the face so close to his own. And then? She was beautiful as ever; he
was cool as ever. The glamour had gone, the world was as it had been
before his fate was settled. For he had settled it definitely, though
he scarcely knew if he were glad or sorry for the fact.

'Am I to beg your pardon, dear?' he said gently, looking into her
gracious eyes; 'or will you believe that you have so spoilt me that I
cannot get on without the spoiler? Will you forgive me, and try and put
up with me, Gwen?'

'Of course I will forgive you, Lewis,' she began plaintively; and then
the lack of emotion in her own voice, her own heart, struck her
disagreeably. Yet what else could she expect when her first thought had
been one of gratitude for that offer of six thousand rupees in her
pocket? For all that, she felt aggrieved, thinking illogically how
different it was with Dan. Unwonted tears rose to her eyes and made her
face tender as she went on.

'And why should I not spoil you, Lewis? You know I am always glad to
help--anybody. And, after all, we are cousins. After all, there is
always _that_ between us.'

She did not know why she offered him this excuse, this loophole of
escape. Not from calculation or finesse, certainly, yet it touched him
as nothing else would have done; for he, too, had felt the flatness of
it all; he, too, had thought vaguely that the sacrifice of his freedom
deserved more solid satisfaction in return.

'Yes, dear,' he replied, half playfully, 'there is that. But there is
something more, is there not, Gwen? At least I hope so--for you have
spoilt me--I cannot do without you.'

It was her hand, however, that he kissed this time. And then the
carriage being announced, he escorted her to it most decorously, taking
care, with all the attentive calm of a husband, that her dress should
not suffer from the wheel. The fact struck him ruefully as he went off
to the club, feeling that his fate was definitely settled; though, of
course, the matter need not be made public at once. Gwen would be sure
to prefer that her season at Simla should be untrammelled by open
engagements, and he was in no hurry. Leave was inconvenient till the
cold weather, so during the rains when people wanted amusement they
could afford them the excitement of the news.

Gwen's feelings as she drove to her dinner-party were of the same
nature. It was settled, definitely settled of course, but no one need
know of it; no one must guess at it until she had given Dan his
_congé_. It was the first time she had ever really put that thought
into words, and the very suggestion made her heart sink. There would be
no lack of emotion about that interview at any rate. Even the
preliminary of paying back the debt seemed beset with difficulties. He
was so quick to understand, so hard to turn aside once he had the least
clew to her feelings. Finally, after much cogitation she decided on
waiting until she had actually received the money from Delhi. It would
be more difficult for him to refuse the notes down on the table;
besides, George Keene's leave would be over, he would have returned to
Hodinuggur, and the possibility of confidences given under the
influence of strong excitement would be over. For Gwen had not failed
to notice the strong friendship growing between the two; in a way, she
was vexed at what seemed to her a childish, almost absurd, deference to
the lad's opinion on Dan's part. Dan, who was his superior in every
possible way; that is to say if he chose to be reasonable. Last of all,
the delay meant a closer proximity to that annual flight to the Hills
which would provide her with a safe retreat. So she set the idea aside
for a time and became cheerful over the respite.

George, having tea with her next day, thought her if possible gayer,
brighter, more charming than ever; especially when his talk turned on
his hero, Dan Fitzgerald. Now, no one had ever heard Mrs. Boynton say
an unkind word of her neighbours; indeed, the peculiar _cachet_ this
gave to her personality made her remembered in after years by all
admirers, not so much as a beautiful, as a perfectly gracious woman. To
George, accustomed chiefly to the high-spirited freedom of sisters,
this virtue seemed divine, the more so, because the world generally
disapproved of Dan--of his recklessness and want of reverence. Gwen
Boynton, on the contrary, found nothing to regret, save that Mr.
Fitzgerald was not the finest man _out_ of the service, instead of _in_
it; since, as Mr. Gordon said, he was too good to slave among men years
his junior. Whereupon George, his young face full of importance,
informed her as a dead secret, that the reason Dan stuck to his colours
was that a girl had promised to marry him whenever he got his
promotion. That would be in the next spring at the latest, since, as
he, George Keene, was in charge of the sluice no prejudicial
_contretemps_ could possibly occur. And Gwen with an actual smile at
the mystification--which so many women dearly love--reminded him that
even when folk did their best, slips came between cups and lips.

The lad laughed joyously.

'Oh! I don't venture to stand sponsor for the young woman, of course; I
only meant that Dan would get his promotion if it depends on that gate
being kept shut. I carry the key about with me like Hare did in the
"Pair of Spectacles." It's "peculiarly inconvenient," of course, but as
they say on the Surrey side, "the villain who would reach it must pass
over my dead body."'

Gwen, who had a fine taste, admired the determination underlying the
jest. Mr. Fitzgerald, she said, was lucky in such a friend.
Nevertheless it might be a doubtful kindness, since the loss of
promotion might induce him to seek fairer fortune elsewhere.

She insisted on this argument even with herself, yet her heart beat
uncomfortably fast, when, delay having been extended to the limit of
possibility she sat awaiting Dan's arrival in the pretty room which was
so like herself in its softness and its solid attention to comfort
beneath all the delicate tasteful ornamentations The three thousand
rupees in notes were ready for use in her pocket, and a long letter
from Hodinuggur in George's fine bold handwriting lay on the
writing-table beside the bouquet of flowers which Lewis had sent her
from his garden that morning. From the next room came the sound of the
ayah dusting out boxes against the immediate packing up. All Gwen's
excuses for delay had vanished; yet she found it hard as ever to face
one man's confidence--the confidence which showed in his glad greeting.
It forced her into beginning remotely, half affectionately, by regrets
over his want of tact at the Delhi conference. It had not been an
unqualified success so far as Dan's departmental popularity went. How
could it, when he had deliberately but savagely attacked the wisdom of
his elders? True, the under-secretary had sniggered in describing the
scene, and even Mr. Gordon had laughed amid his vexation, saying that
none knew better than he, what a confounded ass Colonel Tweedie could
be when confronted in public with new ideas, at the same time it had
been needless, almost brutal on Fitzgerald's part, seeing he had right
on his side; that alone should have made him temperate. Of course, once
his method had been suggested, no other was open to any one out of a
lunatic asylum; all the more reason for mercy in bringing the fact
home. So Gwen in her soft voice attempted to convey her blame to the
sinner, who, with his hands in his coat-pockets stood before her
trying to look penitent and only succeeding in looking provokingly
_debonnair_.

'But sure it's the blatant stupidity of the world that is its greatest
crime,' he protested. 'Don't I remember my mother saying to us, "Oh,
children! I don't mind your being naughty--I can whack you for that;
but I will not have ye stupid."'

Gwen laughed. Who could help it, over that picture of home training so
utterly unfit for one recipient, at least? Indeed, she was conscious of
a wish that her companion were more dull; less full of eager vitality.
It made that inevitable task so hard!

'Dan,' she began desperately in sudden resolve, 'I want to talk about
business. The fact is, I've had a windfall of money lately. And
so--I--I intend to pay you back that loan of yours. It isn't fair----'

He was on his knees beside her, to get a closer look at her face ere
she had finished. 'What is it, Gwen?' he asked rapidly. 'You owe me
nothing. What do you mean? There is no question of money between us,'
he went on in answer to her silence. 'There never was but once. There
never shall be again. Is it anything else, Gwen?--anything in which I
can help; or are you only feeling afraid of the future? Tell me
outright, dear.'

Where was the good, she thought petulantly, of delays and preparations
when he met her first hint in this direct fashion; yet against the
grain, for she hated scenes, she took her courage in her hand and spoke
up--

'Yes, I am afraid; afraid of the future for you as well as for
myself--O Dan! I really wish you would sit down like a Christian and
listen properly. Kissing my hand is no answer. And I am serious. This
idle foolish promise of thinking about it all seriously next year when
you get your promotion is not fair on you--don't laugh, Dan, it isn't.
It ties you down, and prevents you doing yourself justice. And then it
isn't fair on me.'

He interrupted her quickly. 'How is it not fair on you, Gwen? I don't
see it. You do not like any one else as much as you like me; you know
you don't. And if this half promise to me holds you back from marrying
some one you do not like as you like me, why, then,' his voice lowered
to tender gravity, 'I thank God for it as I should thank Him for any
good He sent into your life.'

'You do not understand,' she retorted querulously. 'Surely I am the
best judge of myself, and there is no reason why I should want to marry
some one else because I don't think it would be right to marry you. I
should make a bad wife, Dan, to any poor man; and I should not be
happy. Surely, surely, I ought to know best! It isn't as if I were the
inexperienced girl I was before. I have been married for years, and I
think, yes I am sure, that I am happier as I am.' Her last words
degenerated into something between a laugh and a sob. It really was too
ridiculous, too grievous, that she, Gwen Boynton, with all her
knowledge of the world, should not be considered fit to judge for
herself.

'Married!' he echoed thoughtfully, and something in his voice arrested
her. 'No, Gwen, my dear, you have never been married. You don't even
understand what it means to be married; for your knowledge of it is all
evil. That's the worst of it. Don't be angry, dear, I'm not going to
lecture like Mrs. Grundy on the sin of a loveless marriage, or the
degradation of one, like the sentimentalists. Surely, surely a man or a
woman may marry from pity, from honour, from self-devotion, and yet
touch the perfection of the tie. But you,'--he paused a while, 'you did
not only lose the love of it, Gwen; the thing itself was never yours.
The facing of life, hand in hand; two of you where there was but one
before. See! there is my hand, Gwen, and there is yours. A difference,
isn't there? But how close they fit, each to each! How close and
warm,'--he paused again to smile at her. 'What is it the song says,
Gwen, about giving your hand where your heart can never be? Fudge! It
should be, "How can I give my heart where my hand can never be?" Yes!
there they are, close, and I am there too, my darling. Ready, always
ready. Never again, Gwen, without the touch of a hand, like--how does
it run?--like children frightened in the night, like children crying
for the light. Never again, Gwen, never again.'

They were sitting together side by side on the sofa, her hand held in
his so lightly that she could have withdrawn it without an effort. But
it lay there in his clasp as she sat listening to the soft voice.
Listening on, even when it ceased, as if its spell lingered. They were
not even looking at each other. Beyond the silent room, through the
open door, the sunshine showed Gwen's bearer cleaning the lamps with a
dirty duster. Not a romantic sight; but it is to be doubted if either
saw it, for their eyes were blinded by the great darkness in which they
found themselves, trustfully, hand in hand.

At last, with a little shiver, she tried to move, but his fingers
closed on hers more firmly.

'Too late, Gwen! Too late. You should have taken it away when you had
the chance,' he said joyously. 'Oh, Gwen, my darling, if we were
married you would forget to be afraid, as you did just now; didn't you,
Gwen?'

'I believe you mesmerise me,' she replied, trying to jest, 'and
forgetting bills doesn't help to pay them; does it, Dan?'

'So you are back at the money again. Well, I don't care. Money or no
money; promotion or no promotion----'

'No! no!' she interrupted, yielding, as she always did, to his
decision, 'that really is not fair--the bargain was promotion--it was
indeed.'

'Promotion be it,' he assented with a contented laugh, 'though I can't
for the life of me see what it has got to do with the matter.'

'You would at least have more pay,' she put in, wondering faintly the
while how it came about that they should be discussing such questions
when she had meant to be so firm. 'I could not marry a pauper; could
I?'

'Indeed, and indeed, it might be the best thing for you; then nobody
would give you credit, dear, but me. And I--Oh, Gwen, my dear, my
dear,--you might be bereft of everything--of all, save your own self,
and sure I would give you credit for the all, still. Credit!' he echoed
to his own words, 'isn't it absurd to be talking of it, as if either of
us could be debtor or creditor to the other.'

That was all she gained from the interview. That, and the unwelcome
remembrance of full five minutes when the touch of her lover's hand and
the sound of his voice had made her forget the world, the flesh, and
the devil.

But not for long. As she sat after Dan had gone, trying to comfort
herself by the fact that one never knew what might happen, that
they might all be dead and buried before the necessity for action
arose--which, by the way, was her favourite consolation--she looked up
to see the servant standing at the door, doubtfully expectant.

'What is it?' she asked languidly.

'The vakeel of the Diwâns of Hodinuggur, Huzoor. He hath brought an
offering, and desires an audience.'

'The Diwâns of Hodinuggur!' repeated Gwen, startled.

'The agent, Huzoor. Shall I tell him the mem sahiba is going to eat the
air in her carriage? It is but to say something about a pot, he bade me
mention. A pot that the Huzoor fancied.'

Gwen stood up, holding to the table.

'Now!' she said after a pause, 'show him in now.'

Mrs. Boynton's neat victoria waited for its mistress long after the
smiling and obsequious visitor had given his shoe-money to the servant
and departed. Waited patiently till, as it grew dark, the ayah came out
and removed the cushions and parasols. Mem sahiba was not well, and
would not go to the gardens; she would not go out to dinner either, so
the horses could be put up. Then, the bearer coming into the verandah
with the lighted lamps, a shrill altercation began over the shoe-money;
the ayah asserting that when the visit was to a lady, her female
attendant had a right to half, and even the grooms putting in a claim
on the ground that they had been present. Their mistress, lying on the
sofa where but a short time before she had sat hand in hand with Dan
Fitzgerald, heard the dispute and had not the courage to rebuke their
greed.

And yet the vakeel of the Diwâns had simply brought a message, that if
the mem sahiba would like another Ayôdhya pot, _similar in all respects
to the last_, one could doubtless be found and forwarded without delay.
She had refused the offer promptly, decisively; but the fact of its
having been made filled her with regrets and alarms. If--oh! how lonely
she felt, without a soul to stand between her and trouble. Then Dan's
words recurred to her! bankrupt of everything yet credited with all!
They brought no comfort, however; only a vague irritation against the
speaker. But for him she would not have been tempted; but for him she
would never have kept the discovery of the jewels secret--if indeed it
was a discovery. Could it be a bribe? For what? Had they found out her
entanglement with Dan Fitzgerald? Her vexation blazed up at the bare
suspicion, and though every fresh proof of the attraction he had for
her unstable nature invariably resulted in a recoil of the pendulum,
she was conscious this time that it had never before swung back so far.
He was to blame; yes! he was undoubtedly to blame for the whole
miserable business.

She felt herself too much upset for Lewis Gordon's sharp eyes to be a
safe ordeal, so, as he was to be one of the dinner-party, she sent an
excuse, and spent the long evening in nursing her wrath; a very
necessary process if Gwen Boynton was to bear malice, since her temper
was of the sweetest. Even with this encouragement the next morning
found her ready with excuses for everybody, herself included. After
all, matters were not so serious. Three days would see her safe in
Simla, where six thousand rupees would be better than three, infinitely
better than none; and it would be quite easy to keep her understanding
with Lewis dark for some time to come. Then what proof could any one
have that she had kept, or even found the jewels? Who was to say that
the pot had not been stolen, jewels and all? As for the jewellers who
had bought them, they neither knew her real name nor address. The only
possible danger lay in weakly yielding to conscience in the way of
attempted restitution. Besides, if the pearls were really meant as a
bribe, surely those who offered it deserved to lose them and gain
nothing; for, of course, the idea of gaining anything from her was
preposterous.

She went to the hall that evening, cheerful as ever, and exclaimed
airily at the changes one short twenty-four hours had wrought in the
shifting society of mid-April. The Grahams had left, the Taylors were
to start that evening if there was room in the train laden with women
and babies flying before the punkahs. Laden, too, with melancholy
husbands conveying their families to the foot of the hills, whence they
would return to stew in solitude. Lewis Gordon divided these
unfortunates, cynically, into two classes--those who would be sent home
in charge of the khânsâmah, with a menu of the first month's dinners,
and an almost tearful injunction not to let the master, when he went
out to dine, eat things which were likely to disagree with him; and
those given over to the 'bottlewasher' who 'can cook a little, you
know.' And there was truth in his cynicism. Mankind is not like an
Am[oe]ba, all stomach, yet nothing can be closer to tears than two
sights often to be seen during an Indian hot weather: the one, a meal
sent away untouched in favour of a clean whisky and soda; the other, an
elderly Mohammedan at a big dinner-party waving the lobster salad away
behind his master's back, and presenting him with cheese and biscuits
instead. There is full-blown tragedy in both. Tragedy also in Lewis
Gordon's cheerful remark to his companion--

'And, by the by, Robinson has been ordered home next mail. They were
afraid of abscess. So that jolly little house at Simla is going
a-begging. He asked me if I knew of a tenant, but it is rather late in
the day, I fear, even though he only asks half-rent.'

'I'll take it,' said Gwen calmly. 'Don't stare so. The fact is, I have
had a little windfall of money lately, and I hate hotels. This will be
almost as cheap, and much more comfortable.'

'Infinitely so,' assented Lewis. The house was fully a mile nearer his
quarters at Colonel Tweedie's and that was a great convenience,
especially during the rains.



                             CHAPTER XIII


'Send it back! It is hers; it is not mine! He gave it her! I stole it.
Don't tell. Oh! send it back! send it back!'

Over and over again, through the long hot days and nights, the murmur,
in its monotonous hurry, blent with the hum of the potter's wheel. The
old man had removed the latter to the farther courtyard, where he sat
working feverishly, yet without avail, so far as the village people
could see through the door, beyond which they were forbidden to go. The
simple folk were agog at the potter's strange looks and strange ways.
He never seemed to cease working, for even when the familiar sound of
the wheel was hushed something like an echo of it rose from within.
Those were the times when he stood wistfully in the dark airless hut
beside a restless head turning itself from side to side on the hard
pillow, and keeping time to the monotonous rhythm of the murmur, 'Send
it back, send it back.'

'Yea! dear heart, I will send it.' Then there would be silence for a
while; but only for a while, since the fever strengthened day by day.
Small wonder, when all Nature seemed in the grip of heat. The
thermometer, we are told, is accurately divided into degrees. If so,
the fallacy of such classification is self-evident, since every one
with experience knows that the difference between eighty-four degrees
and eighty-six degrees of Fahrenheit's instrument embraces the
difference between comfort and discomfort. Between these two points
that engine of torture, the punkah, trembles ere it begins the steady
swing which is only one degree less awful than the unsteady swing
necessitating the occultation of boots and other light articles of
furniture with a human head. Doubtless to the uninitiated it seems a
trivial affair to loop a parti-coloured rope through hooks in the
rafters, and to attach to it a whitewashed board with a newly starched
frill tacked to its lowest edge, thereinafter making mysterious
dispositions of a leathern thong, the neck of an old whisky bottle
thrust through the mud wall, and a circumambient flask of evil-smelling
oil. But those who know what it is, on returning from a morning ride,
to find the punkah in possession of your home, feel a chill at the very
thought, such as the thing itself will never produce by legitimate
means. The hot weather is upon one, and God only knows if fever,
cholera, home-sickness, sheer deadly _ennui_, will allow you to pass
through it unscathed as an honest gentleman.

George Keene, however, over in the branded bungalow, knew nothing of
the horrors of a hot weather in the jungles, and, while poor little
Azîz lay moaning out her impotent repentance, was actually
superintending the swinging of his punkahs; which is equivalent to a
man personally conducting his own hanging. He even, after the manner of
engineers, took pride in a device which was to secure a perfect silence
in the infernal machine. All unwitting of a time when, in the scorched
darkness, it might be preferable to curse a monotonous scroop giving
tangible excuse for wakefulness, than to lie visualising the unseen
swoop, as of some vampire eager to suck your heart's-blood.

Those two degrees of heat bring a thousand other changes. Even at
Hodinuggur, arid as it always was, they intensified the drought till a
drop of water seemed as visionary a consolation to the parched horizon
as it must have been to poor Dives in the fires of hell. The very canal
denied its nature as it slipped past yellow and thick with silt from
the clayey defiles of the lower hills, each little swirl and eddy
looking as if streaked and pitted in mud. Yet the chill of its snowy
birth came with the flood, so that in the red-hot evenings George's
factotum used to call through the yellow-dust haze to the groom who sat
on the edge of the canal, apparently moored to his place by a
soda-water bottle tied to a string, and then Ganesha would haul in the
strange buoy and scramble up the bank with it rapidly, so as to give
the master's dinner-drink a chance of being cool.

All this amused George Keene hugely at first. He drew caricatures of it
for the rectory, and sent a very impressionist sketch of his world to
Mrs. Boynton. It consisted of a dust-storm, a caper-bush, and a
rat-hole. She put it on the mantelpiece of the pretty drawing-room in
the little house among scented pine-woods, where she was just beginning
to appreciate the soothing effect of having a decent balance at your
banker's. Her lady-visitors laughed and said it was very clever, but
some of the men looked queer and muttered 'poor devil' under their
breath. Not that George looked on himself in that light. On the
contrary, Hodinuggur amused him. Its dreary antiquity was all new to
him, and as he went through the cool, dark passages of the old palace
on his way to play chess with the Diwân, he learnt to admire some
things about it; notably the thickness of its walls, through which the
sun never filtered, though it soaked piteously into his red-brick
bungalow. Upon the roof Zubr-ul-Zamân shrivelled under the heat almost
as much as a certain figure which still lay huddled up on the landing
of the secret stair in the thickness of the tower beneath him as he sat
at chess. Below that again Khush-hâl Beg lay stark naked, like a huge
baby, in a swinging cradle, which was pulled to and fro by a drowsy
coolie, while a bheestic supplied the fat carcass alternately outside
and inside with tepid water from his skin bag, and as the latter
shrank, Khush-hâl swelled visibly--horribly.

Yet further, in the bazaar by the Mori gate, Dalel Beg, abandoning
Europe-fashion under the stress of climate, slept all day and waked all
night, doing both more viciously than before, like a snake rendered
lively and dangerous by the heat. But Chândni, from her cool arches,
smiled calmly, even when 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay' rose from the opposite
balcony, which was now occupied by some one who could dance as well as
sing. To tell truth, she was glad to be quit of Dalel's amusement for a
time. Such deviations from her control never lasted long, and this time
she knew that the Diwân himself was on her side. So she lounged about
in the shadows, watching the pigeons in the niches, and rubbing her
soft palms together. Sometimes a pellet of opium lay between them;
sometimes nothing at all, for it was a trick of hers. Sometimes, on the
other hand, it was a great deal; neither more nor less than one of the
Hodinuggur pearls, which were as well known to all the jewellers of
that part of the country as the Koh-i-nur diamond is to the keeper of
the regalia. That was why Chândni on her return from Delhi, whither she
had gone ostensibly to learn new music-hall songs for Dalel's benefit,
had laughed so triumphantly at her own cleverness as she sat at the
Diwân's feet telling him what she had done.

'It was easy, with my cousin a jeweller; and we of the bazaar know a
trick or two with goldsmiths. Manohar Lâl hath the pearls, sure enough.
All thou hast to do is to offer him a rupee more than he gave the mem
(which will not be half their value). The Hindu pig will take it,
seeing it is better than having the yellow-trousered ones[3] set on him
as a receiver of stolen goods.'

Zubr-ul-Zamân looked at her approvingly from under his bushy eyebrows.
She was a clever woman, but he would improve on her plan. He would put
the screw tighter on the Hindu pig, and get the pearls back in exchange
for a promise to pay. So far, however, Chândni's plot had been
unexpectedly successful. Both George Keene, by giving the Ayôdhya pot
to the mem, and Dan Fitzgerald, by taking the jewels himself to Manohar
Lâl, as Chândni's spies said he had done, were mixed up in the affair.
There was sufficient foundation for an _esclandre_, of course, but how
would that help them? They did not merely want revenge, as is so often
the case, they wanted the key of the sluice-gate. The courtesan
standing with wide-spread arms to fold her veil around her decently ere
she left the Diwân's presence, laughed shrilly at his difficulties.

'How? sayest thou. Who can tell? Save this. The mem will send for more
if she get the chance. That is our way. One rupee claims another. Bid
the vakeel at Rajpore go to her and suggest a marrow to the pot. All
things go in pairs, and we could send it through Keene sahib. For the
rest we must wait. There is a time yet, and if we are to work by fear
of exposure, that comes ever at the last moment. I play for a high
stake, as I have told thee, O my father! and I mean to win.'

Then it was that the old man, with regretful thoughts of his past
youth, had promised her one of the pearls in pledge for a future, when,
if she succeeded, she could wear the whole necklace as Dalel's wife.
That was how she came to be rolling the pearl against her palm lazily
one moonlit night, when George, who began to find the long empty
evenings coming at the end of a long empty day rather wearisome,
strolled over for the first time since his return from Rajpore to see
the potter, and while away half an hour in hearing some of his tales.
Rather to his surprise--since he knew nothing of the novel freak for
solitude--he found the outer palisade barred by thorn bushes, and going
a little farther along to where it joined the mud wall, vaulted over
the latter lightly into the inner courtyard. It was empty, and the door
of the hovel closed. Supposing the old man to be absent, he turned to
go, when a low cough from within made him pause and knock.

The next instant the potter burst out on him with eyes ablaze. 'Devils!
wilt not leave me in peace?' he began before recognising his visitor.
Then his manner changed; he drew the door to behind him, saying
hurriedly, 'This slave mistook; the children tease. But if the Huzoor
wants songs he must come to the outer court. The wheel is there now.
Will not the Huzoor come?'

He moved away like a plover luring an intruder from its nest, but
George paused again to listen to a repetition of the quick, low cough.

'Who is that ill?' he asked unwarily. The potter echoed the sound
instantly.

'It is I who cough, Huzoor,' he went on, still moving away. Pity of
God, how I cough! And I have fever, too. Mercy of the Most High! fever
always with mutterings hard to understand. But 'tis no matter. The
potters of Hodinuggur do not die; we go and come, we come and go.'

He had reached the wheel and set it a-spinning. But it seemed pivoted
askew in its new place and whirled in fitful ovals. Then he looked up
with a foolish laugh.

'My thumb will slip often now, Huzoor. Maybe 'twere better Fuzl turned
no more pots.'

The thought made him slacken the wheel to silence. He sat staring at it
vacantly, while George looked at him, wondering at the change in the
old man. His face had the weary, over-strained expression of those who
have wilfully forsaken sleep; the look which comes to those who are on
the rack day and night beside a sick-bed, and George, remembering the
cough, jumped to the conclusion that the potter had an invalid in the
hut. Most likely some female relation; whence his desire for secrecy.
To be sure, the old man had often said he lived alone, but in India one
never could be sure how far modesty interfered with truth. So, being
accustomed to such vicarious prescribings, the young man suggested he
should send some medicine for the cough.

His companion brightened up immediately, 'It is not all a cough,
Huzoor,' he replied hurriedly. 'It is fever. God! what fever. It is
only a little cough, with a rattle, as of dead wheat-straw under my
bosom as I draw breath; quick, quick, with curving nostrils like a
horse galloping fast.'

The vivid accuracy of the word-picture made George realise an idea
which had of late haunted his fancy. The idea of a hand-to-hand fight
with death alone, unaided, as the beasts of the field meet the
destroyer. Here was some one doing it; dying, perhaps, of pneumonia,
when others were being nursed through a finger-ache. The pity, the
injustice of it struck him fairly. Then the potter's voice going on
softly gave inconsequent answer to the vague doubt surging against the
boy's youthful content.

'Not that it matters, as I tell myself in the night season when I am
worst. We of Hodinuggur do not die. We go and come, we come again and
go.'

Something in his own words, perhaps, seemed to arrest the old man's
attention, and he paused.

'Huzoor!' he cried suddenly, 'I have something which belongs to the
mâdr mihrbân. If the Huzoor would write an address.'

'Belonging to Miss Tweedie,' echoed George in surprise.

'Do not thanks belong to those who earn them!' replied the potter
evasively. 'If the Huzoor could write. I have pen and ink. Lo! it is
naught but potter's work, and the miss was kind.'

He fumbled in the niche beside his seat, and drew out a parcel done up
in waxcloth. Evidently a pot of some sort, thought George, beginning to
print boldly, as one of his profession should, with the slant-cut
native pen. The moonlight shone full on the potter seated at his wheel,
and the young Englishman pencilling Rose Tweedie's name. What was that
rising on the stillness of the night? A murmur from the hut? George
could not say for certain, as the old man set his wheel a-humming
instantly, but once more the feeling of injustice, the flash of pity
came to disturb his self-complacency. The feeling lasted longer this
time, and as he walked home his thoughts were full of that uncertainty
which is so hateful to the young. The Mori gate showed black and white
in the moonshine; a clash of silver bells rose from the shadows as he
passed; a pomegranate blossom fell at his feet. He took a step aside to
crush it fiercely, passionately; it lay between that and picking it up
he felt uneasily. Life here, at Hodinuggur, was so simple, so confusing
in its simplicity. To live and to die. Was that all?

He spent the remainder of the evening in writing to Mrs. Boynton,
putting his heart into reserved, half-jesting hints at his own puzzles.
And as he wrote, the potter, standing at the door of his hut, was
listening to a murmur coming from the darkness within.

'It is sent, dear heart! She has it. No one shall know,' he answered
softly. Then there was silence for a while. But only for a while. The
murmur came again and again through the hot night, to be stilled by the
same reply.

The post in due time brought Mrs. Boynton her letter. She read it with
great interest, and then promptly put it into the fire; her favourite
maxim being, that the keeping of letters was, at any rate, one reason
for the slow progress of humanity; since improvement was dangerous when
you were tied down in black and white to past opinions. And the
postman, after leaving the snug little house in the pine-woods, came on
to Colonel Tweedie's with a packet for Rose. Half-an-hour afterwards
the girl was sitting with the contents of the parcel on the table in
front of her, puzzling her brains why any one should have sent her back
the Ayôdhya pot, or one exactly like it. There could be no doubt about
it, however. She took up the wrapper more than once; but the clear
print, if unmistakable, was also unrecognisable. She felt carefully
inside, hoping for a scrap of paper, a hint of any kind; but there was
nothing save a few bits of crumbling clay, leaving a rough rim near the
bottom of the pot. And all the time her first impression remained
unaltered. There was a mistake; it had been meant for Mrs. Boynton.
Undoubtedly it was meant for her. Under ordinary circumstances Rose
would most likely have taken the Ayôdhya pot over to the little house
without more ado, but, though she did not acknowledge it to herself,
she could not treat its occupant in an ordinary way. Besides, there was
an element of mystery in the whole affair, and Rose hated mystery. The
memory of her dream on the night of the storm at Hodinuggur annoyed
her. She had slurred it over at the time, merely mentioning it as part
of a feverish attack; but now she wondered if the Diwân, or some one
else, could really have arranged a theft. And gradually there grew up
in her one distinct dislike to the whole business. She would have
nothing to do with it. She would say nothing, but simply send the thing
back whence it came. She would not even suppose that George had sent
it; she would return it straight. After all, it might be another pot,
and if she made a mistake in thinking this, they would know the truth
at Hodinuggur. A knock at the door roused her, and she slipped the vase
behind another on the mantelpiece ere she said 'come in.'

'Only to say, Miss Tweedie,' came in Lewis Gordon's voice from the
threshold, 'that I shall not be in to lunch. Your father has given me a
half-holiday, and, like a good little boy, I am going to spend it with
my relations. You will be at the Graham's tennis, I suppose? We shall.'

'No. I shall utilise my half-holiday with my relations also,' she
replied. 'Father and I will go for a ride. I don't often get him to
myself.'

'Then _au revoir_ till dinner. How comfortable your little snuggery is!
It and Gwen's drawing-room are the two prettiest rooms in Simla.'

There was a hard, almost angry look on Rose's face as she repacked the
parcel. Gwen's pretty room should at least be none the prettier for the
Ayôdhya pot.

The result being that three days after this Chândni sat at the Diwân's
feet once more, holding it in her hands.

'So I am right, O father!' she cried, with that shrill laugh of hers;
'the mem hath sent for more. Lo! I shall wear the pearls ere long.'

'If they are sent again, thou mayest lose them this time,' retorted the
old man, but there was no warmth in his warning. He had begun to
believe in her luck, and the two sat in the purgatorial heat on the
roof, imagining evil as unconcernedly as if the universe could hold no
fiercer fire for the wicked. The pearls must be sent again, of course,
and the parcel given to be addressed by Keene sahib. So much was clear.
And Manohar Lâl might be told to offer a less sum this time.

'Thy father was the devil!' remarked Zubr-ul-Zamân again--this time
more suavely, 'and pearls or no pearls thou shalt have Dalel. For look
you, Khush-hâl is a waterbutt, a grease jar, and Dalel hath forgotten
how to deal fair, even by himself; but thou hast brains. So bring thine
ear within reach of a whisper. There is much to tell of Hodinuggur ways
ere I forget with age.'

She bent her head back till it almost rested on the old man's breast
and brought her flower-decked ear close to his mouth. One elbow touched
his knee, the hand giving light support to her chin: the attitude of
one all ears to hear. The Diwân, still as a statue, nothing but a
voice. A queer couple up there on the roof overlooking the red-hot, red
brick house, where George Keene was being introduced to what is
familiarly called a go of fever.

Even that was to begin with somewhat of an amusement, for a certain
feeling of self-complacency comes with the first intermission. After
the tortures and fires of the damned for some hours, the sudden and
complete escape from them seems to rebound to the credit of your
constitution, and you are confirmed in the impression that you are a
fine fellow. But it is not long before the fever fiend can knock that
sort of conceit out of a man if it chooses. In George's case it did
choose, and, having got him well in its grip, refused, after a day or
two, to let him go again.

The factotum lingered round with something he called beef-tea, and
another thing he called barley-water. Which was which, the patient,
with his mouth full of Dead Sea apples and quinine, could not say; nor
after a time did he very much care. He cared for nothing; unless indeed
it was to get rid of that vision of the schoolroom in the rectory--a
schoolroom with a cheery-cheeked boy roasting blackbirds at the fire.
If you didn't twist the bit of brown worsted stolen from your sister's
work-basket, then the birds slackened--slackened like the potter's
wheel. Oh! it was a lifetime of twisting, or there you were plumb,
burning with a horrid smell. When the factotum sat in the room the
blackbirds didn't; but then he breathed. Wasn't it rough that a man
could not stop breathing for half-an-hour just to oblige a friend? Yet
if the breathing beast sat outside, a '_whittering_, beast came in its
place. '_Whitter! Whitter!_' under the bed; behind the boxes. That was
the worst of a musk rat; no one could possibly tell where it would
'_whitter_' next. It wasn't its fault, of course; it meant no harm.
Poor little beggar! what a rummy sight it must be, if the yarn was
true, taking its kids out for a walk, tail by tail, in a string! And
then to George's infinite surprise and discomfiture, the feeble laugh
ended in a flood of tears; tears like a woman's, drenching the dry, hot
pillow. That was one comfort, they were as good as a water-cart! So
they came again between the laughs; for George, seventy miles away from
a white face, was down with the worst type of jungle fever.

Sometimes when he felt a little better the factotum brought out the
medicine-chest and between them they made wonderful compounds, which
the latter administered when his master had gone back to the
blackbirds.

It is a common enough experience, and George, not being a whit behind
many another young Englishman, fought his way through it pluckily,
while Ganesha, the groom, fished for soda-water bottles all day long,
and the water carrier circled round the house, cooling the dust with
sprinklings, and keeping an eye on the punkah coolie during the
factotum's absence over more barley-water or beef-tea.

Scorching nights, blistering days, devils in sparrow shape, the fringe
of the towel pinned to the punkah, flicking your nose, yet sparing the
mosquito battening on your cheek. All this George knew, till discomfort
itself grew dim, and he ceased to care for anything in this world or
the next.

Then after a time there was something dead cold--cold as ice--trickling
down his nose, and that surely was Dan's face. At any rate it was Dan's
voice.

'It's all right, dear boy. Sure the doctor's ridden out too, and you'll
be round in a jiffy.'

It is an Eastern record of life which tells us of a love passing the
love of women, and, even in these latter days one sees it more often
East than West; perhaps, paradoxically, because men have so often to
play a woman's part towards each other in India. Dan Fitzgerald in
particular was as gentle as any sister of mercy, and stronger than
most. To be sure he sat on the bed smoking, and after a day or two his
language over the barley-water was simply disgraceful. But by this time
George had come back from No-man's-land and could remember a little
booklet called 'Home Comforts Abroad,' which had been given him by his
grandmother. So Dan ferreted it out from the bottom of a box full of
canal records, and ordered the charcoal brazier into the verandah. Then
he stirred diligently while George, propped up by pillows, read out the
directions weakly. The result being that the factotum bore away a
deadly mixture in triumph, because even with this surpassing love in
his heart for the compounder, the boy could not swallow it.

Nevertheless, wearied out by feeble laughter, he slept the first real
sleep of recovery and woke to extol the factotum's beef-tea. That
functionary being thus appeased, the little red brick furnace out in
the wilderness became a home indeed; that is to say, an abode of love,
and peace, and a great contentment.

It was on the very day of promotion to an arm-chair and a cigarette
that George received a letter from Colonel Tweedie, enclosed in one
from Rose. His eyes grew moist as he read it; he had to pause ere he
could turn to where his companion sat busy over his share of the post,
and even then his voice faltered.

'You--you _beast_, Dan!'

The words were uncomplimentary; the tone was a caress. His hearer did
not affect to misunderstand.

'Well, it will be jolly for you at Simla. The gayest fortnight of all
just before the rains, and there is nothing like a whiff of hill air
for killing the microbes. Besides, the Tweedies' house is awfully jolly
to stay in.'

'But you?--you will be here,' said George remorsefully, despite the
eager pleasure in his eyes.

Dan laughed.

'It isn't the first time I've been in a jungle station. Are you
thinking of the whisky bottle again? Sure I'll take a temperance ticket
for the fortnight, if it would make my keeper easier.'

'Don't be a fool, Dan.'

He came round to lean over the back of George's arm-chair.'

'Is that the thanks I get for warming a viper in my bosom? But I must
get back to the office for a day or two first. Then I'll start you off
with my blessing and all the boiled shirts you have in the world. And
more, by token, that picture of the girl with the Ayôdhya pot that's
lying underneath them. Why didn't you show it me before? It's the best
thing you ever did, and must go to the exhibition. Always put your best
foot foremost up at Simla among the big-wigs. That is my advice.'

'Which you don't follow yourself.'

'But I do!--only my foot's a beetle-crusher, and the worms don't like
it. So that is settled, and we will tell the washerman about the white
ties. And look here, George, I'll bring the duplicate of that key back
with me. Then you can take yours, and I shall know----'

George's hand went up to the back of his chair as if to find another to
clasp; then he changed the _venue_ with an odd little laugh.

'Give me a light, old man. I--I can't keep this cigarette going,
somehow.'

As Dan stooped over him their eyes met, and that was enough.



                             CHAPTER XIV


The angel Azrael had turned aside from other doors in Hodinuggur
besides that of the red-hot bungalow across the canal. Fuzl Elâhi, the
potter, sat once more at his work, with the old calm on his face. The
wheel was back in the inner yard again, where the westering sun sent a
creeping shadow of the high wall almost to the edge of the spinning
circle. It spun so slowly that the eye could see the blue outline of a
pot upon the moulding pirn.


      'It was a woman seeking something,
       Over hill and dale, through night and day she sought for
           something.
       "Foul play! foul play! look down and decide."
       "Not I----"'


The chant stopped in a start. There was a grip on one shoulder, a thin
brown hand over the other pointing accusingly at the wheel.

'Why didst lie to me?' panted a breathless voice, low yet hard. 'Why
didst say thou hadst sent it to her? Why? why?'

'I lied not, heart's delight.'

The slackening wheel, as his hands fell away from it, showed the
Ayôdhya pot, as if in denial of his words; yet he repeated them gently,
looking back the while at the girl who had crept from the open door of
the hut behind him. 'I sent it; but it hath come back, as all things do
in Hodinuggur; as even thou didst, Azîzan. Be not angry with thy
father. Lo, it is fate!'

She set his deprecating hand aside roughly.

'Let be, father--if father thou art. I tell thee 'tis the pot. Give it
me here. Yea; 'tis so, and thou hast put a false bottom of new clay to
it. Wherefore?'

The old man's forehead wrinkled in perplexity.

'I do it always. Let me finish the task, Azîz. Chândni, the courtesan,
will give money for it, as always; then thou shalt have violet sherbet
to allay the cough. Pity of me! how thin thou art!'

In truth the girl was emaciated to skin and bone: her small face seemed
all eyes; yet, though she swayed as she stood from sheer weakness,
there was energy and to spare in her grip on the Ayôdhya pot.

'Chândni!' she echoed; then suddenly the fire died down, the tension of
her hold slackened. 'Lo, wherefore should I care if it be lies or
truth,' she muttered to herself; 'the old man is crazy, and 'tis the
Diwân's when all is said and done--not hers. Here, take it, poor soul.
I care not now, so I be left alone in peace.'

'Art not angry with thy father, Azîz?' he asked humbly; but there was
no answer. He watched her languid retreat to the hut almost fearfully.
'Lo, she forgets the things I have remembered, and I forget those she
remembers, he murmured, before he broke once more into his chant with a
quavering voice.

This forgetfulness of the girl's, showing itself so often, was a
perpetual wonder to the old man, who never for an instant doubted that
his dead daughter had indeed returned to him. 'Nay, but thou knowest
beloved!' he would remonstrate against her ignorance. 'Hast not played
in the Mori gate, and bought sweetmeats of old Bishno, perched on my
shoulder like any tame squirrel?'

'Mayhap, mayhap!' she would answer impatiently. 'I care not. There was
a Hindu girl, I remember, who did not weep as the others used to do.
Life was a dream, she said. We would forget it soon in another. Mayhap
'tis true and I have forgotten.'

It suited her to deceive the old man. When she had first realised the
position, she had been too weak to do more than wonder at it. Then, by
degrees, while she still lay helpless, the potter's talk, her own
recollections of old Zainub's hints, joined to the extraordinary
similarity in those extraordinary eyes, had given her a shrewd guess as
the truth. And with it came a fierce savage delight in her inheritance
of witchcraft. It meant revenge; revenge and safety. The potter deemed
her a ghost from another world; the village folk should think the same.
So she hid herself away in the dark hovel, spending the long hot days
in dreaming of a time when she could creep out on some moonlit night
and frighten the wits out of the world which had wronged her; for her
whole nature was jangled and out of tune. She hated everything and
everybody, herself included; at least so she told herself as she sat
idle, listless, brooding over revenge. It was not difficult for her to
avoid observation. To begin with, the village folk were afraid of the
potter's eyes at the best of times, and of late strange tales had been
told. Finally, Mai Jewun's longed-for son had been born with a distinct
thumb-mark, and had died. The only person, in fact, who could have
allayed these fears lay shrivelling into a mummy with the heat on the
old secret stairs; so Azîzan might have wandered through the village
had she chosen without fear of anything save sending all the women into
hysterics, and making the men give themselves up as doomed to die. She
did not care to wander, however; she cared for nothing save to sit
crunched up at the lintel of the hovel door and stare into vacancy
until the dawn sent her back to the darkness within.

The potter found her so when he returned from taking the pot back to
the Mori gate late in the evening. The fading daylight struggled still
with the rising moon, making confused havoc among the shadows, and
giving an odd iridescence to the dust-laden air. From without came a
barking of dogs, an occasional cry, every now and again a group of
bleatings from the goat-pens. All the every-day commonplace sounds of
village life; and in the courtyard the same lack of outward novelty.
Only an old man with his pugree off eating his supper of millet cakes
and water beside a sick girl.

'Ari, beloved, cough not so!' came his tender voice. 'Lo! I will go but
now for the sherbet. Dittu was away when I passed his shop. And see, I
will seek out the sahib ere he leaves to-morrow and ask for more
medicine. It did thee good.'

The girl's breath came faster.

'Leaves? Wherefore?'

'He hath been ill, dear heart, so Chândni says. He goes to the mem
sahiba in the hills.'

Azîzan's hand clutched the old man's arm. 'And the pot! what of the
pot?'

He shook his head. 'Maybe it was for her. I know not. Cough not so,
beloved. See, I will fetch the sherbet.' He bent over her, as he rose,
in gentle pleading. 'Go not from me when I am away, Azîz. Lo! I will be
back ere long.'

She gave a short laugh, and sank back, still breathless from her fit of
coughing.

