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Title: Voices in the Night
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Voices in the Night" ***

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Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=bqcOAAAAIAAJ
      (Stanford University Libraries)

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



                         Voices in the Night



                          BY THE SAME AUTHOR

                _Uniform with this Volume, price 6s_.

              ON THE FACE OF THE WATERS.
              THE POTTER'S THUMB.
              FROM THE FIVE RIVERS.
              IN THE PERMANENT WAY.

                              *   *   *

                      LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN
                       21 BEDFORD STREET. W.C.



                         Voices in the Night



                                  By

                          Flora Annie Steel

                              Author of
                  'On the Face of the Waters,' etc.



                                London

                          William Heinemann

                                 1900



            _All rights, including translation, reserved_

   _This Edition enjoys Copyright in
    all Countries signatory to the
    Berne Treaty, and is not to
    be imported into the United
    States of America_.



                               CONTENTS

            _Prologue_.

   _Chapter_

         i. _The Totalisator_.

        ii. _The Kite-Flyers_.

       iii. _Cobwebs_.

        iv. _An Unforgotten Past_.

         v. _Shark Lane_.

        vi. _The Money of Fools_.

       vii. _Crackers and Squibs_.

      viii. _The Temple of Viseshawar_.

        ix. _Uncertainties_.

         x. _The Sinews of War_.

        xi. _The Spirit of Kings and Slaves_.

       xii. _A Mother's Dirge_.

      xiii. _A Valse à deux temps_.

       xiv. _In the Toils_.

        xv. _The Râm Rucki_.

       xvi. _The Prison of Life_.

      xvii. _The Pen and the Sword_.

     xviii. _The Freedom of Death_.

       xix. _On the Bed Rock_.

        xx. _The Old Wine_.

       xxi. _Red Paint_.

      xxii. _The Better Part_.

     xxiii. _A Memorable Occasion_.

      xxiv. _The Sovereignty of Air_.

       xxv. _Secret Despatches_.

      xxvi. _Fair Odds_.



                               PROLOGUE

The new year was already some hours old, but the world to which it had
come was still dark. Dark with a curious obscurity, that was absolutely
opaque yet faintly luminous, because of the white fog which lay on all
things and hid them from the stars; for the sky above was clear, cold,
almost frosty.

That was why the fog, born, not of cool vapour seeking for cloud life
among the winds of heaven, but of hot smoke loving the warmth of dust
and ashes, clung so closely to the earth; to its birthplace.

It was an acrid, bitter smoke, not even due to the dead hearthfires of
a dead day, since they--like all else pertaining to the domestic life
of India--give small outward sign of existence, but to the smouldering
piles of litter and refuse which are lit every evening upon the
outskirts of human habitation. Dull heaps with a minimum of fire, a
maximum of smoke, where the humanity which has produced the litter, the
refuse, gathers for gossip or for warmth.

Even in the fields beyond the multitude of men, where some long-limbed
peasant, watching his hope of harvest, dozes by a solitary fire, this
same smoke rises in a solid column, until--beaten down by the colder
moister air above--it drifts sideways to spread like a vast cobweb over
the dew-set carpet of green corn.

So it was small wonder if here, at Nushapore, with its fifty thousand
and odd dwellers in cantonments, its two hundred and odd thousand
dwellers in the town, the smoke fog hid earth from heaven; hid even the
steady coming of day.

For it was close on dawn. The most silent, most restful hour of an
Indian night, yet one still holding that vague sense of life and
movement inseparable from an environment in which there is no set time
for sleeping or waking; in which folk gossip all night, and sleep all
day, should the humour so take them.

It had so seized on some one, apparently, this New Year's night, for
two voices rose, not in whispers, but monotone, from one of the
verandahs in Government House--rose insistently, until, from within the
closed doors, came a sharp though drowsy order for silence--

'_Chupra'o!_'

The voices ceased; such orders, even when drowsy, must be obeyed, since
they come from the master: at any rate, till he sleeps again.

So the minutes slipped by. Upon the round rim of the level wheatfields
beyond the smoke, the violet sky above the cobwebs faded to grey at the
sun's approach. The fog round Nushapore grew whiter, more luminous.

Then the voices began again; monotonous, insistent. Were they, in
old-world fashion, beguiling the reality of darkness with legends of
some heroic age of light? Were they, more modernly, making that reality
darker by taking thought for the morrow, and discussing, say, the
depreciation of the rupee? Or were they dreamers still, though wakeful,
and were they discoursing of equality and the rights of the individual?
Such theories are to be heard nowadays even in this Indian smoke fog.

'_Chupra'o_, you brutes, or----'

The threatening voice paused as a dull reverberation shivered through
the chill air. It was the first gun of the Imperial salute which every
New Year's morning proclaims that Victoria, _Kaiser-i-hind_, reigns
over the fog, and the voices in it.

Now, when a hundred and one guns, each with its message of mastery,
stand between a man and his sleep, what use is there in commanding
silence elsewhere?

So the threat ceased, and between the beats of the guns the voices had
their say unchecked.

About what?

That is a difficult question to answer, when the voices are in the
night.



                              CHAPTER I

                           THE TOTALISATOR


'What's the big blackboard with white sums?' asked little Jerry
Arbuthnot.

Jack Raymond, who was holding the child's hand, looked down at the
six-year-old figure in the natty riding-suit so like his own, save for
the racing silk which he himself wore half-hidden by a covert coat.

'It is the map of India,' he began, then pulled up at the sight of
Jerry's face. 'You shouldn't believe everything you're told, young
man--it hampers the sense of humour! No, Jerry, that's the
totalisator--a calculating machine for doing sums in the compound
rules. Ask Miss Drummond if it isn't?'

The girl thus challenged let the cool disdain, which is nowadays so
often the prevailing expression of young womanhood for manhood, become
slightly more aggressive.

'It is a betting machine, Gerald----'

'Don't profane the word, Miss Drummond,' interrupted the man. 'Betting
is a bracing mental exercise. You back your opinion to be right against
fixed odds. But this five-rupee-in-the-slot-trust-in-Providence
business is a demoralising compromise. You stand neither to win nor
lose.'

'Then, please, what does come to the five wupees?' asked Jerry
urgently.

'Practical boy!' commented Jack Raymond with a laugh. 'It is "as you
was" generally; for you see, Jerry, the world backs the favourite as a
rule. It likes to follow a lead! And, if you divide the total of the
tickets by their number, it's poor fun! So take my advice, young man;
when you totalise, go for a rank outsider and stand to collar the lot!'

Lesley Drummond, being the child's governess, frowned. 'I see your
mother arriving, Gerald,' she said, 'and we were to join her at once.
Come!'

But Jerry held his new-found friend fast by the hand. 'You come too,'
he petitioned, 'my mother is just an orful nice person.'

There was a moment's pause, during which the child's grip on the man
tightened, before the latter replied, 'I know that, Jerry; your mother
and I are old friends; but I have only time to see you safe across the
green. I'm up in this race.'

'I used to wide waces when I was in India once,' began the child, when
Lesley cut him short.

'You never rode a race in your life, Gerald, and I can't allow you to
say that you have.' Then she turned suddenly, in the purely impersonal
confidence of grievance, to the stranger beside her (for they had only
just been introduced to each other), and said, 'I can't think why, but
ever since Gerald landed in Bombay, just a week ago, he has had a bad
habit of claiming to have done all sorts of things he never _could_
have done. Lady Arbuthnot thinks it is because the child really does
remember India a little. You see he was past four when he went home.
But that,' she added magisterially, with a frown for the culprit, 'does
not excuse telling stories--does it?'

The man's blue eyes, so curiously overshadowed by thick bushy fair
eyebrows, sought the child's cool grey ones, and a sudden reflection of
the perplexed obstinacy he saw in them came to his own.

'How the deuce do you know he hasn't?' he muttered, half to himself.
'This isn't England, where you can bet your last _dib_ on certainties.'
Then he looked at the immaculate white collar and cuffs of the figure
in a tailor-made coat and skirt beside him, and gave in to convention
by adding resignedly, 'But you mustn't tell whackers, you know,
Jerry--must you?'

'I don't!' protested the six-year-old. 'I weally thought I had. But I
will, anyhow, when I'm big. An' I'll bet wif the bookies evewy time,
Mr. Waymond, like you do.'

That glance at the collar and cuffs showed guilt in it this time. 'Not
a bit of it,' said the conscious sinner stoutly. 'You'll be a mighty
big swell like your father, Sir George----'

'Please, they call my daddy "His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor" now,'
interrupted Jerry, 'and his salute is twenty-one whole guns. They made
an orful booming at the wailway station. But I liked it. An' the twoops
pwesented arms to him to-day at the Queen's pawade--didn't they, Miss
Dwummond?'

'Of course, dear! As Lieutenant-Governor, your father is entitled to
these honours,' replied Lesley, head in air.

'Of course!' echoed the man beside her, making her, in her turn, glance
at him, and wonder if contempt or envy brought that odd note to his
voice. Either way, she admitted reluctantly, he would have carried such
honours bravely; but then so would have half the Englishmen she had
seen since landing at Bombay. The environment of India had a trick of
giving an air of distinction to the Anglo-Saxon.

Radical as she was, inevitably, seeing that she had led the life of a
definitely independent woman in England for six years, she felt a
sneaking satisfaction as she walked across the enclosure with the tall
spare man, whose haggard face looked still more haggard above his gay
racing colours.

The afternoon sun sent blue-black shadows behind them. The golden glory
in front of them lay lavishly on the shifting kaleidoscope of many-hued
dresses. To one side, the pipers of a Highland regiment strutted their
floating tartans through a pibroch. To the other, rose white mess-tents
decorated with flowers and bunting, each centring its knot of crowding,
colourful guests.

But the densest, most colourful crowd gathered round the totalisator
which stood between the first and second-class enclosures, so that
the sergeants in uniform could attend at the same time to both its
five-rupee board fronting the grand stand and its one-rupee board
giving on the mixed multitude; could attend even to the slender dark
hands which sometimes stretched over the barrier with five rupees in
their palms, and a petition to be allowed the higher stake. Hands
unable to grasp the fact that five lesser gains may equal one greater
gain; an inability provocative of much needless discontent all over the
world.

Lesley Drummond's eyes, as she walked across the lawn, grew dazzled at
the unusual glitter and colour of the crowd, her ears grew confused by
the gamut of civilisation struck by the varying costumes. There, was
the first note of Western influence in a pair of patent-leather shoes;
yonder, the last echo of the East in a white turban above a frock coat.

'It's a queer crowd,' said Jack Raymond suddenly, as if in explanation
of her look. 'And I could tell you a lot of queer tales. That man, for
instance'--he nodded after a burly figure in a tinsel biretta which had
just thrust a flabby waxen hand at him with a liquid Persian compliment
on the New Year--'is the biggest brute in India. A Delhi pensioner by
rights, but he does Buckingham here to the Rightful Heir, that young
sweep to the left, in cloth of gold.'

'Rightful Heir!' echoed Lesley captiously, 'rightful heir to what?'
Anglo-Indians in her limited experience oscillated between supposing
her crassly ignorant or absolutely omniscient; and either treatment
annoyed her, for she was accustomed to consider herself, and be
considered, thoroughly well informed.

'The whole caboodle,' replied Jack Raymond tolerantly. 'You see there
were kings in Nushapore----'

'I know _that_, of course!' she interrupted impatiently, 'but do they
still claim?'

'Great Moses! Claim? Nushapore is a _vox clamavi_, chiefly to mutiny
pensions which, being mortgaged up to the hilt, are of no use to any
one but the usurers. But _they_ will generally lend the bankrupts
enough for the entrance-fee to the races, so of course they come here
in crowds.'

'Why?' asked the girl, feeling herself a mere mark of interrogation.

'It's a change from betting on cocks and kites. Besides, there's the
position.'

'What position?' she asked, with a prayer for patience.

He laughed easily. 'All races are equal on a course, Miss Drummond; and
a racecourse is, practically, the only place where the native meets us
on equal terms. Look! there's the biggest brute in Asia elbowing Mrs.
Member-of-the-Board Collins at the totalisator! If he tried it on
elsewhere, some one would kick him, and quite right too.'

Lesley's disdain became active, though she told herself the remark was
only to be expected from 'that type of man.'

'May I ask why?' she said superbly.

'Because it is contrary to his own estimate of the proprieties, and it
is impossible to be virtuous on another person's decalogue, isn't it?'
he replied coolly; then, ere she had time to reply, went on: 'There are
a lot of chaps want kicking in this crowd, I can tell you. For
instance, do you see that man buttonholing the Rightful Heir?'

'With the red tie?' she asked, feeling interested in spite of herself.
'Is he English?'

'God forbid!' said her companion piously. 'Grecian Archipelago, I
should say for choice; but he won't let on. Anyhow, he's a merchant;
wheat, diamonds, dust, bones--everything out of which he can screw a
_pice_. And Jehân Aziz, the Rightful Heir, has the finest table emerald
in the world--the old king's signet-ring. Now I don't mind betting it
will be in Paris before the year's out.'

'In Paris!--why in Paris? I don't understand--nobody could be
expected--nobody could understand,' protested Lesley.

Jack Raymond smiled. 'Filthy Lucre--his real name is Philip
Lucanaster--does, I assure you, Miss Drummond! He knows that heirlooms
always pay debts of honour.' He paused to lift his cap elaborately to a
well-dressed fair woman who passed with a tall dark man, whose face had
a wistful look. 'There's a case in point,' he went on carelessly. 'That
fellow--he is a pure-bred Brahmin, Miss Drummond--is paying his
heirlooms through the nose because he contracted a debt of honour in
marrying an Englishwoman. She has made him sacrifice home, friends,
relations; prints his cards Mr. and Mrs. Chris Davenant--his real name
is Krishn Davenund--and so tries to hang on to the frayed edge of
society'-he glanced at an effusive greeting between the lady in
question and Mr. Lucanaster.

'Poor thing!' ejaculated Lesley with the wholesale defence of all
things feminine which belongs to her type. 'What a terrible experience
for her--'

'And for him,' retorted her companion drily. 'Matrimonial mistakes,
though women will not recognise the fact, come inevitably in pairs.'

Apparently there was some suggestion in his own words, for he looked
ahead hastily, and finding himself closer to an advancing group than he
wished to be, told Jerry he must be off, and turned back towards the
paddock.

'Who was that, Lesley?' asked Lady Arbuthnot, who, with her husband,
formed the centre of that little knot of advancing notables. She was a
beautiful woman, beautifully dressed, and with the beautiful manners
which a perfectly calm consciousness of beauty always gives to a woman.
Her soft voice softened still more as she spoke to her child's
governess; so there was small wonder that the latter's face, as she
replied, told yet one more tale of modern girlhood--the tale of one
woman's blind hero-worship of another.

'A race steward. Jerry took a violent fancy to him and I didn't! But he
said he knew you--a Mr. Raymond----'

A faint echo of the name was checked on Grace Arbuthnot's lips by a
greeting to a new arrival, which, when she returned to the subject,
lent them the continuance of a set smile of welcome.

'Yes! I knew him very well years ago. I shall be glad to meet him
again.' The faint unreality which previous rehearsal gives, even to
truth, was in her voice.

'He's up in this wace,' quoted Jerry sagely, 'or he'd have come, for he
said you was orful nice. Oh, mum! do be quick, or we shan't see him
win.'

'Win? How do you know he's going to win, sonnie?' asked Grace
Arbuthnot, and there was no unreality in her voice now, only a slightly
troubled curiosity.

''Cos he will,' answered the child in childish fashion; whereat his
mother flushed faintly, but smiled also.

Jerry was a good prophet. Five minutes after, he was dancing on his
chair, as crimson and gold came in first. 'Oh! did you see, mum?' he
cried. 'He was quite quite first.'

Lady Arbuthnot held out her hand to steady the child, and her voice
seemed to need support also. 'Of course I saw, dear; and I am glad.'

'So's every one, Lady Arbuthnot,' said young Nevill Lloyd--captain by
virtue of his A.D.C.-ship--who stood behind her. 'Raymond is our most
popular win.'

It seemed so by the cheer which rose as the winners went by.

'I suppose he has won a lot of money,' sniffed Lesley, noting the
rider's pleased face.

'Not a penny, Miss Drummond!' protested the young fellow. 'Raymond is
only _on_ the saddle when he rides another chap's horse, as he's doing
to-day; and it _is_ safer, you know.'

'I do _not_ know, Captain Lloyd,' she retorted loftily. 'I know nothing
about horse-racing. _Why_ is it safer?'

He coughed uneasily. 'Ah! I thought you would know, you know, and it's
a bit hard to explain. You see, Indian racing is sometimes a trifle
odd--considering, I mean, that we are all gentlemen--or supposed to be
so. But Raymond,' here he brightened up, 'is always a straight win.
That's why Lucre and his crew----'

He stopped short as one of a group of men, amongst whom Mr. Lucanaster
showed conspicuous by his red tie, paused in the general exodus to
answer a bystander's question.

'Luck? How the deuce is any one to have luck when you can't get a fair
bet placed? Even the Devil's Own didn't get on with His Royal
Highness.'

Mr. Lucanaster acknowledged another of his nicknames by a lavish smile.
'There is faith as mustard in Raymond among our nigger friends,' he
said, with the eccentricity of accent and idiom which, following him
into every language he knew, made his nationality an insoluble problem.
He glanced back as he spoke towards a cluster of native gentlemen who,
following a lead as ever, were also making their way from the stand.
The similarity of their oval yellow faces, their thin curves of
moustache trained to a fine sweep above the full betel-stained lips,
proclaimed them of the same family; but Lesley singled out the Rightful
Heir by his cloth-of-gold coatee, and by something which, rather to her
own surprise, thrilled her unexpectedly--a green gleam of sovereignty
on the small supple hand raised in a _salaam_ of servitude as its owner
passed the Lieutenant-Governor and his party.

'I'm always glad,' continued Nevill Lloyd virtuously, when Lucre and
his crew are hit! They get betting with the Nawâbs and offering 'em
drinks. Shocking bad form--by the way, Miss Drummond, come to our tent
and have a peach-brandy!'

Lesley, with another trait of the modern girl--her toleration of the
male sex up to the age of twenty-five--laughed good-humouredly.
'It isn't bad form with a lady, apparently, for that's the fifth
peach-brandy I've been offered in half an hour!'

'Well! aren't there five tents? And you haven't been to ours,' argued
the lad quite gravely. 'Do come! It needn't be a peach-brandy, you
know. Have tea, or a chocolate caramel, just to show there isn't any
ill-feeling.'

She smiled in sisterly fashion at his kindly, clean-looking young face,
and--Jerry having gone with his father--passed with it into that
marvellous golden glory of Indian sunshine which still struck her
Western eyes as the most noticeable factor in her Eastern environment.
The rest, barring the native costumes, was hopelessly Western, she told
herself, as she stood listening to the scraps of talk around, while
Nevill Lloyd struggled for her cup of tea. Polo talk, polite talk,
political talk; then something she could not classify as two natives
drifted by with an air of aloofness.

As they did so a plaintive woman's voice rose close to her. 'I shall
send baby home, as we've been transferred to Cawnpore.'

'Isn't she rather young?' said some one in answer.

'Oh! it isn't that,' replied the first voice, 'I mean that I couldn't
take a child to Cawnpore. I should always be thinking of the well!'

_Always thinking of the well!_

The words brought home to Lesley Drummond in an instant--a
never-to-be-forgotten instant--that _something_ which so often chills
the golden glory of the Eastern sunshine, that vision of the sentinel
of memory which, for both races, bars the door of reconciliation that
might otherwise stand open for comradeship.

She had read books on that past tragedy, she had told herself that it
_was_ past, that it should be forgotten; and now--

'Drink your tea sharp!' said Nevill Lloyd with kindly familiarity, 'or
you'll be getting ague. That's the worst of this beastly hole. It's
always in extremes. Hot as blazes one moment, chill as charity----' He
paused, for the iron hand beneath the parti-coloured velvet and brocade
glove of India was resolved to have the girl in its grip at once, and a
rattling thud, followed by a dull reverberation, rose from the near
distance, making more than one in the chattering crowd pause also,
until the sound came again, when the pause ended cheerfully in fresh
chatter.

'It's a funeral,' explained Nevill Lloyd in answer to Lesley's look.
'The cemetery is close to the course, and enteric is shocking bad in
barracks just now. Young Summers of ours is down with it, too. Awful
ill, poor chap--couldn't be worse, I'm afraid.'

A lady, passing, turned to listen, and, as she went on, said to her
companion in a whisper, 'I do hope they won't have to put off the ball
to-night--I've got such a jolly new dress from Paris for it.'

Another vision came to Lesley, the vision of a dead lad and a Paris
dress.

'Come for a turn--you're positively shivering,' said Captain Lloyd
concernedly.

They had barely escaped from the crush, however, when Sir George
Arbuthnot appeared in the important fuss of new authority. A cipher
telegram had come from England, he must return to Government House at
once, if Captain Lloyd would kindly order the carriage.

'It's an orful nuisance, Miss Dwummond,' commented Jerry, tucking his
hand into hers after his fashion with every one he liked, 'for dad and
I was going to put five whole wupees on the blackboard thing for the
Cup wace. And now he can't, of course. But I can. Can't I, dad?' he
added, artfully appealing to a weak point in his parent, 'for you
pwomised, didn't you?'

Now the keeping of promises had always been a prop to Sir George's
somewhat irresolute mind, so he promptly gave Jerry the five rupees,
and, with a suggestion that Miss Drummond would help him to get the
ticket, bustled off, leaving the latter no time for remonstrance.

She stood looking resentfully at the pieces of silver which were to
betray her principles, then said with chill dignity--

'We had better take the ticket at once, I suppose, if it has got to be
taken. Come, Gerald!'

But Jerry's face was the face of Jerry when he forgot his hymn, and his
hands, holding the five rupees, went behind his back to match his
consciousness of error.

'I'm afwaid I don't know, please,' he began.

'Don't know what? Speak up, don't be stupid!'

The flaming flag which always heralded the child's confessions of
ignorance flew to his face; but, after his habit, he looked his
inquisitor full in the eyes.

'What, please, a wankest outsider is.'

Lesley hid her smile deftly; she had ample practice in the art with her
pupil. 'And _I_ don't know which is the rankest outsider, so we must
take it on chance,' she replied tartly.

The little laddie's face fell, but he stood firm. 'Please, I'd _wather_
take it on the--the other; for Mr. Waymond knows lots about betting and
you don't know nothing.'

'I'm glad I don't!' she retorted, feeling quite nettled, for Jerry's
obstinate adherence to his ideal was not to be set aside with a high
hand. 'And what is more, I don't wish to; so if you're not satisfied,
we needn't take the ticket at all!' So far she got almost spitefully,
then something smote the womanhood and motherhood in her. 'Or,' she
went on, 'suppose we take one on Kingscraft--every one says he is sure
to win.'

The boy's face was a study of pitying contempt. 'Kingscwaft!' he
echoed. 'Why, he's the favourite, and I'm not going to foller a
lead--_I_'m going to collar the lot!'

A sudden mist came to the girl's eyes; and through it she seemed to see
the sturdy little soul enshrined in the sturdy little body. She held
out her hand and said simply, 'Come, there's Mr. Raymond--he'll know.'

'The rankest outsider?' echoed Jack Raymond quite gravely. 'Let's have
a look at the card, Jerry.' Then, as he stooped over the child, he
added, 'Shall I read out the names, or can you?'

The confessional scarlet flew to the little lad's very ears this time.
'Only some, I'm 'fwaid. That one's Kitten. An' I know that other
one--least one end of it I do, 'cos it's Miss Dwummond's name.'

'Which? Bonnie Lesley?' asked Jack Raymond, and the scarlet flag flew
to another face.

'Only the other end of it, please,' corrected Jerry; whereat one flush
vanished in two laughs.

'My name doesn't matter, dear; read the next,' began Lesley, when Jack
Raymond interrupted her.

'Excuse me, we gamblers believe in omens.--H'm! country-bred
mare--undersized--maiden--Of course I remember! a post entry, railed
down this morning--owner up--that looks good--white and green
sleeves--better--the fellow knows his border ballads. Bonnie Lesley it
is, my boy, for the luck'--'of the name' trembled on his tongue, but
the immaculate collar and cuffs made him alter the phrase to 'the
thing.'

The next instant he and Jerry were elbowing their way to the
totalisator, Lesley waiting for them out of the crush, and watching
fresh white strokes come as fast as they could to number two on the
blackboard. That, she thought, must be the favourite's number, while
poor Bonnie Lesley, tho rankest outsider, was probably thirteen, with
but one white stroke!

She turned to the bookmakers' booths to see if she could verify her
guess by their lists, but all save one, round which a few determined
old stagers were lounging, had already closed. However, she saw what
she wanted there--Kingscraft, No. 2, Bonnie Lesley, No. 13!

When she turned back again, the little and the big covert coats had
disappeared in the crowd; indeed, she was beginning to wonder what had
kept them so long, when Jack Raymond's voice called her from behind.

'This way, Miss Drummond, everything's full up this side, but I'll take
you across to the other.'

Jerry, leaning over the railings below the judge's stand, beamed with
delight, but Lesley, finding Mr. Lucanaster and the Rightful Heir next
her, felt herself mixed up with the extreme racing set and their
nefarious practices. So she glared at her guide resentfully, though he
was too much absorbed in his race-glass to notice it.

'Just in time,' he said, looking round with a cheerful smile. 'Now,
Jerry, my man! steady to win, or lose--that's the game!'

He followed his own advice, anyhow, and Lesley, watching his hands,
felt instinctively that the man must be a first-class rifle shot. But
Jerry followed the advice also, though, with a wonder as to whether the
strain was good or bad for the child, she noticed his fingers clenched
white on the white railings in his effort to be calm.

'They're off!'

The familiar stir of relief ran through the crowd.

Then came the familiar silence, while every eye was riveted on the
confused onward sweep over the curved tan--that silent half-seen sweep,
which, for all its dimness, its silence to the outward ear and eye,
holds in it from the first, a sob, a strain of fiercest effort for the
inward sight and hearing.

So, at the curve, the trail of horses clustered, spread out again,
settled for the straight run home!

'Bonnie Lesley's had it in her pocket from start to finish, Jerry,'
said Jack Raymond, suddenly lowering his glasses.

'By Jove! I wish I'd----' He broke off and raised the glasses again.

But by this time others had seen that the little brown mare was coming
home to her stables cheerfully, and a blank half-irritated surprise
began to leaven the suspense.

Then a voice--Mr. Lucanaster's--said, 'What a rotten race!'

It was, to many; yet as the little mare neared the spectators, there
was something in the bronze gleam of her straining muscle, something in
the deer-like bound of her forward sweep, something in the eager head
with its full anxious eye, outstretched as if to pass the post a second
sooner, something in the slack swing of a pair of green sleeves telling
of a win, hands down, which made every sportsman present forget
personal disappointment in a surge of admiration for the game little
beast.

'By Jove! Raymond!' said one of the judges as he passed out, 'what a
flyer! I'd give something to own her!'

'I'd give something to have known her,' corrected another. 'Twenty to
one! Ye Gods! What a chance for my widow and orphans!'--

'Who gave _you_ the tip, Jack?' asked an envious voice.

'What tip?' replied Jack Raymond imperturbably.

'Oh! don't fizzle--I saw you--just at the last--you must have about
broken the----'

'Totalisators don't break, my dear fellow,' interrupted Jack. 'Now,
Jerry, if Miss Drummond is ready, we can go and claim your winnings.'

She made no answer till the comparative solitude of re-crossing the
course was reached, then she turned to him and said, in a voice to
match his own--

'And your winnings also.'

Their eyes met, and he took his cue once more from what he saw. 'I'll
get _them_ after. It is a good lot, for I backed the little mare
properly because she had your name. Only depreciated rupees though!
Jerry! can you do sums yet? What is five thousand rupees at one
shilling and threepence farthing? That, I think, is to-day's quotation,
is it not, Miss Drummond?'

His reflected defiance made the original stronger.

'Tell Mr. Raymond, Jerry, that you haven't yet begun his system of
compound multiplication, and, as I hope you never will, he had better
drop the subject.'

She had not looked at the straight line of those bushy fair eyebrows,
or she might have realised the futility of high-handedness; but she did
realise it, with a certain respect, from the first words he spoke.

'You have no right to object,' he said coolly. 'The coincidence of name
was not your doing--nor mine! Nor are you responsible for the mare's
win. Therefore, since neither Jerry nor I consider ourselves in your
debt for our ill-gotten gains, we leave you out of the question, and
for the life of me I can't see why you should insist on being in it
when you dislike it.'

His sledge-hammer common-sense left her gasping, and ere she found
words he had reverted to negligent banter. 'But, of course, if you feel
guilty, I'll put the rupees into the poor-box---that is always the
refuge of the conscience-stricken! I can afford it easily, for I've had
a regular run of luck today. So let it be peace and charity with this
man! Now, Jerry! for the rupees, and after your pockets are stuffed,
I'll take you to your mother and explain.'

Lesley, feeling limp, admitted to herself that the suggestion was
thoughtful. She also yielded the point of manners as she watched him
standing before Lady Arbuthnot with Jerry's hand, as ever, tucked
confidingly into a bigger one; and yet Grace Arbuthnot was one of those
women who, as a rule, make men look rough.

'I'm sorry to begin by bringing you a bad boy,' he said, evading her
set welcome rather abruptly, 'but Miss Drummond will tell you how
demoralising I am, so you must forgive the young sinner for the sake of
the old one.'

The words held no intent, and yet as Grace Arbuthnot stood listening
and looking at those two--the man and the child hand-in-hand--the faint
shrinking which tells of a sudden enlightenment, bodily or spiritual,
came to her eyes. 'You can hardly be held responsible, Mr. Raymond,'
she said slowly when the tale was done. 'It is Sir George's fault, and
I will tell him----' Then, as if to escape from the situation, she
turned to Lesley, 'By the way, have you seen him lately? Gone home, did
you say! Why?'

The reply seemed to take her from the present and the past also, so
that her manner had all the elaborate graciousness she accorded to mere
acquaintances as she said, 'Then I will follow his example and say
good-bye, Mr. Raymond. These English telegrams are so interesting,
aren't they? Especially now the general election is on; for it means so
much to India, doesn't it?'

'Possibly,' he replied coolly, 'but it means very little to me, Lady
Arbuthnot. I am no politician nowadays.'

Lesley Drummond, as, driving away, she watched the haggard face pass
under the big blackboard with its white sums which rose from the motley
crowd to show clear against the dusty levels of India, wondered once
more if his tone meant contempt or envy.

Grace Arbuthnot, however, did not notice the tone at all. She was
absorbed in something else, and, as soon as they reached Government
House, went straight to her husband's writing-room.

After ten minutes she was still standing where she had paused beside
him, and was drawing her dainty pale gloves through her hands
impatiently as she stared at the telegram Sir George had shown her. For
he trusted her absolutely in such matters; and in so doing showed his
sense. She came, to begin with, of an Anglo-Indian family which had
written its name large on the annals of Empire. An only daughter, she
had kept house for her father, the Lieutenant-Governor of his time, and
so from her earliest girlhood had listened to the talk of the ablest
men in India, and become familiar with the problems of its government.
Then, of herself, he knew her to be as capable of giving a sound
opinion as he was; knew that no one from the Himalaya to Cape Comorin
took a keener interest than she did in the welfare of the people.

'Yes! I, too, thought they might perhaps withdraw it, but still it is
mean, inexpressibly mean!' she said at last.

Her voice was loud and firm, and Sir George glanced uneasily at the
door of his secretary's room; for the fear of a certain proverb about
grey mares lingered with him. It dies hard in Indian bureaucracy.

'Horribly mean,' she went on, 'for it does not lessen your
responsibility; or alter the position, so far as you're concerned.'

Sir George took up his pen a trifle irritably--a sign that he was
beginning to weary of the discussion. 'Pardon me, I think it does. So
long as these secret instructions were in my confidential box I was
bound, in any crisis, to follow them; but now they are destroyed'--he
paused at her look, pointed to a pile of grey ashes in the fireplace,
and went on heartily--'upon my soul, it's a relief! The contents can't
leak out now; and I've been awfully nervous about that ever since
Ewebank took to asking questions about a secret plan of campaign in the
House. Some one got a hint of it somehow; and, as you know, that
pestilent paper here, the _Voice of India_, has been on the bad-faith
tack. And I can't imagine anything more disastrous, just at present
when the city is seething about the plague and the withdrawal of
municipal powers, than that this policy--which, frankly, subverts all
our professions--should be got at. Even at home it would be ruination
during the elections; a regular party cry.'

'And yet,' said Lady Arbuthnot with a fine scorn, 'every sane man knows
we can't proclaim everything from the housetops in India; knows we
_must_ have secret orders. And, paper or no paper, we have them still!
If there is a row, Government will expect you----'

A sudden obstinacy came to her husband's face. 'I should telegraph home
for orders.'

Her hands closed tighter; she frowned. 'No, you wouldn't, George;
everything might depend on accepting the responsibility of immediate
action--you----'

He drew his chair close to the table and dipped his pen in the
ink--sign that he meant to hear no more.

'I should do what I thought best, of course; but I should also be more
cautious to avoid doing'--he changed his phrase, 'to avoid receiving a
slap in the face. Anyhow, I'm not exactly sorry the instructions _have_
been withdrawn. Even delay in action seems to me to involve less
risk--of permanent injury, I mean--than the upset there would
infallibly be if our intention leaked out before the event.'

She paused at the door with a look of tolerant affection. 'But why
should it have leaked out? Besides, it did strengthen your hands
enormously--that is why I got father to speak to the Council--that is
why I was so glad when he succeeded. And he was glad too--he knows the
advantage of having it in black and white.'

She said the last words, half to herself, as she went slowly up the
wide shallow stairs, so un-English, so still more un-Indian, which led
to the upper story of Government House.

She was thinking, as she spoke, of her father's letter, in which
he had told her of his success, and given her an outline of what the
demi-official notification to follow would be. That letter was still in
her jewel-box upstairs, where she had placed it as a sort of hostage
against the more definite letter to come. And suddenly the temptation
not to destroy that _précis_ of policy came to her. Supposing she kept
it just to show George--whose disinclination to accept responsibility
she recognised as a source of danger--that, if the worst came to the
worst, he could still prove a private knowledge in black and white of
what had been the Government policy. The letter was very definite, very
explicit.

The thought came to her as she passed into her room, and as she did so,
she saw the reflection of her English maid's face in the looking-glass,
as she stood rummaging hastily in the dressing-table drawers.

'What is it, Needham?'

The maid turned, with a cry of mingled relief and alarm, 'Oh, milady!
I'm so glad you're back. I can't find the little jewel-box nowhere--it
'adn't so much in it, milady, for I'd took out the diamonds last
night--that was when I seen it last. It 'ad your string of pearls, and
_ayah_ says she's not seen it either, but there was people in the
verandah last night, for Captain Lloyd he threw boots at 'em, for
disturbin' him. Oh, dear! oh, dear! why did I ever come to Ingiar!'
Here Needham dissolved into tears.

Grace Arbuthnot turned very pale. 'The little jewel-box,' she echoed.
Then she pulled herself together, and said calmly, 'Well, it is lucky
it was only the pearls. Go down and ask Sir George to come to me at
once; for if the box has really been stolen, the sooner the police know
the better.'

Half an hour afterwards she was answering the police officer's
questions still more calmly.

'Only a string of pearls--large ones--they belonged to my mother, who
got them, I believe, from one of the late Nawâb's wives, and a few
small trinkets--there is a list of them--that was all.'

'A letter or two, milady,' suggested Needham, who had been giving her
evidence.

'Of no value to any one save the owner,' smiled Lady Arbuthnot, and her
husband smiled back at her, for he knew she kept his letters.

'Well, it is lucky it wasn't worse!' he said consolingly, 'it might
have been the diamonds. And if I were you, he added to the police
officer, 'I'd let Mr. Lucanaster know at once, even if, as you say,
it's wiser to keep the matter dark for a day or two. He is always
buying jewels, and even if the thieves don't take the pearls to him
direct, they might try and trade them off to the royal family, and then
he is sure to hear of it in the end--he is always having dealings with
them.'



                              CHAPTER II

                           THE KITE-FLYERS


'Bring me more paste, women, and see there be no lumps in it; the last
was fit to ruin a body's reputation,' said Lateefa, the kite-maker, as
he sate on the ground in one of the arched nooks which surrounded the
wide sunlit courtyard of a large native house. It had been a sort of
city palace to the dead dynasty, and was now occupied by Jehân Aziz,
the Rightful Heir's, family. It was built of stucco, simulating marble;
stucco decayed, fast crumbling to dust, so leaving scars, where once
there had been ornaments.

The speaker was an old man, though his sleek oiled hair, square-cut in
the royal fashion just below the ear, showed no streak of grey. On one
side of him lay the raw material of his craft; on the other a
swift-growing pile of the manufactured article ready for sale in the
bazaar, after his master, Jehân Aziz, prince of kite-flyers, should
have taken his choice. That Lateefa himself was prince of kite-makers
could be judged from the way in which he bent the bamboo slips to a
perfect curve, and held them thus by three dabs of paste and a sheet of
tissue paper. It was a miracle of dexterity.

There were two women in the courtyard, one a girl about sixteen, who
was lounging lazily behind Lateefa, the other a woman of sixty, dressed
in ragged dirty garments, who was spinning as for dear life an arch or
two farther down. After a pause, during which she looked almost
appealingly at the girl, the latter rose and limped towards an inner
court, for Khôjeeya Khânum was slightly lame; slightly deformed also,
owing to her lameness.

'Keep the lumps to our dinners, Auntie Khôjee!' called the girl with a
pert titter; 'for what with paste and the kites it makes we good women
have scarce flour left to fill our stomachs!'

Lateefa, after watching the limp disappear, glanced round at the girl.
She was a buxom creature, over-developed for her years, and
over-dressed in the cheap finery of Manchester muslin at six _pice_ a
yard and German silver earrings at two _annas_ a dozen.

'Thy sort of good woman need never starve, niece Sobrai,' he said (for
he was connected by some by way of blood to the Heirs of All Things or
Nothing), 'I have told thee that before. There is not a drop of her
blood in thee,' he nodded to the inner door. 'I mean no blame; some
daughters must favour the father. Indeed, I marvel ever there be so few
to do it in this family, since, God knows! we men be debauched enough
to outweigh the virtue of the sainted Fâtma herself.' He shook his head
and began on a new kite.

'Thou knowest _that_ better than I,' retorted Sobrai sharply; 'though
thy memory, Uncle Lateef, can scarce hold the poor souls thou hast
injured thereby.'

His deft hands left their work, and the supple fingers spread
themselves in emphatic denial. 'Not a one! niece, not a one!' he
protested, 'Lateefa makes kites, not souls. I take men and women as
they came from their Maker's hands--as I came. For, see you, if my
kites fly, as I make them fly, why not His souls?'--he paused for a
thin musical laugh which suited his thin acute face--'I say not,' he
went on, 'that thou art botched by being built another fashion, but
that her life,' he nodded again to the inner or women's court, 'is not
for such as thee--that thou hadst best appraise thine own needs
betimes.'

'May be I have already,' sneered the girl insolently, 'and without thy
help, pander!'

He turned on her swiftly. 'Have a care, girl! have a care! In vice, as
in virtue, the old ways are safest. So listen not to that woman from
cantonments whom the Nawâb brings hither when he entertains. Ah! think
not I have not seen thee stealing down on the sly to have a word with
her.'

Sobrai gave a half-abashed titter. 'And to Dilarâm _thy_ friend of the
city also! Lo! uncle! What is there to choose between them or their
trade either? "_If one comes to dance, what matters a veil?_" And if
the Nawâb would keep his women old-fashioned, why doth he bring Miss
Leezie to the house? Ah! say not 'tis only to this outer court where we
virtuous need see nothing; for "_'tis only the blind cow which hath a
separate byre_," and my sight is good----'

'And thy heart bad,' added Lateefa dispassionately, as she stood
shifting one foot to and fro after the manner of dancing-girls. 'Still,
since God made thee, as I make kites, thou wilt doubtless fly thine own
way--if thou canst find some one to hold the string! It needs that
ever.'

She began a retort, but checked herself as Khôjeeya reappeared with the
paste in a green leaf cup.

'Thy work brings quick return, Lateef,' said the old lady, pausing to
look wistfully at the growing pile of kites, 'but my wheel twirls for
two hours to a farthing tune.' She edged closer and brushed a speck of
dirt from the kitemaker's board in wheedling fashion, then went on,
'Couldst not spare me something to-day, Lateef, against the boy's
medicine? He needs it sorely, and Noormahal hath not had a _cowrie_
from the Nawâb since the races. Dost know what he lost? He says all,
but he lies often.' She spoke without a suspicion of blame, simply as
if the fact--being a dispensation of Providence--was neither to be
questioned nor resented.

Lateefa laughed airily. 'Lose!' he echoed, 'Jehân hath naught to lose,
not even credit. He sets free of fate! "_He who bathes naked has no
clothes to wring!_" 'Tis Salig Râm, his usurer, whose fat flesh quivers
lest his tame pensioner should die prematurely. So take heart, my good
Khôjee! Things cannot grow worse, or, for that matter, better, since
Jehân's affairs are as a slipped camel in the mud. They can neither go
back nor forward. For, see you, he must not die of starvation, lest the
pension lapse; nor must he live riotous beyond reason, lest once more
the pension lapse through his death by surfeit. Would to God I had such
leading-strings to comfortable, clean living myself! But none cares for
Lateefa's soul or body. So fret not, Khôjee, concerning Jehân. And as
for the boy, canst not take the child to the "Duffri'n Hospitar'l" and
get physic free? Plenty women go thither, they tell me.'

'Ay! of sorts; but not we,' replied the old lady.

She drew her ragged veil tighter, but Sobrai tittered.

'Hark to her gentility! Yet she goes to the pawnshop, Uncle Lateef, and
does the house-marketing to boot--tut! auntie, wouldst pretend it is
not so? As if our neighbours did not know us all but servantless! as if
they could not tell worshipful Khôjeeya Khânum, king's daughter, below
the domino, by the limp!'

The old worn face--it was one of those Providence meant for beauty,
then marred--turned in deprecating apology to Lateefa, as
representative of outraged propriety and proprietor.

'Some one must, _meean_,' she said meekly, 'for Ameenan hath but two
hands and two feet; yet another set would mean another mouth to feed.
Besides, I grow so old, brother; there is no fear.' The faint
forlornness and regret of the excuse made Lateefa's sharp face soften.

'Heed not what Sobrai says, sister,' he replied. 'Lo! thy virtue would
stand stiff in a brothel; hers grows giddy looking over a wall; so she
doth not understand----'

'Not understand!' retorted the girl shrilly. 'Mayhap I understand too
much for old folk and old ways. I hold not with lick-spittling men-folk
who wander "Englis fassen," yet would keep us in the old path--who say,
as their granddads did, that "_cattle and women must rub along in their
tethers_," but claim a long string to their own kites.'

Lateefa interrupted the tirade with a chuckle. 'Since they are able to
hold it! but as I told thee, 'tis the mud in the gutter for the gayest
of gay petticoats'--he laid his hand on the growing pile of kites-'if
they try to soar alone.'

'I will not ask thee to hold mine, anyway,' she retorted, flouncing off
in a meditated whirlwind. For Lateefa was right. Sobrai was not born of
those who are patient in well-doing. Even without experience, her
manners were those of a different model.

Aunt Khôjee looked after her fearfully, then once more turned to
representative man in apology. 'Here are ill words, _meean_,' she began
tremulously, 'yet God knows how hard it is to keep girls silent when
the world about them hath grown so noisy. In the old days neighbours
were of one's own sort; now, if they be ready to pay full rent, that is
enough. I say naught against ours--though, good or bad, it was ill done
of Alidâd, our cousin, to let the house his fathers died in. Still they
be decent folk enough, though the son is a _balister_.[1] But, see you,
since he returned from England he hath taken his wife to live as a
_mem_ beyond the city. And she hath set his sisters agog to learn, as
she learns, of a _miss_ from the _missen_. So what with all this talk,
and the railway whistle so close, and Sobrai gossiping as girls will
over the partitions----'

Lateefa's thin laugh positively crackled. 'Said I not her virtue would
not withstand a wall? But heed her not, sister. She is right, _for
Sobrai_! Thou art right, for _Kôjeeya Khânum!_ Ye are both God-bred,
God-fed! Except concerning houses--_there_ thou art wrong,' he added,
giving the old lady a shrewd tentative look. 'Dead folk should remain
in their graves and leave the letting of houses to the living. I deem
Alidâd wise, for, as the old saw says, "_an empty house is the wasp's
estate_." Jehân should do the like with this, if the Nawâbin would
consent to live elsewhere.'

'Elsewhere?' echoed Khôjee, aghast. 'Where else should Noormahal live
but in her own house?'

'In a smaller one. Look! saw you ever such a wilderness of a place for
five women and a child!'

He swept a derisive finger round the wide courtyard, the terraced
arcades, the storied vista of the _zenan-khana_, the half-fortified
gateway, where the royal peacocks still spread their broken plaster
tails. And as he did so the flood of yellow sunshine, as if in answer,
betrayed every cranny in the cracked brickwork, every scar in the
mouldering stucco.

'Tis as a stone on the tail of a kite, sister,' he went on, 'a burden
not to be borne by frailty that can scarce support itself.' He had, as
he spoke, been tying his morning's work together ere taking it to the
bazaar, and now he stood balancing a balloon-like bundle, almost as big
as himself, upon his hand; but he emphasised his remark by withdrawing
that support, then, ere the kites touched ground, catching the bundle
again, so holding them suspended. 'It needs some one to keep feather
brains from the gutter,' he continued gravely, 'and thou, Khôjee, art
the only body in this house with sense. Khâdjee, thy sister, hath
decorum, Sobrai desires, and Noormahal, poor soul, dreams! So let me
speak thee soberly. Thou hast heard of this plague, sister?'

Khôjee cracked all her fingers wildly, to avert evil, ere quavering,
'Who hath not? Hath it come, Lateefa? Shall we be all sent to hospital
and poisoned?'

The crackling laugh echoed again. 'Fools' tales, woman, fools' tales.
Why should the _Huzoors_ trouble? Have they not soldiers and guns
wherewith to kill?'

'But they have driven out the _Mimbrâns_[2]-committee; they have taken
possession of all things. Hâfiz Ahmad's wife, who lives as a _mem_,
said so. She said her husband----'

The laugh crackled again. 'Ay! he is _mimber_, yet he knows which side
of the wall to jump. And what be the rights and wrongs of the quarrel,
I know not; but, as thou sayest, the _Huzoors_ have taken the reins
once more, for the plague is nigh. So they are meddling with God's
work, and finding _hospitar'ls_ and who knows what. And Hâfiz Ahmad,
for all his grievance, hath recommended his father's--yea! Khôjee, the
neighbouring house--as _hospitarl_. So, see you, sister, if folk were
wise the _hospitarl_ might come to them, and a swinging rent beside;
since Behâri Lai, the town clerk, told me the doctors said they must
have both houses or neither--they were so nigh. Here, then, is
Noormahal's chance. Let her claim a writing for half-rent, since,
having right of occupancy by her marriage-dowry, Jehân cannot let
without her consent. That would stop wheel-spinning for bare bread,
sister.'

But Khôjee's thoughts were not for herself. 'Can the _Huzoors_ make us
go,' she quavered; 'can they force her?'

Lateefa shrugged his shoulders. 'Nay! nay! but if she choose.'

'Then is that the end,' interrupted Khôjee, with a sigh of relief.
'Noormahal will never choose. She hath but two things left of
kingship--and it comes closer through her than through Jehân, mind you,
though, being woman she hath no claim like he-two things, the house and
the ring! And she will keep both--for her boy.'

Lateefa had his gay balloon balanced afresh on his palm.

'If she can keep the boy,' he said sardonically; 'but even kites are
ill to hold with a rotten string.' So, balancing his burden of
nothingness from one hand to another, as jugglers play with a ball, he
passed out under the broken plaster peacocks, singing significantly, in
his high reedy voice, the dirge of motherhood which so often echoes out
into the Indian sunshine from behind closed doors--


      'O child! who taught thee to deceive!
       O child! who taught thee thus to leave
       My throning arms? Didst thou not say
       Thou wert their king for aye!
       So soon dost thou deceive?
       So soon hast learnt to leave
       Thy sonship's crown?
       To fling it down.
       Thy throne
       Is lone.
       Ah, me! ah, me!'


It fell on Khôjeeya Khânum's ears, making her heart sink with its
implied warning; for a child doomed to disease, like little Sa'adut,
the heir to the Heirship of Nothingness, was but faint hold on the
soaring honours of royalty. And Jehân Aziz, his father, was a fainter
one still. Rumours had come, even to the wide ruined courtyard, of
official reprimands, of threats. What wonder, when even the more
reputable members of the royal family looked askance at his doings?

Still he was master in that house, and as that was his day for the
weekly visit of ceremony he vouchsafed to his lawful wife, it behoved
Khôjee to prepare for it after established rule.

Khâdeeja Khânum, Khôjee's twin sister, had already done her share of
preparation. She had put on her best pink satin trousers and a spangled
green veil, in which she sate, squatted on a string bed set in the
women's court, and sewed at a tinsel cap for the head of the
house--that being the correct etiquette on such occasions.