'Go! whither should I go? God knows!' The old man sighed as he turned
away, to look back more than once at the listless, dejected figure. So
it remained for an instant after his had disappeared through the outer
yard; then, as if galvanised, it rose suddenly, and the thin arms were
flung out passionately.

'She shall not have it. Chândni shall not give it to her. She shall
not, she shall not.'

Five minutes after, trembling half with weakness, half from sheer
hurry, Azîzan was on her way through the village wrapped in a white
sheet snatched from the hut. What she was going to do she scarcely
knew, just as she scarcely knew whither she was going. Though within a
stone's-throw of her birthplace, the path down which she stumbled was
as unfamiliar to her feet as the tempest of emotion was to her mind. A
fever of excitement, anger, mistrust of everything and everybody surged
through her veins. The road was silent, deserted; but even had it been
thronged, the girl would not have hesitated. Amid all the confusion,
but one thing was certain: Chândni must tell the truth; she must be
found and made to tell the truth. But where? Yonder was the Mori gate;
she had seen that before through the lattice, and that, at any rate,
was a landmark. She would go there first and see. As she came within
ear-shot of the tunnelled causeway, a woman's voice rang out in shrill
laughter from the dark recesses to the right. Her first instinct was to
pause; then second-thought made her keep straight on her way as if to
pass through, till at the farther end of the causeway she turned
suddenly to the left and sank down behind a plinth. It was as if a
shadow had disappeared. A minute to regain her breath, and then she
crept farther into the darkness, where, unless some belated gossipers
should choose that side of the arch, she was secure. From over the way
a clash of anklets and a low full voice, contrasting strangely with
those high trills of laughter assured her that she had come straight
upon her quarry. The rest was patience, till, sooner or later, the
woman would be left alone. Sooner or later the laugh must cease; sooner
or later even wickedness must tire and turn to sleep. So the girl sat
crouched into herself in the curiously impassive attitude of her race,
her thin arms round the thin knees whereon her small chin rested. Not a
very startling sight outwardly; though, to describe what lay within is
wellnigh an impossible task with an audience of Western ears; for
Azîzan's knowledge would be to such ears incompatible with her
ignorance, her jealousy and passion with her patience. Such an audience
must remember an upbringing foreign to all their experience, and
imagine her, still as a statue, though the blood raced like liquid fire
in her limbs and throbbed like sledge-hammers in her temples. The moon,
sinking slowly, sent a slanting yellow light through the dust-haze,
visible beyond the arched causeway; the village dogs ceased one by one
the nightly challenge to their fellows; yet, still the laugh went on.
Would wickedness never tire? The wonder, and her own heart-beats lulled
the girl to a drowsier patience. She woke to silence, and, standing up,
strained eyes and ears into the shadows. Not a sound. She stole softly
across the causeway, slipped into the recesses at the right, and
listened again. A low breathing from one corner made her feel a way
towards it, and her touch, light as a breeze, hovered over a figure on
the ground wrapped from head to foot in a sheet like a corpse; yet she
knew it could scarcely be Chândni, for she would not choose so airless
a spot. But there must be rooms above, and a roof above that, and they
were worth a trial before going on to the bazaar. Slowly, for she knew
nothing of where she was, Azîzan groped her way to some winding stairs,
thence to a suite of low chambers, empty of all save the pigeons
rustling and cooing at her step in the dark. Upwards again till, at a
turn, an archway gave on a terraced roof not six feet square; and
there, lying on a string cot, which, from its narrow resting-place,
seemed suspended in mid-air, she saw the soft curves of a woman's
figure outlined against the moon-lit dust-haze beyond. It was not a
place for a sleep-walker's slumbers; not a place even for a restless
one; but Chândni slept the sleep of the unjust, which, nine times out
of ten, is sounder than that of the just. Her conscience never troubled
her; and in addition she belonged to a race apart from the customs and
creeds of the people. A race born to the profession of pandars and
prostitutes, openly, shamelessly.

So, not being afraid, like other women-folk, of sleeping in the
moonlight with face uncovered, she lay carelessly as she had thrown
herself down, her tinsel-set veil turned aside by one arm thrust under
her head, the other stretched almost straight into the gulf of dusty
air, which glittered faintly like the ghost of a sunbeam. Beneath its
filmy net covering the bold sweep of her bosom rose and fell softly,
with its faded burden of the past day's jasmine chaplets. They gave out
a last breath of perfume as Azîzan's thin brown fingers closed round
the sleeper's throat.

'If thou stirrest,' whispered the girl to the startled eyes as they
opened, 'I kill. Feel!'

Only a prick above the heart, but joined to that scorching, stifling
grip, it was sufficient to send the coming shriek back from Chândni's
lips. She lay terror-stricken, staring up at the wild light eyes which,
catching the moon rays as they dipped to the horizon, seemed to glow
with a pale fire. This was no ghost! it was something worse than that;
something that meant more than mere fright.

'Why didst send the Ayôdhya pot to her? Why? Give it me back!'

Chândni slackened all over in sudden relief. If she could have laughed
with that hand on her throat the shrill sound would no doubt have risen
on the hot air. So that was all? Nothing but jealousy! Of all things in
the world the easiest to rouse--or to allay--by lies, and she had
plenty of those at her command. So many, that poor Azîzan, after a
time, wondered sullenly how she came to be sitting amicably on the
string cot beside the woman whom she had meant to coerce.

'Poor little chicken,' said the courtesan in contemptuous consolation.
'So thou wouldst have killed me, thy best friend? One who seeks to
destroy the mem! 'Twill be the ruin of her, look you, and then he will
have none of her. That is their way. She will not get him; so pine no
more, child. Lo! I will teach thee how to have lovers and to spare.'

'I want no lovers,' muttered the girl angrily. 'If 'tis to harm her,
and thou hast sworn to that, I care not. And thou hast sworn to let me
be also. That is enough.'

As she rose, folding her white veil round her, Chândni felt sorely
tempted to give the little push which must have overset the weak
balance, and sent Azîzan to certain death below. But the thought that,
if looks said the truth, fate would do the work for her ere long
without scandal, stayed her hand. Besides, the knowledge that the girl
was alive and intent on revenge might be of use in dealing with the
palace-folk, if they showed themselves traitorous to her claims. So,
when she had watched Azîzan go stumbling down the stairs, Chândni
rolled over lazily to meet the midnight wind which was springing up,
and shortly afterwards fell like a child, into dreamless slumber, long
before Azîz, who had sunk down on a step of the silent causeway, hoping
to regain strength for the homeward journey, felt equal to the task. A
deadly despondency had replaced her excitement; yet beneath this again
lay a dull resentment against fate. If she had understood, if she had
known, as Chândni seemed to know, the ways and thoughts of these white
people, she might have done better. She had meant no harm--no harm in
her world at least--for she was not bad. He might, as Chândni said,
turn away from the mem for being wicked, but he would never have
had cause to turn from her, if she had only known. She never would
have done anything to displease him--never have done, or said or
looked---- The sting of shameful memory drove her from her
resting-place to stumble on recklessly in the direction of a twinkling
light upon the mound. That must be the potter's house and he must be
watching for her; there she would at least find shelter. But it was not
the house; it was the potter himself seeking for her among the ruins.
His face, by the light of the cresset he carried, showed haggard, and
its anxiety soothed her, even while it sent a new pain to her heart. He
was unhappy at losing her, and she? O God! how her own heart ached!
Must it always be so when those you loved were lost? Then would _he_
feel so if he had to turn away from the mem? Would it send that pain
into _his_ heart?

The question was insistent, imperative, as, scarcely listening to the
old man's deprecating delight she followed him back to the darkness of
the hut. Even there it haunted her. Through the hot night, through the
long hot day as she lay huddled up out of sight. 'Would he care? And if
he did care, would she be glad or sorry for his pain?'

The moon and the setting sun were disputing possession of the world
again, when George lay on a lounge chair in the verandah of the red-hot
bungalow. The air was fresher, if not cooler there, and the factotum
within was disturbing the foundations of the round world in attempting
to pack his master's things; among them Azîzan's picture, and a parcel
which had been sent from the palace addressed to Mrs. Boynton.
Something, it was said, she had asked the vakeel at Râjpore to get for
her. The lad, though still weak, was joyous to the heart's core in the
knowledge that another hour would see him on his way to spend his
holiday in the society of the most perfect woman he had ever seen. That
was how he viewed his world. Gwen was in full focus; the rest of
humanity out of it; even poor Dan, who was at that moment riding
his hardest across the desert in order to take over charge of the
sub-division at its outermost limit, and so give the boy every possible
second of his leave. Not a very just estimate of relative values, but a
very usual one when Narcissus is absorbed with the reflection of
himself.

'Salaam Aliakoom,' came a breathless voice behind him. He turned to see
Azîzan, who had sunk as if exhausted on the verandah steps. He stared
at her silent with surprise, in which a certain shamefaced annoyance
was mingled. He had no desire to be reminded of her existence at
present, and even if, as he had felt inclined to suspect, there was
some mystery about her, he could do no good by inquiring now, on the
very eve of his departure.

'I have come for the pot, Huzoor,' she began without preamble. 'They
took it from me. Lo! I was poor, and the poor have no voice. Justice!
Justice!'

'Took it from you?' echoed George, his annoyance increasing at this
plunge into the past. 'Do you mean by force?' She nodded. 'But,' he
went on, 'you sold it. I gave the money to your mother when she came
here--on the night the tents were burnt.'

'My mother died before that, Huzoor. It was not my mother who came, but
a bad one from the palace. It is true that I never sold it, never got
the money; and now I want the pot back again. It brings luck. I will
not sell it.'

'But why didn't you come at once and tell me?' asked George angrily.
'Then I might have done something: now----'

She interrupted him eagerly.

'Your slave has been ill; as the Huzoor may perchance notice.' Her
wistful tone made George look at her more closely.

'Very ill I should say,' he assented shortly. 'You are not fit to come
so far. Why did you? Why didn't you send some one else?'

'I thought the Huzoor would not believe unless he saw me,' she answered
after a pause. 'I heard the Huzoor was going away to-day, and I wanted
the pot. Surely he will give it back! The protector of the poor has so
many things; his slave has but this one thing.'

Her face was outlined against the white pillar beside which she sat,
and with all the languor of sickness on it still showed strong in its
entreaty. Something in it struck George with regret, even amid the
pressing desire to kick somebody which her words had roused in him.

'Give it back,' he echoed savagely. 'Of course I would, if I could; but
I can't. It was stolen----'

'It has been found again, Huzoor.'

'Perhaps; but I haven't found it. I'm very sorry, my good girl, but I
haven't got it.'

'The Huzoor mistakes. He has it. It is in the parcel that came from the
palace. They took it from me again to send it back to the mem.'

George stared at her, unable to believe his ears.

'Took it again then you were the thief--is that it?'

There was a slight pause ere she replied. 'The Huzoor always speaks the
truth. I stole it--but it was mine.'

George gave a low whistle; then a sudden grimness came to his face.
'And you say it is in that parcel they sent addressed---- By Jove, if
it is,' he added in English as he rose hastily. A minute after, when he
returned from within, his face was still more grim.

'Here! take it,' he said, thrusting the blue curves of the Ayôdhya pot
at her, as if in haste to be rid of it--and her. 'When I get back I'll
inquire, and if what you say is true----' He paused, reduced in his
anger to thinking incoherently of Dalel Beg and horsewhips. How dare he
send it to her, mixing her up, as it were, in such a discreditable
affair? 'Well,' he continued, looking impatiently at the girl, 'that's
all, I suppose. You don't want anything more, do you?' The attitude in
which she was sitting reminded him perforce of the sunshine glowing on
the blue-tiled mosque and of the sidling pigeons--of a past, in short,
of which he did not care to be reminded, and a hardness crept over his
face.

'That is all,' she replied, rising to go. 'But the Huzoor should not be
angry. The pot belonged to this slave.'

'Angry?' he echoed, with a sort of lofty consideration. 'Why should I
be angry with you? Every one has a right to their own surely. Now you
have got it, go home and get stronger, my child. Salaam, Azîzan!'

'Salaam Alaikoom, Huzoor.'

He took up his cigar again, relieved to find it alight; for he felt
that he needed soothing. On his return, Dalel must be brought to book
and smashed; meanwhile he was not sorry that the cursed pot had finally
passed into the hands of its rightful owner, for it had a knack of
appearing and disappearing in a way which annoyed his common-sense.
Now, he need never see it or its owner again. One palpable reason for
the latter probability made him give a compassionate glance after the
thin, small face where consumption had set its mark indubitably, and
which he had seen for the last time.

No! not the last. She too was pausing to look back from the gateless
gateway, guiltless of a fence on either side, which served no purpose
save arbitrarily, uselessly, to divide one portion of a dusty road from
another. So he saw her outlined against the shadows which softened the
havoc sickness had wrought in her young face; a graceful figure, seen
as he had painted her against the purple mound of Hodinuggur, with the
pot clasped to her breast.

Yes! when Mrs. Boynton saw the picture she would be pleased; that is to
say, if he showed it to her at all. The thought absorbed him, and when
he looked up the shadows were empty.



                              CHAPTER XV


Ten days had passed since George, after many hours of deadly
discomfort, found himself admitting that the world was not such an
intolerable place, even in India; that, when all was said and done,
there were some things in it worth looking at.

Those who have experience of these convalescent journeyings will
know at once that this must have been just about that turn of the
upward-trending road where a bridge slants the dhooli across the dry
torrent-bed, so that the traveller can see a stream of pink oleander
blossoms filling the narrow ravine. The morning sunshine lies yellow on
the red, parched hillocks, the red rocks crumble from thirst, but the
heat-hidden water proclaims its presence beneath them by that glory of
flowers. Nothing else, far or near, suggesting moisture; save, perhaps,
the candlestick-euphorbia, reminding one vaguely of the Ark of the
Covenant. Not a very welcome reminder, in this land of drought, where
even a deluge of rain would be a blessing; so, at least, thought
George, all unwitting of the times now close at hand, when a racing,
roaring demon would fill the narrow valley, the oleander flowers would
seem adrift, and the arch of the bridge would echo to the metallic
churnings of the boulders below, until, maybe, it would take a fancy to
join them, and leave travellers staring at each other across an
impassable torrent.

Another slanting turn or two, and the candlestick bush is left behind.
The red-flowered indigo hides the dry, red soil, and from it rise
strange shrubs with sparse foliage and abundant blossom--yellows and
whites and lilacs--with here and there a burnished pomegranate, vivid
green and crimson. A sweet scent fills the air from grey aromatic
herbs, among which the wild bees keep up a perpetual hum. It is the
land of honey and honey bees. Butterflies also. There goes a purple
emperor, and, by Jove! yonder is one of those swallowed-tailed whoppers
you have seen somewhere in a glass case. The head sinks back on the
pillow again, tiredly content, to watch the scarlet flash of a
sun-bird. Was that a fern hidden in the crevice of the yellowing rocks?
Yes! parched, dwarfed, but still a fern. So on and up, until the
coolies set the dhooli down on a bit of real green grass beside the
tiny trickle of the spring whence they slake their thirst, and some one
from a shingled hut hung with flowering, fruiting gourds, brings the
sahib a red-brown earthen pot. A land of milk this--somewhat smoky, no
doubt, yet still milk. Over the tops of the fragrant pine-trees
something blue climbs up and up into the sky. Can it be a hill?--the
hills '_from whence cometh your help!_' The memory of some early
morning service in the odd little station church comes over you, with
the punkahs swinging overhead, the Deputy-Commissioner reading the
psalms, and the involuntary stir northwards of the small knot of
worshippers as the words sink straight into their hearts, bringing
thoughts of dear faces looking down on the heat-sodden plains. Yes!
those are the hills; for, as the coolies slither through the slippery
pine needles, the faint blue mist blending into the clouds rises, and
the headman, pausing, points to a cluster of white dots. Those are the
sahib-logues' houses.

The path steepens; George pulls up the neglected shawl as shelter from
the growing cool; and as he is hurried along the curving road to find
old familiar friends in every flower and leaf his renewed vitality
expresses itself, oddly enough, in the inward conviction that here
at last is a place in which one could _die_ comfortably. Not that
George, or any other convalescent in his position, contemplates
the possibility of death; why should one when life has suddenly
become attractive?--when one can breathe instead of merely drawing
breath?--above all, when it is safe to go out into the garden without a
hat, and pick a carnation for your buttonhole before strolling over to
have tea with the most perfect woman in the world.

Those ten days, therefore, passed like wild-fire. George knew no more
how he had spent them than how he had spent all his money. Chiefly, it
may be said, on sweets at Peliti's, kid gloves, and new ties. It was
the first time the young fellow had ever been let loose on equal terms
in the very best of society--a society, moreover, bent on amusing
itself. That he should follow its example was a foregone conclusion;
and it must be owned that he certainly got his money's worth in solid
enjoyment. There is always one particular period in the life of every
man and woman when the sun seems to stand still in the heavens on
purpose to make pleasure perpetual. This had set in for George, and it
had its usual effect in giving a fine-drawn, eager expression to his
face. Small wonder, perhaps, seeing that, as a rule, he never went to
bed till three in the morning, and that the days passed in one
ceaseless round of amusement. It seemed incredible, even to himself,
that, not a fortnight past, he had been agonising at Hodinuggur on
beef-tea and barley-water. But then Hodinuggur itself was incredible;
almost as much so as the fact that he had proposed to wear his old
white shirts, washed by a desert-washerman at Simla! They were thrust
aside in a bottom drawer now, and their place filled by brand-new ones
from a Europe shop; for how could one dance with the most perfect woman
in the world in a shirt that had no deportment? How, in fact, could you
do anything without reference to the certainty that your unworthy self
would form a part of perfection's environment? That is what it comes
to, when a steady, honest young fellow like George falls down on his
knees to worship a pretty face and a gracious smile. No doubt it was
not a very admirable occupation, but it seemed so to him, as it seems
to that majority of mankind which does not ask itself questions; simply
because he had been taught, as we have all been taught, to look on
sentimental love between the sexes as something almost divine. Thus,
the real issues being hopelessly confused, this new feeling of
passionate worship had all the effect of a new religion upon him. So
other things besides old shirts were thrust out of sight. Among them
Azîzan's picture. The idol should not see it till the depths of deceit
regarding the Ayôdhya pot had been fathomed, lest in any way
perfection's ears should be sullied by a queer story. By and by, when,
on returning to Hodinuggur he had time to unravel the mystery, he might
send the portrait to her as the best piece of work he had ever turned
out; but now? Why now, as usual, it was time to ride over on the hired
pony--of whose mane and tail you were inwardly ashamed--to the pretty
little house among the pine-woods, and there, in Paradise, try to
forget that but three days' more leave lay between you and purgatory.
Certainly not an admirable occupation; but the novelty, the excitement,
the supreme pleasure had gone, like wine, to the boy's head, producing
that exalted condition of mind and body, which has been described as
leaving one in doubts whether to have another whisky and water, or to
say one's prayers and go to bed.

Lewis Gordon, standing in the back verandah, watched the young fellow
ride off with a frown.

'It's too bad of Gwen,' he murmured to himself, as he went back to
finish dressing. 'I can't think what the fun can be. But the boy is
having a good time; that's one thing. And I suppose we all have to go
through it some time or another.'

When he had done putting himself into an extremely dandified racing
kit, he passed through into the office again and began work steadily on
some files. _He_ was not on leave, and if he had to ride a steeplechase
at half-past four, that was no reason why he should waste an hour in
dawdling down to Annandale beside Gwen's _dandy_. There was no reason,
either, for his doing duty with Colonel Tweedie and his daughter, who
had ordered their horses at three. Time enough if he galloped down at
four, when the road would be pretty clear, instead of being clogged by
a perfect procession of women and coolies masquerading in ridiculous
costumes; whence it may be inferred that Lewis Gordon was in a bad
temper. As a matter of fact, he had been more or less so ever since he
arrived at Simla, despite the welcome he received from Gwen's constant
smiles, exquisite dresses, and admirable lunches. Perhaps he was
conscious that some one would have to pay for all these amenities,
and the prospect of responsibility in the future weighed on him;
not in a pecuniary point of view, but in reference to the fact that the
debtor would be his wife. For, like most men of his _genre_, he was
fastidious over the duties of women who were in any way connected
with him. Anyhow, he was distinctly dissatisfied with his world, as he
sat, buried shortsightedly up to his nose, in piles of paper; his
racing-colours, white with a crimson hoop, looking ridiculously out of
keeping with his occupation.

A clatter of hoofs told him that the Colonel and Rose were off. He
could see them from his window passing a turn of the road below the
house, their figures outlined for a moment against the dim blue of the
valley. She sat straight, certainly, and as he watched her, a smile
came to his face as he remembered the partridge-hunt; but it was
replaced immediately by a frown. For the memory of Hodinuggur conjured
up that of Dalel Beg, who had come up to Simla for these races, and
had, in Lewis's opinion, been making himself most objectionable.

There was no reason on earth, of course, why Dalel should not come; no
reason on earth why the Governor-General should not shake hands
with him, or any one else--that was part of the duty for which
Governor-Generals were paid; but that Gwen Boynton should shake hands
with him and allow him to speak to her familiarly, was different. That
was a matter of feeling, not a matter of reason. Apart from the
question of colour, Dalel was an objectionable brute--could scarcely be
otherwise, considering his up-bringings. That much of this was sheer
insular prejudice on Lewis Gordon's part may be true. If put to it, he
would have frankly confessed to many another objectionable brute with a
white face; but that the dark-skin should enter into the question is at
present inevitable in India, where it is typical of those theories and
practices which make real social intercourse between the upper classes
of the two races an impossibility--_at present_.

And, to say sooth, Dalel was not nice, outwardly or inwardly. Even the
best tailor in Simla could not make him look aught but intolerable in
his elaborate riding-gear, as he paused on his way to the racecourse
before a small shop in the bazaar; a dark hole of a place, squalidly
bare of all save a sign where, in crooked lettering, it was announced
that 'MUNAHRLALLOFDELHIJEWLERGOLDWORKS' was ready 'TOBYANDSELL.'

'No news of the pearls yet?' asked Dalel in an undertone of the man in
dirty white waist-cloth and low turban, who came out hastily to cringe
at his stirrup.

'Huzoor, no! The ayah saith they have not come. Perhaps the little
sahib----'

A measured shuffle of footsteps and a gay laugh arrested the
deprecating voice. It was Mrs. Boynton, carried by four men arrayed in
white; she herself being a vision of angelic spotlessness. Beside her,
his hand on the shafts of her _dandy_, his young face intent on hers,
came George Keene. It needs great ignorance or great experience to walk
in this fashion, without appearing either ridiculous or unseemly.
George looked neither; only supremely happy.

'Who was that?' he asked, as his companion bowed. Her little gloved
hand resting so close to his tightened nervously.

'Dalel Beg. He bowed to me.'

George gave a quick glance backwards. 'By Jove, so it is! What cheek!'

He thought so, honestly, as they passed on between the irregular rows
of shingled huts, leaving the group before the jeweller's shop, looking
after them curiously. Past the bazaar, down many a turn, till a bare
zigzag showed on the hill-side beneath them, and below that again a
green oval of valley set in trees. The eye following each angle of the
descent, could see, as it were in terraces, an almost continuous stream
of _dandies_, _rickshaws_, and ponies, all bent towards that grassy
oasis where a tent or two gleamed white, and a crowd of humanity
already swarmed like bees.

There is no gayer crowd in the universe than this of Simla out for a
holiday; though, even as it passed downward, a man with a sober face
and a telegram in his pocket passed upwards on a sorry errand. Ten
minutes before that telegram handed in to the Club tent had hushed the
laughter into silence for a while. 'Cholera, of course,' said some one
after that while. 'I heard yesterday from Galbraith it was getting
rather stiffish in those parts. Poor old Jackson! After all these
years, too.' And then the recipient had ridden off in hot haste,
because the poor widow--the widow of his best friend--was coming
down at four with his wife to see the steeplechase, and it would be
best to prevent _that_, if possible. A sorry errand indeed, past those
holiday-makers, to whom he had to give back greeting, irrespective of
that death-message in his pocket lest the news might travel too fast.
Even to the pallid, pretty-faced young wife raising herself eagerly
from her cushions as he passed to ask if Mrs. Jackson had heard from
her husband that morning. She had had no letter; but of course Mr.
Jackson would have mentioned it if there had been anything wrong with
Charlie? Doubtless, Mr. Jackson would have done so, came in answer to
the wistful eyes, ere the messenger rode on full of that wrathful,
surprised grief which such scenes bring to the average Englishman. And
it must not be forgotten that it is in such scenes as these that the
foundation of all that is best in our Indian empire is laid. Going
to the hills! Whose fault is it that the phrase conjures up to the
English ear a vision of grass-widows, flirtations, scandals,
frivolities! Surely it is the fault of those who, telling the tale of a
hill-station, leave out the tragedy of separation which makes our rule
in India such a marvel of self-sacrifice both to the woman and the man.

Yet below, in the Club tent, and round the shady ring the laughter went
on after its brief check. Mrs. O'Dowb, whose husband had held hill
appointments ever since he married a big-wig's daughter, improving the
occasion against her bitterest foe, Mrs. Larkins, by declaring that
some women had no sense of duty, and seemed to forget that they had
sworn at the altar to cherish their husbands. To which her little
enemy, using the sharp tongue which captivated mankind in general,
assented smilingly; she herself knew women who could not be brought to
understand that their absence must be a far greater comfort than their
presence. Whereat there was war.

A gay crowd indeed! with here and there a surge, accompanied by murmurs
of 'Your Excellency,' and a steady circle round some recognised leader
holding her little court. Not much interest on the whole, however, over
the races, save among a knot of men near the betting-tent, when Dalel
Beg, hand in glove with a shady lot of men from a newly-opened hotel,
went swaggering about with his jockey's colours pinned on to his coat.

'I'm not on duty to-day,' replied a handsome man to Gwen Boynton's
inquiry why he was not as usual in the tent. 'A contingent of bad lots
brought their ponies up and rushed the meeting. They do it sometimes,
and then it isn't good enough for old stagers. All we stewards can do
is to keep 'em as straight as we can, and that isn't easy. Weight for
weight, inches for inches, Mrs. Boynton, I'll back an Indian gymkhâna,
where nobody has any money to pay, and all the subalterns think they
know something about a horse--especially their own--to lick creation in
sheer crookedness. And when the profession come down like a wolf on the
fold, as they have done to-day, it is crookeder still. And all about a
_pari mutual_ for the most part.' The look of disgust on the speaker's
face was almost comical.

'Poor Major Davenant!' smiled Gwen sympathetically. 'But the chase will
be good. Mr. Gordon is in it.'

'I wish he wasn't.'

A wish which was echoed by Rose Tweedie, who stood within earshot. For
the last half hour she had been trying to keep her eyes away from the
zigzag--now almost deserted--on the opposite hill-side. An ineffectual
attempt; ineffectual as her wish, for there, coming down at a rattling
pace, was an unmistakable figure. She clasped her hands tighter on her
riding-whip, impatient at her own nervousness, and went on talking to
George Keene.

'No! you are not a creditable patient. You don't look a bit better than
you did a week ago; I am not sure you don't look worse. And you have
only three more days; you should ask father for an extension.'

Mrs. Boynton turned round quickly. 'What a splendid idea! Do, Mr.
Keene! Rose will back you up, and so will I. You mustn't go before the
Club ball.'

The young fellow flushed, but shook his head, with a laugh. 'And poor
old Dan down in the wilderness? Not I. It is only excess of amusement,
Miss Tweedie. I shall soon get over that at Hodinuggur.'

His face sobered at the very thought.

'Poor fellow,' murmured Gwen in an undertone, and he brightened up
again.

'How many gloves was it to be on Bronzewing, Miss Tweedie. You promised
to back her against the field, you remember,' came a voice, making Rose
start. How nice he looked with his covert coat just showing the white
and crimson! She hated herself for thinking such things, and yet she
thought them all the same; it seemed to her, sometimes, as if she were
always thinking of him; but she had given up hating herself for
that--that had to be faced, and kept secret, like this strange feeling
of dread. She had seen dozens of men ride steeplechases before without
a flutter at her heart: but now----

'You bet? Then I lay you three to one against. You need not pay,
lady-fashion,' interrupted another voice ere she had time to reply. It
was Dalel Beg, swaggering along fresh from a Vice-Regal hand-shake to
assert his rights in society; notably with Mrs. Boynton, much to her
tall companion's horror, for he had done his best on two occasions to
get the offender kicked off a racecourse. The Mirza's flabby hand was
now thrust out at Rose, but the riding-whip seemed a fixture in both of
hers, as it would have been had the hand offered been fair instead of
dark, for there was a certain class of men with whom the girl never
shook hands. Lewis Gordon, watching her with curious impatience, as he
often did in society, had often been forced to confess unwillingly that
her instincts in this respect were generally right. This time her
refusal gave him distinct pleasure.

'I don't bet lady's-fashion,' she replied coolly; then turning to
Lewis, went on in the same tone: 'I believe I did promise, Mr. Gordon;
so perhaps Major Davenant wouldn't mind half-a-dozen pairs to one on
the mare.'

'Double the odds wrong way up,' smiled the Major, crossing over to her
side. 'You wouldn't make your fortune as a bookmaker, I'm afraid.
However, I'll take it, if you let me hedge for you.'

'You don't know Bronzewing. I do.'

'You don't know the field. I do. In fact, Gordon, if I had had any idea
we were to be inundated with down-country ruck, I should have advised
you to scratch. They don't want outsiders.'

'They will have to thole them, as we say north of the Tweed,' replied
Lewis. As a rule he was shy of admitting his Scotch birth, and the
pronoun sounded sweet in Rose's ears.

'What an arrant pirate you are, Gwen,' he said in a low tone as he took
the place beside her _dandy_ vacated by Dalel Beg, who, after returning
to her for consolation, had gone on to the tent. 'You have been betting
against me, haven't you, dear?'

'Against Bronzewing, you mean. What chance can she have with the
Confederation's Waler? If you were riding _it_--and I am so badly off
for gloves.' As she looked at her lavender-cased fingers plaintively,
she was as pretty and well-dressed a picture of gracious womanhood as
the imagination could paint. The fact was mollifying and brought
admiration to his eyes.

'Don't see it. Seems to me you want nothing. What a jolly shawl that
is! too good, surely, to be crumbled up that way.'

He was right. A white cashmere with a broad bordering in faint greys
and lavenders is hardly the thing for a dust-cloth. Perhaps she was
aware of the fact; anyhow, she coloured up.

'Not at all. I bought it for a mere song. Isn't it time you were
weighing-in or something of that sort? they have been ringing a bell.'

'Directly. You see, I'm dressed and ready.'

'Yes, I see. You look so nice.'

Rose might have made the remark with far more fervour than Gwen could
conjure into it, and yet the latter scored the points, for Lewis
strolled off feeling less dissatisfied with life than before. Men are
trivial creatures when they have to do with that trivial creature,
woman.

To a large proportion of men, a horse-race is a most uninteresting
affair; to the majority of women, it is a mere accessory to a misused
wedding-breakfast or a somewhat spoilt _fête champêtre_. This one was
no exception to the rule, and the interest of the resident racers being
reduced to a minimum, there was little excitement beyond the immediate
circle by the tents.

'Game little beast that of Gordon's,' remarked Major Davenant after
Lewis had cantered past. 'Pity she hasn't a chance, but I'm afraid she
is out-classed. By George, they are off, and she--no! That's a pity.'

A short man standing close by laughed.

'For Gordon. I know that dun beast; seen him down country; warranted to
wear out the temper of any but his stable companions. Is Bronzewing
keen, Miss Tweedie?'

'Very.'

'I thought so. There--back again. Gordon looks pleasant, doesn't he?'

His face certainly showed irritation, his hand did not; and as he
turned the mare to face the starter again, he leant forward to pat the
fine bronze neck.

There was greater interest this time as the pace slackened to a walk.

'Splendid line,' commended the Major--'now then, starter! Oh! dash the
mare! No--by Jove, that was well done.'

'For the dun,' echoed the short man. 'Smart; very. Wonder how he
managed it?' For as the flag fell, Bronzewing had reared straight on
end, only to shoot forward with a bound which more than compensated for
the delay on which the others had counted.

'Didn't you hear?' cried Rose, clasping her hands. 'It was the
partridge's note did it. He--Mr. Gordon gave it. You heard, didn't you,
Mr. Keene?'

'Yes! I heard.' He was as excited as she was. 'By Jove, what a sell for
that dun brute! Look, there they are. He is in--right in to the posts;
trust Gordon for that.'

Now to be in to the posts means something when you have to go twice
round a course which follows the narrow oval of a valley. Except at the
ends of the ellipse when a less clever-footed beast than Bronzewing
might find trouble in the sharp curve.

'Oh! how badly that man rides,' cried Rose. 'He can't hold his horse.
Ah!' She felt a wild inclination to cover her eyes--to get away--not to
see; for, as the horses rose to a stone wall, a sudden swerve of his
left-hand neighbour carried Lewis Gordon's foot clear out of the
stirrup.

'All right, Miss Tweedie, over like a bird. But you are right. Green
rides badly.' And the short man looked at the Major comprehensively.

'Jimmy,' called the latter quickly, when the horses showed again at the
end curve as they came round on the winning post for their first turn,
Bronzewing fourth and ousted from her inner place by Blue-and-white,
who was making the pace over the straightest bit in the course; 'get me
all you can from them on the mare--in Simians Gad! I should like to let
those fellows in.'

'But she is behind, ever so far behind,' interrupted Rose, divided
between regret and relief that she would not have to watch a reckless
tussle at the end, with its thousand possibilities of mishap.

'There isn't a beast near her at the jumps, and if Gordon--he's saving
her now, Miss Tweedie--gets the inner lap again top and bottom; it is
as near a moral as racing ought to be. Lord! how she took that water!
Well done, little 'un, well done!'

He was almost as excited as George, who was craning forward to catch a
last glimpse of the trail of bright colours skimming round the farthest
turn behind some trees.

'By Jove! he is in again, and how Green is riding him! Stick to it,
man, stick to it! Game little lady! not an inch to spare, and waltzed
over it as if she had the floor to herself. They mean Blue-and-white to
win; that's clear. Ah! now it's on the straight! Now Green will shoot!
H'm--not much to spare in that cross. Green's in--that's an end.
Blue-and-white wins, unless he makes a mistake.' Major Davenant put
down his field-glasses with a sigh.

On they came; the Red-hoop and the Green almost neck and neck, close
in to the posts. Keeping pace half a length behind in the clear,
Blue-and-white saving breath for his awkward beast at the last hedge;
behind them, a trail of colours like a pennant streaming backwards. Now
they are at the sharpest corner, and a murmur rises as Bronzewing
shoots ahead, making the Green give way.

'Hullo, what's that?' cries the Major; 'a foul? Did any one see it?'

There was no time for an answer as yet. Green, seeing his work over,
slacks to pace, and there is nothing but an easy hedge and a couple of
hundred yards galloping between the Crimson-hoop, Blue-and-white and
the winning post. Inch by inch Bronzewing gives way before the swinging
stride of the Waler, but she presses him hard, too hard for the last
fence, easy as it is. They rise almost at the same second. It is the
mare's last chance against those longer, clumsier legs, and she gains
it. Blue-and-white sways in his saddle as his beast, touching the rail,
staggers, jumps short, and rolls over easily. Green, half a length
behind, is alongside in a second, but a second too late; for Lewis
Gordon wins by that second, and no more.

Rose, who for the last minute has been completely blinded by the
beating of her own heart, was left alone amid feminine congratulations,
the men having gone to offer theirs in person to the winner.

'Oh, Jimmy, my boy! I wish I'd said thousands, mourned Major Davenant
as he passed his pal in the outer tent.

Jimmy whistled softly. 'Just as well you didn't; they claim a foul for
Green, and it looks bad. I wish you had been on. Williams and Gray are
such duffers, and Van Souter'--a shrug of the shoulders completed his
meaning effectually.

'A foul! Well, I must own it looked like one to me. What does Gordon
say?'

'Looks black as thunder. Go inside and see. Most of the field swear to
it; but it isn't like Gordon.'

There was not much judicial serenity about the inquiry which was being
made in the steward's tent; nor much of the pomp and circumstance of
justice either. Nothing but a bare tent, a cane-bottomed chair or two,
and the weighing-machine, where Lewis still sat listening to Dalel Beg,
who was volunteering information. An Englishman in like position would
have been told to hold his tongue; but what are vaguely termed
political considerations affect the question in regard to the native
nobility, especially at headquarters.

'I beg your pardon, I'm sure,' interrupted one of the judges
diffidently; 'but if you will allow me--since the claim is
made--perhaps Mr. Crosbie--that is, I think, your name, sir?--will
kindly tell us what occurred.'

The man in green silk bowed. He was a gentlemanly-looking man, with a
suspicion of past military training in his carriage.

'I regret it excessively, and I am sure it was quite unintentional on
Mr. Gordon's part, but there can be no question about the foul. As most
of those present can bear me out in saying, I had taken and kept the
inner place fairly. Mr. Gordon was riding for it also. At the corner
post his mount was too eager, and the foul occurred. So violently that,
as you see, two buttons have been almost wrenched off my breeches. I
quite admit that I recovered an outside place without much delay; but I
beg to remind the judges that the race was lost by a second.'

'And I beg to remind the judges,' added the Blue-and-white jacket,
'that I was on a level with Mr. Crosbie and Mr. Gordon, a little
farther out, and saw the whole affair. It was not Mr. Gordon's fault;
but the foul was indubitable.'

'And what have you to say about it, Mr. Gordon?'

'I?' He rose quietly and went over to Green. 'I should advise Mr.
Crosbie to try benzine collas. It's the best thing I know for taking
paint off breeches--doesn't stain at all. By the way, Davenant, I've
often told you that is a most awkward post. It's just on the angle, and
if you haven't perfect control over your beast, it is almost sure to go
the wrong side, as Mr. Crosbie's did, and then, if the thing is newly
painted as it is to-day you--you spoil your clothes.'

He turned on his heel as he drawled out the last words and walked away.

'I utterly deny, I--I--it is impossible----' stuttered Green and Blue
together.

He looked back from the door. 'Exactly so; I leave you, gentlemen, to
settle how Mr. Crosbie got that red paint on his left knee, when,
according to you, he was hugging the post with his right. It is an
interesting question, and I shall be glad to hear the judges, decision,
when they have arrived at it.'

He was in a towering temper despite his cool words; and Mrs. Boynton
felt quite a pang of alarm as he apologised curtly for not being able
to wait for her, saying he was in a hurry to get home to some important
work. That, however--as she noticed keenly--did not prevent him from
spending five minutes beside Rose Tweedie in eager conversation. Of
course, Lewis Gordon was not such a fatuous idiot as to allow the mere
gain or loss of half a dozen pairs of kid gloves to affect his
arrangements for the future; but it certainly affected him in the
present, and Gwen was quite aware of the fact, and felt glad that the
proceedings of the _pari mutual_ were strictly confidential. As she
went home, listening gracefully to George Keene's adoring small-talk,
her mind was full of care. Now at these periods of life when the sun
stands still in the heavens, and a man acquires the art of talking
about the most trivial details in a tone which is a caress, he is apt
to pall, unless the caress means as much to the woman. So Gwen sent
George home from the turn up to her house, and went alone through the
scented pine-woods, where the long shadows lay across the path. Her
face, now there was no necessity for a smile, looked haggard and
anxious; utterly out of keeping with the luxury of her surroundings,
and the comfort of the flower-decked verandah, where the ayah stood
waiting to receive her mistress. Some one else was waiting too, in
highly starched muslin and a low-wound white pugree showing a triangle
of pale-pink folds above the forehead. A smirk was on his face, a
wooden pen-box under his arm, and an attendant was squatting beside
more boxes done up in a Manchester handkerchief.

'Mem sahiba see my thing? Gold-work, Delhi-work, Cashmir-work--all
work.'

He thrust a card into her hand--


                      'Manohar Lâl, from Delhi.'


She turned away quickly. 'I don't want anything. Ayah! how often have I
told you never to let these people come?'

'Manohar Lâl say he know Mem sahiba,' murmured the ayah sulkily, moving
off with the wraps.

'No need to buy, Huzoor,' said the crafty lips. 'I have good things to
look. Or I buy. Anything. Gold-work, silver-work, pearls. I buy three
big pearls of lady in Rajpore last months. Shall I open boxes, Huzoor?'

'Yes; you can open them,' said Gwen quickly.



                             CHAPTER XVI


Deodars and soft green stretches of turf, surrounded by a map of Asia
in high relief; silver streaks of rivers at the bottom of the map;
snowy peaks and passes at the top of the map, just as if they were set
there to show comparative lengths and heights. Such was the scene from
the ridge chosen out for what is called a Rajah's picnic. What Rajah or
Maharajah, what Nizam or Nawab, matters not. Some one of the many
feudatories who crowd to prefer their claims to something at Simla had
asserted his dignity by giving a picnic to society, and society had
consented to come and eat _pâte de foie gras_ and drink champagne on a
hill-side, at the expense of a man to whom one or other of these two
things was an abomination. That is the case in a nutshell; and so long
as the _pâte_ was not bought cheap from a box-wallah, and the champagne
was drinkable, nobody cared whether the host was or was not performing
the whole duty of man in tempting his fellows to do those things which
he himself considered worthy of purgatorial pains. But then, to
nine-tenths of the guests the host was a mere lay figure imported into
society on certain occasions, in order to give it local colour by the
display of gold tissue and diamonds.

Barring the shock it gives to first principles in some minds, a Rajah's
entertainment is generally pleasant enough; never more so than when it
takes the form of a picnic--which, by the way, the natives translate
adroitly into pâgul khâna, or 'fool's dinner.' This one was no
exception to the rule. Two huge flat-roofed tents, open on all sides
save for a deep valance of gay appliqué-work, and supported by fern and
flower-wreathed poles, served as marquees, where a most elaborate lunch
was laid out in a style worthy of the great Simla caterer. What the
cost was to be per head to the unfortunate noble playing the part of
host is a trivial detail. So, to him, was the lunch itself, seeing that
in this particular case, the host was a Hindu of the strictest caste;
too pure, too proud even to sit down at a table spread with such
abhorred viands. His part consisted, therefore, in receiving the
company in a Cashmir shawl tent with silver poles, yawning between the
handshakes, and thereinafter, when the outcasts were safely started on
the champagne and the _pâte_, jolting back joyfully in a _jhan-pan_ to
Simla in order to purify himself in unmentionable ways before eating
his own dinner. The next day or the day after he would pay the bills,
some official would be told off to congratulate him on the success of
the entertainment; perhaps, if he was a great swell, to say that
H---- E----y had enjoyed it immensely. And then the only thing
remaining to be done would be to enter the cost in the State accounts.
Under what heading outsiders cannot presume to say; possibly
civilisation.

But none of the guests troubled themselves about these details. The sky
was blue as blue could be, the grey bloom on the spreading deodar
branches glinted white in the strong light, the shadows beneath them
showed black. Across the valley, contours of terraced crops round a
cluster of apricot-trees marked the village sites. Blue air lay between
you and them, blue air between them and the snows, blue air gave a
thousand iridescent tints to the plains rolling up into the southern
sky beyond the dotted ridge of Simla. And below you, drifting up the
valleys like grazing sheep, were little fleecy mist-clouds,
inconsequent, hopelessly astray.

'Poor things! How lost they look!' said Gwen gaily, pointing at them
with her white lace parasol.

'A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind,' quoted one of her circle.
'Mrs. Boynton knows what it is for a heavenly being to be condemned to
earth.'

'That sounds prettier than it is. An angel astray! Lewis! defend me
from my friends!'

She turned to him with the prettiest air of appeal, the sweetest
confidence in a regard, which to the outside world was cousinly, to
these two something more. Such a bait seldom fails to rouse a man's
vanity, even if it leaves his heart untouched.

'My dear Gwen,' he replied readily, 'there is no need for defence. The
angel is not astray since you are here with us, and we are in
Paradise.'

George Keene applauded with both hands as he sat at her feet looking
out over the plains. Once more it seemed incredible that there should
be such a place on God's earth as Hodinuggur.