And Khâdeeja was far more correct than Khôjeeya. In fact, her position
in the household was quite different, seeing that she had been
betrothed in her youth to an ancient suitor who died before she was old
enough to be claimed, while no one had ever made a bid for Khôjee's
limp. So, while the latter's few trinkets had a trick of remaining with
the pawnbroker, Khâdjee's never paid even a temporary visit to that
official.

Then her clothes, from that decorous sitting on string beds instead of
breathless spinning in the dust, remained so spick and span, that
Noormahal, poor soul! when money ran scarce for the heir's medicine,
would accuse the general scapegoat of extravagance in providing them.
On these occasions Khôjee never retorted that the white muslin in which
the Nawâbin denied herself was, in the end, more expensive. Neither did
she meet Khâdjee's demand for more tinsel with the brutal truth that
the caps were too old-fashioned for Jehân Aziz to wear. Family facts of
this sort she did not even divulge in her prayers; for Khôjeeya
Khânum's religion, like her life, was strictly impersonal. It could be
nothing else, since it was barely decent for a woman to intrude even
her own salvation on a Creator whose attributes were distinctly
masculine!

So, while Khâdjee sewed and Noormahal cuddled the sleeping Sa'adut
as she crouched on another bed, Khôjee dragged out the state
carpet--whence all the state and most of the carpet had retired in
favour of bare string--set the cushions, prepared the pipe, the
sherbet, and the hand punkah, lest the master should be fatigued by his
condescension; for, to her, all these ceremonies were a sort of
sacrament to any intercourse between the sexes, without which it was
distinctly improper, and with which it was possible to receive even a
scapegrace with benefit to yourself.

Having done all this, she crossed to Noormahal, and, crouching beside
the bed, began, with a crooning song, to massage the long slender limbs
tucked up under the long slim body. For her niece, though not half her
age, was Nawâbin--as such, mistress of the house.

'Nay, auntie,' remonstrated Noormahal in a deep full voice; 'thou also
wert up all night with the boy, and art as tired as I.'

'Trra!' retorted Khôjeeya; 'old hemp hath fibre, young hemp flower; and
'twill freshen thee against thy man's coming.' The almost pathetic
raillery in the old face which had never known a lover's kiss was quite
charming, but Noormahal frowned.

'Better prepare the child's food,' she said, shrinking even from the
touch of _those_ caressing hands. 'Mayhap his father will be glad if
_he_ looks better.'

Her voice, low for her race and sex, suited the fine aquiline face,
whose fairness was enhanced by the exceeding darkness of the large
melancholy eyes. These in their expression matched the extreme
passivity of face and figure--a passivity which held no trace of
supineness. For the rest, there was much ignorance and obstinacy in the
face, but nobility in both.

She sate, curiously immovable, until Khôjee reappeared with a cup of
milk. It was a Jubilee cup, with clasped hands of union upon it, and a
portrait of the Queen-Empress surrounded by flags and mottoes. And
Noormahal held it to the lips of the little heir to Nothingness or All
Things with tender cajoleries.

'Wake up, my heart! Wake! light of mine eyes! Wake! little king!' she
murmured, and under her lavish kisses the boy roused to smile, first at
her, then at the cup, finally at the old woman who knelt, holding his
little bare feet in her wrinkled hand, as if they were a gift. He was a
pretty child, despite the ominous scars on the brown velvet of his
skin, the hoarse pipe in his childish treble. A lively laddie too, and
arrogant from kinglike ignorance of denial.

So Khôjee limped for more sugar, Noormahal wheedled him into another
sip or two, Khâdeeja from her tinsels murmured blessings, and even
Sobrai (dismissed by the proprieties from the court against the
master's visit) giggled from a balcony at Sa'adut's insolence, and
called to her girlfriends over the wall that he was a pea of the right
pod and no mistake!

Certainly his lordliness was matched by Jehân Aziz when the latter
stalked in, without a word of welcome for the three women who stood up
_salaaming_ profoundly. Yet even he paid court to the child, and,
yielding to the implied command of outstretched arms, took Sa'adut to
share the cushion of state on the state carpet.

They were a quaint pair this father and son, dressed alike in wrinkled
white calico tights, velvet vests, flimsy gauze overcoats, and round
tinsel caps set far back on the white parting of their sleek hair; such
a startling white parting, considering the brownness of their skins!

The likeness between the two was, in a way, ghastly; the more so
because the man's face bore no trace of the suffering which was written
so clearly on the boy's.

Noormahal, watching them with empty arms, noticed this with a fierce
unreasoning jealousy for her child. Yet there was a deeper, fiercer
jealousy than this in the big brooding eyes which took in every detail
of the man who, scented, oiled, was all too perceptibly attired for
conquest elsewhere. She hated him, it is true, but in India the
marriage-tie is not a sentiment, it is a tangible right. And so, still
young, still comely, Noormahal felt none of the passionate repulsion
which a Western woman would have felt. Her wish, her claim, was to
force her husband back to her with contumely. Was he not hers, to be
the father of other heirs, if this one found freedom?

But contumely was out of the question. Jehân Aziz still had the green
gleam of the kingly emerald on his finger. That must first come back to
her safe hoarding, as, by solemn agreement, it always came after the
rare occasions--such as the race meeting--when it had to blazon its
claims before the world. And now the races were over, where Jehân said
he had lost all. All the more reason the ring should come quickly. So,
when Sobrai, from above, challenged Jehân's leer by peeping and
nodding, there was no need for Aunt Khôjee to sidle between the
mistress of the house and the flagrant impropriety, like a hen between
her ducklings and the water. Noormahal would have allowed more insult
than that to pass unnoticed. She sate passive, brooding, wondering when
Jehân would begin on the subject. And all around the group the still
sunshine burdened the half-ruined courtyard with a cruel light.

It was one of Khâdeeja's pious benedictions with which she embroidered
truth as she embroidered her tinsel caps, which drove the stillness
from that elemental group of man, woman, and child, that Trinity for
Good or Evil in which the veriest agnostic must believe.

The sight, she asserted, of such a father and such a son filled her
soul with certainty that a Merciful Creator would preserve the child to
take his father's place.

'And wear the signet of his kingly ancestors,' put in Noormahal,
seizing her opportunity. Her challenge smote the sunshine keen as a
sword-thrust; with all her desire for diplomacy she could not help it
coming. Jehân glared at her furiously for a second; but irritation at a
wife soon passes when, as in India, she is no tie--unless she is
beloved, and Noormahal was not. Besides, the broaching of the subject
was a relief, since it had to be broached somehow; even though the
negotiations with Mr. Lucanaster had gone no further than a promise of
first refusal should the ring be sold. Not that he, Jehân, had as yet
seriously considered sale; but even so, if Salig Râm, the usurer, were
to be persuaded to loan money on the ring's security, it must not be
returned to Noormahal's keeping.

Therefore, seeing that little Sa'adut would be at once his shield and
his weapon in the fight which was bound to come between himself and the
passionate woman whose eyes blazed at him, he turned to the child with
a laugh and a caress. 'Yea, Sa'adut! thou shalt wear the ring; father
will keep it for thee.'

The answer came swift. 'And why not mother, as heretofore?' Auntie
Khôjee sidled again in deprecation of such a tone towards the master.
Jehân himself would have given his fighting quail (source of his only
steady income) to answer this woman as he answered other women; but he
could not. The child, the only child which had come to his reprobate
life, was her shield, her weapon also. He looked at this tie between
them almost resentfully, and thrust it once more to the van of fight.

'Because, Sa'adut, mother hath had it long enough. Hath she not,
sonling? It is father's turn now, is it not?'

Sa'adut's big black eyes--they had all his mother's melancholy, with a
childish wistfulness superadded to their velvet depths--looked from the
woman's face to the man's, from his mother's face to his father's; and
a vague perplexity, a still vaguer consciousness of a hidden meaning,
came to his childish mind. What did they want, these big people who
always took so much upon themselves? Unless _he_ expressed a wish, when
theirs had to give way.

Suddenly he rose to his feet, a mite of mankind between those two
imperious, undisciplined natures which had so thoughtlessly called his
into being. The veriest atom of humanity, and yet, by reason of its
frailty, its inexperience, more imperious, more undisciplined than that
from which it sprung.

'Give it to me, myself!' came his hoarse pipe arrogantly; 'give it to
Sa'adut! He will keep it himself. Give it, I say? Give it!'

The claim to individual life in a thing to which you have given life,
startled even this father and mother. They paused, uncertain.

So in a second, ear-piercing shrieks of amazed disappointment rent the
air, and there was Khôjee on her knees attempting pacification, while
Khâdjee from her tinsels implored immediate gratification.

'Give it him, Nawâb-_sahib_!' she fluttered. 'Lo! he will die in a fit;
it is ill denying a child; thou canst take it back when he tires of the
plaything.'

'Yea! give it him, _meean_,' pleaded Khôjee, all of a tremble. '"_A
child's cry in a house is ill-luck_"; thou canst take it back when he
sleeps.'

The suggestion struck the keynote of another resentment in Noormahal,
making her forget the vague opposition which the child's claim had
raised. She caught Sa'adut to her sharply, making that claim her own;
for now, thinking only of his helplessness, his cries hurt her
physically, making prudence impossible.

'Yea, give it him, Jehân Aziz, Son of Kings!--give it him in jest for a
while. It is easy for a father to steal his son's right from him while
he sleeps!'

Jehân sprang to his feet with a fearful curse; for the tempest of
ungovernable anger which had come to that elemental group in the still
sunshine, had brought with it the usual sense of personal outrage on
personal virtue which alone makes quarrel possible.

'Steal--didst say steal?' he echoed. 'Ay, but 'tis as easy for a wife
to steal from her husband when he wakes! Fool! When I wrung the
betrothal pearls from thee last year, didst think I did not know there
was a string short? Didst think I could not count them round my
mother's neck when she held me, a child----'

Noormahal paled, yet faced him with a scornful laugh. 'Thou didst
forget to count the string she sold when thy father refused her bread;
it runs in the blood, Nawâb-_jee_!'

His look was fiendish now. 'That is a lie, woman! and thou knowest it.
The English took them, as they take all things. Besides, have I not
dallied with them round thy neck since then, at my pleasure? What! are
they there still?' he went on mockingly, as Noormahal's hand all
unconsciously found the slim throat hidden by the folds of her veil.
'Didst keep them against the chance of my return?'

She glared at him helplessly, yet almost forgetful of the brutality of
his insult in a greater wrong. 'It was for the child, thou knowest,'
she said, in a muffled voice; 'for his bride--as it was for thine,
Jehân; as it hath been ever for every bride in the king's house.'

Her words which came, not from meekness but red-hot rage, made even
Jehân Aziz flinch, so that he had to bolster himself up with fresh
anger ere replying.

'And _I_ let thee think me a fool. _I_ took no notice for the boy's
sake too.' This new reading of his own cowardice restored his sense of
virtue, and with it his courage. 'But now, thief!' he went on, 'since
thou hast dared to even me to thyself, as well as think me fool, give
me my pearls! Dost hear?--the pearls!'

She drew herself up superbly. 'I called thee traitor,' she cried; 'that
is enough for thee.'

'And thief for thee. Well, traitor and thief are fitting mates! Let us
kiss and make friends on that comradeship!

She returned his insolent leer with a cold stare for one second; then,
in the headlong repulsion from the least tie to him, tore the pearls
from their hiding-place and flung them on the ground. They fell; the
string snapping, to scatter a few of its milk-white beads about the
worn carpet of state.

Even Jehân hesitated; then the sight of what meant money overcame his
dignity, and he stooped to gather up the prize. The action gave him
time for quick thought. This windfall might serve a double purpose. By
selling it cheap to Lucanaster-_sahib_ he could stave off the bigger
question of the emerald for a bit, and at the same time raise enough to
pay his more pressing debts. Both these considerations brought such a
flavour of pure piety to his task, that by the time he had finished it
he turned magnificently to his heir who, silenced from all save sobs by
his elder's passion, was being comforted by Khôjee, while Khâdjee
whimpered like a puppy on her string bed.

'Lo! Sa'adut,' he said, 'take thy ring, sonling! but give it not to thy
mother to hoard if thou wouldst grow to wear it, since thou mayst
starve the while! But that is her doing, not mine, who would let this
house--where I was _called_ thief, and _found_ one--and give thee
proper care, if I had my choice. So, I take my leave of it for ever!'

Khôjee, still on her knees beside the child, turned in swift alarm.
'Peace go with my lord,' she said, her head at his very feet; 'the
outer courtyard will be ready as ever for the entertainment----'

He interrupted her mockingly. 'I must learn to take my pleasure
elsewhere, noble aunt; 'twill be an easier task than finding it here.'
So, with an insolent stare at his wife, he strutted out jauntily.

'Didst hear?' quavered Aunt Khôjee. Khâdeeja Khânum's answering whimper
was almost a howl; but Noormahal said nothing. She was thinking of her
tormentor's words about the child. Was it true that the price of the
ring might save her darling?

For the present, however, the ring itself satisfied him. Appeased even
from sobs, he was engrossed in finding out which of his tiny fingers
went nearest to filling up its gold circlet. As he did so the green
gleam of the emerald shone broadly, unbrokenly; for, as Mr. Lucanaster
had often told his Paris principals, the legend scratched on it was so
faint that a turn of the wheel would obliterate it. Yet there it was as
yet.

'_Fuzl-Ilahi, Panah-i-deen_.'

Which, being translated, is, 'By the Grace of God Defender of the
Faith.'

Words which have caused much shedding of blood and tears.

But Sobrai Begum found laughter in the storm they had provoked.

''Twas only Jehân and Noormahal squabbling over the old ring,' she
tittered over the wall in answer to a query. 'In the end, she gave him
the last of the pearls to pacify him. I would have used them to better
purpose had I had the luck to have my hand on them!' And as she
sullenly obeyed Aunt Khôjee's call to help, she told herself that two
or three even of the pearls would have brought her freedom; would have
given her, as Uncle Lateef had expressed it, that some one to hold the
string of her kite, without which aid independence was impossible. For
Sobrai had no mind for the gutter.

So the pearls, if she had them----

She gave a little gasp; in folding up the state carpet, four milk-white
beads rolled out from its worn strings.

She glanced round her hastily.

Khâdjee was wiping the dimness of past tears from her spectacles,
Khôjee was replacing the cushions, Noormahal was brooding over Sa'adut,
who had fallen asleep with both his thumbs thrust into the ring, as
they thrust the fingers of a corpse which might otherwise come back to
disturb the living with what should be buried and forgotten.

There was no one to see. And no one to know; for Jehân would sell or
pawn the remainder, none the wiser. Even if he suspected anything he
would make no inquiries, since these sales were done in secret.

She had no pocket, and to tie her prize in the corner of her veil would
attract attention. So she slipped the pearls into her mouth, and held
her tongue even when Aunt Khôjee scolded at her for not being quicker.
Such silence paid better than any retort, and it also gave her time to
mature her plans. One thing was certain, she must make her push for
freedom before there was any chance of discovery, for it was just
possible Jehân might know the number of the pearls. The sooner the
better, as far as she was concerned, since she had long made up her
mind to accept Miss Leezie's offer--with a suitable fee--of educating
her to that walk in life. She could not remain dowerless, unwed, within
four walls all her life! And if one had to amuse oneself, was it not
better to do it openly, in a recognised, almost respectable fashion,
which was countenanced even by the _Huzoors_?

As she made her plans, Jehân on his way to his bachelor quarters in the
worst bazaar in Nushapore was making his, and settling that he would
certainly lead that pig of an infidel, Lucanaster, to think he would in
the end yield the emerald, by letting him have the pearls cheap, under
promise of silence.

This was imperative, partly for the sake of honour; mostly because
Salig Râm, the usurer, might object to any one else getting them.



                             CHAPTER III

                               COBWEBS


The noonday sun lay shadowless in every nook of the narrow
evil-smelling courtyard which formed a common exit to Jehân Aziz's
bachelor quarters and three or four other houses whose fronts faced the
most disreputable bazaar in Nushapore. One of these belonged to
Dilarâm, the dancer, and the remaining ones were tenanted by folk of
similar tastes, such as Burkut Ali, the Delhi pensioner, whom Jack
Raymond had styled the biggest brute in Asia; but he had a double
reasoning for choosing the courtyard, in that it enabled him better to
play his part of Buckingham to the Rightful Heir.

Despite its character, however, the courtyard was peace and propriety
itself in the perpendicular glare of noon; peaceful and proper with a
dreamy drugged peace, a satiated propriety that was in keeping with the
heavy yellow sunshine.

And Dilarâm herself matched the general drowsiness as she sate, muffled
in a creased shawl, yawning, blowsy, ill-kempt, upon a wooden balcony
overlooking the courtyard. She matched the squalor of the scene also; a
squalor which seemed to put the pleasure that has its marketable value
out of possibility in such surroundings.

Jehân Aziz, who sate on a string bed below, looked a trifle less
dilapidated than Dilarâm, for his morning toilet had extended to the
making of that white parting down the middle of his oiled hair, and a
due shaving into line of his thin moustache. Not that these results
were due to any energy on his part. They were the work of the barber,
who was now occupied, nearer the door, in paring Burkut Ali's nails,
while the Heir to Nothingness, in no hurry to proceed, chewed betel
thoughtfully, and looked at a caged quail which he meant to fight
against a rival's so soon as he could rouse himself sufficiently to
dress; for he had got no further in the way of clothing than the
wrinkled white calico trousers which, by reason of their tightness,
have to be tenant's fixtures during the term of occupation.

'So Sobrai Begum hath flitted at last!' yawned Dilarâm (who was within
an aside of Jehân) with a sudden causeless access of indifference and
malice. 'And Nawâb Jehân Aziz, _Rukn-ud-dowla-Hâfiz-ul-Mulk_, hath in
consequence one less mouth to feed! Peace be with him!'

'Speak lower, fool, or the barber will hear, and the tale be spread
over the town,' muttered Jehân savagely, scowling at the sarcasm of the
titles.

A day and a night had passed since Aunt Khôjee, veiled to her
finger-tips and fluttering like any pigeon, had fled through the
bazaars to tell the head of her house that--not three hours after he
had left it in wrath--Sobrai had disappeared. Jehân Aziz, after
established custom, had kept the scandalous secret to himself and his
immediate family, with the exception of Dilarâm, to whom he had gone at
once, as the most likely person to have an inkling of the girl's
intentions. For the only way to deal with such cases is to get the
truant back as speedily as possible, and ensure a virtuous silence in
the future. The silence, as a rule, of the grave. So the chance of the
barber having extra long ears was horrible.

Dilarâm, however, glanced idly at the group by the door, which gave
unreservedly on the gutters of a cramped alley, and yawned again. 'Not
he! Burkut hath him gaping over signs and wonders that will be God's
truth ere the whole of Nushapore be shaved! They are more to the
barber's trade than a girl's flight; though that also goes far
nowadays, what with all the talk about such things. And _this_ would go
far indeed, if set agoing--with a head of lie, and sparks of truth in
its tail, like the powder in an E'ed[3] squib.'

'The truth!' echoed Jehân, in swift suspicion; 'then thou dost know
somewhat, after all?'

She yawned again, smiling. 'Not I! Had none but my sort danced, as in
old days, in kings' houses, Dilarâm would have known who else sought to
flutter in her footsteps. But with new pleasures, Nawâb-_sahib_, come
new pains. She is not of us in the city; that is sure. But there are
baggages with bleached hair and powdered faces outside it. Ask Miss
Leezie! I heard her say she lacked apprentices.' Her lazy spitefulness
was effective, and Jehân clenched his fine hands viciously. He did not
particularly desire to get Sobrai back--except for punishment--provided
scandal could be avoided. He was, indeed, well quit of a girl for whom
no suitor could be found, and who was not to his own personal taste;
but the suggestion of Dilarâm's words stung horribly.

'God smite their souls to the nethermost hell!' he muttered, making the
dancer flick her fingers with a giggle.

'Lo! hearken to virtue! "_Not a rag for the child and a coat for the
cat!_" Men be no worse in cantonments than here in the city!
Nevertheless the tale, as I said, could be told to a purpose by a
clever tongue. It would rouse the common folk more than Burkut's lies
about portents, or the _baboo's_ about the plague, if they only knew
it!'

Jehân Aziz turned on her like a snake, sleepy yet swift, ready for
dreams or death.

'If thou dost _dare_ to tell----'

She held out her bare brown arm in a quick gesture of silence, and
rising, swept him a _salaam_ that set the hidden anklets beneath her
dirty draperies a-jingling, and proclaimed her what she was--a passed
mistress in the oldest of professions for women.

'There is no need, my lord, she said superbly, 'to teach Dilarâm her
duty to the virtuous women who sit free of shame in the noble houses
where she dances. _We_ learn that first of all.'

There was an indescribable grace in her attitude, a cadence in her
utterance, which proved her claim. She was of the old school, educated
to her craft.

The jingle of anklets brought a man's face to a neighbouring balcony. A
face hollow-cheeked, haggard, with dissipation written on it. Brought
thither by curiosity, it remained in approval of the studiously-posed
figure in the creased shawl. Jehân's face, too, showed a like
attraction, and Burkut Ali, the nail-paring over, lounged up with a
savage sort of discontent at his own inward admiration--a regret, as it
were, for the vices of his ancestors. As a rule, Dilarâm and her
dancing did not amuse him in the very least. He had passed from the old
style to the new, and, indeed, was chiefly responsible for the
introduction of Miss Leezie and her like to the nobility and gentry of
Nushapore. But now he was conscious that this, in its way, was better;
and the fact formed a fresh item in his general grievance against those
who, having taken the reins of government from such as he, had driven
India into change--even in its wickedness!

The secret cherishing of this general grievance of his own in the minds
of others was Burkut Ali's whole occupation in life. The dilatory
disaffection of his neighbours, a disaffection inevitable in a society
which this change had literally ruined, could, he had discovered, be
turned to his own profit in two ways. First, because, as confidant to
seditious utterances, he gained a hold on the utterer; secondly,
because, as the repeater of them to persons in high places, he gained a
hold on the hearer. For the rest his manners were perfection, his
Persian a pure pleasure to the ear. And both these were at their best
when--his present part in the farce of vague conspirings being that of
general backer-up of Jehân's spasmodic belief in his own claims to
royalty--he paused before the heir in the most elaborately courtly
fashion and began mellifluously--

'Hath it, perchance, found place in the memory of the Most High that
this, being the death-day of the sainted lady ancestress Hâfiz Begum,
the dirge for her soul will be intoned by the appointed canons at the
family mausoleum? And as this will be the last time----'

'The last time?' echoed Jehân haughtily, 'how so?'

The man's face in the balcony sharpened with sudden interest. Between
his dissipations he was editor of the vilest broadsheet in the town, a
broadsheet which existed simply by virtue of its unfailing basis of
firm falsehoods.

Burkut knew this, and had cast his fly dexterously. Now, feeling the
rise, he allowed grave concern to overlay the yellow mask of his
face--it was one of those which never change except by an effort of
will. 'Because, sire,' he replied, in tones to be heard of all, 'it is
known, beyond doubt, that the English Government, being hard pressed by
reason of famines and the yearly tribute to the City of London, which
the low value of the rupee causes to be greater every year, hath an eye
on the endowment of the mausoleum.'

Govind the editor stifled a yawn of disappointment. 'That tale
is old,' he put in contemptuously, 'I heard it a week past from the
Secretariat Office. My cousin is clerk--as I should have been but for
injustice--and saw the papers. It is true; for see you, they closed the
mints so as to make the poor folk sell their silver hoards cheap, and
now the rupees are scarce.'

He nodded sagely over his own political economy, and as he spoke in
Urdu, the barber, as newsmonger of an older type, paused in the
sharpening of a razor to listen.

'Impossible!' interrupted Jehân angrily. 'The Government is bound to
uphold the shrines and services by strict promises. My fathers only
lent them the money on those conditions. The interest was to be
spent----'

Govind burst into boisterous laughter; for his head was muddled, his
nerves unstrung by an overnight debauch.

'Ay! Nawâb-_jee_. Crores and crores of rupees lent in the old days, and
the interest spent now in gardens for the _mems_ to play games in, and
statues to their own Queen! But it is no new thing, I tell you. I am no
ignoramus--I am _middle fail_.[4] I have read their histories, and I
know. They took all the religious endowments in their own land,
and'--he added louder, as an ash-smeared naked figure which had been
passing along the alley with the beggar's cry of '_Alâkh Alâkh_' paused
to listen--'would have killed the religious also but for those among
them like Gladstone and Caine-_sahib_ who say, as we do, that the
others are tyrants and have no right to India.'

The hotch-potch of history was interrupted by Dilarâm's yawn. '_Hai!
Hai!_ brother!' she said, 'keep that dreary stuff for Burkut or the
barber--they can spread it over folk's hot imaginings like butter on a
hearth cake! Or give it to _jogi-jee_ yonder,' she swept her fingers to
the weird figure at the door; a figure whose right hand and arm,
withered in the ceaseless task of appealing to high heaven for
righteousness, showed like a dry stick pointing upwards, 'though he and
his like are never at a loss for lies. Hast a new one to-day, Gopi? Or
is it still the old wonder of the golden paper which fell from the sky
into one of Mother Kali's many embraces!'

'Jest not of Her, sister,' said the _jogi_ in a theatrically hollow
voice, as he thrust his left arm--lean as a lath, yet round in
comparison with that raised claim to virtue--towards her in menace.
'Thou art Hers, even in thy denial of Her. Woman as She, spreading
disease and death. Mother of Pain, embracing the world, biding thy time
to slay.'

Despite the palpable striving for effect, something in the words
thrilled the woman beneath the courtesan; and though she flicked all
her supple fingers in derision, there was a note of triumph in her
voice.

'Talk not to me, saint, as to thy Hindoo widows who believe in golden
papers and gods. Yet 'tis true! We of the bazaar lead the world by the
nose! Govind may blacken what he likes with ink. Burkut's craft may
spend itself in spider's webs. The plague may come. Yea! even the
sniffing out of other folk's smells--ay! and the payment for
silence!--may be taken from the _Mimbrâns_-committee, and yet the world
will wag peaceful. But touch _us_ and it is different. Let none meddle
with the men's women or with our will, or they meddle to their cost!'

She tucked the creased shawl closer around her, and squatted down once
more in the sunshine; the heavy sunshine in which those others sate
also with a sudden fierce approval in their hearts.

It was highest noon, and the sky was a blaze of molten light; so that
the shadow from a wheeling kite overhead, as it sought with keen eyes
amid the refuse of the city for some prize, circled in sharp outline
about the squalid courtyard, falling on one figure, flitting to
another, linking them together, as it were, by its hungry restless
desire.

So, for a space, there was a drowsy silence, on which the beggar's cry
for alms, as he went on his way pausing at every door in the cramped
alley, rose monotonously.

After which, Burkut, stifling a yawn, suggested that if the Heir to all
Things wished to receive his due recognition as head of the family at
the mausoleum, it was time to commence dressing; whereupon Jehân yawned
also, and demanded his shoes from Lateefa, who had just come in with a
selected bundle of kites for choice against the evening flight.

'I shall need none to-day,' said Jehân sulkily. 'My good time hath to
be wasted in dirges and prayers for a dead old woman who is naught to
me. Then,' he added aside, half to himself, with a frown, 'I must see
Lucanaster--may he roast with fire!'

'If it please God!' assented Burkut piously. Then he added, 'If it is
aught I can do--the hell-doomed being in my debt for some things--I
might drive a better bargain, perhaps.'

Jehân had not breathed a word to any one of his windfall of pearls, but
certain evidences during the last two days that he had, or expected to
have cash, had raised Burkut's curiosity.

But Jehân had no intention of having any witness to his interview,
least of all one to whom he owed money, so he turned on Burkut
insolently.

'I need no man's offices, so keep thy right hand to wash thy left!'

If there was resentment behind Burkut Ali's yellow mask, the latter hid
it successfully. 'Then I will but accompany the Nawâb to the
mausoleum,' he said deferentially. 'Its owner cannot go unattended!'

It was a motley cargo which the rickety, red-flannel-lined wagonette
(which Jehân's usurer allowed him as part of the stock-in-trade
necessary for a pension-earner) carried to the stucco tombs of dead
kings--for everything, including the dynasty itself, had been stucco at
Nushapore! First there was the Heir in his second-best coatee of
flowered green satin, then Burkut, burly in a yellow one to match, and
Lateefa, despite his calico, gayer than either by reason of his
inevitable kites. Finally there was the coachman in ragged livery, and
three attendants in rags without the livery; literal hangers-on,
clinging to the great scraper-like steps which seemed the only reliable
portions of the vehicle.

It had not far to go, however, over the white road and through the
clouds of dust; for the mausoleum stood just outside the city in a
garden that was irresistibly suggestive of a _café chantant_ by reason
of its stucco statuary, its preparations for nightly illumination, and
a generally meretricious scheme of decoration.

The tomb itself--squat, and bulging with inconsequent domes--stood on a
plinth towards one end of the garden, and from it, as the wagonette
discharged its load at the gates, came the sound of monotonous
chanting. But this hesitated, paused, ceased in a murmur of 'the
Nawâb!' as Jehân, with a new dignity in his manner, passed up the
steps, and so--with a _posse_ of cringing officials who had hurried to
meet him buzzing round like bees--entered the wide hall; for despite
the domes, despite the minarets outside, this tomb of dead kings was
nothing else within. It was just a vast oblong hall hung throughout its
length with huge, dusty, cobwebbed, glass chandeliers which, taken in
conjunction with the empty polished floor, were suggestive of a
ballroom; the dancing-saloon of the _café chantant_!

In the very centre, however, of the emptiness was a low roly-poly tomb,
above which rose a musty-fusty baldequin which had once been stately in
velvet and pearls. But the moth had fretted new patterns on the
curtains, and the cobwebs lay like torn lace on the canopy.
Nevertheless, two faintly-smouldering silver censers, standing at the
foot of the tomb, showed it not all neglected. And something else,
witness to memory, lay between the censers, under a common glass shade
such as covers the marble-and-gilt timepiece of a bogus auction, or the
dusty waxen flowers of a cheap lodging.

It was the last Nawâb's turban of state.

For the rest, the hall lay empty save for its officials; the minor
canons as it were, who still received the stipends set apart by the
deceased kings for due daily chantings of dirges, and so clustered
round Jehân with courtier-like _salaams_.

But not for long; since almost before they had conducted him to the
royal pew--an inlaid square of flooring close to the baldequin--a fresh
arrival sent them cringing and fluttering to greet it, with greed in
their hungry faces; the faces of custodians to whom strangers give
tips.

And this party of English tourists looked promising, if only
from the reluctant way in which, in obedience to a notice
on the door, they took off their hats, and then glanced round with the
'Thank-the-goodness-and-the-grace-which-on-my-birth-hath-smiled'
expression which our race learns in the nursery. For this is a frame of
mind which leads to a contemptuous tipping of inferior races.

'Guide says that's the last Johnnie's cap--beastly dirty, isn't it?'
said one in a churchy whisper, and the others nodded in churchy
silence. So, decorously--barring a faint desire to try the waltzing
capabilities of the floor on the part of a brother and sister in one
corner--they hesitated round the building with the half-shy,
half-defiant, 'thus far I _will_ go but no further' reluctance to admit
any interest in strange places of worship, which is also a sign of
race.

And Jehân from his royal square watched them, oblivious of his prayers,
until quite calmly, innocently, they included him as part of the show.

Then he rose and said to Burkut, who was praying to perfection
behind----

'I stay not for this. And we are too soon, for all thy fuss of being
late. 'Twill be a good half-hour ere the dirge begins. So I go to
Lucanaster's.--Nay!' he added hastily, as Burkut began to rise also,
'thou canst stay here, and if any of note come in my absence, tell them
I return.'

So with a cunning smile leavening his scowl at the tourists, he passed
out. In truth he was glad of the excuse which made it possible to take
no one but Lateefa, who was to be trusted--who indeed had to be trusted
in all things, since he knew all things--with him to Mr. Lucanaster's
house; for even if he had left Burkut outside during his interview,
there was no saying what the latter might not have discovered, or say
he had discovered, which would answer his purpose of pressure quite as
well! For Jehân, like most of Burkut's acquaintances, was quite aware
of the latter's method.

Five minutes after, therefore (since Mr. Lucanaster's house lay
conveniently close to the city and his numerous clients there), Jehân
found himself _tête-à-tête_ with a shrewd commercial face intent on the
scientific counting of a string of pearls with a paper-knife.

'Three, six, nine, twelve,' came Mr. Lucanaster's voice as the ivory
slipped between the triplets of pearls.

'Fifty and five,' he said finally, and Jehân nodded.

'Fifty and five,' he assented. 'What will you give me for them,
_Huzoor_?'

Mr. Lucanaster drew a despatch-box towards him, opened it, looked at a
paper, and smiled lavishly.

'Nothing, Nawâb-_sahib_,' he said calmly; 'for, to begin with, there
are five short on the string. There were sixty on it when it was
stolen.'

Jehân nearly jumped from his chair. 'Stolen!' he echoed. 'It is a
lie--they are mine--they were my mother's.'

The lavish smile continued. 'Exactly, Nawâb-_sahib_, the description
says so; and they were stolen from Government House two nights ago.'

'But I tell you it is impossible--my house was wearing them----'

'Excuse me; but you sold your mother's pearls last year! I happen to
know, because Gunga Mull, who bought them, was acting for me. You had
refused my direct offer, if you remember, and you lost a thousand
rupees in consequence. It is safer to trust me in the end,
Nawâb-_sahib_,' put in Mr. Lucanaster suavely.

'But not one string,' protested Jehân, trying to be haughty. 'This one
I kept, and if the _Huzoor_ does not wish to buy, I can sell it
elsewhere, as I did before.'

He stretched his hand for the string, but Mr. Lucanaster sate back in
his chair dangling the pearls, and looked at the Rightful Heir as a
spider looks at a fly.

'I wouldn't try if I were you, Nawâb-_sahib_,' he said slowly. 'It
might lead to--to difficulties. And the coincidence is not very--very
credible. But if you are really in need of money'--he spoke still more
slowly--'there is always the emerald. Let me see! I offered you six
thousand, didn't I?--well, let us say eight; and--and nothing to be
said about--about these----' He passed the pearls deftly through his
fingers as if appraising them, and added, 'They are really very fine
pearls, Nawâb-_sahib_, quite noticeable pearls. I haven't seen better
for a long time, so it is a pity they are unsaleable at present. By and
by, perhaps, or in some other place----'

'Does the _Huzoor_ mean----' began Jehân blusteringly.

Mr. Lucanaster looked up suddenly, sharply, drew the open despatch-box
closer, dropped the pearls into it, and closed the box with a snap. 'I
mean nothing, Nawâb-_sahib_, except that, for your own sake, those
pearls had better stay there for the present. You will only be tempted
to raise money on them in the bazaar, and as I--if I were asked my
opinion, as I certainly should be--would say they were the stolen
pearls, it is better not to run the risk of my having to give
evidence.'

'I--I will complain--I will go to the commissioner,' stammered Jehân,
completely taken aback.

'I wouldn't if I were you; a police inquiry would be the devil
to a man of your character; and meanwhile--until you let me have the
emerald--here's something for current expenses.'

Jehân looked for a moment as if he would dearly have liked to fling the
notes which Mr. Lucanaster pushed over the table to him back in the
donor's face; but he refrained. Money was always something, and some of
it might even go to pay the poisoning of this hell-doomed infidel, who
dared to pretend he thought the pearls were stolen; for Jehân was
shrewd enough to see the other's game. Not that it mattered whether he
pretended to think, or really thought. The pinch lay in that threat of
a police inquiry; and neither the truth nor the falsehood of a charge
mitigated or increased the sheer terror of that possibility.

So Jehân, _minus_ his pearls, but with five hundred rupees in his
pocket, drove back to the tomb of his dead ancestors in a tumult of
impotent anger. He felt himself closer in the toils than he had been,
and--naturally enough in a man of his sort--the utmost of his rage was
expended on the person over whom he had most power of retaliation--that
is, on Noormahal.

Why, he asked himself, had he been fool enough to let her get hold of
the emerald again? It had been within his reach, and now it was gone
again--hoarded by a foolish woman for the sake of a barren honour.

Barren? No! not altogether barren! As he stood once more in the arched
doorway of the mausoleum, this feeling came to assuage the sting of his
treatment by Mr. Lucanaster, and yet to make its smart more poignant.

For the assemblage had gathered. The chandeliers were lit, and the
myriad-hued flash of their prisms hid the dust, hid the cobwebs, and
gave a new brilliance to the mourners gathered in their appointed
places. The tourists were gone now. These were his own people. They
were waiting for him.

As he paused, a new arrival entering by a side door paused also--paused
right in front of him before the glass case containing the last king's
turban of state. So, after _salaam_-ing to it profoundly, sought the
square belonging to his rank.

Jehân gave a low savage laugh of satisfaction, and passed on to his.

Here it was the first! Here, at any rate, honour was his!

Burkut, watching him swagger over to his prayers, smiled. If this sort
of thing went on, he would have his choice of fostering a real
conspiracy or denouncing it. That was the best of having an open mind;
at least two courses were always open to one.

So, when the dirge was sung, he went and paid his respects to one or
two officials, and then, the time for gossip and kite-flying having
arrived, joined the worst company in Nushapore, where he talked
sedition and backed the paper nothingnesses as they dipped and rose an
inch or two, only to fall again, until the dusk blotted their gay
colours from the sky. But below the bastioned river wall abutting on
the railway bridge, which was the favourite meeting-place of
kite-flyers, the dusk brought out other colours to take their place;
close at hand and farther off, half-way across the river, and right
upon its farther shore, came red and green lights, steady as stars.
Until, in the far distance, a red changed to green, the signals which
had stood against the evening express dropped, and it showed upon the
bridge like some huge glowworm, slackening speed as it came; for the
station lay not two hundred yards from where the bridge ended in a
semi-fortified gateway.

So the train slid past below the bastioned wall almost at a foot's
pace, and half a dozen or more English lads, part of a fresh draft from
England just up from Bombay, thrust their heads out of the window
curious to see what this strange place, what this strange race with
which they were to have so much to do, were like.

'Well! I am blowed if they aren't flyin' kites like Christians,' said
one in a hushed voice, an' I thought they was all 'eathen, I did----'



                              CHAPTER IV

                         AN UNFORGOTTEN PAST


'Mr. Raymond!'

Lady Arbuthnot's voice was insistent, yet soft. She wanted to rouse the
sleeper without attracting attention, and now that the waning of
daylight had ended out-door amusements, people had begun to drift into
the club. The library tables were being rifled of the new picture
papers, the smoking bar was fast filling with men, and sounds of
women's laughter came from the quaint vaulted rooms where Badminton was
being continued by electric light.

But an almost Eastern peace still lingered in certain nooks between the
interlacing aisles of the building (which had once been the palace of
kings)--and in one of these Grace Arbuthnot had run her quarry, Jack
Raymond, to earth in a lounge-chair fast asleep over a French novel.

The remains of a stiff whisky-peg stood on a small table, and Grace
Arbuthnot looked at it vexedly, then at the face, but half visible in
the dim light; for the lamp had been deliberately turned down.

She had not seen it closely for twelve years except for those brief
minutes at the race-meeting, now nearly a week ago; for, rather to her
indignation, Mr. Raymond had not followed up the renewal of their
acquaintance by calling. What is more, he had emphasised the omission
by writing his name in the visitor's book, as a perfect stranger might
have done. The fact had roused her antagonism; she had told herself
that she would decline to have that past of theirs treated as if it
were not past and forgotten. For though, ten years ago, she had
certainly been engaged to Jack Raymond, they had broken off their
engagement by mutual consent, with their eyes open; so it was foolish
to fuss about it now. And so, partly from this antagonism, partly from
a diametrically opposite motive--the inevitable woman's desire to keep
some hold on the man she has once loved--it had occurred to her, when
the days passed and brought no news of the missing jewel-box, that if
she were to consult any one regarding the letter, it might be well to
choose Jack Raymond. He was one, she knew, absolutely to be trusted by
any woman; his position--miserable as it was from an official point of
view--gave him unusual opportunities of being able to help her; and
finally---- Why! Oh! why should he go off at a tangent and make her
feel responsible?

And yet, as she looked at his sleeping face, noting its change, the
unfamiliarity where once all had been so familiar, she frowned and
turned as if to go, wondering what had induced her to think of
consulting this man. What could _he_ do now? Once upon a time, when he
was different--when he was, as she recollected him----

The thought softened her face, and sent her back to call again, 'Mr.
Raymond!'

He did not stir. Was the whisky-peg responsible for the soundness of
his sleep? And was she responsible for the whisky-peg? She had
known for years that he had drifted away, as it were, from everything
that made life seem worth living to her, but the contrast between her
fate and his had never come home to her before. The wife of a
Lieutenant-Governor--as _he_ might have been if he had not thrown up
the service in a pet--and the Secretary to the club! What a miserable
failure for such a man! A man who for two long years had been her
ideal--who even now could do, should do---- She bent towards him
suddenly, quite irrationally, and whispered, '_Jack!_'

As she paused expectant, there was a half-mischievous smile in her
pretty eyes; and yet they held a suspicion of tears. It was such an odd
world. Why could not a woman forget when she had ceased to care? Men
did; this one certainly had--no!----

The still small voice had apparently taken time to filter through to
its destination; but it had found the chord of memory, and struck it
sharply.

'Yes! what is it, dear?' came the answer drowsily. Then Jack Raymond
stirred, stared, finally woke to facts.

'I beg your pardon, Lady Arbuthnot,' he began, rising hurriedly, 'I had
been playing some hard games at racquets and----'

'But you always do sleep about this time, don't you? I've noticed you
in the distance,' she said coolly. The suggestion in her words that she
still had some right to criticise, added to his surprised irritation at
finding that he had somehow gone back to the past. Why the deuce should
the memory of the very inflection of her voice as she used to say
'Jack' have come back to confuse his brain, and absolutely make his
heart beat?

'Yes!' he replied, with palpable hardihood, 'you're right. I generally
do sleep. There's nothing else to do, you see, between tennis and
whist. But if you want any stores from the go-down,[5] I am quite at
your commands. There is an awfully good Stilton on cut, if you'd like
some.'

She beat her foot impatiently. This thrusting forward of his duties as
a sort of high-class grocer was _impayable_! He _could_ not think she
had sought him out in order to buy Stilton cheese of him! And yet--how
like the old headstrong Jack it was!

'Do tennis and whist make up your day now, Mr. Raymond,' she said
swiftly. 'It used not to be so.'

The reproach in her voice was plain, and he resented it. She had left
him to go his own way, and he had gone it. What business was it of hers
now?

'You forget the racing and the betting,' he answered coolly; 'and my
incurable idleness has at least this virtue--it leaves me, as I said,
at Lady Arbuthnot's disposal.'

He gave a little formal bow, which sent another pang of memory through
her. The fact annoyed her. How intolerable it was, that despite his
degeneration into a high-class grocer--here she smiled faintly--he
could scarcely speak a word to her, here in the semi-darkness--they two
alone--without bringing back---- Ah! so much! Yes! it was intolerable.
It must be ignored; or rather the solid, sensible facts must be dragged
out into the daylight and given their real significance.

'I am glad of that,' she replied, 'for I want you to help me. But let
us sit down--people will be less likely to disturb us then.'

He obeyed, feeling restive under her calm superiority, yet admiring it.
She was no failure, anyhow; he had been right in his choice, years ago.
Not that it mattered; since all that had once been between them had
been forgotten--by him at any rate. Absolutely forgotten.

'Mr. Raymond!' she began suddenly, leaning closer to him over the
table, 'surely it would be foolish in either of us to be ashamed, or to
pretend forgetfulness of the close tie that was between us--once.'

'I have not forgotten,' he said involuntarily, then paused disconcerted
at his own collapse. Which was true, his denial or affirmation of
memory? Both, in a way.

She smiled, as women do, at remembrance, even when they believe they
wish forgetfulness.

'I said pretend, Mr. Raymond!' she corrected. 'We are not likely to
forget. Why should we?'

'On the other hand, why should we remember?' he asked. 'The past, Lady
Arbuthnot, is past.'

The very idea of his thinking it necessary to assert this made her
frown.

'Exactly so; therefore I come to you because memory gives me a friend,
nothing more. And I need a friend just now.'

'You have plenty of them to choose from,' he began, 'you always
had----'

'And I choose you,' she put in, with a charming little nod.

He sat bewildered for a moment, then said stiffly, 'May I ask why?'

'If I may answer by the question, why not? Surely we need not be
strangers? And besides----'

'And besides?'--he echoed grimly, 'a woman's second reason is generally
better than her first.'

Lady Arbuthnot's face grew grave. 'Mine is, Mr. Raymond, infinitely
better. What I want your help for is no mere personal matter;
it is something in which you might do a yeoman's service to the
Government----'

'You are very kind,' he interrupted brusquely; 'but, as I thought you
knew, I found out twelve years ago that the Government could do very
well without my services.'

'It might have done better with them----'

'You are very kind,' he repeated; 'and this difficulty of yours?'

She flushed up. 'Excuse me! It was you, not I, who wandered from the
point. I knew my reasons for choosing your help. However, let us stick
to business. I have lost a jewel-case.'

'So I heard,' he said, 'and I am sorry it should have contained your
pearls.'

Pearls! she thought vexedly; did he think she had come to him about the
pearls? That was but a step better than Stilton cheese. His following
words, however, disarmed her.

'They belonged to your mother, I remember; they were beautiful pearls!'

'Yes!' she assented softly, and paused. 'But it is not the pearls,' she
went on. 'I will tell you what it is, and why I am anxious.'

He sat listening to her story with rather a bored look.

'It is most unlikely the letter will turn up,' he said at last. 'An
Indian thief would throw it away, even though, as you say, it was in a
sealed official envelope; he knows nothing of the value of documents.
But it is a pity you kept it; for that matter, had it. That sort of
thing is a mistake.'

Something in his tone made her say quickly, 'You blame father--why? You
know how he trusted me-how you----' She felt inclined to remind
him of his own confidence in her, but she refrained. 'Remember I have
always----'

'Been in the swim,' he suggested.

'Could I help that?' she asked, feeling him unfair. 'What I mean is,
that every one, even my husband----'

'I have always heard you do a great deal for Sir George,' he said
nastily, regretting his unfairness even as he spoke. He need not have
done so, save for his own sake, since her defence annihilated him.

'As I would have done for you, Mr. Raymond.'

'I--I beg your pardon,' he said limply, feeling himself a brute. 'This
paper or letter, then, as I understand it, would have been a sort of
safe-conduct to prevent the authorities rounding on Sir George after
the event, as they are apt to do. As--a thought seemed to strike him,
and he looked at her sharply--'as they did on me. Your experience has
been useful to you, Lady Arbuthnot!'

She flushed up again. 'How could I prevent its being so? I am not a
fool. But you know quite well I do not come to you on his account. It
is because I am so afraid of the contents of that unfortunate letter
leaking out. With this general election going on----'

He shrugged his shoulders and rose. 'I am no politician, as I told you;
but as a personal matter----'

She rose also and challenged him with eyes, voice, and manner. 'I do
not choose it to be a personal matter. It is more than that; it might
concern the prestige, the honour of our Government! Surely you must
still care for that? You used----'

He interrupted her with a laugh. 'It would be in a parlous state if it
depended on me. I don't trouble my head about patriotism nowadays, I
assure you.'

She came a step nearer, as if to bar a hint he gave of leaving. 'Is
that possible?' she asked, almost sternly; 'within gunshot, as we stand
now, of a place where Englishmen died in hundreds to keep the hand of
their race upon the plough of India.'

The lightness had no choice but to pass from his face.

'Mine left it ten years ago, Lady Arbuthnot,' he said, his voice
matching hers; 'and yours, excuse me, is not the one to wile it back.
But for your husband's sake--not for yours, that past is past--I
will----'

She lost her temper absolutely then. 'Who thinks, who wishes it
otherwise? Can you not understand my motive in coming to you?'

'Perfectly,' he said coolly. 'You feel responsible--why, God knows!--
for the hash I have made of my life. I speak from your point of view,
remember. Of course, nothing I can say will mitigate this feeling; it
is a habit you good women have. Now I, as a man, should have thought
that the palpable result of my going my own way, instead of yours,
would have given you the certainty of having been right in refusing to
countenance it.'

She did not speak for a second, and when she did there was a tremor
in her voice. 'That doesn't lessen--the--the pity of it,' she said,
half to herself; 'it is pitiful. Even if you had any one, wife or
child----' She broke off and added apologetically, 'One can scarcely
help regrets.'

Once more the man in him felt annihilated by the revelation of the
woman in her. 'My--my dear, kind lady,' he said, touched in spite of
himself, 'I can assure you I get along splendidly all round. You're
all too kind. And as for the kids,' he added half nervously, for she
looked as if she would cry, and he wished to cheer her up, 'I'm chums
with the lot of them. Jerry, for instance! What a ripping little chap
he is--such a lot of go; but he isn't a bit like you.'

She stood looking at him without replying for a moment, and the
half-puzzled expression which had been in her face when she had watched
him and the child standing hand-in-hand at the racecourse returned to
it. 'No!' she said. 'Nor like his father. He has harked back in face to
my mother's people--she was a distant cousin of your father's, you
remember. And in mind--who knows? But I'm glad you like him; he returns
the compliment.'