'Well, some of us will be sitting at the gate thereof disconsolate ere
long,' remarked a man leaning against a rock, with a cup of black
coffee and a cigarette. 'By the way, Keene, we might share a tonga the
day after tomorrow.'

'Mr. Keene is not going,' interrupted Mrs. Boynton quickly. 'No one
wants him down there, and we need dancing men dreadfully. Miss Tweedie
had spoken to her father about it?'

'And you?'

The question, which came almost in a whisper, was answered by a smile
only; but it brought a sort of mist to George Keene's young eyes as he
looked out over the plains again. The spiritual exaltation of it all
was almost too much at times for the hard-headed young fellow who had
clothed his own honest uprightness with a woman's softness and
sweetness, in order to worship it.

Now, as a matter of fact, Mrs. Boynton had said nothing to Colonel
Tweedie about the lad's leave; still, as she fully intended doing so in
the course of the afternoon, her smile was perhaps excusable. 'What is
more, she kept to her intention. Half an hour afterwards any one rash
enough to do so might have interrupted a _tête-à-tête_ she was
conceding to the Colonel in the shade of a huge deodar tree to one side
of a level stretch where two mud tennis-courts had been laid out. But
no one did. A certain officialdom prevails in Simla society, and the
heads of departments have recognised rights and privileges. The
Colonel, however, would scarcely have admitted that he owed his good
fortune to his seniority, for he felt juvenile in a new lounge suit
with very baggy trousers--quite the thing for lolling about in on the
grass while a pretty woman leant over the shafts of the _dandy_ she was
using as a seat, and asked for your opinion on a number of trivial
personal questions. Yet Gwen Boynton was in earnest about it all--to
judge from her eyes--as she let the conversation drift further afield.

'He is such a nice boy--one of those boys who make a woman think how
delightful it would be to have a son in her old age. But he looks as if
he would be the better of another week in the hills; and I suppose even
you cannot manage that.'

He smiled condescendingly.

'The Lieutenant-Governor might object, of course.'

'Then you can! Ah! Colonel Tweedie, if you would! He really isn't fit
to go down, and Mr. Fitzgerald, who is as strong as a horse, could
easily stop at Hodinuggur. He wouldn't like it, of course, but it won't
hurt him. Only----' She paused, looked at her companion, and shook her
head gravely.

'Only?' echoed her elderly admirer, his heart, which had melted like
wax at her cavalier mention of Dan, stiffening again at what might be
consideration for that most ill-advised person.

'Only George won't consent to that, I'm afraid. He has such a
ridiculous attachment to Mr. Fitzgerald. And I suppose it would be
quite impossible to leave the place even for a few days without a
really first-class man in charge. What a comfort it must be for you to
have officers on whom you can rely, like Mr. Fitzgerald.'

Colonel Tweedie gave his little preparatory cough. 'No doubt,
no doubt. At the same time, I am not aware that Mr. Fitzgerald's
presence--er--is so--er--indispensable. The fact is, my dear Mrs.
Boynton, that, owing--er--to previous occurrences, we were anxious to
keep him out--er--out of the responsibility as much as possible. In
fact, but for his own request I should not--er--have arranged for
him to take Mr. Keene's work at all. To refuse, however, would
have--er--given rise to--er--unfounded comment, and so----'

She interrupted his halting mixture of dignity and desire to be at once
considerate and captious with a sigh.

'Poor Mr. Fitzgerald, he has been unlucky. And I suppose if anything
were to go wrong when he was there you would have to take notice of it.
How dreadful for him! Perhaps, after all, it would be better for George
to go back. One would need to be omnipotent to carry out all one's
kindly impulses, wouldn't one, Colonel Tweedie? And we women are so
helpless.'

He leant forward and laid his hand close to hers as it rested on the
framework of the _dandy_. 'Unless you have a stronger arm at your
disposal, as you have now--my dear lady--if only for your kindness to
my daughter, and, as you say, young Keene is not quite the thing.
Besides--I--I mean you--I mean there are privileges which----'

What those privileges were remained unexplained, though Gwen, no doubt,
had a shrewd guess at them, for, just at that moment Dalel Beg, having
no fear of Departments before his eyes, came swaggering up in a
bright-green velvet coat.

'Aha, you here! Hi, you kitmutghar, bring me champagne cup. Jolly,
Tweedie, ain't it?' The Colonel's face belied the proposition, but the
new-comer was not one of those who look for support to surroundings; he
was a law unto himself only. 'You see I wear swagger clothes like you,
Mrs. Boynton. Rajah Sahib old-style man, so I come as native of India
to please him. He is neighbour, Mrs. Boynton, by Hodinuggur, down
waste-water canal cut. You give him water, sir, he give you lakhs on
lakhs.'

This time the Colonel's expression was a study, but Gwen, despite her
usually keen sense of the ludicrous, did not add a smile to the Mirza
sahib's crackling laugh.

'I regret,' began the head of the Department loftily, but Dalel's mind
was full of one thing only, and that was himself; his immense
superiority over the Rajah Sahib, his equality with the sahib-logues.

'Hi, kitmutghar. _Ai, soor ke butcha kyon nahin sunté ho?_ (Ah, son of
a pig, why don't you listen?) _Ek_ glass curaçoa. Cup what you call
hog-wash, eh, Tweedie? Rajah, poor chap, know nothing about cup.
Khansamah do him in the eye, hee, hee! Poor old chappie. Gone home to
do poojah and have baths. What rot!'

'Will you take me to get a cup of coffee?' said Gwen hastily to Colonel
Tweedie. 'I won't trouble you to bring it here; it spills so in the
saucer and then it drops over one's best frock.'

The courteous excuse for escape, which came quite naturally to Gwen's
lips, pleased neither of her companions. The gracious instinct
prompting it, which to Colonel Tweedie seemed uncalled for, was totally
lost on the Mirza. He scowled after her, and muttering something as he
tossed off the curaçoa, went off to bestow his favours elsewhere.

A minute or two afterwards, George Keene ran up to the empty _dandy_
and pushed something under the cushion.

'She won't mind,' he said half aloud, 'and it's safer there than in the
tent. Wouldn't do to lose it here, of all places in the world. All
right, Markham, I'm coming! Spin for court. Rough? Rough it is. If I'd
only known they were going to put me up in the doubles, I'd have come
in flannels.'

With coat and waistcoat off, however, his white shirtsleeves rolled up,
showing young, white round arms, and his Cooper's Hill scarf doing duty
as a belt, George looked workman-like enough to play in the impromtu
match of civil against military; and being of wholesome mind and person
straightway forgot the round world in the effort to keep one ball
a-rolling.

The sun hung in the west above a frilled edging of lilac-tinted hills,
the snows began to glisten, the valleys on either side grew fathomless
as the mist rose from the streams dashing through them. On the ridge
itself the deodars sent long shadows eastward, though the yellow
sunshine still seemed to crisp the tufted parsley-fern among which
civilisation grouped itself in cliques and sets for afternoon tea, and
in which the servants, decked in gorgeous liveries for the occasion,
flitted about like gay butterflies. A great content was on all; perhaps
the memory of an excellent lunch lingered with the men, the gratifying
consciousness of being well-dressed with the women, but the most of
them felt that it was good to be there, transfigured, as it were, on a
hill-top, forgetful even of Simla, whose shingled roofs showed on a
jagged outline to the south. Yet Gwen Boynton, who, as a rule, would
have shown at her best in such a scene, a situation, a society, pleaded
a headache as an excuse for getting away early; so that when George
came back to where he expected to find her _dandy_, she was already on
her way back to Simla.

'What is it, Mr. Keene?' asked Rose, who was mounting her pony close
by.

'Oh, nothing; only I put my watch and keys under the cushion of Mrs.
Boynton's _dandy_, and now she has gone off. If you see her on the
road, you might tell her. I have to play a return match--bad luck to
it!'

'You don't look very unhappy,' laughed the girl, as he finished the
task of putting her up by professional little tugs at her habit to make
it sit wrinkle-less. 'And oh! by the way, it's all right about your
leave. Father has arranged it; he told me so just now.'

'How good you are! If I could only leave my interests in your hands,
always, the future would have no terrors for me, as they say in the
melodramas. Good-bye, Miss Tweedie, till dinner-time, and--you won't
forget about the watch, will you? I don't want Mrs. Boynton----'

'I'll take care she doesn't make off with it,' interrupted Rose,
wilfully unsympathetic, as she moved away at a walk. A hundred yards or
so along the broad ride--which had been cut for the occasion in the
hill-side from the high road to the picnic place--a zigzag bridle-path
led down into the valley. Rose had never ridden that way, but she knew
that, once at the stream below her, a recognised short cut would take
her direct to her destination. At the worst, she might have to dismount
and lead her horse for a while, and there was something decidedly
fascinating in a downward path at all times, more especially when every
step showed something new stealing into vision out of a blue mist. In
addition, she would avoid the rush of people, and of late Rose Tweedie
had found a large proportion of her fellow-creatures very tiresome;
perhaps because humanity is only gifted with a certain capacity for
liking, and she expended too much of hers on one person. The first mile
or so fully justified her choice; the path, if steep, was safe, and,
after passing over a small bridge, she was about to follow a track,
apparently leading down the right side of the ravine to the road below,
when she heard a faint shout behind her to the left. With her
experience of the Himalayas, she stopped instantly, knowing she must be
on the wrong track, and retraced her steps, expecting, after a few
turns, to come on the shepherd or coolie, who, having seen her from
above, had raised the warning cry. Instead of this she came on Lewis
Gordon, riding at what was really a breakneck pace for the style of the
path. He pulled up suddenly.

'Miss Tweedie! you don't mean to say it was you I saw on the other
bank? I had half a mind not to shout, for a man with a clever pony
could do it easily. What a piece of luck for you I did!'

She flushed up at once. 'I'm afraid I don't see it in that light. I've
no doubt I could have done it as easily as a man, and it is annoying to
be brought back half a mile out of your road for nothing.'

'Unless that road happens to be a mile longer to begin with, as it is
in this case,' replied Lewis coolly. 'But you really ought not to have
tried the short cut alone. Your father, of course, had arranged to meet
the Lieut.-Governor, and Keene couldn't get away; but if you had asked
me, I should have been delighted to do my duty--I suppose you won't let
me say pleasure; that is reserved for my juniors.' There was a certain
snappishness in the conclusion of his speech which somehow appeased
Rose's wrath.

The futility of many proverbs has scarcely a better example than that
one which sets the orthodox number for anger at two, when almost
universally it is either one or three. For the spectacle of another man
losing his temper is almost sure to soothe the first offender, unless
dispassionate humanity reappears in the shape of a spectator. So Rose
said sweetly that he was always very kind, and she certainly would have
asked him to pioneer her, had she anticipated any difficulty; since no
one could give a better lead over than Bronzewing and her rider. And
then, having reached the valley and a broader path, they dawdled along
it at a walk beside the very edge of a stream splashing and dashing
over its pebbly bed, and curving round tiny meadows just large enough
to serve as a stand for some huge walnut tree. The soft mist they had
seen from above, now they were in it, only intensified the blueness of
the shadows or the gold of the sunlight following the contours of the
hills. Down in the hollows the maiden-hair fern grew like a forest, out
in the open great turk's-cap lilies rose higher than the blue and white
columbines, and in every cranny the potentilla hung out its bunches of
scarlet, tasteless, strawberry-like fruit.

Side by side they strolled for a mile or more, along a level grassy
path, as if there were no such thing as effort in the world, as if
civilisation and comfort, dinner and bed, all the necessaries of life
in fact, did not lie two thousand feet or so over their heads.

'This way, I'm afraid,' said Lewis at last, turning his pony into a
road joining the path at right angles; an engineered road with drains
and retaining walls, scientific, uninteresting, guiltless of ups and
downs, facing the ascent evenly.

'Oh dear!' cried Rose in tones of regret. And then they both laughed.
But the peace of the valley went with them, so that their gay chatter
echoed up the zigzagging road to where glimpses of a _dandy_ toiling on
ahead showed through the trees. Its occupant looking downwards could
see them far below, the girl in front, the man behind, their voices
becoming clearer and clearer, until just at the last turn where the
zigzag merged into the high road, each careless word was distinctly
audible as they came scrambling up below the retaining wall, which at
this point carried the branch to its junction with the main road. Gwen
Boynton's hand closed tight on the shaft of her _dandy_, partly in
sympathy with her thoughts, partly because the coolies swung round the
last corner sharply. The wall, which was not two feet high at the first
turn sloped rapidly up to some fifteen feet before ending in the one
which supported the big road. As is usually the case, it was built in
steps or terraces giving the required slant of support. Just as the
_dandy_ was at the turn of the road a horseman, followed by two mounted
orderlies, came clattering along it; perhaps this frightened Rose's
pony; perhaps the sudden swerve of the _dandy_ to get out of the
new-comer's way just as the girl was about to pass it, actually forced
her mount into shying and backing. Anyhow, it did. There was a
struggle, a rattle of stones over the edge, a slip, then a jerk back as
the beast found a momentary foothold for its hind legs on the narrow
step some two feet down. A cry of dismay broke from the spectators--for
with the next movement a fall backwards seemed inevitable--but it ended
in one of relief, as Rose wheeled the pony clear round with swift
decision, and giving it a cut with her whip leapt into the road below.
It was a bold stroke for life instead of death, and as the pony came on
its knees with the shock, it seemed for an instant as if both it and
its rider must go rolling over and over down the side of the hill. The
next they had both struggled to their feet, and stood quivering all
over, but safe and absolutely unhurt. Lewis, who had pulled up at the
corner aghast with impotent horror, was back beside them, almost
incoherent in his relief and admiration.

'And--and--I only had a snaffle,' said Rose with a tremulous laugh not
far removed from tears. She felt it imperative, if she were to be calm,
that they should descend to commonplace at once, being aided in this by
Dalel Beg, who having reined in at the sight of a disaster for which he
was partly responsible, was now standing by Gwen's _dandy_ oblivious of
apology.

'Shâhbâsh. Well done indeed. Pretty! pretty. You are rippin' rider,
Miss Tweedie. If you race, you win like Gordon. Aha! Gordon. I
congratulate you for lucky accident of paint. That Crosbie take me in
also. He swore it was foul, Mrs. Boynton, and I thought I saw foul--you
believe that, eh, Gordon?'

Lewis, to whom the temporising decision of the judges, that foul or no
foul, Mr. Crosbie was out of it by having been at the wrong side of
some post at some part of the course, had been irritating, scowled up
at the group above.

'I am sure you saw foul,' he replied. 'Now, Miss Tweedie, if you
please. The beast is all right and the sooner you get home for a quiet
rest the better.'

He was so occupied with the shock to her that he scarcely seemed to
realise that it must have been one to his cousin also, though Rose as
she passed paused to say that she was absolutely unhurt and that it was
nobody's fault but her own for riding an unsteady pony on the hills.
They had gone on nearly half a mile before she recollected George
Keene's message.

'I don't see the necessity for going back at all,' said Lewis crossly,
'but since you are so determined to obey orders, I'll go. If you ride
on at a reasonable pace I'll catch you up again in no time---- What was
it he left in her _dandy_?'

'His watch,' called Rose after him.

As he galloped back his temper was none of the best. He objected to a
great many things. To George's familiarity with Gwen, to Rose's
familiarity with George, and as he came on the _dandy_, to Dalel Beg's
familiarity with it; for the Mirza had dismounted and was walking along
with his hand on the shaft--just like an Englishman. The sight enlarged
the focus of Lewis's displeasure, making it include Gwen.

'It was only a message from Keene,' he said curtly in reply to her
welcoming smile. 'He asked Miss Tweedie to tell you, but she forgot; so
I came back. He put his watch in your _dandy_ to keep it safe.'

'His watch!' echoed Gwen, feeling at the same time among the cushions.
'Yes! here it is. Lewis! what am I to do with it? Won't you take it?'
For, without drawing rein he had turned his pony and was riding off. He
looked back carelessly.

'Keep it, I suppose, till Keene comes to claim it. That won't be long.'

As he rounded the next curve in the road, Mrs. Boynton and Dalel Beg
were left face to face with George Keene's watch between them. It had a
Chubb's key attached to the chain, and Dalel Beg's eyes, as he stood
beside the _dandy_, clothed in a green velvet coat and European
rowdyism, were attached to the key. Gwen's were on Lewis's retreating
figure, and there was real jealousy and anger at her heart.

An hour and a half later, George, galloping the hired pony along the
Mall after the manner of very young men on hired ponies, pulled up at
the side of Mrs. Boynton's _dandy_ in pleased surprise.

'I'm so glad!' she exclaimed before he could say a word; 'there is your
watch.'

As she handed it over to him their eyes met, and his took an expression
of concern.

'I'm afraid your headache is very bad. You should have been at home
hours ago.'

'On the contrary, it is better,' she replied quickly. 'I came by the
low road and dawdled. Besides, I had to call at the dressmaker's, and
she kept me waiting for ages. By the way, Colonel Tweedie says you are
to have another week's leave----'

'So his daughter told me. How good you both are to me! Only, Hodinuggur
will be worse than ever--afterwards.'

He would have liked to say 'after Paradise,' but he refrained. She gave
a nervous little laugh.

'Don't think of it yet. I hate thinking. It does no good, for one never
knows what mayn't happen. You are safe for a week, anyhow.'

As she lay awake that night in defiance of her own wisdom, thinking
over the matter in all its bearings, she told herself that he was safe
for more than a week. Every one was safe. At the worst, Dan might lose
his promotion, but even that would be no unmixed evil if it forced him
into independence. Indeed, if he knew of her worries, of the snare laid
for her, of the covert hints about an _esclandre_ involving both him
and George Keene which were wearing her to death, he would gladly
sacrifice something for the sake of safety. If by any chance the sluice
were to be opened during that week of absence, how it would simplify
the whole business! And, after all, what had she done? nothing. Surely
a woman might go and see her dressmaker sometimes and leave her _dandy_
outside? Was it her fault if the dressmaker lived in a house close to
the bazaar in full view of Manohar Lâl's shop? Was it her fault if the
coolies slipped away to smoke their hookahs? Was it her fault that the
key of the sluice was behind the cushions of the _dandy_, and that
Dalel Beg knew it was there? What had she done? What had she said?
Nothing. Had she not set aside the Mirza's suggestion that she should
look in on Manohar Lâl's new jewelry on her way home, by saying that
she had no time, that she must go to the dressmaker's? Had she not
hitherto refused to listen to hints or threats? Had she not even defied
Manohar Lâl? And now would it really be her fault if any one had taken
advantage of her absence? Gwen turned her face into the pillow and
moaned helplessly, telling herself that never was woman before so beset
by misfortune. She had meant no harm, yet George had given her the pot,
and Dan had taken the jewels to Manohar Lâl's. There was no proof, of
course, but the _esclandre_ would kill her, and that must be averted at
all costs.



                             CHAPTER XVII


Mrs. Boynton was physically incapable of being constant to anything
disagreeable, even to her own thoughts. The love of ease which came
uppermost in her made it impossible; so, as she sat waiting for George
Keene on the following evening, she had forgotten the vague remorses
and regrets which had assailed her the night before. All she chose to
remember was the fact that both George and Dan would be away from
Hodinuggur _if anything happened_. What more could any one ask from one
in her position? She made a pretty picture in the pretty room. A wood
fire blazed on the hearth, a scent of English flowers filled the air.
Everything, from the books on the table to the graceful figure in white
satin and pearls on the wicker chair, told a tale of delicacy and
refinement, of what it is the fashion nowadays to call culture. On the
mantelpiece, among a Noah's Ark of china beasts, and supported by a
placid brass Buddha, George Keene's sketch of the dust-storm, the
_kikar_-tree, and the rat-hole, struck a dissonant note in the general
harmony; but Gwen's ears were too much attuned to content for her to
notice it. Briefly, she was full of solid relief; not only because
escape from a tight corner seemed assured, but that such relief had
come in the nick of time. For Lewis Gordon had been over to tea, saying
things which made it imperative that something definite should be
settled about Dan's promotion and prospects. Saying, for instance, that
he was growing sick of doing orderly duty at the Tweedies, house, and
wanted one of his own. That she needed a firm hand to prevent her
wasting her pension on _pari mutuels_, and beneath these jesting
complaints she had seen real discontent and a determination for change
in the future. And was he not right? Her whole mind gave its assent to
his wisdom. What an unspeakable relief it would be to find herself back
in a straight path; not only for her own sake, but for the sake of
others--of those two especially whom she had implicated all
unwittingly. But for them she would have defied the plotters; but for
them she would never have stooped to flatter Dalel Beg, and take shawls
and ornaments at nominal prices from Manohar Lâl; to do any of those
things, in short, with which their covert hints had forced her to rivet
the chain which bound her to deceit. At least so she told herself, but
then she was a proficient in the art of playing the thimble trick on
her own mind, and, as often as not, was really incapable of saying
where the motive power of her own actions lay. So, as she sat in the
wicker chair waiting for George Keene, she felt quite virtuous over the
sacrifice of her own honourable instincts on the shrine of friendship.
Even if _anything did happen_, all real blame would lie with Colonel
Tweedie for allowing both George and Dan to be absent; but what was
blame to the head of a Department? It slipped from him like water from
a duck's back. And then, in regard to the water itself? Even Lewis
allowed that the poor people might just as well have it as not----'

'Keene sahib _salaam deta_,' said the servant, interrupting her
soliloquy of smooth things. She rose with outstretched hand and kindly
smile.

'Punctual as ever. We shall be in time for number two----' then she
paused abruptly in careless surprise. George, who had been told off as
escort during the three-mile _dandy_ ride to the Town Hall, was still
in his light morning suit. Smart enough in his new shirts and ties, and
with a carnation in his buttonhole, but still scarcely in the costume
for a bachelors' ball. 'What is the matter? Aren't you coming?' she
asked quickly as he stood silent yet disturbed, for the sight of her
always had the nature of an electric shock upon him.

'To see you so far, of course. To the ball? I'm afraid not. You see I
have to start to-night.'

'Start? Where?

'For Hodinuggur; where else?' He spoke lightly, but his face
contradicted his tone. When is it a light matter to leave Paradise?

'Nonsense!' broke in Gwen sharply, startled out of all save negation.
'You must not go.'

'Must, I'm afraid,' he echoed, and his voice was a trifle unsteady.
'You see,' he went on more confidently, 'I ought never to have taken
that offer of extra leave. I knew it at the time, but I thought Dan
would stop, and the temptation---- However, I'm off now.'

'Now?' she echoed in her turn, still lost in her surprise.

'To-night I mean. Of course I have no chance of a tonga, so I must go
by dhooli. It is a bore, but it can't be helped.'

The phrase seemed to bolster up his manliness, and he smiled at her.
Such a pleasant-faced boy! so clean, so wholesome, so full of promise
for the future. A pang shot through Gwen's heart at the sight of him
and roused quick opposition to unlucky chance.

'But why? It isn't as if you were keeping him--I mean Mr. Fitzgerald.
We settled all that; he goes back to Rajpore all the same.'

'So Gordon told me this afternoon. That is why I must return--the place
can't be left alone, of course.' As he stood leaning against the
mantelpiece his eye caught his own sketch, and he took it up half
mechanically. 'To think I shall be back in that hole the day after
to-morrow,' he said with a short laugh. He felt very sore, yet
determined to face his pain in dignified fashion. 'Meanwhile,' he
added, 'you must not be late. Is that your cloak?'

The futility of being tactful, even for your most familiar friends, was
being borne in upon Gwen Boynton with the remembrance of her own
certainty that Dan Fitzgerald's return to Rajpore must be necessary to
the lad's acceptance of the leave. And here he was declaring it to be
the stumbling-block! The thought sapped the very foundation of her
general security, and made the results which this change in his plans
might produce in hers strike her confusedly. She set aside the wrap he
held out, with quite a tremulous hand.

'You are very foolish. Nobody wants you to go. Even Dan----'

'Perhaps,' he interrupted, feeling set up, as it were, by her evident
regret. 'But, if anything were to go wrong, you know, I should never
forgive myself.'

The words were to a certain extent quite meaningless to him; he did not
even seriously contemplate the possibility they suggested and yet they
roused her fears, her regrets.

'But if anything were to go wrong,' she answered, forgetting caution in
her eagerness, 'it would be better you should be away. Surely you must
see that it would be better for you both to be away--if--if _anything
should happen_.'

He smiled indulgently. 'But nothing can happen if I am there. And it
means such a lot to Dan. I think I told you that he is engaged to a
girl----'

'Yes! yes! I know; I know. But, as I said, if I were the girl----' She
broke off hurriedly, then began again. 'George, what has that to do
with the question? Nothing will happen, of course, and then you will
have lost your pleasure for nothing. Don't go! It is foolish. It is
unkind--when we all want you to stay--when I want you--I do indeed--you
will stay, won't you, George?--just to please me.'

To do her justice, she seldom stooped to use her own personal charm as
she did then, wilfully; but the case was urgent--the boy must not go.
George stared at her incredulously for a moment. 'Don't,' he said in a
low voice; 'please don't.'

'But it is true, George,' she went on, laying her hand on his arm. 'I
do want you to stay; I do indeed.'

His hand met hers suddenly, almost unconsciously, to fall away from it
again in a gesture of quick renunciation.

'No! no!' he began in the same low tones, 'it isn't true--how can it be
true?' Then his whole nature seemed to cast reserve aside, and his
voice rose passionately. 'Why should you care? I have never thought you
could--never--I swear to you never! How could I? Do you not see it is
only what you are to me, not what I am to you? What does that matter?
But for the other--for what you have been, and are, and will be all my
life?--Ah! that is different--Yet you know that! well enough--you must
know--for I can't tell it--not even to you.'

And there, English boy as he was, she saw him on his knee stooping to
kiss the hem of her garment. It was cut in the latest fashion, full
round the edge, and bordered by pearls of great size. They might have
been of great price also--the Hodinuggur pearls, for instance--and
George been none the wiser. He saw nothing but a blaze of light through
the open gates of heaven showing him a woman, transfigured, glorified?
And she? There was nothing before her eyes save a boy at her feet--a
very ordinary boy, whose every-day admiration she had accepted
carelessly; yet it was she who, covering her face with her hands,
shrank back as if blinded.

'Don t,' she cried in sharp accents of pain. 'You don't know--I--I
don't like it.'

He was on his feet again in an instant, blushing, confused. 'I--I beg
your pardon,' he stammered. 'I don't know what induced me to--to behave
like--like a fool.'

In sober truth he did not, being all unused to self-analysis, and far
too young to understand his own instinctive recoil from the cheap
cajolery which had caused his outburst. But she was older; she
understood. He would not let her stoop, and yet--ah, God! how low she
had stooped already! So the emotion she had wantonly provoked in him
caught her and swept her from her feet.

'Oh, George!' she cried, coming a step nearer and thrusting her hands
into his as if to hold him fast and make him listen. 'It was a mistake!
I meant no harm--no harm to any one--least of all to you.'

'No harm!' he echoed blankly. 'What harm have you done?'

She looked at him, realising her own imprudence, yet for all that not
sufficiently mistress of herself for caution. A worse woman than she
might have kept silence; but she could not. The shame, the dread of
betraying the lad who trusted her so utterly forced her on.

'Don't ask, George!' she pleaded. 'I can't tell you--indeed there is
nothing to tell. Only you must not go down to Hodinuggur now. Believe
me, it is better you should not. I can give you no reason, but it is
so. Don't go, George, for my sake.

'For your sake,' he echoed, still more blankly. 'Why? I don't
understand--Mrs. Boynton, I----' He paused; his hand went up in a
fierce gesture, and came down in still fiercer clasp on the
mantelpiece. His eyes left her face, shifting their startled,
incredulous gaze to his own grim jest leaning against the brass Buddha.
'Unless--unless----'

There was a dead silence.

'If there is anything to tell,' he said at last, 'tell it me for God's
sake; it would be better--than this. Why am I to stay?--for your sake.'

Tell! How could she tell the horrible truth; and yet if he knew all he
might be able to help. Then the need of support, the craving for
sympathy, which at all times make it hard for a woman in trouble to
keep her own counsel, fought against the evasion suggested by caution.

'Oh, George! I meant no harm--I did not, indeed.' The weak appeal for
mercy, which presages so many a miserable confession, struck cold to
the lad's heart. He walked over to the table and flung himself into a
chair, hiding his face in his clasped hands.

'You had better tell me everything,' he said in a muffled voice. 'Then
I shall know what to do--don't be afraid--it--it won't make any
difference.'

Once more his words roused her self-scorn and made her forget herself
for a time. 'But it must make a difference, I want it to make a
difference,' she cried hotly, crossing to the table in her turn, and
seating herself opposite him. 'Yes! I will tell you. It is the only
thing to be done now.'

She was never a woman given to sobs and tears, and even through the
shame of it all, there was a relief in telling the tale.

'Yes! yes!' he said once, interrupting that ever recurring plea of her
own innocence of evil intent, 'of course you meant no harm. So you took
the jewels and sold them to Manohar Lâl for six thousand rupees.'

The fact, recounted in his hard, hurt voice, seemed to strike her in
its true light for the first time, and she looked up wildly from the
resting-place her head had found upon her bare crossed arms.

'Did 11, she asked, pushing the curls from her forehead. 'Yes, I
suppose I did. It seems incredible now. Oh, George, what shall I do?
what shall I do?'

It did seem incredible, and yet his fears as to what she might yet have
to tell him, proved his credence of what he had already heard.

'You had better go on,' he answered dully. 'I can't say what is to be
done till I have heard all.'

The sound of his own voice shocked him. Was it possible that he was
sitting calmly listening to such a story from her lips and asking her
to go on? The curse of the commonplace seemed to settle upon him,
depriving him even of his right to passionate emotion.

'Is that all?' he asked wearily, when she had told him of everything
save the empty _dandy_ waiting outside the dressmaker's shop. His
question came more from the desire to help her along should there be
more to tell than from curiosity or fear. Since, from the very
beginning, he had been vexedly conscious of his own relief in
remembering that she had returned his watch and chain before she had
even reached home.

The query, however, roused in her a sudden fierce resentment against
her own humiliation. Every syllable of that story, now that it was
told, seemed an outrage on that love of smooth things which was her
chief characteristic, and a sort of vague wonder at her own confidence
made her answer swiftly.

'That is all I know. Is it not enough?' After all, it was true; what
more was there to tell save the barest possibilities?

Her reply left George face to face with action, yet he sat on silent,
unable even to speak. At last he rose, and crossing to where she leant
face downwards over the table, stood beside her with quivering lips. 'I
am sorry,' he began, then stopped before the fatuity of his own words.

'Do you think I am not sorry too?' she broke in recklessly, raising
herself to look him full in the eyes. 'I wish I were dead--if that
would help; but it won't. Something must be done; and done at once.
George! Why should you go down? To stay is so simple, and it will hurt
no one--believe me, it is best--best for us all.'

She was back to the position she had taken up before her appeal to his
passion had recoiled upon herself, but he could not follow her so far,
and he gave a bitter laugh.

'For you and for me, no doubt. But for Dan? Remember what the possible
loss of promotion means to him. Besides, I have promised. No! I must go
down, that much is certain.'

'And after?'

For the life of him he could not tell. He seemed unable to think of any
course of action save the palpably proper one of going straight to the
Chief and telling him of the plot laid against the sluice-gate. His
instinct for this remaining clear and well defined amid all the
confusion. As he stood silent, almost sullen, she laid her hand
quickly on his arm. 'You will not be rash, George--for my sake you will
not----'

'Whatever I do will be for your sake,' he said unsteadily.

'And you must not be angry with me. Indeed and indeed, I meant no harm
at first, and afterwards I was so frightened; so afraid for you all.
Oh, don't be angry with me, George.'

He set her hand aside with a hopeless gesture, and turned away to hide
the tears in his eyes. She did not understand, and a great dumbness was
upon him. He could say nothing. After all, what was there to say? She
had done this thing, meaning no harm, and he must save her, and
himself, and Dan from the consequences, somehow. He took out his watch
mechanically and looked at the time. Barely ten o'clock! So it was
possible to destroy heaven and earth in half an hour!

'It is time you were going,' he said, in quite a commonplace tone. 'I
can see you so far. You had better go. Gordon--and the others--might
wonder.'

It was the first time he had ever hinted at the supposition that some
definite tie existed between her and her cousin; this, and his cynical
acceptance of the fact that in the tragedy of life action must be
swayed by the desire of the spectators as much as by the emotions of
the actors themselves, brought home to Gwen her crime against the boy's
youth, and for the first time she broke into a sob.

'Oh, George! why did I do it? why did I do it?'

Why, indeed? A pitiable thing, surely, to stand silent without an
answer. Pitiable also for the woman, forced by considerations into
self-control. Into bathing her face, possibly powdering it, certainly
re-arranging the pretty artful curls, and so setting off through the
dark night to the Town Hall, as if nothing had happened. For what loss
of liberty is comparable to that entailed on the possessor of a fringe
which will come out of curl, even with the damp of tears?

The first clouds of the coming monsoon were drawn over the heads of the
hills like an executioner's cap, and George, riding the hired pony
behind the _dandy_, felt as if he were following the funeral of a faith
condemned to death. A dreary little procession this, despite its goal,
as it wound its way between the dark chasm of the valleys on the one
side and the dark shadow of the hills on the other. And then, like some
enchanted palace set between earth and sky, that pile upon the ridge
sending long beams of light and fitful snatches of dance-music across
the ravines came into view; so familiar, yet so strange. So were the
twinkling lamps, the crowd of _rickshaws_ and _dandies_ blocking up the
angles and arches, the red carpet in the porch, the red streak of baize
climbing up the white stairs.

He kept that pearl-edged hem of her garment from the dust till she
reached them.

'Have you settled what you are going to do?' she asked in a low voice,
as he held out his hand to say good-bye. He shook his head.

'I'll settle it somehow, you needn't be afraid.'

'I am not afraid. But, if the worst comes to the worst, I will not let
others suffer for my fault. So be careful--for my sake.'

'Whatever I do will be for your sake--you know that.'

He stood watching her go up the stairs; up and up, until the last trail
of that hem disappeared amid the coloured lamps and flowers. That was
the end of it all!--of all save Hodinuggur and the desire to kill
somebody. First of all, however, there must be safety for her; and that
might be secured by money. During that three miles' ride his thoughts
had been busy over possibilities, and one of them made him turn the
hired pony's nose towards Manohar Lâl's shop instead of homewards.
There was no power in India like the power of rupees, he thought; and
they--with the Club still open and half a dozen young fellows as
reckless as oneself ready to back the chance of one living to pay just
debts--were not difficult to borrow for a month or two. Especially when
there was something--not much--but still a few hundred pounds or so to
come when the dear old governor---- George choked down a sob in a curse
at the hired pony for stumbling over the ill-paved alley.

The dawn had broken when the patient beast pulled up for the last time
by the verandah of Colonel Tweedie's house. A drowsy servant dozed
against the long coffin-like dhooli, the bearers crouched outside,
nodding in a circle round a solitary hookah.

'The Huzoor having lost chance of the mail, may perhaps delay till
eve,' suggested the half-roused torch-bearer, mechanically corking up
his useless bottle of oil at the sight of the growing glow in the east.

George, his face flushed yet haggard, stood for an instant looking over
the pine woods to where, had the light been stronger, he might have
seen the angle of a little house among the trees. After all, why should
he not stop now, if only to see her gratitude? Twelve hours, delay was
not much, especially when she was safe. Why need that be his last sight
of her going up the stairs with the pearls----pearls!--

An hour afterwards, when the sun tipped over the lower hills to make
the morning glories, festooned from rock to rock, open their eyes, they
opened them upon the coffin-like dhooli going rapidly down hill to the
accompaniment of shuffles and grunts, and recurring protestations that
the sahib was '_do mun puccka_.'[4] If the heaviness of heart could
have been measured, George might have weighed a ton.

Even at the best of times the descent from the cool hills to the hot
plains is never easy, and in this case paradise lay behind, purgatory
in front.

'I am so sorry Mr. Keene has gone,' said Rose Tweedie at breakfast. 'I
shall miss him dreadfully.' Lewis Gordon's eyebrows went up
superciliously.

'No doubt; but he was right to go, in more ways than one.'

Colonel Tweedie, busy over a virtuous plate of porridge and milk which
in some mysterious way he regarded as a sign of youth, gave his
preliminary cough.

'I scarcely agree with you, Gordon. In my opinion there is--er--a
savour--of--of insubordination; or, not to speak so strongly--a--a want
of respect, in this sudden departure. Of course, the zeal and the--the
desire to do his duty--are pleasing, very pleasing in so young a man.
At the same time, a little more confidence in--er--the judgment of----'

'Mr. Gordon wasn't thinking of that, father,' interrupted the girl,
with her grey eyes showing some scorn for both her companions; 'he
meant to imply that George--Mr. Keene--was better away from Simla.'

'Your perspicacity does you credit, Miss Tweedie; I did mean it. He has
been going rather fast, and will be none the worse of saving up some
more rupees at Hodinuggur.'

'If he had the money to spend, I don't see why he shouldn't spend it in
having a good time,' she retorted quickly. 'He won't ask you to pay the
bills, will he?'

'Hope not, I'm sure; but the bearer brought quite a little pile of them
to me this morning by mistake.'

Rose bit her lip. 'Perhaps you will be kind enough to tell your man to
put them back into Mr. Keene's room. I'll forward them when I write.
Are you coming with me to the Grahams, this afternoon, father?'

But Colonel Tweedie was not to be diverted from the
Head-of-the-Department frown he had been preparing.

'I am sorry to hear it. To say the least, it is bad taste to--to----'

'Leave I.O.U's instead of P.P.C.'s,' remarked Lewis flippantly. 'But
really, sir, I don't see how he could help it, after all. He had to go
in such a hurry.'

'I deny the necessity,' continued the Colonel pompously. 'I fail to see
any just cause for setting his opinion against that of--of his elders
and superiors.'

'Unless he had private reasons of his own,' suggested his daughter.

'My dear Rose, a public servant can have no private reasons.'

There was an epigrammatic flavour about the remark which, to the
Colonel's ears, completely covered its absolute want of sense. He felt
vaguely that he had said something clever, and that it might be as well
to let it close the subject, which he did by answering the previous
question as to whether he would go to the Grahams'. Certainly, if it
did not rain; but the barometer was falling fast, and a telegram had
come to the office that morning to say the monsoon had broken with
unusual violence at Abu. It might be expected north at any moment. On
which the two men fell to talking about dams and escapes, inundations,
cuts, and such like things, while Rose sat silent, indignant with
Lewis, yet disturbed at the confirmation his hints gave of her own
fears. George had been reckless, there could be no doubt of that. Had
not one of her partners last night told her that he had left George
playing poker at the Club but half an hour before? George who had
declared he had not time to put in an appearance at the ball!

When breakfast was over she went into the lad's empty room for the
bills, and took the opportunity of giving a housewifely glance round to
see if nothing had been left behind or taken away in the hurry. The
former, certainly, for there was the bottom drawer quite full;--old
shirts and ties, a rather battered pot-hat, and beneath the whole a
picture.

She stood looking at it blankly. What a very odd coincidence! The girl
of her dream! The girl with the quaint dress and the Ayôdhya pot
clasped to her breast. Why had George brought it up to Simla and never
showed it to any one? Why, when the pot was stolen, had he said nothing
about the girl? though, on the other hand, she herself had kept silence
about her dream. She puzzled over it for some time; at last, finding
certainty on but one point--namely, that for some reason or another
George had wished to keep the picture secret--she took it away to her
own room. For she was of those who regard unspoken wishes on the part
of a friend to be quite as binding as any they may express.

Just about the same time Gwen Boynton, still in her bed, was looking at
something else George had left behind him, but this had only been an
envelope carefully addressed to her. It contained two pieces of paper
signed by Manohar Lâl. One was a receipt for a diamond necklace, on
which Rs. 6000 had been lent. The other, of later date, giving a
quittance in full for the same sum plus interest.

How simple! Why had she never thought of such a plan before? But where
could she have raised the money necessary to buy freedom? Besides--she
buried her face among the pillows in vain desire to shut out the
conviction which rushed in on her, as she recognised that if the
plotters had gained what they wanted from the empty _dandy_ outside the
dressmaker's house, they would naturally be quite ready to deal with
George and take money for a security they were already pledged to give.
Which, in fact, they would have given, since the canons regulating
bribery in India are strict in regard to value returned for value
received. Every penny, therefore, of the money George must have paid
for these papers, was so much clear unexpected gain to Manohar Lâl _if
the plotters had already attained their object_.

Still she was safe, and even if anything happened nobody could blame
George. Now she had had time to consider the whole bearings of the
matter she told herself such blame was impossible; while as for
Dan----! If he would only leave Government service and make money, she
was ready to marry him to-morrow! She had woven a conscience-proof
garment for herself out of the old hair-splitting arguments long before
George's dhooli had reached the level plain. When it did, the clouds
had banked themselves against the higher hills, shutting out the boy's
farewell glance. As he climbed into the country gig in which forty
miles of dusty road had to be covered, the barometer was falling fast,
and the driver remarked cheerfully, that when the rain came, the
cholera would increase. It had been bad at the third stage that day,
and one of the coolies belonging to the Government bullock train had
died on the road about five miles farther on. The sahib might perhaps
still see the body lying there.



                            CHAPTER XVIII


The last twelve hours before the advancing rains break over your
particular portion of the fiery furnace!--who can describe them? Who,
having once endured them, can need description as an aid to memory? The
world one incarnate expectation, blistering, parched, like the tongue
of Dives. The heavenly drop of water for which you long, squandered on
the hot air, moist with a vanguard of vapour, so that the breath you
draw is even as the breath you exhale. If indeed you breathe at all; if
indeed by sensation of touch or temperature you can differentiate
yourself from the sodden heat of all things, or get rid of the
conviction that, like the devils in a still hotter place, you are an
integral part of the business!

And Hodinuggur on this sodden July day had small hope of future
improvement to lighten the burden of the present, for it stood on the
edge of the rainless tract, in the debatable land of meteorological
reporters. Not more than a shower or two from that south-westerly
column of cloud was due to bring up its scanty average of rainfall,
which came, for the most part, from electrical dust-storms and such
like turbulent, undisciplined outbreaks. So the heat lay over it
hopelessly, and even the peasant patiently awaiting the return of the
smith to mend his ploughshare, did so more from habit than from any
expectation of needing the tool in any immediate future. After all,
waiting was his chief occupation in life. Waiting for something to
grow, or for something to be reaped; waiting for some one to be born or
for some one to die. So, the smith being absent over some work for the
palace, why should he not be waited for even though the sun was setting
red behind the heat-haze? For one thing, it would be cooler to tramp
home with the ploughshare over your shoulder. A tall, grave, bearded
man was the peasant, sitting with his back against the wall, his hands
hanging listlessly between his knees. The painted girl on the balcony
above looked down and told him the news, calling him father,
respectfully. No question of her trade here, with this dweller in the
fields; only a pious 'God keep us all,' ere she became voluble over
Shumshere the zither-player's seizure by cholera that morning as he lay
fighting quails in the street. Doubtless he was dying, now the sun was
setting; any moment the wail might arise from that seventh arch down
the colonnade where he lodged. Whereat the long beard below wagged
slowly over the fact that the Great Sickness had visited the hamlet
also, bidding a crony or two wait no longer for anything; not even for
ploughshares or rain. And then to solace themselves both courtesan and
peasant quenched their thirst on huge chunks of water-melon, bought for
a cowrie from the heap of green and red fruit which had just been shot
off a donkey's back into the dust at one corner of the Mori gate; the
donkey meanwhile browsing unrebuked at the edges of the pile.

'Ari! father! There it is. Did I not say so?' remarked the painted one,
pausing, as a low moan rising to a banshee skirl broke the sodden
stillness of the air.

'Râm! Râm!' ejaculated the peasant piously. 'It is a bad year for sure,
rain or no rain.'

So, having finished his water-melon, he broke a morsel of opium from
the lump he carried in a fold of his turban, rolled it under his tongue
and dozed off, still propped up against the wall. And the sunset faded
leaving the world hotter than ever, though in the crypt beneath the
staircase of the Mori gate the air was cooler than outside, despite the
fire which flickered fitfully over the blackened arches. It flickered
also on the silver bracelets circling Chândni's round brown arm as she
lay curved across a string bed, her jingling feet swaying softly in
tune with the tinsel fan she waved above the bold outlines of throat
and bosom. And the fan, in its turn, kept time with the flicker of the
fire, and the wheezing breath of a smith's bellows rousing the charcoal
embers into dancing flame, or letting them die down to a dull red glow.

'Thou art long, oh lohar-ji!' she said, looking backwards at the bare
bronze figure crouching before a low anvil. 'All these hours to make a
key--when thou hast a mould before thine eyes, too!'

'True, oh mother! but the key is not as our father's keys, and
the hand lacks cunning in new patterns. Lo! I had made one for the
treasure-chest of kings in half the time. But there! 'tis done. See how
it fits its bed like the seed of a pomegranate! God send it may do its
work fairly and well!'

'God send it may, for thy sake, smith-ji,' she replied carelessly.
'Here, take the rupees, and have a care no key is forged to unlock thy
tongue regarding this matter. The Diwân is old, but there are others
behind him, and behind him again, and Chândni behind them all.'

The reckless triumph of her words rang through the low arches, as she
brought her feet to the ground with a clash.

Five minutes afterwards she was looking down on a slender key lying in
Zubr-ul-Zamân's nerveless hands.

'I have won the prize,' she said; 'the pearls are mine.'

The hands quivered, and the keen old eyes seemed to seek her out from
head to foot, revelling in her beauty and her boldness. Then the light
died out of them, the head sank again. 'The game is played,' he
muttered. 'The game is played.'

'Yea! it is played indeed.'

The woman's contemptuous laugh echoed out into the dark night, through
which George Keene, on a hired camel, was making his way across the
desert. Not by the usual road, since that meant delay and Dan's
questioning eyes at Rajpore, but by a side route, branching from the
railway, farther to the south. A hot night, an intolerable smell of
camel, dust in the eyes and nose and mouth, dust and ashes in the
heart; in the endless darkness of all things even the twinkling lights
of the palace seemed home-like and welcome to poor George, for though
the consciousness of doing your duty soothes the mind, it is powerless
before bodily discomfort; and George was wretchedly uncomfortable. To
begin with, a high-paced camel driven at full speed is not an easy
method of conveyance, nor does the necessity for having its unwashed
attendant bumping in the after-saddle add to its charm, even though
that saddle be to leeward of you--for which Heaven be thanked! And then
the lad had had nothing to eat since a hastily-swallowed breakfast at a
rest-house, save some smoked milk and a tough dough-cake brought him at
the village where he changed camels. So, as he bumped through the
silent night on the bubbling, breathing, silent-footed beast, with that
silent breathing brute behind him, more than half George's slender hold
on the joys of life lay in the prospect of supper, even though it must
be one of the factotum's Barmecidal feasts. Such things defy the mind,
especially when that mind is lodged in a young and healthy body. Thus
while he could set his teeth over the remembrance of that half hour
during which his world came to pieces in the hand, he could not prevent
himself coming to pieces on the camel.

It was a dark night indeed; so dark that the red-brick bungalow showed
only by the white arches of its verandah; rising like a ghostly
colonnade out of the shadow. The servants, houses too, were dark as the
night itself, and silent as the grave. George, stepping stiffly into
ankle-deep of yielding sand, called once, twice; then, giving in with
irritation to his experience of native slumber, walked over in the
direction of the cook-room. It was too sandy for snakes; besides,
booted as he was, they could hardly reach him. Necessary thoughts these
now that he was back in purgatory, with death for aught he knew coiled
in the path and they came back to him naturally as part of the
uncomfortable environment of life. He gave another call without the
screen of tall grass sacred to the modesty of the compounder of egg
_sarse_, and then impatiently set aside a mat at its entry.

'They might as well be dead,' he muttered angrily, going up to a string
bed in the centre of the little yard, whereon he could just distinguish
a figure long enough to be a man.

'Get up, you lazy brute!' cried George, shaking it by the shoulder.
There was no answer, and he drew back hastily, shouting for some one,
any one. A twinkling light showed from the stables, a drowsy
exclamation rose from within the hut. So, out of the surrounding dark,
came timorous steps, a hand bearing a cresset, a doubtful face or two
peering at the intruder and yielding to surprised salaams; then
suddenly breaking into garrulous clamour--'Ohi! ohi! 'Tis the Huzoor
returned. And the Huzoor's faithful servant hath been summoned by the
Lord. Lo! if the Huzoor had but come three hours ago there would still
have been a kitmutghar (_lit_. worker) in his honour's house. But it
was the Great Sickness, Huzoor, which waits not; all daylong ill in the
Huzoor's cook-room, with great patience, and--Ohi! ohi! the sahib must
be hungry, and lo! where is he who gave the Huzoor meats fit for his
rank? Oh, my sister! Oh, bereaved one! Oh, widow! put thy grief from
thee and prepare food for the master; in duty sorrow finds solace.'

'Is--is he dead?' asked George, standing dazed, looking incredulously
at the sheeted figure, dimly visible by the flickering rushlight. He
had seen the man sleep thus dozens of times. At the question another
sheeted figure, which had crept from the hut into the circle of
light, broke into a gurgling cry: 'Ohi, _mere adme mur-gya--mere dil
mur-gya--mur-gya_,'[5] and one or two later arrivals, in like disguise,
crouched beside the voice, joining in the strange low whimper of the
conventional wail. George fell back a step or two, repelled to his
heart's core, shocked out of speech.

'Weep not, oh widow!' snivelled the water-carrier, who, being the only
Mohammedan male present, felt impelled to the duty of consoler. 'Didst
not give him beef-tea? Ay! and barley-water likewise? even as the
Huzoor when he was stricken. And did not the master arise to health
thereby? Wherefore, is it not the will of God, plainly, that thy man
should find freedom? Therefore place thy heart on comfort---- He will
be buried at sunrise, Huzoor, so that the sahib will have no more
annoyance; and by the fortune of the Most High, there is even now to be
had without delay a servant who can cook--the one that is dead is as
nothing to him--faithful to salt, having many certificates, mine own
wife's cousin, a----'

George, who by this time was half-way back to the dark house, cursed
him and his wife's relations utterly; then bade him bring a light
somehow. Meanwhile, scarcely conscious of what he was doing, the lad
groped his way into the room where he had first seen her, and,
stumbling against a chair, sat down mechanically, resting his head upon
the back, over his crossed arms. Would the light never come? and when
it came, what would it reveal? more dead men waiting to be roused? Oh,
horrible--most horrible that remembrance of the limp---- No! no! he
would not think of it. He would think of that other face asleep on the
red cushions of the easy chair--but that was dead too--the face of a
dead ideal. Ah! the light at last, thank God! and he could be sensible.

Whatever it showed George, he showed it a mask terrible in its needless
pain, ghastly in the hunted, shrinking look in the young eyes which
used to be so bold. Even the water-carrier, dense as he was, saw it and
understood vaguely.

'This is a bad word that the Huzoor should return thus. It is not
fitting his honour. If he had only waited till Fitzgerald sahib comes
back----'

'Comes back,' echoed George dully. 'Why should he come back?' Yet he
knew quite well in his own mind that Dan also had judged it wrong to
leave the fort unguarded as it were, and his mind wandered to the love
he bore this man, while the water-carrier went on volubly about the
sahib having gone in a hurry that morning and being very angry about
something he had lost; something that the sahib's base-born personal
attendant had said must have been stolen--as if----

George, looking at all things with uncomprehending eyes, suddenly lost
patience, cursed the speaker, quite quietly this time, and bade him go
about his business.

'Your honour's kitmutghar's widow can cook food if the Huzoor----'

George did it a third time solemnly. When he was left alone, he glanced
round quickly, as if uncertain of what the room might contain. The
easy-chair with its red cushions; a bare bed--brought in, doubtless,
for the sake of the larger room and cooler air--a dirty tablecloth on
the table, littered with the crumbs and plates of Dan's last meal
and left in slovenly native fashion to await deferred cleansing. A
half-empty whisky-bottle and a water-surahi; that, at any rate, was
something, and his hand went out to them instinctively. Even in his
general confusion, however, the precepts of modern hygiene remaining
clear, he deferred a drink till they brought him some tepid soda-water.
Such precaution was necessary with cholera in the compound. Whatever
else it may do, civilisation certainly intensifies the dread of death.
The peasant and the courtesan had munched melons in the very shadow,
but George's cultured nerves had no such courage. He was no coward, but
he had received a shock which was bound to make its mark on the highly
sensitised mind and body; bound to weaken them for the time.

Ah! that was better! The room did not seem quite so dreary after the
whisky and soda! Then he took another, and after that the outlook
itself seemed less dreary, and he told himself that Dan had been right
in saying that he, George, did not know the temptation of stimulants.
Temptation?--if they brought you up to your bearings with a round turn
in this fashion--Why! he felt twice the man he had been five minutes
ago. Now he could think; now he could reason; now he could see clearly
and decide what ought to be done. To begin with, she was safe. Those
papers, joined to little Azîzan's confession of having stolen the
Ayôdhya pot, made it quite impossible to prove she had ever known about
the jewels. As for himself, that did not matter; though, as a fact, he
was quite as safe as Dan. That is to say, the palace devils might raise
a scandal, but the breakdown of their case in regard to her would show
it was no more than revenge for their failure; for they would fail, of
course. So far, nothing had happened. There was no water in the
overflow cut; he had made sure of that as he rode along. And now that
he was on the spot he could do quite as much, off his own bat, to
prevent treachery as any one--the Colonel and all the Department to
boot--could have done had he reported the whole affair. To-morrow the
guard would be changed, and doubled to provide against any violent
attempt; an unlikely event, as such an assault would take time, and he
meant to pitch his tent down at the sluice so as to be on the spot at
night, and during the day he could watch from the bungalow. Against
other and more stealthy treachery he was also provided absolutely--so
absolutely that he gave a short laugh as he drew a couple of Chubb's
keys and a lock from his wallet. That would puzzle them if they came
thinking they had hit on the old fastening. But that also was for
to-morrow; there remained only to-night. No! not to-night; since
already it was past one o'clock. What wonder that he was tired--did any
one in the wide world know or care how tired? He stood up sharply,
every vein tingling now; his whole mind aglow despite his weariness. He
must have something to eat first, of course--his very determination
insisted on that; but not from those plague-stricken purlieus out
yonder--cautious civilisation insisted on that. There must be biscuits
or something of that sort in the cupboard, and as he crossed over to it
the memory of his raid while _she_ slept among the red cushions
returned to make him laugh again.


             'And when she went there
              The cupboard was bare.'


The childish doggerel fitted the occasion and left him smiling at some
ship's biscuit--the last resource by sea or land--left at the bottom of
a tin. Dan certainly _was_ a bad housekeeper. The comedy of his
disappointment struck him; the tragedy, needing the sequel to develop
it, remained invisible like a photograph in film-embryo.

It was dry work, eating ship's biscuit in a fiery furnace, with a
ten-pound thirst upon you and whisky and soda within reach. When he
stood up again the weariness seemed to have crept upwards, leaving
nothing alert save his brain. Had he ever been so tired in all his
life? As tired as _she_ must have been when she fell asleep in the
chair he was just passing. His hand lingered on the back of it for an
instant, almost caressingly.

By Jove! what a furnace it was outside! Lighter than it had been,
however, because of the suggestion of a moon low down in the heat-haze.
And there was the potter's lamp twinkling like a star above the domed
shadow of the Hodinuggur mound. Queer old chap--queer start the whole
thing--if one came to think of it. A crazy, irresponsible creator! as
Dan had called him. Why not he as well as another? Who knew? who cared?

He stood so for a space, looking out with sensitive, seeing eyes to the
broad shadows, formless save for the pinpoint flicker of the potter's
light. Face to face at last, he and Hodinuggur; between them the
sliding water, mother of all things. Then came a memory.


              'Hath not the Potter power over the Clay?'


Ah! if that was all the light amid the shadows of life, better far were
darkness! If that he turned quickly, beset by uncontrolled, passionate
contempt, uncontrolled, passionate desire for action, and beneath his
shaking hand the lamp on the table flared out, smokily. A poor protest;
yet the dark was better. Darkness and rest--if rest could come to one
so tired as he was, as it had come to her. Not that it mattered if he
were tired or not----

Five minutes after, the twinkling light, could it have reached so far,
would have found him asleep, peaceful as a child, among the red
cushions where _she_ had slept. But even Azîzan's eyes, set keen as
they were by devotion, could not pierce the darkness. For the light
George had seen was in her hand, as she stood looking out from the yard
towards the other bank of the canal.

'It hath gone out again,' she murmured; 'a servant likely, on no good
errand; and the old man tells me the truth, I think. Another week ere
he returns. I would it had been sooner, so that I might warn him. But
there! 'tis the same! The task is mine in the end.'

As she crossed back to the hut, she paused an instant to look, by the
light of the cresset she shaded with her thin fingers, on the figure of
old Fuzl Elâhi asleep in the open beside his wheel.

'Poor fool,' she said softly, as if to the sleeper. And after that even
the potter's light disappeared, leaving both sides of the sliding water
to darkness.

The dawn came and went; the sun climbing into the sky turned it to
brass--a brazen dome in which the sun itself seemed merged and lost.
Yet still George slept on, undisturbed even by the water-carrier's
cautious peepings through the chick.

'Lo! the Huzoor is young, and he was broken into pieces by thy bad
animal,' he said to the camel man who was impatiently awaiting payment.
'Sleep is even as food and drink to him, and besides, ere he wakes, my
wife's cousin, whom I have sent for, will be present to cook my lord's
breakfast. There is great virtue in being _majood_ (created), and the
man who cooks one meal hath himself to blame if he cook not many. If
thou art hurried, go. Who wants thee and thy evil-smelling brute?'

So George slept on, and when he woke at last it was to the confused,
unreasoning consciousness of those who have been drugged. He stared
round him incredulously, until out of the mist, as it were, the empty
whisky bottle on the table grew clear, accusingly clear, and he sprang
to his feet, becoming aware, as he did so, of a racking headache.

Undoubtedly he had taken more whisky than usual; not perhaps without
excuse, he added, as memory began to return. The next instant he was at
the door. Yellow haze and yellow heat, and through it a silver streak
steering for the south!----

That was all he saw, but that little changed the whole world for him in
the twinkling of an eye. The sluice-gate was open. The devils had
won--they had won!--they had won!

What use is there in saying that he felt this, that he felt that? What
use in pointing out whether anger or regret came uppermost in the
conglomerate of passion? As a matter of fact, George felt nothing
consciously; not even when, after an hour or more, he came back wearily
to the red-hot bungalow, out of the red-hot air.

He sat down then on the table, now cleared of last night's crumbs, and
relaid by the wife's cousin with that superfluity which marks new zeal
in India, and tried to think of what he had thought, or said, or done
since he first caught sight of that silver streak steering southward
where no streak should be. But, after a time, he found himself deeply
interested in reconstructing the pyramid of five forks intertwined,
with which the new hand had adorned the centre of the table. What a
fool! what an arrant fool he was, to be sure. Even if there had been
any one upon whom to use the revolver, he would most likely have lost
his opportunity or missed the beggar! But there had been nobody, and he
might as well have left it at home, lying on the table ready, as it was
now. The sluice-gate, not ten minutes before he woke, had been opened
by a key--a key which had broken in the lock, making it impossible to
close it again till it was repaired. Of course there were the other
keys and the new lock; but what need was there for hurry now? No power
in earth or heaven could hide the fact that the sluice-gate had been
open. For months to come, miles on miles of crop ripening to harvest
would proclaim the failure, the treachery. 'As ye have sown so shall ye
reap.' Concealment was impossible; that much was certain--and the
certainty brought with it an odd sort of content. Since it was all his
fault from beginning to end, it was as well he should suffer. Yes! it
had been opened quietly while the guard was eating his dinner; opened
quietly while he, George, was asleep; why not say drunk at once--that
was nearer the truth.

And the Diwân! George's listless hands tightened as he thought of that
brief interview with the old man on the roof. His own torrent of
reckless abuse, the courteous regrets and replies ignoring his very
accusations. But those palace devils could afford to eat abuse!
Zubr-ul-Zamân had played, and the game was done indeed. But how? Half
mechanically George drew out the key attached to his watch-chain and
looked at it; carelessly at first, then carefully. And what he saw
there clinging to the inner surface of a ward, changed heaven for him
in the twinkling of an eye, even as the silver streak of water had
changed the world.

It was a very simple thing; only a piece of wax. How long he sat there
staring at it he did not realise. The yellow haze outside grew ruddier
with the sinking of the sun, the water-carrier, shadowed by a
white-robed aspirant to the dead factotum's duties, hovered about the
verandah expectantly.

'What do you want, you fool?' bawled George, looking up, surprised at
his own anger, surprised that anything should touch him save the
thought that _she_ had known--must have known--that _she_ had done it,
must have done it.

The man edged in through the screen, signing to the white-robed one to
follow his example.

'Only to bring the Huzoor this,' he began noisily. 'Only to bring this
proof of honesty to the feet of justice. Lo! it was found even now by
this man with a foresight and quickness to be commended. In the sahib's
own room, Huzoor, beneath the matting, thus causing the face of the big
sahib's ill-begotten servant to be blackened by reason of his base
insinuation of theft! Theft! How can there be theft in a house where
the water-carrier is as I am, and the kit will be as this one--mine own
wife's brother, Huzoor----'

George broke out suddenly into dull laughter, 'Oh! go to blazes with
your wife's brother--put the thing down there on the table, I tell you,
and go--go--do you hear?'

Anger, and something more than anger was back in his tone ere
he ended, and the water-carrier, knowing his master's voice, fled. The
white-robed one with the courage of ignorance risked all by a salaam.

'At what hour will the Huzoor please to dine?'

The young man looked at him curiously, feeling that the world was past
his comprehension.

'The usual time, I suppose.'

As well this fool as another--as well to-morrow as to-day. Everything
was trivial of course, and yet the trivial commonplace interruption had
somehow brought home the reality of what had happened to the lad, and
his head sank on his crossed arms once more in utter dejection. _She_
might have told him, warned him. Surely when he had promised she might
have done so much for his sake, and Dan's--by the way, what was it that
Dan had lost and that chattering idiot had brought in with him?
George's right hand trembled a little as it reached over the table to
take a plain gold locket on a slender gold chain. It was familiar
enough to him. Dan wore it day and night, and many a time had George
chaffed him about the young woman, so it was no wonder the dear old man
had been vexed at the thought of losing it. Losing it? or losing her?
In the keen thrust of this thought, the locket slipped through George's
fingers, and falling, opened. So it lay, face upwards, while the boy
sat staring out into the room blindly, intent on the remembrance that
after all it was not a case of whether a man or a woman should suffer;
it was one woman or another. The woman _he_ loved or the woman _Dan_
loved. A hundred thoughts beset him, but, analysed, they all resolved
themselves to this: his love or Dan's. To save _her_ from even a breath
of scandal he was willing to bear the blame; but how could this be
without also imperilling Dan's future? No! if the worst came; if he
could find no way--yet surely, surely, there must be some way, some
simple way--of taking all the responsibility on his shoulders; then
_she_ must be brave; _she_ must tell the truth and save this woman whom
Dan loved--whose face lay there in the locket. His eyes sought it
mechanically----

'_Gwen_.'

The sound, barely a whisper, scarcely stirred the sodden air. After a
while he pushed back his chair slowly and crossed to stand once more
looking out over Hodinuggur.

It seemed to have a fascination for him; yet his mind held but one
thought--a desire to get away--to find some place where there was
neither truth nor lies, where he need say nothing--need think nothing.
That surely would settle it.

'_No, you wouldn't, old chap, not unless you wanted them to believe you
guilty_.' Lewis Gordon's idle words as they had stood laughing and
jesting on the balcony yonder but a few months ago came back to him;
the only real, living memory in the chaos of his present pain. The
scene reproduced itself before his haggard young eyes. Yes! that would
settle it; and after all he was guilty. Why had he not told the
Colonel? why had he slept? why----

The sound was louder this time; yet not loud enough to disturb the
servants, chattering across in the cook-room over the chances of
perquisites under the new régime. Loud enough, for all that, to deafen
the lad's ears for ever to questionings of truth or untruth.

He lay on his back, face upwards, and a faint stream of blood oozing
from the blue bruise just over his heart traced a fine girdle round his
breast; perhaps to show that the potter's thumb had slipped, and the
pot had cracked in the firing.

Maybe a fiery furnace and a »ed-hot bungalow are overtrying even to the
best of clay when it is fresh from the moulder's hand; but that is
neither here nor there.

The fact remains that George had run away; from truth and untruth, from
himself and his fellow-men, but most of all from Hodinuggur and the
crazy irresponsible creator; yet could he have realised the fact, no
one in the wide, wide world would have been more incredulous of his own
action. And as he lay dead, with a bullet through his heart, the
barometer upon the mantelpiece was falling faster and faster, while
Dan, with a telegram in his pocket, was riding all he knew across the
desert to open the sluice-gate against the biggest flood within the
memory of man. To open it so far and no farther, and so to prevent any
weakening of the channel for a while. Too late! For already the
peasants were knee-deep in their fields breaking through every obstacle
which might stem the rising water. And still the barometer fell faster
and faster; but the only one who could have understood the silent
warning had deserted his post.



                             CHAPTER XIX


Azîzan was waiting for darkness, like many another woman in India;
waiting for the veil of night to destroy the veil of man's contriving.
Not so much because she dreaded to show her face in the daylight, but
because it suited her to keep up the mystery of her appearance.
Waiting, however, for the last time; since once her work of warning was
done there need be no more concealment, no more playing like a cat over
a mouse with the palace folk. Once that was done, she meant to forget
caution and kill some of them; for she felt that her own death was
nigh, and revenge would sweeten the end of life. As she sat, her back
against the wall, her knees drawn up to her chin, Azîzan had no very
distinct plans for that revenge, save that the Ayôdhya pot which she
had taken from its hiding-place in the stair of the old tower and kept
in her bosom must be her chief aid. With its secret bribe of jewels, it
would prove to the sahib that there was truth in the tale she had
gathered during her nightly wanderings as a ghost about Hodinuggur.
When that was done, she would be free in some of those nightly
wanderings to kill the Diwân or his son, the man who killed her mother.
Perhaps she might be able to kill both, and yet have some strength left
for Chândni--Chândni who had told her so many lies. For there was a
fire now in Azîzan's light eyes, which quite accounted for the
consideration which the courtesan had shown the girl when, more than
once, Chândni had awakened to find them looking at her. Of course, by
and by a stop must be put to this masquerading through the village, but
at present it would be unsafe, when so much depended on good luck, and
thus Azîzan had hitherto been unmolested. Indeed, Chândni herself had
taken malicious pleasure in countenancing current tales of the return
of the potter's dead daughter; and once when Khush-hâl Beg, during his
son's absence, had deemed it well to single her out for favour, she had
sent the hoary old sinner back to his swinging cradle like a quaking
jelly from abject fear of what he might meet by the way. Still it was
only when she was on the roof with the old Diwân that she ventured to
speak in whispers of a time when this mad girl should be taught her own
impotence for good or evil.

So in the meantime, the freedom from interruption, and the dread which
the mere thought of her existence roused in the simple village folk,
conspired to increase Azîzan's faith in her own supernatural power, and
as she sat in the growing dusk no doubt of her own success assailed
her; for the little sahib had returned--during the night. At least so
said the old man, who, with all his craziness, was to be trusted.
Therefore, in less than an hour, he would know all, since the day was
dying down quickly; smothered in a hot haze-like smoke. There was not a
shadow anywhere; only a dull darkness growing momentarily as the dull
darkness had grown upon her mind day by day. For all that she had the
power; the potter might mould the clay, the palace folk might plot and
plan, but she, the woman with the evil eye, was stronger than they!

'Azîz! Oh! thou art there still, Heaven be praised!' The cry roused her
from a sort of dream to find the old man beside her, breathless as from
running, his mild face, seen dimly in the darkness, full of piteous
entreaty. 'Go not from me this night, oh Heart's-joy! Leave me not
again in the storm!'

'The storm! What storm, poor fool!' she asked indifferently.

He laid his trembling hand on her arm. 'Listen! Thou canst hear the
noise of many waters. They came before, so the fathers sang, and made a
new world. Down yonder at the palace, where thou goest, 'twill run like
the race of a river, and the stones of the old wall where thou liest
will be crumbling into it. Go not there to-night, oh, Light of mine
Eyes! It is safe here on the heights.'

'There is no water,' she answered, with a short laugh, 'there will be
none; save in the canal. The sahib will see to that now he hath
returned.'

'How can he see when he is dead----'

'Dead,' she echoed. 'Bah! thou liest! He is not dead. There is no
water, and there is no death----'

She broke off suddenly, silenced by his look as he stood with one hand
raised as if listening. In the breathless air a strange whispering
reached her ear, and like an arrow from a bow, she flew to the gap in
the palisade, whence she could see the dip between the ruins and the
canal bank, and beyond that silver streak again to the bungalow dotted
down upon the level plain.

'_Dohai! Dohai!_'

The Great Cry--the blind human cry of her race for justice burst from
her instinctively. The next moment found her bare-faced in the open on
her way to prove if the old man spoke truth in death also.

'Azîzan! go not! Leave not the House of Safety! It is the Flood of the
Most High! Go not, oh! go not!'

His unavailing plea came back to him unanswered from the night which
had fallen suddenly, as the dust from below sprang electrically up to
meet the dust above and hide everything from sight. But through the
thick veil that rush of water rose louder and louder as the girl sped
on her way. It was true what the old man had said, and she had seen it.
There was a river by the old palace. Was the other thing true also? Was
the sahib dead? Had they killed him? The darkness lightened a little as
she ran over the bridge so that she could see a great swirl of yellow
water shooting past the piers not three inches below the keystone of
the arch. Lower down it had found the open sluice-gates, hurled them
from their foundations and carried them with it as it burst through the
embankment weakened by the new-made cuttings of the villagers, and had
raced in a mad river to fling itself against the mound of Hodinuggur,
tearing down yard after yard of crumbling sand as it turned abruptly
from the collision, to try conclusions by a flank movement. Azîzan saw
none of this; nothing but the dim white arches where she had waited
once before.

'Sahib! Sahib!'

No answer, and in her eagerness she crouched down at the closed door,
tapping softly.

'Sahib! Sahib!'

There was only a quarter-inch planking between them, that was all, for
they had left him as he fell till some other white-face should come to
accept the responsibility of interference. Yet it did the work as
effectually as all the barriers of custom and culture which had divided
them in life.

'Sahib! Sahib!'

Could it be true? It must be true that he was dead; otherwise he would
surely hear her cry!

'Sahib! Sahib!'

As she crouched she might have put out her hand and taken his, but for
that trivial quarter-inch of wood between them; but he did not hear.
Because he was dead? Perhaps, yet even in life he had not heard, he had
not known. The light in the potter's yard, lit by her passionate love
and care, had only served to arouse his contempt. Better darkness, he
had thought, than such a light as that.

'Sahib! Sahib!'

At last she rose and stumbled across to the servants' quarters, seeking
the certainty which she must gain somehow. A light glimmered behind the
grass palisades, sacred to her namesake's modesty, and from within came
the eager yet subdued tones of gossiping women. Azîzan crept close, and
crouching in on herself held her breath to listen.

'Lo! I content myself with goodwill towards all men,' came the widow's
voice self-complacently. 'Yet, O Motiya! wife of Ganesha the groom, I
make bold to aver that this is no more or less than a judgment on----'

'What! Dost think it to be really the Flood of Destruction?' broke in
Motiya, whimpering.

'_Ai fool!_ Who cares for the water? It flows south, not north; so we
are safe. No! 'tis the sahib's death. Mayhap 'twill teach other folks'
relations not to be in such a hurry to thrust themselves into other
folks' service against the custom----'

'But----'

'_Ai teri!_ wouldest deny my right--the widow's right? _Ai! mere adme_,
thy sahib is dead, and there is none to see justice done and employ thy
relations! _Ai! mere dil murgya! murgya!_'

As the renewed sense of her wrongs rose in the familiar wail, the women
from within joined in it dutifully. Without, the girl, with her hands
clenched and her wild eyes straining into the shadows, seemed to be
caught and carried away by it also, and her shrill voice echoed theirs
instinctively.

'_Ai! mere sahib murgya. Ai! mere dil murgya! murgya!_'

The women, scared to death at the unexpected aid, stopped suddenly, and
the young voice rose alone.

'_Ai! mere dil murgya! murgya!_'

The sound of her own wailing brought home to her the truth, rousing her
passion, her grief, her anger, to madness; and in one swift desire for
revenge she turned and ran.

'_Mere sahib murgya!_'

The wail echoed over the wild swirl of the flood-water as she crossed
the bridge once more. It was trembling now before its doom as the water
rose inch by inch. And could that be rain? that large warm drop upon
her hand, so large that it ran down between her fingers? Another on her
upturned face, blinding her. If those were raindrops, and many of them
came, it might, indeed, be the deluge of the Most High. And if it were?
Had not the end of all things come to her already? Yet as she ran she
looked curiously into the sky. Not a cloud was visible; only an even
haze of grey vapour, through which now and again a great drop splashed
down upon her, warm and soft.

'_Ai! mere sahib! mere sahib!_'

No more than a sob now; yet even that she hushed as the Mori gate
showed black before her. Should it be Chândni? No, not yet; but for
Dalel and the hopes of him, the woman would have cared nothing for
water or no water. So she passed on through the causeway. One or two
villagers, hurrying, like her, through the darkness, talking in scared
whispers of the strange flood, fell back from her path terrified. A
knot of men in the bazaar huddled aside as she slipped by like a
shadow; even in the courtyard of the palace the watchmen, gathered
round one pipe for the comfort of companionship in such uncanny times,
gave no more than an uneasy glance at the half-seen figure which they
did not care to challenge.

Should it be Khush-hâl Beg in his swinging cradle? He had betrayed her
mother, and the knife she carried was long enough to reach through the
fat to his heart, long enough to do the mischief, when held in reckless
hands, even if aid came to the unwieldy body. No! it should not be
Khush-hâl either. Let him wait a while since he had done little to harm
the sahib. The true quarry lay higher in the old man up yonder in his
nest like a bird of prey; seeing all things with his keen old eyes,
plotting and planning with his wise old brain. But for him, the others
had not been; but for him the sahib would have been alive, and now he
was dead. Each step of the stairs as she laboured up them seemed to
need that cry of 'dead! dead!' to help her on her way; and they left
her breathless on the first platform of the roof, where those huge
drops of rain were falling in audible thuds upon the hard plaster.
Faster and faster. This was not rain. Something must have given way in
the sky, and, as the old man had said, it was '_Tofhân Ehlâi_.' So much
the better for her purpose. In the arcades on either side faint figures
glimmering white in the shadows showed where some of the servants were
sheltering. So much the better, also, since she might find the old man
alone; not that she cared for that either, save in its greater
assurance of success. He would not be in the pavilions at this time,
but in the room to the north end of the tower, of which she had heard
the women speak. The room with the big jutting balcony whence you could
see north, east, and west, everything except Hodinuggur itself.

By this time the raindrops, falling faster and faster, had become a
sheet of water streaming down straight with such curious force that she
staggered under it. A little sun-baked fireplace against which she
stumbled dissolved to sheer mud ere she had recovered her balance, and
a loosened brick on the last step upwards rolled down, beaten from its
place ere her foot touched it. It was the Great Flood indeed, though
every moment the sky grew lighter and she could now see her way
clearly.

'_Mere sahib murgya! murgya!_'

She kept the wild fire glowing in heart and eyes by the murmur, until
through an open door she saw what she sought--an old man seated at a
chess-table, still as a statue. With a cry she darted forward,
snatching at the knife in her girdle, then paused abruptly. Where was
the hurry? he could not move. So with a half laugh of exultation she
turned back deliberately to bolt the door--a strong door, as befitted
one giving on the favourite sleeping-place of despotism. It would need
time to force an entry there; more time than she would need to do her
work. Meanwhile she must look at this arbiter of her fate ever since
she was born--this tyrant whom she had never seen. What! was that all?
that wreck of a man, with his head upon his breast? but as she came
nearer, the light, such as it was, from the wide-arched balcony, aided
by a cresset smoking in a niche, showed her something of the youth in
his eyes. Perhaps it showed him something of the age in hers, for the
Diwân paused in his first haughty challenge, then began again.

'Hast come to frighten me, as thou frightenest the villagers, oh!
Azîzan, daughter of the potter's daughter?' he asked coldly. He was
defenceless, and he knew it, save for craft of the brain.

'Nay! I have come to kill thee, Zubr-ul-Zamân, Diwân of Hodinuggur,'
she replied; 'to kill thee as thou hast killed the sahib.'

A sound which might have been a laugh reached her as she took a step
nearer, brandishing the knife; perhaps it was that which made her pause
again in her turn; for laughter was hardly what she expected.

'I did not kill the sahib, fool. He killed himself for love of the mem
sahib: the fair mem who took the Ayôdhya pot.'

The girl fell back the step she had taken, and the hand bearing the
knife went up to her forehead in a gesture matching her sharp cry of
pain. The truth struck home; yet she caught at denial desperately.

'Thou liest! She did not take it. I took it once--twice. I have the
pearls--the Hodinuggur pearls. I--I--not she.'

One of those curious spasms of life came to the wreck of a man, as it
turned to look at the girl more closely.

'So! Thou also hast brains. 'Tis the woman's _yôg_[6] nowadays. My son,
and my son's son, have none. Thou shouldst have been my granddaughter,
Azîzan, had I but known. Thou mayest be now.'

His granddaughter! Of course! she had suspected so all her life, had
known it to be so for months, yet she had never realised the fact till
now; and an odd, inexplicable sense of kindred rose up in her against
her will.

'I shall kill thee, no matter who thou art,' she cried quickly.

'Wherefore? What harm have I done to thee, Azîzan? 'Twould have suited
me better had the sahib fancied thy face. Thou hadst thy chance.'

Something in her shrank back abashed before the naked truth of the old
man's words. She had had her chance, according to her world, and she
had failed. She had failed utterly; and yet---- Something else in her,
strange, incomprehensible, clamoured against the verdict, and the
deadly weariness, the passionate apathy she had so often felt before
came over her. The knife dropped to her side, and half mechanically she
looked out through the arches of the balcony to where the red-brick
bungalow should stand. There was nothing to be seen but sheets of water
streaming from above, while from below came a rush and a roar. Suddenly
as she listened came another sound; a _pit-pat pat-pit_ on the floor in
half a dozen places. The rain had conquered the thick-domed roof.

'It is "_Tofhân Elâhi_," she said, and even as she spoke a babel of
voices rose at the closed door.

'Open! open! The river saps the foundation. _Ari bhai!_ is he dead,
that he hath no fear? Beat it down!--Oh, Diwân sahib!--Oh! servant,
who hath closed the door?--Open! open!--Nay! without a smith 'tis
hopeless--And I tarry not!--Listen! there goes more of the wall--Open,
fools! open!'

Amid the roar and rush, the vain blows and shouting, the old man's eyes
were on Azîzan's, not so much in appeal as in command. He could not
move and his faded voice would never reach through the clamour, so his
only safety lay in her obedience. But she shook her head, then crouched
down--as if to wait till they should once more be alone--in her
favourite attitude, her back against the wall, her knees drawn up to
her chin, the knife still clasped in her hand ready for use. A louder
roar came from without, a rattle as of bricks, mingled with cries of
caution and alarm. Then gradually the blows and voices dwindled away
from the ceaseless clamour of the rain and the intermittent rumblings
of falling masonry, as the smallest crack widened beneath the pressure
to a breach until, bit by bit, the solid walls seemed to melt away.

'Why didst thou not open the door, fool?' The words in the greater
silence were just audible to the girl.

'Because I did not choose.'

Again the odd sound like a laugh came from that bent figure.

'The woman's reason. Why didst thou not choose, Azîzan?'

There was no anger, scarcely a trace of anxiety even, in his tone. He
was no novice to the ways of women, and the girl's face told him that
his chance of life was almost gone. What must be must, and death came
to all; to the mad fool in her turn. The sombre fire of her eyes met
his sullenly; but she made no answer, save to lay the knife down
quietly on the sill of the arch against which she leant. The steel rang
clear upon the hard red sandstone.

The old Diwân's wrinkled hand hovered for a moment over the pieces on
the board, then fell back upon his knees. So they sat staring at each
other silently in the bow of the balcony. There was nothing more to be
said. She had chosen; why, she knew not. And as the clamour of the rain
and the rush of the river rose higher and higher, Zubr-ul-Zamân's head
sank upon his breast with the old formula--

'Queen's mate; the game is done.'

The woman's reason, or unreason, had conquered the Strength of the
World. But that was no new thing to the Diwân's wisdom.

But to the people outside in the open, huddling together under the
pitiless downpour for safety's sake, it was more or less of an
amusement to wonder how long the old tower would hold out against the
mad stream sapping at its foundations. Not long; for already the ruined
wall had gone, disclosing a portion of the secret stair, where Zainub,
the old duenna, lay parched up almost to a mummy. A hideous sight, no
doubt, had there been light enough to see it; but there was not, and
the refugees upon the higher ground could discern nothing but the block
of the old tower and the swirling water below. A faint light came from
the balcony of the room where the Diwân was known to be; and, as they
watched it, people speculated how the door came to be fastened. Perhaps
it had swung-to, perhaps---- Well, he must be dead, or would soon be
dead, since rescue was impossible; and, after all, he had lived his
time. Khush-hâl had been saved from his swinging cradle, and then there
was Dalel away up at Simla. Rulers enough for a poor country-side, if
God spared it from the Great Flood; and if not, why then the old man
was at least better off than they, exposed as they were to the
elements. Far better; both he and the outcasts in their straw huts,
which would hurt no one even if they fell. So the first in the land was
as the last, and the last first. '_Sobhan ullah!_'

As the rain slackened the night grew darker, until even the block of
the tower ceased to show against the sky, and the little company of
watchers could only hear the thunder of its fall.

'God rest him,' muttered a peasant, muffled into a formless bundle in
his blanket. 'He was a hard master, and the new one may be harder
still. There will be a good crop anyway.'

And down on the very edge of the boiling stream, when the rain ceased,
a light went twinkling up and down, up and down. It was the potter
looking for his dead daughter as the _débris_ of the old wall, beneath
which she had been buried sixteen years before, crumbled away bit by
bit before the furious stream.



                              CHAPTER XX


The dawn broke upon a new world as far as Hodinuggur was concerned.
Where the desert had stretched thirsty and dry, lay a shoreless sea.
Where the streak of silver had split the round horizon into halves, the
double line of the canal banks looked like twin paths leading to some
world beyond the waste of waters. They steered straight out of sight
on either side, almost unbroken save for the great gap where the
sluice-gate had stood. There the stream still swept sideways to circle
round the island of Hodinuggur, which bore, like an ark, its company of
refugees from the surrounding levels; a little company which
straightway, taking advantage of the coming sun, began to wring out its
wet garments and spread them to dry, until a general air of washing-day
reduced the tragedy of the past night to the commonplace. And after
all, what had happened? An old woman or two had been drowned, the Diwân
and his tower swept away. But the world held too many old women and
more than enough of nobles. For the rest, it had not been the Flood of
the Most High; and though Death came to all in the end, and the
loneliness of it must be dreary, still it was somehow more terrifying
to die in batches, wholesale.

So, clothed in their white, new-washed robes like the elect, they went
down after a time in companies to see the extent of damage done to
their belongings, and test how far it was possible to wade through the
water towards the village homestead or two which rose above the flood.
Canal-wards, of course, passage was barred, would be barred for days
until the stream ceased flowing or a boat was brought. So the horseman
whom they could see picking his way flounderingly along the northern
bank might be the only survivor of the big world beyond, and they be
none the wiser--for the time. It was Dan Fitzgerald who, after an
enforced shelter at the half-way village, was wondering who could have
taken the responsibility of anticipating the telegram he carried in his
pocket by opening the sluice-gates, and so, in all probability saving
the big Sunowlie embankment farther down. For the sluice had been
opened; that was evident to his experience at once, since without the
lead of the current to cut, the flood would have swept on to do its
worst elsewhere. Well! whoever had done it, be he watchman or Diwân,
deserved something at the hands of the Department, and be the past
record a bad one or not, this act should have its reward--its just
reward--if he could compass it.

Ten minutes after, he had driven the chattering servant from the room,
and grief-stricken, yet convinced into a sort of calm acceptance of the
inevitable, had lifted the poor lad's body tenderly to the bed. He
scarcely even thought of a reason for the tragedy; perhaps there was
none, for Dan in his rough and ready life had seen such a thing before;
had known the useless search for some adequate cause. And was there not
cause enough here for a sudden loss of balance? That race down from
Paradise to Purgatory!--the intolerable journey--the horrible
homecoming; and then the cursed bottle he had left. The remembrance
sent his whole mind into useless regrets. If he had only ridden faster,
if somehow he could have been there in time to prevent the loneliness,
the awful desolation of it all! for he had been through such loneliness
himself, and knew what it had meant to him. Perhaps, taking his own
excitability as a standard, he over-estimated the effect on George's
nature. At any rate, as he stooped mechanically to pick up the revolver
round which the boy's dead hand had still been closed, he felt that,
given the necessity for sudden return, the rest might be inferred. And
then, beside the revolver he saw the open locket, with Gwen's smiling
face staring up at him. _Gwen!_ Great God! what did it mean? His own
locket, of course, and yet----he sat down at the table white as death,
looking first at the pretty face, then at the still figure on the bed,
now decently shrouded from the glaring light of day. And by degrees the
colour returned to his cheek. No! it could not be so. She was not
cruel, only careless; and ah! what a grief this would be to her!
Besides, George was not one to put a life-long regret of that sort into
a friend's life. So pondering, he realised that among other incidents
of the home-coming had been that of learning who his sweetheart really
was. That, then, did not happen at Simla, so that could not have been
the cause of the lad's sudden return.

Why, then, had he come? The new lock and keys lying on the table, gave
him a clew, and his quick wits suggested danger to the gates. Then it
came to him in a flash confusedly, almost irrationally, that it had
been done for his sake and hers, and he was on his knees by the bed in
a minute.

'Oh! George! George! why did you do it?'

So with the answering silence came a decision, impulsive, yet
immutable. Such blame as could be taken he would take. No one should
know or dream of failure. No one should ever say--'Ah, poor fellow, he
shot himself; must have been something wrong, you know.' Rapidly he
counted the costs, the possibility of silence. Hodinuggur, separated
from him by an impassable stream, could not be taken into account, so
he must accept the risk there. It would not be much, if the servants'
tale was true, that they had only discovered their master's death when
the storm began, and had done no more than send word to the palace. No
one, then, could have seen the body save those four or five servants,
who loved their master, and worshipped rupees, and, above all, desired
peace and quiet, and not the dangerous rakings up of the past which
always followed on the advent of the police. Then for the Department
itself. What he had said in his ignorance was true. Whether George had
opened the sluice when, as the servants said, he went out in the middle
of the day, or whether the palace folk had done it, the Department, in
either case, owed the opener a debt of gratitude. If the latter, the
Moghuls would be glad to keep silence; if the former, even if they set
up a claim for compensation for damage, they would have been due so
much had he, Dan, arrived in time to carry out his orders; thus no
injustice would be done.

So half an hour afterwards, one of the servants started along the path
to the outer world with a telegram to headquarters, and that evening,
when the flood had subsided a little, Dan chose out the driest spot he
could find in the sandy compound, and read the Church service over his
friend's body. No one, he told himself, should know the truth; except
some day perhaps, Gwen, when she came there as his wife. Then he would
tell her, the pity, the needlessness of it all; and yet the
needlessness had this virtue in it, that it made concealment possible;
for the flood had swept away the error, if error there had been.

The telegram reached Colonel Tweedie next morning, among many more
telling of disaster and death along the line of the great canal. Yet
none was more pitiful than this one which ran thus--


'_Opening of sluice-gate, as ordered, saved Sunowlie embankment, but
palace injured. George Keene died yesterday of cholera. Very prevalent
here. Details by post_.'