It seemed so, indeed, for Jerry himself, appearing that instant, had
his hand tucked into Jack Raymond's even before he delivered his
message, which was to the effect that dad was wanting mum to go home.
He gabbled this through, in order to say, with a military formality
learned, to his great delight, from Captain Lloyd, 'Ah, sir! I'm glad
it's you; 'cos it isn't weally dark, an' Miss Dwummond's weading the
_Spectator_, so it's just the time for you to show me the pwoperest
places in the Garden Mound, please, as you pwomised you would. I mean
the places where people was blown up--or deaded somehow!'

'You bloodthirsty young ruffian!' laughed Jack Raymond, feeling
relieved at the interruption. 'All right! come along! I promised to
take him round and tell him about the defence, Lady Arbuthnot,' he
explained; 'but perhaps you will allow me to find your carriage for you
first.'

'Thanks,' she replied curtly, 'my husband will do that. Good-night, Mr.
Raymond. I am sorry I was not so successful in my request as--as my
son.'

He stared after her yet once more. Women were inexplicable. Here was
this one quite happily married--he had known that for years--and yet
she would have liked--what the deuce would she have liked? He turned
half impatiently to the child, and said, 'Come along, young Briton, and
be sentimental over the past! Come and contemplate the deeds of your
ancestors and make believe you're a hero. That's the game!'

'But I _am_ going to be one when I'm growed up, you know,' protested
Jerry.

The man paused and looked down at the child. 'If you get the chance,
dear little chap,' he said bitterly, 'but the mischief is that what
with express trains and telegrams, you've seldom to do more than you're
told to do. And so most of the C.B.'s and V.C.'s are given for doing
one's simple duty.'

'My dad's a C.B.,' commented the child sagely; 'but then he can do his
compound duties too. Can you?'

'Can I?' echoed the man, and his voice belied the inevitable smile on
his face. 'Well! I don't know. I expect I could, Jerry--if I tried.'

So hand-in-hand the two, boy and man, crossed the carriage-drive which
lay between the club and the rising ground beyond it. Ground kept as a
garden in memory of the deeds which had blossomed in its dust. For on
that scarce perceptible mound, the English flag, taking advantage of
every available inch to stand its highest, had floated for nine long
months over the rebel town of Nushapore. Had floated securely, though
the hands which held it grew fewer and weaker day by day. Had floated
royally, though kings' palaces challenged it from the right, challenged
it from the left.

And now, more than forty years after, the mound--set thick with
blossoming trees--stretched as a peaceful lawn between those palaces
still; but the one was an English club and the other Government House.

'That's the gate, Jerry,' said Jack Raymond, 'where Gunner Smith asked
the mutineers--they were only three feet from the wall, you know--to
oblige him with a pipe light, because he had been so long on duty that
he had run short.'

Jerry laughed vaingloriously, uproariously.

'That was to cheek 'em, sir, wasn't it, sir? For, of course, _he_
didn't care if he never smoked no more, so long as he kept 'em
outside! Oh! isn't it just orful nice?'--here he heaved a sigh of pure
delight--' and now, please, I want where boys like me did sentry, an'
where the guns got wed-hot and boomed off of 'emselves, an' where every
one blowed 'emselves up like in a stwawbewwy-cweam smash, becos' the
enemy was cweepin', cweepin' in, don't you know?'

The child's voice ran on, eager, joyous, hopeful, and the man was
conscious of a thrill that seemed to pass into his own veins from that
little clasping hand.

'All in good time, Jerry! don't rush your fences,' replied Jack
Raymond, and the thrill seemed to have invaded his voice.

So across the lawns, and along the winding walks bosomed in tall
trees, where the birds were twittering their nightly quarrel for the
uppermost roosting-place, those two, boy and man, the present and the
future of the race, with its unforgotten past linking them, strolled
hand-in-hand.

And the daylight lingering with the moonlight lay hand-in-hand also;
lay softly, kindly, upon all things.

'This is the east battery, Jerry,' said the man in a hushed voice, to
match the peace of the garden. 'Campbell--he was a relation of your
mother's, by the way, and so a sort of relation of mine--never left it
for five months. He is here still, if it comes to that, for he was
literally blown to bits at last by a shell he was trying to throw back
on the enemy. He'd done it dozens of times before, but this time--was
the last!'

There was not much to see. Only a slab in the dim grass with 'East
Battery' cut upon it.

'Mum told me about that,' said Jerry in an awed whisper. 'His name was
Gerald, same as mine,'--he paused to look doubtfully at the face above
him--'she said it was an eggsample to me. But I'm not goin' to be
blowed up first. My shells'll always burst just in the vewy wightest
places, bang in the middle of the enemy, so I can laugh at 'em before I
dead.'

Jack Raymond, passing on, felt a pang. 'Always in the very rightest
places!' That had been the dream of another boyhood.

The sky was as a pearl overhead; a pearl set in a darkening tracery of
trees. The moon began to stretch faint fingers of shadow after the
retreating day, and still those two, man and boy, passed from one
immemorial deed to another, while the small hand sent its thrill to the
big one, so that Jack Raymond wondered at the tremor in his voice as he
said, pointing through the trees--

'And there's the general's house with the English flag flying still!'

Jerry stiffened like a young pointer on its first covey, every inch of
him centred on the grey tower, its flagstaff draped dimly with the
royal ensign, which rose against the sky. Then, standing square, head
up, he saluted.

'Mum told me to do that always when I saw it,' he explained,
'because it's the only place in all the wide, wide world where the
flag flies day and night, to show, you know, that it never was hauled
down--never--never.' He heaved another sigh of satisfaction, but his
face took a puzzled expression. 'Only, you know, I've been here before.
I weally have. I wemember it quite, quite well. An' the guns was
booming, an' they was wanting to pull down the flag, an' I wouldn't let
them.'

Jack Raymond looked down at the child and smiled. 'You, or some one of
your sort, dear old chap; and I'll bet you'd do it again, wouldn't you,
Jerry?'

Jerry pulled himself together from the mysterious inheritance of the
past. 'I'm goin' to, some day,' he said succinctly. 'An' now, please, I
want where they buried 'em after dark. All pwoper wif surplices an'
"Safe, safe home in port," and all that; but torches and crack-bang
firings over the walls--though they was deaders already.'

The description, confused though it was by excess of picturesqueness,
sent Jack Raymond unerringly towards the little cemetery where so many
heroes rest. But ere they reached the gate, a woman's figure showed
upon a side-path.

'There's Miss Drummond; you'll have to go home now, young man,'
remarked Jack Raymond, feeling that though Jerrys enthusiasm did not
bore him, Lesley's might. But Jerry would have no excuse.

'Oh!' he said confidentially, '_she_ is only a woman. You tell her to
come, and she'll come all wight.

Jack Raymond looked towards the springy step and determined pose of the
head which was approaching him with alarm; but Jerry had already run
forward, slipped his hand into the girl's, and said--

'He says you're to come too, because he is going to tell us all about
the gwaves.'

'Not all,' protested Jack Raymond resignedly; 'but if Miss Drummond can
spare us a minute, I'll show you John Ellison's.'

The girl's face lit up. 'Isn't that about all?' she asked quickly. 'The
very name seems to dominate the place still. _Jân-Ali-shân!_ That's
what the natives call him, your father says, Jerry. It means the
"Spirit of Kings." A good name, isn't it, for the man who held this
garden against all comers, even starvation?'

Her head was up, her voice rang; but the thrill did not pass to the
man's heart from these as it had from the clasp of that little hand,
which some day would have a man's grip.

'There was a heap of bunkum talked, though, about the actual physical
privations of the mutiny time; they had iced soda and Moselle cup on
the ridge at Delhi, you know, Miss Drummond,' he said, out of pure
contrariety.

'I should like to be sure of that,' she began indignantly.

'I should like to be sure of a lot of mutiny tales,' he interrupted;
'but there's a halo of romance on our side and a shadow of fear on
theirs, which plays the deuce with abstract truth. I wish we could
forget the whole business.'

'Forget! Forget our glorious past!'

'Was it so glorious? I asked Budlu once'--he pointed to a white
ghostlike figure which had begun to follow them from the cemetery
gate--'how a mere handful of us here kept their thousands at bay.
Budlu is supposed to have been inside, during the siege, as a child's
bearer--that's why they made him caretaker; but I've reason to believe
he was outside--not that it matters now! Well, his answer was: "The
_sahibs_ had nothing to do with it. It was the dead women and the dead
babies. Every one knows that the strength of the strongest man is water
before the ghost of a mother and child."'

They had reached the slope of that gentle hollow where, even in their
bitterest stress, the living had crept obstinately, under cover of
night, to lay their dead to rest in the shadow of the deserted church,
and he paused to point downwards to a tall cypress and add, 'There is
John Ellison's grave.'

Lesley paused too. Calm and still in the moonlight, the grassy slopes,
set with flowers and blossoming shrubs, seemed to centre on that hollow
of heroes' graves, as they, in their turn, centred round the plain
plinth, with its marble slab under the cypress tree.

There were but two words on it--'John Ellison'--but they filled the
eye, the heart, the brain.

Lesley Drummond stood looking at them silently, and Jack Raymond stood
watching her, approving her silence. But Jerry, whose round childish
face had a curious ghostly look on it, as if he were seeing visions,
went creeping on round the plinth, his grey eyes wide; a stealthy
little figure dreaming of torches and deaders and crack-bang firings
over walls. But he was back in a second, his face eager, startled.

'Oh, if you please--he's quite, quite shot--lyin' there close by.
Hadn't we better buwy him?'

'Bury him? who?' asked Lesley; but Jack Raymond had grasped the child's
meaning, and was passing to the other side of the plinth to see for
himself. Then he looked up from the figure of a man which lay on its
back, its head supported on the first step of the plinth, asked a
question of Budlu the caretaker in Hindustani, and finally turned
reassuringly to Lesley.

'It is only an idle sweep of a loafer, Miss Drummond, who has rather a
queer story. Stay! I'll wake him--Budlu reports him sober--and he will
tell the story himself, I've no doubt.' As he spoke, a vigorous shake
roused the sleeper to an oath, then to a stare, finally to a bland
smile as he rose.

'Bin overtook by slumber, sir,' said a rich, mellow voice as (possibly
in evasion of more salient faults in his personality) the owner of it
began to brush away the dust and dry twigs which clung to his dirty
drill-clothing. 'The w'ich we all of us shall be w'en our time comes to
lie within the silent toomb--b.' He prolonged the final syllable into a
reminiscent humming of a funeral hymn until his task was done. Then he
looked up, and showed in the moonlight the face of a man about forty,
smooth shaven, of the bulldog type, with the mobile lips of a born
comedian.

'I done my level best with the job you giv' me down country, sir,' he
continued affably, yet with a furtive apology lurking beneath his
assurance, 'but it done no sort of dooty by me. I gone down two stone
in a six weeks with them pestilential chills, so w'ot with plague
follerin' famine like the prayer-book, sir, I made bold to cut back to
Nushapore. I 'adn't a grave bespoke there, sir, as I 'ave here; an' so
I didn't want no


        "Death's bright Angel speakin' in a chord a-ga-ain."'


Once more that prolongation of the final syllable was followed by an
appropriate tune.

'If you don't mend your ways, my man,' said Jack Raymond severely,
'you'll have no grave bespoke here either. The authorities won't
allow----'

'Can't 'elp 'emselves, sir,' interrupted the loafer, touching the
battered billycock hat which he had resumed after a careful dusting.
'It's the Queen's regulations, sir, that them as went through the siege
may wait for the las' trump in an 'ero's grave beside _'is_, if they
choose. An', Lord love you! I do choose, for they chris'en me in token
I shouldn't fear the very day _'e_ died.' He laid his hand on the slab.

'That was why they called you John Ellison, wasn't it?' asked Jack
Raymond, with a side-look at Lesley, which the loafer appraised, for he
replied coolly--

'Yes, m'lady! Mr. Raymon', 'e know the story correc'! My father died o'
the drink a few days afore we come into the Garding Mound, an' my
mother--savin' your presence, m'lady, she didn't 'ave bin to church
with 'im through 'er real 'usband 'aving deserted 'er or died, cruel
uncertain--she popped off a few days after I, so to speak, popped in.
That was nigh on a nine-months' sequent. So I was through the siege,
m'lady, from the beginnin', an' 'avin' no one to promise an' vow when
they Holy baptismed me the day _'e_ died, they called me John Ellison.
And an uncommon good name it is, m'lady, though I've took it to a sight
o' queer places since; for I seen a deal o' life at 'ome an' abroad, as
the sayin' is. Bin in a surplus chore singin' 'ymns seven year, m'lady;
an' pickin' up sticks for a Aunt Sally two. Then I served my way out to
see


                  "--the place where I was born"'--


he paused for a faint humming--'an' Mr. Raymon', good gentleman, 'e
'ave put me in to a many jobs, but only local demons; they ain't
some'ow bin no sort of permanent. An'


             "So the world goes round and round
              Until our life with sleep is crowned--d--d."'


He was fairly afloat this time with his rich mellow voice, when Jack
Raymond bid him shut up and not play the fool. Why couldn't he stick to
work when it was given him?

The jauntiness disappeared in a curiously dignified dejection. 'By the
Lord 'oo made me, sir,' he said contritely, 'I dun'no. I begins well;
then--I--I don't! I git on the lap foolin' round them bazaars, until I
'aven't a feather ter fly with. Then _'e_ begin to dror me to 'im--m.'
He paused again to indicate the slab, and the final syllable merged
into the whole first line of 'They grew in beauty side by side.' 'Beg
parding, sir,' he went on, anticipating reproof, 'but the warblin'
fetches me 'ome so often, wot with penny gaffs an' such like, that it
gits a continooal hold on me too frequent.'

'You'll lay hold of nothing else soon,' retorted Jack Raymond. 'You're
out of work now, I suppose?'

'Jes' so, sir; ready for active service.'

'And I've a great mind to let you find it for yourself. However, you're
in the Strangers' Home, I suppose, as usual?'

'As usooal, sir!' came the cheerful reply, and as they passed on, the
mellow rich tenor followed them in a florid rendering of 'Home, sweet
Home.' It echoed through the hollow of heroes, over the grave-set slope
where the descendants of those who held the fort are allowed burial,
and so passed with the little party to the gate. Here Budlu, who had
followed all the time, ghostlike, silent, made some petition in Urdu,
to which Jack Raymond replied with a smile.

'He said something about "_Jân-Ali-shân_," didn't he?' asked Lesley.
'You must excuse the curiosity, but I am naturally anxious to learn
everything about India.'

'A most laudable ambition, I'm sure,' he replied drily. 'Budlu only
wanted to know, Miss Drummond, if _Jân-Ali-shân_ was going back to his
grave to-night; for if not, it would be better to leave the cemetery
gate open--he usually locks it at sundown.'

'_Jân-Ali-shân_!' she echoed aghast. 'He can't call that wretched
creature--he can't think----'

Jack Raymond interrupted her. 'I don't know very much about the
possibilities or impossibilities of India, though I've lived in it for
twenty years; but I do happen to know that half Nushapore has a
sneaking idea that the wretched creature is, well, a sort of emanation
of the great John Ellison. He has the same strain, you see, of sheer
devilry, pluck, ability, call it what you will--the something that
makes its mark on Eastern people. And they think he comes for revenge,
because, as you heard him say, he is in such a mortal funk of being
cheated out of "an 'ero's grave" if he dies away from Nushapore, that
he always comes back when there's trouble about. The natives are quick
to notice such things. Well, he may have his tens of thousands this
year.'

'You mean that the plague will come?'

'And a row, too, if we aren't careful.'

Jerry's hand tightened on Jack Raymond's. 'A weal wow, sir, with sieges
and everything?'

'Sieges? Well, I don't know. What do you want sieges for, young man?'

The child's face showed confident. 'Because I want an 'ero's grave
of my vewy own, like what that man's got. An' it wouldn't be
dog-in-the-mangery, like two pieces of cake, Miss Dwummond, 'cos I
could lend it to other people till I weally did want it; but if it was
my vewy own, you see'--he hesitated, then a sudden comprehension seemed
to come to him--'then I could fight all the vewy biggest big boys
wifout caring. For I could pop into my gwave an' laugh at 'em, even if
I was licked--'cos--'cos I should have won weally--shouldn't I, sir?'

The moon shone clear on the ruins before them, and all around them,
hidden in the shadows of the trees, lay the little world which forty
years before had defied a big one. Through the still silence came only
that twittering of birds fighting for a roosting-place, until the man's
voice said evenly--

'It is a question, Jerry, "_how far high failure overleaps the bound of
low successes_." Ask Miss Drummond; I don't know.'

The answering woman's voice came swiftly. 'Surely this is no place for
an Englishman to talk of failure!'

He turned sharply. So this girl was at it now; she too wanted to rouse
him; she had heard the story--or part of it.

'I almost wish it were,' he answered bitterly; 'then we might forget
it. But the glory of it gets to our heads--we come back to it again and
again.'

He stopped abruptly, for a tenor voice rose in sweet undertones upon
that twittering of birds--


             'There is a green hill far away,
                Outside a city wall.'


The singing and the faint crush of gravel ceased together, as the
singer, passing them, drew up and touched the old billycock hat.

'Beg parding, sir,' said John Ellison, loafer, 'but p'r'aps you'd care
to 'ear there was a man dead o' plague taken out o' the train I come in
this mornin'.'

'Thanks,' replied Jack Raymond. 'I know there have been several
isolated cases.'

'Jes' so, sir; not as there's so much isolation, not to speak of, in
them third-class cattle-pens,' assented the mellow voice; and as the
footstep passed on, it kept time to the refrain of


           'Wait for the wagon, and we'll all take a ride.'


'I expect we shall,' remarked Jack Raymond grimly, and his mind
reverted to Grace Arbuthnot and her husband. There might be need for
that safe-conduct ere long. Well, they must manage things as best they
could; he wouldn't.

'Oh! I do hope there'll be a wow, a weal wow!' came Jerry's prayerful
voice.



                              CHAPTER V

                              SHARK LANE


There was no quainter spot in all Nushapore than Shark Lane (as the
road near the public offices where the lawyers congregated was
generally called), though at first sight it seemed to differ little
from its neighbours. Broad, white, its tree-set margins were studded
with the usual inconsequent-looking stucco gate-posts of an Indian
station, which, guiltless of any fence, serve to mark the short
carriage-drives leading back to the houses.

And these again--colour-washed pink, yellow, or blue--were even as
other houses of the second-class. Yet it did not need the placards on
those same gate-posts, announcing that 'Mr. Lala Râm Nâth' or 'Mr.
Syyed Abdul Rahmân,' 'barristers-at-law,' lived within, to tell the
passer-by that the inhabitants were not European.

To begin with, somewhere or another, there was almost sure to be a
grass hurdle visible--the grass hurdle which in India does the duty of
a hoarding and ensures privacy. Indeed, a knowledgable eye could infer
the exact degree to which the social life within was at variance with
the Western architecture in which it dwelt by the number and position
of such hurdles. Two or three, merely blocking in an arch of verandah,
being indicative of a lingering dislike to publicity in some 'new
woman'; a dozen or more, screening in a patch of garden ground, showing
the rigorous seclusion of the old.

True, in not a few cases, this sign was absent, but then a nameless air
of utter desolation, a blank stare out on the world, told its tale of a
keener quarrel still--of family ties, family life, lost absolutely in
the chase after Western ways, Western ideas. In such houses the only
sign of life from dawn to dusk, barring a furtive wielder of a grass
broom raising clouds of dust at stated intervals, would be the rickety
hired carriage, like a green box on wheels, which, every morning and
every evening, would turn out and in between those inconsequent
gate-posts, conveying a solitary young man and a pile of law-books to
and from the courts.

Such a very solitary-looking young man, that the question sprang
inevitably to the spectator's lips, 'Is the game worth the candle?'

There were others, besides spectators, in Shark Lane who asked the
question, and were not sure of the answer. Miriam-bibi, Hâfiz Ahmad's
wife, for instance, who, as Aunt Khôjee put it, had been taken away to
live as a _mem_, felt it was not. Of course it was dignified to eat in
one room, sit in another, and sleep in a third, as if this trinity of
habit were Heaven's decree. Then, undoubtedly, small bronze feet did
look entrancing in small bronze high-heeled shoes. But when there
_could_ be no novel-reading, no writing of notes, no arranging of
flowers and playing of the piano, and when you were accustomed to eat
and sleep when the fancy took you? Then one room was quite sufficient
in which to be dull and solitary, since there were no friends or
relations near to come in for a gossip.

Besides, it was undeniable that the pretty bronze shoes pinched the
toes that were accustomed to greater freedom.

Therefore it was a joy, indeed, when, on Sundays, the green box on
wheels, instead of taking Hâfiz Ahmad to court, took her back to the
close, familiar city; to the evil-smelling bazaars below, and the
scented, sensual woman's life above, so full of laughter and
quarrelling, so full of sunshine and seclusion, with its unending
suggestion of sex.

Full also, to Miriam's intense delight, of betel-chewing and
tobacco-smoking; for though Hâfiz Ahmad permitted neither in Shark
Lane, he never noticed the resultant signs of either on her return. So
proving himself possessed of that master's degree in the art of
compromise which young India has to take before attempting even a
bachelor's in any other.

For even Miriam found single-mindedness impossible in Shark Lane, and
her eulogiums on her new life had to be so strenuous in the city that
even simple Aunt Khôjee remarked that '_wise hens never cackled over
their own nests unless they were empty!_'

On Monday mornings too, after her debauch in city ways, Miriam found it
necessary to be aggressively European. She would even go so far as to
eat the lightly-boiled egg of civilisation for her breakfast--the egg
which calls for saltcellars and spoons, in other words for refinement
and luxury. And when her husband had departed in the green box with his
law-books, she would yawn dutifully in all three rooms, till nature
could no more. So she would send surreptitiously for the cook's wife
and baby, and adjourn to a hurdle-closed verandah where her visitors
could be properly screened from the new world. Since, let the master do
as he chose, there would have been noses on the green in the servant's
house had its womenkind allowed the tips of theirs to be seen by
strangers!

So Miriam would be comparatively content till the advent of the green
box sent her back to three rooms, and a pair of bronze slippers.

On the whole, this double life of hers was a very fair example of most
lives in Shark Lane where, despite all the high aspirations after truth
and reality, it was quite impossible to reach either; since every one
was quite aware that they were trying an experiment, and that a
doubtful one.

This was the case more especially in the last house in Shark Lane, just
where it merged into the more fashionable River Road. Here, at the
corner, a very decorative pair of posts announcing that Mr. Chris
Davenant lived within, stood cheek by jowl beside a similar pair with
Mr. Lucanaster's name upon them; and though one of the two houses was
screened, it was screened by trellises and creepers, behind which a
pale pink dress could often be seen fluttering in company with the
owner of the other house. For Mrs. Chris Davenant claimed her full
share of Western liberty.

So large a share, indeed, that one morning a few days after the races,
Krishn Davenund, as Shark Lane persisted in calling him, sate looking
hopelessly at his untouched breakfast; in this case also that
lightly-boiled egg of civilisation. It stood in a correct silver
egg-stand beside a charming arrangement of ferns and flowers; for Miss
Genevieve Fuller, now Mrs. Chris, had been that curious product of
latter-day London, a vulgar girl of good taste. As she had walked along
the streets, her fringe delicately wanton beneath the white veil whose
black spots were never permitted to rest in unbecoming places, her cold
blue eyes had settled unerringly on all the daintiest creations in the
shop windows. And she would pause before a hand-painted _sortie de bal_
or a belaced silk undergarment, and say with equal frankness to her
companion, male or female, 'My! that would give poor little me a
chance, wouldn't it?'

Even some of the third-rate young men from the city, over whom she had
wielded a cheap empire at her mother's boarding-house down the
Hammersmith Road, had found such remarks reminiscent of the princess
from whose pretty lips toads fell instead of pearls, but Krishn
Davenund, student at the Middle Temple, did not know his Mother Goose.
Having an all too intimate acquaintance with the poets, however, the
superficial refinement of the girl, seen against the background of the
only English life he knew, had made him think of the Lady in Comus; for
he could have no standard save that of books.

She looked dainty enough for any heroine's part even now, after
eighteen months' disillusionment, as she stood before him, in a paucity
of pink muslin negligé (which had mostly run to frills) and a plenitude
of powder. She had an open note in one hand, a half-smoked Turkish
cigarette--of Mr. Lucanaster's importing--in the other, and a rather
bored good-nature on her face as she looked at the man she had married
because her good taste had told her the truth, namely, that he was
better-looking and better-bred than any of her other admirers.

It had been a hideous mistake, of course; but she was shrewd enough to
see that the shock of finding, on his return to India, that there was
literally no place for him in it had been quite as painful to her
husband as to herself. So she exonerated him of blame, with a sort of
contemptuous pity and an absolute lack of sympathy. It was nothing to
her, for instance, that, apart from the temporal loss of finding
himself only the son of a Hindoo widow who had reverted to the most
bigoted austerity on her husband's death, instead of the son of a man
high up in Government service, whose position had made unorthodoxy
tolerable to relations and friends alike, he should have come back to
find a change in himself, to feel a wild revolt against the renewed
contact with things which he had, literally, left behind him five years
before. The things themselves were too hopelessly, incredibly trivial
and childish for her to do anything but laugh at them, so he had soon
ceased even to mention them; though they meant far more to him.

Despite the mission school training which is the foundation-culture of
nearly all young India, his religion was a mere ethical sense, an
emotional yielding to the attraction of everything to which the epithet
'Higher' could be applied--mathematics and morals alike. And the
giving-in to the disgusting rites necessary before he could re-enter
native society on equal terms with those, even, who were of lower caste
than himself, had seemed to him degrading. So, despite his mother's
prayers and the advice of other men who, in like position, had
purchased comfort by acquiescence, he had refused to be made clean on
the offered terms. With this result, that the only familiar touch left
to him was that which this woman in the _demi-mondaine_ pink negligé
laid on his shoulder as, after a time, she flung the note down on the
table, and with a tolerant laugh paused beside him on her way from the
room.

'Don't be a fool, Chris!' she said cheerfully. 'You can't be expected
to understand, of course, so I'm not really angry. It is all right, old
man. Heaps of English women do that sort of thing; and I'm going to,
anyhow, so it's no good fussing.'

He made no reply. He seemed, even to himself, to have nothing to say;
nothing that could be said, at any rate, since the fierce claim for
silence and submission (even if it entailed the disposal of a corpse!)
which he had inherited from his fathers, had to be smothered. So he
only stared at the note, which lay face uppermost. It began 'Dearest
Jenny'; and _he_ called his wife Viva!

The difference of style epitomised the situation, since she preferred
the Jenny; it reminded her of bank clerks and the top of the
Hammersmith omnibus. He realised this now, for he was no fool; only a
reader of books, a believer in theories, a dreamer of dreams, who, in
the almost brutal blaze of an Indian sun, had awakened, not to
realities--that was impossible to one who still had no guide save
books--but to a new attempt at dreams. One which made him say
pompously, after the fashion in novels, 'I do not wish it, Viva; and
you will please to remember that I am your husband.'

His English, barring a faintly foreign intonation, was perfect; but his
wife laughed.

'Don't, Chris! It doesn't suit the part. Besides, we were only married
at the registrar's. So if you want a wife of that sort, Lucanaster says
you can marry one, if I don't object. I've been thinking about it, and
I don't think I should----'

He stood up and threw his hands out passionately ere covering his face
with them; and the action, utterly un-English as it was, suited him
better than his previous calm.

'It--it's a lie to begin with,' he cried hoarsely. 'And even if it
weren't--I wont have it said--it--it makes me lose myself.'

She drew back a bit and looked at him. 'You've done that already,
Chris, and so've I,' she said calmly. 'Now don't interrupt, please;
I've been fizzling for this talk the last month, for we shall rub along
together so much better when we thoroughly understand each other. So,
I'm not going to pretend any more, Chris! It doesn't work. I tried it
at first because--well! because you mean well, and I like to make
things comfy while I can. But I'm sick of Shark Lane. Some of the men
wouldn't be bad, if they weren't so awfully high-toned--that's what's
the matter with you, Chris!--but the women beat me. I went to see that
little fool Hâfiz Ahmad's wife yesterday, because I'm a good-natured
fool myself and she said she was dull, and you asked me; and as I say,
I like things comfy. Well! she wanted me to play old maid, and the
cards were--oh! filthy! That finished me. Of course it was only a
trifle, but it did the trick. I've chucked. I won't play the game any
more, Chris. I am going my own way; and if you want to see Shark Lane
here, I shall be somewhere else. You needn't bother or fuss. I can take
care of myself perfectly--I went about London a lot, you know. Besides,
doesn't it stand to reason that I'm a better judge of what an English
lady can do than you are? Why! I might as well try and teach you the
etiquette of those disgusting temples where your precious stay-at-home
women worship in--in the _altogether_!' She giggled modestly, and then,
seeing his face, gave him a final pat. 'Cheer up, Chris! I'm sure you
could marry one--a cousin or something--if you tried.'

He interrupted her with a listless, nerveless dignity. 'You seem to
think it all pretence, but I couldn't go back to the old ways;
this--this has meant more to me, than that----' his lips quivered as if
with coming tears, he had to pull himself together visibly. 'For the
rest,' he went on drearily, 'I am not quite so ignorant as you deem me.
One reads of--of this sort of situation, and I can shape my course as
other men have shaped theirs; only--only do not try my patience too
far.'

He meant the last in all seriousness, but neither the thought nor
the words were his own; and the pathos of this despairing clutch on
book-knowledge being, of course, lost on her commonplace vulgarity, she
laughed once more.

'Why, Chris! you've got that as pat as pat! quite the injured hub in
domestic drama. Goody me! to think I might be going down still on the
top of the dear old red 'bus to the mouth of the pit on a first night!
Well, that's over, so we must just both be as chirpy as we can.
Goodbye, Chris! I've got to dress, for Lucanaster 's coming for me in
half an hour. And don't expect me till you see me. They did talk of
tents out, a dance, and a regular night of it. You really needn't fuss,
Chris; you _can't_ understand, you see.'

When she had gone, he sate staring helplessly at the boiled egg, as if
he expected something to hatch out of it. Even thought forsook him, for
the first to come was that this woman was his wife. Wife! the word
conjured up such a different idea in the hereditary experience which
inevitably underlay all things in him, that he could go no further in
bewilderment.

So, in the effort to escape from the thraldom of the old wisdom, which
such as he have to make so often, he took up the newspaper which lay
beside him, telling himself passionately that the old order had
changed, that life held more than his fathers had dreamt of. Yet even
as he told himself this, the burden of doubt which such as he have to
bear came upon him, a sense of unreality, even in himself, closed round
him.

Unreal! Unreal! Unreal!

The word typed itself on the columns of the _Voice of India_ as he read
them. The paper was the recognised organ of his class, the exponent of
its desires, its beliefs. Yet here even that word pursued him. Here on
the first page was a leader stigmatising the temporary withdrawal of
independent powers from the Municipal Committee as an unwarrantable
piece of tyranny. Unwarrantable! Was it possible for any sane man to
call it so, knowing, as all knew, the grievous tale of neglect and
wrongdoing in that Committee? Was it possible, even apart from that,
for any wise man not to see that with plague clamouring for an
entrance, the good of the many claimed a more energetic sanitary reform
than the Committee seemed able or willing to introduce?

And as for the hints thrown out that the newly-published plague
regulations were but a sop, a blind, hiding a very different policy;
what then? Was it possible for any government to do more than legislate
for the _present_? Who but fools imagined that it could or would bind
itself to definite action in conditions which could only be guessed at?

So the tale of unreality went on. Here was a well-written,
well-reasoned article on the cow-killing grievance; but Chris, being a
wielder of the pen himself, happened to know the writer, and could
remember seeing him eating beefsteaks at the Temple dinners.

Again, in a paragraph headed 'Government Greed and Peasant Poverty.'
Could any detail overcome the indubitable fact that India had the
cheapest civilised government in the world?

He ran his eye down another column, and caught the phrase 'social
progress' above a signature which he knew to be that of a man who had
just married a child of ten.

And what was this? '_The Government to which is opposed the entire
intelligence of the nation!_' Brave words these, when the proportion
between such intelligence and the general ignorance was withheld! What
was it? Ten thousand to one!

'_The political training of the mass of the people is still, it is
true, somewhat incomplete_.' It might well be that when the percentage
of mere literates was almost negligible.

'_Even the Mohammedan policy was better than the English one. True, it
did not allow freedom of the press_....'

Ye gods! Freedom of the press when there was not a newspaper in all the
length and breadth of the land! Could unreality, bunkum, call it what
you will, go further than that?

Chris pushed himself back from the table, back from the boiled egg,
back from the newspaper, back, so far as he could, from himself, with
an odd sound between a laugh, a sob, and a curse.

Was that all? Was that sort of ungenerous, unreliable, almost
unimaginable drivel the only indictment which such as he had to bring
against those who had depolarised life? Who had neither given India a
creed, nor taken one away? Was that the only arraignment for the
tyranny of pain such as his?

No! a thousand times no! There was more to be said than that!

So to him came the fatal facility for words which is the betrayal of
his race. He sate down to write, and, heedless of the sound of dogcart
wheels and a man's and a woman's laughter which came after a time, did
not rise until he stood up with sheets on sheets of scarce-dried
manuscript in his hand, feeling for the first time in his intellectual
life that he was alone. Hitherto he had always followed the thoughts
of the great masters. Hitherto there had always been some one on the
road before him. Now the question, a burning one to his enthusiasm,
was--'Would any one come after him?'

Hâfiz Ahmad's house, the rallying-point of young India in Nushapore,
lay close by. It was a court-holiday, and therefore the chances were
great that some meeting or another was being held; since meetings are a
recognised holiday amusement with those who, amid all the unreality of
their lives, are still terribly in earnest.

He would go there and seek an audience.

On his way out, however, he saw Jack Raymond riding up the drive. Jack
Raymond, one of the few Englishmen he could count on to be kind, yet
who, despite that, had never called on his wife. Was he going to do so
now? As a matter of fact, Jack Raymond had had no such intention; he
had come over to ask Chris himself about a post which was vacant, and
which might keep John Ellison, loafer, out of more mischief; but seeing
Chris coming towards him with a pleased expectant look on his somewhat
pathetic face, a half-irritated pity made him ask if Mrs. Davenant was
at home.

'I'm sorry she has gone out with Lucanaster,' he repeated, unaware of
the emphasis he laid on the qualification till he saw poor Chris
flinch, when he said hurriedly, 'but I'll come in if I may. I've a
question or two I want to ask.'

Whereupon Chris, who, despite his five years of England and his wife's
incessant instructions, had never been able to grasp that exclusive use
of certain rooms to certain uses, took Jack Raymond straight into the
dining-room, where, amongst the litter of an unfinished breakfast, a
note, on which quite inadvertently the visitor set his riding-whip, lay
face uppermost.

That 'Dearest Jenny,' therefore, stared Jack Raymond in the face all
the time he was settling that John Ellison should go for a week's trial
as foreman on the new goods station which Chris was building. He knew
the writing, and had, what poor Chris had not, a fixed standard of
inherited and acquired experience by which to judge the writer. And so
a curious mixture of pity and repugnance came to the Englishman as he
looked at the face opposite him--the gentle face so full of
intelligence, so devoid of character--and thought of that other
coarser, commoner one. It was a question of the two men only; the
woman, dismissed briefly as a bad sort, counted for nothing in Jack
Raymond's mind.

Yet if Lucanaster had been an Englishman, it is ten to one that Jack
Raymond would not have said abruptly, as he did say when he rose to
take up his riding-whip, 'If I were you, Davenant, I wouldn't let my
wife be seen with that man Lucanaster. Of course you can't be expected
to--to know--but he's an awful sweep!' As he spoke, his knowledge of
himself made him clutch his whip tightly; but Chris only stood silent
for a moment with a wild appeal in his soft eyes. Then he tried to
speak; finally he sate down again, and buried his face in his hands.

The straining of the long brown fingers, tense in their effort to keep
back tears, the long-drawn breath trying to keep back sobs, made Jack
Raymond's pity fly before impatient contempt.

'I'm sorry. It's evidently worse than I thought,' he said; 'but that
sort of thing isn't a bit of good, Davenant. Put your foot down. Say
you won't have it.'

Chris Davenant's face came up from his hands with the dignity of
absolute despair. 'How can I? Didn't even _you_ say just now I couldn't
be expected to understand? She says it too. And I've no answer. How can
I have one when there is no place for me--or for her? That is it. If
she had friends--if there was any one to care--any one even to be
angry; but there is no one.'

His head went into his hands again, and the pity born of clearer
comprehension came back to the Englishman, like the dove of old, with
widespread white wings. And like the dove of old, it brought a
suggestion of calmer days to come with it.

'I hadn't thought of it that way,' he said slowly; 'but I see your
point. A lead over keeps many a horse between the flags. And I'll
get one for your wife if I can. Lady Arbuthnot is an old friend of
mine,'--he was faintly surprised at himself for this remark, which came
quite naturally--'and I'm sure she will send an invitation to the
Government House garden-party. Then there's the fête and the Service
ball. It may seem a queer cure to you----'

'Everything is queer,' admitted Chris, trying to be cheerful. 'But I
know she felt not being asked--I remember her saying----' He broke off;
for the remark had been, briefly, that it was no use considering the
proprieties if the proprieties didn't consider you.

'Well! that's settled. She'll find the invitations when she comes back;
then there'll be the dresses, you know, and all that.'

Chris shook his head. 'I am not sure if I do. It is all new. But it is
more than kind of you. If I could do anything for you in return----'

The unreserved gratitude in his face was sufficiently womanish not to
rouse the English distaste to all expression of emotion, though, even
so, Jack Raymond put it aside jestingly.

'Thank Lady Arbuthnot, my dear fellow; she'--he paused, a remembrance
coming to him--'By the way--you're in, I know, with all the _Voice of
India_ scribblers--write for it yourself, don't you? Well, what is the
meaning of those hints about the plague policy? What have they got hold
of? anything definite?'

'So far as I know, nothing,' began Chris. 'It is, I fear, a regrettable
fact that there is seldom good foundation----'

Jack Raymond, reins in hand, swung himself into his saddle lightly.
'Yes, thank God! Well! if you should hear of anything, or if you
should have a chance of--say, burking anything likely to upset the
apple-cart--the times are a trifle ticklish in the city--take your
gratitude to me, or rather to Lady Arbuthnot, out in that.'

Chris flushed up. 'Surely,' he began volubly, 'it is the bounden duty,
as I have just been writing, of the educated portion of the community
to leave themselves free for reasonable criticism by supporting
Government, wherever possible, by throwing heart and soul----' The
Englishman, holding his impatient mount in a grip of iron, looked down
with a bored expression.

'No doubt--no doubt; but the body fills a gap better on the whole.
Good-bye. I'll see to the invites, and you can drop me a line if you
hear anything definite.'



                              CHAPTER VI

                          THE MONEY OF FOOLS


'Finally, sirs,' came a high straining voice as Chris Davenant entered
Hâfiz Ahmad's house, 'the educated youngster of India refuses to let
his soaring aspirations remain cribbed, cabined, confined, in the cruel
shackles of a political despotism without parallel in the whole history
of civilisation!'

The peroration, though it seemed to afford the speaker much
satisfaction, only induced that faint desultory clapping which in
England is reserved for prize-days at school; that impersonal applause
for the results of diligence which remembers that other pupils have yet
to speak.

This was the case here, and Chris had barely wedged himself into a
chair between a writing-table and a waste-paper basket before another
orator was in full swing of adjective.

The row of bicycles in the verandah, and a knot of those green-box
hired carriages outside on the road, had told Chris already that he had
been right in calculating on an assemblage of young India; but this was
a larger gathering than he had expected, and he remembered suddenly
with a vague shame--since he was a prominent member of the
organisation--that it must be the monthly meeting of the Society for
Promoting the General Good of People. He had quite forgotten all about
it; still here he was, and here was his audience for that roll of
manuscript he held.

He glanced round the double room,--for both dining and drawing-room had
been thrown open, rather to Miriam-bibi's relief, since she could now
sit unreservedly in the screened verandah and play 'beggar my
neighbour' with her foster-mother, who did duty as ayah--and recognised
almost every one of note in young Nushapore.

Hâfiz Ahmad was in the chair, of course; a rather fat young man of the
coarser Mohammedan type, with a short curly beard. Like many others in
the room, he wore a scarlet fez; though why this distinctive bit of a
Turk's costume should be grafted on a _quasi_-English _quasi_-Indian
one is a mystery not to be beaten in incomprehensibility by any other
minor problem of our Indian Empire.

Beside him was Lala Râm Nâth, the head, in Nushapore, of the only real
political organisation in India; that is the Arya Somaj; an
organisation all the more dangerously political because it denies the
basis of politics, and appeals to that of religion.

He, Chris knew, would be the last to admit the position taken up in the
roll of manuscript, namely, that it was suicidal on the part of the
little leaven of educated natives to pose as the party of opposition,
since that was, briefly, to array itself permanently, inevitably,
against what none could deny was the party of progress; the party which
had made this little leaven itself a possibility.

Râm Nâth, the breath of whose nostrils was adverse criticism to
Government, who, in bewildering defiance of the laws which govern
Indian life, had swallowed red-hot Radicalism wholesale, like a juggler
swallowing a red-hot poker, was not likely to admit this at any time;
still less now, when he was the champion of a wrongfully dispossessed
Municipal Committee. Chris knew exactly what the Lala would say, and
what the majority of the young men--there was not one over thirty-five
in the room--would say also. And yet their faces were brimful of
intelligence, of a certain eager earnestness. It could hardly be
otherwise, since the mere fact of their being in that room proved them
to be of those whose faculty and desire for acquiring knowledge was so
far superior to that of the average man, that it had taken them, as it
were, to a place apart. To be tempted of the devil perhaps; though,
none the less, the fact bore witness to a certain nobility of type.

So it was all the more strange that when--the next speaker having
finished in a calculated chaos of words--Govind, the dissipated editor,
who had yawned his tacit approval of Dilarâm the dancer, rose to
denounce some trivial iniquity in the ruling race, his middle-school
English, and cheap abuse, was received with just the same desultory
applause. It seemed to Chris, listening impatiently, as if the faculty
of criticism had been lost in its abuse, as if the one thing needful
was antagonism _pur et simple_.

The great event of all such meetings in Nushapore followed next--a
paper by Râm Nâth. He spoke admirably, and if he wandered occasionally
from the point, the vast scope of his subject, 'The Political,
National, and Social aspect of Modern India,' must be held responsible
for that!

An Englishman listening would, of course, have challenged his facts and
denied his conclusions; but Chris did neither. He gave an unqualified
assent to many and many a point. And yet when he listened to the
assertion that 'the cup of our political evils is so full, the burden
of our social inequalities so intolerable, and the tyranny of custom
stands out so red and foul, that some militant uprising has become
essential to national salvation, and armed resistance the only hope of
amendment,' he wondered with a certain shame how many of the millions
of India would find a personal grievance in social equality or
political evil. And as for the tyranny of custom? What militant
uprising was possible among willing slaves?

For all that he listened, not without an answering heartbeat, to the
Lala's eloquence, as he skilfully fanned every burning question with a
wind of words, and let the fretting fingers of subtle suggestion
undermine the foundations of fact. He was specially bitter against the
plague precautions, and his hints that there was more behind them than
met the eye, aroused the only spontaneous applause of the evening. Yet
once more, when the well-reasoned, admirably-delivered address was
over, the audience listened with exactly the same receptive expression
to the recitation, by its author, of a hymn for use in the approaching
Congress in which delegates were told they should--


             'To croaking fools their folly leave,
                Their canting puerile rant;
              To noble mission steadfast cleave
                And sprouts devoutly plant.'


It was a very long hymn, and it alluded, amongst other items, to the
'blazing sun of Western lore,' to 'duty's trumpet call,' to 'England,
dear home of every virtue, sweet nurse to Liberty,' and to 'India's
crying woes.'--It secured a rather more hearty meed of applause than
anything else, possibly because the audience--being above all things
scholastic--appreciated the difficulty of making English verse!

So, with a resolution that the 'Good of People' must be encouraged at
all costs, and a vote of thanks to Mr. Râm Nâth, the actual business of
the meeting ended, but not the speechifying. Half a dozen minor men
stood up with a surcharged look; but one, a tall young fellow with a
charmingly gentle, emotional face, caught the chairman's eye first. He
was a schoolmaster, and at his own expense brought out a monthly
magazine which was, briefly, the most high-toned bit of printing that
ever passed through a press. Bishops might have read it and confessed
themselves edified.

'Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,' he began, 'although formal recognition of
our distinguished townsman's magnificent elocutionary effort has not
been wanting, I wish to record my humble admiration, and to state my
belief that his forecast of possible difficulties regarding plague
precautions may amount to prophecy. Since, alas! our poor folk have
been strangers to beneficent sanitations from birth, and are now, as
another honourable speaker pointed out, in considerable states of
ebullition. Yet, instead of applying salutary balms to these uneducated
minds, I grieve to say that efforts are being made to increase terror;
witness the golden paper falling from Heaven, as bolt from the blue, in
the so-called Temple of Viseshwar. This trick of greedy Brahmins----'

Râm Nâth was on his feet in an instant, recognised champion of his
faith.

'I beg to submit, Mr. Chairman, that these words are out of order. This
society is pledged to neutrality, and "trick of greedy Brahmins" is
calculated to wound pious feelings.'

'I second the protest,' put in another eager voice, 'and beg the
objectionable phrase be withdrawn.'

A murmur of approval ran through the larger part of the audience, and
Hâfiz Ahmad, with the scowl of the true idol-hater on his face, asked
the speaker to withdraw the words; which he did, protesting that, as a
member of the Brahmo Somaj, he had only spoken with a view to eternal
and abstract truth. The paper, he continued, though possibly only the
outcome of the quarrel which, his hearers must know, had been going on
for some time between the priests of the two rival temples regarding
the relative supremacy of Kâli-_mâ_ and her consort Shiv-_jee_----

Here the chairman himself called with alacrity, 'Order! Order! This
meeting does not deal with such dogmatics,' and another and smaller
murmur of assent followed.

The gentle-faced schoolmaster apologised again. There could be no
doubt, at any rate, he said almost pathetically, that the uneducated
mind was, as the poet said, liable to be tickled by straws, and so he
conceived it to be his duty to draw the attention of the 'Society for
Promoting the General Good of People' to this paper, which, he might
add, he was going to pillory in his publication with scathing
criticism. So, drawing a slip from his pocket, he began to read in the
vernacular--

'_I, Kali, will come. In my dark month I will come for blood. Woe to
them who seek to stay me in the city, since I will have blood on my
altar whether the hands of strange men stay Me, or smite Me. For I am
Kali the Death-Mother of all men, whether they will it or no. Yea! I
will come_.'

The vague phrases, besprinkled with hollow-sounding mysterious Sanskrit
words, brought a curious hush even to that assemblage, till Hâfiz Ahmad
laughed arrogantly.

'Is that all, _pandit-jee_?' he asked; 'that bogey will do little.'

'As much, I venture to suggest,' put in Râm Nâth suavely, 'as the bogey
of supposed invasion of domestic privacy for women.'

The Mohammedan, though he professed himself above such considerations,
frowned. 'I demur. The caste prejudices will, in my opinion, be more
difficult to place on common-sense footings.'

They had embarked on the fencing-match which, as often as not, ended
discussion between these two recognised leaders of the two communities,
Hindoo and Mohammedan, and the attention of the meeting had wandered
after them, when a new voice brought it back. It was Chris Davenant's.
Taller than most there, fairer, and of better birth than the generality
of those who brave the dangers of foreign travel, he was the show man
of young Nushapore for pure culture, as Râm Nâth was for ability; and
as such he commanded attention.

'Gentlemen!' he said, 'it seems to me that this paper, which _pandit_
Narain Das has just read, will give our society an opportunity for
practical work. It means nothing, or at most little, to any of us here.
But none will deny it will mean much to many; to our friends--let us
face the facts!--to our own families. And it is a dangerous paper,
gentlemen! None know that better than we, who have passed from the
influence of such words,'--here that faint desultory clapping became
audible--'and it is just because we have so passed, that I ask this
meeting what it is prepared to do in order to combat the possible, the
probable effect of these mysterious threats?'

'Hear! hear!' came several voices. And then came silence; until the
_pandit_ said, in hurt tones--

'I have already told this meeting that I will publish in my
monthly magazine, together with criticisms of the most scathing
character----'

'And,' put in Râm Nâth, rising to the challenge in Chris Davenant's
face, 'I venture to suggest, Mr. Chairman, that this meeting pass a
resolution condemning----'

'And who will know what resolutions we pass, Mr. Secretary?'
interrupted Chris, with a sudden passion which gave his face a look
that was half hope, half wistful doubt; 'who will read your diatribes,
Mr. Editor? _We!_ We only, who pass the resolutions, who write the
criticisms, who know already how to appraise that paper! Printed words,
gentlemen, are no use to those who cannot read, resolutions are naught
to those who never hear of them. But we have tongues; we can speak! We
can, if we choose, throw the whole weight of our personal influence on
the side of truth, even though that side be also the side of a
government with which we have many a righteous feud.'