'Dear! dear!' fussed the Colonel. 'How very sad! What a blow to poor
Mrs. Boynton. She is so tenderhearted, and really, she was almost
unnecessarily interested in that boy.'

They all thought of her; even Lewis Gordon, as yielding to that odd
desire to see for oneself which besets us all when bad news comes by
telegram, he sat looking at the flimsy message of evil; yet his first
words were of Rose.

'Your daughter will feel it also, sir; feel it very much, I'm afraid.'
Then he paused, to resume in more ordinary tones. 'I had, I think,
better start at once, sir. I can report all along the line, and wire if
your presence seems necessary. I hardly think it will be, and it is
useless inconveniencing yourself for nothing.'

Colonel Tweedie bridled. 'I am not accustomed to consider my own
convenience as against the public service'--he was beginning pompously,
when Lewis cut him short.

'I'm afraid I wasn't thinking so much of you, sir, as of Miss Tweedie.
This will be a great blow to her.' He thought so honestly, and as he
jolted down the hill in a tonga half an hour afterwards he told himself
he was glad to have escaped the necessity for seeing her grief, even
while he was conscious of a curiosity to know how she would take the
news. There was no such difficulty in imagining Gwen's behaviour. He
could almost see the pretty pathetic face keeping back its tears, and
hear the soft voice saying with a little thrill in it that George was
the nicest, dearest boy she had ever met, and that she would never
forget his kindness and goodness to her--never! never!

As he thought of this his expression was not pleasant, for Gwen had, in
his opinion, done her level best to turn the lad's head, and so must
surely know that she was talking bunkum. A man would know it; though
perhaps it was not fair to judge a woman by a man's standard of truth,
and Gwen, doubtless, was as genuine as she knew how to be; as genuine,
anyhow, as Rose Tweedie, with her pretensions of utter indifference to
all sentiment. Well, poor girl! she was face to face with realities
now, for she had certainly cared a good deal for George, even to the
extent of trying to keep him from Gwen's wiles. Poor George! a fine
young fellow, who, for one thing, had been saved a bad heartache.

He had intended passing on as quickly as possible to Hodinuggur, but
being delayed by the necessity for settling endless requisitions for
repairs, had barely reached Rajpore ere Dan Fitzgerald returned,
reporting that there was no reason for him to go out. Permanent repair
was impossible till the rains should be over, as every lesser flood
must run down the channel cut out for it by this deluge, and everything
to ensure the further safety of the palace had been done. Barring the
Diwân's tower, there had not after all been much damage, as the jewels
and treasure in the vaults below had been saved: besides, the bumper
crops which would follow on the inundations would more than compensate
for any loss. There was, however, a certain anxiety in Dan's face as he
said this.

'Well, even if they were to claim,' replied Lewis complacently, 'the
saving of the Sunowlie bank would be dirt cheap at a few thousands. It
cost us over two lakhs, and I was in an awful funk about it, thinking
we must be too late. I tried to intercept poor George with a wire,
knowing he would take the order quicker as he was already on the way.

Dan's whole soul leaped towards the possibility. 'Then he got it after
all. I was wondering----' he paused, angry at his own imprudence.

'Wondering what?' asked Lewis impatiently. 'I was going to say I missed
him, and then I didn't see how you could possibly get there in time. By
the way, when did you get my wire?'

'About an hour after you sent it off,' said Dan uneasily. He did not
care for Lewis Gordon's sharp, practical eyes on these details.

'That is, say, ten o'clock on the morning of the 6th, I suppose. Good
riding, indeed! And that reminds me. The report from the Rajah's
people, which came through your office, says that the water first ran
through the cut about middle day on the 6th. Manifestly impossible. You
had hardly left Hodinuggur. It's a trifle, of course but you had better
stamp on the inaccuracy, and show you are on the watch, or they will go
on to cooking generally.'

'Yes----,' replied Dan slowly. This simple difficulty in concealing the
discrepancy of time had escaped him before; but he was fully alive to
it now. Most men in his place would have set the question aside, at all
costs, for further consideration, and risked the possible consequences
of the evasion. But Dan's mind was of finer temper; he could trust it
to thrust home at any moment. This is the true test of power, and it is
only the second thoughts of the commonplace which are better than their
first. So he took advantage of the occasion calmly, knowing his man.

'But they are right. I did not open the gates. I believe George did,
but even of that I am not sure. However, you shall judge for yourself.
I don't ask for confidence, of course. I haven't the right; but I
expect you will give it all the same.' Then boldly, plainly, yet with
one reservation, he told the tale of what he knew and what he surmised.
George had shot himself--of that there was no doubt. The sluice had
been opened, in his opinion, by treachery, of which George, at Simla,
had received some hint, and which he had arrived too late to prevent;
though this also was mysterious, since the gates had not been opened
till long after George's arrival. The guard at the sluice had been
drowned or had disappeared, and the new Diwân, Khush-hâl, professed
pious ignorance. In fact, only this much was certain, that the Sunowlie
embankment had been saved, that George had taken the responsibility on
himself even to death, and that the flood had made it possible to keep
his memory from stain. For the sake of his friends alone, was not this
desirable? This hint, no more, he gave of the inner tragedy connected
with the locket. Yet as those two men sat looking at each other across
the office-table littered with papers, their thoughts, all unknown to
each other, flew to the one woman; but the memory brought tears to
Dan's dark eyes, and left Lewis's hard as the nether millstone in the
conviction that Gwen was at least morally responsible for George
Keene's death. It came to him as a certainty, and yet a contemptuous
tolerance came with it. She had not meant, of course--women never
did--to play fast and loose with the boy's head. Yet she had done so.
He had spent too much money, he had been careless; honest, perhaps,
though even that might not be so, no one could tell. Why then should
they try to find out now, when it was all irrevocable, when no harm
could come out of silence? And George had been a good sort; too good
for such an end; besides, even for Gwen's sake silence was best. He
felt very bitter against her, very sore; yet such things must not be
said about his future wife as might be said if the truth were really
known.

'I suppose it had better remain as it is,' he said at last, moodily.
'Cholera has served its turn in such a case before--one of the
advantages of living in a land of sudden death. Poor George! I daresay
there was treachery.

Dan, shading his eyes with his clasped hands, was silent a moment. 'If
there was, he had no part in it. I wonder if you remember a
conversation in the balcony at Hodinuggur about what a man would do in
such a case. "No, you wouldn't, not unless you wanted to be thought
guilty." Do you remember saying that, Gordon?'

Lewis nodded; it was not a pleasant memory.

'I can't tell you the whole. But I am convinced George shot himself to
save me. He knew'--what, perhaps, you don't--that I was engaged to a
woman----'

Gordon pulled some papers towards him impatiently, and took up a pen,
as if to end the subject.

'I suppose it is always "_cherchez la femme_"; yet it does not seem to
me an agreeable factor in existence.'

'_Cherchez la femme!_' echoed Dan. 'Why not? They are our mothers and
sisters, our sweethearts and wives, after all. And have you ever
thought, Gordon, what it must be like to look back over a lifetime, and
see next to nothing that you would rather have left undone? Or, if
you're pious, to take a sort of pride in pillorying yourself for a
cross word or a tarradiddle? There isn't a man in a million with that
record, but half the women one meets--ay! half the women one
patronises--have it. Perhaps it is small blame to anything but fate;
still they have it.'

'Or think they have--which has the same effect! You remind me of a
countryman of yours, a doctor, I knew once. "The sex," he said, "can't
do wrong, and when it does it's hysteria." However, let us leave that
poor lad to rest in peace; in a way that is more worth than the
happiness of any woman who ever was born. And, look here, make the tale
of reports complete, send them to me, and I'll consign them, dates and
all, to a pigeon-hole. That is the beauty of official mistakes; you
_can_ pigeon-hole them and no one is the wiser, unless, indeed, some
personal motive crops up. But that is not likely. So far as I can see,
it is to no one's interest to make a row--not even if there is a woman
at the bottom of it all.'

There was a concentrated bitterness in his tone, due to no cynicism,
but rather to an intensity of pain; for if Rose Tweedie belonged by
birth to that strange latter-day feminine development which
unconsciously sets passion aside both from mind and emotion, and will
none of it spiritually or physically, Lewis belonged to that still
larger class of men who have driven it from the mind: who say openly
that it is despicable; but that the world cannot get on without it; who
insist in a breath in its unworthiness and its necessity. Gwen, he said
to himself after Dan had gone, was very woman, capable of ruining any
man in a week if she chose, and then being sorrowfully surprised at
the result. Still it would be unkind to wound her needlessly by telling
her that result; the more so because she would certainly tell other
people, and Rose Tweedie might break her heart over it. Even if the
pigeon-holed mistake were found out, they might get up a fiction about
the telegram having reached George after all. The compensation might
have to be given; but even in that case he could see no need for raking
up the mud, since the claim would be a just one.

Nevertheless a week after, when he and Dan were once more seated
opposite each other at the office-table, he felt vaguely uncomfortable.
For a schedule of the dead lad's debts lay between them ready for the
Administrator-General, and that showed an item of six thousand rupees
borrowed on George's note of hand, backed by some youngsters on the
very day on which he had left Simla.

'It was a first holiday, you know,' said Dan regretfully. 'And
Hodinuggur is such a hole. There were the races, you know,
and--and----'

'_Cherchez la femme_,' quoted Lewis; 'I don't blame him, not a bit. But
if there had been an inquiry, Fitzgerald?-----'

Dan shook his head and sighed fiercely. 'Yes! I know. For all that, he
was straight--straight as a die! My only regret in keeping the thing
dark is that some one has to go scot-free.'



                             CHAPTER XXI


A shivering woman in one pannier; in the other, such things as a
breathless fugitive can gather together in one hurried half hour.
Between them the hump of a camel, a camel which every instant seems as
if it must split into halves as its long splay legs slither and slide
in the mud that covers all things.

Such was the method of Chândni's flight from Hodinuggur. Not a
comfortable one, but under the circumstances necessary; nor was she
altogether unprepared for that necessity. People of her trade know what
to expect when they are attached to petty intriguing courts, where one
ruler's meat is invariably the next ruler's poison. Besides, in this
case she had to reckon on Khush-hâl Beg's anger at the repulse she had
given him on more than one occasion; given him, of course, with a view
to future possibilities with his son Dalel, but that rather increased
than diminished the offence. And now her patron, old Zubr-ul-Zamân, was
dead, Khush-hâl had supreme power, and what was more, three pearls were
amissing from the Hodinuggur necklace; three pearls which could easily
be traced home to her safe keeping, _and no further_, if needs be. So,
at the first hint of inquiry, Chândni had deemed it wiser to seek the
protection of the only man who knew something--if not all--about the
intrigue which had ended so strangely in Providence setting aside the
necessity for any intrigue at all. If Dalel chose to remain at Simla,
where, no doubt, he was amusing himself hugely, she would not interfere
with his amusements; that had never been her plan. She would only
resume her empire over his weak, worn-out wickedness. And yet the
flight entailed horrible discomfort. The splaying camel was to her what
a bad passage across the channel is to a fashionable lady, and as she
clutched wildly at the sides of the pannier, she decided that life was
not long enough for a repetition of such experience. If she returned to
Hodinuggur at all, it must be in a position which would ensure a
different style of locomotion. Even the night journey by rail, cooped
up behind iron bars in the wild-beast-cage-like compartment, labelled
in three languages for 'modest women,' was, in comparison, comfort
itself. Huddled up decently into a shapeless white bundle, she could at
least think over the odd turn affairs had taken, and make up her mind
what had best be done. The first thing, of course, was to bring Dalel
to her heel. That ought not to be difficult, for though--the water
having been procured--he might, like his father, find it convenient to
underrate her services in the matter, she had one or two good cards to
play in her adversary's strong suits which might with care save the
trick. At any rate they ought to prevent any reckless disregard of her
claims. First, they wanted the pearls back, and now that the Diwân was
dead, she was the only person who could tell them the ins and outs of
that transaction. Next, they wanted payment of the heavy _douceur_
promised by the Rajah for good offices in making it possible for the
water to irrigate that basin of alluvial soil to the south. But here
again now that the Diwân was dead, they would find difficulty in
proving that anything had been done--that the flood was not responsible
for all, unless she chose to help them with her evidence.

For the rest, give her Dalel and a bottle of champagne to herself for
one hour. If in that space he did not come back, as he had done a dozen
times before, to her empire of evil, she would have none of him. He
would be dead to all she had to offer in fullest perfection. He would
be beyond her influence, as it were, and so useless for her purpose.
She was not going to marry a fool in order to wear a veil and live with
a lot of women.

By this time two coolies were carrying her up the hill from Solon, in a
thing like a bird-cage slung on poles; so small, so square, that she
had to sit in it cross-legged and bolt upright. But though she could
not sleep, even with the aid of opium, and though the hill-sides, after
the first rush of the rains, were clothed with tinted blossoms, and the
winding valleys green as emeralds with young rice, Chândni never parted
the thick patchwork curtains shrouding her from the public gaze, until
the setting down of the dhooli warned her of an opportunity for a
gossip and a pipe. Then her feet came over the side with a challenging
clash of their silver bells, and a quick stir run round the sleepy,
sun-sodden stage where travellers, and coolies, and sweetmeat sellers
lay huddled together in the shade. Even the cowboy driving his cattle
from the bales of fodder on their way up for the sahib-logue's ponies,
paused to look at her with a grin, while his beasts ate on. The bees
were flitting from flower to flower, a golden oriole flashed through
the green transparency of the walnut-trees, and below the branches the
great emerald hearts of the yam leaves outlined themselves against the
sapphire distance of the valley, which was divided from the sapphire
distance of the sky by the glittering pearly spikelets of the snowy
range. Sapphires and pearls echoed and re-echoed in ever-receding
distance by the white clouds dividing one sea of ether from another.

But in all this world there was nothing worth a look, apparently, save
Chândni, the courtesan, swinging her silver anklets over the edge of a
dhooli; to judge at any rate by those human eyes.

She did not go straight to her destination, but paused at a house in
the bazaar where such as she were all too welcome. There was never any
mincing of words or thoughts with Chândni. To one end she had been born
a courtesan, and to this end she lived to the best of her ability. So
she paused to clothe herself in clean clear muslins, and hang great
garlands of tuberose and jasmine about the column of her massive
throat; to redden her lips, and give a deeper shadow to her eyes;
looking at herself the while in the thumb-mirror worn on her left hand.
No more, no less intent upon appearing at her best than many a person
who has not been born to that end; many a decent, respectable person,
who would be dreadfully shocked at having her innocent half hour before
the cheval-glass evened to Chândni's most reprehensible occupation.
Perhaps the difference lies in the size of the mirrors; at any rate it
is not palpably apparent elsewhere.

Mirza Dalel Beg was living, she knew, in a European house, as the upper
ten of natives love to do. Why, is, in five cases out of six, a
mystery. The sixth, no doubt, has acquired exotic tastes; the remaining
five, no doubt, consider it good style to pretend them. So, after
paying roundly for the privilege of toilet-sets and dinner-services,
they prefer the water-carrier with his skin bag to a lavatory, and a
big platter on the floor to all the neatly-laid dining-tables in
creation.

A curious example of the fascination which useless comforts have for
some people came to light during one of the many Embassies from Cabul
which British diplomacy, or the want of it, has inveigled into India.
During its stay there, district-officers were instructed to provide the
whole horde of barbarians with house-room in European fashion so as to
avoid invidious distinctions. As a rule, the local Parsee was invited
to furnish a requisite number of empty houses with the necessary repp
curtains, French clocks, Britannia-metal teapots, and German prints,
needed for the night's hospitality. Next day, so runs the tale, there
never was a soup-plate to be found. Occasionally the guests packed up a
French clock; once, it is affirmed, a sponge-bath went amissing, but
unless they ate them, that Embassy must have gone back to Cabul with
some hundreds of dozens of soup-plates stowed away among the official
presents of watches that won't go, and guns that won't fire; and soup
is not a national dish in Afghanistan.

So Dalel Beg had rented a house which he got cheap, because three of
its previous tenants had died of typhoid fever. It was a pretty place
enough, shut in somewhat by the ravines which furrow the lower part of
the ridge, but with an outlook beautiful beyond belief over the plains.
The single dahlias--refuse run wild from many a garden above--found
foothold in every cranny of the rocks, and great sheets of morning
glories climbed over the broken rails fencing the narrow path from the
steep declivity, which seemed to leap at one bound to the pale blue of
the valley below. Chândni, stepping out of her dhooli, looked at it all
distastefully, reached forth a strong, ring-bedecked hand, appropriated
a yellow dahlia, which she stuck behind her ear, and called. Then the
bells clashed again as she walked with a free step over to the verandah
of the house, raised the chick, and looked in, while the dhooli-bearers
squatted down beside the railings, and apparently resumed a
conversation begun in the bazaar. For the rest, sunshine and silence.

Chândni, dazzled by the glare outside, could at first see nothing
clearly; the room, though to her unaccustomed eyes crammed full of
useless things, seemed empty of what she sought. Then suddenly there
came a shrill, unformed voice--

'Go away! We don't want you. Mam-ma, send her away. Go, I tell you! The
Mirza is married now; I am his wife.'

The girl who came forward was not more than fifteen by the look of her,
with a frizz of hot-pressed light hair over her forehead, and a skin
which gave one the impression of being bleached, perhaps because of the
coal-black eyes set in the narrow sharp face; yet with a certain
attractiveness about the figure, dressed as it was in the height of
fashion, with sleeves to the ears, and a waist requiring the surgical
bandage of folded silk to prevent it from breaking in two.

His wife! Chândni, from her full height and magnificent development,
looked at her as distastefully as she had looked at the view from the
terrace. Neither were to her liking: they both appealed too much to the
imagination. This other woman who came in answer to the call was
better, though past her prime and pulpy; drowsy, too, from the snooze
she had been enjoying on the sofa. Still with a torrent of capable,
tell-tale abuse for the intruder.

'Ari!' laughed Chândni contemptuously, when the fat lady paused for
breath. 'So thou too hast been of the bazaar? But I want not thee, or
that half-fledged thing who calls herself a wife. I want Dalel--where
is he?'

'Mamma!' cried the unformed voice in English, breaking down over its
own feeble passion. 'Send her away, I tell you! The Mirza will be back
soon, and she must not be here. Don't fool with words. Call the
servants. _Ai! budzart!_ (base-born). I will throw you down the _khud_!
(hill-side).'

Chândni laughed again--laughed louder as, in response to the girl's
cry, a face showed itself behind her.

'Salaam, oh _bhai_! (brother),' she said, nodding her head at the
new-comer. 'Ah! 'tis thou, Mohammed? look you, this image saith she
will fling me down the _khud_. If it came to force, my pigeon, I know
which would have the Mirza; but I will not fight for him thus, he is
not worth it. So, he fancies thee? God help him. Sure, thy mother is
the better woman.'

'Come, come, mother Chândni,' urged the servant in response to shrill
commands. 'This is no place for thee now. These are mem's. And he hath
married her,' he went on fast and low. 'Yea! 'tis true, the _nikka_
hath been read, so abuse is vain. Come, thou canst see him elsewhere.'

'Nay! I will see him here--here with his mem,' retorted Chândni airily.
Then she turned swiftly on the elder woman, who, going to the door, was
about to call for further assistance. 'What harm shall I do thee, fool,
who art as I am with a piebald skin, or as this one, who would be as I
am had God made her a woman. Lo! ask thy servants who Chândni the
courtesan is, and what she has been, ay! and will be--if she chooses.'

It was an odd scene. The room decorated into bastard civilisation; the
girl depending on a lack of pigment in her skin for all her claims to
mem-ship, that being the only trace of her unknown European father; the
mother without even this distinction, yet clinging to her taint of
'Western blood, as to a patent of nobility; clinging to it farcically,
in fringe and furbelow, in fashion generally. Before them, as it were,
against them, stood Chândni, in her trailing white Delhi draperies and
massive garlands, a figure which might have served as model for some of
those strange solemn-eyed statues, half Greek, half Indian, which are
found buried in the sand-hills of the frontier. There was a little
crowd of dark expectant faces at the door now, towards which she nodded
familiarly.

'Go back! oh brothers! I do no harm. 'Tis not my way with women folk. I
wait the Mirza's return. Then, if I am not wanted, I will go. Lo!
Chândni the courtesan hath no need to keep a man in a leash; she hath
no need to have the _nikka_ read, my little pigeon, as thou hast. Ari!
so the pictures in the papers Dalel used to bring me are true, and 'tis
a beauty to have no body and a big head.

Beatrice Norma Elflida D'Eremao, presently her Highness Mrs. Dalel Beg,
gave a little scream of rage, and stamped her tiny high-heeled shoes
upon the floor. Mrs. Lily Violet D'Eremao, her mother, known in her
time by many a _sobriquet_ until she settled down to sobriety and the
education of a fair daughter, screamed too, in voluble abuse; but they
were both quite helpless before the white-robed figure standing between
them and the sunlight with a laugh on its red lips, which did not leave
them when into the midst of the scene came Dalel Beg, got up in his
dandy riding gear; only the folded pugree remaining to tell the tale of
his birth. Perhaps because the ideas within the head it covered needed
some such excuse for their existence. His face was hideous in its sheer
malice, livid, not with passion or fear, but from that hatred of
opposition which belonged to his race. And Chândni, recognising this,
swept him a low salaam, graceful to the uttermost curve of each finger,
a salaam which would have made Turveydrop die of envy, a salaam such as
one sees once or twice in a lifetime. A minute before she might have
given it in derision; now she yielded it to the lingering majesty in
this pitiful representative of a long line of tyrants.

'Long life attend my lord,' she said, in those liquid tones of set
ceremony, which her class pride themselves on acquiring. And even among
them Chândni had a silver tongue: none near her, so the report ran.

Dalel Beg's eyes saw, his ears heard. They would not refuse their
wonted office, and yet as he took a step nearer, he raised the hunting
crop he held.

'Go!' he cried. 'Go! Mohammed! Fuggu--turn this scum of the bazaars
from the door.'

'Which scum of the bazaars?' she asked coolly. 'This--or that?'

It was not scorn exactly, it was an indifferent contempt which seemed
to leave no denial possible, and which held action arrested.

'Which is it to be, Mirza sahib?' she asked again, crossing swiftly to
where the girl stood as if to measure her height against that small
insignificant figure. 'There is not much to choose between us, except
in the outside--and thou hast eyes!'

'Fuggu! Mohammed! Dittu! Scoundrels, turn her out! call the Kotwâl!
Turn her out, I say!' shrieked the Mirza, fast loosing all dignity in a
sort of animal admiration for this woman, who, he knew, would come back
to him at a word. A word he dare not give,--which he did not wish to
give, as yet.

'Softly! softly! oh, my brothers,' came that liquid voice. 'There is no
need to touch Chândni the courtesan. The master hath his right, and I
will go. I only ask a word, and sure my words are better for the ear
than theirs.'

It was incontestably true, for mother and daughter were now at the
highest pitch of the Eurasian accent aggravated by hysterics, and the
men stood uncertain, siding, every one of them, with that which was
familiar.

'The word is this,' she went on boldly, 'I have done my part. Is there
to be payment?'

Dalel's face lost its last trace of dignity and settled down into mere
spite.

'So! it is payment. Lo! mother-in-law, hold thy peace! 'Tis nothing but
a bad debt, a debt without a bond! Payment! Go, fool, and ask it of the
old man--the old devil who was drowned. Ask not here--here we need all
the money we can get.'

Then in his delight and content in this opportunity for malice, he
forgot a suspicion of fear which had been with him hitherto, and
turned to the girl with a leer and a laugh: 'Aha! we want the _oof_
ourself, don't we, Tricks? Lo! I give you gold watch and chain to-day.
I give you gold bangle to-morrow, if you're good girl. But that
one--nothing--nothing.'

He echoed the last words jeeringly in Hindustani, cutting with his whip
towards Chândni as one cuts at a dog to frighten it from the room.
Perhaps he was nearer than he thought; anyhow, the uttermost end of
lash touching the silver bells on her ankle set them jingling. A slight
thing to make two women cease their cries, and half a dozen men or more
hold their breath involuntarily; yet it did, commanding silence for
that clear voice.

'Lo! thou hast given me something, oh Mizra Dalel Beg! which no man
hath given before to Chândni the courtesan. It is enough. I go.'

So far dignity went with her. But at the door she turned to give the
women back in kind and with interest the abuse which they had given to
her. Even with a despicable cheat like the Mirza, there was a
reputation to keep up--he was at least the descendant of worthy men who
had done their best for such as she; but with those two women, even as
herself, but without her claims, why should she be silent?

Yet ere she was half-way back to the bazaar she had forgotten them and
their abuse; forgotten everything save that clash of the silver bells.
That was an end--an end for ever to Dalel. In a way she was glad, for
he was unendurable when sober, and not much better when he was drunk.
Now nothing remained save the necessity for compensation and revenge.
If the Moghuls would not pay, there were others who would. The mem, for
instance, who had taken the pearls. And those who had spread it abroad
that the little sahib had died in his bed, they would not care to have
their truth impugned. They had bribed the servants no doubt, the Diwân
was dead, and they had held the water sufficient inducement for the
others. But she? She had had nothing, and she meant to have something.
And then when she had got her money's worth for silence, she would go
and sell that silence to the Rajah, unless indeed by that time the
Moghuls had bidden higher for her speech. Without her evidence the
question as to whether the bribe were honestly due for favours done
could not be settled. She would begin with the mem; not by demanding
money, but the pearls, since most likely they had been disposed of and
the difficulty of getting hold of them again would, as it were,
increase her power of screw. If at the end of a month the sahib-logues
defied her, she would offer her silence or her speech to the highest
bidder, and give her evidence for either. After that, a merry life,
even if it had to be a short one; for the mere taste of comparative
freedom she had had that morning in the wooden house in the Simla
bazaar, had aroused the old reckless instincts, and before the evening
was over the news that Chândni, singer and dancer from Delhi, had come
to the place, was on the tip of every native's tongue.



                             CHAPTER XXII


Mrs. Boynton had behaved very much as Lewis Gordon had anticipated on
hearing of George Keene's sudden death from cholera. She had wept
honest tears over the dear lad, even while she could not help feeling
happier than she had done for months; happier because of the flood
which had come and gone, sweeping away with it all her difficulties,
all her troubles. Yet it brought her one unavailing regret that she
should so unnecessarily have put the bitter pain of hearing her
confession into those last days, and that he should have gone down to
his death not thinking ill of her exactly--the dear lad would never
have done that--but hurt, disappointed, unhappy. She would have liked
him to have seen a certain letter which lay in a drawer of her
writing-table. A letter addressed, sealed, stamped, ready for sending,
which she had only kept back one day. Only one; yet, but for that lucky
chance it might have fallen into Dan's hands while George was ill and
brought needless pain into another kind heart; for there was, thank
heaven! no more need for humiliation and confession and promises of
restitution. She had torn open the letter in order to read it again,
and had been quite satisfied with its straightforward avowal of
responsibility and firm intention, should difficulties arise, of taking
the whole blame on herself. Then she had put it away again as a
perpetual witness to her repentance and amendment. And surely these
virtues had a right to forgiveness? One person, she knew, would do more
than forgive if he knew all, and this conviction joined to the sense of
loss which his prolonged absence from her environment always produced
in Gwen Boynton made her think very tenderly of Dan, who wrote her such
kind, sympathetic letters from Hodinuggur about the dear lad. He was
not jealous, and full of evil imaginings like Lewis, whose temper had
certainly not been improved by his visit to the plains. Though she did
not consciously feel the need of something stronger than the cousinly
affection she had for him, there is no doubt that the shock of her own
lapses from strict honesty, joined to that of George Keene's sudden
death, had made her disinclined for final decision; so the fact that
Dan would, from pressure of work, be unable to get leave that year, and
Lewis, from the same cause, was not likely to be urgent in love-making,
suited her capitally. She would have time to recover her tone. To this
end she proceeded, with a curious strength of purpose, to dismiss the
nightmare of the past from her mind. It was over. What had been, had
been. She would 'reach out to the things which were before'; no! not
reach out! She would not again be premature; she would let fate and
luck have their say to the full.

One small fact showed her state of mind exactly. She dismissed her
ayah, giving her as a parting present most of the articles which
Manohar Lâl had forced her into buying from him. The woman sulked, yet
held her tongue, no doubt knowing through her patron, the jeweller,
that so far as he was concerned the mem was safe; besides, when all was
said and done, the bucksheesh was sufficient; under no circumstances
could more have been expected. So, on the whole, life went quite
smoothly in the pretty little drawing-room where poor young George had
sat with his head on the table dazed and stunned by his bitter pain.

Over the way, however, in Colonel Tweedie's house, things were
different. Lewis Gordon, up to the ears in endless calculations, yet
found time to notice that grief suited Rose very ill. And grief,
forsooth, for a boy who had not cared a pin for her, who had run into
debt, and gambled and lost his head completely over another woman; who,
if the truth were known, had shot himself because--to take the most
charitable view of the matter--he had not the pluck to bear
disappointment. Naturally a young fellow felt being fooled--more or
less--by a woman, because certain instincts were the strongest a
man had--as a man. But one expected something more--or less--in a
gentleman. And there was Miss Tweedie, who depended for attractiveness
on the _beauté du diable_, looking pale and worn, over a mere
sentimentalism; for she herself would be the first to deny that she had
been what he, Lewis, would call 'in love' with George. Finally, though
he, knowing to the full Gwen's responsibility for the boy's suicide,
had every right, if he chose, to be hard on his cousin, why should this
girl, who knew nothing, stand aloof and show her disapproval so
plainly?

'You don't understand girls,' said Gwen easily, in reply to some hints
of his to this effect. 'Dear Rose can't help huffing me at present. I
should feel the same, I'm sure, towards any one who had, to my mind,
stood between me and my dear dead.'

Lewis shifted irritably in his chair, and wished to goodness she would
talk sense.

'Sense! Why, you yourself are always blaming me in your heart because
that poor boy thought me the most perfect woman in the world! You know
you are! As if it was my fault. As if I ever encouraged such an idea in
any one, or set up for being perfection.'

It was true enough. She never posed as anything but a woman _pur et
simple_. That was one of her charms in his eyes, and the injustice of
cavilling at what he really liked made him say more gently--

'I don't suppose you could help it, dear; and perhaps Miss Tweedie
can't either. I don't pretend to understand women--have enough to do in
trying to understand the atrocious English men put into their reports.
But I wish you could come over sometimes as you used to do. The girl
oughtn't to be allowed to eat nothing and grow so disagreeably thin.'

Gwen gave an odd laugh. 'Well, I'll invite myself to luncheon
to-morrow. It is bad for the girl--and so useless, into the bargain.'

The common-sense of the last remark lingered in Lewis Gordon's mind
comfortably as he went home. In more ways than one it was quite useless
to dwell on George Keene's unfortunate death. No doubt Rose, if she
knew all, would judge Gwen very harshly, and not only Gwen, but those
who, knowing what they did, went on as if nothing had happened; but
Rose Tweedie, the fates be praised, was not his judge.

And yet when he passed the window of her room on his way to his own,
she was in sober truth sitting in judgment on the figure she saw for a
second between the draped curtains. He had been over as usual to Mrs.
Boynton's--to the woman who had been the last to see George Keene, and
who would say so little of that interview; the woman who no doubt was
to blame if, as her father said, George had run into debt, and gambled,
and lost his head. Lewis must know all this, perhaps more, yet he went
on approvingly. By and by he would marry this woman--for they were
engaged, of course, even now. Was not that enough to make any one
unhappy who cared for him as she cared? Rose leant forward over the
book her eyes were studying, and tried hard to bend her mind also to
its consideration.

Despite these thoughts she received Mrs. Boynton on the next day
without a sign of disapproval; for Rose, like most unmarried girls at
the head of a house, was intensely proud of her position. In society,
if she did not care to speak to Gwen, she would not speak; if she did
not care to have her in the house she would not ask her; but if she
came, as she did now, uninvited, she was nothing more nor less than a
guest to be treated as a guest should be treated. Perhaps Lewis Gordon
had an inkling as to the cause of her graciousness, but Colonel Tweedie
saw nothing but a renewal of those amenities the loss of which he had
helplessly deplored during the past fortnight. It had put him out
terribly, and left him completely puzzled as to its cause. Certainly
not to any change in his mind, for the coolness had checked a steadily
growing conviction that he would not only like, but that he also ought,
to ask Mrs. Boynton to marry him. Rose was too much alone; she brooded,
as the former had kindly pointed out, over life, and fancied herself in
love with subordinates. She was too sensible for that sort of thing to
be real, but the constant companionship of a woman of the world was a
necessity to a young girl. It is surprising how many second marriages
are inspired by sensible considerations; still more surprising why such
prudence should then be thought virtuous, moral, blameless, yet be
deemed _anathema maranatha_ in first marriages. There are some things
which, as Dundreary said, 'no fellow can find out,' and one is the
curious ethical code which has quite obscured the real issues of
marriage, and made it possible for quick-witted husbands and wives to
quarrel desperately with each other about things that have nothing to
do with the tie between them. Colonel Tweedie, however, treated his
secondary reasons with the greatest respect, and beamed pompously round
the luncheon table as he announced his infinite regret that the duties
of his responsible position made it necessary for him to leave such
pleasant company sooner than he would otherwise have done. Mrs.
Boynton, however, would readily understand that Councils of State were
paramount to the public servant. Whereupon Gwen, after her fashion,
took the edge off his anguish by saying that she also had to be at home
early, seeing she had promised to interview some dreadful Madrassee
creature who had been recommended to her as an ayah.

'Why did you send old Fuzli away?' asked Rose suddenly. They had risen
as they were speaking, and she had been standing by the window
listening with a certain weariness in her face to her father's ornate
regrets.

'The old reason, "_I do not like thee, Dr. Fell_,"' laughed Gwen. 'I
suppose it is very illogical--therefore, as Lewis would say, very
womanly'--but I can't help disliking my world by instinct.'

'That is monstrously unkind,' broke in the Colonel, eager as a boy over
the opportunity, 'when your world can't help doing the reverse.' There
is something very satisfactory apparently in a compliment to the person
who makes it, and the Colonel felt and looked quite lighthearted over
his.

'When you have got rid of us all, Miss Tweedie,' said Lewis Gordon in a
low tone which yet covered Gwen's little laugh, 'you should go out and
have a jolly ride. I'm not using Bronzewing--she frets at waiting--so
she is at your service, if you care----' he paused in quick surprise--

Such a very little thing upsets a woman's balance at times; and
Bronzewing had been the one subject over which she and Lewis had never
quarrelled since the day of his accident. It was foolish, but the look
on her face made him turn hastily from the window to his cousin, and
catch at the first thing likely to give the girl time to recover
herself.

'I believe your ayah's coming here, Gwen; at least I see one of those
little covered dhoolies descending from your house, and if there are to
be _purda-nishin_ women about, sir, it is time we men were going.'

'Don't be ridiculous, Lewis. It is somebody going to pay a visit to the
khansaman's wife. The ayah wouldn't be _purdah_, and she wouldn't dare
to come here; and if she did, I am not going to make a zenana out of
Colonel Tweedie's drawing-room.'

'But you could go into Rose's sitting-room, of course,' protested the
Colonel; 'couldn't she, dear?'

'But indeed, good people,' began Gwen, laughing, 'it can't----'

Just then a servant, entering stolidly, announced a woman waiting to
see Mem Boynton sahib.

'I told you so,' cried Lewis joyfully, 'and, as a matter of fact, we
ought to be off, sir. It will take us a good twenty minutes to the
Secretariat.'

'Show the woman into the Miss Sahib's office,' cried the Colonel
fussily. 'Rose, my dear----'

But the girl had taken the opportunity of escaping through the open
French window.

'Please don't mind,' said Mrs. Boynton. 'I know my way about this
house--at any rate I ought to, seeing how hospitable and good you have
been always. Good-bye. I hope your interview will prove more pleasant
than mine is likely to be.'

Their ponies were waiting, and she stayed to see them start and give a
parting nod as they rounded the last visible turn of the path leading
to the Mall. Gwen always added these pleasant friendly touches to the
bareness and business of life. They came to her by instinct, and she
herself felt cold and cheerless without them.

Then, very well satisfied with herself, she crossed the long matted
passage which ran from end to end of the house, separating the portion
Colonel Tweedie reserved for his own use from that occupied by the
office. Here, beside her father's private room, was Rose's little
study, and beyond that again Lewis Gordon's quarters and the big glazed
verandah where the clerks sat designing. It was quite a small room,
and, as Mrs. Boynton entered it, seemed to her over full of perfume,
possibly from the vase full of wild turk's-cap lilies on the table. The
window was shut too, and Gwen as she made her way to the most
comfortable chair, with scarcely a glance at the white-robed figure
standing in the shadow of the curtains, gave a quick yet languid order
to set the glazed doors wide open.

'They are best shut if the Huzoor does not mind. I have that to say
which requires caution.'

Those round, suave tones, with almost the nightingale thrill in them
belonged to no ayah, surely! Gwen looked round hastily. That was no
ayah's figure either, tall, supple, unabashed. Instinctively the
Englishwoman stood up and confronted her visitor, more curious than
alarmed. Even to that ignorance of native life which is so typical of
the mem-sahib--an ignorance not altogether to be deprecated--the
woman's trade was unmistakable. That was writ large in the trimness and
cleanliness, the spotless white, the chaplets of flowers, the scent of
musk and ambergris filling the room; all the more reason for surprise
at her presence there. Yet, even so, curiosity outweighed indignation
and resentment in Gwen's cold questioning.

'Who are you? What do you want?'

The answer came quick, so quickly that it left the hearer with that
breathless sense of pained relief that the worst is over, which comes
with the clean sharp cut of a surgeon's knife.

'I am Chândni of Delhi. I want the Hodinuggur pearls which the Huzoor
took out of the Ayôdhya pot.'

There was no mincing of the matter here; none of that beating about the
bush which, as a rule, Gwen loved. Yet the directness did not displease
her; it seemed to rouse in her a novel combativeness, taking form in
similar effrontery and cool assertion.

'I don't know what you are talking about,' she said indifferently, 'and
I don't want you. Go!'

Her Hindustani, though limited, was of the imperative order and suited
the occasion; yet it evoked one of Chândni's shrill mocking laughs.

'The mem sahiba mistakes. She is not as I am, a daughter of the
bazaars, and if it comes to words Chândni hath two to her one. So I
come quietly to ask reasonably for my rights; not to dispute after the
manner of my kind. There is no need to tell the mem sahiba the story.
She remembers it perfectly. She knows it all as well as I. But this she
does not know: The pearls are mine, and I will have them back, or their
price in revenge.'

'I think you are mad!' cried Gwen more hastily. 'Go! go instantly, or I
will call the servants.'

'That were not wise! Lo! I know all about the papers of safety, which
Manohar Lâl gave in exchange for the little sahib's rupees. But the
pearls went not once, but twice.'

'Twice!' The involuntary echo had a surprise in it which angered the
courtesan.

'Yes, twice! The mem knows that as well as I do. The Ayôdhya pot----'

'Was stolen from me in the palace,' put in Gwen; 'you stole it, I dare
say.'

Again Chândni laughed. 'If I did, what then? The mem got it again and
sent it back through the post for more pearls. But we did not send it
thus; we sent it by the little sahib, who gave it to the mem, and she
sent the key in return. The papers are about the first pearls. These
are the second, and there is no safety paper about them.'

'It is not true!--it is a lie--he never took them--he never gave them
to me,' cried Gwen, her courage, oddly enough, failing before what was
to her an absolutely novel and unfounded accusation. 'I will not
listen! Go! or I will call.'

Chândni took a step nearer, lowering her voice. 'What! wouldst let the
truth be known; when thou canst conceal it--for ever! Give me the
pearls and no one shall know--no one shall cast dirt on the mem, and on
the little sahib--no one shall know how he took the bribes for you--no
one shall know thou didst beguile him as men are beguiled.'

'I--I did not--it is a lie, I----' faltered Gwen, falling back till
Chândni's hand closed like a vice on her wrist.

'Wah! What use to deny it to me? Do I not know the trick? A word, a
look, no more. What! do men send bullets through their hearts as Keene
sahib did for no cause? Ari, sister! we know better.'

The jeering comradeship was too much for caution even though the story
of poor George's death passed by her as a wanton lie. Gwen, struggling
madly, gave one scream after another for help, and, breaking from her
persecutor, turned to fly. At the same moment Rose, who had been into
her father's study for a book, burst through the door and stood
bewildered at the scene.

'Send her away! She tells lies--lies about me and George--lies about
everything. Oh! have her sent away, Rose. Please send her away.'

The girl, clasping the hands with which Gwen clung to her, turned on
the intruder angrily, and an indescribable hardness and contempt came
to her face, as she took in the meaning of the figure and its dress.

'How dare you come here? Go this instant! Put on your veil, hide
yourself, and go! Impertinent! Shameless!'

There was no answering laugh now. 'The Huzoor speaks truth,' replied
the courtesan quietly. 'I have no business here. I came but to see the
mem, bethinking me she might listen better in the house of those who
were friends to the little sahib----'

But Gwen's immediate terror had passed, leaving her face to face with
future fears.

'Don't listen, Rose!' she interrupted in English. 'You should never
listen to what women of that sort say about any one. She frightened me
at first with her lies, but the wisest plan is to send her away. I'll
call a servant.'

Chândni, listening to the quick whisper, smiled.

'The mem sahiba wants silence,' she said, nodding her head; but silence
is ever unsafe unless tongues are tied. And mine will wag if not here,
elsewhere, unless I get the Ayôdhya pot.'

Rose gave a quick exclamation, but Gwen's hand was on her arm, her
voice full of passionate entreaty.

'Don't, Rose! don't speak to her. I can tell you all. It is all lies;
some rigmarole declaring that after the pot had been stolen at
Hodinuggur it was sent back to me here at Simla, and that I returned it
again. There isn't a word of truth in it; I never----'

But the girl set aside her detaining hand with an impatient gesture,
and crossed to where Chândni stood watching them.

'You have made a mistake,' came the clear unfaltering voice. 'The
Ayôdhya pot was not sent to the mem sahiba, it was sent to me; and it
was I who returned it. What then?'

The frank admission brought a curiously similar expression to those two
listening faces; it seemed to leave both, abashed, uncertain, so that
Rose had to repeat her clear question before it gained reply.

'What then?' echoed the courtesan at last, somewhat sulkily. 'How can I
tell if this be so; and if it be so, how can I tell what came? Only
this I do know: the pot went to Keene sahib the day he left. He gave it
to some one. Let that some one answer. I care not who 'tis, so I have
my pearls that were hidden in the pot.'

'Pearls! There were no pearls in it when it came to me,' cried Rose
quickly; then remembering the jagged edge of clay she had noticed
inside, she turned to Gwen: 'Did you notice anything like a false
bottom when you had it before?'

The face into which she looked paled. 'You don't understand!' said Gwen
petulantly; 'the woman says that these pearls were put there after it
was stolen, so how could I notice anything when I tell you I never saw,
never heard of it again? I told the woman so just now. I will tell her
again before you! then I must, I will have her sent away, she has no
business here.'

But Chândni's recklessness had grown. 'I care not who has them. See!
there are three of us here in this room who have handled the pot. Let
her who hath it and its hoard speak truth, and save the little sahib.
For he had it, sure enough; of that there is proof.'

'Three of us!' repeated Rose absently, as if struck by a thought. Then
obeying a sudden impulse, she went over to a portfolio standing in one
corner of the room. 'You mistake,' she continued, her eyes full on the
courtesan. 'There are not three, but four of us. Look! Keene sahib
painted that.'

Chândni fell back, averting her face from the portrait of Azîzan, which
Rose placed against an easel on the table.

'The evil eye! the evil eye! God save us from the witch,' she muttered,
thrusting out her right hand in that two-fingered gesture which is used
against a baleful glance in both East and West. But Gwen pressing
closer looked at the picture with a dawning light of relieved
comprehension in her face.

'Did he paint that--how pretty it is! And it explains--it
explains--a--a great deal. He gave her the pot, I suppose--Well! it is
a pity, but one ought not to be----'

'Ought not to be what?' interrupted Rose fiercely, with a fine scorn in
her face, scarcely less concealed than the contempt with which she
turned to the other woman.

'You both seem to know or understand this picture better than I do,'
she said superbly. 'Perhaps you can tell me whom it represents?'

'My dear Rose,' expostulated Gwen, aside; 'don't for pity's sake ask
that creature. What would your father say if he knew? You may mix
yourself up----'

'Whose picture is it, I ask?' repeated Rose, unheeding. Then in the
silence of Chândni's smile, and Gwen's frown, she turned passionately
to the portrait itself. 'Why don't you speak and shame them? You look
as if you could tell the truth, and if he made you so, it was true!'
The very vehemence of her own fanciful appeal imposed on her, and she
paused as if waiting a reply. It came with a laugh from Chândni.

'She was another of the little sahib's friends. The miss saith true.
There are three of them here. Which will give back the pearls and save
him?'

'Save him from what?' cried Rose, disregarding Gwen's appeals for her
to leave the mad woman to the servants. 'What has Keene sahib done that
you can dare to threaten?'

The girl's bitter contempt roused all Chândni's savageness. After all
she was the mistress, and this girl, despite her courage, in her power
too; and what is more she should learn it.

'From what? from the shame which comes to the sahib-logue when their
pretence of honesty is found out--from the shame of having friends--the
shame of taking jewels for those friends--the shame of being untrue to
salt--Ask the mem how 'tis done, she knows--the shame of sending the
key of the sluice-gate so that the water----'

Her voice had risen with each sentence; now it ended in a gasp and a
gurgle.

'Open the door, please,' said Rose to Mrs. Boynton, who gasped also in
the intense surprise of the girl's swift action. 'Don't struggle,
fool!' she went on in the same hard tone, only the dead whiteness of
her face and a catch as she drew breath telling of the wild passion
surging in her veins. 'I won't choke you if you hold your tongue.'

Once before Chândni had felt a girl's grip on her throat; a hot,
straining grip. This was neither. It was the grip of a strong healthy
hand made vigorous by constant use. Those fierce fights over bat and
ball with the dead lad had had their share in the sheer muscle of her
defence of him, before which Chândni's large softness gave way, leaving
her not even a slandering tongue.

'Put the veil over her face, please! I won't even have it known who
dared to come here!' continued the girl, forcing the woman backwards
step by step till they reached the door. Then she pushed her from it
magnificently. 'Now go! and tell what lies you like elsewhere.'

But her face changed as she turned when the door was closed and bolted
to Gwen Boynton.

'Is it true? For God's sake tell me if there is a word of truth in it,
and I will find the money.'

Gwen dissolved into helpless tears at once; tears at once of vague
remorse, and a very real sense of injustice. 'True! oh, Rose, how can
you ask? Of course it isn't true. I wouldn't have done it for the
world. Indeed and indeed I never saw the Ayôdhya pot again, and I don't
believe George did. He was the soul of honour, and so good--so good to
me. It is all wicked, wicked lies, unless, indeed, that girl--but
there, I daresay she was bad like that horrid creature. Perhaps they
stole the pot between them and are now trying to blackmail us.'

'Stole the pot!' repeated Rose slowly, for the first time remembering
her dream on the night of the storm at Hodinuggur. 'Yes! that is
possible, and yet----.' She looked at Azîzan's picture, and then back
at Gwen, who was dabbing her eyes with a soft pocket-handkerchief. 'You
are sure?' she began again.

'Of course I am quite sure,' retorted Gwen, whose remorse had vanished
in grievance at this impudent attempt to amend and enlarge the text of
a past incident. 'I never saw or heard of the pot again. I may be weak,
I may have done things for which I am sorry in the past, but whatever
you may think, my conscience is clear. And as for the sluice? Dan
opened it by order; besides, there was the flood. It is all an attempt
to blackmail me, and I won't be blackmailed. I have done nothing they
can take hold of, nothing--nothing.'

Rose gave a sigh, almost of dissatisfaction. If it really was a case of
blackmailing, payment would be but a temporary relief. Perhaps, as she
had also suggested, the girl in the picture was in league with Chândni.
She did not look that sort either. Nor did she look as if---- Rose
glanced from the pure oval of the cheek and the fine long curves of the
mouth to Mrs. Boynton's tear-stained face and frowned.

'Some one has the pearls,' she said, 'and George's memory must be
saved--somehow.'



                            CHAPTER XXIII


'Come in!'

The words were given in an impatient tone, for Lewis Gordon was busy,
and he hated being disturbed; especially when, as now, he had taken his
coat off, literally as well as figuratively, before a difficult file.

The garment hung on the back of his chair, which, in obedience to a fad
of his, was the only one in the office; a second one, he declared,
being easily sent for if required, while its absence shortened many a
trivial interruption. Otherwise it was a comfortable enough room, with
a large French window set wide on a magnificent view of the serrated
snows resting on the wall of blue distance, and framed by the curved
tops of a forest of young deodars. The day was bright as a morning in
the rainy season can be; bright by very contrast between the brilliant
lights and shadows in earth and sky; bright as a rain-cloud itself when
the sun shines on it. A fresh breeze came in with Rose Tweedie through
the opening door and blew some papers off the table.

'I beg your pardon,' came in duet as Lewis fumbled blindly for his
coat; his eye-glass having deserted him in the surprise, after the
manner of eye-glasses. As he did so, he felt injured. Not that he was
such a crass idiot as to be outraged by a pair of shirt sleeves in
himself or others. But he knew quite well that no man can look
dignified, when struggling, even into a lounge-coat, and he liked to be
dignified, especially with Rose Tweedie. His irritation, however, hid
itself under a different cloak; that is to say, annoyance at a most
unusual intrusion. Perhaps she read the expression of it in his face,
for her first words were an excuse.

'I came here--to your office, I mean--because I want to ask you
something, and I didn't want you to feel hampered--not as a friend, you
know.' Her eyes met his in confidence of being understood so far, at
any rate, and he gave rather a stiff little bow.

'You are very welcome. Won't you take a chair--the chair, perhaps I
ought to say? I've been sitting all the morning, and shall be glad of a
change; unless you require some time. If so, I will send----'

'No, thanks, I prefer standing also,' she interrupted, with a quick
flush. 'I only wanted to ask you a question. It is about George Keene.'

'Yes----' he replied coldly, unsympathetically; and yet he was noting
her anxious eyes and haggard face with a sort of angry wonder why she
should make herself so unhappy. Rose's fingers held nervously to the
edge of the table by which she stood.

'Have you any reason--I mean, is there officially any reason to suppose
that the Hodinuggur sluice was opened before the flood came down, or
before Mr. Fitzgerald?'

She paused with her eyes on Lewis's face. She had lain awake almost all
the night thinking of Chândni's threats and hints, and with clear sight
had seen that their worth or unworth depended largely upon the official
report of what had actually happened at Hodinuggur. To her father she
could not go without danger from his want of judgment; there remained
Lewis, who was always just, always to be trusted in such matters.

His heart gave quite a throb of dismayed surprise at her question, and
forced him by contraries into still greater chilliness of manner.

'I'm afraid I can't quite see your right to ask me such a question--as
yet. Perhaps if you could give me a reason----'

'Oh yes! I can give you a reason,' she interrupted, with a ring of
scorn in her voice, 'though I think you might credit me with a good one
where George is concerned, surely? Only if I have to tell, you had
better send for the chair. I thought, perhaps, you would understand,
for once.'

The bitterness of her tone did not escape him, and accentuated his
annoyance. As he handed her the chair and leant negligently against the
table, his hands behind him, he told himself that he was in for
_mauvais quart d'heure_ with this girl. Man-like she would expect to
know all, womanlike she would expect sentiment to outweigh official
integrity. These thoughts did not serve to soften his heart towards the
dead lad even at the beginning, and as her story unfolded itself, his
face grew sterner and sterner. Hers lightened. It was an infinite
relief to have his advice--his help, and she told him so frankly, even
while she appealed for it.

'You needn't even answer my question, Mr. Gordon,' she went on
earnestly. 'You will know so much better than I do what had best be
done. I thought of going to see the woman myself----'

'You didn't go, I hope?' put in Lewis hastily.

'No! I made up my mind to ask you first. You see, if there is no truth
in all this--no truth whatever----'

'That is unlikely, I warn you,' interrupted Lewis. 'These women Really,
Miss Tweedie, if you follow my advice--much as it may pain you at the
time--you will leave this business alone, absolutely alone. It is not
one with which--excuse me for even alluding to the fact--a girl such as
you are should meddle. Unfortunately, we men have to face these things,
and they are not pleasant, even for us.'

'You speak as if you thought George was guilty,' said Rose hotly. 'What
right have you to do that?'

'I may have more right than you suspect. Believe me, Miss Tweedie, I am
heartily sorry--especially for you; and, so far as is compatible with
the facts, I will do my best to avoid official _esclandre_ should this
matter really crop up. In the meantime, I am afraid I must decline to
interfere in what Mrs. Boynton, you tell me, stigmatised as an impudent
attempt at blackmailing. She has her faults, no doubt, like everybody
else; but she has, excuse me for saying so, more knowledge of the world
than you have. In fact, you could scarcely do better than take her
advice on this point.'

The girl, with a frown on her face, rose from her seat slowly.

'Then you refuse to find out the truth? You are content to let this
suspicion lie upon--upon me and upon your cousin?'

Lewis smiled. 'That is rather far-fetched, Miss Tweedie, surely. The
idea of suspicion with you is simply absurd; and as for Gwen! Well, I
know you are ready to admit she has her faults; but she has called this
claim impudent blackmailing, and you must excuse me if I incline to
believe her.'

'And for George Keene? Do you suspect him? Are you going to allow his
memory to be smirched?'

'I have told you I will do my best. For the rest, he must take the
consequence of his own acts, I'm afraid. Indeed, I am sorry, very
sorry,' he added hastily, impelled to it by the look on Rose Tweedie's
face. It had grown ashen pale, yet she stood steadily before him, her
eyes on his unflinchingly.

'Then there is truth in it? You had better tell me. It would be kinder
to tell me--if you can.'

Perhaps, after all, it would. Perhaps, if this scandal had to come to
light, it would be better she should be prepared. Even if it did not,
was it not wiser she should know the real truth about George Keene, and
so be able to judge him fairly? Not a bad boy, of course. That talk of
bribery was no doubt false, and he had done no more in other ways than
hundreds of boys in a like position. Even at Simla he had only run wild
a bit, and for that he was not the only one responsible. Still, when
all was said and done, he had shot himself, and that alone made the
task of whitewashing him an impossibility if these women chose revenge.

'Yes! there is some truth in it,' he said gravely. 'If you will sit
down again, I will tell you everything I know, and then you can judge
for yourself. I should like you to understand, however, that in spite
of appearances, I don't believe George lent himself to anything more
than--what you would--not you, perhaps--but most of us would expect in
a young fellow of his age and his position. Life is--is rather
intoxicating to--to some of us.'

So, leaning against the table, he told her the truth, trying to do his
task calmly and kindly, yet beset by a certain impatience at the still
figure seated in his office chair, its elbows among his files, the
coils of its beautiful hair showing beyond the hands in which the face
was hidden. What business had it there? What business had the thought
of its pain to come so close to him? closer even than his own reason,
his own sense of justice?

'And you have known that he shot himself from the beginning?' she
asked, raising her head suddenly to look him full in the face. He
assented with a distinct self-complacency.

'Then what did you think made him do it? What did you think
then--before you knew anything about the death or the opening of the
gates?'

The self-complacency vanished. 'There are many reasons or want of
reasons, for that sort of thing, Miss Tweedie,' he said evasively. 'I
did not--I mean it was impossible to say absolutely, and that is why I
acquiesced in Fitzgerald's plan. It was more convenient to every one
concerned.'

'Much more convenient,' echoed Rose sharply. 'And you have known this
all the time, and not----' she broke off, as if incredulous of her own
half-uttered thought.

'Certainly, I have known it, and we would have kept the secret too,
Fitzgerald and I, but for this unfortunate business,' he retorted, and
his tone was not pleasant.

'Ah! _he_ is different; _he_ did not know! _he_ thought George had done
it for his sake, to screen him. But you? What did you believe?' The
girl's very voice was a challenge.

'I must say, Miss Tweedie, that I scarcely see how my belief affects
the question; or, pardon me, what it matters to you,' he replied,
taking refuge once more in his indifference.

'Do you not? Then I do. Not that it matters now,' she added in sudden
passion, 'for I will have my own way in the future. If you won't help
me, I can't help that; but I will have the truth. I will go down to
this woman in the bazaar and make her tell me. Whether her story is a
lie or not, there shall be no more concealment. I will not have it.'

'And George Keene's memory?' he suggested, angered almost beyond his
self-control by her unmistakable defiance. 'My advice is unwelcome, of
course, but if you took it, and Mrs. Boynton's--only that is unwelcome
too--you might save all scandal. I cannot say for certain that it
would, but as I have told you, I would do my best. Officially even, I
would do my best. That seems to be an offence also, for some reason,
but I would do it as much for the sake of the Department as for the
boy's. You--I know--think only of him----'

She turned upon him like lightening, carried out of herself by her
scorn, by her passion.

'Of him! I was not thinking of him at all! I was thinking of you--of
you only, as I always do. Why should you not know the truth? You will
not care a pin whether I think of you or not. And I? I care for
nothing--nothing so long as you do not blindfold yourself wilfully--so
long as you are just and honest. Ah! you may think I am mad--perhaps if
what you believe about men and women is true, I am--but it means
everything--everything in the world to me that you should be so--just
and honest; because what you are is more to me than all the world
beside. That is the truth.' The last words came slowly as the fire of
her passion died down; yet there was no uncertainty in them. 'I suppose
I oughtn't to have said this,' she went on, turning from him to lean
her elbows on the table, and rest her head on her hands wearily. 'But
you won't mind, and I don't care. It can't hurt any man to know that he
is loved--it can't.'

'_Loved!_' The word sent a thrill through the man such as he had never
felt before. '_Loved!_' was that what she meant? The thought broke
through even his armour of surprise. He stood for an instant looking
down at her, then turned slowly and walked to the window, to return,
however, in a second, with quick clear steps breaking the silence of
the room.

'What do you mean!--I can't believe it. What do you mean?'

His impatience would not wait for a reply in words. Her face would give
it truly, that he knew, and he stooped over her, taking her by the
wrists, in order to draw her hands apart. She turned to him then
bravely enough.

'Rose!'

It was almost a cry, as, stooping lower still, he knelt before her, his
eyes on hers incredulous, yet soft. Then suddenly, still clasping her
slender wrists, he buried his face upon them on her lap, muttering--

'Oh, I am sorry!--I am sorry!'

Never since, as a child, he had said his prayers at his mother's knee,
had Lewis Gordon so knelt to man or woman. And something of the child's
unquestioning belief in an unselfish love came back to him, joined to a
perfect passion of the man's clear-sighted remorse and regret for long
years of past disbelief.

'Don't,' she said, gently bending over him; 'please don't. There is
nothing for you to be sorry about--indeed, there isn't.'

Nothing to be sorry about! Once more he echoed this girl's words to
himself with that strange thrill, as, recovering his self-command, he
stood straight and stiff beside her, conscious only of one vehement
desire to care for and to protect her.

'What is it you want me to do?' he said at last unsteadily. 'Tell me,
and I'll do it.'

Then, woman-like, she began to cry; it is a way the good ones have when
they succeed in imposing their own will on those they love.

'I don't think I want you to do anything--particular,' she answered,
trying to conceal her tears. 'I don't know; besides, I would much
rather you did it your own way.'

If the uttermost truth could be told about a man's emotion in such
scenes, as it can be regarding a woman's, it would have to be confessed
that Lewis Gordon came very near to crying also over this foolish
unconditional surrender on Rose Tweedie's part. For he understood the
irresolution of a generous nature before its own success, and what is
more, the woman's desire to give the man she loves the glory of
justifying her belief in him. He felt quite a lump in his throat, and
had to seek escape from the tenderness of one sex in the decision of
the other; for in nine cases out of ten these are but different methods
of showing the same emotion.

'I will go down and see this woman to-day; and then----' He paused, not
in order to think over his next move--that undoubtedly would be to see
Gwen Boynton--but to overcome a dislike to mentioning her name at all
which suddenly assailed him. Why, he scarcely knew, except that it
seemed mean, unmanly. Rose, however, saved him from the necessity by
again repeating--this time almost abjectly--that she would rather not
know; that she would be quite content to leave the matter in his hands.

'Thank you,' replied Lewis, in such a very low tone that it was almost
a whisper. It did not lead, however, as might have been expected, to a
silence, but to a louder, more aggressive gratitude. 'I have to thank
you--for many things. I won't affect to ignore or set aside what--what
you did me the honour of telling me just now. That would be sheer
impertinence on my----'

Now, when he had got so far in a perfectly admirable sentiment,
calculated to soothe both her feelings and his, why he should suddenly
have found his hands in hers again, his heart full of an unpremeditated
assertion that he was glad she loved him, cannot be explained
logically; but so it was. Yet before the scared look in her eyes his
own fell, he loosened his clasp, and the appeal died from his lips.
There was no place for him or his questionings in her avowal. That
hedged itself about from intrusion with a dignity he recognised. So
what remained, save to pass on with as much of the same quality as he
could compass to the work assigned to him.

'I will come in and tell you what I have done this afternoon about five
o'clock,' he said quietly; 'that is, if it is convenient.'

'Quite, thank you.'

The baldest, most conventional of tones on both sides. The baldest,
most convenient holding open of the door for her to pass out--to pass
out from a scene that would linger in his memory; in nothing else. The
descent to normal diapason comes sooner or later, no matter how highly
strung the instrument may be to begin with, and melodrama fades into
padding. In real life it generally leaves some of the actors
dissatisfied with the way the scene has played. Lewis Gordon felt this
distinctly as he was left looking at his own chair, as if he still saw
a girl's figure seated there, her elbows resting on the litter of
official papers, and the great coils of her burnished hair showing
beyond the hands which hid her face.

'It can't hurt any man to know that he is loved.'

She had said so; but she was wrong. It did hurt confoundedly. So that
was what she meant by love, was it?----

If any of the trivial interruptions which Lewis Gordon so much dreaded
had come during the following five minutes, they would have found the
coveted chair vacant, though the owner's face was buried in his hands
among the files of memorandums and reports. Apparently he gained little
consolation from them, for when he resumed work he looked about as
upset and disordered as a tidy man can do when he is cool and properly
clothed. Nor did they gain much from him during the next hour, which
ticked away remorselessly from the chronometer by which Lewis loved to
map out his day. He thrust them aside at last impatiently, and ordered
his pony, thinking that may be when he had been through that visit to
the bazaar he might feel less of a fool, and not quite so much
depolarised. And yet she had said there was nothing to regret,--that he
would not care,--that it would not matter to him if she thought of him
or not!

It was a queer world! He set his teeth over it as he rode reluctantly
between the shingled arcades of the big bazaar, and then through a
narrow paved alley, pitching, as it were, sheer down into the blue
mists of the valley below; and so on to the balconied house where, from
inquiries at the Kotwâli, he learned that Chândni was lodging. The task
before him was a disagreeable one, and he swore inwardly as he thought
that but for his abject capitulation Rose would have attempted it
herself. Rose! of all people. He began to understand that the feminine
world could not be divided into two classes, since there was a third
composed of one specimen. As he went on into the house the very
cleanliness and order, contrasting so sharply with the dirt of
surrounding respectability, struck him offensively on the girl's
behalf, the giggling in the lower storey gave him a vicarious shock,
and the obsequiousness of his introduction into the higher one, where
Chândni sat secluded, actually made his cheek burn.

'It can't hurt any man to know that he is loved.'

He set aside the haunting words angrily, and began his task so soon as
the patchwork drapery at the door fell behind him, leaving him face to
face with white-robed salaaming grace.

'See here, my sister, this is for the truth. 'Tis not often thy sort
are asked for it; but I ask nothing else. I will take nothing else.'

Checked thus in her languid welcome to the unknown guest, Chândni
looked distastefully at the hundred-rupee note thrust into her hand,
then at the giver; though both were to her liking. The latter she
recognised instantly, having seen him among the party at Hodinuggur. So
her seed of slander had taken root already.

'My lord shall have that which he requires, surely. Wherefore else are
there such as I?'

The cynical truth of her answer showed him her wit at once, and he
acknowledged it frankly when, half an hour afterwards, he felt himself
baffled by the calm simplicity of her story. Most of it he had already
heard, and the rest showed still more unpleasant details to have raked
up should the worst come to the worst. Azîzan, he was told, had been a
palace lady, with whom George had had clandestine meetings, over which
he had first become mixed up with the intrigues about the water. The
key of the sluice had been sent from Simla, whether by the Mem or the
Miss, or the sahib himself, Chândni did not know, could not say. Was
she not telling the Huzoor the bare truth she knew to be true, and
nothing else?

'And how much do you want to keep all this quiet?' he asked calmly,
when she had finished. It was as well to know her price, at any rate.

For an instant the immediate temptation to take the bird in the hand
made the courtesan hesitate. Then she struck boldly for higher game.

'The pearls, Huzoor! The pearls, or my revenge!' This man, with the
cool, refined face and the contempt which made her involuntarily
remember the Miss sahib's also, affected indifference now, and would
most likely offer her some paltry sum. She could afford to wait for the
change which was sure to come; for she was not in the least afraid of
anything Lewis could do, and, without being absolutely insolent, took
care to show him the fact as she lolled about at her ease, chewing
betel ostentatiously. She had nothing to gain here by affecting
delicacy, so he might see her at her coarsest and worst; it contrasted
better with his brains.

The result being that Lewis Gordon came into Gwen's Boynton's
drawing-room for his next interview looking depressed; partly because
he had been riding through a tepid shower-bath. For recurring rain had
washed away the bright promises of the morning and was falling drearily
over the rank, dank grasses and beating down the fringes of delicate
ferns growing upon the dripping branches of the oak trees, until they
lost shape and became nothing but a green outline against the grey
mist.

Within, however, by the light of a blazing pine-wood fire, Mrs. Boynton
looked bright yet soft, like a pastel painting, or a figure seen in a
looking-glass; for she soon recovered from her emotions, and took pains
to hide their effects even from herself. So the fact that she had lain
awake half the night wondering if by chance Chândni's impudent lies had
been prompted by any flaw in the chain-armour of security which George
and the flood had forged for her, did not show in her face. For they
were lies; even that tale of the dear lad's death, which had given her
such a shock at the time, was nothing but the vile woman's wicked,
cruel invention. Rose had evidently heard nothing and still knew
nothing of it; besides, Dan did not know, and even if he had wished to
keep the pain of such knowledge from her, Lewis, with his jealous
blame, would have been sure to point a moral; a pointless moral at
best, since George could have had no cause for despair. Had not the
flood come to end even his anxiety? unless, indeed, there was any truth
in the tale about the portrait. Yet why should truth be supposed in one
incident when causeless wicked lying was evident in all the others? No;
it was an impudent attempt at extortion, and must be met by denial.
Therein lay safety, both for her and for poor George Keene's memory,
since the conspirators would never face the evidence of those papers
which they knew she held. So, as her cousin came in she greeted him
with a smile changing to sweet concern at his ill looks.

'I have a headache,' he replied curtly. 'No wonder; the smells and
general abominations of the bazaar are enough to kill one, and I had to
go down there. Besides, I'm damp, and I've had no lunch. Isn't that a
long enough catalogue of ills? No, thanks; don't order anything for me.
I'd rather have a cup of tea by and by.'

It was the worst thing for him, he knew that. Nothing but a quiet cigar
and a man's drink would have restored his balance. But he told himself
captiously that he had been in a melodramatic atmosphere all the
morning, and might as well go through with it to the bitter end. He
felt demoralised, and so, almost out of contrariety, put himself at a
further disadvantage by rushing at his fence.

'Gwen,' he began abruptly, 'I've come to ask you for the truth.' He did
not hand her a bank-note as he had to the other woman; yet the thought
had crossed his mind bitterly that one of sufficient value might be
useful. He had set it aside, of course, as utterly unworthy since, in
common justice, he had no more right to prejudge Gwen's implication
than he had to prejudge Rose Tweedie's. There was, no doubt, the fact
of George Keene's suicide against the one; but that was no new thing.
She had been judged on that count before, and he had decided to save
her from the pain of knowing it; to that decision, also, he meant to
keep if it were possible.

Gwen's heart gave a great throb; she understood in an instant that the
crisis had come sooner than she expected. Yet she was prepared for it.

'I suppose Rose Tweedie'--she began coldly.

'Yes; Rose Tweedie asked my advice, and I've been down to that woman in
the bazaar. She sticks to her story. So now I have come to you----'

'If you had come to me first, Lewis,' she interrupted with a vibration
of real anger in her voice, 'I would have warned you not to waste your
time in playing Don Quixote at Rose Tweedie's bidding. The woman is an
impostor, and should be treated as such. I would have sent the police
after her yesterday, had I thought it wise to take even so much notice
of her lies. And now you have been to see her! It is too foolish--too
annoying! And all because Rose went crying to you, I suppose, about her
lover. Her lover, indeed! You are very soft-hearted, Lewis! Perhaps
some day your desire to console will lead you into taking his place.

He stared at her; that sort of thing being so unlike Gwen's usual
sweetness; but his surprise did not equal his confusion, while his
common-sense showed him her possible wisdom.

'Miss Tweedie did not cry over her lover, I assure you, he began,
feeling in very truth that the young lady in question had meted out
more blame than sympathy; 'and I did not choose to allow such tales of
you to pass unnoticed.'

'So you listened to them again?' retorted Gwen in rising anger, which
she wilfully exaggerated. 'Listened to what a common woman in the
bazaar had to say of me! Really, I am obliged to you, Lewis! And she, I
suppose, told you that I had stolen the pearls and the pot, and then
taken it and a fresh bribe from poor George? 'Well, since you have come
to me at last for the truth, I tell you, as I told Rose--who, perhaps,
did not repeat it--that I have never seen the thing since the night of
the storm at Hodinuggur. So I have less to do with it than she, since
she confesses it was sent to her, and that she sent it back on the sly.
Did she tell you that? and have you been asking her for the truth also?
Or am I the only one who has to be questioned like that creature in the
bazaar.'

Gwen had never looked better than she did at that moment, with the
unwonted fire of real indignation lighting up her face, and Lewis
Gordon felt vexed that it awoke no thrill in him. Was he really
allowing Rose Tweedie's open mistrust to bias him? The idea made his
reply more gentle than it might otherwise have been.

'Perhaps you are right to be angry with me,' he said quietly. 'I beg
your pardon, if I have hurt you; but, indeed, it seemed best to me at
the time. Perhaps, as you say, it would have been better to wait a
while; until, for instance, I can consult with Fitzgerald. I wired him
today to come up on three days' urgent private business. He knows a
lot.'

Gwen gave an odd sort of laugh, not unlike a sob, and her face
softened.

'I'm glad he is coming,' she cried passionately; 'very glad. He always
understands, and he knows.' Yes! he knew and trusted her--he would
stand by her even if he knew that one fatal mistake. Whereas Lewis
would treat her as a Magdalen; as if she, Gwen Boynton, were a fit
subject for a penitentiary!

'Yes,' she repeated slowly, 'I am glad he is coming. You did the right
thing there, Lewis, at any rate.'

So, with this small consolation, he had to make his way back to give in
his report to the girl who had told him that she loved him. Another
delicate task, and he felt himself detestably awkward over it, the more
so because Rose herself met him as if nothing unusual had occurred.

'Well,' she said eagerly, 'what news?'

He told her briefly that there was none. He had had three versions of
truth--her own, Chândni's, and Mrs. Boynton's--and there seemed nothing
to be done save wait for Dan's arrival. He might be able to throw some
light on the subject--he was the last person, at any rate, who was
likely to do so.

'You forget the girl--the girl of the portrait, I mean,' suggested Rose
quickly. Lewis frowned.

'She disappeared, they say, just before we reached Hodinuggur. I should
like, by the way, to see the picture, if you don't mind.'

He stood looking at it in silence for some time.

'And that, you say, was the face of your dream?' he asked at last.

'The face, the dress, the pot clasped so to her breast. I seem to grow
more sure of it every hour. And I am certain now it was she who said,
"I am Azîzan."'

'That sort of certainty grows upon one unconsciously,' he replied,
after another pause. 'I confess it is odd; but you can hardly believe
it really was the potter's daughter! She has been dead these sixteen
years. You think it was her ghost, perhaps; but did George paint the
ghost?'

Rose stood silent, her hands clasped tightly.

'Who knows?' she said slowly. 'One knows so little. When I think of it
all--of that strange old man with his refrain, "We come and go--we come
and go," I seem to feel that odd, uncanny sense of helplessness which
one has during a storm at sea, when you realise that the waves are not
moving on at all, but rise and fall, rise and fall for ever in the same
place. It is the ship which drifts within their power, giving them
their wrecker's chance once more. And now--you will say that I am
superstitious; but I almost regret that you should bring Mr. Fitzgerald
into this business at all. You remember the potter's measure? Think of
it, and how poor George himself----'

She paused, her eyes full of tears.

Lewis, watching her, told himself he would never understand women-folk.
Here was a girl, overflowing with fanciful sentiment in some ways, who
yet apparently had none to spare for the one subject round which
sentiment was supposed to cling--love and marriage. In addition, here
were two women, both of whom he desired to help, and yet they were at
daggers-drawing about the best method of giving that aid. If he pleased
one, he displeased the other; and anyhow, he got no comfort out of
either.



                             CHAPTER XXIV


'Nay! thou hast given me enough, oh Mizra sahib. More than a free woman
cares to have,' said Chândni, with a shrug of her massive shoulders.
'Thou hadst thy chance to pay me fair.'

Dalel Beg, clad in his European clothes, and perched in all the
isolation of an esteemed visitor in the cane-bottomed chair of state,
felt he would like to be on a level with those jeering lips as he used
to be at Hodinuggur. Not for the sake of desire only, or for the sake
of revenge, but for a mixture of both. As usual, the very audacity of
her wickedness fascinated him, yet, now that wickedness was directed
against himself he could have strangled her for it.

'Pay thee! How can I pay thee,' he whimpered, 'when those low-caste
white swindlers with whom I betted will not pay what I have won? When
those white devils of women turn the place into a museum until every
Parsee in the bazaar threatens to summon me to court?'

It was not much more than a week since he had defied Chândni in the
presence of the said white devils; but the interval had not been
pleasant. Beatrice Elflida Norma's mamma knew all about Chândni's long
years of hold on the Mizra Sahib, and he was totally unaccustomed to
the nagging of wifely jealousy. Besides, something had happened which
had opened his eyes to the danger of allowing the courtesan to have a
free hand. A proposal had been made by the Canal Department to allow
water to run permanently along the sluice-cut; the Rajah who owned the
land to the south, having spent a whole season at Simla in order to
work the oracle, and the flood having come opportunely as a warning to
the experts that it might be wise to provide a more satisfactory outlet
for the surplus water. Now, in this case, Hodinuggur, which, being for
the most part barren desert, would benefit but little by the plan,
might by judicious application of the screw make the Rajah pay for its
consent, as a considerable portion of its best land would have to be
taken up for various works. This sort of secret intrigue, these almost
endless ramifications of rights and dues, underlie the simplest
transactions in India, and are recognised by its people as an integral
part of administration. Besides, Hodinuggur itself, in lieu of
compensation for damage done--which for various reasons it had not yet
claimed, one being a delay on the part of the Rajah in paying the
promised fee for the opening of the sluice--might manage by the same
judicious diplomacy to secure some trifling hold on the water-supply;
something, in short, which might be used as a screw for the extortion
of a perpetual, if small revenue. But for this, silence as to the past
was necessary. Such considerations, to European ears, may seem almost
too fine-drawn to be worth notice; but to Dalel Beg and Chândni they
were quite the reverse, for he came from a long line of courtiers born
and bred in such intrigues; men whose trade had passed with the corrupt
courts of other days, while the memory of it survived in their title.
Diwâns of Hodinuggur; not Nawabs or Nizams, but Diwâns, that is, in
other words, prime minister. And she? Every atom of her blood came from
the veins of those who for centuries had woven a still finer net of
women's wit around the intrigues of their protectors. It is this
extraordinary strength of heredity which, in India, makes the cheap
tinkering of Western folk, who are compounded of butchers, bakers, and
candlestick makers, so exasperating to those who have eyes to see. If
English philanthropists would spend their motley benevolence on the
poor, the diseased, and the drunken of their own country, it would be
better both for it and for India, where the death-rate is no higher,
drunkenness is practically unknown, and poverty is neither unhappy nor
discontented.

Thus Chândni and Dalel were well matched as she lolled back in her
cushions with a laugh.

'So she spends money! Lo! since thou hast married a "_vilayeti_" wife
thou canst advertise, as the sahibs do, in the papers, that thou art
not responsible for her debts. There is no sense in stopping half way
as thou hast done. Thou shouldst have gone to a "mission" and been
baptized instead of making that half-caste girl repeat the "Kulma" on
promise that thou wouldst not in future claim the right of the faithful
to other women. Yea! yea! I know the trick.'

'If I have,' muttered Dalel, vexed yet pleased at her boldness, her
shrewdness, 'such promises are easily broken. Divorce is easy.'

'If thou hast money to pay the dower to her people--not when thou hast
none! Lo! 'tis a mistake to try new ways of wickedness instead of
keeping to the old ones.'

So she dismissed him, feeling on the whole contemptuous over her
adversaries so far; the Miss Sahiba's arms had been strong, for sure,
but the men were worth nothing! nothing at all.

Dan Fitzgerald, dangling his long legs disconsolately from Lewis
Gordon's office-table two days after, said as much himself. 'The fact
is, I ought to have killed her; only I didn't feel up to it to-day,
after my journey. Oh, you may smile, Gordon!' he went on more eagerly,
his face losing some of its dejection in his love of the extravagant,
'but it's true. That sort of woman doesn't belong to our civilised age;
and we are absolutely at a disadvantage before her. There was I, as the
mad old potter said, with a hero's measure round the chest, driven to
words and threats of a policeman. I couldn't, even at the time, but
think of that old sinner Zubr-ul-Zamân and what her chance would have
been with him--just an order, a cry, and then silence. Sure, one feels
helpless at times when one stands face to face with that old world.
What's the use of strength--what's even the use of brains nowadays
except to make money? There was I, with that woman, I give you my word,
at the end of her tether, but 'twas the hangman's rope to me if I went
a step closer, and so I didn't.'

'If _you_ didn't,' remarked Lewis grimly, 'there isn't a civilised man
who will; so we had better try something else. Still, unless that woman
is silenced, we must face an inquiry, and then the facts of poor
Keene's death must come out. By the way, Miss Tweedie knows them, but
we have agreed to keep them, if possible, from my cousin. There seemed
no use----'

'I'm glad of that,' interrupted Dan, with a sudden quiver of his mouth.
'I should be sorry to have that memory spoilt.'

He was pacing up and down the room now, his hands in his pockets, the
brightness of his face absorbed as it were by a frown.

'Gordon!' he said abruptly. 'I'd give everything I possess if I could
lay my hands on that cursed pot. Not that it would satisfy the
horse-leech's daughter unless it contained the pearls--which isn't
likely, for I believe the whole story to be a myth. But the thought
that it is somewhere visible, palpable to the meanest fool on God's
earth, is maddening. Or even if we could say to that she-devil, "do
your worst." Oh! why didn't you send that wire sooner, and save poor
George from his needless death?'

'Why didn't you tell the truth about it at first? you might as well ask
that. It would have been better, as it turns out, if you had; but who
can tell? As it is, I'm quite ready, as I told you before, to burke
everything I can, in conscience; but, so far as I can see, it will do
no good. If that woman breaks silence, the main facts must come to
light.'

'I wish I had killed her,' said Dan regretfully.

'And I wish she were dead,' replied Lewis cynically, 'that is the
difference between us. You are active, I'm passive, but we don't either
of us seem to be of much use.'

That was the honest truth, and they had to confess as much to Gwen
Boynton that afternoon. She looked a little haggard as she listened
even while she protested bravely that in her opinion the vile creature
would never dare to put her lies to the proof. So they sat and played
at cross purposes; for she could not tell them of the papers she held
in absolute disproof of what would be the first accusation, and they
wished if possible to save her from the knowledge of George Keene's
suicide. Perhaps if they had set their own feelings aside and told her
the truth, she might even then have confessed her lion's share in the
blame. But only perhaps; for she was a clever woman, capable of seeing
that her confession could do no good now, and that she had, as it were,
lost her right to save poor George from suspicion. Besides, she had
brought herself to believe in the duty of denial; for, like many
another woman, she required a really virtuous motive before she could
do a really wrong thing; in sober fact--even in her worst aberrations
from the truth--never losing hold of a fixed desire to be amiable and
estimable. To this self-deception, as was natural, Lewis Gordon's
half-hearted belief was gall and wormwood, while Dan's wholesale
confidence was balm indeed. She could not refrain from telling him so
when the former, pleading stress of work, left the latter alone with
her beside the cosy little tea-table glittering in the firelight; for
Gwen was one of those people who will never have been more comfortable
in body and soul than they are on their death-beds.

'Now, don't spoil it all, dear, by wanting me to marry you to-morrow,'
she said half-laughing, half-crying. 'We are all too busy for such
talk, and too sad--at least I am. He was so good to me--you don't know
how good. I shall break my heart if this vile creature succeeds in
sullying his memory.'

'It will not be your fault, dear, if she does; that is one comfort.'

A chance shot may hit the quarry truer than the best aim, and Gwen
turned quickly towards him with a little cry.

'Dan! you will prevent it, won't you? You are so clever, and, really,
it is for my sake as well as for his. For my sake you will, won't you?'

'I do everything for your sake--you know that,' he answered simply.

Gwen stared at him as if she had seen a ghost. Perhaps she did; the
ghost of a dead boy who had said those very words to her in that very
room not a month ago.

'Gwen! what is it?' came Dan's voice sharply, anxiously. 'What is the
matter?--tell me.'

Yes! The past was repeating itself. _He_ had begged her to tell him
also, and in her selfishness, her fear, she had yielded, and put a
needless pain into his life at its close. She would not yield again; in
denial lay her duty.

'Nothing is the matter,' she echoed, 'save this--that you say we can do
nothing. I do not believe it. God will never let these lies prevail--He
will never let my poor lad's memory suffer--never, never!'

If her mind could have been taken to pieces and strictly analysed as
she gave utterance to this burst of real feeling, it would have
afforded fruitful study to a whole college of psychologists. Yet the
mental condition described as 'sitting in a clothes-basket and lifting
yourself up by the handles' is quite common to humanity of both sexes,
though women are as a rule the greater adepts in the art. Mrs. Boynton
was really a firm believer in a Providence which was bound by many
promises to help the virtuous, and George, therefore, had a claim to
its assistance. The fact that Providence might possibly have appointed
her as its instrument was a totally different affair, and did not
interfere with the confused good faith and good feeling which made her
voice thrill as she went on fervently, in answer to Dan's doubtful yet
admiring face.

'Oh, you mayn't think so--you perhaps don't believe as I do, Dan, in a
Providence "which shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may"--you
don't----'

'Don't I?' he asked, catching fire, as it were, more from his own
thoughts than her words. 'Oh, Gwen! my dear, it's little you know of
me, then, if you think that. Don't I see it?--who but the blind do
not--in everything? Isn't it that which makes me content to go on as
I'm doing? Gwen! it's because I know that it is bound to come--that
sooner or later you will take my hands in yours as I take yours just
now. Yes, Gwen! it's Fate--but when will it be, my dear? When will it
be?'

She was never proof against this mood in the man, this tone in his
voice.

'Oh, Dan!' she cried, in a petulance that was all feigned, 'didn't I
say you would be asking me to marry you to-morrow if I was so rash as
to tell you that you were a comfort to me? As if that had anything to
do with it.'

'Sure it has everything to do with it!' replied her lover fondly. The
future, in truth, gave him few fears: it was the present, with the
chance of annoyance if that venomous woman remain unscotched in the
bazaar, which caused him anxiety. On the other hand, it was the future
over which Lewis Gordon frowned, as he sat trying to make up his mind
about his own feelings, for though the present was palpably unpleasant,
it seemed clear that the future would be worse, since they must face
the possibility of a scandal boldly in the hopes that Chândni's
story would break down; except perhaps as regarded George, and he,
poor lad, had brought it on himself. And then, when all this was over,
he--Lewis--was going to marry Mrs. Boynton. No doubt about it; for it
was too late now to judge her for that other fault--far too late. He
had condoned it with full knowledge of what he was doing, and the fact
that Rose Tweedie's subsequent scorn had awakened a tardy blame did not
alter the past. At the same time, he had an insane desire that Rose
should be brought to see this as clearly as he saw it. In fact, the
idea of talking over the matter with her, and perhaps taking her advice
upon it, had an attraction for him; and though he heaped contumely on
himself for the mere thought, it lingered insistently. It was partly
that which made him pause to knock at her sitting-room door on his way
to the drawing-room before dinner. She would be glad to have the last
news of the miserable affair, he told himself, but in his heart he knew
that was not the real reason--that he himself scarcely knew what the
reason was. Reason? there was none! Only a foolish curiosity to
understand better what this icicle of a girl meant by love. It did not
seem to hurt her, at any rate. But as he entered to see her sitting by
the fire, the reading-lamp on the table lighting up her dress, but
leaving her face in shadow, he seemed to forget all these thoughts in
the friendly confidence of her greeting.

'I'm so glad you have come. I was wondering if you would. What news?'

He shook his head. 'None. We have all had our chance, and failed.'

'Not all,' she answered quickly, pointing to Azîzan's portrait, which
showed dimly above the mantelpiece against which he leant. 'You forget
the girl--she has not said her say.'

The unreality, the strangeness of it all, struck him sharply, not for
the first time, as he replied after a pause--

'And never will. She is dead. Fitzgerald managed to get that out of the
woman to-day. She must have been hidden away--as a punishment, most
likely--in some dungeon of the old tower, for her dead body was found
among the ruins--by--by the old potter. Yes! I know what you are
thinking of; but that is impossible. He was always searching about, you
see, and so he was more likely than others to find anything that was to
be found. It is a coincidence, I admit; but the fact of the death seems
undoubted. The woman let it out in her anger--Fitzgerald is not a nice
cross-examiner, I expect--and tried to gloze it over afterwards.
Perhaps it is as well. That story may be best unknown.'

'I don't agree with you,' said Rose quickly. 'I have been counting on
her help--perhaps more than I realised--and now that her chance has
gone----' The girl's eyes filled with tears, and her voice failed for a
moment, 'it seems as if we could do nothing more to save him.'

'I'm afraid not. You see, once we begin to question outsiders we show
our hand. There is no alternative between the silence and defiance
which Gwen advocates so strongly, and a bold and open inquiry. In my
opinion it is time for the latter. You see, my cousin is not quite a
fair judge. She does not know that Fitzgerald and I have so far
concealed George Keene's suicide, and that from purely personal motives
we, or at least I, cannot have this scandal sprung by an outsider. He
would take the risk, he says; but I, in my position, conceive that it
is not my duty to do so. He, however, has suggested that we four shall
meet and talk it over finally before I take any action, so I took the
liberty of asking Gwen to come over tomorrow morning. It is
Fitzgerald's last day, and something must be done before he goes down.
I don't see the use of this meeting myself--we have all, as I said, had
our chance--but it can do no harm, and it may satisfy Gwen--and you.'

'I am satisfied already,' she replied gently. 'You could have done no
more than you have done; I see that now.'

'I am glad,' he began, and then stopped, realising that he was not in
the least glad of the evident finality in her meaning. Was she
contented that things should end as they had begun? Had her passionate
interest in him died down with his obedience to her orders? A sorry
reward, surely! A most perplexing result of his repentance!

'I _shall_ be glad,' he corrected himself, almost angrily, 'when we can
get out of this muddle. Of course I have heard before of such
intrigues, but I never came in personal contact with that sort of thing
before. It is maddening. I scarcely seem to know whether we are in the
nineteenth century or the ninth. Ever since we went to Hodinuggur we
seem to have got mixed up in some antique dream; the whole thing is
absurd--scarcely credible.'