As he paused for breath, there was a murmur of approval for the
eloquence, none for the thought it held. 'Gentlemen!' he went on, 'it
is futile for any one here to deny that this paper aims at rousing
religious opposition to _any_ precautions whatever against the plague!
Well! some of us here, myself among the number, hold that many of the
precautions in the government programme _are_ objectionable----'

'And more in the private instructions, if rumour says true,' put in Râm
Nâth spitefully.

'I have listened to reasonable criticism, reasonable resentment, and I
have agreed with it. But is there any one of us here who would throw
all precautions to the winds?' went on Chris, passing by the
interruption; 'is there any one who really believes that this golden
paper fell from heaven? If there are, I let them pass. But for the rest
of us, I call upon you not to write, not to resolve, but to speak; to
speak to our wives, our mothers, our sisters--to the timid women whom
such threats alarm; briefly to throw our whole personal influence on
what we know to be the side of truth.'

There was an instant's silence; then Hâfiz Ahmad, as chairman, said
perfunctorily: 'I am sure we are all completely at one with our
honourable friend. Such manifest attempts at preposterous intimidation
deserve the heartiest contempt of educated minds.'

'I second that proposition,' added Râm Nâth as head of his following.
'We are morally bound to give heartiest co-operation in the difficult
task before government, in so far as is compatible with strict
deference to the private religious feeling of all parties concerned.
That is the groundwork of true liberty.'

A fine scorn showed on Chris Davenant's face; he was about to speak
when _pandit_ Narain Das turned to him with a wistful apology in his,
and said: 'Without demurring to his general principle, I would remind
our honourable friend, whose educational career is a credit to our
town, that our influence, alas! is but a broken reed. Our position, in
a society of ignorami, is anomalous, not to say precarious. And if we
too freely kick against the pricks, we are in danger of losing what we
have, which would be undesirable. As John Morley says in his valuable
work on compromise----'

Chris turned on him almost savagely. 'There is no need to preach
compromise, _pandit-jee_! We practise it. We do not let our opinions
influence our own conduct, yet we expect them to influence the conduct
of our rulers! We write these opinions. Oh, yes! we write them! Why?
Because we know that only those read them who agree with us! But which
of us will go from here to-day, and braving opposition, disregarding
personal considerations, tell, even their own immediate families, that
the Brahmins who wrote that paper are--are _splendide mendax_!'

He could not help it! He was keenly alive to the legitimate fun made by
the opponents of young India, out of its intolerable aptitude for
unsuitable quotation, but he fell a victim to it sometimes himself. So,
as he paused before his own words--a house, as it were, divided against
itself--he lost his opportunity. For a dapper little gentleman who, by
reason of a high appointment under government, was generally allowed to
apply the closure to heated or unwelcome discussions, had risen, and
caught the chairman's eye.

'What our honourable and esteemed townsman, Mr. Krishn Davenund, has
just said, must receive consensus of universal opinion, since it is
doubtless of supreme importance to national life. Priest-craft,
supernaturalism, _et hoc genus omne_, are clearly traits of low
civilisation, just as popular government, enlargement of franchise, and
diffusion of evolutionary theories are significant of higher. Still,
Rome was not built in a day. Nor is there use in raising the wind, if
we can't ride the whirlwind, or control the storm. Therefore, in the
_interim_, pending wider liberty of speech, I propose that this meeting
pass a unanimous resolution condemning such paltry attempts at
cockering up superstitious feelings, and that the same be duly recorded
in the minutes of our society.'

Before the relieved applause which greeted this diplomacy was over, the
waste-paper basket beside Chris Davenant had received another
contribution. His roll of manuscript, torn to shreds, lay in it, in
obedience to a sudden, swift intuition that if he was ever to rise
beyond the chaos of lofty aspirations, the strictly impersonal
admiration for great deeds in his fellows, he must leave words behind.

So silent, alone, he walked home to his empty house, his empty life.

But others, though they passed homewards in batches still full of
discussion, still drunk with words, were passing to environments which
were, in a way, even more empty than his. So empty of the sentiments
they had just been formulating, so much at variance with the ideals
they had just professed, that the very imagination grows bewildered in
the effort to reconcile the two.

Govind the editor, however, had less difficulty than most in
accommodating his mental position to a stool stuck over the reeking
gutter of a liquor shop, where he refreshed himself with a
brandy-and-soda and an infamous cigar. He was in an evil temper,
because the meeting, which he frequented chiefly because the speakers
provided him with ideas wherewith to spice his own broadsheet, had been
unusually discreet; so he would have to write his own sedition; unless
he could pick up some scurrilous news instead.

'Nay, friend! I know naught to suit thy purpose,' replied the stout
sergeant of police who frequented the same liquor shop, to whom he
applied; 'save the finding of the Lady-_sahib's_ jewel-box.'

'And the pearls?' asked Govind, taking out a greasy stump of pencil.

'The pearls!' echoed the policeman scornfully, 'as if pearls were to be
found by us! They can be hid in a body's very mouth, and then, if there
be not another mouth with a tongue in it, there is silence! But the box
is enough to keep the file of the case open, and the inspector content
for a while.'

'How many are in the lock-up concerning it?' asked Govind, out of the
fulness of his knowledge regarding police methods.

'Six,' yawned the sergeant. 'The coolie who found the box broken and
empty, flung in the bushes by the Lat-_sahib's_ house; he was setting
the fireworks for the big spectacle to-morrow. He sold it to a
pawnbroker. That makes two for us. Then a woman bought the velvet
lining from a rag-merchant. That makes four. She gave it to Hashim,
tailor, who works for the _Huzoors_, as a cap to her grandchild.
And he, having doubts, informed us. So he makes five. Then the
firework-maker's people were turbulent, therefore we arrested one of
them to show diligence.'

'And there was naught in the box when it was found?' asked Govind. He
was writing now on one of the smoothed-out squares of white waste-paper
which lay in a pile beside the liquor seller, who used them for wiping
the rims of the tumblers, out of deference to the caste prejudices of
his customers against a general cloth.

'God knows!' yawned the policeman piously. 'The man saith not; but
there were letters besides the trinkets and the pearls, and we may find
_them_, if not the others. Folk will not lose a _cowrie's_ worth of
waste-paper these hard times.'

'Ay!' assented the liquor seller, eyeing Govind askance. 'Mine had to
be paid for, though some seem to think not. And paid high too, since
the firework-makers were in the market for their squibs and crackers
for to-morrow.'

A man lounging outside in the gutter laughed suddenly, viciously. 'They
will find enough for _them_ anyhow, even if they _have_ the police at
their tails!' he said, moving off with a defiant _salaam_ to the fat
policeman.

'I would I had handcuffed a pair of them,' remarked the latter mildly.
''Twould have been one trouble, and 'tis well to save oneself what one
can these hard times.'

'Trouble!' echoed a passer-by, shaking his head, 'there will be no
saving of that in Nushapore. Jân-Ali-shân hath returned and brought the
plague, so folk say.'

The liquor seller turned in quick interest to the sergeant of police.

'Dost know if he hath returned?' he asked; for the loafer was a
customer who owed money, and must be got hold of while money was in his
pockets.

For answer the policeman chucked away his cigar end, stumbled off the
dais of the shop, and stood to attention, as a figure rounded the angle
of the next crossway street, followed by a crowd of ragged half-naked
urchins. It was Jân-Ali-shân himself, washed, shaved, spruce, in a
second-hand suit of _khaki_ uniform and a white helmet which he had
redeemed from a pawnshop on the credit of his new appointment as
foreman of works. Jân-Ali-shân, who, from sheer habit, had, on finding
himself in the city with money in his pocket, gone straight for his old
haunt. From the new resolutions, however, which with him always began
with new work, he called for a 'gingerade plain' in a voice of
authority, which made a little circle gather round him admiringly, as
after humming a stave of 'Drink to me only with thine eyes,' while he
was opening the bottle, he proceeded to pour its fizzing contents down
his throat.

The interest of the crowd seemed to amuse him, he sate down on the
plinth and drew out a handful of _pice_ in lordly fashion.

'Two anna, over an' above,' he said, holding up the coins, 'and I don't
want no change. So which of you noble earls,' here he turned to his
following of lads, 'is goin' to fight for the balance? You understand?
_Lurro abhi, jut put_, an' be _burra burra pailwân_ for two pice a 'ed
(fight now immediately and be great heroes).'

The vile admixture of tongues seemed quite comprehensible to those
acquainted with Jân-Ali-shân's methods, for two urchins stepped forward
at once, and the rest joined with the other loungers to form a ring.

John Ellison, loafer, leant back against the wall at his ease.

'Now then, _nap_,'[6] he began, 'back to back fair and square. None o'
yer _nigger blarney_,[7] you young devil! Fight _seeda_,[8] or it ain't
worth fightin' at all. And I won't 'ave no buttin' in the stummick.
You're _pailwâns m'henda nahin_ (heroes, not fighting rams). _Sumjha?_'

The boys professed to understand, and, having divested themselves of
their last rag, stood like slim bronze statues in the sunlight.

'Are you ready?' asked Jân-Ali-shân with superb gravity. 'Then _chul_
(go), an' may the Lord 'ave mercy on your souls.'

They were locked in each other's grip in a second in true Western
fashion.

'_Shab-bash!_' said the holder of the stakes with an approving nod
'That's wrestlin'. None o' yer slappin's an' buttin's and boo-in's.
_Shab-bash!_ boys. _Shab-bash!_'

The crowd grinned widely at the praise, and, as the combatants
struggled and swayed, discussed their family history and took sides,
after the manner of crowds all over the world. Quite a breath of
anxiety ran through it as a fall came, but came sideways. There was no
dust on the back yet!--there would not be!--yes! there would.

Aha! aha! there _was_, surely!

There would have been, doubtless, for the uppermost boy's small brown
hand had freed itself for a second from its grip and sought blindly on
the ground for that recognised weapon in Indian wrestling, dust for the
adversary's eyes, had not Jân-Ali-shân, seeing the action, sprung to
his feet, stooped over the writhing figures, and seizing the top one by
the scruff of its neck, held it up by one hand and shaken it as a
terrier shakes a rat.

'None o' yer monkey tricks, none o' yer _niggar blarneying_, you young
sneak,' he said roughly, as he dropped his whimpering prisoner from mid
air, 'or I'll make _mutti_[9] of you. _Bus!_ (enough). T'other Johnny's
_jeetgia_ (won). Here, sonny! take your _do paisa_.'

The crowd, however, which had been betting freely on the event,
hesitated; the supporters of the dust-thrower grumbled. They were
headed by Govind, who began with great pomp--

'I would have you aware, sir, that use of dust is not non-regulation in
our code; therefore the other boy is victor.

John Ellison looked at him condescendingly, and turned up the cuffs of
his coat with unnecessary elaboration.

'Ain't it in your code, _baboo_?' he said, with equally elaborate
civility, 'an' t'other chap 'as won, has he? I'm glad t'hear it. But
this is my show, and, 'by the Lord 'oo made me! I'm goin' to run it
myself. An' if any gentleman 'as a objection to make, let 'im make it
now, or for ever after 'old 'is peace.'

The crowd made way for him hastily, as he drove a three-feet passage
through it with his elbows; but as he walked jauntily down the bazaar,
the boys fell in behind him and kept step, as he did, to the 'Wedding
March,' which he whistled in reminiscent continuation of his last
words. For they knew Jân-Ali-shân of old as one who, drunk or sober,
always had a reward for fair fighting.

'What did the _M'lechcha_[10] say?' asked a grumbler who did not know
English.

'That 'twas nothing to him what was our custom. It was his, and that
settled it. It is their word! Well! let them say it! We will see,
brothers, if it is true, will we not?' replied Govind viciously.

A murmur of approval ran through the bystanders, but an old dodderer
with a white beard, who, in Eastern fashion, was dozing through his
days, waiting for death, crouched up comfortably on a string bed set in
the sun, said dreamily--

'Didst say it was Jân-Ali-shân? Yea! it was his word. I have heard him
say it; and he keeps it, my sons! he keeps it!'

Govind turned on the speaker scornfully. 'Those were other times,
_baba_, and another Jân-Ali-shân. The times have changed and men
too----'

A thin musical laugh interrupted him. It came from Lateefa, the
kite-maker, who was passing with his bundle of kites for sale.

'Lo! _baboo-jee_!' he said. 'I know naught of time but my poor portion
of it, nor of man save my poor self! But I change not, and I am as
others. We are like kites; the form changes not unless the maker
chooses, and God, so say the Moulvies, changes not at all. He makes men
on the old pattern ever; the rest is but dye and tinsel.'

So he passed on, tossing his bundle, and chanting the street-seller's
cry--


             'Your eyes use, and choose!
              Use your eyes and choose!'



                             CHAPTER VII

                         CRACKERS AND SQUIBS


'_Tinkle, tinkle, ootel ish-star. Ha-a-vunder vart-oo-ar_.'
'Tinkle, tinkle, ootel ish-star. Ha-a-vunder vart-oo-ar_.'
'Tinkle, tinkle, ootel ish-star. Ha-a-vunder vart-oo-ar_.'

The damnable iteration went on and on, the fiddles twangled and
squeaked, the drum bangers banged, the nautch-girl sidled, and smirked,
and shrilled.

'_Tinkle, tinkle, ootel ish-star. Ha-a-vunder vart-oo-ar_.'

Lesley Drummond, sitting in the front row of guests at the reception
given by the nobles and landed proprietors of the Province to welcome
Sir George Arbuthnot to his new office, shut her eyes at last in sheer
despair of being able to reconcile the senses of hearing and sight;
then opened them again to stare with unappeasable curiosity into the
blaze of light, veiled by a fine film of misty smoke, in which all
things seemed clear, yet dim.

It came from the prism-hung chandeliers which hid the low white-marble
ceiling, from the wretched paraffin wall-lamps hung against the
white-marble pillars, from the paper lanterns swinging from the
scalloped white-marble arches. But it came most of all from the garden
beyond the arches in which this white-marble summer-palace of a dynasty
of dead kings stood, centring the formal walks and watercourses; for it
was lit up in long close rows of soft twinkling lights stretching away
into the purple shadows of the night, until, climbing to every line,
every curve of the purple shadow of the distant city, they showed like
new stars upon the purple shadow of the sky.

The radiance of it, the brilliance of it, dazzled the eyes; the
dimness, the misty dreaminess of it clouded the brain. She felt
drugged, hypnotised out of realities, as she looked towards the dais
where Sir George, the Star of his Order almost hidden by one of the
huge tinsel garlands which had been thrown round the neck of the guests
as they entered, sat in a gilt chair, his solitary figure outlined
harshly, by reason of his dark political uniform, against the
background of white-marble tracery. Thence she looked to the English
ladies in gay _décolletés_ dresses who, with a sprinkling of black
coats and red tunics, banked the dais on either side. So to the line of
officials and soldiers edging the gangway below the dais. Finally, on
to the hosts themselves who sate behind in rows. Rows on rows ablaze
with colour and sparkle. Rows on rows imperturbable, passive, without a
smile or a frown for the scene in which they bore so large a part.

So far, however, despite those great tinsel garlands which were so
distracting a novelty upon black coats, scarlet tunics, and
_décolletés_ dresses, a certain relevancy to the central idea, embodied
in that solitary figure of an elderly Englishman raised above the rest,
was not wanting in the details of the spectacle.

But what, thought Lesley, could be said of that group upon the square
of red and green-flowered Brussels carpet spread immediately in front
of the dais? Spread between the gilt sofa where she sat with Jerry
between her and Lady Arbuthnot, and a similar gilt sofa on the other
side occupied by the general's wife and her two daughters.

What an inconceivably unsuitable surrounding they made, five
Englishwomen and a child, to those other five and a child? Two
ragged drum bangers, two dissipated fiddle and guitar twangers, a
dreamy-looking boy doing nothing, and the usual posturing dancer, stout
as to figure, bunchy as to petticoats, with glued bandeaux of hair and
a nasal quavering voice which paused only for furtive swallowings of
the betel-nut she was chewing all too palpably!

'_Tinkle, tinkle, ootel ish-star_.' She trilled with an affable,
opulent curve of hip and hand towards the _sahib logue_ collectively,
for whose delectation she was singing 'Englis fassen'; an
accomplishment she had learned from a girl who had been taught hymns in
a mission school.

'_Ha-a-vunder vart-oo-ar_'--she simpered with a special coquettish
flirt of her fingers and full petticoat for that respectable father of
a family, Sir George, who, honest man, sat horribly conscious, still
more horribly bored, yet patient, waiting for the master of the
ceremonies to ask him if he had had enough.

Enough?

He looked past the pirouettings to that thin line of white faces, bored
yet patient like his own, which fringed those rows on rows of impassive
dark ones, and stifled his yawns duteously for the sake of the Empire.
No such reasons of state, however, swayed Jerry, who, dapper and dainty
in knee-breeches, silk stockings, ruffles, and a little garland of his
own, sate fidgeting and yawning, yawning and fidgeting. As he looked
across the pirouettings he could see his dearest Mr. Raymond dozing
with dignity in a chair opposite, with a peculiarly magnificent garland
festooned over him. It was bigger than anybody's but dad's, Jerry told
himself, feeling a trifle aggrieved, and he wanted to ask why it was so
large, when Mr. Raymond was sitting oh! ever so far back!

'_Tinkle, tinkle, ootel ish-star!_'

The drums banged, the fiddles squeaked, the dancer postured, and Jerry
yawned with commendable monotony, till, suddenly, the little lad's
patience gave way at the two hundred and fifty-sixth time of asking the
question--'_Ha-a-vunder vart-oo-ar_.'

'Please!' he said, in his clear child's voice, 'it is the Star of India
dad's wearin'. The Queen gave it him for doin' his duty.'

'Hush--hush, Jerry!' came breathlessly from his guardians, but the
connection of ideas had been too palpable. A titter which broke from
the ladies behind him made Nevill Lloyd--who as aide-de-camp flanked
the dais, resplendent in his horse artillery uniform--absolutely choke
in his effort to be dignified, and the joyous crow which resulted quite
upset the general commanding. Then this chuckle from the right row of
officialdom did for the Secretary-to-Government heading the left, so
that his gurgle was the signal for a general roar of laughter to go
echoing up into the arches; general so far only as the white faces were
concerned. The dark ones of the hosts were immovable, keeping even
their surprise to themselves.

'Some one ought, surely, to explain,' said Lesley with a half-puzzled
frown, as, the laughter ending, a general stir of relieved chatter
showed that the audience had seized on the interruption as an end.

'Explain, my dear?' echoed Sir George, when his wife took advantage of
the stir to repeat Lesley's suggestion, and point out the dancing-girl
standing sullen, uncertain, whispering to the drum and fiddle; 'I don't
think it's worth it, and I don't see how it's to be done. Besides,
they ought to have laughed too--they really ought! That crow of
Lloyd's----'

'I'm awfully sorry, sir,' put in the offender, trying to be penitent
through his smiles; 'I'll tell you what I'll do, Lady Arbuthnot.
Raymond is bossing the supper for them from the club, and all that.
He's president of the committee of entertainment, so I'll get him----'

Sir George frowned. 'We needn't trouble Mr. Raymond, Captain Lloyd.
And as for the interruption, Grace, it rested with me to stop the
nautch-girl at any time, and they saw we were amused. That is really
all they want.'

'Just so, sir,' assented the Secretary-to-Government, a trifle ashamed
of his lapse from strict etiquette. 'And she had been at it nearly the
proper time. Only five minutes short of the half-hour we gave them. And
you can use those, sir--as the fireworks will barely be ready--in
having some of the notables up for a talk. That will set the business
more than right.'

It seemed so, indeed, judging by the radiant faces of the favoured few,
and the hopeful interest of the many, who crowded round, grateful for a
word, even, from some lesser light.

So from its Eastern formality the scene changed to Western ways. The
crowd of well-dressed women became interspersed with red coats and
political uniforms, a buzz of voices and laughter replaced the silence
broken only by the shrillings and twanglings.

The change was a peculiarly welcome one to Mrs. Chris Davenant, who,
having, of course, been seated in strict accordance with her husband's
rank, right at the back among the commercial set, had been growing
sulky over her chance of getting into better society. She had not, for
the last two days, snubbed Mr. Lucanaster persistently, in order that
she and half a dozen tailors summoned hastily should have time to turn
out a gown worthy of Paris, simply for the purpose of having _him_
compliment her on the result. She flew at higher game, and the movement
of the crowd brought her the quarry.

'Married a native, did she?' commented a big man in political uniform
with a row of medals, who was in from an out-station for the show, and
had asked who the wearer of the flame-coloured satin was; flame-colour
with ruby sparklings on the curves of hip and bosom out of which the
fair white shoulders rose barely. 'Well! I, personally, don't find the
husband in it, if the wife's pretty! Introduce me, will you, or get
some one else to do it who knows her, if you don't.'

The man to whom he spoke looked round helplessly, and, his eye falling
on Jack Raymond, he appealed to him. People in Nushapore had a trick of
applying to the secretary of the club for odd jobs.

'Ask Lucanaster,' said Jack Raymond grimly, 'he knows her awfully well,
and I don't.'

And thereinafter he watched this seething of the kid in its mother's
milk with an almost fiendish amusement. It relieved him, for one
thing, of the necessity for speaking to Mrs. Chris himself. But as he
passed the group which was every instant growing larger round the
flame-coloured satin, he said a word to Chris who was standing
listlessly on the outside of it.

'Seeing a lot of old friends, I expect.'

Chris Davenant's flush made him curse the careless remark, and at the
same moment some one came hurriedly up behind him and laid a hand on
his arm. It was a tall old man with a dash and a swing about him still;
gorgeous still, though his brocades were worn and old, and with great
ropes of pearls wound round him, and a straight bar of grey moustache
on his keen brown face, matching the grey heron's plume in his low
turban. Briefly, a Rajpoot nobleman of the old style.

'_Ai!_ counsellor of the old,' he said, affectionate confidence
struggling with vexation in his face, 'give me some of thy wisdom once
more.'

'Hullo, Rana-_sahib_! what's up? something gone wrong with the
fireworks?' asked Jack Raymond, turning at once. His tone was
friendliness itself. And no wonder. Many a time had he, hard rider as
he was, wondered at the old Thakoor of Dhurmkote's dash and pluck after
boar. Many a time had they sate up in _machâns_ after tiger together,
and many a time had Jack--wiser for the reckless, proud old sinner than
he was for himself--urged him to retrench, to keep from the usurers. In
vain. The old man, head of his clan, would only say, 'Not so, _sahib_.
If the son had lived, perhaps. But the tiger took advantage of his
youth. So let me live and die as my fathers lived and died.' And then
he would launch out into further extravagance, as fine a specimen of
the native gentleman before we meddled with the mould, as could be
found in the length and breadth of the land.

'Wrong with my fireworks?' he echoed indignantly. 'There is nothing
wrong with them, though the others stinted me, from the beginning, out
of jealousy! Yet I had fooled them. But now, because folk laughed at
God knows what, they want them earlier. It is jealousy again. It is to
ruin my reputation as _connoisseur_. I, who have spent lacs on
fireworks. I, who to prove what I could do with the miserable pittance
assigned to me, have paid Meena Buksh, firework-maker, five thousand
rupees extra--I had but two allowed me, _Huzoor_--out of mine own
pocket, or rather out of Salig Râm the usurer's, since I reft it from
him with threats--he owns land, see you, as well as money----'

Here the old man, who had been carried away thus far by his grievance,
became aware that Jack Raymond's companion was not, as he had deemed,
some young Englishman who would either not care to listen or would not
understand if he did; and in any case would not make mischief out of
the confidence. For Chris Davenant, hemmed in a corner beyond escape,
had been unable to repress a smile at the old chieftain's method of
proving his good management and economy.

'Let me introduce my friend, Mr. Krishn Davenund, Rana-_sahib_,' said
Jack Raymond hastily, noticing the old man's haughty stare. 'I think
you knew his father, _Pandit_ Sri Pershâd, judge of the Small Cause
Court.'

Considering that the magistrate in question, being more or less in
feudal relations with the Thakoors of Dhurmkote, had strained many a
point in favour of their extravagance, the acquaintance was
indisputable; yet the Rana-_sahib's salaam_ was of the curtest
compatible with courtesy to the introducer, and he drew Jack Raymond
aside to continue in a lower voice--

'They want me to be ready in ten minutes, and that means ruin; for some
fool set fire to a bit of my best set piece, and 'twill take twenty to
repair.'

'But why not begin with something else?' suggested his hearer.

The Thakoor's face was a study in triumph and disappointment. 'Because
it is a welcome to the Lât-_sahib_, and a welcome must come first. And
it is new also--a welcome in roman candles and sulphur stars; my
reputation is in it.'

'Then why not show it as it is, and explain the accident?'

The Thakoor looked uncertain. 'That might be. How would it look, think
you, _sahib_, "God," then a blank--for that is where the damage comes
in--"our new Lieutenant-Governor"? Would it be understanded, think you?
Would it look well--in Roman candles and sulphur stars?'

'God blank--that is where the damage lies,' repeated Jack Raymond
thoughtfully, and then he laughed. He had to recover himself, however,
hastily at the old man's bewildered face, and say gravely, 'I don't
think it _would_ look very well, Rana-_sahib_, especially in Roman
candles and sulphur stars.' Here another laugh obtruded itself, and
he added as a cover to it, 'But I can tell you what I _can_ do for
you--refreshments. I know _they_ are ready. I'll go off now and get the
"roastbeef" sounded.'

The old chieftain stood looking after him as he went off
enthusiastically.

'May the gods keep him! that is a man,' he said aloud to himself. 'If
all the _sahibs_ were as he, a friend----'

'India would be the happier. She needs such friends,' said Chris
Davenant suddenly. He had been trying to make up his mind ever since
the meeting at Hâfiz Ahmad's house, to take some decided step towards
organising a real party of progress. To do this in a way that would
ensure confidence with both the Government and the people, it was
necessary to secure some men of real influence; and the Thakoor was
one. His word went far, both West and East; and fate had placed him
within earshot. So Chris had spoken; his heart, to tell truth, in his
mouth, as the old man turned scowling.

But something in the young one's face, perhaps a look of his dead
father, perhaps its own inherent goodness, made the Thakoor, instead of
ignoring the remark, say curtly--

'I see it not. What friends does India need?'

Then Chris pulled himself together for speech, and the old man
listened, first contemptuously, then with tolerance.

'Thou speakest well,' he said, nodding approval. 'And as thou sayest,
the people need leaders, not _baboos_. Come to my house some day,
and----'

'Have you my shawl, Chris?' said a woman's voice, interrupting the
invitation. 'Oh, I don't want it now, not till the fireworks, but you
can bring it then, to the supper-room.' So, satisfied at having shown
her husband that if _he_ were talking to pearls and brocade, _she_ had
annexed a uniform and medals; satisfied also at having shown both the
uniform and the brocade in what good company they were, Mrs. Chris
Davenant passed on, all white arms and back, edged perfunctorily with
flames and rubies.

'Who--who is that _mem_?' asked the old Rajpoot swiftly, for one of the
white arms had, incredible to say, nudged Chris's black one, to attract
his attention.

Chris gave back the stare defiantly. 'That is my wife,
Thakoor-_sahib_.'

The old chieftain stood bewildered for a moment; then he gave a
scornful laugh.

'Men of thy sort are no friends to India, _baboo-jee_,' he said. So,
with a twirl of the straight grey moustache, he strode away, leaving
Chris more lonely than ever.

So absolutely alone, that the sheer physical pain of his loneliness
drove him on towards the sound of laughter and voices, the popping of
champagne corks, which came from the marble-screened verandah where the
refreshment-tables stood.

It was full of English people only, since this part of the
entertainment was left by the hosts in alien hands; but through the
marble lace-work filling up the arches, the softly radiant lines of
light, climbing upwards to the stars could be seen, and the hum of the
multitude waiting beyond the garden to see the fireworks was audible.

'Have you all you want, Miss Drummond?' said Jack Raymond as he passed.
He looked well, she thought, and wore his garland with a difference.
Jerry had hold of it in a second, detaining him--

'Oh! I say! please, what a whopper!' he exclaimed. 'Why did they give
it you?'

'For doing my duty, of course,' he laughed. 'I say, young man, you
upset the apple-cart, didn't you?'

Lesley looked her regret. 'It was awful! And so much worse not to
explain. It was so rude. I don't wonder the people dislike us.'

Jack Raymond's face took a curiously obstinate look. 'Perhaps you would
like to explain--there is the Thakoor of Dhurmkote; he is more like an
Englishman in his mind than any native I know. Shall I introduce him,
and let you get it off your conscience?'

A minute after the little group--Jack Raymond explaining, the old
Rajpoot listening, Lesley waiting for the laugh to come, and Jerry
watching puzzled, doubtful how far the joke would be against him--gave
Grace Arbuthnot, in her solitude of honour, a pang of envy. It was
dull always talking to the proper people! And Jack Raymond need not
keep aloof from her so pointedly. It was so foolish. As if it were
possible----

In a sort of denial, she just touched the gold lappets of Sir George's
coat--the faintest, lightest finger-touch--as he stood talking to the
general; but he turned at once.

'Do you want anything, dear?'

She flushed, and laughed; a pretty flush, a pretty laugh, chiefly at
her own impulsiveness.

'Nothing, dear, absolutely nothing,' she said, and he smiled back at
her. None the less, she still watched the group enviously.

But Lesley, for her part, was beginning to wish she had not joined it;
for the discovery of her own mistakes was never a pleasant process to
the young lady, and something in the old Thakoor's face warned her she
was out of her depth.

'_Ap ne suchh furmaya. Ap ne be shakk suchh furmaya_,' came the
courteous old voice, as Jack Raymond's ceased, and the courteous old
face bent in grave approval over the child's.

'Please! what does he say?' asked Jerry, sober as a judge.

Jack Raymond had not a smile either, though he looked hard at Lesley.
'He says, translated literally, that "You caused the truth to be told;
without doubt you caused it to be told."'

Jerry heaved a huge sigh of relief, and looked up into the old face,
his childish one full of confidence.

'In course I did. I knew it was the Star of India, 'cos mum told me.
An' I don't know why the grown-ups laughed; but he didn't--he's a nice
old man, an' I like him.'

So, to the old chieftain's inexpressible delight, he tucked his hand
into the Rajpoot's, and said, 'Thank you, sir!'

'You and I are out of it, Miss Drummond,' remarked Jack Raymond, as,
after permission asked and granted, the Thakoor went off, proud as
Punch, to show the _chota sahib_, who had only spoken the truth, to the
rest of the committee.

That 'you and I' lingered somehow pleasantly in the girl's memory, so
that when she returned to Lady Arbuthnot's side, and the latter
(somewhat to her own surprise) felt impelled to make some remark on the
conversation she had noticed, Lesley replied carelessly--

'Yes! I think I like him better than I did; he isn't half bad.'

Grace Arbuthnot felt suddenly as if she could have boxed the speaker's
ears. Not half bad! And, except in position, and one or two things
which did not, could not, show in mere acquaintance, Jack Raymond had
changed very little since the days when he had been her ideal of all a
man should be. What was more, that ideal of hers had not changed at
all! Yet here was this girl thinking him not half bad!

The advent of the general's wife, however, full--as usual--of fears
about everything, created a diversion. Was not Lady Arbuthnot afraid of
catching cold in going out to watch fireworks? To be sure, she was
wearing a high dress, which was perhaps more suitable. But, anyhow, was
she not afraid of getting it spoilt with the oil and the dirt? And if
she was not, did not the underlying doubt as to the general safety of
the position disturb her? Supposing it was only a plot to get the whole
European community together, unarmed, and blow them up? After the
mutiny anything was possible.

'My husband shall take you in charge,' interrupted Grace, 'and as he
has to be escorted everywhere by the biggest swells, you, will be quite
safe, for they would hardly blow themselves up!'

She spoke politely enough, but as she passed out to the terrace, she
said aside to Lesley, 'What a fool that woman is! yet she is not much
worse than half the others. If anything could make us lose our hold on
India, it will be the women--as it was in the mutiny.'

Jerry, who had come back, was holding his mother's hand, and looked up
all eyes and ears.

'Do you think there will be one weally?' he asked, with quite a tremble
of eagerness in his voice.

'No, Jerry, certainly not,' she replied quickly, vexed he should have
heard; 'and if there were, there is no use in being frightened.'

His face flushed crimson. 'It--it isn't _that_,' he began, gripping her
hand tighter, then paused; perhaps because at that moment a line of
coloured fires swept in curves against the background of purple shadow
to form the legend--'God bless our new Lieutenant-Governor.'

A hum of applause, not for the words, but the Roman candles and sulphur
stars, rose from beyond the garden.

On the terrace, too, admiration was loud and the old Thakoor's delight
was boundless. He was here, whispering Sir George that he had only been
allowed two thousand rupees; there, apologising to the rest of the
committee for imaginary shortcomings, or down in the smoke and noise
below, urging the pyrotechnists to be quick, to spare no pains, to show
the _Huzoors_ what they could do.

'That will we!' muttered an underling as he stooped to his task; the
letting off, like minute-guns, of the detonating maroons which the
native loves.

And another man, as he bent to touch a fuse with his port-fire, gave a
sinister laugh, and remarked under his breath that scarred necks could
do without pearls!

So, in hot haste, the set pieces succeeded each other--the
Catherine-wheels span, dropping coloured tears; the fire-fountains
played; the great clouds of smoke, edged with many tinted reflections
of the lights, drifted sideways, and beyond them the balloons sailed up
one by one to form new constellations in the sky; but the curved
rockets paused with a little sob of despair, and sank back, dropping
the stars which they had hoped to set in high heaven.

And above the noise, the bustle, the popping of squibs and crackers,
came the sound of an English military band and the minute-guns of the
maroons.

Lesley Drummond on the lower terrace watching, listening, was conscious
of a curiously new sense of enjoyment, almost exultation. Her life, the
emotionally restricted life of the modern girl who, having freed
herself from minor interests, has not yet found wider ones, had been,
though she would never have admitted it, cold and grey. But to-night,
for the first time, she realised that her nature held other
possibilities. The dim darkness, the faint light, the mystery
encompassing the mirth around her, even Jack Raymond's voice asking
carelessly, as he passed, how she was getting on, made her feel dizzy
with pleasure.

'We are having a splendid time,' she answered joyously. 'Aren't we,
Jerry?'

But Jerry answered nothing. He was much too absorbed; his wide grey
eyes were wider than ever, staring out at the fireworks.

'What is it, Jerry?' she asked curiously. 'What do you see?'

'Oh! nuffing yet,' answered the little lad; 'but if it was to come----'

As he spoke a sudden scream rose from a group of ladies close by. A
man, running as for dear life to set and light a fresh row of
fire-fountains, squibs, and crackers, had stumbled, tripped, fallen
against the low parapet, and in his attempt to save himself had dropped
some of the fireworks over on to the terrace. Nor was that all; the
flaming, spouting gerb he carried in his left hand as a port fire, had
swung round on them, and there they were in the middle of gauze and
muslin--alight!

A knot of squibs was the first to explode, darting hither and thither
wickedly, like snakes, amid the frills and flounces, amid the screams!

'Keep back! Keep back!' shouted the men; and some had their coats off
in a second, while others held the ladies' filmy dresses back, beating
the sparks off with their hands, or stamping them out with their feet.

But there was a round black something, with just a tiny glow sizzling
slowly into it, which no one noticed as it lay alf hidden under a
velvet gown; no one but Jerry----

The next instant he was standing with it in his hands, confused for the
moment by the dense circle round him through which he saw no way for a
small boy.

'Drop it, drop it!' shouted some one, and Lesley was beside him trying
to snatch the detonator from him. But he dodged from her with an
appealing cry.

'It's mine. It weally is my shell--it weally is!'

He dodged Nevill Lloyd also, who dashed at him yelling--'Drop it, you
young fool'; and he might have gone on dodging others till that tiny
glow sizzled in to the powder, if some one else, realising the
situation and the few seconds' grace that remained, had not shouted--

'Hold tight, Jerry! Hold tight!'--and so, with that reassuring request
had run to the child, caught him in his arms, and forced a way through
the crowd to the parapet.

'Now, my lad, heave!' came the order.

And Jerry, who had held tight, heaved, since these were reasonable
orders. Heaved not an instant too soon, however, for the round black
thing was still so close when it changed to a flash, a flame, a roar,
that it left Jack Raymond and the child wholly dazed and half blind,
all singed and powder-grimed.

They were still standing so, bewildered, the man's face and the child's
close together disguised by their very griminess into quaint likeness,
when Grace Arbuthnot came up to them.

'He isn't hurt,' said Jack Raymond, quickly setting down the child,
partly to prove his words, partly because he wished to dissociate
himself from the situation as far as possible. The action, however,
brought him closer to her eyes, and something in them, something in the
faint perfume of heliotrope about her dress, the perfume he remembered
so well, made him feel ashamed of his own thought.

'He is really not hurt,' he continued in a low voice for her ear alone.
'And he behaved--as I should have expected your son to behave.'

He had not meant to say so much, but something of the old confidence
seemed to have returned to him with the old memory; and to her also,
for she shook her head and said, almost with a smile--

'He is not a bit like me--he is far more like you.' She paused,
startled at her own unconsidered words, and looked at him with a sudden
shrinking in her face.

'Very,' he replied, catching up the boy again. 'We are both black
sheep. Come along, my hero, and scrub some of the likeness off.'

But, as he carried Jerry away on his shoulder to the dressing-room, he
told himself that she was right. The boy _was_ like him. Now that it
had been suggested to him, he saw it clearly. Not in face, but in the
nameless ways which show a likeness in the inward stuff that has gone,
possibly, to make up a very dissimilar outside.

The explanation was simple, of course. It was a case of reversion. He
himself had always been counted a typical Raymond, and Jerry, through
his mother, had harked back to that distant, almost-forgotten ancestor.
Something had made the current set that way once more; that was all.

But what something? Was it possible that the mind had this power as
well as the body?

He swung the child to the attendant grimly, and bade him wash the
_chola sahib's_ face, and be sure to take off all the black.

That likeness, at any rate, need not remain. The other left him
curiously helpless, curiously ashamed.



                             CHAPTER VIII

                       THE TEMPLE OF VISESHWAR


Chris had followed his wife into the supper-room with the vague hope of
feeling that he had a place somewhere, that he belonged to something,
even to her. He had found her surrounded by strangers, and evidently
forgetful of his very existence.

So a resentment had come to lessen his self-pity; resentment at many
things. What right, for instance, had that proud old semi-savage to say
that such as he were no friends to India? It was a lie. Such as he were
its best friends. Yet, as he made the assertion, he knew it needed
proof. What had such as he done to show their friendship? Very little.
Even he himself----

A sudden determination to act came upon him; a resolve not to let
another day pass without showing that he, at least, knew which way true
friendship lay.

So, partly in disgust at the trivialities around him, partly from a
restless desire to think the matter out once for all, he told his wife
curtly that he was leaving the dogcart at her disposal, and passed out
through the garden into the almost deserted roads beyond.

The very thought of Shark Lane, however, was repellent in his present
frame of mind; avoiding that direction, therefore, he wandered on
aimlessly, conscious only at first that--after the glare and the
noise--the darkness, the stillness, was restful to eyes, to heart, to
brain. He did not think at all. For the time he was absolutely at
fault, utterly depolarised.

So he felt startled, roused to a definite sensation of mingled pleasure
and pain, when, forced to pull up by a shadowy void before him, he
found it was the river; that, despite the confusion in his mind, his
body had led him to the old way of salvation, to the old purification.

The night was too dark for him to see what lay before him; but his
memory held its every detail. These were the bathing-steps, and below
him lay the oldest building in Nushapore, the temple of Viseshwar.
Here, to the insignificant block of rough-hewn stone tapered to a spire
which rose square and bare from the very water, his mother had brought
him as a child. Here, with childish delight in the action, childish
disregard of its meaning, he had hung his jasmin garlands round the
smooth upright black cone, which was all the shrine held for worship;
yet which, even so, had been to his child's ignorance a god; as such in
a way familiar, comprehensible, commonplace.

But now it was neither; now to his wider knowledge it had gained so
much in mystery, in awe, by being symbol of the great incomprehensible
problem of life and death, that, as he stood in that wedding-garment of
culture--a suit of dress-clothes--looking down through the darkness to
where he knew that _lingam_ must rise, smoother, more worn by worship
than ever, a shiver ran through him at the thought that there, among
the withered chaplets at its feet, humanity had knelt for ages and
found no answer to the riddle of life.

He sat down mechanically on the uppermost of the steps, and gave
himself up, as it were, to the night, conscious of a vague content that
it should be so dark.

To begin with, it hid many things best left unseen--himself most of
all! For that meant forgetfulness of much. His dress-clothes, for
instance, and things to be classed with them! Then it hid the railway
bridge--strange sight in such environment--which spanned the river a
few yards below the little spit of rock, ending the steps, on which the
more modern temple sacred to Kâli, Shiva's consort, had been built. But
something more modern still found foothold on that same spit of rock,
though farther out, hidden below the levels of the river. This was the
first pier of the railway bridge, from which the two drawbridges--one
towards the town, the other towards the river--were worked; thus
securing the passage against attack from either side. The pier itself
rose sheer from the water, a solid block of masonry, and was prolonged
into a tower, gated at each end.

Chris, picturing it in his mind's eye, thought how quaint a neighbour
it was even to Kâli's temple, though her cult could not claim the
mystery, the significance, of the other. Hers was the cult of
ignorance, of terror; and his----

He was a Smarrta Brahmin by birth, and as he sate there in the
darkness, thinking of that upright stone--severe, rigid in its
mysticism--and then of the many-armed, bloodstained idol in the temple
beyond, a proud exultation in his own priesthood to the older cult
surged up in him.

He had almost forgotten his birthright, forgotten that he had been
called by God to a place of honour--to the place of teacher; that his
was the right to explain the mystery to the people, to show them the
way of salvation.

But he remembered it now, and all insensibly a balm came to his pain
from the knowledge of what lay about him, unseen, yet familiar. He
sate, listening to the lap of the river on the foot-worn steps,
picturing to himself its fringe of dead flower-petals from the dead
day's worship: and even the stir in the vague shadow of the _pipal_
trees, telling of the sacred monkeys who with the dawn would descend to
claim their share of offerings with the gods, seemed to still his own
restlessness.

And as he listened, feeling, more than thinking, the asceticism of many
a holy ancestor who had left the world behind to follow his ideal of
good, rose up in suggestion that he should do so also.

Why not? Why not claim his inherited right of sainthood in order to
preach his doctrine? Was not that, after all, the only thing worth
doing in this life? Was not this the only reality? Was not all else
'_Maya_' or deception?

Such glimpses of the real beyond the unreal come to most of us at
times, making us feel the spin of the round world we have deemed so
steady beneath our feet, making us feel the fixity of the stars above
us, the mysterious denial of sunset, the illimitable promise of dawn.

And when they come, peace comes with them.

It came to Krishn Davenund, making him forget the red Hammersmith
omnibus and all things pertaining thereto, as he sat feeling the
familiar touch of the darkness, until in the east, beyond the river,
the grey glimmer of coming light in the sky showed him the curved
shadow of the world's horizon, and after a time the grey glimmer of the
curved river came to show him the straight shadow of the temple.

Then, in the vague light, he stood up, with a vague light in his mind
also. As he did so, something fell from his arm. It was his wife's
shawl, which he had been carrying unconsciously all the time. As he
picked it up, the coincidence of its faint pinkish colour banished the
regret which came to him at having forgotten to give it her ere
leaving. For this was _yogi_ colour, so called because it is worn by
all ascetics.

His English wife had admired the delicate salmon-pink, and he had
therefore had her white Rampore shawl dyed that tint. Strange indeed! A
thousand times strange, that this should be close to his hand now!

The cue thus given was followed, and with a passion which stifled
his sense of bathos, he was the next instant throwing off his
dress-clothes. So, with the thin, fine shawl about his nakedness, he
passed down the steps towards the river, towards the sacrament of his
race and caste.

The chill touch of the water sent his hot blood to heart and brain. He
could scarcely keep his voice to the orthodox whisper, as he began the
secret ritual which he had not repeated for years--


      '_Om! Earth! Air! Heaven! Om!_
       Let us worship the supreme splendour of the Sun.
       May his light lighten our darkness.'


The words blent with the silvery tinkle of the water falling back from
his upraised hands, and at the familiar sound a stir came from the
branches of the _pipal_ trees behind him; and from the shadowy water
below them a couple of shelldrakes sailed out, with their echoing cry,
to the lighter level before him.

The sound of that first libation to the gods had awakened the temple
world.

As yet, however, he and nature had worship to themselves.

Therefore, waist deep in the water, he stood free to dream once more
that he was twice born, regenerate, raised high above the herd.

Yet free also to return to the new ways if he chose, since there was
none to see, as yet----

But ere he had finished the ritual, an old man, still half asleep, came
yawning down the steps, carrying a tray of little platters filled with
coloured powders. Having reached the water's very edge, he set these in
a row, and kept an eye on Chris; for he was the _pujâri_ of the temple,
with the right, for a small fee, to re-mark the bathers with their
proper caste marks.

'What race, my son?' he asked drowsily, as Chris came up out of the
river.

The question sent a vast pride through the young man. With bare limbs
scarce hidden by the dripping shawl, he stood hesitating for a brief
second, and then squatted down beside the familiar earthen platters.

'Brahmin. _Shiv-bakht_,'[11] he said.

The old man _salaamed_ ere reaching for the sacred white gypsum, which
is brought from the snows of Amar-nath; and once more that pride of
race swept through the soul whose body awaited its sign of election.

But the swift cold touch on his forehead which followed woke Chris to
realities, to the question 'Do I mean it?' And the whispering kiss of
other bare feet upon the steps warned him that, if he wished time for
deliberation, he must remove his tell-tale garments of civilisation
before the light made them manifest. If these were hidden away, he
himself, in his _yogi_ coloured shawl, could easily pass muster;
especially if he retreated to the least-frequented part of the steps,
where they ended in a ruined wall, split by the _pipal_ tree-roots.

Here, then, he found some convenient crevices for his clothes, and
after spreading his shawl to dry in orthodox fashion, sat down beside
it in the recognised attitude of meditation, his arms crossed on his
knees, his chin resting on them. He was not likely to be recognised,
even by broad daylight; for the companions of his later years were not
of those who worship.

He would have leisure therefore to think, to decide. But once more he
reckoned without himself, without the swift response of his senses to
the once familiar sights and sounds. The causeless laughter of women
filling their water-pots, the tinkle of their anklets, the cries of the
flower-sellers, the ceaseless splash of water falling on water, the
very leapings and chatterings of the monkeys, putting off time in play
till the bathings should end in offerings--all these made connected
thought impossible, while eyes and ears were open.

In despair at last, he flung the half-dried shawl over his head,
stuffed his fingers into his ears, and, leaning back against a
tree-trunk, tried to forget where he was; tried not to feel those white
bars on his forehead which seemed to burn into his brain. But, in the
effort to answer that question, 'Shall I go or stay?'--the effort to
remember and yet to forget, he fell into dreamland; finally into sleep.
And as he slept, Fate took the answer into her own hands, and turned
his tragedy into comedy; for a small and curious monkey who had watched
the secretion of those dress-clothes from afar, took advantage of his
slumbers to creep down stealthily to a crevice, and make off with its
contents--namely, a pair of trousers!

The monkey, however, being small, was soon dispossessed of his prize; a
bigger one claimed it, and sent the first owner to whimper and gibber
indignation from the topmost branches, and then grin fiendishly as a
yet bigger one despoiled _his_ despoiler. And so, unerringly, the
garment of culture passed to the stronger, till the biggest old male of
the lot, after inspecting every seam and trying to crack every button,
conceived that it _must_ be some kind of adornment, and, after hanging
the legs, stolewise, in front, the seat, cloakwise, behind, crossed its
arms over its stomach, feeling satisfied it had solved that problem.

Meanwhile, Chris had awakened to the impossibility of remaining where
he was; for even his brief return to the normal in sleep had been
sufficient to convince him of the hopelessness of attempting to return
to that older standpoint. So, the day having advanced with the giant
strides of an Indian dawn, he rose to retrieve his clothes, and sneak
off with them to some quiet spot.

As he did so, however, the sight of some one standing just above him
made him squat down again and cover himself once more with the shawl.
For it was his new foreman of works, John Ellison, who from the top of
the steps was looking down affably, nodding to the old _pujâri_ (who
had by this time a circle of customers awaiting hall-mark), and humming
the baptismal hymn which begins, 'In token that thou shalt not fear,'
between the salutations of '_Ram-ram_' (pronounced with a short _a_)
which he showered on the bathers as they passed and repassed.

''Tis Jân-Ali-shân,' said one in answer to a question from a stranger.
'He feeds the monkeys.'

'And when Sri Hunumân's monkeys are fed by him, the feasting of Sri
Yama's[12] crocodiles is not far off,' put in a listener, emphasising
his allusion to the God of Death by a placid look towards a
tinsel-bound corpse swung to a bamboo, which two men were carrying
slantways across the steps to the burning place below the railway
bridge.

More than one amongst the bathers, overhearing the remark, nodded
assent, and looked with a vague fear at the loafer who had seated
himself a few steps down, and taken off his battered billy-cock; for
being Sunday he was off duty and uniform.

'_Ram-ram_,' he said, with a general wave of the hand. So it's the old
game still. Sunlight soap, monkey brand, and A1 copper-bottomed at
Lloyd's doing a fire insurance! Lordy Lord! I might 'ave bin 'ere last
Sunday, instead o' last year. An' 'ows Mr. 'Oneyman?'