As he spoke the dinner-bell rang, and he held the door open for her to
pass from the consideration of these things to the well-appointed table
worthy of a house in Belgravia, where the dark-skinned, white-robed
servants handed sherry with the soup, and vinegar with the salmon quite
as naturally as Jeames or John in their plush liveries. But heredity
was here also; Jeames or John's father may have been a day labourer or
a gentleman at large, but not one of these could not have answered
truthfully--'Huzoor, my father was servant to so-and-so or so-and-so in
the great mutiny time, and his father served such and such a sahib in
the Sutlej campaign, or in Cabul, or somewhere else.' Faithfulness or
unfaithfulness to salt being, of course, a different question; though
that also might possibly be one of heredity. Such thoughts strike one
sometimes after years of complacent blindness, and on this evening they
increased the sense of unreality which had already taken possession of
Lewis Gordon. Nor did a remark of Colonel Tweedie's on his daughter's
improved looks during the past few days amend matters. He felt that he
might be living in that twenty-ninth century, when humanity may
reasonably be supposed to have educated itself out of some frailties
as, in the necessary glance at the young lady's face required by
decorous assent, he met a perfectly unconscious, happy smile, so full
of friendly confidence, that a positive gladness glowed at his heart
that she should be content with him.

Nevertheless he made one more effort to get back finally to the
every-day world by riding over to the Club after dinner and listening
to the gossip of the day. But there was nothing wrong with the world;
it was going on, he found, as usual. He played a game or two of pool,
talked gravely with Major Davenant over some new rules intended to
prevent such another fiasco as the last race-meeting, heard the latest
official canards, and listened more patiently than usual to some
boys--who had to go down from leave next day--bemoaning the general
beastliness of the country as a residence for an English gentleman. It
was only, so the verdict ran, fit for niggers.

Yet even this demonstration that life in the main was commonplace as
usual, did not restore Lewis Gordon's general indifference. And the
knowledge that this was so made him more than ever determined to carry
his point when next morning the four met in Rose Tweedie's room, to
settle the course of events.

The rain after a downpour during the night had ceased, or, perhaps, had
become too light to make its way through the thick white mist which had
settled down like cotton-wool upon everything, blotting out the world.
There was not a breath of air, not a sound save occasionally a soft
pit-pat, as the vapour condensing on the roof dropped into the hearts
of the rain lilies which fringed the verandah with their upturned
orange cups. Yet it was neither dark nor dull as on a cloudy day. The
whiteness of the mist was almost luminous, and through the wide-set
windows sent a faint glow, like that from newly-fallen snow, on the
faces of poor George Keene's four friends, and showed still more
clearly on the even surface of Azîzan's portrait as it stood upon the
mantel-shelf. Rose stood beside it, looking beyond everything in the
room, beyond the row of orange lilies, into the cotton-wool mist which
seemed bent on suffocating the house and its inhabitants. There was
silence in the room--the silence which comes to a discussion when the
last objection has palpably fallen through, and a conclusion absolutely
satisfactory to no one seems inevitable. Gwen, a flush of excitement on
her cheek, lay back among the cushions of her easy-chair, nervously
turning and twisting the rings upon her fingers. Dan Fitzgerald, who
was seated close beside her, had evidently been the last to speak, and
was now leaning towards her, his eyes fixed with kindly encouragement
and sympathy on her face. Lewis Gordon, apart from the others,
his elbows resting on the table, looked half regretful, half
resentful,--the look of a man who knows he must take the initiative in
a singularly disagreeable duty.

At last through the silence came Rose Tweedie's voice reluctantly, yet
with a sort of challenge in it: 'I suppose that is settled, and that we
can none of us suggest any other reason why we should delay longer?'

'I have told you before,' broke in Mrs. Boynton, 'that I have every
reason to believe that no action will be taken by the woman; that she
will never court inquiry.'

'I did not mean that,' replied Rose, still with the same note in her
voice. 'I meant that if none of us have any further knowledge beyond
what we have already discussed, then Mr. Gordon's plan for a private
yet open inquiry with my father's knowledge seems best. I, for one,
have none. I know nothing, absolutely nothing, in favour of delay.
Nothing that would prevent the possible danger to George Keene's
memory.'

Lewis Gordon followed fast on her words in swift, vexed comprehension
of her challenge.

'I fancy we are all able to say the same, Miss Tweedie. If we agree, I
may have to speak of something I should not otherwise mention, but it
is no reason for delay. On the contrary, it is a reason why open
inquiry will be the safest, even for George Keene's memory. I know
nothing better;--I wish I did.'

'Nor I,' said Dan Fitzgerald, then paused, and rising from his chair
crossed to the open door, whence he looked out, as Rose had done,
beyond the rain lilies to the mist. 'I know better than any of you what
poor George was; I know better than any of you what he did. If this is
settled, I, too, will have to tell something to his credit; something
that will make inquiry the better for him. Yet I'd give all I possess
to save the necessity for it. But I'm lost,'--he stretched his hands
out impulsively into the mist--'lost, as one might be out yonder--lost,
as the lad's own explanation is lost in the mystery of death. It's hard
to say so, George, but I can't help it.'

He spoke as if to some one out of sight, and Gwen Boynton sate up
suddenly, nervously, with a scared look in her eyes.

'I think you are all wrong,' she said querulously. 'The woman must know
that proof is against her story; but you will not believe it, and so I
cannot help it. I cannot, indeed.'

Her voice died away to a sort of sigh, and she sank back again,
clasping her hands tightly together. Rose let hers fall from its grip
on the mantel-shelf. Dan's tall figure leant more loosely against the
lintel, and Lewis Gordon mechanically turned the pages of a book lying
beside him on the table. The tension was over, and the relief of
decision, even of helpless decision, held them silent in the silence
for the moment. They had done their best. They had played their part in
the strange play.

Then suddenly out of the mist came a quavering, chanting voice--


             'It was a woman seeking something
              Through day and night----'


'Listen!' cried Dan, his face ablaze. Rose's hand went up again to the
picture hurriedly, and Lewis started to his feet; only Gwen looked from
one to the other bewildered:


             'O'er hill and dale seeking for something.'


The voice grew clearer as if the singer was toiling up the unseen path
below the lilies.


             'Foul play! foul play!--look down and decide.'


'The mad potter!' cried Dan, with wonder in his tone.

'Azîzan! it is her turn at last,' cried Rose, with a hush in hers,
which sent a thrill through Lewis Gordon--though he only said
prosaically--

'I'll go and see who it is.'

But Dan had forestalled the thought, and, vaulting the railings, had
disappeared into the mist, whence they could hear him hallooing down
the path to the unseen singer as they stood waiting by the lilies. Then
came a quick greeting, a low reply, and so, clearer and clearer--though
they could see nothing--every syllable of eager questioning and slow
answer until, as if from behind a veil, the strange couple stepped into
sight--Dan, eager, excited, towering above the bent, deprecating figure
of the old potter.

They had heard so much, those three in the verandah, that Rose without
a pause could step forward and strike at the very root of the matter
with the question, 'What is it? What is it that you want of me?'

The shifty, light eyes settled on her face with a look of relief before
the old man bent to touch her feet.

'Mâdr-mihrbân,' he said. 'Mâdr-mihrbân--that is well!'

He was still breathless from his swift climb beside Dan's long stride,
and, as he straightened himself again, his long supple fingers, busied
already about a knotted corner in the cotton shawl folded round him,
trembled visibly.

'Lo, I sent it before,' he went on in low excuse; 'but it returned, as
all things return at Hodinuggur. Then she was vexed and could not rest.
"Send it back! send it back," she cried all night long. Pity of God!
what a fever; but now she sleeps sound----' He paused, to fumble closer
at the knot.

'You mean Azîzan, your daughter?' suggested Rose softly, while the
others stood silent, listening and looking, the whole world seeming to
hold nothing for them save this tall girl with her bright, eager face,
and that bent old man trying to undo a knot.

'Huzoor--Azîzan!' came the quavering voice. 'I looked for her so often
till the Mâdr-mihrbân came. Then I found her with the pot clasped to
her breast, but the bad dreams would not let her sleep. "It is not
mine; it is hers." It kept her awake always. So when I found her
again, lying asleep by the river with it still in her bosom, I said to
myself, "I will not set a writing on it, and put it in the box with a
slit as I did last time, trusting it to God knows who, after the new
fashion. I will take it myself in the old fashion and give it to the
Mâdr-mihrbân's own hands, and pray her hold it fast so it return not to
wake the child; for she sleeps sound at last in the dust of her
father's."'

The knot was undone. The shaking fingers held the Ayôdhya pot for a
second, the white glare of the mist shining in a broad blaze of light
upon its intense glowing blue. The next it had slipped from the
potter's hand and lay in fragments on the ground!

Still fragments of sapphire colour--moving fragments of milky white,
rolling hither and thither like drops of dew on a leaf seeking a
resting-place for their round lustre.

Pearls!--the Hodinuggur pearls!

And Gwen's voice, with a triumphant ring in it, became articulate above
the old man's cry of distress and the low exclamations of the others.

'So Azîzan stole them, after all!'

Rose turned on her sharply. 'Who knows. This much is certain, she has
brought them back, and saved George when we could not.'

'Yes! she has saved him,' assented Dan; 'we have that she-devil on the
hip now!'

Lewis Gordon stood silent a moment; he had grown very pale. 'You are
both right, I expect,' he said quietly. 'It settles--everything.'

Gwen drew a long breath of relief, but Rose seemed lost in thought.

'No! not everything,' she said absently, half to herself. 'It does not
tell us why George shot himself.'

She scarcely knew she spoke aloud; she had forgotten everything but the
dead boy.

'_Shot himself!_, The words came back to her in a sort of cry. '_Shot
himself!_ What do you mean? What does she mean?'

Gwen stood as if petrified before those regretful faces. Then, as the
truth struck at her, beating down her shield of self-deception, she
turned at last, forgetful of all else, to the shelter of Dan's kind
arms. 'Dan! Dan! it isn't true--it can't be true! say it isn't true.'

He drew her closer to him, looking down into her agonised face with a
perfect passion of tenderness and kissed it; forgetful in his turn, of
everything save that she had come to him at last.

'It is true, my darling; he did it to save me and you. Gwen! Gwen! it
wasn't your fault--My God! she has fainted!'

'I'm sorry,' began Rose, feeling paralysed by surprise, but Dan's kind
smile was ready even in his distress.

'Don't worry. It's best over, for I must have told her. You see we have
been engaged for years, and George knew it. If I carry her to your
room, Miss Rose, she will be better there. 'Tis the shock, and she was
so fond of him, dear heart.'

Lewis Gordon, left alone in the verandah while another man before his
very eyes carried off the woman to whom he supposed himself to be
engaged, felt that the world had broken loose from its foundations
altogether. So that was the explanation! And then a low murmur of
moaning from the potter arrested his attention, which, as is so often
the case after a shock, had lost its airt and become vagrant.

The old man, still crouched beside the fragments of the Ayôdhya pot,
was rocking himself backwards and forwards, and muttering to himself,
'She will be angry; the Mâdr-mihrbân will be angry, and then Azîzan
will not sleep.'

Lewis walked up to him and laid his hand reassuringly on the thin, bent
shoulders. 'I don't think the Mâdr-mihrbân will be angry. I'm almost
sure she won't.' His own words made him smile, until, as he looked at
the old man's shifty, bright eyes raised to his doubtfully, he
remembered the young sad face which George had painted. 'And Azîzan is
asleep,' he said gently; 'she will not wake again.'

As he stooped to gather up the jewels his eyes were dim with unwonted
tears--why, he scarcely knew.

When Rose came back ten minutes after, leaving Gwen to Dan's kind
consolations, she found Lewis leaning over the railings looking at the
rain lilies through his eyeglass as if it had been a microscope. He
turned to her with the air of a man who has made up his mind.

'You thought I was engaged to my cousin, Miss Tweedie,' he said. 'So
did I. Apparently I was mistaken. So let us set that aside, once and
for all, and think over more important matters. There is no lack of
other surprises, thank Heaven.'

The semi-cynicism of his words did not sit ill on him, and Rose
recognised that he had certainly chosen the most dignified way out of
the difficulty. At the same time it left her free, unexpectedly free,
to consider the position as an outsider, and all involuntarily, yet
naturally enough, her first thought expressed itself in words:

'I wonder what father will say?'

This was too much both for temper and dignity, fortunately, also for
humour. He gave her one indignant look, then relaxed into a smile.

'Really, Miss Tweedie, in this Comedy of Errors I am only responsible
for my part; and that, believe me, is rather a sorry one.'



                             CHAPTER XXV


Whether Lewis Gordon spoke truth or not regarding the part he had to
play, there could be no doubt that Dan found his anything but sorry. A
subdued sort of radiance softened yet brightened the man as he came out
to ask Rose for the loan of her _dandy_, Mrs. Boynton being anxious to
get home as soon as possible. There seemed no need for words; the
situation explained itself, and even Lewis, looking at his rival's
eager face, could not help acknowledging that Dan was more likely to
give Gwen the support she evidently needed than he was. Besides, the
sudden change for the future seemed lost sight of in that, which the
opportune arrival of the Ayôdhya pot had on the present, and on
Chândni's impudent claim. It was of course clear evidence against the
truth of the story so far as Gwen was concerned, but whether it would
prevent the woman raking up the true facts of George Keene's death, out
of sheer wanton malice, was another thing. Lewis felt himself rather
helpless before the phenomenon of such a nature as hers, and confessed
as much when Dan came racing back, breathless and excited after seeing
Mrs. Boynton safely home, for a council of war. He brought a quick
decision and intuition with him. The sluice had been opened by
treachery of course, and now that he was free to speak of his
engagement, Dan told the story of the open locket, which to him seemed
proof-positive that George had voluntarily taken the blame on himself
when thrown off his balance by the discovery that the happiness of the
man and the woman he loved best in the world depended on Dan's getting
his promotion. How the sluice had been opened was another matter.
Chândni had always said by means of a key made after an impression sent
from Simla; but this was manifestly impossible unless some servant had
done it. Indeed he had never paid much attention to this assertion, for
the woman in making it had contradicted herself more than once, and
evidently had no definite story as to how the impression had been
secured. In his own mind he had decided that the key itself had been
stolen from the boy while he slept so heavily, and that the knowledge
that this was so had had the lion's share in bringing about his
self-sacrifice. So that even if the real facts came out, nothing beyond
carelessness could be laid to George's charge, now that the potter was
there to prove that Azîzan had had the Ayôdhya pot all the time, and
that they were there to prove that the pearls had remained in the pot.
So much for Chândni and the only possible cause of further action--a
woman's wanton cruelty. For the rest, the old Diwân was dead, Khush-hâl
seemed to be out of it, and Dalel had everything to lose and nothing to
gain by a scandal. Finally, these intrigues were always as a house of
cards; remove one support and the whole structure disappeared.

'Nevertheless,' said Dan, looking across the table with a grim smile,
'I'm not going to take you down as a witness to my interview with that
she-devil this afternoon. You are too fine for the work, and that's the
fact.'

'Can I lend you anything peculiarly barbaric in the way of a knife?'
asked Lewis. 'I've a Malay crease in my room which fills most people
with terror, though personally I should funk a woorâli dart more than
anything.'

'Ah! you may jeer; but 'tis true. Sure! our fineness is at the bottom
of half our mistakes in this country. Even in our kindness we treat
these people as we would like to be treated ourselves--a poor
philanthropy compared to treating them as they would like to be
treated. And when we come to mere justice! Why, we might as well give a
child who has disobeyed his mother the right to appeal against her in
court. What chance would the child have to begin with, and then what
good would it do? and what good is our complicated system of procedure
save to put power into the hands of the educated few who naturally
clamour for more? But there! This has nothing to do with Chândni. She
wouldn't care a tinker's dam for what you'd say to her, because you
would be regulating yourself by codes and sections instead of by the
way she is made. I won't. I don't mind stooping to her level to get my
will. So let me go with the old mad potter and his eyes, and see if
between us we can't make a settlement. And then, please God, we will
have done with the whole bad dream from beginning to end. So if you
have three thousand rupees you can spare on a loan, I'll just have them
handy in my pocket as a salve to her wounded feelings when I've got my
own way.'

What really happened at the interview Dan resolutely refused to say. On
his return from the bazaar he asked for a whisky and soda and a hot
bath to take the taste of it out of soul and body. Yet he returned
triumphantly with a written declaration signed by Chândni, stating that
she herself had stolen the key from George while he slept.

'It isn't true, of course,' said Dan with a rueful look at Lewis, 'but
upon my soul, no one could tell if it is, or not. My mind seemed a vast
cobweb with lines going everyway into the outside world, but all
beginning in that woman, and the only way was to smash through it. She
has done worse things--that's one comfort. Maybe the pearls should have
gone back to Hodinuggur direct, but she will make her bargain there,
never fear, and by God they deserve----'

He broke out then with curses into the tale of Azîzan's birth, which it
seemed had been his strong card--that and the potter's eyes. He had
played the one against the other till he wormed the story out of his
enemy, while the old man waited below, ready, if Dan failed to be told
the truth, to bring his evil glance to bear on the question. That fear
had really settled the matter; she had acknowledged the part Azîzan had
played in bringing her plans to naught, and confessed the wisdom of
dancing to a different tune in the future.

'We parted on the best of terms. She offered me cinnamon tea and
fritters, and I took some as a sign of peace,' said Dan with a shudder.
'And now I must be off and tell poor Gwen 'tis all settled for ever.'
He lingered a moment as he rose, to add with a half shy, half happy
smile, 'Were you very much surprised, old man?'

'Very,' replied Lewis with dignity. But Dan still lingered.

'I wonder what on earth the Colonel will say?' he remarked
apprehensively after a pause.

Then Lewis laughed; he could not help it. And actually the idea of
playing second fiddle to Colonel Tweedie's disappointment in the eyes
of the world, helped him materially in the interview which he had with
his cousin next morning. Even without this, however, he would have
felt it difficult to be severe, for he found her full of remorse and
self-abasement; rather vague, perhaps, but still real. She would never
forgive herself, she said, not so much for her indecision about Dan,
for she had always loved him, and Lewis was well quit of her selfish
regard. No! it was about poor George! She had sided with Simla in
turning the boy's head, she had made too much of him and behaved most
unwisely--really Lewis must let her say what she knew to be true--she
had been over friendly, over confidential, and had asked him to do too
much for her. All this and his foolish fancy about being the keeper of
Dan's conscience, of which the latter had told her, had been too much
for the dear, dear, lad's kind, sensitive heart. Then the terrible
home-coming after all the pleasure and spoiling! Was not that enough,
more than enough, to upset the balance? She was so insistent on this
point that Lewis had to confess his assent to it, and finally went away
feeling that she had more heart than he had given her credit for in the
past, and that he might even be in a measure responsible for not having
appealed to this better nature while he had the chance. Dan seemed to
have done it successfully, for she had evidently given up all thoughts
of a mercenary marriage. He understood her, she said plaintively, he
knew her faults and yet he loved her; while Lewis--he must excuse her
for saying so--had always treated her as if she had no heart, no
sentiment; had always committed the unpardonable mistake of making her
remember that she did not love him. Of course she had behaved
abominably to everybody--far worse than they would allow, for they were
all too good for her--but in the future she would have Dan, who was a
tower of strength to her.

In fact, like many another woman of her type--many a man also--Gwen
Boynton had taken refuge from the greater remorse in the lesser one--if
indeed there was a greater one?--if indeed the real limit of her
sinning had not been that over-confidence to which she had confessed.
Not in detail truly; still she _had_ confessed it with tears to Dan,
and he had forgiven her _en masse_; as, no doubt, he would forgive in
detail if she had thought it right to tell him what she had told
George. But what right had she to put this pain into another man's
life, or speak of that vague fear which even Chândni's confession of
having stolen the key would not smother utterly? It would be worse than
foolish! it would be wicked; and this dreadful doubt was her cross, her
punishment, which she thoroughly deserved for doing as she had done.
And when she had got thus far, remorse was once more in a clear open
channel where it could spread itself out and lose its chill under the
sunshine of Dan's kind consolations.

Thus it really turned out that, after all, the person most upset by the
unexpected _dénouement_ of affairs was Colonel Tweedie.

'Engaged for years,' he said angrily, in reply to his daughter's
information. 'Well! I am surprised. A most extraordinary proceeding
which er--er--complicates--the--er--If you had said "of late," I
might have seen some sense in it, for during the last week or so even
Gordon, who is generally to be relied upon, has been absent over his
work--er--not to say--er--somewhat negligent. And of course being his
cousin--the--er--interest----'

Rose hastened to confess that the engagement had only, as it were, been
a definite one during--here she hesitated a little--the last few days.
Which tribute to his perspicacity soothed the Colonel's dignity, and
encouraged him to further ventures in the seer's path by a suggestion
that no doubt his daughter's improved appetite and appearance, which he
had observed during the same period, was due to the proverbial interest
which women took in the matrimonial affairs of their neighbours. Though
for his part he must say that the friendly admiration he had had for
Mrs. Boynton had been very considerably impaired by--er--the lack of
judgment she had displayed in engaging herself to an assistant
engineer, a man whose promotion, he believed, could not possibly come
before the following July--if then. He went off to consult the
departmental lists with portentous gloom, leaving his daughter
defenceless before the truth. Certainly she had been much happier since
Lewis had known her feeling for him, and what is more, Mrs. Boynton's
decision in favour of Dan was a great relief in one way, though in
another it was disturbing--confusing; for despite her theories Rose
felt that the fact of his freedom to make other ties did make a
difference in her relations with Lewis Gordon. It ought not to do so,
of course; she was angry with herself for admitting the fact, but she
was totally unable to juggle with realities, or escape, crablike, from
a difficulty sideways. No thought of marriage or what she was pleased
to call sentimental rubbish had marred the self-forgetfulness of that
unpremeditated appeal she had made to her belief in him. No such
thought existed even now, and that the fear of it should creep in was
intolerable, absurd. No! she must feign the virtue of unconsciousness,
even if she had it not, and by an increase of friendly confidence,
combined with a strict attention to prose, prevent the awkwardness of
the position from falling on innocent Lewis, and show him clearly that
the altered situation had made no change in her, yet was not expected
to make any change in him. Only by these means could she show him, what
was really the truth, that her past avowal of interest was not mere
sentiment.

Lewis, for his part, also tackled the position with a boldness which he
had denied to himself while he was still engaged to his cousin, still
smarting under the curiously mixed sensations which the knowledge of
the girl's real feelings had aroused. Then he had felt bound to
conventional modes of thought, and, to tell truth, had been more or
less afraid lest on inquiry a sentimental love for Rose might pop up
somewhere like a Jack-in-the-box. For her confession had affected him
in a perfectly incomprehensible way, and the only other explanation of
it he had been loth to admit, since it ran counter to all his pet
theories. What feeling could there be between a man and a woman save
the one feeling? This warmth at his heart when he thought of her
praise, this pain at the thought of her blame, could only be the old,
old story; and yet he had been in love before, and this was not the
same experience. Well, it might be milk-food suited to babes and women,
but it was not strong meat for strong men; withal it was strangely
satisfying, strangely final, so that when a return to commonplace diet
became possible, he found himself in two minds about taking to it. She
evidently had but one; she evidently had given him all she intended to
give, and the only return he could make was by showing her that he did
understand this, and that he did not think it necessary to salve over
her wounded modesty by making love to her. Wounded modesty! The very
thought seemed an insult. He could not agree with her theories
altogether, but he could at least respect them.

So for the next month, while Gwen was slowly recovering her shock, and
all Simla was divided into factions over the surprise of her engagement
to penniless Dan Fitzgerald, a very pretty little comedy was being
enacted in the big house where Rose, as hostess, treated Lewis Gordon
as a friend, and he returned the compliment in kind. There was
absolutely no humbug, no effort about it at all. They were not in love
with each other, they were not restless or moody or excited, but
absolutely content and happy with things as they were. A state of
affairs accentuated by the relief from anxiety, the improving weather
and the charming gaiety and _verve_ of the society in which they lived.

Thus it happened that Rose Tweedie had her chance of being wooed in the
only possible way in which girls of her type can be wooed. One sees
dozens of them nowadays in society; one will see more and more year by
year, as the unnatural disproportion in the number of the sexes tends
to intensify the present seclusion of the nicest girls from the men. It
is not the fault of the latter. In a bevy of several hundred young
ladies, the fortunate possessor of the handkerchief naturally throws it
at some of those who press forward into individuality, or at some fair
face which even a crush cannot hide. So the choice for a wife falls on
beauty or brass. The latter may be too hard a term, yet the girls who
are likely to make the most faithful wives, the most devoted mothers,
are not those who are the readiest to attract and assent. On the
contrary they do not fall in love, and men have no time to give them
friendship. Friendship! They are engaged--nay, married--before the mere
thought of such a thing crops up.

So the younger generation of women is rapidly dividing itself into the
girls who dress and the girls who don't dress. In other words, those
willing to attract men by one certain if seamy side of their natures,
and those who are not willing. Who does not know the opposite extremes
of these two factions? The girl who forces you instinctively to think
of a looking-glass, and the girl who makes you wonder if there be such
a thing in her room. The girl with not a hair out of place, and the
girl with a hiatus between her soul and her body, as the feminine
phrase runs. Rose belonged outwardly to neither factions, yet in her
heart she strenuously resented the old-fashioned theory that marriage
was the larger half of a man's life and the whole of a woman's.
Truthfully, though she was three-and-twenty, she had never felt the
slightest desire to marry anybody, not even Lewis, and she felt in
consequence proportionally grateful to him for behaving, at any rate,
as if he believed the fact.

Yet, even so, they sometimes found each other out, as for instance one
day when he came back from his cousin's full of unexpected news. Dan
Fitzgerald had sent in his resignation to the Department, and accepted
an offer of employment from Australia.

'I'm as glad,' said Lewis heartily, 'as if I had had the chance myself;
partly because I couldn't make anything of it! Brown--that is the man
who has wired for him--was out here contracting one of the big railway
bridges. A bloated mechanic; began life as a riveter sort of fellow,
but with a knack of making money and a keen eye beyond belief. I
remembered his telling me that Dan was too good for us, and that if
ever he came across a job in which he wanted help, he would try and
steal him. This is some huge irrigation scheme--private--down South. If
Dan succeeds, and he will if any one can, there will be millions in
it.'

'I suppose your cousin is delighted?' said Rose.

'Gwen? Never saw a woman more relieved in my life. For, mind you,
though she is awfully fond of Dan--fonder than I personally should have
thought she could have been of any one--the idea of the poverty was
telling on her. You know it is absurd to think of her as an assistant
engineer's wife. It is really not an environment in which she was
likely to shine, and when all is said and done on the romantic side
people ought to consider surroundings in making a settlement for life.
Besides, I am sure she is relieved to get away from us all and make a
fresh start. She feels it more than I should have expected.'

'Mr. Gordon,' said Rose suddenly, 'I'm very sorry I judged her so
harshly that--that time. I've wanted to say so often; but _then_ it
seemed foolish. As if it could have mattered what I said or thought.'

'I don't think it did really matter,' he replied frankly. 'Rather the
other way round, I expect. Yet I doubt if you did judge her as harshly
as she judges herself now; so it is far better she should leave all
these associations behind. If he and she had had to go inspecting at
Hodinuggur, or even if she had to meet Dalel Beg and his wife--did I
tell you I saw her at the vice-regal squash yesterday, a perfect child
in the most awful get-up?--why, then, it would revive the old affair.
And if, by chance'--he paused a moment--'One never knows what mayn't
crop up, and Dan is a queer chap in some ways. He works by instincts,
as it were, and hitherto they have led him right. If they didn't, and
he found it out, I don't know what mightn't happen. He is not what I
call a very safe man unless he is successful. So they are both lucky to
get out of the uncongenial atmosphere which Government service is to
him and poverty is to her. They start in smooth water, and I must buy
my wedding-present, for they are to be married next month.

'So soon?'

'He has to leave at once. The wedding is to be at Rajpore after we all
go down. No bridesmaids, and I'm best man. If you want to know the
wedding dress, ask Gwen; she is sure to have settled it long ago. Women
always do.'

'I haven't,' protested Rose hastily. 'I shall be married in my
every-day things.'

She tried hard to be grave while Lewis roared with laughter, but in the
end she joined in the joke against herself. For they never quarrelled
now. What was there to quarrel about?

It was on another of these pleasant peaceful days, that he came to
lunch, with the news that Dalel Beg was even now detaining her father
by abject apologies for past old-style misdemeanours at Hodinuggur, and
profuse promises that in future it would be the abode of all the
civilised virtues. Khush-hâl Beg it appeared had died of apoplexy,
brought on no doubt by the unrestrained orgies with which the fat man
had celebrated his accession, and in consequence Dalel was king.

'I don't quite understand it all,' he said thoughtfully. 'He is a fool,
and yet he is playing his cards well. Do you know, I shouldn't be at
all surprised to hear that Chândni was back again as chief adviser. She
is a very clever woman. It seems that there is a scheme on foot for
establishing stud farms or grazing paddocks for Government remounts. It
is supposed to be cheaper and better in the end to buy them as
yearlings and let them run loose, instead of being tethered heels,
heads, and tails, in native fashion. And as the water supply is to be
constant at Hodinuggur now, Dalel proposes that Government should
utilise some of his waste land there, and put him in charge, or partly
in charge. Of course it would bring him in a steady income if he gets
his finger in the pie.'

'He ought to get nothing,' interrupted Rose hastily; 'I believe he was
at the bottom of all that intrigue. We shall never know what went on
exactly, but there was intrigue, and that sort of thing should be
punished.'

'Undoubtedly; but as I said before, Dalel is a fool--except about a
horse. It was the old man and Chândni; they belonged to that age. This
man tries to break the Ten Commandments in two languages, and misses
the idiom in both. But he does know the points of a horse, and as
Government must keep up these old families and try to civilise them, it
is as well to get some work out of them.'

'Hodinuggur civilised! I can't imagine it,' echoed Rose. 'When I think
of the old potter, and that mirrored room on the roof--of Azîzan and
the Ayôdhya pot--it seems like some old dream of life into which we
nineteenth century folk strayed by mistake.'

'With disastrous results,' put in Lewis thoughtfully. 'Well! with half
the _dramatis personæ_ of the play dead, and the other half married, it
ought to have come to an end now like a decently behaved melodrama. Not
a very moral one, I'm afraid, Miss Tweedie, and virtue must be its own
reward.'

'What do you mean?' she asked.

'You and I have been left out of the prizes altogether; but then, as
the potter said, we didn't belong to his world.'

'I wish you had not reminded me of that scene,' she interrupted
hastily. 'I cannot help thinking of how Mr. Fitzgerald sat smiling at
me while the old man measured him; just as George did when he measured
himself, and he is dead.'

'What a woman you are when all is said and done!' he replied, smiling
at her. 'Still I do think that poetic justice has not been meted out
all round. Gwen, for instance, has everything she wants, and I am out
in the cold.'

'Do you feel out in the cold?' asked Rose aggressively.

He hastened to assure her that on the contrary he was quite warm and
comfortable, but in spite of this the conversation languished till
Colonel Tweedie came in, full of his intention of recommending Dalel
Beg's plan strongly to the authorities.

To call it Dalel Beg's was, however, as Lewis Gordon had suspected, to
credit that gentleman with too much sense. It was Chândni's. When Dan
Fitzgerald had left her after partaking in friendly fashion of cinnamon
tea, she had put the pearls away in a safe place, and set herself, as
she had been doing ever since she came to Simla, to amuse herself. She
had looked after Dan as he rode away without the least malice, saying
that there was a man indeed; one of the old sort like the Diwâns. If he
had had her in the old days, say at Hodinuggur, there would just have
been one order, and then silence. She nodded her head and smiled over
the thought. But now she had three thousand rupees and the pearls. She
could not sell them of course, could not at present let any one know
she had them. They were too well known, these Hodinuggur pearls, for
Chândni to traffic in them without fear of being accused of theft. By
and by, perhaps, she might trade them off on Dalel; but nothing of that
sort was safe as long as Khush-hâl was alive. So long too, as they
thought the mem had them they would not dare to move in the matter, now
that there was all this talk of a permanent water-supply; for Chândni,
in the wooden-balconied house at Simla, heard all the latest talk, and
had quite a bevy of respectable native gentlemen who drank sherbets at
her expense. She heard also from a friend at court of this taking up of
waste land, and as she listened to all the stir of intrigue after this
thing and that thing, felt a pang of regret for that vanished dream of
some day being a motive power in Hodinuggur. This court-life was as
the breath of her nostrils, and if she had been in the place of that
half-caste girl down in the house with the dahlias, she would not have
been half starved and beaten; for if bazaar rumour said sooth, Dalel
Beg had carried his occidental estimate of the marriage-tie to this
almost incredible length.

Then one day, after a rich Hindu contractor had roused her wrath by
claiming her more or less as his special property, by reason of the
money he had chosen to lavish on her, came the news of Khush-hâl Beg's
death in the odour of court sanctity. She could imagine it all down in
the ruined palace out in the desert--the old ways, the old etiquette;
poverty-stricken may be, yet still courtly. And why, in these pushing
days when fat pigs like that Hindu made money, should they remain
poverty-stricken? yet even so, it was better in a way to be Chândni of
Hodinuggur, than Chândni of a bazaar, especially as one grew older.

That same afternoon a patchwork-covered dhooli went jolting down to the
house with the dahlias, which was a miserable spot now; deserted,
forlorn. A miserable room also, whence the indignant Parsees had reft
the French clocks and the _bric-à-brac_. A most miserable pair of women
too, reduced to cooking their own food at the drawing-room fire, lest
their over-looking neighbours might see them in the degradation of the
cook-room--since the deepest degradation of all in Eurasian eyes is to
be servantless.

'Don't be a fool,' said Chândni to Mrs. D'Eremao's shrill abuse, as the
former walked in upon them unceremoniously, and, squatting down, went
on calmly chewing betel. 'You have nothing to do with the business.
But, if she is wise, she will listen.' Beatrice Elflida Norma looked at
her shrewdly and said, 'Be quiet, mamma, there is no harm in hearing
what she has to say.'

It was not much, but to the point. No doubt, if they appealed to
English justice, they could force the Diwân to support his wife. But
how? At Hodinuggur under lock and key. It would not be nice, and
Chândni had tales to tell which made Mrs. D'Eremao's hair stand on her
head even while she protested that _she_ was a freeborn British
subject. Doubtless; but then they must give up all hopes of the
position for which the girl had married such an atrocity. (Here
Beatrice Elflida dissolved into tears.) Besides, that was not the way
to treat a Mohammedan gentleman, an offshoot of the great Moghuls; but
_she_ knew how to treat him, and for a consideration, was quite willing
to use her influence with Dalel to set things straight. She did not
want him, and had flouted his proposals of peace a dozen times, but she
was quite ready, _for this consideration_, to make herself useful.
Briefly, that consideration was a free hand if she could get it, no
cabals against her position, and an assignment, in case of Dalel's
death, of a good slice of that state pension, which, in such case,
would be given to the wife. If there were children, so much the better,
since the pension would be larger. In addition, they had to remember
that refusal would not amend the position, since Dalel would no doubt
bribe her back in some other way.

So a week after this, her Highness Beatrice Elflida Norma of
Hodinuggur's name appeared on the list of donors to a certain Fund,
opposite no less a sum than one thousand rupees, and she herself
appeared at the next viceregal squash in full native costume, with her
hair quite straight, and many shades darker in colour. She sat and
talked affably to a stout English matron about her husband's great
desire to assimilate the lives of Indian women more closely to those of
their European sisters; so that, on her return home, the stout English
matron mentioned to her stout English husband, who happened to be a
Commissioner, that the Hodinuggur creature seemed to have ideas and
should be encouraged.

And that evening, Dalel said to Chândni, ere he left the little
balconied room where so many grave and reverend gossip-mongers sat
drinking sherbet, 'Thou wilt return to Hodinuggur as thou hast
promised.'

'I will return; but not as before. I am free to come and go. And see
that thou pay me back that thousand rupees out of the first batch of
horses. Else Chândni goes, never to come again.'



                             CHAPTER XXVI


It was a hot October. The rains coming early had stopped early, giving
Lewis Gordon and Rose that charming sunshiny month on the Hills, of
which mention has been made. A whole month of almost idyllic happiness
and content.

And now, after the usual hiatus of a visit or two for Rose _en route_,
and a hasty tour for her father round some outlying canals, they had
settled down for the cold-weather life at Rajpore. Perhaps it was only
the rather unusual heat which made it seem less pleasing than usual to
at least two of the party. And this was more evident to Lewis Gordon
than to the girl, since she had the occupation and distraction of
preparing for Gwen's approaching marriage. Naturally, it was to be
a great function, for, while her admirers were legion, Dan's friends
were many; besides, as everybody admitted, the bride and bridegroom
alone would be worth going to see, worth remembering as a pattern
pair of lovers. So the Tweedies were lending their house for the
breakfast--which was to be a real breakfast, since the marriage was to
take place so as to allow of a start by the cool morning mail; the
regiment was lending its band for the wedding-march, and, on this tepid
October afternoon, every garden in the place was sending white
oleanders and hibiscus to the odd octagon church which had once been a
Mohammedan tomb. Nay more! one devoted though disappointed lover far
down by some distant canal had sent, by special messenger, a great
basket of belated white lotus lilies, with a request that they might be
trodden on by the bride's happy feet.

Gwen, as she bent over this offering, sniffing at the faint almond
scent of the huge, jewelled flowers, was a gracious sight to look upon.
She had quite recovered herself, and in sober truth felt absolutely
content. 'How nice of the dear thing!' she murmured sweetly.

And so it was; very nice. One might give it another epithet and say it
was almost heroic. But of this Gwen Boynton had no conception, and
never would have one. That side of human nature, its passion, its
tears, its temptations, its triumphs, had been left out of her
composition. She roused it in others, she played with it prettily, she
even spoke warily and discreetly about it; yet Rose Tweedie, despite
her girlish disdain, had more real sympathy with it than she had.

Dan, meanwhile, in Lewis Gordon's office, disregardful of the lack of
chairs, was kicking his heels as he sat on the table, declaring loudly
that he would of a certainty break down in replying to the toast which
was to be given at the Club dinner in his honour that night. What the
dickens did the fellows mean by giving him a dinner? What had he ever
done for any of them? What had he ever been but a reckless,
insubordinate, unsteady, loafing brute, who ought to have been kicked
out of the service years ago?

'I expect they know their own minds,' replied Lewis rather wearily. He
had a headache; and he was telling himself it was liver when he knew
quite well it was not; a most unsatisfactory denial since there is no
phase of depression so unendurable as that when even a blue pill fails
to hold out cheering hopes. Yet he spoke kindly and patiently also; for
he must have been of base clay, indeed, who would not have recognised
that Dan, transfigured as it were on the summit of his hopes, was a
worthy sight in this work-a-day world, and that, in a measure, it was
well to be there on the hill-top with him. 'Besides,' he added, 'I
think I overheard Simpson saying something about a sick baby----'

'Oh! bad cess to the baby,' interrupted Dan, seeking refuge in an
excess of Celtic recklessness. 'Sure it's a boy now, and one can't see
a child die for the want of ice when your pony has four legs. More by
token, it had but three for a month after, poor beast. But what's that
to do with it? It isn't so much that I'm too bad. It's the world that's
too good for me, and that's a fact. When I think of all you fellows who
have been so good and so patient with me, my heart's broke about it
entirely--and when I think of George! sure, it's only Gwen's kind face
that comforts me. Oh, Gordon! what have I done that she should be going
to marry me to-morrow?'

So he ran on, as many another man has run on; as most men, good and
true, do run on when they are just about to marry the woman they love.

And Lewis Gordon sat listening to him with a headache and a pain in his
heart; for the most part thinking that if Rose could only see this man,
only hear him, she might not be quite so disdainful of it all; might
acknowledge that, be it bad or good in its essence, this feeling did
step into a man's life for the time and claim him body and soul, to the
detriment of neither.

And by the by,' said Dan suddenly, 'I've been meaning to ask you for a
long time, but I wasn't sure if you'd like it. And now that I'm going
away for good and all, and you can't get out of being my best man, I'll
risk it. When are you going to marry Miss Tweedie?'

'Never,' replied Lewis firmly, roused into instant resistance. 'What
put such a fancy into your head now?'

'Now?' Dan's face was a study in tender humour 'It's been in my head
for the last year, and in yours too. I told Gwen so, I remember, before
we went to Hodinuggur that time, and I could see by her manner she
thought so also.'

Lewis looked at him with an odd expression. 'Then you were both
mistaken, that's all.' And Fitzgerald, if you're quite done talking
about yourself--I've a lot of work to finish, old chap----'

Dan laughed. 'Well! I'll go; but it is true, Gordon, and what is more,
she likes you; any one can see that.'

True! absolutely true. Lewis knew it right well, none better, and the
remembrance of the affection she had given him unasked filled him as
ever with a glow of intense satisfaction. And yet he had to confess
that he was not happy. That idyllic month spent in each other's company
had been charming, but that fortnight of absence had been the reverse.
And what he felt now was something very different from that calm,
contented confidence in their mutual friendship which remained, thank
Heaven, untouched by this new passion. For it was that, and nothing
else. He had felt it before, for other women, this moody, restless,
selfish desire of appropriation, and if Rose would not marry him he
would probably feel it again for some one else. In a half-hearted way
he almost regretted that it should have obtruded itself in this, the
most perfect idyl of his life, and yet, call it what hard names he
would, there it was, a palpable factor in the future. Rose was the best
of friends; but she was also a very charming girl into whose company
he had been thrown, and he had fallen in love with her; naturally
enough--only it complicated matters.

He gave a queer little grimace and began to add up a column of figures,
telling himself that no doubt he would get over it as he had got over
similar attacks before; and that at any rate he would wait and see.
Anything seemed better than the risk of paining Rose by letting her
think that after all he had failed to understand the absolute
unconsciousness of her regard for him. And that she might think so,
seemed more than likely, since with all his experience, all his
knowledge, he was only just beginning to realise that this passionate
love was indeed a thing absolutely apart from his affection for her. So
much so, that it almost seemed to him that it would have been easier to
tell her of the former, if the latter had not hedged her in with
reverence and tenderness. It came to him, with a smile, that indeed and
in truth it would have been easier had he been able to send the barber
round with proposals to her father in native fashion; after all, there
was an immense deal to be said for that side of the question.

And then, in his careful methodical fashion, he began to add up the
column of figures again. This time the total was different; a trifle to
be easily set right, yet he was not used to such aberrations of
intellect, and it annoyed him. He did it again, this time allowing no
thoughts of Rose or anything else to obtrude themselves, and a new set
of figures rewarded his perseverance. He laid the pen aside and faced
himself resolutely. Yes! he had been doing atrocious work of late, he
had been thinking of Rose all day long, he had not been able to settle
steadily to anything, and, unless this could be stopped, the sooner he
took advantage of the many changes in the Department--consequent on
Dan's going and the usual cold-weather returns from furlough--in order
to give up his present position, the better. There was nothing like
breaking loose from one's surroundings at once, and he was due some
promotion. But if he had to do this, Rose ought to know the reason. Why
should she live in a fool's paradise? Why should she not face the facts
of life as well as he? If she had been like other women he had known,
he would have made love to her and proposed as a matter of course; but
she was not like others; or rather what did he know of the matter, save
that never by word, or look, or sign had she shown her knowledge even
of the most elementary facts in life. How could you go to a girl like
that and ask her to marry you straight off? What could you do save
gloze over the question by phrases, by mixing it up with other things,
even with that perfect, angelic, absolutely unselfish affection and
regard which she had given him, and which he, apart from all this, felt
for her. Still, it had to be done; in common fairness to her and to
himself, he must tell her that he was a fool, and that life was quite
unendurable without her; he must tell her, if only because there was no
other earthly reason why he should give up the Secretaryship. And if
this had to be, if he had to tell her, then there was no time like the
present, when the necessity for action seemed clear to him.

So ten minutes after, he walked into the room where Rose sat making
wedding favours as for dear life, surrounded by a perfect _chevaux de
fries_ of white satin ribbons, bows, and blossoms. The windows were set
wide open on to the verandah where great baskets of white flowers lay
awaiting her final visit to the church. On the table stood the lotus
lily offering with a note from Gwen to say it was too good to be
trodden on, and would Rose see the pretty things were put on the altar,
where they would look quite sweet. The girl in her white dress with her
brisk hands flying about scissors, needle, and thimble, and her mind
busy with the coming marriage, seemed, like her surroundings, in
unsympathising connection with his purpose; and the perception made him
say discontentedly as he paused beside her to lean against the table--

'I thought you didn't approve of wedding favours?' It was an opening of
the siege at the very furthermost outworks of the position which she
frustrated by a laugh.

'Oh, it doesn't matter! other people seem to like them, and I've made
you such a beauty. There it is, beside you on the table--take care!
you're almost sitting on it. Smell it, it's real orange-blossom.'

There was apparently not a vacant chair in the room. They were all
occupied with white wreaths and true lovers' knots--but with a cross
here and there he was glad to see--so he continued to lean against the
table, smelling perfunctorily at his own favour, and thinking of the
utter inconsequence of the feminine mind, until a certain irritation
came to his aid.

'I wish you would put that work down for a minute, Rose,' he said
quietly. 'I have something I want to say to you.'

Her hands paused, arrested among the white ribbons, her mind on one
word; for he had never before called her by her Christian name. So she
sat looking at him doubtfully, with the light from the windows behind
her edging the great coils of her hair with bronze.

'I have come to tell you that I'm a fool,' he began almost
argumentatively. 'At least, I suppose it's foolish. I am quite ready to
admit, if you like, that it is so; but the fact remains. I can't go on
as we are--as we have been, I should say--any longer. Don't think it is
because I cannot understand. I do--at least I think I do. You are my
friend, Rose, and will be that always, I hope. I don't say the best
friend I ever had, or ever shall have, because that has nothing to do
with the question, and, besides, there aren't any degrees in
friendship--you have taught me that. So I think you may admit that I
understand you. The question is, if you will understand me.'

He paused, and Rose's kind shadowless eyes noted with a sudden
shrinking back from the sight, that his usual calm was broken by a
palpable effort to steady his voice. He felt, indeed, that he had not
the least clew to the girl's mind; that he was absolutely taking a leap
in the dark. And that what he had to say now was, in reality, so
foreign to every single word they had ever said to each other before,
that even if she consented to marry him he could not be sure if she
meant it--if she really understood the difference which he saw so
clearly.

'Rose,' he went on, 'the fact is, that I've fallen in love with--with
you; and if you don't really want to marry me, I had better go away. I
would take an out-district for a time. I've had enough--perhaps too
much--secretary work.' He seemed to take refuge in details from the
main point.

'Why--why should you go away?' asked Rose in a low voice. 'We were very
happy, weren't we?'

Her eyes, which had sought her hands among the white satin bows, came
back to his face anxiously, almost fearfully.

'Why?' he echoed passionately, and as he went on his words, his voice,
his manner trembled in the fine balance between the humour of the thing
and its gravity. 'Ah, Rose, that is the question! Because I'm a fool,
say you; because I'm a man, say I. Because I love you, Rose; because I
think of you when I ought to be thinking of other things. Because I'm
an idiot, and have gone all to pieces. Because it's torture to think
you may go away and marry some one else. Because I can't even add up a
column of figures without wondering what you will say now--now when I
ask you to marry me? Because--yes! have it so--because I am a
fool!----'

He had held out his hands towards her, and hers were in them in an
instant.

'Oh, Lewis, what a wretch I've been!' she cried; 'but why didn't you
ask me before?'

'Why--didn't--you--ask me--before,' he repeated slowly. The favours
which had fallen from her lap lay round about their feet, and those on
the table were squashed remorselessly as he seated himself upon its
edge with the air of a man who requires some physical support, and
still holding her by the hands, drew her down beside him silently. 'I
shall never understand you, dear--thank God!' he said at last in an
undertone: then went on in a different voice--'It is a little
confusing, Rose, you must admit. All this time, ever since you told me
that you----'

She interrupted him quickly, eagerly--'Ah, but that was a totally
different thing altogether!'

'Totally different,' he echoed meekly. 'Yes, of course!' And then he
paused again with his eyes on hers. 'I suppose you would rather I
didn't kiss you?' he began irrelatively, with a half smile of infinite
tenderness.

'Oh, I don't mind,' she put in hastily; 'it doesn't really matter--if
you wish--only don't talk nonsense, Lewis; please don't. I do hate it
so; it makes me feel inclined to put my head in a bag.'

'Then I won't; I can't afford to lose sight of your dear face just
now.'

'Lewis!'

'But if I don't say that sort of thing, what _are_ we to talk about?'
he asked, only half in jest. 'The weather--the news? Not very
interesting subjects either of them to a man when the girl he loves has
just promised to marry him--for you have promised, haven't you, Rose?'

She took no notice of his question.

'Talk about,' she echoed, her kind eyes growing a little
absent--'surely there are heaps of things to talk about besides you and
me. There is the house we are going to have, Lewis; such a nice house!
The prettiest drawing-room you ever saw; I will have it so. And a study
for you, all to yourself, sir, where you can go when you're tired of
me. And then the dinners, Lewis! That's one blessing of my having kept
house for father. I know all about it. There won't be any cold mutton,
Lewis; but the nicest little dinners.' She paused to nod her head
wisely.

'Well,' said Lewis, 'please go on; this is really most interesting.'

'And the garden. 'I'll make you gardener, Lewis. I don't believe you
know the difference between a carnation and a chrysanthemum now; but
I'll teach you, and you shall tie them up for me--I hate tying up
flowers. And I'll copy your reports for you, and keep the house quiet.
And then, and then, everybody will be so hungry, Lewis, and there will
be so many bills to pay; but it won't matter, for every one will be
happy, and the children will brag about their home to all the other
girls and boys----'

'Go on, dear, go on!' There was a little tremble in his voice now, and
as they sat ruining the wedding favours, his right arm drew her closer
to him; but she seemed not to notice it. A half smile was on her lips,
a certain sadness in her eyes.

'And then, dear? Who knows--who can tell? There are so many things, and
death comes--even to the little ones.' She paused, then went on more
lightly--'And I'll grow stout; yes, I'm afraid so, Lewis. I'm the sort
of girl, you know, who is apt to get stout. And you are sure to grow
bald. Then I'll be cross, and you'll be cross; only it won't so much
matter, for we will both be cross together--and no wonder, with the
boys wanting cricket-bats, and the girls clamouring for music-lessons!
So there will be more bills than ever. Then you and I will begin to get
old, Lewis; and the girls will want me to sit up till three in the
morning at balls, and I shall be so sleepy; but you shall stay at home
and smoke, dear. And then the boys will get into scrapes--boys always
do, don't they, Lewis--for they're not like girls, you know. And when
they come to me to get them out of their trouble, I shall say: "No,
dears, go to your father, he will understand; for he--for he is the
best man I ever knew."'

Her voice ended in a little sob; he could feel it, hear it, as if it
were his own, for her face was hidden on his breast.

'Rose! Rose! my dear, my dear!'

It was almost a cry. He would have liked to kneel before his love, as
he had done before the other, but with her there so close to his heart,
he could only hold her fast and tell himself passionately that, in
those long years to come, it should be even as she had said, and that
never, in word, thought, or deed, would he sully her pure ideal.

So they sat silent--for, to tell truth, other words seemed to him
sacrilege, and she had said her say--until with a half apologetic smile
she drew herself away.

'I'm sure you are sitting on your favour, Lewis, and I've such a lot
more to make; besides, I promised to go down to the church at half-past
five. It must be that now, and I've wasted all this time.'

'I've been here exactly seven minutes and a half,' he replied, gloomily
taking out his watch; 'for I looked just before I came in.'

She laughed. 'Well, that was very methodical of you; and I think, on
the whole, dear, that you managed very nicely. And now, as I hear the
carriage coming round, you might just help me to put in the flowers.
Aren't the lotus lovely?'

There was no help for it. She was hopelessly back in realities, and
Lewis had to accept the position. After all, as he watched her drive
off, like a bride herself in the midst of her white flowers, he told
himself that she had managed to compress a great deal into those seven
and a half minutes; a whole dream of life which must, which should come
true. It would be more difficult for him than for her, of course;
perhaps that was one reason why he was still thinking over it long
after she had forgotten everything else in the fervour of a free fight
with the parson, who objected on principle to lotus-blossoms in the
chancel. They were a heathen flower, sacred to unmentionable beliefs
and rites, and could not be admitted beyond the body of the church. It
was but an offshoot of an old quarrel between these two, which renewed
itself every Christmas and Easter-tide; but Rose, who by instinct
understood the story which these particular flowers had to tell, opened
up the whole question of symbolism hotly, finally marching off with her
lilies in a huff to the lectern, whence, she told herself, their
message of love and sacrifice might fittingly go forth. And while she
worked away under the echoing dome of the old tomb, the band in the bit
of public garden close by was clashing and bashing away at 'Rule
Britannia, and 'Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay,' much to the delight of ayahs
leading sallow dark-eyed children by the hand, and a motley crowd of
servants and shopkeepers from the neighbouring bazaar.

Sometimes a palki gharry, like a green box on wheels, with four or five
specimens of Tommy Atkins and a black bottle inside, would come
rattling past, drawn by an anatomy of a horse, and leave a shower of
gibes and greetings behind it for those other green boxes on wheels
which were drawn up beside the road, while their gaily-dressed
occupants chewed betel or strolled about with clanking feet among the
long shadows thrown by the flowering shrubs. Light, and laughter, and
noise; a whole eternity of time and space between this life and the
girl under the dome, decorating the Bible with lotus-blossoms.

'There's going to be a big shâdi (wedding) in the girja ghur (church)
to-morrow morning,' said one of the occupants, dressed in tight mauve
silk trousers and a yellow veil, as she clambered back into the green
box where a figure in white lay listening lazily. 'They are doing all
sorts of pooja there to-day. It is that big, long sahib in the canals
and Boynton sahib's widow. Ai, the sorry tale! Making a fuss of shâdi
about a woman who has had the misfortune to kill one man.'

Chândni sat up suddenly. 'Tobah! a sorry tale, indeed! So she is to
marry him! Lo, there is a man, indeed! but I wonder what he would say
if he knew what I know now?'

'Dost know aught? Dost know him?' began the other enviously.

'I have seen him. He was down at Hodinuggur a week ago putting up a
white marble stone to the young sahib who died there of the sickness
last rains. They were friends, see you, great friends. Lo, tell thy
driver to go on, Lâlu; this wearies me, the folk have no manners.'

They had not far to go; only to the Bedâmi bazaar, with its current of
life below and its latticed balconies above. The full moon rose through
the golden-dust haze to hang like a balloon above the feathery crowns
of the palm-trees; the clatter of horses, hoofs bearing their owners
home to dinner died from the Mall hard by; and Rose stood at the door
of the tomb looking back into the shadowy dome, where the huge lilies
showed like the ghosts of flowers. It would look very nice, she
thought, in the cool light of early morning; and she would have it
decorated in the same way when she and Lewis were married.

But Chândni, as she paused to think of the future, thought of the past
also.

'He fought me fairly,' she said to herself; 'and for his beauty's sake,
I could bear more than he gave. That is our way. But she! Lo, she is
even as I, and he shall know it. I will put that in the platter as the
wedding tribute, and it will help him to pay her back for me. 'Tis
almost as well I had not learnt the tale from Dalel in those days. It
comes better now.'

So, as the night fell, she wrapped herself in the white domino of
respectability, sent for another green box on wheels, and drove in the
direction of the house where Dan was living. That was not difficult to
discover; all that was necessary being a word of inquiry from the
general merchant who sold everything heart could desire in the shop
below the balcony. And the night was warm. She would as lief sit in the
moonshine behind the hedge of white oleanders and talk to the
gardeners, as stay in the stuffy bazaar with its evening odours of
fried meats and pungent smoke.



                            CHAPTER XXVII


'I was never so happy or so sorry in all my life before, and I thank
Heaven that I'm enough of an Irishman still to say so without being
afraid of being laughed at.'

He stood at one end of the table looking his best, as a gentleman
always does in his evening dress--a curious fact, since there is no
more cruel test for the least lack of good breeding. But this man stood
it triumphantly, and not one of those other men seated that night round
the long table but carries to his grave a remembrance of Dan
Fitzgerald's look when he was bidding good-bye to his friends. The
eager vitality of the man, always his strongest characteristic, seemed
to have reached its climax.

'I'm not going to say anything of her,' he went on, the rich, round
voice softening. 'There isn't any need, since you all know her.
Besides, though you have all come here to-night--why, I can't for
the life of me tell--to wish us good luck in the future, it isn't so
much of the future I'm thinking as of the past. It has been so happy,
thanks to you all. And it's over. That is the worst of it. I suppose it
isn't quite what a man is expected to say on these occasions; but the
ladies--God bless them!--would, I'm sure, agree, if they could only be
made to understand that marriage is the end of a man's youth. It
doesn't alter the case at all that it may be the end of the woman's
also, or that we get something that may be as good in exchange. What
has that to do with the past?--the merry, careless past, which I've
enjoyed so much, and to which I'm now saying good-bye. Well, Heaven
help those who say good-bye to it without a solid reason, or have a
sneaking intention of not really saying good-bye to it at all? for
their lines are in evil places. And that sounds like a sermon, and you
never heard Dan Fitzgerald preach before, and you never will again. It
isn't only that I'm off with the morning to the other end of the
world--to a new world, if it comes to that, worth this old one and the
past and all of you put together, if you'll excuse my saying so--it is
because even if I were stopping here I should be out of the old life as
surely as if I were dead and buried. To begin with, I shall have to
think of every penny I spend, so that I may have enough to pay for
paradise! The world is full of paradoxes for me to-night; and I'm the
greatest of them all myself; for I don't want to say good-bye, and yet
I wouldn't miss having to say it for the world. Then it seems to me
to-night as if I'd solved the puzzle; and there's Doveton--the old
bachelor--grinning as if he knew I was a fool, and that I was making
the biggest mistake of my life. I don't think so--I don't think I ever
shall think so; I hope not, anyhow. And so, good-bye to you--goodbye!
And may none of us, married or single, live to know the pain of a
"heart grown cold, a head grown grey--in vain!"'

Down the disordered table with its litter of glasses and flowers, its
atmosphere heavy with the odours of dinner and drink, a hush lay for a
second; not more. Then some one laughed, and with a roar of applause
the general tone--varying from concert pitch to normal diapason
according to the taste of the owner--struck into the old chorus; the
refrain which, touching as it does the lowest and the highest ideals of
humanity, has provoked more mixed sentiment and emotion than any other
in the language:

'_For he's a jolly good fel-low. For he's a jolly good fe-el-low_.'

Love, admiration, assent. But to what? That lies in the creed of the
singer.

And Dan, as the chorus went swaying and surging about in the discords
and harmonies, was left alone, silent--as it were on a pinnacle.

Lewis Gordon, feeling responsible for his man, and noting his growing
excitement, inveigled him out after a time for a quiet cigar on the
verandah, and then suggested he should go to bed; whereat Dan laughed
softly. Did not his best man see that the idea was palpably absurd when
life itself was a dream--a dream that only came once to a fellow? When
you hadn't a wish ungratified, save of course that some others he wot
of might have as good luck as he.

'If you mean me,' replied Lewis stolidly, 'I'm all right. I'm going to
marry Rose Tweedie whenever she can spare five minutes from your
wedding to arrange mine.'

'You don't say so! By the powers, what a good matchmaker I am! And so
it's settled. I say, Gordon, do you think there is any chance of her
being up still?' put in Dan all in one breath.

'Couldn't say; she had a lot of favours to make and remake when I last
saw her, certainly,' replied Lewis, with an inward smile at the
remembrance; 'but you can't go and call on her now; it's half-past ten
at least.'

'Can't I? There is nothing I couldn't do to-night, it seems to me. And
_you_ are yawning. Oh, go to bed, old man! or you will spoil the show
to-morrow.'

'And you?'

'I'm off too, but not to bed! No, you needn't be afraid. I'll turn up
again in time.'

The glamour of the soft Indian night was on Lewis also; even on those
who one by one drifted from the laughter within to stand for five
minutes, arrested by the peace without, before going on their way. And
if this were so to men in the slack-water of life, what must it have
been to Dan on the flood-tide of his threescore years and ten? To Dan
with his vivid imagination, his soft heart, his excitable, impulsive
nature. As he rode along noiselessly at a foot's pace through the sandy
dust which looked hard as marble in the glare of the moon, he and his
shadow were the only moving things in that world of light. No darkness
anywhere! Not even in the distant arcades of trees. Only a soft grey
mist of moonlight blending all things into the semblance of a mirage
seen from afar. A fire-fly or two showed against the flowering shrubs
in intermittent glimpses of light. Here, and then gone, as it were,
upon the soft quiver of the insistent cicalas in the air.

Was not life worth living, indeed if only for such a night as this!

'_On such a night did young Lorenzo!_'

But Dan Fitzgerald had passed beyond that flood-mark on the shore.
Passion counted for much in the elation of mind and body which was the
apotheosis of both; but love counted for more. The memory of a thousand
griefs and pains with pity hidden in their hearts came to fill the
mystic cup of life which the Unseen, Unknown Hand held out to him from
Heaven--the Sangreal of Humanity--the sacraments of Birth and Death.
The child dying of the potter's thumb-mark in the dust--that other in
loving arms with the ice chilling even death's cold touch--George with
the bullet piercing the friendship in his heart--Rose with her pure
wisdom fearless and unashamed--these and many another remembrance
seemed to blend sorrow and joy into peace, even as the moon-mist blent
the world around him into vague beauty.

And there was Rose herself! He could see her, as with the easy
friendliness of India he paced his pony through the open gates of the
garden, and so passed the house. She was still at work among the white
flowers beside the door which was set wide upon the warm balmy night.

'Is that you, Mr. Fitzgerald?' she called, pausing at the faint sound
of his coming to look out into the flood of moonlight clear as noonday.

'It is I, Miss Tweedie.'

He had slipped from his pony and stood beside it welcoming her with
outstretched hands as she came forth, eager with some message for the
morrow which he might deliver.

'Lewis has told me, and I'm so glad,' he said, breaking in on her
words. 'It is the best wedding present I've had yet, and I came along
on the chance of seeing you. I've something to give you. I meant it for
to-morrow, as a parting gift--just a remembrance of your kindness to us
both. But I'd rather give it to you with our best wishes.

He unfastened something from his own wrist and put it, soft and warm,
into her hand. It was a native amulet cunningly twisted of silk thread
and pearls, with a triangle of some blue stone strung in the centre.

''Tis only a glorified ram-rukhri,' he went on half-jestingly, 'the
bracelet sisters give their brothers to bring them good luck. Only it
is the other way round with you.'

Rose looked at the blue of the triangle doubtfully, then at his kindly
face.

'Yes! it's a bit of the Ayôdhya pot--the only bit that wasn't in
pieces. And it has my name on the back, and--and George's.'

'And George's?' echoed Rose softly.

'Ay! He would have liked it, I know--for you were kind to him--kind to
us both, always'--Mâdr-mihrbân, as the old potter called you. And we
two, George and I, are one part of the story; I was thinking of it as I
came along just now----'

She put out her hand with a sudden gesture. 'Don't think of it, Mr.
Fitzgerald! Forget all about it. Go away and forget.'

He gave a happy laugh. 'Why should I? I don't want to forget anything
to-night--except my sins. The rest is all good. Let me put that on for
you--so--goodnight! We'll say good-bye to-morrow.'

So out on the deserted roads with the same happy unrest in his heart.
He would go down and see the old familiar places in the garden opposite
once more--even the pond where the ducks and geese had quacked and
gabbled him into silence! Then through the hanging tassels of the grey
tamarisk trees, round the gleaming white road to the blue-tiled
minarets of the old watch-tower standing causelessly upon the level
plain where four ways met, and so back station-wards to the stunted
dome of the church. The throbbing of tom-toms proclaimed the nearness
of the bazaar, but the building itself stood unassailably silent and
deserted on its high white plinth, save for some one lying on a string
bed set in a shadow by the door. Dan slipped from his pony again, and
hitched the reins to a broken iron clamp in the stone-work of the
steps. The door, he knew, would be open to let in the cool night-air,
so he would look in--'go round the course' as a horsey friend of his
had said when discovered doing the same thing before his marriage. The
remembrance made him smile as he stepped into the dark building and
paused, arrested by the strangeness of what he saw. For the dome was
full of fire-flies brought hither in the flowers; full of a causeless
glimpsing of pale green fire showing every instant the white heart of
some blossom. And the air was burdened with scent; distinct, through
all, a faint, deadly smell of bitter almonds. That must be from the
lotus Gwen had mentioned, and there they were, in the upper shaft of
moonlight through the upper window, standing like sentinels over the
lectern.


'_Om mâni padma hom_.'


What did it really mean, that invocation used by so many millions? What
was the mystic jewel in the lotus? Something fair but far, no doubt,
such as all religions promise. And then with a rush came the thought
that Gwen would stand beside them on the morrow, fair and near!

The echo of his pony's galloping feet made that throbbing in the bazaar
pause an instant as if to listen. Pause and go on when he had passed.
The darkened houses of his friends rose up beside him and were left
behind; the Club with its still twinkling arches, the garden where
Chândni sat gossiping and waiting her chance to kill his faith
wantonly. All these he passed. Awake or sleeping he must be near Gwen
for an instant--must bid her goodnight before the day came.

The chiming, echoing gong from the secretarial office rang twelve,
clear; then the others began. Here and there from the various centres
of law and order, many-voiced from the massive pile of the distant
city. He was too late then, yet not too late; for there was a light
still in the little front room, despoiled of its prettiness now and
littered with boxes. She was awake, busy like Rose over the morrow.

'Gwen!' he called to her softly, for the chick was down, the door half
closed.

'My dear Dan!' Her voice, as she opened it and came hurriedly into the
verandah, was full of amused horror and half-vexed kindness. 'Do go
away, there's a dear! I never heard of such a thing, never! And the
hotel is crammed full of people!'

'It's only to wish you many happy returns of the day, dear!' he
whispered fondly. 'When I've done that I'll go content. Who wouldn't be
content with you, Gwen? And yet I wouldn't spare an inch of it all--I
couldn't. Gwen! do you remember the day your bearer was cleaning the
lamps out here, and we were sitting on the sofa?--odd, isn't it, how
one remembers these things all in a jumble, the one with the other--and
I said to you--the very words come back to me, dear, every one of
them--"You might be bankrupt of everything, Gwen, of everything save
yourself, and I'll give you credit for it all the same." Do you
remember, dear? Well, I've come to take the promise back. You've spoilt
me, Gwen, I can't do it.'

'I--I don't understand,' she said faintly. 'I wish you would go, Dan.
We can talk of it to-morrow--afterwards.'

'To-morrow! Why's it's to-day already, our wedding-day! And if I can't
keep the promise, am I not bound to take it back while I can? Not that
I'm afraid--that is why I've come, to tell you, selfish brute that I
am--that is why I want it all--every scrap of your beauty, your
goodness. I'll take nothing else, dear, now; for I know it's yours, and
what is yours is mine by right!'

She had grown very pale, and a sort of terror came into her eyes.

'Ah Dan! what is the use of talking? I give you all I can. My best--I
can't do more--it isn't kind----' she broke off almost impatiently, and
yet she did not move from his clasp.

'Not kind, when I know what the best means? And yet, Gwen, it just
comes upon me now that I couldn't stand it--if--if it were not so--not
after this midsummer night's dream--of madness, if you will! Yes, dear,
I'm going--I am indeed. But, Gwen--it's an idle fancy--and yet if there
was anything it would be better to tell me now. You're not angry at the
thought--it's only a thought. See, give me one kiss--just one, to be an
answer for always.'

What right, she asked herself fiercely, had she to hesitate? What
possible right, standing as she did on the threshold of a new life,
_where no one could possibly know?_ And so she was back on the low
levels among the ordinary considerations of convenience and safety as
she kissed him. But the touch of her lips sent his blood surging
through his heart and brain; and without another word, another look, he
turned and left her--content, absolutely content. Love, pity,
friendship, passion, had all combined to raise him to the uttermost
limit of vitality. He might come near it perhaps in the future; he was
not likely ever to reach it again--not even without Chândni waiting to
tell him the truth on his return to the odd little house at the other
end of the station.

He neither knew nor cared where he was going; but his pony, tired of
these incomprehensible wanderings, set its galloping hoofs on the
shortest road home--that is to say, through the densely-wooded grounds
of the Residency. Along a grassy ride or two, across a short cut they
sped. Dan forgetting even his joy in the keen effort of steering a
runaway through the trees; a runaway unheld, free to go as fast, nay,
faster than it chose, yet obedient to that grip to right or left. It
was a mad ride, a mad rider--yet a masterful one, wrestling imperiously
with that other will, when the gloom grew as the trees thickened, and
darkness and danger came together in the hot night, prisoned by the
dense foliage above. Dan, looking down at the pony's heaving flanks as
it paused, wearied by its short, sharp, unavailing struggle against his
strong hands, felt flushed and hot. Not wearied,--he could not be that
on such a night,--but glowing, palpitating, excited; drunk almost as if
with wine. But yonder stood a remedy in that long, low-thatched roof,
supported on brick pillars, and hung round with heavy bamboo screens.
Dan laughed as he slid to the ground, thinking of the twelve feet of
clear cool water running fresh and fresh into the big swimming-bath at
the one end, and out at the other to irrigate the green levels of the
garden. Fresh and fresh all through the scorching summer weather, when
life held no greater pleasure than to feel that cool water close in
round the hot limbs. Frequented then, morning and evening, though
deserted and empty through the colder months. Only the day before Dan's
smooth dark head had come up from its depths rejoicing, and now the
thought of it was luxury itself when the blood was beating in his
temples, and racing at fever heat through his veins. More than once
coming home at night, after careless, reckless enjoyment, he had
stopped here, as he did now, to try the water-cure--as he had tried it
in the canal at Hodinuggur.

'I need it to-night if ever I did,' he said half aloud. ''Tis the wine
of life has got into my head.'

It was dark--almost too dark inside; that was because the fools had put
down all the screens, when, on the contrary, they should be opened by
night to let in the fresh air. He told himself that he would speak to
the Secretary of the caretaker's neglect; yet how would that be since
he would never see him again?

Yes! it was the last time! and how many times had he not gone down
red-hot from the spring-board as he would do now, to come up out of the
dark water a new man, with all the evil tempers and the prickly heat
quenched out of him?--sure, as a regenerating element, fire wasn't in
it with water! A leap in the dark indeed! But that was what life was,
and he was not afraid of it.

The little bars of moonlight shining through the chinks between the
bamboos came so far on the smooth white floor, then the soft depth of
darkness where the cool water should be, and above it Dan poised for a
second.

'_I come! Mother of all!_'

The oft, old-repeated cry rang joyously up into the roof, followed by a
strange, dull thud, and silence--dead silence.

The bath had been emptied that morning for the cold weather, and Dan
Fitzgerald was lying face downward on the hard cement with a broken
neck.

Dead! Dead, without a word, a sigh, or a regret! And Chândni, growing
tired of patience, went home to the bazaar, grumbling at her ill-luck,
telling herself she might still write, if it were worth while.

But Dan was beyond her spite, beyond other things which, even without
that spite, might have killed the best part of him.

Yet even in romance the sixth commandment outweighs all the others. The
novelist may maim and degrade, may bear false witness against his own
creations and filch from them the very characteristics which he has
given them, in order to make degradation happy, but he must not kill;
death in the verdict of the world being the only real tragedy.

So at any rate seemed the opinion of most people when in the early
morning the gardeners coming to their work found Dan's pony drowsing,
half asleep, still tethered to a hibiscus bush, whose great
blossoms--in topsy-turvy fashion--showed rosy-red in death and
snowy-white in life.

It was terribly sad, they said; an unredeemed tragedy, cruel, needless;
altogether a manifestation needing much true Christian faith; one of
the accidents of real life, so exasperating because so causeless, so
inartistic because so unnecessary. These and many other comments the
mourners made as, when the funeral was over, they returned home; and
so, it being Sunday morning, went to church, where they sang 'Jerusalem
the Golden' piously.

Only Rose lingered, her kind, soft hands laying the half-dead lotus
like sentinels on the grave; for Gwen's pure white cross of gardenia
had, at her request, been buried on the coffin.

'I can't somehow be so sorry,' she said to Lewis, between her sobs. 'He
was so happy that last night. I seem to see his face still.'

But the man caught his breath in hard. There was a verse which would
ring in his ears, his heart; for he had helped to lift poor Dan, and it
had come to memory then--


              'Broken in pieces like a potter's vessel.'


Yet, after all, what did it matter? but Rose must never know. In such
things he would stand between her and needless pain.

And Gwen? She, as the phrase goes, bore up wonderfully. Not that she
did not love the dead man dearly, but because she did love him. For
odd as it may seem--topsy-turvywise, perhaps, like the hibiscus
flowers--she had the same consolation as Rose Tweedie.

'I did not tell him,' she said to herself as she lay in her darkened
room. 'He was happy to the last. I did my best--I did my best.'

So she cried softly; and so, once more, she escaped from her own
remorse, and was comforted.



                            CHAPTER XXVIII


Both for the reader's and writer's sake it is never fair to end a story
as you would end a play in a situation, for the former tries--vainly it
may be--to present life even in its trivialities, the latter only in
its more dramatic moments. So, though there is little more to tell,
save what might easily be filled in by the reader's own imagination, it
would give a false impression of the real value of poor Dan
Fitzgerald's tragic death, were the curtain to come down upon the rest
of the _dramatis personæ_ in the first bewilderment and sorrow which
such unexpected and causeless accidents must always arouse. As a matter
of fact, there is no grief which passes sooner from the daily life than
that caused by death, especially when a real and unselfish love has
existed between the dead and the living. The mind, after the first
physical sense of loss has spent itself, refuses to believe in the
extinction of a feeling which, in its own experience, has survived
death, and so is comforted not by forgetfulness but remembrance.
Besides, it is false art to end any history embracing the life of more
than one person with the balance in favour of pain. For were this so in
reality, pain would cease to be pain and become pleasure, because it
would then be the normal condition of life; since it is clearly to be
demonstrated physiologically and psychologically that it is in the
disintegration of reminiscent habit that the phenomena of pain arise.
Indeed, in the mind, pain is incredible, impossible, unless we have
first formed the habit of pleasure; since it consists essentially in
privation.

Therefore the novelist who wishes to give a true picture of life will
always leave his puppets content. Nor does this limit the field unduly,
since it is clearly as much the duty and privilege of the writer to
present new sources of content to his readers, as it is for him to
present them with scenes, or situations, or characters of which they
have no previous knowledge. Because Jones thinks the soul of bliss is
incarnate in roast-beef and plum-pudding, is that any reason why the
more ethereal Brown should be denied his cup of nectar? or that the
philosophic Robinson, seeing that birth and death are alike inscrutable
phenomena, should refuse empirically to believe that the one is joyful
and the other sorrowful?

But the public seems to think differently; 'Oh don't kill him, or her,
or them,' it says cheerfully, 'let them enter into life halt, and
maimed, and blind. What does anything matter so long as they have the
average number of breakfasts, luncheons, and dinners allotted to
humanity, and can thus go down to their graves in the fulness of time
with the pleasing consciousness that their funeral _cortège_ is
followed by a Noah's ark, consisting of the ghosts of the animals they
have devoured?' For the world sides with Esau, who bartered away his
birthright for a mess of pottage. And good pottage is, no doubt,
warming, comforting, consoling. Yet some people who have it not are
happy; for instance, the two hundred and odd millions of India--but
then to them Birth and Death are alike the pivot on which the wheel of
life spins.

So thought the potter of Hodinuggur. So had thought his fathers who lay
buried in the dust beside him, and though the old man had no son to
step on to the treadles when his feet slipped from them, the wheel span
steadily, and the women of the village, as they rung the temper of the
water-jars before they bought them, nodded their heads saying--'Fuzl is
a good potter. Look you, it comes with a man's birth. When he goes,
we shall have to send for another. Meroo thinks he can make them,
because the Sirkar taught him when he was three years in jail for
cattle-thieving. But it takes more than three years to make a potter.'

Still Fuzl Elâhi showed no signs of going; on the contrary, he seemed
to have a firmer hold on life than ever, as if Time had stood still for
him. Rose Gordon remarked on the fact to her husband as they sat side
by side one day on the old log. They had been married nearly a year,
and he had brought her out for change of air on one of his inspection
tours--for he had given up the Secretaryship on his marriage in favour
of greater quiet and more freedom.

'It is so strange, Lewis,' she said, 'you and I coming back, so
changed. And so many things have changed! even the palace scarcely
looks itself with that dreadful sort of Swiss chalet Dalel has built
for Beatrice Norma tacked on to the ruins of the old tower. And George
and Dan are dead, and the water is running in the cut yonder as if
there had never been any tragedy about preventing it from running. Yet
the village, with the potter sitting in the topmost house, is just the
same.'

Lewis Gordon smiled. 'You never read Megasthenes' account of his travel
through India in the year B.C. 300 or you wouldn't be surprised. It
might have been written today; for these people do not change except
under pressure from without, and then they disintegrate suddenly. But
the old man seems to me more sane than he was--more at rest. No doubt
Azîzan's death----'

The familiar name caught the potter's ear and he looked up from his
work.

'Yea! she sleeps still, Huzoor. The breaking of the pot did not disturb
her at all. She was weary, see you, after sixteen years of waking. So
now when my fathers say, "Where is Azîzan?" I can answer, "Hush! she
sleeps! she will waken when she is refreshed." Lo! it is well the pot
broke. It was accursed; bringing ill to all.'

'There you see, Lewis!' began Rose eagerly----

'It did not bring it to me, dear,' he replied, interrupting her, 'and a
man can but judge from his own experiences. And then, as I have often
told you, we really know nothing for certain----'

'Except,' put in Rose obstinately, 'that poor George----'

'Don't you think we ought to be moving?' he asked quietly. 'Remember
you promised Mrs. Dalel to have tea in the chalet and inspect the son
and heir, and you are tired enough as it is.'

'But you said you wanted to go and see some slope or another, and I'm
not in the least tired,' she insisted when they had left the yard and
reached the road. 'Lewis! you never used to fuss this way. I wish you
wouldn't.'

'It is only another method of showing my real views on the mental and
physical calibre of women. You must have read, my dear, of the
wonderful recuperative power which the lower animals have of
reproducing another tail when----ahem--by the way, this is not a safe
spot! I remember saying something of the same sort on purpose to annoy
when we were here before----'

He paused, and looked down the narrow alley of the village to where the
palace was beginning to share the unreal beauty which the dust-cloud
from the feet of the homing cattle gave to the whole scene, by hiding
the dull plain in a golden mist that gave distance and height to the
low sand-hillocks behind which the sun was setting cloudlessly. A
glorious sight, the dignity and calm majesty of which lingers long in
the memory of those who have seen it in India, day after day, month
after month; lingers to claim a higher place in the imagination than
the more varied and complex sunsets of the West with their stormy
contrasts and passionate beauty.

'Leave me here,' she said suddenly. 'I should like it. I'll sit on that
pile of old potsherds, and wait till you come back. It will rest me.'

It was peaceful enough of a certainty, and silent too. Only every now
and again the tinkle of a low-toned bell from some leader of the herds
below chiming in on the musical moan of the potter's wheel heard over
the low wall.


                 'It was a woman seeking something.'


The rhythm came back to her, stirring the old sense of curious unrest.
Stirring it in others of her sex also, if one might judge by the eyes
which, seeing the stranger alone, began to peer from the neighbouring
hovels. Eyes followed by figures; deep-bosomed mothers most of them,
with a slim girl or two doing nursemaid to other folks' babies.

Nearer and nearer they came, attracted by the great feminine quality,
until in answer to Rose's nod of welcome and encouragement they
squatted near, yet far, gathered in as it were upon themselves, apart
even from that other woman; even from her, with the cares of coming
motherhood writ clear upon her, and causing her to look at those other
mothers with kindly, friendly eyes.

'Ari bahin!' said one with a nudge to her neighbour. 'Tis for sure she
who played bat and ball last year like a boy. Wah! that is over; she
knows her work now.'

'I trow not,' replied another shrilly. 'She hath been sitting with the
potter's eyes upon her this half hour past. She is bad, caring but for
her pleasure.'

'Mayhap she knows not,' said an older voice, 'and they have no mothers,
these ones, nor mothers-in-law. Yea! 'tis true. My man went to dig for
the sahibs the year there was no corn in the land, and he hath told me.
They marry of themselves and there is none to see to them that they
fall not into ignorant mischief. It is fool's work.'

'No mothers-in-law?' tittered a bold-faced lump. 'Ai teri! that is no
fool's work.'

But the elder woman had risen, to stand a few steps nearer Rose,
looking down at her with dignified wonder.

'May the Lord send a son,' she began, going to the very root of the
matter without preamble.

'I will take what He chooses to send me, mother,' replied Rose,
smiling.

'Tsi-si-si!' The matron's pliant forefinger wagged _sideways_, in that
most impressive gesture of denial never seen out of India.

'Mention not such things, my daughter,' went on the grave voice, 'lest
He take thee at the word. Then what wouldst say? And see! Go no more to
the potter's yard. It is not safe. Wouldst have the son come to thee
with his mark on the breast? I trow not.'

They had come forward one by one to cluster round the speaker, their
dark assenting eyes on Rose.

''Tis not to be helped, though,' put in another. 'Do I not know? I,
Jewun, whose son died of it this year; yet I remember the old ways and
my mother's counsel. Lo! it is Fate; naught else. And 'tis better to
crack and be done with it. Then folk know. Not like my new milk-jar
this day. Sound to sight and touch, yet six good quarts of milk spilled
on the ground, as it crumbled like sand ere a body could get a hand to
it. The old man shall give me another in its place. It is not fair.'

'Nay! Mai Jewun,' put in a third, 'a pot comes to pieces ever; if not
one, then another way, when it is tired of going to the well for water.
Thou hast naught to complain about. Ai sisters! hither returns the
sahib! He will be angry that we have spoken to his mem.'

'He will not be angry,' protested Rose; but the thought was beyond
them. They were off swiftly, yet sedately, only the elder woman pausing
to waggle her finger again, and say, 'Go not to the potter's. It is not
well. I, Junto, mother of seven, say so.'

There were tears in Rose's eyes when Lewis came up and in consequence
he did look angrily at the retreating figures. She was pale and tired,
he said, and must send an excuse to Mrs. Dalel. He would not have her
knocking herself up with other folks' infants. So they went back
quietly to the two white tents standing beyond the Mori gate, where the
pigeons, as of old, circled iridescent round the dark niches. As of
old, too, the clash of silver anklets came from the shadows, since
Chândni was back again in her old haunts; but with a recognised
position, for her Highness Beatrice Elflida Norma was a shrewd little
person, and knew that she would need help to hold her own amid the
intrigues of that surely-coming long minority which lay in the future.
It is a recurring fraction that long minority, in the problem of our
dealings with petty principalities and powers; for civilisation does
not conduce to longevity with the native nobleman, and Dalel, with the
income from the stud farm, was diligently burning his feeble little
constitution at both ends. On the sly, however, for virtue, to all
outward appearance, reigned at Hodinuggur. Only that morning Rose had
inspected a female school with rows of nice little girls with very
clean primers and brand-new slates. A brand-new visitors' book, too, in
which Rose had, with some misgivings, inscribed her name at the end of
a trite little remark on the blessings of education; for she was only
just beginning to make up her bundle of opinions, and was not quite
sure of them.

But that night, as he was carefully guiding her steps through the maze
of ropes and pegs to the door of the sleeping-tent, she paused suddenly
to say to her husband--

'Lewis! I'm glad we came here. I thought it would be so painful seeing
George's deserted grave and reviving the old memories; but it has only
seemed to make it all more natural, to make everything, somehow, more
simple.'

This, then, was what the years were bringing to Rose. She and Lewis
were very happy; though sometimes, especially when they were out in
camp together, alone, he would enter a feeble protest against her lack
of sentiment. When, after work and dinner were over, they sat beside
the roaring stove--the mingled lamplight and firelight making the tent
cosy beyond belief--and he, laying down the volume of Thackeray from
which he was reading aloud, would remark, for the hundredth time, that
Rose was like one of his favourite heroines.

'If you say those stupid things, Lewis,' she would reply, 'I will make
you read shilling shockers, and then you can't--or I hope you won't.'

'Oh! it is all very well to scoff,' he would continue in injured tones,
'but I am the victim of an unrequited attachment. You are the heroine
of my romance always, and you never had a romance at all.'

'Well, dear! that is better than having one with some one else, isn't
it?' she would reply placidly, and Lewis's hand would reach out to
touch the one which was so busy with needles, and thimbles, and
threads--just to touch it for an instant, in a certain shamefast,
deprecatory acknowledgment of her wisdom. For he knew quite well that
he, like most men, had had several romances in his life, and that the
possibility of several more remained in him. Whether the climax of
Rose's dream of the future ever came about, and the boys got into
scrapes, cannot be told; for the simple reason that Lewis himself is
still within the torrid zone of life. But he does his best to prepare
for the crisis, and he follows his wife's lead in this; that he finds
life more simple and less sad as time goes on and he faces its facts
less egotistically.

Gwen Boynton, however, found it quite the reverse. She married Colonel
Tweedie two years after Dan's death, having, she said, buried all
thoughts of personal happiness in the grave of the only man she had
ever loved. This, as usual with Gwen's remarks, was true in itself, and
yet left her free to marry for position without remorse; or rather,
accurately speaking, to utilise her regrets as a motive for doing what
she wanted to do without remorse. So she made Colonel Tweedie an
excellent wife, much to his delight and comfort, for as Rose
acknowledged, he sorely needed some one to keep him from fussing when
she had gone to perform the same kind office to Lewis. Nevertheless,
Gwen Boynton, when she came back to society after the shock of Dan's
death, had lost some of her charm, and, from being a fascinating woman,
had become elegant and interesting, as befitted one with a history.
Life, she said, was so mysterious. Humanity a mere shuttlecock in the
hand of Fate beaten backwards and forwards by devastating passions!
Altogether the world was a sad sojourning in which a vague mysticism
was the only anodyne for the sensitive.

She became a half-hearted disciple of Madame Blavatsky's, and reached
what may be called the climax of her kindly, absolutely untrustworthy
nature, when with tears in her eyes and much gentle mournful
resignation to the mysterious inevitable, she would tell the story
which she had heard from Rose, of how Dan Fitzgerald and George Keene
had been measured for heroes in the potter's yard, and of their sad
deaths within the year. Of course it was incredible; and yet----?

Thus, none of the actors in the little drama ever knew the whole truth
about it. Gwen had the best chance so far as facts went, but she, being
handicapped by her method of vision, failed to see her real part in the
tragedy; for she resolutely set aside the possibilities of that hour
during which her _dandy_ waited outside the dressmaker's.

Besides, she knew no more than the rest of the other key to the
position which lay in Azîzan's love for George. And this was hidden
even from him, though every night, winter and summer, an odd little
light--like a lost star--twinkled on the summit of the shadowy Mound of
Hodinuggur. It was the oil-cresset which the old potter put nightly on
the girl's grave to prevent her from having bad dreams. The branded
brick bungalow was empty and deserted now that the sluice-gate required
no guarding, so there was no one to see its feeble yet persistent
light; still it could be seen distinctly from the little enclosure
where, on a white marble slab, the legend ran--


                    'St. George Keene, aged 21,
                     Who died alone at his post.'


And between the two graves the gleaming streak of the big canal lay
like a sword splitting the world into East and West.



                               THE END.



                        *    *    *    *    *
       Printed by T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty
                  at the Edinburgh University Press



                              FOOTNOTES:


[Footnote 1: Literally, _evil-walker_.]

[Footnote 2: On sleep--sleeping, sleeping like a child.]

[Footnote 3: The police.]

[Footnote 4: Full two maunds.]

[Footnote 5: My man is dead, my heart is dead--is dead.]

[Footnote 6: Reign.]





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