The last word, intended for Hunumân, evidently conveyed a meaning to
the whole remark, for many faces grinned, and the old _pujâri_ salaamed
with all the difficult gravity of a child who knows some time-worn jest
is nigh.

'Sri Hunumân hath been well, since the _Huzoor_ fed him on quinine
pills hid in Shiv-_jee's_ raisins last year. Ho! ho! ho! that was a
spectacle!'

A priest with a trident on his forehead chuckled too. 'Yea! he is
strong. He stole the sugar yesterday from Mai Kâli's very lap. Lo! even
the monkeys know that offerings should be left at Shiv-jee's feet!'

He spoke at a group of villagers who, in tow of a rival priest, were
taking their offerings to the further temple.

John Ellison laughed.


               '"'Ow 'appy could I be with either,"'


he chanted. 'Wot! Ain't Shiver and Kâli settled that "_biz_" yet?
W'y don't they get a divorce for bigamy both sides? Not as I care a
d--n,'--he went on in his vile lingo in which all was English save the
nouns and verbs, the latter having but one tense--the imperative.
'Siree 'Oneyman's my fancy. He as 'its 'im 'its me, Jân-Ali-shân. An'
let me tell you that ain't no '_arnsiki bat_.[13] It's _zulm_ an'
_ficker_ an' _burra hurra affut_!'

These astounding equivalents for tyranny, trouble, and great
misfortune, he used with intent; for he liked to trade on his
reputation as a bird of ill-omen. 'Meanwhile,' he continued, chucking a
_pice_ to the _pujâri_ with that extreme affability which made even the
most alarmed exclude him, personally, from any share in the coming
evil, 'seeing as I was branded A1 as a babby I won't trouble you agin,
sonny; but there's your fee all the same. So now for Siree 'Oneyman!'

He drew out a paper of sugar drops as he spoke, and, scattering some on
the steps, began to sing


                    'Click, click!
                     Like a monkey on a stick.'


The effect was magical. Every leaf of the _pipals_ rustled as the
monkeys, recognising his call, swung themselves downward from branch to
branch.

The bathers paused, full of smiles for this common interest shown by
one of the aliens who are so often far beyond their simplicity.

Even Chris could not help a smile, despite the anxiety he was in, as he
watched the monkeys close in on the sugar drops, quarrelling, pouching,
reaching round with all four paws: with the exception of one monkey, a
very large male, which, coming lamentably last, only used three; the
fourth, meanwhile, clutching convulsively at its stomach.

'W'y, 'Oneyman?' came John Ellison's mellow voice, full of sympathy,
'w'ot 's up, sonny? Got the cramps?--ate somethin' yer don't
like?'--he paused, stared--'W'y! w'otever----' he paused again, and out
of the fulness of his bewilderment wandered off helplessly into--


                    'She wore a wreath of roses.'


But poor Chris, far off as he was, had grasped the truth and turned hot
and cold, long before Jân-Ali-shân said in an awed whisper--

'Wherever in the nation _did_ 'ole 'Oneyman raise them dress bags?' He
turned to the bystanders appealingly as he spoke, but their faces, as
they gathered round in a circle, echoed his own surprise.

'Well, I am dashed!' he said softly; 'this beats cockfightin'.'

It did, for Sri Hunumân having by this time grasped the fact that
dignity was incompatible with dinner, had thrown the former aside, and
having rolled the trousers hastily into a ball, had sat down on it, as
on a cushion, while he reached round for sugar drops with both paws.
Whereupon the original thief, thinking he saw an opportunity, made a
snatch at the braces, which still streamed over the steps. To no
purpose, however, since 'Oneyman only clapped both paws behind, and,
the cushion still _in situ_, hopped to another place.

A roar of amusement echoed out over the steps, and half-a-dozen
youngsters, fired with ambition, tried the same game; also without
success. Sri Honeyman eluded every clutch, even the despairing one
which Chris, muffled to the eyes in his ascetic's shawl, laid on those
streaming braces. They came off in his hands to the crowd's huge
delight.

"_Ari_, brother, thou hast the tail anyhow!" said some in
congratulation, but poor Chris cursed inwardly. What were braces
without the trousers to wear with them?

John Ellison, meanwhile, half choked with laughter, and drunk with
mirth, was rolling about, kicking legs and arms, and shouting, "Go it,
'Oneyman! Go it, sonny!" until from some of the disappointed came the
murmur that Jân-Ali-shân had better try and get the trousers himself,
though all Mai Kâli's priests with sticks and staves had not been equal
to making the old monkey give up the sugar! On this he rose
breathlessly and looked round.

"You bet," he said, "it's Rule Britannier, that's w'ot it is."
Whereupon he took another paper bag of sugar drops from his pocket and
walked up to the culprit.

"_Shab-bash!_ 'Oneyman," he said, with his usual affability, "you done
that uncommon well. If ever you're in want of the shiny, they'd give
you a fiver for that interlood at a music 'all. But time's up, sonny.
Your turn's over. So just you change bags like a good boy or "--The
rest of the sentence was a melodious whistling of


                "Britons never, never will be slaves,"


a dexterous emptying of the bribe, and an equally dexterous clutch at
the trousers, accompanied by a forcible kick behind. The three combined
were instantly successful, and there was Jân-Ali-shân carefully dusting
his new possession. Then he held them up, and said suavely--

"Fair exchange ain't no robbery; but if any gent owns these pants, let
'im utter"--which remark he translated in hideous Hindustani into "_Koi
admi upna breeches hai, bolo!_"

For one short second Chris felt inclined to brave the situation. Then,
as usual, he hesitated; so the moment of salvation passed. John Ellison
rolled up his prize, put them under his arm, and with a general
"_Ram-ram_" to the bystanders, and an affectionate wave of the hand to
old 'Oneyman, walked off cheerily whistling,


              "This is no my plaid, my plaid, my plaid."


Chris looked after him helplessly, then went back to his tree
hopelessly. He could not return home, by broad daylight, in any
possible permutation or combination of a swallow-tailed coat and a
devotee's _dhoti_. The only thing to be done was to wait for kindly
concealing night.

Being Sunday, he would not be missed till noon, for his wife was a late
riser. Even then she would not be alarmed; indeed, he had often stayed
out all day without her taking the trouble to ask where he had been.
That thought decided him to stay where and as he was. Besides, despite
the shameful absurdity of the cause, the result was in a way, pleasant.
It was something to be _sent_ back without responsibility to the old
life even for a few hours, and a spirit of adventure woke in him as he
remembered the things possible to one of his caste. Any one, for
instance, would feed a Brahmin; and so, after secreting the remainder
of his clothes beyond the reach of monkeys under a heap of the ruined
wall, until he found an opportunity of removing them altogether, he set
off boldly to beg breakfast in the city. The sun, now high in the
heavens, smote on his bare limbs--so long unaccustomed to the warm
stimulating caress--with all the intoxication of a new physical
pleasure. But there was another touch, still more stimulating, which
came to him first in a narrow side street close to the city gate; a
street all sun and shade in bars, with women's chatter, women's
laughter echoing from within the courtyard doors. Doors all closed save
this, the first, which had opened at his cry for alms, to let a woman's
hand slip through. That reverent touch on his palm, so soft, so kind;
that glimpse of a full petticoat, a jewel-covered throat, made his
brain reel with recollection, his heart leap with the possibilities it
suggested. How many years was it since he had seen a Brahmin woman
worshipping her husband? That had been his mother, and he might have
had such a wife as she had been to his father, if he had chosen;
almost, if he chose.

The suggestion repelled yet attracted him, and, after a time,
half in curiosity, half in affection, he turned his steps to the
well-remembered alley where his mother still lived. He had been to see
her, of course, when he first returned to India, but inevitably as an
alien; and after his refusal to do penance, he had not gone at all. She
had, in fact, refused to receive him. So his heart beat as he stood
muffled in his devotee's drapery before the door, through which he had
so often passed to worship clinging to her skirts, and gave his
beggar's cry--

'_Alakh!_ for Shiv's sake.'

There was no need to repeat it; for this was a pious house. The low
door opened wide, and a young girl held out an alms with the mechanical
precision of practice.

'For Shiv's sake,' she echoed monotonously, 'and for the sake of a son
who has wandered from the true fold.'

Her voice held no trace of feeling, but Chris fell back with a stifled
cry. For he knew what the words meant; knew that he was the wanderer.

So, for a second, the girl stood surprised, hesitating. She was
extraordinarily beautiful. A slender slip of a girl about fourteen,
with a long round throat poising the delicate oval of her face, and
black lashes sweeping to meet the bar of her brows above her soft
velvety eyes. There was a likeness still to the little orphan cousin
who had come to make one more mouth to feed in the patriarchal
household when he was a big boy just keen for college: the girl-child
over whom his mother had smiled mysteriously, and talked of the years
to come when the head of the house would have had his fill of education
for his boy, and permit marriage. Yes, this was she, his cousin, little
Naraini.

'There is naught amiss, my lord,' she said suddenly, drawing back in
her turn with an offended air. 'I too am Brahmin, my hand is pure.'

So, indignantly, she dropped her alms of parched wheat into the gutter,
and slammed the door.

Chris, down on his knees, his blood on fire, picked every grain up, and
then, his head in a greater whirl than ever, made his way back to the
river steps, to his hidden clothes, to the last hold he had on Western
life and thought.

The steps were almost deserted in the noontide; therefore, wearied out
with his vigil of the night and the excitement of the day, he lay down
deliberately to sleep, feeling even this--this possibility of going to
bed without one--to be a relief after all the paraphernalia of pillows,
mattresses, blankets, and sheets.

When he woke, the sun had begun to sink, and the stream of worship was
setting templewards again. But the crowd was a different one; more
temporal, less spiritual. More eager for gossip, less concerned with
salvation; and Chris, who had gained confidence in his disguise by this
time, left the shadow of the trees in order to listen to the talk. Even
to such as he, it was an opportunity of gauging the mind of the
multitude, which did not often present itself; and, being refreshed by
his long sleep, he saw clearly that he, personally, might find this a
useful experience.

The wildness of the rumours current, however, the absurdity of the
beliefs he heard put forward, were beyond his patience, and more than
once he drew down an unwelcome interest in himself by his flat denials.

His disguise, however--if it could be called a disguise seeing that he
was, indeed, what he professed to be--held out, and so, by degrees, he
grew bolder; telling himself that the day would not be lost if he could
begin to practise what he had preached in Shark Lane, and raise his
voice for the truth's sake.

It was not, however, till the first twinkling lights of the evening
service showed in the temples, and the red and green signals on the
railway bridge answered the challenge, that he found himself in the
position he had advocated; that is one in opposition to many.

He did not shrink from the situation when it came; he had too much grit
for that.

"It is a lie," he reasserted, and turning to the larger crowd beyond
the listening few, raised his voice.

"Listen, friends, and I will tell you why it is not true that this
golden paper fell from Heaven into Kâli's temple. Why, her priests lie
when they say it did. Listen, for I am Brahmin. I know the gods and
their ways, and I know the _Huzoors_ and their ways also."

"Who is the lad? he speaks well," passed in murmurs among the crowd
which closed in to see and hear better. Chris pulled himself together
as he stood, his figure showing clear against the light that lingered
on the river.

"Who am I?" he echoed. "Listen, and I will tell you; I am twice born,
regenerate--a Brahmin of the Brahmins."

There was sudden stir in the crowd, a murmur, 'Let her pass--she
knows.' And then in that clear space where he stood, a woman stood
also; a Hindoo widow, with bare arm uplifted from her white shroud.

'Lie not, Krishn Davenund!' she said. 'Thou art outcast, accursed! I,
thy mother, say it.' The face, clear cut, pale with continued fasting,
showed no pain, no regret, only stern reproof. 'Thou art not twice-born
now. Oh! son of my desolation,' she went on, her voice shrilling as she
spoke, 'thou art twice-dead. Go back to thy new ways, to thy new wife!'

A sudden stretch of her hand towards the scarlet-clad young girl,
shrinking by her side, told its tale of something more bitter than
bigotry; of a mother's jealousy.

Chris, who had fallen back from that unexpected betrayal, gave a hasty
glance round, and what he saw in the faces of the crowd made him
realise his position.

'Hush, mother!' he began; but it was too late.

Her story was well known among the priests. They were in arms at once,
and, ere a minute passed, Chris found himself at bay, ankle deep in the
water into which he had been driven, his back against the sacred temple
of Viseshwar: so adding to his crime by its defilement.

'Listen!' he called.

But the crowd were already past that, and the cries 'He is a spy!' 'He
hath defiled us!' 'Whom hath he not touched?' 'He hath been here all
day!' 'He is sent to make us Christians!' rose on all sides.

Chris, his back to the temple, set his teeth. Beyond the crowd, that
was kept at a yard's distance yet by something in his face, he could
see two women, scarlet and white robed, sobbing in each other's arms,
and the sight made him savage for their pain.

'How can I defile you?' he cried; 'I am Brahmin. Yonder is my mother.
My father all know. Who dares to take my birthright from me?'

'Who? thyself!' came viciously from the foremost row of priests. 'Where
is thy sacred thread, apostate?'

Chris flinched for the first time. It was true. In a fit of anger when
his own received him not, he had removed the badge of the twice-born
with his own hands. So he had nothing to which he could appeal. Nothing
old or new!

'Listen!' he began again helplessly, and the crowd feeling the
helplessness surged closer.

'Kill him!' said one voice, dominating the others by the very
simplicity of its advice. 'He is nothing. He is not of us, nor of the
_Huzoors_. Who wants him?'

Another instant and the advice might have been followed had not some
one claimed poor Chris--had not a voice from behind said softly--

'Well! I'm dashed if it ain't the guv'nor! Now then! you niggers!'

The next instant, with a plentiful if quite good-natured use of heels
and elbows, Chris Davenant's foreman of works was through the crowd
into the water, and so, facing round on those threatening faces, was
backing towards Chris, and making furious feints with his fists the
while.

'_Ram-ram_, gents,' he said affably. 'Now, w'ot you've got to do is to
tell me w'ot all this is about. W'ot are you doin' to my guv'nor? Don't
you speak, sir!' he added in a hasty whisper. 'I don't really want to
know nothing. You and me's got to get out o' this galley, thet's all.
An' if we don't,' he continued philosophically, 'you'll 'ave to explain
up top, and I kin listen then. Them kind o' words ain't no use down
'ere. Lem'me speak mine!'

With that he ceased sparring, walked two paces forwards in the water,
put his hands in his trousers-pockets, and began on his lingo coolly--

'_Dekko_ (look here), you want this _âdmi_ (man) _abhi_ (now), but you
ain't goin' to get 'im. _Tumhâra nahin_ (not yours). He's mine, _mera
âdmi_ (my man), _sumjha_? (do you understand?) If you want _lurro_
(fight), come on. You shall 'ave a bellyful, an' there'll be a plenty
on you to _phânsi_ (hang). But w'ot I say is, don't be _pârgul soors_
(foolish pigs). I don't do your bally 'ole temples any 'arm. It's
"_durm shaster ram-ram_[14] an' _hurry gunga_," so far's I care. But
this man's my guv'nor. You don't touch 'im. _Kubhi nahin_ (never). I'm
a _nek âdmi, burra usseel_ (virtuous man, very gentle) w'en I'm took
the right way; contrariwise I'm _zulm_ an' _ficker_ an' _burra burra
affut_. Now you ask ole 'Oneyman if I ain't. 'E knows both sides o'
Jân-Ali-shân, and 'e'll give 'is opinion, like the genl'eman 'e is.'

He paused, for an idea, a chance had suggested itself. Then at the top
of his voice, with a devil-may-care lilt in it, he began--


                    'Click, click?
                     Like a monkey on a stick.'


The answer followed in a second. With rustlings and boundings the
monkeys came to the rescue of the familiar voice; for the crowd behind,
weary of being unable to see what was passing in front, turned
instinctively to the new interest, and so, losing cohesion, the
multitude lost unity of purpose also for the moment.

'Now's your time, sir,' shouted John Ellison; 'keep close to me!' Then
with a wild yell of


                    'Clear the decks, comrades,'


he rushed head down at the fat stomach of the chief priest, bowled him
over, and treating the rest as he would have treated a crush at
football, found himself, with Chris at his heels, on the top of the
steps almost before the crowd had realised what was happening.

'Pull up, sir,' he said, pausing breathlessly; 'never run a hinch more
nor you can 'elp with niggers. An' they'll be all right now we're off
them steps. I know 'em! As peaceable a lot as ever lived, if you don't
touch their wimmin or their gods.'

And with that he turned to the peaceable lot with his usual urbanity.

'_Ram-ram_, gents. I done you no 'arm, and you done me no 'arm. That's
as it should be. So good afternoon. _Salaam alackoom!_--Now then, sir,
you come along to my diggin's an' get your pants.'

But as they hurried off to the Strangers' Home, he shook his head
gravely.

'If it hadn't bin for my bein' in a surplus chore seven year, and so
knowin'


                           "Lord a' mercy"


to the Ten Commandments, and my dooty to my neighbour, you'd never a
wore breeches agin, sir, for I wouldn't never ave come back to them
steps with a prick in my conshinse, sir, for fear as there was more in
them dress pants than meets the eye, as the sayin' is; though why the
nation, savin' your presence, sir, you come to took 'em off, beats me!'

Chris told him. Told him the whole story, as he might not, perhaps,
have told a better man, and John Ellison listened decorously,
respectfully. It was not till Chris, attired in the fateful garments,
with his subordinate's white uniform coat superadded and the devotee's
shawl twined as a turban (since it had not been deemed feasible to
recover the rest of the dress-suit that night), was ready to return to
civilisation, that John Ellison ventured on a parting remark.

'It's the onsartainty, sir, that does the mischief. Beer's beer, an'
whisky's whisky. It's when you come to mixin' 'em that you dun'no where
you are. It taste beastly to begin with, and then it don't make a chap,
so to speak, punctooal drunk. So it throws 'im out o' reckonin', and
makes 'im onsartin--an' that don't work in


                      "Hinjia's coral strand."'



                              CHAPTER IX

                            UNCERTAINTIES


There were many people in many parts of Nushapore that Sunday evening
who were echoing Jân-Ali-shân's estimate of the danger and discomforts
of uncertainty.

For, far and near, from Government House, where Grace Arbuthnot
sate at the head of a glittering dinner-table round which half the
empire-making bureaucracy of the province was gathered, to the veriest
hovel on the outcast outskirts of the city, where two women--the lowest
of the low--were grinding at the mill for their daily bread such
sweepings of the corn-dealers' shops as they had been able to gather
during the day, the feeling that none knew what the coming dawn might
bring to hovel and house, home and country, and people, lay heavily,
almost suffocatingly.

It is a feeling which comes to India, none can tell how, or why. It is
in the air like plague and pestilence. There is no remedy for it, and
the fact that we aliens have learnt to recognise its existence is often
the only difference between the vague unrest which dies away, as it
came, irrationally, and that which brought us the mutiny, and which
may, conceivably, bring us one again.

There is only one thing certain about this feeling. Whatever passion,
or injustice, or ignorance, causes the first quickened heart-beat, it
is not long before, however obscurely, the great problem of sex becomes
involved in the quarrel between East and West. For there lies the crux
of toleration, of loyalty.

So, with plague and its inevitable interference with domestic life
looming before them, the hard-worked officials who for six days of the
week had borne the heaviest burden men can bear--absolute executive
responsibility, when the executive authority is limited--knew perfectly
well, as they deliberately tried to forget that burden round the
dinner-table at Government House, that very little would suffice to
upset that unstable equilibrium of law and order, which--taken in
conjunction with the peaceful, law-abiding temperament of the
people--is so remarkable in India.

And there was so much that might conceivably upset it. To begin with,
the tape machine under lock and key in the private secretary's office
next the dining-room! At any moment, in the middle of a jest, or a
_pâté de foie gras_, its electric bell might begin to ring, and the
verdict of British ignorance, embodied in a message from a Secretary of
State, print itself out in obliteration of the verdict of practical
experience. For telegrams had been coming fast and frequent of late;
would inevitably come faster and more frequent every year, every month,
every day, as the lessening length of time between India and England
made the pulsebeats of either audible to the other.

Then, every one round the table knew that those days, those hours were,
also inevitably, bringing nearer and nearer that quarrel as to whether
cleanliness comes next to godliness, or godliness to cleanliness, which
has yet to be settled between East and West. Between a race which
prides itself on asserting the former in its proverb, yet in its
practice insists on sanitation and leaves salvation to take its chance;
and a race which, while asserting that salvation is impossible without
physical purity, practically ignores cleanliness. A quarrel which is
surely the quaintest dissociation of theory and practice which the
world can show! All the quainter in that the Western proverb is a
quotation from the sacred wisdom of the East.

The question therefore, 'When will the plague come?' with its
corollary, 'If it comes, what shall we do?' underlay the laughter of
two-thirds of the guests. For they were men. The remaining third, being
women, were as yet unconcerned; the danger had not yet come within
their horizon of personal good or evil. All except Grace Arbuthnot; and
that it had come into hers was due simply to an enlargement of that
personal horizon; not from any general sense of duty.

Yet, in a way, the men also limited their wonder to their own line of
work. The city magistrate with reference to the back slums of
Nushapore, peopled by the idlest, most dissolute, most depraved
population in India. The Inspector-General of Hospitals thought
of his native doctors, his dispensaries. The police-officer of his
bad-character list, his licences to carry arms. The General-in-command
of the station, again, thought of his garrison, of the four hundred
sick in hospital out of eighteen hundred men, who might be wanted ere
long. His were not pleasant thoughts, and they were urgent. Only
that morning he had driven down from cantonments to catch the
Lieutenant-Governor before he went to church and discuss the doctor's
fiat that nothing short of a complete change, a complete severance from
the bazaars which, crowding round the barracks, placed the troops, as
it were, in the midst of a native town, was likely to do any good. So
they had discussed the question during service hours, while others were
saying 'Good Lord, deliver us' from a variety of evils; with the result
that Sir George had promised to go down to cantonments the very next
day, and see for himself what the state of affairs was.

Yet, despite the fact that all the repressed anxiety present centred
round the one word 'plague,' the first hint of the subject mooted
gravely, brought instant protest from a high-pitched Irish brogue.

'Oh, plague take it altogether! for it is becoming a bore of the
fullest dimensions! But I hearrd a fine story about it an' old
Martineau yesterday. There has been a suspected case in one of his
districts. An old Mohammedan woman, travelling alone in a country
gig, died; and the deputy-collector--a Hindoo hungering for
promotion--thought he 'ud curry favour with the powers by bein' prompt.
So he burrnt the cart an' the clothes an' the corpse. They didn't mind
the corpse--bein' a woman--though it's perdition, me dear Mrs.
Carruthers, for a Mohammedan to be burrnt; but the clothes were another
story, and the relatives kicked up a bit of a fuss. So Martineau had to
hold an inquiry. "Did you burrn the corpse?" he roared--ye know his
sucking-dove of a voice. "Sir," says the deputy half blue-funk,
half-elation at his own action, "I did; the rules provide----" "I
didn't ask for the rules, sir," roars Martineau; "did you burrn the
clothes?" "_Huzoor!_" bleats the _baboo_, forgetting his English, "it
is laid down." "I didn't ask what's laid down," comes the roar; "did
you burrn the cart?" "_Ghereeb-na-wâz_" blubbers the deputy, "I
thought----" "Confound you, sir! I didn't ask what you thought; did you
burrn the driver?" "No! no!" shrieked the wretched creature, fallin' on
his knees. "It is a lie! It is malice! It is an invention of my
enemies. I didn't." "Then, sir," thunders Martineau, "you're a d--d
fool, sir, not to have stopped his mouth."'

There was a light-hearted laugh round the table which, for the time
being, focussed all the qualities which go to make empire; not the
least of which is the faculty for such laughter. Laughter which comes
to the West, sometimes, to be celebrated in song and story, like that
of the ball before Waterloo, or of the French _noblesse_ in the
_conciergerie_, but which is ever present in India, giving to its
Anglo-Indian society an almost wistful frivolity, studious in its gay
refusal to take anything _aux grands sérieux_ till the stern necessity
of doing so stares it in the face.

And, with the laugh, the grave, white-coated, dark-faced servants
passed round the table also, ignoring the mirth, ignoring all things
save French dishes and iced champagne.

'Lucky it was a woman, wasn't it!' said a voice. 'If it had been a man,
there would have been real trouble.'

'How rude! Isn't it at least as bad for a woman to be burnt,'
challenged a very pretty one, 'as a man?'

'For the woman, no doubt,' replied the brogue drily; 'but in this case
the men don't care. Ye see, the Mohammedan paradise is already peopled
with _houris_ like yourself, me dear Mrs. Carruthers; so the presence
of the sex isn't important enough to fuss about.'

'Of course not!' retorted the little lady gaily, 'because you men know
we can always make a Paradise for ourselves.'

'Make; an' mar, me dear madam!'

'Oh! I give you Eve! The woman who is fool enough to think she can keep
her husband in one if she gives him a cold lunch of apples, deserves to
lose everything.'

'Except her looks! The world can't spare the pretty women!'

So far the lightness of both voices had been charming; but a new one
coming from the other side of the table had the heavy acidity in it of
wine that should sparkle and does not; for the owner being Mrs.
Carruthers's recognised rival, sinned against the first principles of
_badinage_ by importing spite into it.

'Surely that's been said before. Every one knows cooks are the devil;
mine is, anyhow!'

'The devil!' echoed little Mrs. Carruthers, eyeing her adversary--whose
bad dinners were a byword--with a charming surprise; 'I wonder at
_your_ saying so. Why, the devil tempts you, and you do eat; and--and
_some_ cooks disgust you, and you don't!'

Her antagonist s protest that the quotation applied to Eve, was lost in
the laugh, during which Jack Raymond--who had found it impossible to
evade Sir George Arbuthnot's conscientious gratitude for Jerry's rescue
as embodied in an invitation to dinner-said to his neighbour--

'You think, Miss Drummond, that we Anglo-Indians talk a lot of
rubbish.'

He, himself, had given her small opportunity of judging, for he had
been very silent all through the meal; in fact, a trifle sulky. Why, he
could not decide, and it had annoyed him that he should be conscious at
once of resentment and relief at the etiquette of precedence which sent
the secretary to the club so far from the beautiful face at the head of
the table. And Lesley, for her part, after the manner of modern girls,
had accepted his silence calmly, not troubling herself to amuse one who
did not trouble to amuse her; so she had eaten her dinner peacefully,
without any reference to her neighbour.

He, however, had been unable to attain this philosophic standard. This
indifference of the independent girl of the world, who, conscious of an
assured position even as an unmarried woman, treats man as an
unnecessary, if, on the whole a not unpleasant adjunct to a life that
is complete without him, was quite new to Jack Raymond, who had not
been home for fourteen years. He admired it frankly; felt that it
suited her, suited the refined curve of the long throat, the faint
droop at the corners of the mouth, the smooth coils of hair. The chill
dignity of it all, he realised--for he was a quick judge in such
matters--did not mean anything personal. It was not _he_ with whom, as
he phrased it, she desired to have no truck, but with the whole
creation of such as he; or such, rather, as she chose to consider him.
For it was evident that, despite her almost magisterial calm, she still
used the woman's privilege of making her own heroes and villains. In
reality, she could know nothing about him! Should he tell her
something? The question had occurred to him, and had found answer in
his remark.

She answered the challenge with a half-bored smile.

'I suppose you like it; but it does seem odd to an outsider in what is
virtually a picked society. And then there is so much to talk about
seriously in India.'

'We prefer to think about serious things,' he replied coolly. 'I'll
bet you--shall we say your namesake's odds--twenty to one?--that
the men round this table do better work for not wasting time in--in
_talkee-talkee_.'

'I don't bet,' she said, too disdainful for wider notice of his words.

'So I am aware,' he answered quietly, 'and that reminds me! The five
thousand rupees I won off Bonnie Lesley still awaits your
instructions.'

'Mine!' she echoed in surprise. 'Why?'

'As to what charity is to profit by my sin. There is one for the
regeneration of European reprobates--more commonly called the loafers'
fund, Miss Drummond, which, under the circumstances, might suit.'

She looked icebergs. 'Thanks, Mr. Raymond; but your eloquence succeeded
so absolutely in convincing me I was in no way responsible, that I must
decline to interfere. Please do as you choose with your ill-gotten
gains.'

He smiled. 'Then the money, being in thousand-rupee notes, shall stay
where it is--in my pocket-book. It gives a gambler confidence to know
he has some spare cash about him! Besides,' he added hastily, a sudden
shrinking in her eyes warning him that he had really pained her, 'it
might come in for a good deed.'

'Possibly, not probably,' she began, then explained herself hastily: 'I
mean, of course, it is not likely such an occasion will arise----'

'Don't, Miss Drummond,' he interrupted gravely. 'Keep your bad opinion
of me undiluted; you can't go wrong there. But don't condemn the lot of
us for talking rubbish; there is generally a reason for it.'

'There is generally a reason for most things, I believe,' she said
coldly.

Her tone nettled him, and as usual when his temper rose, he went
straight to the point.

'Generally,' he admitted; 'but I don't think you allow for these. That
lady opposite, for instance, is talking nonsense, all she knows, in
order to forget that she sang the hymn for those at sea to-day. The
_padre_ had it because his wife and daughter are on their way out, and
a bad cyclone was telegraphed yesterday off Socotra. Her only son is in
the same boat. Then the man next her,' he went on, for Lesley was
listening with faintly startled, faintly distasteful curiosity, 'is
trying to forget that the doctors tell him it is a toss up whether he
can pull through the next hot weather without leave. He can't afford to
take any, with four boys at school and one at the university. Luckily,
if he doesn't pull through, his wife--she has been bossing the show at
home these five years because the rupees wouldn't run two
establishments--will be better off than if he did. Pensions of a
hundred, and a hundred and fifty, mount up, you see, when there's ten
of a family. Then the pretty woman flirting with the general is trying
to forget there is such a thing as a child in the world. She left four
at home because they telegraphed that her husband wasn't safe alone. He
was in an out-station, and took a double-barrelled gun to shoot
locusts. So he said, but his bearer wetted the cartridges, and sent a
camel _sowar_ to headquarters for the doctor! He has still to use a
hair restorer you'll observe--that's the man over there. Look how he's
watching his wife! He has to take her back to the wilderness to-morrow,
and I shouldn't wonder if he wasn't thinking himself a fool not to have
made sure, for her sake, that his powder was dry! Brain fever plays
tricks with a man's reasoning powers, Miss Drummond.'

Lesley's lip curled slightly with the indifferent distaste so many
girls have nowadays, for the least sentimentality, the faintest claim
on emotion.

'Is it _all_ tragedy?' she began critically.

'All!' he interrupted her cheerfully. 'Even Mrs. Carruthers has one.
They fumigated her last Paris frock at the quarantine station, and took
the colour out of it! But that's enough. I don't want to have to find a
reason for the nonsense that is in _me_. Are you going to the Artillery
sports to-morrow?'

She gave no answer, but she sat looking at him with an appreciative
smile. 'You do it very well, though----' she said, then paused. 'I
wonder why you gave up the civil service? Lady Arbuthnot told me you
did, but she didn't say why. I expect you lost your temper, didn't
you?'

It was exactly what he had done, but the only person who had ever told
him so before had been Grace Arbuthnot. And she had made it a personal
matter; her eyes had given and claimed so much when she told him; while
the ones opposite him, now, were absolutely self-absorbed.

'Possibly,' he admitted curtly, nettled by her cool curiosity. 'You can
judge for yourself. There was a row in the native city of which I had
charge. I fired on the mob. Government thought it was unnecessary, and
stopped my promotion. I resigned.

'And the row?' she asked quickly.

'That stopped also, of course. Excuse me, but Lady Arbuthnot has made
the move.'

Lesley stood up, tall, slender, almost conventual in her clinging white
dress, in the reserved yet absolutely self-reliant look on her face.
But she paused, ere leaving him, to say judicially--

'Then that proves that you were right to fire; and if you were in the
right, as you were, when----?'

'Are you not coming, Lesley? You can finish your discussion
afterwards,' came Lady Arbuthnot's voice in a half-playful,
half-impatient appeal, as she stopped beside them to include the girl
in the contingent she was marshalling towards the door. The servants
had gone. From one end to the other of the big room there was no hint
or sign of the east. It might have been a London dinner-party. Grace
herself, in her pale green draperies and flashing diamonds, might have
been the London hostess whose only care was to get rid of her guests
gracefully and so find freedom to be one herself, elsewhere.

'It is my fault,' put in Jack Raymond quickly. 'It is so seldom any one
tells me I do right, that I must be excused for delaying a young lady
who is kind enough to perjure herself to say so.'

'I didn't perjure myself,' said Lesley, with a frown. 'I don't as a
rule. I really think you were right.'

He knew, absolutely, that her praise was--as her blame had been--quite
impersonal, that he was forgotten in her sense of abstract justice and
injustice, but he appropriated the commendation with a bow, because he
felt that to do so was a challenge to both the women before him; to
Grace, of the older type, with her cult of sentiment deliberately
overlaying her intellect, and Lesley, of the newer type, with her
dislike to sentimentality as deliberately overlaying her heart. He
felt, with a certain irritation, that there ought to be some middle
standpoint, as he said--

'Thank you, Miss Drummond!'

Lady Arbuthnot recognised the personal challenge instantly.

'What was the virtue, Lesley?' she asked proudly.

'Only firing on a mob,' he answered for the girl. 'It is lucky, Lady
Arbuthnot, that I have no chance of doing so again, or the consequences
of Miss Drummond's approval might be more disastrous than that of other
people's blame.'

The sense of something uncomprehended, coming to Lesley uncomfortably,
as it always comes, made her forbear to squash the maker of the bow,
and say hastily in half-unconscious effort after the purely
commonplace--

'Then I hope there won't be a chance; but one can never tell, can one?'

She blushed at her own inane words when she heard them, but Grace
Arbuthnot as she moved on, gave a little hard laugh. 'Never, my dear!
So long as there are men and women in the world, it will be as Stephen
Hargraves said, "all a muddle."'

She broke off abruptly to look round; for, through the closed doors of
the secretary's room came the imperative ring of an electric bell,
making more than one keen face follow her example. But at the open door
where the private secretary was holding up the _portière_ on one side,
while Nevill Lloyd as A.D.C. held up the other, the former shrugged his
shoulders.

'Bother that bell!' he said to little Mrs. Carruthers who was passing.
'There's my evening gone! They might spare us Sunday--especially when
_you_ are dining here. I've a great mind to keep them ringing till
you've gone.'

'Don't,' she laughed. 'Supposing it were a mutiny!' She made the
suggestion out of pure wickedness, because her rival, who owned to
never sleeping a wink if the bazaar near her house was noisy and let
off fireworks, was within hearing.

'Surely you don't think'--began the timorous lady.

'Certainly not,' consoled the secretary. 'And if it was, Mrs.
Carruthers, that's no reason for breaking the Sabbath.'

'They don't,' retorted the gay little lady. 'Sunday is over with them
ages ago. They are six hours before----'

'Behind, you mean! The West is absolutely, hopelessly behind.'

Mrs. Carruthers nodded airily. 'How do you know? you never can be
certain, can you? which is before and which is behind in a circle! It
all depends on where _you_ are.'

With which piece of wisdom, the last Paris frock but one trailed off
into the drawing-room, and deposited itself comfortably and becomingly
by the side of a dowdy black one, for the sake of contrast and
monopoly, by-and-by, when the men should return to their allegiance.

They lingered over their wine, however, that evening. So long that
Grace Arbuthnot grew pale over the strain of waiting to know what that
electric bell had meant. She was given to worrying herself quite
needlessly. Lesley under similar conditions would have taken the
situation in more manly fashion, but then she was far more assured of
her position, curiously enough, than Grace Arbuthnot was of hers. For
the simple reason that the latter had won it, in her generation, by her
personal and exceptional capability, while Lesley took hers by right of
the ordinary woman's new claim to be heard as well as seen.

And then Grace Arbuthnot was at another disadvantage. Her sentiment
was a heavier weight to carry than Lesley's lack of it; and Jack
Raymond's words had set her nerves jarring. So, at last, on the
mother's excuse of going to see if Jerry were comfortably asleep, she
left the drawing-room, and on her way upstairs, paused to listen at the
dining-room door. As she stood there in her diamonds, her sea-green
garments, trying to catch anything definite in the muffled voices
within, she felt a sudden vast impatience at her sex; felt, as Lesley
would not have felt, that it was a disadvantage. For the old revolt of
womanhood used to be against nature; now it is against the custom which
shackles nature.

As she passed on up the wide stairs, the strange silence and solitude
of an Indian house in which all service comes from outside, lay about
her; but in Jerry's room the open window let in a sound. The most
restless sound in the world, the rhythmic yet hurried beat of the
little hour-glass drum used by the natives in their amusements.
Rhythmic yet hurried, like the quickened throb of a heart. It came
faintly, indefinitely, from the distance and darkness of the city; but
Grace had been too long in India not to be able to picture for herself
the environment whence it rose. She could see the murk of smoke and
shadow, the light of flicker and flare on the circling faces round the
shrilling voice or posturing figure of a woman. Was it a wedding? Or
was it--the other thing? It might be either; for that intermittent
noise of fireworks, which echoed at intervals like the report of guns,
belonged to both.

This time it was a fear of her own self that came to Grace Arbuthnot as
she listened--a fear of her own sex--a fear of the hundreds of
thousands of hearts beating away in the darkness around her; beating
perhaps in rhythm to that restless sound.

And so little might bring the restlessness to a heart! Her own gave
quick assent as she looked down on the sleeping childish face, seen
dimly by the rushlight set on the floor beside the muffled, sleeping
figure of the child's bearer.

For the sight brought back, in a second, that other sleeping face she
had seen a few days before. Not that the two were outwardly alike; the
likeness lay within. She took a step nearer, and then stood looking
curiously, almost fearfully, at the child she had borne. She was
one of the ninety and nine out of every hundred good women who pass
through wifehood and motherhood thinking it their duty to ignore its
problems--the problems which only good women can solve--and so it gave
her a certain shock to realise that she had passed on that old love of
hers to this child of another man. Yet, when one came to think of it,
what else was heredity--if there was such a thing in the mind--but the
passing on of one's admirations, one's ideals? The passing on from
generation to generation of one's own affinity for good or evil; the
slow evolution of the spirit of a race.

The spirit of a race! She stooped suddenly and kissed the little
sleeping face. And the kiss had in it the thought of another sleeping
face, and an almost fierce pride of possession. But the child's face
frowned, and a little white nightgowned arm curved itself to shield the
cheek from further caresses.

'Don't bov'ver, mum; I'm all 'wight,' came a sleepy protest.

Grace stood straight again, feeling baffled, helpless; for that dislike
to any display of affection had never been to her liking. It had been,
in fact, partly responsible for her refusal to fulfil her engagement
when Jack Raymond had lost his temper and threatened to throw up his
career. She had dared him to do it, and, being high-spirited, he had
done it. And then, with bitter regret, infinite pain, and a vast amount
of conventional virtue, she had withdrawn her promise to marry him
because----?

For the first time in twelve years of steady conviction that she had
done right, the suggestion that the only justification for such refusal
must lie in the inability of one or the other to perform their part of
the contract, and that that, again, must depend on what the contract of
marriage is essentially, came to disturb her. But she turned from it
impatiently, telling herself she was a fool, at three-and-thirty, to
puzzle over past problems, when the present was full of them, and far
more interesting ones.

Yet, as she went downstairs again, that insistent throbbing from the
dark distant heart of the city seemed to go with her, rousing a perfect
passion of reckless unrest in her own.

Was anything certain except present pleasure or pain? Was it worth
while, even, to _be_ certain? Was it not better to let that heart-throb
quicken or slacken as it chose?

She felt her face pale, her eyes bright, as she re-entered the
drawing-room, to see instantly, first of all, that Jack Raymond was
talking to Lesley.

It required quite an effort for her to remember her real anxiety, and
with a certain sense of duty seek out her husband, who was standing
with the commissioner in a quiet corner.

'It was nothing serious, I hope, George,' she said.

He turned to her, perplexed but kindly.

'Serious, my dear? Oh! you mean the telegram. No! nothing really
important, though they seem to think it so over there. They want me to
promulgate some sort of official denial of there being any secret
programme in the event of a plague outbreak. It is weak, of course--in
a way, a mistake; but I don't think it will do actual harm--do you,
Kenyon?'

The commissioner shrugged his shoulders. He was not in the secret; but
had his suspicions. 'No, sir,' he replied; 'not unless there _was_ one,
and the fact were to leak out. It is difficult to prevent this with
native clerks, especially when the idea of it is present, as it
certainly is----'

'But the reality isn't,' put in Sir George decisively, 'in spite of
what that scurrilous fellow says to-day in the _Voice of India_.'

Grace caught in her breath sharply.

'What does it say?' she asked.

'Only that such a paper does exist, and that it can be produced--which
is, of course, absurd----' His glance at his wife for the comprehension
she alone could give made him pause. 'My dear,' he went on concernedly,
'how pale you are! There is really nothing to be anxious about--is
there, Kenyon? For myself, I'm glad of the definite lead over. For one
thing, it makes it feasible for us to do what the doctors have been
urging on the General for some time back--send both regiments out to a
health camp at Morâdki. They seem to have gone to bits altogether.
Sullivan told me to-day he had forty-eight cases of enteric alone,
and that he had never known the men so reckless and hard to
manage--breaking out of hospital every night.'

'I wonder why?' began Lady Arbuthnot, when the commissioner interrupted
her.

'Why, it's simplicity itself! Don't you know the story? Well, this is
it. The first battalion of the --th Regiment here was under home orders
from Burmah, and the men, of course, saved up every penny they could.
At the last moment, however, the second battalion could only produce
three hundred boys who could by any possibility pass muster as
twenty-one, the age-limit for India. So the authorities wired out to
draft every possible man from the first for an extra year's foreign
service with the second battalion--virtually a strange regiment. The
men drew out every halfpenny of their savings the day the order came,
and have been spending it ever since--and teaching the three hundred
boys to spend theirs too. It's the record of a big blunder.'

'Just so,' assented Sir George; 'but these mistakes will occur. It was
unfortunate, however, that they sent the second battalion here; for the
first was nearly decimated by cholera at Nushapore about three years
ago. Sullivan says he thinks it is largely that. They hate the place,
are in a bit of a funk about it; and when that is the case they will do
anything for the sake of a distraction.'

Grace, listening, seemed to hear once more that restless throbbing in
the air. She saw the murk of smoke and shadow, the light of flicker and
flare, the shrilling voice, the posturing figure.

And the encircling faces?

She clasped her mother's hands tight, and thought of her own boy--of
the spirit of the race.



                              CHAPTER X

                          THE SINEWS OF WAR


There was a strong smell of carbolic in Miss Leezie's house, for the
bazaar on which it gave was being cleaned by half a dozen sweepers, a
water-carrier, and the conservancy overseer in a uniform coat with a
brass badge; his part being to dole out the disinfectant and survey the
proceedings from various doorsteps in advance of the slimy black
sludge, which was being propelled by the sweepers' brooms along the
open gutters--those scientifically-sloped, saucer-shaped gutters that
are the pride of every cantonment magistrate's heart.

The cleansing of them was scientific also; partly because the
conservancy _darogha_ knew that the Lieutenant-Governor was due in
cantonments that afternoon; mostly, however, because that particular
bazaar, being a favourite lounge for the dwellers in the barracks round
the corner, the orders regarding its cleanliness were strict.

It was, therefore, as clean as it is possible to keep a road between
two tight-packed rows of mud houses which are guiltless of any sanitary
appliances, unlimited as to inmates, and from which all refuse has to
find its way into the gutter; unless, as sometimes happens, the moving
of it even thus far is considered too much trouble, and it is left to
fester and rot in some dark corner within, until it betrays itself, and
brings raids and fines upon the injured inhabitants.

Even so, there was filth and to spare for the brooms; filth that smelt
horribly beneath its veneer of carbolic. More than once, indeed, the
white-trousered legs belonging to the uniform coat and the badge had,
when the wearer had forgotten sewage in a pull at some shopkeeper's
pipe, to withdraw themselves hastily from the oncoming of a regular
bore of unutterable muck, which came sweeping along like a tidal wave,
overwhelming even scientific saucers.

It happened so at the aerated-water seller's, whose shop was beneath
Miss Leezie's balconied apartments. It was an excellent position for
the trade, and though he only charged _two pice_ a bottle for soda and
lemonade, he found no difficulty in paying a heavy licence for the
privilege of selling Shahjeshanpore rum, potato brandy, and bad whisky,
in addition to the waters.

But then he could make the latter for less than they could at the
regimental factory, where they had to use filters, and satisfy the
inspecting doctor that everything was according to rule and regulation;
just as they had to satisfy him at the regimental dairies that the few
drops of milk given to the soldier in barracks were as pure as care
could make them.

The purity, of course, raised the price of milk to the authorities; but
they did not grudge the expense to themselves in such a good cause.
Besides, if the soldiers wanted more milk--and some of the boys fresh
out from home were still young enough to prefer a tumbler of it to one
of bad spirit and tepid soda--there was always plenty of the cheaper
quality to be bought at the sweetmeat shops.

And of these, as well as of fruit shops and sherbet shops, there were
many in the bazaar where Miss Leezie and her kind lodged in the upper
stories; so that either above or below, the dwellers in the barracks
round the corner could find enough to satisfy the appetite.

Therefore the smell of carbolic was conscientiously mingled with that
of decaying melon rinds, sour milk, drains, and musk; and the outcome
of the atmosphere was left to Providence.

The immediate result was not savoury; especially in the low stuffy
room, as yet shut out from the light and air of the balcony by wadded
_portières_, in which a woman, lounging in one corner, was idly
allowing her fingers to flirt on the parchment of a drum--one of those
small, quaint drums shaped like Time's hour-glass, which produce what
Grace Arbuthnot had told herself was the most restless sound on God's
earth.

It had the same passion of unrest, here in this squalid room, though it
was scarcely loud enough to stir the air heavy with that horrible
compound of smells.

The woman was Miss Leezie herself, as yet negligent in purely native
_déshabillé_; for the afternoon was still young, and she knew that
custom would be late owing to the Artillery Sports. Indeed, she was
going to them herself, by and by, with some of her apprentices, in a
hired carriage. But she was not taking Sobrai; for Sobrai was wilful,
oddly attractive withal, and therefore dangerous to the discipline of
cantonments. With an evil tongue also, so that Miss Leezie looked over
in lazy anger to the opposite corner of the room, whence a shrill
assertion that the speaker would not be put upon had just risen.

'Then thou hadst best go back to the city and Dilarâm, fool!' said the
mistress of the house sharply; 'for if thou stayest here, it must be to
walk sober, as we all do, to the time of the fifes and drums. My house
hath a good name, and I will not have it given an ill one for all the
apprentices in Nushapore. So if thou wilt not obey, go! There be plenty
of that sort, unlicensed, beyond the boundaries. But we are different;
we are approved!'

She leant back with palpable pride against a wall which found its only
purification from the rub of red coats, and that civilised flavouring
of carbolic in the smell of drains and garbage.

Sobrai scowled sulkily. She had set her heart on going to the sports in
a conglomerate attire of white flounced muslin, tight silk trousers,
nose-ring and kid gloves; preferably on the roof of the hired green box
on wheels within which Miss Leezie would sit in dignified state.

'I did not come hither to rot within four walls? I could have done that
in the city,' she shrilled, louder still.

'Hold thy peace, idiot!' interrupted Miss Leezie, 'if thou dost dare to
raise a commotion now, when at any moment the Lât-_sahib_ himself may
come driving past, 'twill be the worse for thee!'

'Wah! thou canst do nothing,' answered Sobrai; feeling cowed, despite
the assertion, by Miss Leezie's tone.

'Nothing!' echoed the latter, with a hideous laugh. 'Nay, sister, such
as thou art at the mercy of a whisper. I have but to make it, and out
thou goest, neck and crop, to the sound of the fifes and drums. Nay,
more'; she rose slowly, and with the hour-glass of bent wood and
parchment in her hand crossed to stand in front of the sullen figure,
and go on drumming softly in imitation of a march. Then after a glance
at the other drowsy figures in the room, she leant down to the girl's
ear to repeat savagely--'Ay! and more. I can put thee in, as well as
turn thee out. Put thee in the four walls of a real prison. Remember
the stolen pearls, Sobrai!'

The girl laughed defiantly, cunningly. 'Lo! hast thou thought of _that_
at last? but I am no fool, Leezie. I counted the cost ere I gave them
in payment to thee. See you, _thy_ blame for receiving them is as
_mine_ for taking them. That is the _sahib's_ law. And then, who is to
say they are stolen? Not Jehân. He would not own his loss, if the
owning meant that the city should know one of his women, Sobrai Begum,
princess, was in Miss Leezie's house. That would be dishonour, for all
it hath such a good name!'

She essayed a giggle, but it failed before the coarse sensuous face,
where the _blanc de perle_ of full dress still lingered in almost awful
contrast to the veil of Eastern modesty.

'Listen, fool!' replied the past mistress in the rules and regulations
within which vice is safer than virtue. 'Listen, and quit striving.
Thou art mine. Not only as those others,' she flirted her hand from the
drum to the dozing girls, 'whom fear of the fife and drum keeps in my
power. I would not have taken thee without other leading strings,
knowing thee as I do--wilful, ay! and clever too, girl--with patience,
sure to do well'--she threw this sop in carelessly.--'But I found the
reins to my hand. Or ever I took thy pearls, I knew there were more
than Jehân's amissing; for the police come ever to us first.'

'More than Jehân's?' echoed Sobrai stupidly. 'What then?'

'This,' whispered Miss Leezie fiercely. 'Those four paltry pearls shall
not be Jehân's leavings on the carpet, but earnest for the whole string
of the same set; mark you, the same set,' she laughed maliciously,
'which thou didst steal from the Lady-_sahib_. It is all in the power
of the police, and they are my friends. So if thou dost so much as
raise thy voice, I will raise mine.'

'From the Lady-_sahib_,' faltered Sobrai, aghast.

'Ay, from the Lady--_sahib_. Hark! that will be the Lât himself coming
to satisfy himself all is as it should be. Shall I tell him now, when I
make my _salaam_ as is due, or wilt thou promise?'

She paused, her hand on the _portière_, ere going into the balcony, and
waited for a sign of surrender from Sobrai.

'But it is not true'--protested the latter.

Miss Leezie laughed. 'As true as aught thou canst bring; since, as thou
sayest, Jehân will not own up. Quick! shall I speak?'

Sobrai sate stunned, silent, then dropped her head between her knees.

So the _portière_ slid sideways, letting in a shaft of sunlight, a
stronger whiff of carbolic, and the rumble of a passing vehicle. But
only for a second; for in the carriage which came rapidly down the
swept and garnished bazaar, ablaze with sunlight, there were ladies,
and Miss Leezie, therefore, drew back decorously; to continue gazing,
however, through a side slit.

'He hath his _mems_ with him,' she explained to the drowsy crew roused
by the rumble. 'Two, and one is beautiful as a _houri_. But they wear
no fringe. Is that to be "fassen," think you? 'Tis as well to be in
it.'

And, as the carriage passed, the slit grew wider and wider as one pair
after another of bold black eyes noted the lack of fringe in Grace
Arbuthnot and Lesley Drummond, who were accompanying Sir George so far,
on their way to be shown over one of the hospitals by the Head Sister;
under whom, it so happened, Lesley had served when, after modern
fashion, she had 'gone in for a year's nursing.'

'It is certainly most beautifully clean; it ought to be healthy
enough,' was her remark now, as she drove past, ignorant not only of
the eyes that were turning her into a fashion plate, but of everything
in the environment.

'It couldn't well be cleaner,' assented Grace, with a faint reservation
in her voice; but she, too, was unconscious of those watching eyes,
those mimicking minds.

'Quite so,' admitted Sir George dubiously. 'Everything is done that can
be done, of course; but it is uncommonly hard to make a bazaar
healthy.'

He glanced back, as he spoke, at the balcony above the soda-water shop.

The children, little naked happy brown creatures, were playing in the
sunshine. The shopkeepers stood up to _salaam_. An _ekka_ load or two
of soldiers in uniform, their legs dangling outwards on all sides,
their red bodies jammed to shapelessness in the effort to find sitting
room on the jimp seat till the whole looked like a huge toy crab on
wheels, rattled past towards the Artillery parade-ground, their songs
and laughter audible above the rattle.

So, abruptly, the bazaar ended, and the cantonment church showed its
spire above some stunted trees.

The sweepers, having finished the gutters by this time, were at work on
the church compound clearing away the litter of yesterday's services;
and they drew up in line, the _darogha_ with his disinfectants at their
head, to _salaam_, brooms in hand, as the carriage drove past.

Then suddenly, beyond the church, separated by it only from the bazaar,
was the bareness of the barracks. A dozen or more of them set at
different angles, long, low, all to pattern, absolutely
indistinguishable from each other save by the big black number painted
on the gable-ends. Desolate utterly, lacking for the most part any
reason, whatever, why they should stand on that particular spot instead
of upon another in the dry, bare, sun-scorched plots of ground
intersected by dry, white, dusty roads. But two or three of them--those
farthest away--apparently had a somewhat efficient one, for Sir George
said, pointing them out--

'Those are the hospitals, over there, close to the cemetery. I'll drop
you and go on to my committee. The carriage can return and take you on
to the sports. I can walk--I mean if there is time after we've settled
things.'

The dubious tone was in his voice once more; perhaps the renewed smell
of carbolic, mixed with iodoform, engendered doubt as to the efficacy
of anything but heroic treatment.

The smell was strong in the comfortable little room where Grace and
Lesley waited for Sister Mary, and it came in, still stronger, with the
latter's workmanlike grey dress and scarlet facings.

'Dr. Sullivan is here, and can take you round at once, Lady Arbuthnot,'
she said cheerfully; 'and then, if you will honour us, he will drive
you over to our mess for tea before you go on to the sports.'

It was all so cut-and-dried, so commonplace, so, as it were,
inevitable, so almost proper, to this kind-faced woman whose work
it was; but the first glance into that unnaturally long, unnaturally
bare, unnaturally clean room, with its windows set high, so that the
twenty-four beds down one side and the twenty-four beds down the other
side should be free of draught yet full of air, gave Grace Arbuthnot a
sudden almost resistless desire to call aloud, to clap her hands, to do
something, anything, to drive the sight from her, to startle it into
flight, to rouse herself from the nightmare of it.

'This is the enteric ward,' said Sister Mary in a matter-of-fact tone.
'All the beds are full to-day, and Dr. Sullivan--but he will tell you
himself. There he is, coming from the officers' ward.'

'Have you many in there?' asked Lesley.

'Only three, and we are not sure of one. He owns, however, to having
drunk a lot of milk when he was thirsty out shooting, and that is
always suspicious. We shall know in a day or two.'

'It comes often through the milk, doesn't it?' remarked Grace dreamily;
she was absorbed in the face which showed on the bed beside which she
was standing. A face on the pillow. No more. All the rest tidy, folded
sheet and coverlet. Such a boyish face--sleeping or unconscious.
Peaceful absolutely, but so strangely aloof even from that long low
room, with its endless appliances, its evidence of energy, time, money,
lavished regardlessly in the effort to save.

Sister Mary smiled gently, tolerantly. 'I think generally. We always
sterilise _our_ milk in hospital, you know.

As Grace Arbuthnot shook hands with the doctor, who came up at that
moment, she was conscious of a confused quotation trying to formulate
itself at the back of her brain, about closing doors when steeds are
stolen, and sterilising seeds when they have been sown.

The doctor's kind eyes, however, drove the thought away; for they were
eyes which seemed to see the nightmare, hidden under all the care and
the comfort, more clearly than Sister Mary's; though hers were kind to
the uttermost also--kind and quick--so that, as she passed down the row
of beds with the visitors, she left the other sisters and the orderlies
busy. And more than once her eyes and the doctor's--the woman's and the
man's--met, after looking at a boy's face, with regret or relief in
them. But no one said a word of better or worse, except now and again a
wistful voice from the beds that stood so close together.

'What young faces!' said Grace in an undertone; there was a
constriction in her throat which might have prevented her speaking loud
had she wished to do so.

'I doubt if there is a case over two-and-twenty in the ward,' replied
Dr. Sullivan, 'except'--he paused beside a cot in the far corner, where
a nurse sate at the head and an orderly waited at the foot--'except
this one.'

He spoke without any attempt at an aside, for the face staring up with
open eyes at the ceiling was unmistakably unconscious; yet, even so,
curiously haggard, weary, anxious.

'He is a hospital orderly,' went on the doctor, 'the best nurse I ever
came across. I wonder how many fellows he's pulled through in his
fifteen years of it. But it has got him at last, though he was careful.
In a hurry possibly, and didn't disinfect; there's been a terrible rush
lately, and very little will do it. Poor old Steady Normal!' He laid
his hand regretfully on the anxious forehead for an instant, and the
expression on his face was mirrored in those around him. 'They called
him that, Lady Arbuthnot,' he explained, 'because he used to beam all
over when he could echo that report. Well, if anybody pulls through, he
ought to, in justice; but it's a bad case. You see, he is saturated
with the poison.'

So on and on they passed, down one side and up the other, pausing by
each bed to look at what lay there, and compare it with the chart which
Sister Mary unhooked from the wall and handed to the doctor.

It got on Grace Arbuthnot's nerves at last--the methodical calm of it
all, the smiles that were so cheerfully sympathetic or so wistfully
impatient, the studious speech, the still more studious silence. Until
at last, when the end was near, and Dr. Sullivan's finger, travelling
over a chart, pointed out a level after a series of peaks and passes,
she could not help seeking relief in the remark that 'some one was out
of the wood!'

A contented smile came to the face she was leaving, but a look showed
on the one she was approaching which struck her like a blow, which she
felt she could never forget, so full was it of something akin to anger
in its hopeless, helpless blame.

'He is in the thick of it, poor chap,' said the doctor in a low voice;
'only came in yesterday.'

And Grace's eyes, dim with tears, could scarcely see the jagged notches
rising higher and higher in the fresh unfingered chart that was being
shown her.

'Can nothing be done?' she asked abruptly, when the doctor was driving
her over to the mess in his dogcart. The others were walking, and he
had just pointed out the temporary hospital they had had to open.

He shook his head. 'God knows! Sometimes I think I could, with a free
hand. We do what we can, as it is, but what can you expect when the men
get sitting about the bazaars, and eating and drinking filth. There is
only one way out of it now, Lady Arbuthnot, as I hope you'll tell Sir
George. Get 'em away into the desert, _not_ to be tempted of the devil,
but to--what shall we say?--to--to get back the sinews of war!' he
finished, proud of his quotation.

It was apt enough to recur more than once to Grace Arbuthnot's mind as
she watched the sports; once, especially, when a tug-of-war began, and
a team of boys, big enough, but soft-looking, stood up against the
Artillery.

'They haven't a chance against us!' said Nevill Lloyd, with pardonable
pride. 'To begin with, we are accustomed to handle ropes; and then!--of
course, if the Highlanders had been here still, there'd have been a
fight, but these new fellows haven't the sinew--as yet.'

They pulled pluckily, though, for all they were worth, encouraged
thereat, amongst other supporters, by a number of big upstanding sepoys
from the native lines. They were in _mufti_, which, however, was no
disguise to their martial swagger and palpable pride of strength.

'Don't pull, brotherlings!' they advised; 'put the weight on the rope
and stand steady. So! Oh, 'tis God's will! He has not given the weight
yet. It will come, brothers! Meanwhile it is fate, not defeat.'

But as they turned carelessly from the end, one said to his neighbour,
'_Ari bhai!_ We could have taught the _tope khana-wallahs_ a lesson.'
And the neighbour laughed.

'Yea, if they gave us the chance, but they will not. They know we of
the _pultans_ are bigger and stronger than they of the _rigiments_, but
they would not have the world know it; as if it could not see!'

As he stood aside cheerfully, almost respectfully, to let a
smooth-faced fresh-coloured boy in a red coat pass, he proved his
words, for he towered a good head above him, and could have covered two
of him in breadth.

Nevill Lloyd, standing beside the Arbuthnots' carriage, overheard the
remark and frowned.

'I should like to challenge those fellows,' he said vexedly. 'I know we
could pull 'em over and knock the conceit out of 'em.'

'Then why don't you?' asked Lesley, smiling; she and the aide-de-camp
had become fast friends, chiefly over their mutual devotion to Grace
Arbuthnot.

'They won't let us. They say it is likely to rouse ill-feeling and all
that. And then,' he went on frankly, 'of course it wouldn't do to get
licked too often, you know, and one can't expect our boys to collar men
who do dumb-bells all day like those fellows do.'

Grace, sitting beside Lesley, thought they might do worse.

But, boys or men, the sports were good, and held half cantonments and
not a few from the city, interested in the various events, while the
sun sank slowly to the curiously limitless limit of the level horizon.
Lateefa the kite-maker was there, amongst others, finding a sale for
his airy nothingnesses betweenwhiles, as he passed through the crowd
with that quaint cry of--


                    'Use eyes and choose
                     Eyes use and choose.'


Jehân Aziz was there also, in his third-best brocade coat, and with a
half-cringing, half-defiant avoidance of Mr. Lucanaster, who, red-tied
as usual, was betting gloves with Mrs. Chris Davenant. For that, the
lady in question told herself, was quite the correct thing to do; and
as the ball which was to prove her admittance into the best society had
not yet come off, Mrs. Chris, as Jack Raymond had predicted, was
careful. Though in truth she found a strict adherence to etiquette
somewhat slow.

With an easier code and a greater inclination to scorn it, Sobrai Begum
was finding the same thing in the half-empty bazaar, where she had been
left in charge of a toothless old hag who had once enjoyed the doubtful
dignity of Miss Leezie's position, but who, having grown too old for
the post, had remained on in the house as a domestic drudge of the most
exemplary pattern. The poor old soul, however, suffered from an all too
intimate acquaintance with the gutters as they lay reeking in the chill
dawns, when those for whom she worked lay still curled up in their
wadded quilts. So, when an hour or so had been spent after the approved
fashion of her kind, in cozening her charge out of ill-humour, the
fever fiend seized on her, and laid her by the heels in a backyard,
more than half-unconscious.

Sobrai therefore, relaxed from surveillance, began to wonder sulkily
how she had best utilise her freedom. She had been long enough with
Miss Leezie to make her remember Lateefa's caution; to make her wonder
if Dilarâm and the old ways were not best.

There was no reason, nevertheless, why they should be so. She was a
clever girl in her way, with an ancestry of pride as well as
wickedness; and above all, of a fierce faculty for obtaining personal
gratification.

And there was none here. All was rule and regulation. No freedom, no
fun, no frivolity; in a way, no choice. But that, she told herself, was
the result of Miss Leezie's mean breeding. Dilarâm enjoyed herself
more, and so would she, Sobrai Begum of the King's House, if _she_ had
the management of affairs! Miss Leezie said it would not pay; but what
was money beside amusement? And who was Miss Leezie to judge? A low
born, who did not know, who could not play the part!

A sudden determination to play it for an hour, and see the result,
seized on the girl. She had the necessary dress; an old one of her
mother's, which she had brought with her in case. The jewels were
trumpery, of course, but they looked well. There would be time for a
little fun, perhaps, before her task-mistress returned and the bazaar
filled.

It was a full hour after this determination of hers, and the dusk had
begun to fall, when a young fellow in a red coat came lounging through
the still empty bazaar.

He had just come out of a six weeks' sojourn in hospital, and so his
pockets were full, for a soldier's, with unstopped ration money. He
had, indeed, intended to lavish some of it at the sports, and so
celebrate his return to freedom; but, being still given to invalid
habits, he had fallen asleep after barrack dinner, only awaking to
find his comrades, and every available conveyance, gone. So, feeling
ill-used, he had shirked the walk, sulked for a while, and finally,
having nothing else to do, sought the perennial possibilities of the
bazaar round the corner.

Even that was dreary. Sweetmeat sellers, fruit sellers, liquor sellers,
had all followed their clients to the Artillery parade-ground. The very
balconies were empty. So, in a mood compounded of recklessness and
bitter home-sickness, he kicked up some one in the shop below Miss
Leezie's apartments, insisted on drink, and sitting down on a chair
placed for him over the gutter, relapsed into a sort of half-fierce,
half-sullen torpor. It was not in truth very lively for a fairly well
educated boy, who had only himself to thank that he was not--as his
schoolfellows were, for the most part--a city clerk with a cycle! But
he had been restless, and he had read _Soldiers Three_ and the _Arabian
Nights_.

He looked savagely round the glowing gloom--for the attractions of a
musical ride by torchlight kept even the shopkeepers late, and so the
cavernous shadows of their squalid shops were still unlit--and swore
under his breath at India, and all its ways and works. No fun, no
music-halls, no anything. Nothing worth being wicked about, even.

He gulped down the vile mixture of flat soda and bad brandy, turned his
chair round to face the houses, and cocking his feet up on the plinth
before the stairs which led up to Miss Leezie's balconies, settled
himself to wait till the bazaar became lively. It would be more so than
usual, of course, that evening, since the men had to return to barracks
through it. It was only a question of waiting till some interest came
into life.

One came very soon and quite unexpectedly.

This entrance to the balconies was partitioned off from the shops on
either side, and consisted of a tiny, empty square, hung with a
withered garland or two above the door which blocked the stairs.

This was closed; but it opened slowly, after a time, and a girl stepped
out into the square, that was little bigger than a sentry-box, stepped
out till the billowy curves of faded brocade about her feet almost
touched those of No. 34 B Company.

He sate up and stared. This was something he had never seen before!
This was the Arabian Nights!

It was, however, only Sobrai in the dress of a princess of the blood
royal; softly orange and yellow in her trailing skirts, faintly purple
and gold above, with a starred green veil hiding all but the gleam of
sham jewels, the lustre of false pearls, and a finger-tip placed in
warning where the lips should be.

He took the hint and stared silently, his blood racing through his
veins, not from any suggestion of balconies and their like, but from
curiosity, from excitement, from, in a way, the admiration which is the
antithesis of balconies; for though he knew it not, Sobrai's dress and
address were those of the virtuous woman entertaining her lawful owner.

So, with a _salaam_, whose grace had been caught from Noormahal, the
girl slipped to the ground among her brocades, and No. 34 B Company
instinctively slipped his feet from the plinth also.

There was silence for a second or two; then another hand stole out from
the green and gold stars that were so shadowy, yet so clear. A hand
clasping an hour-glass drum by its narrow waist, and twirling it gently
so that the leaded silken tassels on its fringe did the duty of
fingers, and sent that strange unrest throbbing out into the air.

But the voice that followed it robbed the sound of its usual character,
and took the restlessness into a definite cause. For Sobrai's song was
not of the bazaars. It was of the palaces. A bard's song of old days
and dead kings, of war, and death, and victory. No. 34 B Company sate
with his hands clenching his knees and listened almost stupidly, until,
suddenly, a returning torch flung a great beam of glaring light into
the shadows which almost hid the singer, and revealed a pair of black
eyes amid the stars.

He stood up then, and caught his breath in hard.

This was ripping, simply ripping. He had not had to use the adjective
for months, and with it came back a world of recollection--of idle
harmless larks, of boyish mischief. It almost seemed as if the figure
understood, for a gleam of pure mischief came to the black eyes, as
Sobrai stood up also. In truth she found it ripping also, the only bit
of fun she had had in a fortnight's freedom!

And behind No. 34 B Company's red coat some fresh spectators had
gathered, curious, surprised.

A sudden dare-devil delight seized on the girl, her voice rose to its
fullest pitch, she began to dance. Not with the posturings and
suggestions of the bazaar, but with dignified gestures and scarcely
perceptible swayings suited to her heavy robes, and to the words she
sang. And all but her eyes were still covered by the green and the
stars. And now a rushlight or two, caught hastily from the neighbouring
shops, came to show more distinctly that graceful figure, and a voice
or two in English called out to friends behind to come and see.

The bazaar was re-filling; but it was forgetting other things in
her--Sobrai!

The thought, the unmistakable admiration, drove caution to the
right-about. Let Miss Leezie come and see, if she chose! See that the
apprentice had been right, that it was amusement people wanted!

For the present, indeed, it seemed so.

How long the novelty might have kept familiarity in check, it is
impossible to say; for there was Miss Leezie horrified, indignant,
forcing her way shrilly through a gathering of red-coats sufficient to
ruin the good name of her house, should it be seen by any of the
authorities.

And Heaven only knew whether some might not fancy that bazaar as a
short-cut home!

'You let 'er be--she's worth ten o' your lot,' remonstrated more than
one voice; but No. 34 B Company had got further in admiration than
that. Sobrai, for the time, had captured his imagination. It was vice
against virtue, or at any rate dull sensuality against romance.

Perhaps Sobrai saw something of this in his eyes. Anyhow, with a fierce
exultation, she threw back her veil, and the hour-glass drum, twirled
above her head, sent its message out over the clustering crowd.

So it came to pass that Lady Arbuthnot, driving home, saw in the flesh
what she had seen in her mind's eye--the woman's figure centring a
circle of eager men's faces.

'Stand back! clear the way! _Hut! Hut!_' came the orders of policemen,
recalled to a sense of duty. Then came a louder one, as an inspector on
his way back rode up to see what caused the block.

In an instant there was an uproar, a boy's voice, 'Don't you touch her,
you----' a scuffle, a blow, a fall, a girl's shriek.

Finally there was a lull, with two red-coats, under the orders of a
passing officer, holding back a third, Miss Leezie protesting
innocence, and a girl, still defiant, shrinking back into the darkest
corner of the narrow entrance.

'She doth not belong to me,' shrilled Miss Leezie. 'She comes from the
city. I am not responsible. I will prove her thief.'

'It is a lie! I am no thief,' gasped Sobrai, shrinking still farther
from the policeman, who stepped up on to the plinth, while the
red-coat, held by the other two, struggled madly.

'Oh! dash it all,' muttered the officer to himself, 'this can't be
allowed. Sergeant, send your prisoner to the quarter-guard under
escort, and see that every one returns to barracks at once. Constable,
arrest both women.'

Miss Leezie fell on her knees and shrieked.

'_Huzoor!_ I can prove her thief. She hath pearls like the
Lady-_sahib's_ pearls. She offered them to me as a bribe to take her
into my house this very day, and I, dissembling, said I would see, and
kept the pearls to show the police. I have them. She is thief for
sure!'

'Touch me not! I am no thief; they are mine!' panted Sobrai as the
policeman dragged her forward. Then, as the sense of indignity came to
her, she fought desperately. 'I am no thief--I am no common woman.
Touch me not, I am Sobrai of the Nawâb's house! The pearls are his. I
am princess, I say? Will none help me? Oh! Lateef, Lateef! say it is
true!'

She had broken from her captor with sudden irresistible passion, and
thrown herself at the feet of some one who had newly pushed his way
into the crowd; so, her hands clasping a pair of thin legs, she looked
in frantic appeal to the thin face of the kite-maker.

But Lateefa knew his part of hanger-on to nobility better than to admit
anything derogatory to its honour. He essayed to pass on with his
quaint cry--


                    'Use eyes and choose,
                     Use and choose.'


It was, perhaps, an unfortunately well-known one; and many of those
present, seeing the girl's brocades and remembering her gestures,
hesitated; while one said--

'He is Lateefa of Jehân's house for sure. She hath his name pat. Mayhap
she says truth!'

The sergeant of police pulled out another pair of handcuffs with
evident joy.

'There is room for both in the lock-up,' he said cheerfully.

Lateefa gave a jerk to the string he held, which sent the single kite,
which he always reserved as his trade-mark, skimming downwards in the
gloom, to rise again higher than ever.

'Mayhap! I am Lateef, for sure, as God made me. And she is what the
devil made her--a woman!'

There was something of Lateefa's philosophy in the police-officer's
words when, an hour or two later, he called round at Government House
to say that four pearls, apparently belonging to Lady Arbuthnot's
string, had been found in the Lal bazaar in a dancing-girl's house.

'The house where I saw that girl as I passed?' asked Grace quickly. She
felt, somehow, that it must be so; that there was a fate in it.

'I expect so,' answered the police-officer, then he paused. 'It is
likely to be a troublesome case, sir,' he continued, turning to Sir
George, 'for she claims to belong to the Nawâb s house. And as if that
wasn't enough, it seems that one of the soldiers knocked a man down.
Just knocked him down as one would anybody, you know. He seemed none
the worse for half an hour, when he suddenly went out. Spleen, of
course. I wonder when Tommy will remember that half the natives about
him ought to be in glass cases!'

Sir George Arbuthnot frowned too. 'It is most unfortunate; especially
just now. These women are really----' he paused and looked
apologetically at his wife. 'However, we shall have no more of this
sort of thing. Both regiments go out to Morâdki as soon as we can get
the carriage together. We settled that finally. The desert will do them
good!'



                              CHAPTER XI

                    THE SPIRIT OF KINGS AND SLAVES


Jerry Arbuthnot, in his smart little riding-suit, was seated on the top
step of John Ellison's tomb, his pony, meanwhile, held by a syce,
trying to snatch a bite of long grass growing close to the bottom one.
Between the two, forming a pyramid of which the child's dainty little
figure made the apex, were several other figures. First of all,
bareheaded, eminently respectable in a clean suit of drill, was
Jân-Ali-shân, seated sideways a step below, his face towards Jerry.
Below again--crouched up knees and elbows--was Budlu the caretaker, his
eyes on Jân-Ali-shân's; and beside him, resplendent in red coat and
gold lace, the Mohammedan _chuprassi_ told off to accompany his little
master on his morning rides. For the dew still lay heavy on the grass,
like hoar-frost, so that the hoopoes, hopping over it in the search for
food, left greener trails behind them to lattice the grey glisten.

'Then,' came the child's clear, high voice, 'you are quite the most
youngest hero of the lot--sir.'

He hesitated over the title; finally gave it, palpably, as a tribute to
the heroism, perhaps to the name. Jân-Ali-shân brushed a faint speck of
dust from his white drill. 'That is so, sir. I was but a two month when
I done the job, an' that don't leave much margin for honest
competition. It runs to a mono-polly; that's what it do, sir, a regular
mono-polly.' He tailed off into


             'Polly, my Polly; she is so jolly.
              The jolliest craft in the world!'


which he carolled cheerfully, making the hoopoes cock their crests and
hold their heads on one side to listen.

Jerry sate looking at them thoughtfully. 'I was afwaid you must be,
'cos, you see, it's such ages ago,' he said at last, argumentatively.
'Ages an' ages. I wasn't even near borned then. How much older'n me
d'you s'ppose you are, sir?'

It was Jân-Ali-shân's turn to look at Heaven's messenger-birds
thoughtfully, and admire their golden crowns. Then he drew his white
drill cuffs down over his tanned wrists, as if to hide as much of
himself as was possible.

'Older?' he echoed. 'Why-six-an'-thirty year, I should say;
six-an'-thirty year o' constant wickedness--that's about it, sir--o'
constant wickedness, please God!' He hovered over a penitential
response in a minor key, and then nodded at the child cheerfully. 'But
don't you fret, sir. There ain't no call for it. You're all right--your
time'll come; only you must grow a bit more, or you wouldn't never fill
a grave like this--would 'e, Budlu?'

He laid his hand on the tombstone and smiled; so did Budlu and the
_chuprassi_, uncomprehendingly; so, reluctantly, did Jerry.

'It's an orful time to wait,' he said regretfully, 'an' there's goin'
to be a row quite soon. Dad doesn't say so, but he thinks it; for I
heard 'em talking of what they'd have to do if there was one; but they
hadn't settled when Miss Dwummond came for me. What do you think would
be the best thing, Mr. Ellison?'

'Lick 'em, sir, for sure,' replied Jân-Ali-shân succinctly.

Jerry's face flushed sharply, almost with vexation.

'Oh! of course, we'd lick 'em; but I meant what kind of things, just to
show 'em, you know, that--that----' he paused, as he often did,
bewildered by his own thoughts.

'Show 'em?' echoed John Ellison. 'Show 'em? Why! show 'em, that it's
"_as you was!_" That there ain't no change. That it's still flags
flyin' an'


                   "Gord save our gracious Queen."'


Jerry rose solemnly and took off his cap as the notes of the National
Anthem floated out over the garden mound into the crisp morning air, in
which even the nearer shadows showed blue as the distant ones.

'I thought that would be it myself,' he commented, heaving a sigh of
relief, 'but I'm glad to be sure. Thanks, so much.'

The others, duteously following his lead, had risen also, and now
Jân-Ali-shân, who had reached for the helmet which had been lying on
the steps beside him, stood looking into it with a half-prayerful
expression before putting it on: for time was passing, and he was due
at his work.

'You're welcome, sir, kindly welcome,' he said, after a pause. 'So jest
you wait patient--say six-an'-thirty year. An' then, if you ain't got
an 'ero's grave of your own as you can slip into when you fancies
it--why, John Ellison--that's me, sir--'ll up an' give you 'is,
an'--an'--chanst the constant wickedness! There, sir'--he spoke with
conscious pride in the magnitude of his offer--' I can't say fairer nor
that, so there's my 'and on it; for if ever there was a chip of the old
block, it's you, sir--the chippiest of the chippiest.'

He reached out a big brown paw, and Jerry with great dignity laid his
soft white one in it.

'Thanks orfully,' said the child, 'but I won't bovver you; I'll get one
of my vewy own, please.'

'You bet!' remarked Jân-Ali-shân briefly. 'That's the game to play.
Same as 'im and me played forty years back. Same's you and some other
chap'll play forty years on. Time's no hobject, only a comfortable
'ome. Well, good day to you, sir; an' if ever you wants John Ellison,
you'll find me here, mornin's and evenin's, most days, on my way to
work; for 'e and me's been pals a many years.'

As he walked off jauntily, his hands in his pockets, he paraphrased
'John Anderson my Jo' into Ellison, and put the expression stop full on
at the last quatrain.


             'Now we maun totter down, John,
              But hand in hand we'll come
              'nd sleep together at the foot.'


He paused here at the gate which ended the rising path, and waved a
hand back at the group in the hollow, ere the snick of the latch
started him again on the refrain,


                       'John Ellison, my chum.'


So he passed, with a curious mixture of swing and slouch, along the
dusty roads towards the railway station, which lay on the outskirts of
the town, about a quarter of a mile from the bridge. Like the latter,
it was a semi-fortified structure, capable of some defence. The more so
because the city wall, which it faced, was in itself an obstacle to
attack from that quarter; since it was largely a retaining wall to the
higher ground of the city within, and therefore solid, blank; until at
the river end it jutted into a bastion, loopholed and embrasured. But
even this would be of little use to a foe, for the brickwork was
cracked from the parapet right down to the water's edge, and the whole
building sloped outwards, as if even the firing of a cannon would send
it toppling over into the river. Indeed, the advisability of so sending
it safely under control of science, before chance interfered and sent
it crashing into the railway bridge, had more than once been urged on
the authorities. The bastion, however, happened to be part of a royal
building which had been given for life to a very old pensioner; so it
had been decided that destruction should await his death, unless
matters became worse.

Therefore Jehân, as head of the six hundred of his like in Nushapore,
still found it the best place in the whole city whence to fly kites;
for there was generally a breeze off the river, and daylight lingered
long, reflected from the glistening water.

So, at all times of the day, and occasionally by the help of a full
moon, the royal pensioners gathered strong on the bastion. Quite a
little court of them--reminiscent, strangely, of that dead dispossessed
court of old days--centred round Jehân the Heir of all Things or
Nothing. And they would pledge and pawn everything they possessed,
except their pride, on the results of Lateefa's skill with paste and
paper.

Half a dozen or more of these courtiers without a court or a king were
lounging on the bastion waiting for Jehân to fly a match with another
princeling of royal blood, when Jân-Ali-shân's trolly skimmed past on
the line below it. They craned their yellow faces to look at him and
the little knot of coolies who were pushing all they knew at the
trolly; for Chris Davenant had bidden his overseer be at the drawbridge
pier at eight o'clock to look over the machinery, and it was already
five minutes past the hour. So Jân-Ali-shân had first hustled his own
subordinates with oaths and abuse, into the utmost haste, and was now
preparing the half-confidential, half-apologetic look of an offender
for his own face--since he could see his superior officer's figure
leaning over the iron lattice of the bridge waiting for him. Hurried as
he was, however, he looked up, waved his hand to the group on the
bastion, and called, '_Ram-ram_, gents, and _Mohammed-russool!_' a
salutation (compounded from Hindoo and Mohammedan formulæ) which, he
would explain elaborately, prevented him from 'either 'inderin' weak
brothers, or bowin' in any particklar 'ouse o' Rimming.' For his seven
years in a 'surplus chore' had given him a curious knowledge of
Scripture.

'We had better begin by seeing if the hydraulic tank is full up,'
said Chris calmly, as the trolly stopped in prompt obedience to
Jân-Ali-shân's imperative, 'Woa! I say woa! Didn't I tell yer to _tyro_
(stop) at the _pyli_ (first) pier.'

'Ay, ay, sir!' he answered, his face expressing a certain
disappointment; and as he obeyed orders by climbing up an iron ladder
which the coolies brought from its hooks on the pier, and fixed to a
reservoir on the roof of the arched gateway, he shook his head gravely.

'It don't give a chap a fair chanst,' he muttered to himself as he
mounted higher and higher. 'It ain't bracin' enough, that's what it
ain't. Now, if 'e'd a said, "D--n you, if you're late agin, I'll cut
yer pay," it 'u'd 'ave given a fellow a straight tip up the narrer
path.' Here he paused to measure with a foot-rule, and hummed the
while,


          'A banner with a strange device--Ex--cel--si--or.'


'An' it don't come 'ome to the 'eart if you says it yourself,' he added
despondently, 'not even if you uses fancy swears.'

These had an excellent effect, however, on the coolies, to whom they
came simply as forcible imperatives; so that in a very few minutes the
iron girders on either side had reared themselves back on the central
tower, and the little party stood isolated both from the bridge and the
bank.

'It 's as right as a trivet, sir!' said John Ellison, 'barrin' bein' a
bit stiff on the crank, but a drop o' hoil'll set that easy, for it
ain't a ten-men job, as they made it, but a two--that's what it is--a
two at most.'

But when the drop of oil had been applied, two men failed to start the
hydraulic pressure, much to Jân-Ali-shân's disgust. He set one couple
after another of his men to tackle the job, without avail.

'Look 'ere, sir,' he said at last, persuasively, 'I'd take it a
kindness if you'd jest lend me the sight o' your 'and for a moment. If
I does it all myself, they'll begin to talk that _ik-bally_[15] rot o'
theirs, like as I was Sandow himself, but if they see your 'and in it
too, it'll be 'uman beings--that's what it'll be.'

So Chris Davenant's thin nervous brown hand gripped the spindle, and
Jân-Ali-shân's great paw--fresh as it was from the clasp of Jerry's
small one--gripped the spindle also. The two, side by side, feeling
each other's touch, feeling, for all we know, that other touch of the
child who would come to such man's work after long years. Why should it
not make itself felt, in more ways than one, that strange force which
bids the race continue, which gives the spirit of kings or the spirit
of slaves?

Then, with a slow gurgle, the water filled the cylinder, and the
massive iron girders came down once more, to bridge the gulf and make a
permanent way between the east and the west banks of the wide river,
which slid past silently, bringing no message from its birthplace,
taking no message to its grave in the sea.

'Best 'ave 'er up an' down agin onst more, sir,' said Jân-Ali-shân,
'then there'll be fair odds on a continooance of virtoo. There's
nothin' like 'abit, sir.'

He heaved a regretful sigh, and this time the water gurgled out of the
cylinder.

'Behaves beautiful, she do,' he commented when, the drawbridge having
risen and descended again, he had set the coolies to work pumping a
fresh supply of water into the cistern, and had gone himself to lean
over the iron latticing at a decently respectful distance from his
superior officer, who was doing the same thing. The parting stream--its
perfect placidity lost by the obstruction of the wide pier--swept under
the girders in little petulant wrinkles and furrows. But even through
these sears and seams of current, the jutting spit of rock--which
yielded firm foothold for this first span of the railway bridge, yet
with equal impartiality gave firm foundation closer in-shore to the new
temple of Kâli which challenged the old temple of Viseshwar--could be
seen, clearly or dimly, as its broken contours dipped or rose beneath
the water.

'Quite the lydy, she is,' went on Jân-Ali-shân, continuing his approval
of the drawbridge. 'Ain't got no games in 'er--'olds out 'er arms if
she likes you, an' draws in 'er arms if she don't. That's the sort.'

And then some link of thought started him on a song which shared first
favourite honours with


            'Her golding 'air all 'anging down 'er back,'


in the estimation of his sing-song audiences, and the notes of


                         'Where'er you walk,'


echoed out over the river, and made the bathers on the temple steps,
who had been watching the proceedings, look up once more towards the
bridge.


      'Where'er you walk,
       Cool gales shall fan the glade;
       Trees where you sit
       Shall crowd into a shade;
       Where'er you tread, the blushing flowers shall rise,
       And all things flourish where you turn your eyes.'


The most passionate, yet the purest, praise a woman ever won from man,
perfect in its self-forgetfulness, in its delight in the admiration of
the whole world for what is praised, fell from John Ellison's lips in
almost perfect style; for he had been taught the song in those early
days of surpliced choirs.

And Chris Davenant, as he listened, staring out over the river,
clinched his hands on the iron rail in a sudden passion of self-pity.

This is what he had found in the poets of the West! This was what he
had sought in the prose of life! It was for this he had forsaken so
much--this white-robed woman with the breezes cooling the hot blood,
and the trees crowding to shade her from the fierce heat of noon!

And he had found--what?

Something worse?--yes!--for one brief second he admitted the truth that
it _was_ worse; that Naraini, despite her ignorance, would have given
him something nearer to that ideal of all men who were worth calling
men, than Viva with her cigarettes, her pink ruffles, her strange
mixture of refinement and coarseness, of absolute contempt for passion
and constant appeal to it. Why had he ever forsaken his people? Why had
he ever forsaken her--Naraini?

'I am Brahmin, my hand is pure.'

The memory of her voice, her face, as she spoke the words returned to
him, and, with an irresistible rush, all that had swept him from his
moorings, swept him from the common current of the lives around him,
all the sentimentality, all the intuitive bias towards things
spiritual, swept him back again to that life--and to Naraini!

'It's a rippin' song, ain't it, sir?' remarked Jân-Ali-shân, who had
been warbling away at the runs and trills like any blackbird, as he
watched Chris Davenant's listening face. 'Wraps itself round a feller
somehow. Kep' me from a lot o' tommy rot, that song 'as in my time, an'
sent me to the flowing bowl instead.'

As he walked over to see if the tank was full, he whistled,


      'Let the toast pass, here's to the lass,
       I'll warrant she'll prove an excuse for a glass,'


with jaunty unconcern. He returned in a moment, the coolies behind him
carrying the iron ladder back to its hooks on the pier.

'All right, sir,' he reported. 'Give 'er two men an' she'll 'old her
own against a thousand.'

Chris, absorbed in his thoughts, made an effort to wrench himself from
them by assenting.

'Yes. They'd find it difficult without guns, unless they could manage
it by the river.'

Jân-Ali-shân shook his head. 'Not if we'd a rifle or two aboard, sir,
to nick 'em off in the boats.'

'Couldn't they get along the spit,' suggested Chris, absolutely at
random.

'Might be done, mayhap,' admitted the other, after a reflective pause.
'Leastways, if you was a "_Ram Rammer_" an' 'ad a right o' way through
the 'ouse o' Rimming--beg pardin, sir, though you _'ave_ chucked old
'Oneyman an' 'is lot--I mean, if you was a Hindoo an' they'd let you
through the temple. But even then we could nick 'em in the water afore
they could get ropes slung.'

'There's the ladder, suggested Chris once more. He was not thinking of
what he said. He was asking himself _what_ he had not 'chucked' away
recklessly? 'It is only about six feet up; they could easily----'

'They could easily do a lot if they was let, sir,' interrupted
Jân-Ali-shân, as he turned to go, with a pitying look. 'But we don't
let 'em. That's how it is. An we ain't such bally fools as to leave 'em
ladders. No, sir? Two men--if they _was_ men-'u'd keep that pier a
Christian country for a tidy time.'

As the trolly buzzed back stationwards, the group of yellow faces above
the faded brocades gave up watching the man[oe]uvres of the drawbridge,
and returned to their kite-flying; and on the bathing-steps the men and
women returned to the day's work. On the bastion there was a shade more
listless doubt and dislike, on the steps a shade more uneasy wonder as
to the signs of the times. That was all.

Only Burkut Ali, as he weighted his kite's tail with an extra grain or
two of rice, nodded his head, and said with a sinister look--

'Two could play that game, and the first come would be master. "_He who
sits on the throne is king_."'

'And he who sits not is none,' added Jehân's antagonist with a wink. He
had quarrelled two days before with the Rightful Heir's pretensions to
authority in the matter of a dancing-girl, and so, for the time being,
headed the dissentient party which, with ever-shifting numbers and
combinations, made the royal house--to the great satisfaction of the
authorities--one divided against itself. 'If the Sun of the Universe is
ready,' he went on, with mock ceremony, 'his slave waits to begin the
match.'

Jehân's face sharpened with anger. He had come there in an evil temper,
because, after having virtuously denied himself an over-night orgy for
the sake of steadying his hand for the match, Lateefa--on whom he had
relied for a superexcellent new kite--had neither turned up nor sent an
excuse; consequently the chances of victory were small. And now this
ill-conditioned hound was palpably insolent. The fact roused Jehân's
pretensions, and made him assert them.

'I fly no kite to-day,' he said haughtily, 'the match will be
to-morrow.'

His opponent smiled. 'As my lord chooses!' he replied coolly, 'his
slave is ready to give revenge at any time.'

'Revenge!' echoed Jehân sharply, 'wherefore revenge? There is no
defeat.'

'His Highness forgets,' said the other, with a pretence of humility
scarcely hiding his malice, 'the Most Learned, being member of
race-clubs, must know that "scratch" is victory to the antagonist.
This day's match therefore is mine. Is not that the rule, _meean_?'

He appealed to the most sporting member of the court, but Jehân,
without waiting for his verdict, broke into fierce invective, and had
passed from the rules to the rulers, when Burkut--who had been
listening with that sinister look of his--touched him peremptorily on
the arm, and said--

'Have a care, Nawâb-_sahib_, some one comes.'

Jehân turned quickly, and saw behind him a sergeant of police.

He came with a summons for the Nawâb-_sahib_ Jehân Aziz to attend at
once at the cantonment police-station.

Still confused by his anger, and scarcely master of himself, Jehân
stood looking at the paper put in his hand, and trying to disentangle
from the smudge of the lithographed form the few written words which
would give him a key to the rest.

The first he saw was '_Sobrai Begum_,' the next '_Lateefa_.'

They pulled his pride and his cunning together in quick self-defence.
Though a fierce longing to have the jade's throat within the grip of
his thin fingers surged up in him, the desire to put her away privily
was stronger. He folded up the paper with a shrug of his shoulders, and
turned on the curious faces around him.

''Tis only Lateefa in trouble with a woman,' he began.

'And they need his master's virtue to get him out of it!' sneered his
opponent. ''Tis too bad; were I the Nawâb, I would keep mine for my own
use----'

The Rightful Heir glared at the giber, and a vast resentment at his own
impotence came to the descendant of kings. Why was he not able, as his
fathers had been, to sweep such vermin from his path? Why had he to
obey the orders of every jack-in-office? Then for Sobrai herself. Why
could he not settle her in the good old fashion without any one's help?

As he drove over to cantonments in the ramshackle wagonette this desire
overbore the others, and his cunning centred round the possibility of
getting the baggage back to the ruined old house, where screams could
be so easily stifled.

The first step, of course, was to see Lateefa in private and hear his
version of the story. That meant ten rupees to the constable in charge
of the lock-up, but it was better to pay that, at first, than hundreds
of rupees of hush-money afterwards if the police went against you.

So the silver key slipped into the sergeant's pocket, and the iron one
came out which opened the barred door behind which Lateefa sat like a
wild beast in a cage--Sobrai, meanwhile, being accommodated with free
lodgings under the charge of an old hag in a discreetly private cell
round the corner!

Jehân's face grew more and more savage as he listened to what the
kite-maker had to tell; and that was a good deal, for he had gossiped
half the night with the sentry on duty!

Miss Leezie--Sobrai singing in the public bazaar to the soldiers--all
this was so much gall and wormwood to the Nawâb's pride. It almost made
him forget the theft of the pearls; the more so because the idea of the
latter was not quite new to him. Mr. Lucanaster's assertion that there
were five amissing, joined to the fact that poor Aunt Khôjee, hoping
thereby to smooth over the quarrel between him and Noormahal, had
brought him one pearl which had been found in a rent in a cushion, had
made him suspicious that Sobrai had the rest; that this, indeed, had
been at the bottom of her flight. It was only, therefore, when Lateefa
pointed out that it would be necessary to prove that these pearls of
Sobrai's were not the Lady-_sahib's_ pearls, before the girl--free from
the suspicion of theft--could be handed over to her lawful guardians,
that he realised it would not be enough to say that they were his, that
he had given them to the girl, who--despite her evil doings--he was
willing to receive back again into his virtuous house. For the
possibility of denying her assertion that she belonged to it, had, he
felt, vanished with her unfortunate recognition of Lateefa.

But now there must be proof, and the proof lay in Mr. Lucanaster's
hands.

Jehân felt hemmed in, harried on all sides, and he was the poorer by
fifty rupees before he bribed his way to an informal interview with the
cantonment magistrate, and was able to lay before that official a
carefully-concocted admixture of truth and falsehood which should help
to secure what he chiefly needed, secrecy and delay.

To this end, by Lateefa's advice, he made it appear that Sobrai had
been enticed away by Miss Leezie, and pointed out that such a tale
might give rise to trouble--complicated as it was by that fatal blow of
No. 34 B Company's--if it became known, especially in these restless
times. Much, therefore, as he felt the injury, the disgrace to himself
and his house, he was willing to hold his tongue about it provided
_other people held theirs_. As for the pearls, if, after private
inquiries, it was necessary for him to prove his words, he would do so.
And, in the meantime, it would only cause suspicion if Lateefa, who was
known to be a member of his household, were detained.

The cantonment magistrate looked at him doubtfully; he was almost too
suave, too sensible. Yet there could be no doubt that the case might be
a troublesome one. As the Nawâb said, Miss Leezie might be fined for
keeping her house disorderly, Sobrai detained pending inquiries, and
Lateefa dismissed without in any way militating against the ordinary
course of justice, should the Nawâb's version prove false; and if not,
he was, in a way, entitled to consideration. Especially if he would
keep the abduction quiet, in view of that possible murder case.

'You had better come up again in two or three days,' said the
magistrate finally, 'by which time the police, who will have
instructions to conduct their inquiries in strict confidence, will know
if they require proofs, and you could produce the remaining pearls, of
course. If they do not, the girl shall be handed over to you as her
natural guardian, and that will end the matter, unless her evidence is
required.'

'_Huzoor!_' said Jehân, with profuse _salaams_, 'that would end the
matter to my complete satisfaction and eternal gratitude.'

The look about his red betel-stained lips, as they wreathed themselves
with obsequious smiles, was that of a carnivorous animal which scents
its prey, and there was almost a triumph in his face as he drove back
to the city with Lateefa. He felt himself powerful for once; for he
knew that if once he could get Sobrai back, he could torture and kill
the girl behind the purdah, which none would dare to invade; in which
he was still king--as much a king as any of his ancestors.

If he could get her there!

The only difficulty in the way of that, Jehân knew and faced instantly.

If proof were needed, Lucanaster would never give up the pearls, never
forbear saying that in his opinion they were the Lady-_sahib's_ and
none other, unless he got the emerald in exchange. Well! he, Jehân,
must have the emerald ready in case it was wanted. Then the thought
that he might have so had it, ready in his own possession, but for
little Sa'adut, made him call himself a fool for yielding to the
child's tears.

They would have been over and forgotten in a minute; for what could the
child want with an emerald ring? A useless bauble, not even fit to be a
toy!



                             CHAPTER XII

                           A MOTHER'S DIRGE


But little Sa'adut was of a different opinion. He had found that
question as to which of his fingers came nearest to filling the gold
circle of the ring an absolutely entrancing one; the more so because,
from some reason or another, those fingers had suddenly taken to
wasting away. Thus, the two which fitted best one day might not be the
two which fitted best on the next.

'Lo! the ring hath bewitched him!' whimpered Aunt Khâdjee, when the
child could scarcely be distracted from the puzzle to take the food
which only Auntie Khôjee could coax him to eat.

Patient Auntie Khôjee, who would have sate all day and all night beside
the string cot like that other woman's figure, if there had not been so
many things which only she could do, now that they had no servant at
all. So Noormahal alone, her face half hidden in her veil, watched the
child hungrily; since from some reason or another, as mysterious as the
sudden wasting away which had come to the poor little body, a fretful
intolerance of clasping arms and caressing hands had come to the poor
little mind. The child cried when his mother held him, and only lay
content among the cushions of state which Khôjee brought out for daily
use recklessly, so that the little Heir's resting-place should be as
soft as a King's.

There was nothing, indeed, of such care and comfort as these women
could compass, that Sa'adut lacked; nothing, in fact, of any kind which
even richer folk of their sort could have given him; for they too would
not have had the least elementary knowledge of what nursing could or
could not do for such sickness as his. Before that mysterious
slackening of grip on life, these women, the one who watched, the one
who worked, the one who whimpered beside that cot set in the sunshine,
were absolutely helpless. They knew nothing. They could not even tell,
day by day, if the child were worse or better. If he slept a while, or
drank a spoonful of milk, they praised God; and once when they had
propped him up with pillows, and set a gay new cap jauntily on his damp
hair, they almost wept for joy to think he was better. And when the
consequent fatigue made it all too evident that they were mistaken,
they never recognised that the change for the worse was due to the
sitting-up.

It was after this that Khâdjee, with floods of tears, gave the only
jewels she did not wear to be pawned in order that a _hakeem_ might be
called in. And then she cried herself sick over the loss, so that, when
the medicine-man _did_ come, he had two patients instead of one. He was
a smiling old pantaloon who had been court physician, and as such had
attended Sa'adut's great-grandfather; who talked toothlessly of the
_yunâni_ system of medicine, and of things hot and things cold, of
things strong and things weak, to Aunt Khâdjee's great delight. Indeed,
she took up most of the time in detailing her own complaints, so that,
in the end, he reassured them hastily as to the child, by saying that
all he needed was a conserve, a mere conserve! But it proved to be a
conserve of palaces, containing thirty-six ingredients, the cheapest of
which was beaten silver leaf! So what with it and Auntie Khâdjee's
emulsion, poor Khôjee's housekeeping purse was empty after a few doses.
But she sate up o' nights spinning, and so gathered enough to call in
another medicine-man. This one was of a different sort; long-bearded,
solemn, with sonorous Arabic blessings. He had ordered paper pellets
with the attributes of the Almighty inscribed on them.

These, at least, were not expensive; these, at least, were within the
reach of poverty--even the abject, helpless poverty of these high-born
ladies. So Auntie Khâdjee, forsaking her tinsel cap-making, recalled
the teachings of her youth, and by the aid of the smoke-stained Koran,
from which she chanted her portion like a parrot every morning, traced
the words on to tissue paper with difficulty--she suffered from
rheumatic gout, though she did not know it was anything but old
age--and Khôjee rolled them into pills, and covered them with silver
leaf and sugar, and put them in the sweeties, which were the only thing
the child cared for. So he would swallow Mercy, and Truth, and Charity,
and Justice, and Strength, as he lay in the sunshine on the cushions of
state playing with the ring on which was scratched, '_By the Grace of
God, Defender of the Faith_.'

The courtyard was very quiet, very empty, as yet, for the child was not
yet near enough to death to be an attraction to the neighbours. He had
been ill so long, and now was a little worse; that was all those three
women told themselves. They had no means of realising that the disease,
long-sluggish, had roused itself to fierce energy; that the days,
almost the hours, were numbered.

So Noormahal watched the child's least movement day and night, and
Khâdjee wrote the attributes of God for the paper pills, while Khôjee
worked her old fingers sore, or tramped about openly to do the
marketing. But no matter how pressed for time she was, no matter how
far from home, her old hands or feet hurried up, so that they should be
free for another task at sunset; a task which, so long as they had had
a servant, had never been omitted, and must not be omitted now--must
never be omitted so long as these crumbling walls and the wide empty
courtyard held the heir to a Kingship. And this task was the sounding
of the _naubut_ from the gateway where the stucco peacocks still spread
their plaster tails.

In the old days, this ceremony of sounding the royal kettledrums as a
sign that majesty lived within, had been quite an imposing one. Then, a
_posse_ of liveried servants and soldiers had gone up into the _naubat
khana_, and whacked away at a whole row of slung kettledrums, and
blared away at the royal _nakârahs_, until all the city knew that
sunset had found the King still on his throne. But for some years back
it had been very different; a half-hearted apologetic drubbing on one
dilapidated drum, a breathless blowing of an uncertain horn had been
all. And now, when only one poor tired old woman limped up the broken
stairs, it was a very feeble claim to royalty, indeed, that echoed into
the courtyard below, though Khôjee drummed valiantly for all she could,
and blew her withered cheeks plump as a cherub's over the _nakârah_.
Feeble as it was, however, it could be heard, and it brought comfort
even to Noormahal's hungry heart; for it meant that the child was still
on his throne at sunset. And that was all the world to those lonely
women, shut up inconceivably, helplessly, from all hope, almost from
all desire for help from that outside world, into which only Aunt
Khôjee ventured at times timorously; and only to return poorer, more
helpless than she went out.

Once, however, when--at the risk of a fit of hysterics, which
might incapacitate Aunt Khâdjee from even the writing of paper
pellets--Khôjee had persuaded her to allow the little knot of silver
earrings without which no court lady could be considered decently
clothed, to pay a temporary visit to the pawnbroker, Khôjee had come
back from that outside world with a new look of hope on her face.

A piece of luck had befallen her. She had met, quite by chance, an old
servant of her mother's, who, when the court had been broken up, had
taken service as _ayah_ with the _mems_. And this old dame happened to
have in her possession a priceless European medicine for just such
delicate children as Sa'adut.

A _mem_ had given it to her, she said, when her child needed it no
more. She did not add that the child, despite the Brand's essence of
beef and the care of three doctors, had wasted away into its grave
quite as quickly as Sa'adut was doing with neither, and that the
unopened tins had been part of her perquisites when the stricken
parents had sought distraction from grief in three months' leave. She
only said that they were worth rupees on rupees, but that Khôjee might
have them for three, because it was for the little Heir. So the patient
bent figure and the limp had come back to that cot set in the sunshine,
with the feeling that now, at last, the child who lay among the faded
cushions of state _must_ pick up strength, since all the world knew
that whatever faults the _Huzoors_ had, they were clever doctors--all
too clever perhaps!

But there could be no danger of poison here. This was the actual
medicine a _mem_ had given her own child. This must be the real thing.
Still, to make sure, they continued the paper pellets, since Mercy and
Truth, and Justice and Charity must counteract any nefarious intent!

Even with this mixed diet of the East and West, of essence of faith and
essence of beef, Sa'adut gained nothing. He continued to lose, though
the women refused to see it.

For the courtyard was still quiet. Perhaps once or twice a day some
gad-about neighbour in passing would look in, and for half an hour or
so after she had left, Noormahal's big brooding black eyes would be on
the door of the women's courtyard, with a fierce fear in them. The fear
lest she should see the shadow of another new-comer on the angled brick
screen before the door; the screen built on purpose to show such
warning shadows. In other words, the fear that those strange eyes
should have thought it worth while to send other eyes to look on a
sight that would not be long seen, either in sunshine or shadow.

But the stillness would remain unbroken, and her gaze would go back to
Sa'adut, ready for her to smile assent when he should smile up at her
and say, 'Look! _Amma-jân_,' because he had managed to jam the ring
hard and fast over some combination of fingers.

The days and nights were cloudless, the air kindly and warm, and in the
silence which comes with the darkness--even to a large town when there
is no wheeled traffic in it, and the footsteps of men have ceased from
going up and down the city--the only sound which came to disturb the
courtyard was the shriek of the railway whistle,--an almost incredible
sound in that environment.

So the days and nights following on Jehân's vow never to set foot in
the house again, dragged by.

'Were it not best to tell his father?' suggested Khôjee, the
peace-maker, one evening when she came down breathless from that futile
beating of kettledrums and blowing of horns, to find Sa'adut without
his usual smile for her efforts. 'He is fond of his father, and it
might rouse him.'

Noormahal leant forward, and gripped the cot with both hands. 'No!' she
said passionately. 'May I not keep this myself? He is no worse, fool!
Thou didst not sound the _naubut_ well, that is all. I could scarce
hear it myself.'

That might well be, Aunt Khôjee thought humbly, seeing that she was not
used to the beating of drums and the blowing of horns, and that both
were cracked and dilapidated almost past beating and blowing. Still,
even she would not allow the child to be worse, not even in the watches
of the night, when a body's thoughts cannot always stay themselves on
the will of God, when railway whistles and other strange sounds set the
mind questioning what will come, and why it should come.

And this night, just at the turn of twelve, when the night of a past
day turns into the night of a coming one, a voice rose on the darkness
as it sometimes did; the voice of a telegraph _peon_ seeking an unknown
owner for a telegram.

'O Addum! O Addum Khân! dweller in the Place of Sojourners in the
quarter of Palaces! Awake! Arise! O Addum! a message hath come for
thee. Awake! Arise! O Sleepers! awake and say where is Addum Khân for
whom a message to go on a journey hath come.'

So, on and on insistently, the man Addum--quaintly namesake of the man
in whose name all men go on the great journey--was sought; until the
rattle of a door-chain being unhasped brought silence, and the
knowledge that Addum had received his message from the darkness.

'_La illâha--il Ullâho-bism'-illâh-ur-rahmân-ur-raheem_,' murmured
Khôjee under her breath as she sate by the cot trimming the smoky
little rushlight. For the cry on Addum had roused Sa'adut from a
half-doze and brought opportunity for more paper pellets.

'_Bismillah-ur-rahmân-ur-raheem_,' he echoed in his cracked little
voice quite cheerfully; for these words, the assertion that God is a
merciful and a clement God, are the Mohammedan grace before meat as
well as a prayer, and the four years, four months, and four days, at
which age children are taught them as their initiation into the Church,
were still close enough to Sa'adut's sum-total of life, to give the
repetition a pleasurable importance.

'Heart of my heart! Eye of my eye! Life of my life! murmured old Khôjee
again. 'Lo! swallow it down, my uttermost beloved, and sleep.'

She had the child to herself for the moment, since Noormahal at her
earnest entreaty had hidden her face altogether in her veil, and, with
her head on the foot of the bed, had gone off into a brief slumber of
exhaustion. So the old arms and the old lips could show all the
tenderness of the old heart, which for nearly seventy years had beat
true to every womanly sympathy within those four prisoning walls.

By the light of the rushlight Sa'adut's big black eyes showed bright
from the cushions of state. So did the emerald in the ring.

'Why didst not sound the _naubat_ to-day, lazy one?' he said suddenly,
as if the omission had just struck him. 'Go! sound it now--dost hear?
Sa'adut wants it.'

He had not spoken so clearly for days, and Khôjee's smile came swift.

'Nay, sonling, it was sounded,' she answered caressingly. 'Thou didst
sleep, perchance. Sleep again, Comfort of my heart! It will come, as
ever, at sunset.

'But Sa'adut wants it now!--he will have it! he will be asleep at
sunset. Sound it now! Sound it now, I tell thee, thou ugly one. Sound
the King's _naubat_ for Sa'adut.'

The old vehemence, the old imperious whimper brought delight and dismay
in a breath to the listener.

'Yea, yea, sweetest!' she began breathlessly as the old signs of tears
showed themselves--'have patience, pretty. Old Khôjee will surely
obey--no tears, darling--she will sound the _naubat_ even now.'

She glanced round in her consolations hurriedly. Noormahal still slept
at the bed's foot. Khâdjee's snores--she had wept herself into the
physical discomfort of a cold in the head--rose regularly from an
archway. All else was silence. Every one slept! Even the city! Yes! she
would risk it--risk disturbing the neighbours--risk unknown penalties
from the breach of unknown by-laws. The child must be saved from tears.

So, hastily, she caught up the rushlight, and leaving the courtyard to
the moonlight, stumbled, fast as her limp would let her, up the narrow
stairs to the _naubat khana_. The rats scuttled from it as she picked
her way through the fallen kettledrums that had once swung from the
roof, brave in tassels and tinsels; that were now cracked, mouldering,
the parchment rent and gnawed. One still hung dejectedly at the farther
end, and towards it she passed rapidly. Even on it, however, a rat,
driven to extremities in that hungry house, had been attempting to
dine; its eyes showed like specks of light as it ran a little way up
the tarnished tinsel rope on which the drum swung, and awaited her
oncoming.

Now Aunt Khôjee, like many another woman East and West, was desperately
afraid of rats; yet the _naubat_ had to be sounded. She shut her eyes
to give her greater courage, and put all her little strength into her
blow.

It was too much for the rotten rope. The kettledrum clashed to the
ground with hollow reverberations worthy of the old days, and the old
woman's frightened cry did duty as the _nakârah_.

But behind both sounds came a child's laugh, an elfin, uncanny laugh;
and, as she paused--in her flight downwards--at the stair-head, she saw
in the moonlight below an elfin, uncanny figure sitting bolt upright
among the cushions of state, clapping the little hands that held the
glistening signet of royalty, and chuckling to itself gleefully, while
Noormahal, roused, yet still bewildered, looked about her for the
cause, and Aunt Khâdjee from the archway gave pitiful shrieks of alarm.

'The _naubat_! the King's _naubat_! My _naubat_! Sa'adut's _naubat_!'

The cracked, hoarse little voice went on and on till it became
breathless, and after it ceased, the sparkle of the ring still showed
in the little applauding hands.

'What is't?--what didst do?' asked Noormahal reproachfully. 'Thou
hast made him in a sweat. Lo! heart's delight, let me wipe thy
forehead--'tis only _Amma jân_--thy _Amma_,' she added coaxingly. But
there was no need for that. Sa'adut lay cuddled up on his pillows,
smiling, complaisant, both hands clasped over his ring.

'Sa'adut's ring,' he whispered as if it were a great joke, a splendid
childish secret that was his to keep or tell, 'and Sa'adut's _naubut_.
His own. He will keep them himself.'

'Lo! _bibi_,' faltered old Khôjee apologetically--'it will do him no
harm. See! it was of himself he rose, and now he would sleep. He is
better, not worse. _Bismillah!_'

'_Ur-rahmân-ur-raheem_,' came drowsily from the child's lips, finishing
that new-taught grace, asserting that new-found dignity. So, with that
look of possession on his face, he fell asleep again.

He was still sleeping when, an hour or two after dawn, the tailor's
wife from over the alley came in on her way bazaarwards, to see how the
child had fared through the night, and ask what the noise might have
been which had awakened her house. Had more of the old palace fallen?

Khôjee, who was already spinning for dear life, set the question by. A
great fear was in her old heart, because of the evil portent of the
falling drum; but none because of the truth, writ clear on that
sleeping figure, that it would never wake again.

So Khâdjee was still writing out the attributes of God, and Noormahal
scraping out another dose of the wonderful western medicine from the
bottom of a tin of Brand's essence against the wakening that would
never come.

'He is more like his grandfather than his father,' remarked the tailors
wife as she looked at the child, 'If he had been King, he would have
been better than Jehân.'

She made the assertion calmly, and though Aunt Khôjee looked up,
doubtful of its ambiguity, no one denied or contradicted it. So the
tailor's wife passed out of these four walls, leaving them empty of all
things strange.

For the very shadows they threw were familiar. All her life long,
Noormahal's big black eyes had watched the purple one of the eastern
wall lessen and lessen before the rising of the sun, and the purple one
of the western wall grow behind the setting of the sun. Only on the
angled screen at the door the shadows were sometimes new; these shadows
of some one coming from outside.

There was one on it now; clear, unmistakable. No! not one; there were
two! The shadows of two strange women muffled in their veils, coming in
as if they had the right to enter.

A quick terror flew to Noormahal's eyes at the sight!

The tailor's wife had not been long in spreading her news.

In an instant Noormahal was on her feet fighting the air wildly with
her hands.

'It is not true!' she cried passionately; 'it is not true!' And then
the mockery of her own denial, the certainty that it was so, came to
her even without a look at the child, and her voice rose piercingly in
the mother's dirge--


             'O child! who taught thee to deceive?
              O child! who taught thee thus to leave?'


Old Khôjee was at her side in a second, beating down her hands. 'Not
yet! Not yet! Noormahal! Oh! wait a while. It cannot be yet! He
sleeps--he is not dead.'

True, he slept still, cuddled into the cushions of state. But the look
of possession had gone from the childish face, though the signet of
royalty had found its proper place; for it hung loose on the forefinger
of his right hand.

'Some one must call his father,' whimpered Khâdeeja Khânum; even amid
the tempest of grief she was mindful, as ever, of etiquette. 'He must
be here to receive the last breath.'

So it came to pass that when Jehân returned with Lateefa from
cantonments to the evil-smelling courtyard in which his bachelor
quarters jostled Dilarâm's balcony, he found the call awaiting him. It
had come two hours before, the messenger said, so it might be too late.
But it was not.

Jehân entering, found the courtyard half full of women. The sun was
pouring down into it, showing the stolid yet watchful faces of the
circle of those--unveiled by reason of their lower rank--who were
gathered round the bed set in the centre. Khôjee and Khâdjee--the
former with the tears chasing each other down her cheeks forlornly as
she shaded the child with the royal fan and said '_Ameen_' to the old
mullah who was chanting the death chapter of the Koran, the latter with
unreserved sobbings--crouched at the head.

But Noormahal neither sobbed nor said '_Ameen_.' Half on the ground,
half on the low bed, she lay still, her face hidden about the child's
feet.

She did not stir even when Jehân's voice rose in unrestrained--and for
the time being sincere--lamentation, in piteous upbraidings of all and
everything. Why had he not been told? Why had he not been sent for
sooner?

Lateefa, who had entered with him, gave a quick look of absolute
dislike and contempt at his principal. 'Best thank God they sent for
thee at all,' he muttered as he passed to the head of the cot. He had
gibed and laughed at the tragedy till then, treating it--as he treated
his kites--as a mere nothingness. But this--above all, old Khôjee's
forlorn face--struck home.

'Best thank God they let thee be in time to claim thy son,' he muttered
again, adding, as he bent his keen face closer to the child's, 'and
thou art but just in time!'

But just in time! Even as he spoke one of the stolid watching women
nodded and looked at her neighbour interrogatively. The neighbour
looked at the face on the cushions, and nodded also.

So, as if by common consent, the first faint whimper which heralds the
true wailing began.

Khôjee paused in an '_Ameen_' with a gasp, Khâdjee let her sobs grow
into a cry.

But Noormahal neither stirred, nor uttered sound. Only as she lay over
the child's feet a little shiver ran through her limbs as if she, too,
were passing from the cold world.

An hour afterwards she was still lying so, face downwards, unrewarding,
though they had moved her to the bed where Khâdeeja Khânum had spent so
many hours in making tinsel caps.

One of them, which she had made for Sa'adut's four years, four months,
and four days' reception into the church of the Clement and Merciful,
was on the child's head now; for the tenders of the dead had prepared
him for his burial.

Khôjee had brought out the few treasures of faded brocade the ruined
palace still held, to fold about him softly, and with a sob which
seemed to rend her heart, had bidden the signet of royalty be left on
the little Heir's forefinger against the time when his mother should
rouse herself to take her last look at him.

The wailers had departed to return later on. Khâdjee had succumbed to
sorrow, and sought seclusion. Even Jehân had gone; the last to go, save
Lateefa, who lingered half-indifferent, half-compassionate, impatient
of poor Khôjee's tears over a loss that had been inevitable for months,
yet not liking to leave them to be shed in absolute solitude.

'Thou art kind, Lateef,' she said at last. ''Tis woman's work, not
man's: yet without thee, brother----' Her soft old eyes met his, and
the tears in them seemed to find their way into his heart and melt it.

'Thou art welcome, sister,' he said gravely. 'I think all is as it
should be now--I see naught amiss.'

His eyes, as he stood at the foot of the bed whereon the dead child
lay, travelled approvingly upwards, and Khôjee's followed suit. But
hers went no further than the little waxen hands resting so straightly,
so demurely on the brocade; for the lack of something on them made her
start forward incredulously, search in wild haste in the folds beneath
the still fingers, and then fall with a cry at Lateefa's feet, clasping
them, kissing them.

'Give it back--it was there but now! If thou hast it--if he bade thee
take it--gave it back!'

He stood looking down at her with a curious expression of shame on his
face. 'It,' he echoed. 'What is it?'

'Thou knowest,' she pled piteously. 'The ring--she will die if it is
not there. She cannot lose both, she cannot lose all. Give it back for
these first days--give it for comfort, if for naught else, or she will
die. O Lateef! do this for old Khôjee--ugly Khôjee! Lo! I have asked
naught of men, nor husband, nor child; for I had naught to give. Yet I
ask this--have pity--brother!'

He stooped to unclasp her hands with an almost tender look.

'Thy like has more to give mine than thou dost think, sister,' he said;
'God knows even Lateef----' He broke off with a half-impatient gesture.
'But this is past hoping for. If Jehân wishes----' He paused again, and
shook his head. 'Tell her thou hast put it by for safety--she will be
too full of grief to prove thy words--that will give time, see you----'

Khôjee, still on her knees, looked up doubtfully. 'Time,' she echoed,
and then her face lit up with hope. 'Time--then thou wilt try! thou
wilt speak to Jehân! thou wilt bring it back if thou canst! Yea, I will
tell her--I will tell the lie if thou wilt promise. Lateef! this much
thou _wilt_ do, promise to try. On the Koran, on thy head, thou wilt
swear, if thou _canst_ do this thing.'--Her old lips were on his feet,
kissing them passionately, and he gave an uneasy, almost bitter laugh.

'Not on the Koran, sister,' he said evasively, 'nor on my head. Those
be God's work. Lateef had naught to do with the making of either. He
hath no hold on them, or their vagaries, and I swear by naught that is
not sure.'

'Then swear by what thou likest,' she put in swiftly. 'Lo! it is not
much I ask--not even that thou wilt bring it back, but that thou wilt
try--for me who cannot try, for helpless Khôjee shut in these four
walls. Promise, Lateef, that if thou _hast_ the chance--nay! I will not
let thee go till thou dost promise.'

There was a pause, and then he laughed--his own contemptuous, musical
laugh. 'If the chance comes! Yea! I will promise that. On my kites I
promise, since they be my creatures to fly or fail as I choose. Let be,
good Khôjee. If I am to do aught, thou must let me go.'

She rose reluctantly. 'On thy kites, Lateef? That is a light oath.' She
spoke in vague wonder.

'Heavy for me, sister,' he replied gaily, 'since they be all Lateef has
for children--all of his own fashioning to leave behind him when he
dies!'

So, with a nod towards the dead child, he passed out of the courtyard
where the shadows were lengthening for sunset.

But there would be no _naubat_ to sound that evening, so Khôjee
crouched down between the two beds where the mother and the child lay
both silent, both unheeding, and covering her face with her veil,
thought how best to tell the lie when Noormahal should rouse to ask the
question.



                             CHAPTER XIII

                         A VALSE À DEUX TEMPS


'What am I? Why, a mutiny lady, of course. Don't you see my crinoline;
I suppose I am the first to arrive, but there are a lot of us coming in
the dress. We are going to have a sixteen mutiny Lancers; perhaps two,
and all sorts of fun. Rather a jolly idea, isn't it?'

The speaker was Mrs. Chris Davenant as she stood buttoning her white
gloves in the anteroom of the club which was all decorated and
illuminated for the Service ball. She was daintiness itself in a
widespread pink tarlatane frilled to the very waist. A wreath of
full-blown pink roses headed the fall of white lace that lay low down
on the white sloping shoulders, which seemed as if, at the least
movement, they would slip up from their nest of flowers to meet the
fair shining hair that slipped downwards in a loose coil from the
wreath of pink roses round her head.

The steward who had been told off to record the costumes, and see that
no one evaded the rule of fancy dress without permission, raised his
eyebrows slightly as he bowed.

'And admirably carried out in your case,' he replied politely, ere
turning to Chris, who stood beside the pink tarlatane in the garments
of civilisation which had been rescued from Sri Hunumân. He was
looking, for him, moody, ill-humoured.

'And you, I suppose, have permission,' began the steward, when Mrs.
Chris with a hasty look-half of appeal--at her husband, interrupted
gaily--

'Oh, he is mutiny too. The fashion in dress-clothes has not changed.'

'Excuse me,' said Chris in a loud voice. 'I come as an English
gentleman of the nineteenth century. It is fancy dress for me, sir. Are
you ready, Viva?'

The white shoulders did slip from the lace and the roses with the
half-petulant, half-tolerant shrug they gave, and which expressed, as
plain as words could have done, the owner's mental position. If Chris
chose to take that line and make a fool of himself, it did not concern
her. She meant to enjoy herself.

'Execrable taste!' remarked the steward at the other door whose
business was with the ball programmes.

'Which?' asked his neighbour pointedly.

'Oh, both. But the mutiny idea is the worst. Who the deuce started it?'

'Lucanaster's lot, I believe. We couldn't exactly stop it, if they
chose.'

'Well, I hope to goodness Filthy Lucre won't come as John Ellison, or I
shall feel it my duty to knock him down.'

'Oh, we barred that sort of thing, of course. And it is really rather a
jolly dress'--the speaker gave a glance after the pink tarlatane--'at
least, she looks ripping in it.'

She certainly looked her best; and had caught the sweetly feminine
suggestion of the style better than any other of the score or so of
women belonging to the smart set, who, by degrees, came to make up the
mutiny Lancers. A fact which the men belonging to it were not slow to
recognise, so that a group of stiff-stocked uniforms soon gathered
round her, while Mr. Lucanaster--who looked his best, also, in the
gorgeous array which Hodson of Hodson's Horse in the middle of all the
strain and stress of the mutiny, evolved from his inner consciousness
for his 'Ring-tailed Roarers'--could not take his eyes off her gleaming
pink and white. He even risked the resentment of more important ladies
by rearranging the whole set so as to secure her being next to him in
it.

But that gleam of pink and white was responsible for more than the
setting of Mr. Lucanaster's blood on fire. It made Chris, for the first
time, fiercely jealous. Ever since he had allowed himself, for that
minute on the bridge, to compare his wife with his ideal, and his ideal
with the little cousin whose familiar beauty had so disturbed him, he
had been far more exigeant as a husband than he had ever been before.
And now, as he watched his wife's success, it was with clouded eyes
that followed her wherever she went; even when, just before supper--the
night being marvellously warm for the time of year--some one's
suggestion that it would be infinitely jollier to have the mutiny
Lancers outside in the gardens, sent the whole party of dancing feet
trooping out, amid laughter and chatter, to the lawns and flower-beds
which forty years ago had lain bare and bloodstained under the weary
feet of those defenders of the flag.

The verdict of execrable taste given by the steward had been endorsed
by many; by none more fully than by the Government House party which
had come over late. But even Lesley felt bound to admit that, taste or
no taste, there was a certain uncanniness in the look of these men and
women who might indeed be ghosts from that gay Nushapore life of forty
years back.

So, many a one might have been dressed, so they might have danced, and
flirted, and chattered, on the very night when John Ellison ended that
gay life and called them to death, with a brief order to close in on
the Garden Mound and defend the flag that floated from its central
tower. And Grace, more imaginative, more fanciful than Lesley, found
her thoughts wandering more than once in a wonder whether some call to
show themselves worthy of that past might not come again, come there in
the midst of the lights and the laughter. There is always an atmosphere
of unreality in a fancy dress ball when the masqueraders mean to enjoy
themselves; but it was more marked that night than Grace Arbuthnot had
ever seen it.

There was a fascination in it--in the uncertainty of it.

But there was one small soul for whom the sight had fascination, not
from its unreality, but its reality. This was Jerry, who in consequence
of a special invitation from the ball committee of which Jack Raymond
was secretary, that the little lad might be allowed to see the show
till supper-time, had been brought over for an hour or two.

'He isn't weally Hodson of Hodson's Horse, is he, mum?' he said,
squeezing his mother's hand tight, as, in his little Eton suit, his
wide white collar seeming to stare like his wide grey eyes, he watched
the couples passing out into the garden, 'cos _he_ was bigger. It's
only pwetence, weally, isn't it?'

'Of course, it is pretence, Jerry,' she answered almost carelessly;
then something in the child's expression made her stoop to smooth his
hair, and look in his freckled face with a smile. 'You would like to go
and see them in the garden, wouldn't you? Well, wait a bit, and Lesley,
when she comes back from her dance, shall take you, and then you must
be off to bed. It is getting late.'

'Let me take him, Lady Arbuthnot,' said Jack Raymond's voice. 'I am
engaged to Miss Drummond for these Lancers, and I am sure she would
prefer not to dance them with me, even if she hasn't forgotten the
fact.'

He had come up behind her from the supper-room where he had been busy,
and Grace, who had not seen him before that evening, felt a sudden pang
at the sight of him. For he was dressed in the political uniform which,
except on such frivolous occasions as these, had not seen the light for
ten years. She told herself that he looked well in it, _as he had
always done_; and then the reminiscence annoyed her, for she had been
taking herself to task somewhat for the persistency of such
recollections.

'Thanks so much,' she replied. 'I can see her coming back now, so you
can combine the two. That will do nicely.'

It would, in fact, fit in very nicely with her plans; for in
consequence of that taking to task she _had_ been making plans, as
women of her sort do when they feel an interest in a man which they
cannot classify. And Grace Arbuthnot could not classify hers for Jack
Raymond; though she went so far as to acknowledge that she could not,
even now, treat him as she treated all other men with the exception of
her husband.

He made her feel moody and restless. This was intolerable, even though
the cause was, clearly, nothing more than a regret at his wasted life.
It could, indeed, be nothing else. Had she not at the very beginning
sought him out solely in the hope of rousing him to better things? He
had repulsed her by saying that hers was not the hand to win his back
to the plough; and she had resented this at first--had refused to
believe that the past could interfere with the present. But she had
been reasoning the matter out with herself during the last few days.
There had been many links and also many _lacunæ_ in the chain of that
reasoning; yet she had been quite satisfied with the result of it,
namely--a conviction that Lesley Drummond would be the very person to
compass regeneration! For women like Grace Arbuthnot are never more
inconsequent than they are in regard to Love with a big L; since in one
breath they call it Heaven-sent, and the next set springes to catch it
as if it were a woodcock or a hedge-sparrow!

Having arrived at this conviction with a curious mixture of shrewdness
and sentiment, Grace had gone on to be practical. She herself was
debarred by her position from any more becoming dress than the latest
Paris fashion, but that was no reason why Lesley should not have the
advantage of clever wits and clever fingers. For the girl herself was
of that large modern type which, without in the least despising dress,
being, in fact, curiously sensitive to its charm, are personally quite
helpless concerning it.

The result of this being, that as Lesley approached, Jack Raymond
stared at the transformation, took in its details, and finally gave in
to the perfection of the dress by saying, with a laugh-=

'God prosper thee, my Lady Greensleeves!'

'My Lady Greensleeves!' echoed Lesley. 'Yes, of course it is! How
stupid of me, Lady Arbuthnot, not to have guessed before. Oh! I'm
sorry; I promised not to tell who made my dress, didn't I?'

The cat was out of the bag, and Grace flushed up with vexation. She had
not thought any one would recognise the source whence she had taken
Lesley's 'smock o' silk' and 'gown of grassy green,' her 'pearl and
gold girdle' and 'gay gilt knives,' the 'crimson stockings all o'
silk,' and 'pumps as white as was the milk.' She had not even told the
girl herself, partly from the love of such fanciful little mysteries
which is inherent in such as she; partly because she feared to injure
the unconscious indifference which made Lesley look the character to
perfection.


             'Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
              And yet she would not love me.'


And now Jack Raymond, of all people, had found her out; found her out
altogether! She could see that in his eyes, hear it in his voice as he
said--

'Whoever made it, it is charming. This is our dance, Miss Drummond, I
believe, but Lady Arbuthnot wants us to desecrate the past. I mean,' he
went on after a slight pause, 'that we are to take Jerry to see some
dreadful people dance the Lancers!'

'There are some pasts which do not admit of desecration,' put in Lady
Arbuthnot sharply, 'and that is one of them.'

'Neither to be desecrated, nor forgotten,' he added. 'Come along,
Jerry!'

As they passed out into the garden Lesley remained silent.

She was conscious once again of not understanding the whole drift of
the words which had just been spoken. And this time her temper rose
with the certainty that she was mixed up in them; so, after a bit, she
frowned and said point blank--

4 Tell me, please, why Lady Arbuthnot chose this dress for me. I am
certain you know, don't you?'

For a moment he was staggered; then he laughed. 'Why,' he echoed, 'have
you forgotten, so soon, that Greensleeves are your racing colours?
Bonnie Lesley's colours. I'm not so ungrateful as that, Miss Drummond;
but then the money I won on her is next my heart at the present moment.
Fact, I assure you; for I always carry my betting-book in my
breast-pocket so as to be handy!'

She told herself he was incorrigible; had, in fact, almost gone on to
the faint blame--which in a woman's mind covers all possible breaches
of the ten commandments--of thinking he was '_not at all a nice man_,'
when Jerry, as he had already done more than once, prevented quarrel by
such a tight grip on both the hands he held, that alienation seemed
impossible to them.

'Oh dear?' he sighed, his wide eyes on the couples that were waiting in
front of the Residency for the native infantry band, which had been
hastily summoned for the _al-fresco_ dance, to strike up. 'I do wish
there wasn't any nasty old past to come and make it all make-believe,
when it might be real; 'cos it is a deader, you know, and we're alive?'

Jack Raymond looked over to the Greensleeves and laughed. 'Sound
philosophy, Jerry,' he said. 'If it was real, what would you do?

Jerry looked round thoughtfully. Beyond the lawns the cemetery gate
showed dimly, with Budlu's white figure crouched beside it.

'Kill Budlu, or take him prisoner, I 'spect,' he replied gravely, ''cos
the band, you know, _might_ be loyal.'

At that moment it crashed into the opening bars of the Lancers with all
the go and rhythm which the natives put into dance music.

'You're top!' came one voice; 'No! you are,' answered a second; 'Oh! do
begin, some one!' protested another. So, with a laugh, a scramble, a
confusion, a dozen or more of dancing feet trod the grass which had
grown out of blood stains. But the confusion ended in order, so that
the pink tarlatane was in its place to be twirled by Hodson's Horse,
and join the clapping of hands which ended the figure.

There was something weird in the sight out there, with the flower-beds
set with coloured lights, the Chinese lanterns swinging in the trees,
and the shadowy pile of the Residency lying--more felt than seen--with
its solitary tower and drooping flag.

'Inside! outside! Outside! inside!' came the reckless gay voices after
a time.

In the far distance a fire balloon from some wedding in the city,
sailed up into the sky above the trails of smoke rising from the
torches which outlined the boundary of the Garden Mound. Budlu's
figure, watching the graves of heroes, showed closer in, then the band
busy with cornets and oboes, and the masquerading figures with that
gleam of pink and white among them, watched by Chris as he stood half
hidden in the shadow of the ruins.

'Outside! inside! Inside! outside!'

So, with another crash of the band, the endless circle of men and women
caught at each other's hands as if in that touch lay all things
necessary to salvation.

'Inside and outside,' echoed Jack Raymond grimly. 'Yes! Brian O'Lynn's
breeches were comparatively sane. But we are all more or less mad
to-night, my Lady Greensleeves. Upon my soul, Jerry, you, as the
British Boy, are the only one in the place fit to carry on the British
rule! so come along and have some supper, young man, before you go to
bed. The champagne is A1--that's my department, Miss Drummond; it's all
_I'm_ fit for.'

But Jerry, who had let go their hands to step nearer the Residency as
if he saw something, stopped suddenly and pointed.

'Mr. Waymond,' he said, in a loud voice, 'who's that?'

'Who's who?'

'Him!'--

The child stood pointing into the shadows, his eyes wide, his whole
face expectant.

Jack Raymond caught him up by the arms with a laugh, and swung him up
to his shoulder. 'Don't be creepy, old man!--there's no one there,' he
said, as he turned back to the club.

But Jerry was insistent. He had seen some one, he protested; and
brought in a long tale of what Budlu knew, and every one knew,
including his _syce_ and his _chuprassi_, to prove that he had. Why!
Budlu himself had seen the ghost several days, and it meant something
just 'orful bad, for there didn't use to be no ghosts in the Mound
except Jân-Ali-shân.'

'I wouldn't let him talk so much to Budlu and that lot, if I were you,'
said Jack Raymond, aside to Lesley; 'he takes it too hard, dear little
chap.'

'I can't prevent it,' retorted Lesley rather resentfully. 'You see he
has to go out and come in through the Mound, and then he is such a
favourite. The natives simply worship him. I can't think why.'

Jack Raymond glanced at the sturdy little figure which was now tackling
roast turkey and ham in blissful forgetfulness of ghosts.

'I expect they know,' he replied briefly, 'and they are not often
wrong.'

The Thakoor of Dhurmkote, at any rate, had no doubts; for an hour
after, Jerry--under responsible escort--had been sent home across the
Garden to bed, Jack Raymond, having strolled beyond the line of lights
and light feet to enjoy a quiet cigar, found the two of them, with an
admiring tail--composed of the responsible escort and the old
nobleman's retinue--going the round of the batteries, while Jerry
explained them solemnly to the old warrior in English.

'And we beat 'em here too, sir; boys like me beat all their biggest
men, right here.'

'_Wah! wah!_' chorussed the tail approvingly, while the stern old face
melted into smiles, with a '_Suchch mera beta suchch!_' (Truth, my son,
truth!)

'Hullo! you young scamp!' said Jack Raymond, coming up; 'not gone to
bed yet?--be off with you at once.'

But the Thakoor laid a hand on the arm of authority, not in petition,
rather in blame.

'Lo! friend of mine,' he said chidingly, 'why is there no son of thine
to match this son of heroes?' What hast thou been doing all these
years?'

The Eastern reproof of the old for those who leave their duty to the
race undone, fell on Jack Raymond's Western ears and held them
unexpectedly.

Why had he no son, in whom to live again? The answer could not be
avoided--because the woman he loved had jilted him, and he had not
chosen----

Not chosen what? To do his duty?

He smiled. 'Lo! friend of mine,' he answered lightly, 'such things are
chance. My son might have been a coward.'

But as, after having seen Jerry marched off in the direction of bed,
and bidden good-bye to the Thakoor--who was far more sleepy than the
child--he strolled on with his cigar, he knew quite well that the
excuse was a false one. The thought of inheritance, either of heroism
or cowardice, did not enter into the question with Englishmen and
Englishwomen as a rule. Marriage was a purely personal matter. There,
in fact, lay the fundamental difference between the East and West. That
was what made it impossible for the two races----

The sound of voices in anger made him pause. He had come back to the
verge of lights, to the limit of the dancing feet, and before him rose
the ruins of what in the old days had been the hospital. The roof had
fallen in, but the marble flooring, raised above the levels outside by
a half-sunk foundation of cellars, was still in almost perfect repair.
And here, after supper--the _al-fresco_ Lancers having proved so great
a success--the mutiny group had chosen to improvise a ball-room. Such
things are easily compassed in India, where an army of sweepers and
servants appear in a moment. Once swept, it needed little garnishing;
for the great wreaths of coral bignonia garlanded it from end to end,
and even flung themselves across it here and there like rafters. As for
lights, a few Chinese lanterns, torn from the trees and swung among the
flowers, were sufficient for dancing; and who wanted more? Not these
masqueraders, with whom, as the hours grew towards dawn, the fun had
become fast and furious. The club-house, indeed, was now almost
deserted, except by the line of carriages, and even this was lessening
every minute. Supper itself appeared to have migrated to the open
during Jack Raymond's stroll, for, to his intense disgust, he saw a
table--with champagne bottles showing prominent--behind the flitting
forms of the dancers; flitting unsteadily, unevenly, for they were
trying the old valse, and a woman's voice rose above the laughter.

'Oh! do try and remember it is a _valse à deux temps_--you can't help
treading on people's toes if you don't!'

Jack Raymond had flung away his cigar at the sight of the table, and
was going forward to object, forgetful of those angry voices, when they
rose again close beside him.

'I insist on your coming home, Viva!--Mr. Lucanaster, sir, let my wife
go!'

'Damn!' said Jack Raymond under his breath. Ha grasped the situation in
a second and saw its hopelessness.

'Go 'way, sir--go 'way,' came in Mr. Lucanaster's voice; 'don't be
foolish.' There was a faint elation as well as elision in the words; no
more, but it seemed to make them sound more contemptuous.

'Yes; don't be foolish, Chris. I'm going to dance this valse with Mr.
Lucanaster. You can go home if you like.'

The woman's voice had the note of defiance in it which means danger;
but Chris did not recognise the fact. He had been working himself up to
this revolt all the evening, and now, having begun it, he went on in
strict accordance to what he had settled with himself was the proper
and dignified course to pursue.

'Sir,' he said, drawing himself up and speaking with great
deliberation, 'you are a scoundrel, and I shall take the earliest
opportunity of allowing you to prove the contrary if you choose. In the
meantime, pray do not let us quarrel before ladies. I request you to
unhand my wife.'

It was not only a man who laughed, it was a woman; and at the sound
Jack Raymond swore under his breath again, and slipped towards the
voices.

The gleam of pink and white and the 'Ring-tailed Roarer' must evidently
have been sitting out in a small summer-house, where Chris had found
them; and Mr. Lucanaster must have risen and tried to pass out with the
pink tarlatane, for Chris stood barring the way boldly enough. But that
laugh was fatal to him. It brought back in a rush the sense of his own
helplessness, his inexperience, and with it came the self-pity which is
ever so close to tears.

'Viva!' he began, 'surely you----'

Mr. Lucanaster waved his hand lightly, as he might have waved a beggar
away.

'Don't be an idiot, my good man. What the deuce have you got to do with
an English lady?--Come, Jennie, this two-time valse is ripping.'

'Excuse me,' said Jack Raymond, stepping forward; 'but Mrs. Davenant is
engaged to me. If you don't think so, Lucanaster, we can settle the
point by and by, but for the present I advise you not to have a row. It
won't pay.'

The assertion varied not at all from that made by poor Chris; but the
method was different, and Mr. Lucanaster fell back on bluster.

'You're d--d impertinent, sir; but, of course, if Mrs. Davenant----'

'It will not pay Mrs. Davenant to waste time either,' interrupted Jack
coolly, holding out his arm, 'especially as she is so fond of dancing.
It has been a capital ball, hasn't it?' he added, as if nothing unusual
had occurred, when, with a half-apologetic look at her partner, she
accepted the proffered arm, and they passed on. 'A pity it is over,
but--_perhaps_--you _may_ have others like it. Davenant! if you will
find the dogcart, I will take your wife to get her cloak, and I daresay
she would like a cup of soup before driving. I know it is ready.'

When they were alone, she tried a little bluster too, but he met it
with a smile. 'My dear lady,' he said, 'it only wants a very little to
kick Lucanaster out of the club, so please look at the business
unselfishly. It is always a pity to risk one's position for a trifle.'

As he handed Mrs. Chris into the dogcart, duly fortified by hot soup,
Chris tried to wring his hand and say something grateful, with the
result that Jack Raymond felt he had been a fool to interfere, since
the catastrophe must come sooner or later.

The sooner the better. It was always a mistake to prolong the agony in
anything.

He felt unusually low in his mind, and so, after having waited to the
very last as in duty bound, to turn any would-be revellers decently out
of the club, he lit another cigar--his first one having been
interrupted--and wandered out into the Garden Mound again. Most of the
lights were out, only a belated lantern or two swung fitfully among the
trees, but a crescent moon was showing, and there was just that faint
hint of light in the sky which tells of dawn to come. He sat down on
the step of the granite obelisk, which held on all four sides the
close-ranged names of those who had given their lives to keep the
English flag flying, and, full of cynical disgust at much he had seen
that evening, asked himself if Nushapore was likely to bring such
heroism again to the storehouse of the world's good deeds?

Perhaps; but even so, it would have to be something very different from
that past story,--something that Englishmen and women could not
monopolise. For if, after forty years of government, our rule had
failed to win over the allegiance of men--like Chris Davenant, for
instance--would not that, in itself, be a condemnation?

And had it won such allegiance? With that scene fresh in his memory,
Jack Raymond doubted if it were possible.

Truly the conditions had changed, indeed! As he had said, Brian
O'Lynn's breeches were not in it for topsyturveydom!

But with the thought came also the memory of what he had said about
Jerry and the carrying on of British rule; and with that came the
memory of what the Thakoor had said about the boy.

Dear little chap!

A great tenderness swept through him for the child. And for the child's
mother, the woman who had refused----?

The question was not answered.

He started up--incredulous--then set off running, calling as he ran,
"Jerry! Jerry! What on earth are you up to? Jerry! Jerry!"

For in the dimness that was not quite darkness, he had seen a little
figure running like a hare between the bushes, a little figure in an
Eton suit with a gleam of white collar.

"Jerry! Jerry! you little fool! pull up, will you!" There was no
answer, and he had lost sight of the boy; but, as he ran on, the sound
of other footsteps behind him made him look round and pause. For it was
my Lady Greensleeves running too. He could see the "crimson stockings
all o' silk, and pumps white as is the milk," as they sped over the
grass.

"Jerry!" she gasped. "Where is he? What is it?"

"On ahead somewhere! God knows! I told you we were all mad," he
answered as he ran on. The flowering bushes, growing thick upon the
lawns near the cemetery, hid his quarry; but suddenly, on the double
back towards the Residency, the child's figure showed, still running
like a hare. In the light of a Chinese lantern that flared up as candle
met paper, his face looked dogged.

'Whoo hoop! gone away! Stick to 'im, sir! stick to 'im--


"For we'll all go a-'unting to-day! we'll all go a-'unting to-day!"


trolled a new voice, and two more pairs of running feet joined the
chase as Jân-Ali-shân and Budlu appeared from the cemetery.

'What, in the devil's name, is it all about, Ellison,' called Jack
Raymond. 'Are we all mad? What is it?'

'The ghost, sir,' called back Jân-Ali-shân, 'thet's w'ot it is. Me and
Budlu was watchin' for 'im, for 'e 's bin takin' away my charakter,
sir, an' stealin' from the poor an' needy. But Master Jeremiah must a'
seen 'im fust, thet's 'ow 'tis.'

'He was wide awake in his bed when I came in,' panted my Lady
Greensleeves, 'talking about wicked men pretending, and I told him to
go to sleep--he must have got up and dressed. Jerry! Jerry! Stop! Come
back, do you hear!'

She might as well have called to the dead. The child's figure showed on
another double, and before him--yes, before him, just rounding another
bush was a ghostly figure in a white uniform.

'By Jove!' exclaimed Jack Raymond, ignoring his faint feeling of
creepiness. 'There is some one. This is getting exciting. Come on!
don't let him slip through.'

'Whoo hoop! gone away! Tantivy, tantivy, tantivy!' sang Jân-Ali-shân.

So round the Residency, and back towards the hospital where the _valse
à deux temps_ had been danced, Lesley, her green sleeves flying like
flags, ran blindly, to pull up in a heap among the little group of
balked faces, stopped by the wall of the half-sunk cellars below the
marble dancing floor. A wall all garlanded down to the ground with
bougainvillea and bignonia.

'He's here! the ghost's here!' wailed Jerry. 'I sor' him from the
window when I was watchin', lest he should pull down the flag. Oh, Mr.
Waymond, please catch him!'

Jack Raymond, who was feeling below the trailing-flowers, gave a short
exclamation. 'There's a door here. Have you a match about you,
Ellison?'

'Lord love you!' replied the loafer reproachfully, 'I ain't such a
fool, sir, as to go ghost-'unting without a lucifer. Here you are,
sir!'

The next instant, beneath the creepers that parted like a curtain, an
open door showed in the match light; and in the darkness within was
something.--What?--

'What a horrid smell!' said Lesley, as Jack Raymond took a step inside
and held up the match.

'Begging your parding, miss,' put in Jân-Ali-shân, 'it's a dead rat,
that's w'ot it is--"_once known, loved for ever, oh! my darling_."'

'Horrid!' echoed Jack Raymond, in rather an odd tone of voice. 'Stand
back, and let me close the door; there's no use in any one running the
gauntlet of it.'

He had acted on the words before any one could raise an objection, and
they could only hear his voice inarticulately from within.

'He's got the ghost!' cried Jerry triumphantly. 'I knew'd he was here.
I see'd him all along.'

'Seems a peaceable sort, anyhow,' remarked Jân-Ali-shân, as something
like a faint whimper filtered through the closed door.

It was lighter now. The sky had paled. The shadows were turning grey.

That was perhaps why Jack Raymond's face showed so pale, and grey, and
stern above his political uniform, as he came out, closed the door
behind him, and, flinging down the lighted match he carried, trod it
under foot.

'It s only a poor devil of a stowaway,' he said calmly. 'Been living
here, I expect, some days. Ellison or Budlu, you'd better go and call
the police. Stay, I'll give you a note. And Miss Drummond, it is high
time that young ghost-hunter was out of the dew--and you also.'

Lesley looked at him with a new swiftness and light in her eyes. 'Dew!'
she echoed, 'there is no dew! I'm not a bit wet--feel that!' She walked
deliberately up to where he stood, his back still against the door, and
catching her long green sleeve in her hand, held it out.

'I'll take your word for it,' he answered lightly.

She did not move, but her eyes sought his.

'_C'est la peste, monsieur_,' she said in a low voice.

He looked at her for a second.

'_C'est la peste, mademoiselle_,' he replied with a bow.



                             CHAPTER XIV

                             IN THE TOILS


On the evening after the ball, Chris Davenant sat in the pretty little
drawing-room of which his wife was so proud, looking helplessly at Lala
Râm Nâth, who had come in on business. Yet the helplessness was not
due, Chris felt, to anything in Râm Nâth. It was due to himself, to his
own actions. The feeling comes to most of us at times; for the story of
the man-created monster which turns and rends its creator is as old as
the world. It began with the serpent in Paradise, and will only end
when humanity, by ceasing to desire that which it has not, ceases to
put itself in the power of its own imaginings.

Râm Nâth, however, had not reached this stage of development, and was
still supremely satisfied with his creature. 'Surely it is out of the
question,' he was saying in the fluent English which came from constant
speechifying, 'that in the present crisis, when the eyes of all India
are fixed on what we Nushaporites will tolerate, in the event of this
plague epidemic supervening, and, alas! bringing in its train
interferences with the liberty of the subjects beyond bearing even to
the long-suffering races of India, that you should stand aloof from us,
the recognised defenders of that liberty!'

Chris leant his head on his hand wearily. In truth he felt aloof from
everything in God's round world, save that old man of the sea whom he
had invited, under the name of civilisation, to sit on his shoulders.

'What have you decided on doing?' he asked indifferently.

'Doing?' echoed Râm Nâth a trifle uneasily. 'So far as we
ourselves--we, that is, who form the public opinion of India--are
concerned, no definite action seems at present necessary; beyond, of
course, the presenting of an unbroken front of opposition to the enemy.
At the same time there is much to be done on the sly; I mean'--he
interrupted himself hastily at the false idiom--'unostentatiously, in
order to gain the mass of the people to our side.'

'Yes,' assented Chris, 'you and I can afford to admit the truth, can't
we?--that we are not much nearer to the hearts of the people than the
English whom we ape.'

He spoke with a concentrated personal bitterness which brought greater
hope and confidence into Râm Nâth's persuasions. 'Undoubtedly.
Therefore our duty is palpable. We must seek every sympathy with them
that we can legally find. For instance, their admirable desire for
religious freedom, their touching devotion to the sanctity of home,
their vehement defence of the modesty of their women. All these----'

'Are in the abstract,' put in Chris keenly. 'Let us deal with the
concrete, please; it is safer.' He was roused now by pure love of
argument; his intellect, to which he had sacrificed so much, had once
more asserted itself; the battle of mere words had made him forget his
heartache.

They settled down to it with zest, as if it had been a debate. And
when Chris, by sheer force of argument, had made his opponent admit
that--setting generalities aside--the expressing of sympathy in some
details, though expedient, could not be held lawful, they arrived--so
far as any conclusion went--at a regular _impasse_; since, even for Râm
Nâth, it was far easier to _do_ what was logically indefensible, than
to _assert_ that it was defensible. So, after this incursion into the
realms of pure reason, he had to descend from them with a certain
petulance.

'But it is idle to wander beyond the pale of practical politics,' he
said. 'Even English statesmen consult the wishes of their constituents;
and so must we.'

'There is this flaw in the analogy,' interrupted Chris eagerly, with an
evident pleasure in the making of a point, 'that, whereas an English
constituency chooses its representative, we are self-elected.'

'True, true!' admitted Râm Nâth a trifle loftily, 'though, as Mill
points out in his admirable treatise, analogy does not consist in the
identity of one thing with another. Still, to avoid further discussion,
the question remains whether you will join our organisation.' He drew a
paper from his pocket and laid it on the table.

It began: '_We, the undersigned, do solemnly pledge ourselves to uphold
and to protect_----'

The list of what was to be so upheld and protected was a long one.
Indeed Chris, running his eye through it, recognised most of the first
principles of sweetness and light.

'That is practically all,' put in Râm Nâth rather hastily when, the end
of the third page being reached, Chris seemed inclined to turn it. 'You
have seen enough to grasp our meaning, and decide if you can support
us.'

'So far,' began Chris thoughtfully, 'there seems little----' Then,
quite mechanically, he did turn the page.

What was written overleaf was in the Sanskrit character, and ran as
follows:--

'_And to thee, daughter of Surabhi, framed of the five elements,
auspicious, pure, holy, sprung from the sun, source of ambrosia, we vow
obedience, reverence, protection. May he be accursed, O Sin Expeller!
who curses thee. May all men know that they who kill them that kill
thee, are purified_.'

Chris Davenant's finger remained pointed accusingly at the
black-lettering, his clear intelligent eyes sought those other eyes,
equally intelligent.

'Oh, that!' said Râm Nâth in instant petulant excuse. 'That does not
concern you or me. We--I mean our class, the educated class--understand
that it does not, and so--so we ignore it. You know, as well as I do,
that if we were to avow our real belief on the cow question--if we did
not insist on what is virtually, as you very well know, the test point
between the orthodox many and the heterodox few, we, the latter, might
as well give up our aim of benefiting India, our hope of influencing
its masses. It is for this reason that the Arya Somaj, though officered
by men like myself, has always professed----' He paused, doubtful of
committing himself, even so far; then went on, evasively: 'One has to
forfeit some independence of thought in the effort to gain a great end.
Is not the whole system of party government--in which, admittedly,
individuality must be lost--a proof----'

Chris stood up suddenly; yet, despite the suddenness, doubtfully.
'Party government!' he echoed. 'Let us find out party first, Râm Nâth,
and as for that'--his voice and face softened as he pointed again to
the Sanskrit lettering--'that cannot be for me--as yet. It may come
back also. God knows! It may become real again like--like other things.
Then I will follow gladly. But not now. I will not be driven, as--in
time of stress--that might drive me; as it will surely drive you and
yours!'

Râm Nâth rose too, vexedly, and put the paper in his pocket. 'We will
not be driven. It is knowledge that drives ignorance, not ignorance
knowledge. Our harness is ready. We will put it on the right horse, and
saddle the ass when the proper time comes, never fear.'

Deadly in earnest as he was, Chris could not forbear a smile; but his
despondent gravity was back in a second. 'Not if your hands are tied as
they will be,' he answered slowly; 'not if you are in the toils!

He had felt in them, himself, ever since the night before, and the
feeling grew stronger when Râm Nâth left him to his solitary dinner.
For his wife, after spending the best part of the day in bed recovering
from the fatigues of the ball, had gone out to dine with some friends
and go on with them to the dress rehearsal of a burlesque in which she
was singing and dancing. She had not taken any notice of last night's
quarrel; had, indeed, practically ignored it and said good-night to
him--as she passed out to the carriage in her short skirts--with
absolute good humour.

So, baffled, helpless, miserable, he sate down conscientiously to the
long, set meal, which his wife prided herself was served with as much
ceremony as any in Nushapore. He said 'No thank you' in polite English
fashion to half-a-dozen dishes, and still the solemn exchange of one
clean plate for another went on and on, till he felt inclined to order
the servants, with their ill-concealed tolerance of him as the husband
of their _mem_, out of the room.

They left him alone, at last, in company with the dessert; but even
this was not to his taste. Yet, in a way, he felt hungry. So he rose
and went to the sideboard, cut himself a slice of bread, helped himself
to some mango pickle, and ate it with relish.

Then the mere fact of this revival of a childish taste, with its
bathos, its hopeless triviality, reduced him almost to tears, and he
came back to sit before the chocolate _pralines_ and French _dragées_,
and leaning his head on his crossed arms, give himself up to a dreary
amaze.

The house was absolutely quiet. The servants had closed the verandah
doors and gone off to their own quarters. Through the looped
_portières_ which--as in so many Indian bungalows--hung in the wide
arch between the dining and drawing rooms, he could see the latter lit
up decorously with a superfluity of pink paper shades. One of the
windows opening on to the garden was ajar, and the light from the lamps
made the thin split bamboo screen, hung beyond it to keep out the
flies, look like solid wood.

But as, after a time, impelled--even in his blank uncertainty regarding
all things--to think of going into the drawing-room decently and in
order, Chris looked up from his dreary meditations, the solidity of
this screen wavered. And he saw the cause. A thin delicate hand was
pulling the screen aside so as to see into the room.

'Who is it?' he called at once. 'What do you want?'

'Krishn Davenund,' came a voice. It was a woman's.

'Krishn Davenund,' he echoed stupidly, his heart beginning to throb.
'Well! I am Krishn Davenund. Who wants me?'

The next instant he was standing as if turned to stone beside the
table; for the white-clad figure which showed itself, and then came
swiftly towards him, was his mother's.

'Mother!' he faltered. 'Why?--what----?'

He paused, feeling there was no reason here, no reason at all in the
clinging hands about his knees, in the passionate kisses rained on them
regardless of dress trousers, regardless of everything save that here
was the son that had been lost, and was found again!

Not so Chris Davenant. With a certain rage he realised, even as he bent
over her with tears in his eyes stirred to his innermost soul, that
above all this emotion lay a doubt to what he ought to do next; whether
he should raise his mother to the chair beside his, raise her to the
unaccustomed, or crouch down on the floor beside her, himself, in
forgotten fashion. Horrible, hateful thought; yet there it was!

She solved the question herself unconsciously with the dignified
humility of Eastern womanhood. 'Sit thou there, son of thy father,
master of my widowed house,' she said, 'so at thy feet shall I find son
and husband once more!'

Then, in a perfect ecstasy of joy, she lifted her worn, refined face to
his. 'Yea! I shall find Krishn, my Bala-Krishna once more! Lo! canst
thou forgive thy mother, child; thy mother who denounced thee, not
knowing that thou hadst returned--that thou hadst come back?'

'Come back?' he echoed.

Her face was as the face of an angel over the sinner that repenteth.
She reached her thin arm from her shroud, and laid her finger on his
lip.

'Hush, child! Let it be forgotten. Let it be as if it had never been.
Thou canst tell me, after, why thou saidst no word. Yet Krishn, how
could I tell? But for the old _pujâri_ who laid the caste mark on thy
forehead again, I might never have known.'

He understood then; understood why she had come to him; why that
clinging mother's touch was his own once more. Poor mother!

'Lo! Krishn!' she went on, interrupting herself hastily at the look on
his face, 'be not angry with me. If thou didst know the tears I have
shed since he told me but yesterday! How could I know? And to think I
might have killed thee. Say thou dost forgive me!'

'Speak not of forgiveness, mother,' he said huskily, bending to kiss
her.

What else could he do? he asked himself. Could he tell her the
truth--that he had not come back? Or had he? Or even if he had not, did
he not mean to do so? He could not say. He only felt himself in the
toils once more.

'Leave the past alone, mother,' he said fondly; 'the present is
enough.'

She smiled rapturously for a moment, and then she looked round
anxiously. 'Nay, child, not yet. There is thy wife. I must gain her
forgiveness too, if mortal woman can forgive one who might have made
her widow! But I will lie at her feet, Krishn. I will plead with her.
That is why I came hither--to see her--to call her daughter.'

Chris, with those clinging arms about him, Chris, in the luxury of
being loved, gave a faint sob.

'She is not here to-night, mother,' he said; 'but fret not: she would
forgive thee--even hadst thou made her widow!'

The worn old face looked rebuked, perhaps a trifle disappointed. 'Lo! I
have heard ever,' she said, with a regret in her voice also, 'that they
are as angels, without jealousy; not as we----'

Here the sight of the dark intelligent face above hers seemed to come
upon her as if it had been her lover's and she a girl. She laid her
head suddenly on his knee and laughed, a laugh that held a sob. 'Then I
have thee to myself for now, heart's darling!' she murmured--'thou and
thy house!'

She looked around her, full of childish curiosity and amazement. 'Thou
art _Ameer_, indeed!' she went on with awe, touching the tablecloth
gingerly with her fingers, 'and all those dishes!' She shook her head
dismally. 'Lo! Krishn! how shall I ever feed thee when thou comest to
our poor house? Yet wilt thou not mind,' she added; 'thou wert never a
greedy one!'

Then the curiosity prevailed even over her thoughts of him, and
clinging to his arm still, she raised herself to peer over the table at
the drawing-room through which she had hurried.

'Thou dost eat here, and sleep there,' she suggested. 'Nay! Krishn,
think not thy mother a fool; but she is so glad--so glad--and all is so
new--it is a spectacle!'

Her familiar face, so austere now in its lines, yet still so full of
life, furrowed by late tears, yet smoothed by present smiles, seemed to
him the most charming thing of his very own he had seen for years. He
rose like the boy he was in reality, and raised her with him. 'Come,
little mother,' he said in banter. 'Come, feminine one, and see it all;
there will be no peace for talk till that is over.'

It came naturally to him, that tone of superior affection which he had
not dared to use for so long. So, hand in hand, he showed her things
strange and new; and as he did so, saying that Viva had made this or
arranged that, a certain content in the fact grew up in him.

'Doth she play this?' asked the widow in her shroud, as she touched the
keys of the piano with an awed finger.

'Yea, and sings too,' he replied proudly. 'She shall sing for thee next
time'--he had quite forgotten realities in this present--'and now,' he
added, 'thou must see the rest, for we sleep not here. This is but for
sitting.'

He took one of the pink-shaded lamps and led the way. 'This is my
room,' he said with (considering the circumstances) a perfectly
childish pomp and delight in his task.

His mother looked into the slip of a room with approval, until she came
to the little camp-bed set in a corner.

'Are there no flowers?' she asked quickly: 'the wedding is not so old
yet----'

The pink-shaded lamp trembled suddenly in his hands. He had remembered
realities. 'And this--this is--the other,' he continued, passing on.

The old woman gave a cry of pure delight; for there were flowers here.
Roses on the walls, the hangings, the floor; roses fastening up the
lace curtains of the glittering bed, with its quilt of satin; roses
even on the dressing-table, trimmed like a rose itself, where Chris,
with a still unsteady hand, set down the rosy light to sparkle on the
silver brushes and combs, the silver-topped Heaven-knows-what, that lay
upon it. For Mrs. Chris had been dressing for a burlesque, and had
required plenty of paints and pots!

The old woman, in her widow's shroud, stole over towards it, walking
softly as if afraid of crushing the roses. But there was no awe in her
face now; only a vast curiosity, as one by one she lifted the lids and
looked in. For _this_ she knew, _this_ was common to all women.

Suddenly she glanced round at her son, and nodded archly ere proceeding
with her inspection.

'Yea! She is good, and thou art blessed in one who careth for thy
love,' she said softly.

Poor Chris!

He stood staring at his mother, staring at the paints and patches,
staring at everything feminine in this world and the next, without a
word, without almost a thought.

Only with a sort of vague wonder if this--this inconceivable
position--was the common ground between those things feminine?

A sniff at a silver-topped bottle of White-Rose scent ended the
inspection by bringing a sudden recollection, a sudden new interest to
his mother's face.

'Lo! I had nigh forgotten,' she said, searching in the folds of her
shroud with some trepidation, then relieved, coming towards him.
'Naraini--thou dost remember thy cousin Naraini, Krishn, though she was
but a child when thou didst leave?'--

'Yea, I remember,' he said, his bewilderment passing into something
tangible, something that sent him hot and cold, that made him clinch
his hands and try to bring the dull surprise back again. 'What then?'

'The girl hath a fancy--Didst thou, by chance, seek our house that
morning, Krishn? I tell her it could not be, that thou wouldst not have
gone away, but girls' fancies are ill to soothe; and she hath wept all
night lest by her petulance she had driven thee forth. She did penance
for it, poor child, within the hour, for having shown evil temper to a
holy one; but since the _pujâri's_ tale, she will have it that it was
thou--So I gave my word I would ask thee, just to comfort her, though
it is idle----'

Chris stood quite still.

'It is not idle,' he replied in a set voice, 'I--I begged of her----'

His mother gave a horrified exclamation. 'And she did fling the corn in
the gutter! The Gods are good that worse did not come of it! The wicked
one! For this I might have killed my son; for hadst thou come in, I
would have known----'

'I was not coming in,' said Chris, reverting to a Western quickness of
speech, 'tell her that, please, _Amma_.'

His mother pursed up her lips. 'I have a mind not; as I have a mind not
to give thee what she sent.'

'What she sent?' echoed Chris hotly. 'Give it me, mother, give it at
once!'

One corner of the shroud came out from the folds obediently. It was
knotted round something small and scented; and--even through that
shroud--the perfume of roses drifted from it into the rosy room.

'Lo! there it is--that, and her sense of sin. She hath done penance, as
I said, but she shall do ten more or ever I return!'

It was only a little round cardboard box she put into his hand; a box
with a quaint domed lid such as girls keep their trinkets in, but it
was covered and lined with brocaded silk that must have been soaked in
_attar_ from the scent it held, and that somehow suggested the scented
fingers which had sewed on the silver and gold twists, the little
pearls and crystals, with which it was so cunningly adorned. Chris had
seen such caskets often in the days when he had gone to weddings with
his mother; they were part of the bride's trousseau, made always by the
bride herself.

And this one Naraini had made. He opened it with a strange mixture of
fear and hope: fear lest it might contain something to spoil that
picture of the girl his memory held, and that held his fancy; hope that
it might hold something to enhance it.

And it did. For it was full of golden corn, such corn as she had thrown
in the gutter at his feet.

He sat looking at it long after he had returned from seeing his mother
safe back to the city. He sat looking at it until the rumbling of
carriages outside told him his wife would soon be coming from the
burlesque. Then he took the pink-shaded lamp again, and put the little
box away in his room, in a drawer where there was already a little
packet of yellow corn. And, as he did so, he felt that he was in the
toils indeed.

The sound of his wife and Mr. Lucanaster's voices as they bade
good-night to each other in the garden did not tend to lessen that
sense.

But, in truth, that feeling of being enmeshed was not peculiar to Chris
Davenant, even in Shark Lane.

Râm Nâth himself, as he finished an article which was to appear in the
_Voice of India_--an article which he wrote coolly, calmly, with a
certain pride in its even balance of thought, and then deliberately
interspersed with glowing periods of pure passion for the sake of his
audience--felt as an engineer might feel who knows that the pressure on
a throttle valve is getting beyond the escape he can give it, and knows
also that he cannot stop the stokers from putting on more coal. He
comforted himself, however, by thinking, what was indeed the truth,
that he was actually doing no more than many a party politician does in
England. The difference lay in the environment: the difference of
throwing matches into a fire which burns rubbish, and the throwing of
them into rubbish which turns to fire.

Then Mr. Lucanaster, even as he told Mrs. Chris tenderly that he had
had what he called 'ripplin' time' in her company, and that he meant to
dream of it, knew that before he granted himself the luxury of sleep,
he must think over more important matters than his relations with her,
and find out how far he had committed himself in regard to them.

For he had been taken by surprise that day. Without a word of warning,
the detectives had consulted him, as an expert in pearls, regarding the
four found in Miss Leezie's house. As usual when taken aback--for he
was not a villain of the first water--he had temporised with the
question. Second thoughts, however, had shown him that by failing at
once to admit that he held the remainder of the string for Jehân, he
had tied his own hands from doing so in the future. Therefore, if the
latter was called upon to produce them, he had only two alternatives.
He must either deny possession, or yield it before that possession was
publicly asserted at all. In either case he lost his hold on the
emerald. So, partly for this reason, partly because he was not prepared
to go to the extremes of villainy, he felt that he regretted having
touched the business at all.

Jehân himself, however, had no conception that his position in regard
to Mr. Lucanaster had altered, except by his own possession of the
ring. The presence of that on his finger, indeed, would have given him
perfect confidence, but for the fact that it brought with it a strange
recrudescence of responsibility. Jehân with the ring and Jehân without
it were two different men. He found himself, even as he wept--and he
did weep copiously and openly over little Sa'adut's loss--thinking of
another heir, of vague possibilities and powers. His very determination
to mete out proper punishment to Sobrai grew in dignity; the necessity
for it became more of a duty, less of a revenge. And all this made him
defer, till the last minute, any communication with Mr. Lucanaster.
Time enough to let him know that the ring was really within reach, when
the police should ask for the production of the pearls. That might be
never; and then, indeed, Jehân felt he would be free to make bargains.
Meanwhile, the safest place in which to keep the treasure, seeing that
for all he knew Noormahal might have discovered its abstraction, and
set her agents to recover it, was his own finger. So there it remained
day and night.

But Noormahal had not discovered her loss. Khôjee had told her lie all
too well for any doubt in the poor bewildered brain, which had more
than it could compass in the hopeless effort to realise that Sa'adut
was dead and buried. For the memory of that first day, when they had
roused her at the last, and she had sate clutching at the little
swathed bundle of white and gold till they took it from her, had
happily gone from her also. She still lay, for the most part, in a
stupor. Lateefa saw her so, when--the etiquette of a mourning house
making it inconvenient for him to continue his trade of kite-making in
the wide outer courtyard--he had gone to take away his materials. But
Khôjee had told him it was not always so; that sometimes the Nawâbin
had paroxysms of grief, for which there could be, there never, had
been, but one remedy. And that was a most precious essence compounded
out of the sweetest flowers in a King's garden. In the old days it had
always been ready in the palace; but now whence was a poor old woman to
get '_khush-itr_'? that' essence of happiness' which cost God knows how
many times its weight in gold! As it was, she had gone the length of
pawning Khâdjee's best pink satin trousers on the sly, in order to get
cheaper specifics; and somehow or another, those precious garments must
be redeemed before the mourning-parties began, or Khâdjee would die of
chagrin also. Then there would be no one left, since even he, Lateefa,
was going. She spoke, as ever, without a suspicion of blame, and when
she hoped he had not forgotten his promise regarding the ring, her
voice was an apology in itself.

Lateefa, as he went out under the gateway with its plaster peacocks,
told himself that he almost wished he could forget. As it was, the
green gleam on Jehân's finger kept him on the strain in a quite
unexpected way. He never saw it but Khôjee's kind wrinkled face, and
her appeal for old Khôjee, ugly Khôjee, came back to his mind with a
curious compelling force.

As he sat, afterwards, in one corner of the tiny square of courtyard
that was set round, like a well, with high brick walls, where Jehân and
Burkut were playing _écarté_ with an intolerably dirty pack of cards,
each crouched on the same string bed (which also served as a table), he
could not help watching that gleam, and thereby imperilling the perfect
balance of some kites he was fitting with their tails. For there was a
notable series of matches to be flown that evening, and the side-way
sweep of a real kite overhead warned him that there would be wind. Wind
sufficient to warrant a trifle of ballast, perhaps, to these light
creatures of his. He had one afloat already, on trial, just above the
top of the houses, where, gay in the sunlight, it hung tilted to
leeward almost motionless. Lateefa tested the strain on the cord with a
finger, as if it had been a violin string, and as he did so his high
trilling voice warbled over one of those ingenious versicles that are
more of a puzzle than of poetry--seeing that almost every letter in
them has a mathematical value--which the idle in India love to turn and
twist.


      'Lateefa made of naught, made thee of naught,
       Lateef who never sought the life God brought,
       Lateef who's bound and caught in right and ought,
       But _he_ forbids thee naught, since thou _art_ naught,
       Sail east, west, south, or north, choose thine own port!
             Thou thing of naught?'


Jehân swore under his breath; the cards were against him. The stakes
laid on the bed between him and his adversary had taken his last
available rupee; and, of late, even Burkut had refused to play without
money down. He looked round sullenly, then turned again to shuffle the
pack.

'My nakedness against thine,' he said gruffly; 'the clothes are worth a
gold _mohur_, I'll warrant.'

That was about it, since they were both dressed in the ordinary white
garments of nobility at its ease.

Burkut shrugged his shoulders. 'If it please thee--as we sit, then.
'Tis thy turn to deal!'

Lateefa looked up quickly from his work. 'The Nawâb will deal better
without the signet of royalty,' he said significantly, and as Jehân
paused, Burkut frowned and laughed at the same time.

'Yea!' he said airily, 'that would fetch more than a gold _mohur_ if
'twere sold. Take it off, my lord.'

'I will do what I choose without thy bidding,' retorted Jehân
haughtily, as he drew the ring from his finger and laid it for safety
just behind him on the string bed.

Lateefa could see it plainly as the cards fell from Jehân's hand; cards
that were in his favour; so much so that he could not avoid a
triumphant smile.

The game seemed his, but he played a false card and lost a point.

He dashed the tricks down with such force that the springy plaited
twine recoiled from the blow; recoiled and sprang up again.

Lateefa could see the green gleam more clearly than ever now, for the
ring lay in the dust within reach of his hand. It had jumped from the
bed, like a clay pigeon from a trap, under that petulant blow. But the
players had not noticed it, they were going on with their game
unconcernedly.

Only Lateefa's eyes were on that gold and green, half hidden in the
dust!

'_If thou hast the chance_.' He heard the words as plainly as if Khôjee
had been beside him.

But this was no chance. The loss would be discovered in a minute or
two. And then it would be a mere question of search; for there could be
no suspicion of any one else, since the bed on which those two were
playing was set right across the only entrance to that well of wall in
which there was no place of concealment--none!

No! it was not a chance!

Yet he heard his reply now--

'_On my kites I promise; since they be my creatures, to fly or fail as
I make them_.'

On his kites!...

A sort of dazzle came to the sunshine, a dazzle to his brain. He gave a
sudden reckless laugh, his hand went out to the ring swiftly, and
busied itself still more swiftly as he sang, in the varying measure to
which such versicles lend themselves, a new version of the old words--


             'Lateefa made of naught,
              Lateef who's bound and caught;
              Lo! he forbids thee naught,
              Sail east, west, south, or north!
              Choose thine own port!'


The kite which--as he sang--twisted and twirled upwards from his
dexterous throw, seemed at first as if it was uncertain what to choose.

'I mark the king!' said Burkut with an oily smile, and once more Jehân
with an oath flung down the cards.

But by this time both kites were tilting steadily to leeward, and only
Lateefa's skilful finger could, in striking the strings that held them
captive, have told that one had a trifle more ballast to carry than the
other.



                              CHAPTER XV

                            THE RÂM RUCKI


Jack Raymond's admission, '_C'est la peste, mademoiselle_,' had been
made under compulsion. Lesley, he had recognised, was not one to be put
off by evasion; and yet his first impulse had been to keep his
discovery to himself. For the sense of authority to deal with men and
things, which he had had in the past, was apt to return to him when he
found himself in a tight place. Therefore, the necessity for avoiding a
scare had seemed to him paramount, and he had followed up his low-toned
admission by a rapid request that Lesley should take Jerry home to bed,
and say nothing to anybody of the adventure.

But by the time the green sleeves had disappeared, obediently, over the
dim lawns that were just becoming visible in the dawn, his sense of
responsibility had passed.

He told himself it was none of his business and that once he had handed
over the case to the police, the matter would be ended so far as he was
concerned. So far, also, as every one was concerned, if the authorities
had any sense; since Lesley would hold her tongue, Jerry's ghost could
be laid and laughed at, Budlu bribed, and Jân-Ali-shân----

He looked round, wondering if the latter had gone or not, but could see
nothing. An elaborately conscientious hawking and spitting, however,
from the shadow of a distant bush, told him not only that John Ellison
was there, but that he had grasped the situation.

''Ave a quid o' bitter yerbs, sir,' came the loafer's voice resignedly.
'It's a camphor bush, sir, an' there ain't no good in givin' in to
plague an' pestilence without a


                       "Good Lord deliver us."


Is there, sir?'

The question had an almost pathetic apprehension in it.

'Not a bit,' assented Jack Raymond. 'Have a cigar instead, Ellison.
I'll light one for you and chuck it over.' He knew his man; knew that
without being a coward he was for the moment desperately afraid. Two
very different things; since time cures one, and the other is
persistent.

So for a minute or two there was silence. Then from the shadow of the
camphor bush came a more confident cough.

'If you did 'appen to 'ave a drop o' brandy,' began the voice
tentatively, 'though if you 'aven't, sir, it's "Thy will be done!" An'
that bein' so, there's nothin' left but w'ot the nation you an' me's
got to do next? 'Ow many corpses is there, sir?'

Jack Raymond smiled, feeling he had judged his man rightly.

'There is only the poor devil we chased left alive,' he answered; 'the
two children, the woman, and a servant are dead. They have been there
nearly a week. Refugees from down country who managed to slip past
quarantine. He is a Nushapore man by birth, and, just as they were
coming to the journey's end, one child fell sick. So, to escape
inspection, he alighted at the last roadside station and walked in at
night. He had to pass the Garden Mound, of course, and it struck him it
would be safer to find out first if his people would take him in. So
he, knowing the ropes, hid his family here for the day. Then his people
were alarmed, another child sickened, _et cetera_. So he stopped on
here, getting to and from the bazaar for what he wanted at night,
dressed in an old white uniform----'

A low whistle came from the camphor bush, and a murmur, 'No, you don't,
sonny! No, you don't!'

'Yes! it was rather a 'cute dodge, but he's an educated man. Well! the
last child died yesterday, and he went off to get medicine for his
wife, hoping to sneak back as usual. But the garden was full up with
Chinese lanterns and bands; and they were dancing----'

'Deary dear!' interrupted the distant voice sympathetically, 'so 'e 'ad
to lounge around, awaitin' for "Gord save our gracious Queen" to let
'im see if 'is lawful wife 'ad chucked it! Well, sir, black or white,
it do seem cruel 'ard'--there was a pause, another ostentatious
clearing of the throat--'but 'e knows the worst now, sir,' went on
Jân-Ali-shân, 'so why not 'ave the pore soul out


                      "where the breezes blow,"


on 'is parallel, as the sayin' is? It 'ud be more 'olesome, special if
'e's got to be took in 'and. As it say in 'Oly Writ,


   "Separate ye the livin' from the dead an' the plague was stayed."


Beg pardin', sir, but 'avin' bin seven year in a surplus chore, it come
natural-like.'

Jack Raymond thought that it did; thought, as he sat waiting, that the
loafer, given a free hand, would probably settle the business as well
as any one else. His suggestion was sound, anyhow. So, after a bit,
there were three shadowy figures planted out on the lawns at respectful
distances from each other. The last one, a dejected heap, huddled up on
the grass, whimpering softly.

'If you 'ad another o' them hanti-microbber-tail-twisters about you,
sir,' came the suggestive voice between vehement puffings at a cigar,
'it 'ud tickle 'im up, like as it done me. An' bein' a Bombay duck,
as the sayin' is, 'e 'd smoke 'is grandmother's curl-papers! I know
them down-country _baboos_. "Week in, week out, you can 'ear their
bellows blow." An' "Gord save our gracious Queen" 'as bin cruel 'ard
on 'em, sir--to say nothin' o' its bein' a sight safer to pizen 'is
bla'ck-sill'ys.'

Jack Raymond smiled. Jân-Ali-shân was wisdom itself. So the further
shadow was supplied with a cigar, while a comparatively reckless voice
hummed cheerfully--


             'Tobacco is an Indian weed,
              Grows green at morn, cut down at eve;
              Thus we decay, we are but clay,
              Think of this when you smoke tobacco!'


'Seems to me, sir,' it broke off at last to say, 'that there's only us
three to take count on, so to speak. Them pore things in there 'as
sum-totalled up their little bills. An', as the minister's man said
when they come worryin' round for a grave, an' 'e busy plantin'
sprouts--"Corpses'll keep an' kebbiges won't!" so why not leave 'em
comfortable for to-night? We don't want no crowd comin' round to see
the place where we laid 'em, do we, sir? An' Madam Toosaw's ain't
nothin' to bazaar folk for the chamber o' 'orrers if they get the
chanst. Then as for 'im, pore devil, 'e _must_ go to quarantine camp as
a suspect anyhow, so it wouldn't make any odds to 'im, would it, sir?
An' we could tell 'im to 'old 'is tongue or worse befall, couldn't we,
sir? An' that 'ud tone down the colour a bit, as the sayin' is, more
nor lettin' the police send round the town-crier.'

'How about Budlu?' asked Jack Raymond tentatively; but Jân-Ali-shân was
ready for him.

'Give 'im in charge 'isself, as 'e ought ter be, for disreliction o'
duty in allowin' ghosts. That 'ud stop 'is mouth, sir; special as 'e
don't know nothin'.'

The simplicity of the plan was obvious. It would even, Jack Raymond
felt, take the responsibility of informing the police off his
shoulders. He need only give the stowaway in charge, then go round to
the civil surgeon, tell him the truth, and leave him to decide whether
or not to hush up the matter absolutely--as he could easily do by the
aid of quicklime and a few stones.

'In that case,' he said, after a pause for deliberation, 'the sooner we
move off from this particular place----'

'Just so, sir!' interrupted Jân-Ali-shân. 'Dro'r the enemy's fire h'off
the weak spot. So, if you'll take 'im over to the general's 'ouse, an'
settle 'is an' Budlu's 'ash when the perlice come, I'll 'ang round
about them pore things inside, an' warble 'ymns an' psalms an'
spiritooal songs till you've done the job. It won't 'urt 'em, sir,' he
added apologetically, 'an' it'll kinder keep up my sperits.'

It appeared to do so, for when, a quarter of an hour afterwards Jack
Raymond, after finishing his task, returned to that part of the garden
on his way to the civil surgeon, he heard quite a cheerful version of
'Wrap me up in my tarpaulin jacket' coming from the camphor bush. And
when, just as the sky was primrose with the first sunbeams, he returned
once more to release Jân-Ali-shân from his voluntary lyke-wake, he
found him seated on the plinth of the mutiny memorial going
methodically through 'John Brown's body,' as sung by convivial parties,
with the elision of a word at each verse.

It was near its end, so that only 'John' had to be vocalised when Jack
Raymond came up; but the beating of the silent tune went on vigorously
while he told Jân-Ali-shân that the civil surgeon had expressed his
entire approval of the plan, which he characterised as a stroke of
administrative genius!

'"But 'is soul goes marchin' on!"' burst out Jân-Ali-shân, finishing
his song at the proper beat. Then he rose, pulled his sleeves over his
cuffs, and nodded his head gravely. 'That's 'ow it is, sir. 'Is soul
goes marchin' on. That sort o' strokes come to a feller, they do, in
the Garding Mound, an' will do, please God, as long as there's a white
face among the black.'

So, singing 'Silver threads among the gold,' he sloped off through the
cemetery, then over the wall to his work citywards, feeling that, so
far as he was concerned, the incident was over.

But to Jack Raymond, as he went back to the club, came the remembrance
that Lesley Drummond must be told that her question and his answer were
to remain a secret between them. The idea annoyed him, all the more so
because of the remembrance of Grace Arbuthnot's guilty face when Lesley
had let the cat out of the bag concerning the origin of the green
sleeves! Nevertheless, it was inevitable, so he sat down in an
ill-humour, wrote a stiff explanatory note suggesting that Jerry's
midnight chase should be treated as a nightmare due to turkey and ham,
and sent it over to Government House. Yet, before doing so, he
fumigated it carefully with tobacco, feeling the while a trifle ashamed
of his own smile at the remembrance of those green sleeves.

But the wearer of them, restored to the dignity of a tailor-made coat
and skirt, receiving the note while the tell-tale odour was still fresh
on it--for she had found sleep impossible--frowned at the recollection
of the figure in the political uniform which had refused even to touch
those green sleeves. Frowned, not from displeasure, but from impatience
at her own sense of pleasure in his thoughtfulness; for it was
unfamiliar to her, that sense of rest in another person's care.

Treat it as a nightmare! Of course! How else could one treat that wild
medley of green sleeves, political uniforms, ghosts, boys, _valses à
deux temps_, Jân-Ali-shâns!

Only, no sane person would ever dream of dreaming such nonsense!

And yet, what was this unfamiliar tingle to her finger-tips, this
curious elation, this sense of personal gain, as if she had found
something new and precious--as if a child, idly unfolding a flower-bud,
had found a fairy at its heart?

She turned from this fancy still more impatiently, resolving to set the
whole incident aside. But this, she soon found, was quite impossible.
That secret between her and Jack Raymond was inexorable in its claims.
For instance, though the chance of any consequence to him was, she
knew, small, she could not avoid watching for his figure to show in its
usual haunts, listening if his name came up in conversation. Neither
could she avoid relief at the certainty that nothing evil had befallen
him. That, of course, was only natural; but it was intolerable that the
relief should make her blush! Most intolerable of all when he noticed
it and said, with a smile--

'No such luck for my friends, Miss Drummond!'

This happened at a tea-picnic which Lady Arbuthnot gave a day or two
after the ball. More than one person had remarked to her on Jack
Raymond's failure to put in an appearance. It was growing late. She was
conscious of her own anxiety. And then, in a sudden surge, the blood
flew to her face at the sight of him, close beside her, shaking hands
with his hostess.

'What is the joke, Lesley?' asked Grace Arbuthnot quickly, looking from
one to the other.

Once again Jack Raymond answered for her; answered audaciously.

'A dead secret, even from Lady Arbuthnot, is it not, Miss Drummond?'

'I would rather it was not,' she replied, turning away resentfully to
wander off by herself into the garden where the tea-picnic was being
given; a garden which had been the '_Petit Trianon_' of the dead
dynasty.

It was a quaint place, tucked away between two angles of the city wall
for greater convenience in secret comings and goings to secret
pleasures; and it was all the quainter now because of the Englishwomen
sipping tea on the steps of the gilded summer-house, the Englishmen
calling tennis scores in what had been the rose-water tank, in which
kings' favourites had bathed, and on which they had floated in silver
barges. The feeling of mutual incredibility, which in India comes so
often to all but the unimaginative, came to Lesley, as she thought of
the city so close behind the fringe of tall blossoming trees, yet so
absolutely hidden by it.

Within half a mile of her lay the courtyard where Auntie Khôjee was
starving herself in the effort to get money wherewith to buy the
essence of happiness; within half a mile of her Lateefa's kite,
overlooked in the tornado of wrath which had followed on the
disappearance of the ring, still tilted to leeward under the burden of
sovereignty. But of all this--of the romance, the squalor, the humanity
of the lives lived in the city--she knew nothing, except her own
ignorance of those lives. That, and that only, was with her in the
beauty of the garden; the beauty which was, as it were, the only thing
that she and the unseen city had in common.

And it _was_ beautiful, bosomed in those blossoming trees that shut out
the world, shut in the scent of the flowers. It appealed instantly to
something deep down in her woman's nature; for this had been a woman's
garden!

The remembrance made her recoil spiritually. Partly from the thought of
what the garden must have seen in the past, partly from the mere
suggestion that it could appeal to anything in her. She walked on
quickly, recoiling bodily, as she did so, from an overgrown rose-shoot
which usurped the path. In so doing she displayed frills and flounces,
a pair of dainty open-worked stockings and high-heeled shoes. But she
did not recoil from the sight of these. Despite her views, despite her
modern girl's theoretical contempt for chiffons, and disdain for women
whose lives are bounded by the becoming, she was not one whit more
logical on such points than her grandmothers had been. She had not
thought out the real meaning of her frills and furbelows, or confessed
to herself that such feminine footgear belongs inevitably to the path
which leads to the '_Petit Trianon_' of life.

Above all, she had not seen, as women must see before they become a
power in the world, that the one point on which all races meet, no
matter what their religion, no matter what their ideals, no matter what
their standard of morality, is that which makes '_Petit Trianon_'
possible. In other words, the woman's attitude towards the man; an
attitude so strangely at variance with the sex-laws of nature.

Yet of the beauty of this garden who could doubt? Within that fringe of
blossoming trees, a wide aqueduct-like a shining cross-lay, edged by
mosaicked marble causeways, that were raised above and in their turn
edged by a perfect wilderness of flowers. And this wider cross,
composed of flowers, mosaic, water, was set in dense thickets of
oranges and pomegranates. In this late afternoon all the sunshine
seemed concentrated in the cross. Great shafts of yellow light streamed
down its limbs, seeming to darken all the rest. In the centre where the
limbs met, a group of fountains sent fine feathers into the air, and
through their sparkle the gold and marble of the summer-house gleamed
amid its sentinels of cypress, at the far end of the garden. There was
a cloying sweetness in the air. A flight of jewelled parrots flew
screaming from one screen of flowering trees to the other, as if even
they--winged creatures as they were--could not escape the thraldom of
those high walls, hidden by leaf and blossom.

That sense of prisonment--the prisonment of pleasure--lay heavy on
Lesley as she paused, half-unconsciously, before a tiny latticed
retreat--the daintiest little retreat in the world--which, just at the
opposite end of the shining cross from the gilt summer-house, rose out
of the water. Made of marble fretwork, with a domed top, it looked like
a lace veil moulded into the form of a singing-bird's cage; and its
latticed seclusion was only connected with the causeway on either side
of it, by a foot-wide ledge of mosaic.

Lesley, having been in the garden before, knew the purpose this retreat
had served in the past, and her involuntary pause beside it prolonged
itself in half-disdainful wonder. For this had been the sanctuary. Here
had been refuge even from the pleasures of the garden, and hither, if
any woman, high or low, chose to appeal for redress, majesty itself had
been bound to come and listen, leaving majesty and manhood behind it.

That, at least, was the idea. The retreat itself was more suggestive of
beauty gaining in power by seclusion; and Lesley's lip curled with more
disdain as she looked at the finnikin filagree cage.

Her expression, however, changed to curiosity as she realised that some
one was sitting inside it. She crossed the ledge of mosaic swiftly,
and, stooping under the laced edge of a low arch, went in.

It was not beauty that she found. It was a wrinkled anxious-faced old
woman, who rose in a _salaam_, then literally prostrated herself at the
girl's feet. Lesley had been long enough in India, now, to judge
rightly of the poverty shown in the dress. The blue-striped trousers,
tight to the knee and full above, the short whity-brown cotton veil
were to be seen--more or less dirty, more or less ragged--in every poor
Mohammedan quarter. Yet there was something refined in the worn face,
blurred with recent tears, which looked into hers apprehensively, as
the owner rose to _salaam_ again, leaving a small roll of paper bound
with coloured silks upon the marble floor.

Lesley was puzzled for an instant; then it flashed upon her that this
must be some belated petitioner for justice in the old style, who had
heard, probably, that the Lord-_sahib_ was in the garden. Such rolls of
paper--without the silken tie, however--were often thrust into the
carriage when Sir George was in it.

So she hunted round her sparse vocabulary, but finally fell back on the
first phrase most newcomers to India learn, namely, '_Kya mankta?_'
(what do you want?)

It is an admirable beginning, though, unfortunately, the sympathetic
curiosity of it seldom becomes impersonal to the speaker! It produced
another _salaam_, and such a flood of polished speech that Lesley
retired to English incontinently. 'Is it for the Lord-_sahib_?' she
asked hurriedly, picking up the roll and pointing with it to the
distant summer-house.

The title produced a fourth _salaam_, and Lesley, with some relief,
stooped under the fretted arch again, and began to retrace her steps
towards the others.

Sir George, she knew, had been doubtful if business would allow him to
put in an appearance at the entertainment at all; but some one would be
sure to know what message ought to be sent back to the petitioner, who,
as Lesley left the bird-cage, settled herself down in it again to wait,
with great precision.

'Read it, some one, please!' said Lady Arbuthnot, after she had undone
the quaint little tasselled silk cord which was fastened with a loop
and button round the roll of paper.

But the order was no such easy matter to obey. So far as the
conventional '_Arz fidwe yih hai_' (This is the request of your
petitioner) went, the little group of administrators who responded to
her request were fluent enough. After that came complaints of the
character, and more than one suggestion that only a regular native
reader could be expected to decipher such writing, and that it would be
best to hand the document over to the office, which would be sure to
make something of it,--a remark which made Lesley, who was listening,
wonder whether the accuracy of that something was to be considered at
all!

Grace Arbuthnot, however, listening also, let a curious smile come to
her face; a smile that gave it an unusual tenderness. 'Where is Mr.
Raymond?' she said suddenly. 'Going, did you say? Will some one call
him back, please!'

He appeared, ready for his drive home in rather a violent blazer, and
once more there was that unfailing challenge in his polite--'They tell
me I am wanted, Lady Arbuthnot?'

'Yes! to read this,' she replied, holding out the hieroglyphic.

In all her life of beauty and grace she had possibly never looked more
beautiful, more graceful, and Jack Raymond realised it; realised also
that, so far as that beauty, that grace were concerned, he had not
forgotten--that he would never forget! And the certainty roused all his
antagonism. For a moment he stood like a naughty child refusing to say
its lesson; then he took the paper from her, and ran his eye down it.

'Persian,' he said. 'I had better give you the gist of it. The writer
is one Khôjeeya Khânum, a pensioner. The Nawâb Jehân Aziz is her
representative; he seems to have been taking toll, as they always
do--it is madness paying pensions in the lump, as we do. She is
starving, I suppose; they generally are! No'--a faint interest
dispersed some of the contempt in his face--'it seems she wants money
for a specific purpose--to buy the "essence of happiness." That word is
_itr-i-khush_, isn't it, sir?'

The commissioner, thus appealed to--a man who was seldom in fault in
speaking the vernaculars--frowned over the symbol.

'_Itr-i-khush_, 'm, it may be. But it doesn't matter, since it is money
she wants? I've had one or two complaints about that sweep Jehân Aziz's
pensioners already, Lady Arbuthnot, and we are going to inquire. So
I'll put this one's name down too, if I may. Khôjeeya Khânum--thanks.
Well, good-night, Lady Arbuthnot! I've a reader with a file yards high
waiting me--most important papers. Good-night, Raymond; you haven't
forgotten the trick, I see. You are still as good a _moonshi_ as ever,
isn't he, Lady Arbuthnot?'

'Except in regard to the "Essence of Happiness,"' she replied coolly,
making Jack Raymond stare at her, and Lesley once more become
impatient.

'But the old woman is waiting,' she interrupted, 'she is waiting for an
answer in the bird-cage; surely some one ought to go and tell her
something!'

Several of the guests had taken advantage of the commissioner's
departure to say their farewells also, so that those three were left in
a group by themselves.

'I will go,' said Grace suddenly, 'if Mr. Raymond can spare time from
his whist----'

'To find happiness,' he put in quickly, 'by all means!'

The mosaic causeway was narrow, so Lesley fell behind. The shining limb
of the water-cross lay to one side of her, the edge of massed flowers
to the other. The sky was deepening in its blue overhead, the creeping
shadows below had gripped the lace bird-cage in the distance, making it
look cold and grey. But the sun which caught the tops of the blossoming
trees and made the painted kites that floated above them from the city
look like jewels, seemed to linger mysteriously in the soft pink of
Grace Arbuthnot's dress, the gay orange and yellow of Jack Raymond's
blazer, and claim them as part of its brightness.

In the hush of evening, the insistent
'Do-you-love-too--do-you-love-too' of one small cinnamon dove hidden in
a rosebush, seemed to fill the garden. Until from beyond it came some
gay voices discussing the 'Essence of Happiness' as the departing
guests got into their carriages.

'Take your choice of the four W's!' said one; 'wisdom, wine, wealth,
women!'

'I choose a whisky-and-soda,' retorted another. 'I give you in the
rest, especially after tennis. By Jove! that was a splendid game.'

'Four W's!' put in a higher key. 'You've forgotten Worth--oh! I don't
mean that worth, of course. The dressmaker man----'

'Ye don't need his art, me dear lady----'

Lesley, walking behind those two, paused suddenly; for Jack Raymond had
lingered to hold back that trailing rose-shoot from her frills and
flounces also. And the cinnamon dove, startled by the pause, fled from
the rose-bush to silence and deeper shade. Its flight made her start
also.

'Frightened at a dove! said Jack Raymond in a low tone, 'and you
weren't a bit frightened at the plague.'

He was smiling at her, his face all soft and kind. She had never seen
it like that before. But as he stepped back to Grace Arbuthnot's side,
Lesley realised that _she_ had.

The certainty that these two had been lovers once came to her then, and
brought a curious sense of loneliness. The certainly that, in a way,
they would be lovers always, brought her a pang before which she stood
aghast. For there was no mistaking it; it was unreasonable, elemental
jealousy.

She felt inclined, then and there, to turn back and leave them to do
their task alone. They did not want her. What was she, Lesley Drummond,
doing there in that garden whose suggestiveness seemed to stifle her?
Yes! to stifle her, because she could not escape from it! She, Lesley
Drummond, who---- In her mind's eye she saw a vision of herself
alighting from an omnibus at the corner of Bond Street on a wet day,
picking her way over the greasy blister-marks of many feet on the
pavement, heedless of the infinite suggestions in the shop windows, to
have tea at a ladies'-club with an intimate friend, and solve the
problems of life by hard and fast individualism tempered by a sloppy
socialism.

Solve! As if it were possible to solve anything in those conditions.
Above all, to solve the greatest problem in the world for women,
as you drank your tea on a table littered with the literature of
_chiffon_-culture, whose every page proclaimed that woman's aim was to
remain temptress, her goal a garden such as this!

They were close to the sanctuary now. The others had entered it, and
Lesley paused to look contemptuously at its filagree pretence of
protection ere she, too, stooped under its low arch.

'I think you have it, haven't you, Lesley?' asked Grace Arbuthnot, as
she entered to find a puzzled look on all three faces. In the old
woman's it was mixed with a half-indignant apprehension.

'Have what?' she asked coldly.

'The silk cord that was round the roll; I gave it to you to hold, I
think. She won't speak without it; it seems it is a bracelet--an
amulet.'

'The bracelet of brotherhood without which a woman cannot speak to a
strange man,' explained Jack Raymond. 'Ah! you are wearing it.'

She was. Quite idly she had fastened it by its loop and button round
her wrist, in order to keep it safe. She took it off now, and handed it
to him without a word. He passed it to Auntie Khôjee, whose withered
face settled into self-satisfaction as she leant forward, detaining his
hand till the bracelet was safely looped on his brown wrist.

Then the words came fast. Floods of them; and Jack Raymond listened
patiently.

Fine though the filagree of marble was that shut them off from the
garden, it interrupted the light, so that their figures showed dimly to
each other. But the scent of the garden drifted in unchecked, and mixed
with the faint scent of heliotrope from Grace Arbuthnot's dress. There
was something breathless, disturbing to the senses, Lesley felt, in
that uncomprehending effort to understand. It was a relief when silence
fell suddenly, and there was a pause.

'Is that all?' whispered Grace; she was next to Jack Raymond, her dress
touching him.

'I believe I ought to give her a bracelet in return,' he began. She had
one of her gold bangles off in a moment, and was thrusting it into his
hand--'Take that, please do--you might let me do so much, surely----'

Lesley turned and stepped outside. She felt the need of fresh air.

'There was no use my stopping,' she explained when, after an interval,
the two rejoined her. 'I could not understand.'

'Not understand!' echoed Grace Arbuthnot reproachfully. 'I couldn't
understand the words either. But I thought the idea perfectly charming.
I wouldn't have missed the little scene for worlds. And she was so
delighted with the gold bangle.'

'It is really not uncommon, Lady Arbuthnot,' protested Jack Raymond,
who was beginning to feel a trifle restive again. 'And in the old days,
the _râm rucki_ was constantly sent by distressed----'

'I know,' interrupted Lesley captiously. 'You read of it in Meadows
Taylor's books. But why did she give it to you?'

He paused; a quick annoyance showed on his face; he turned to Lady
Arbuthnot vexedly.

'I must apologise,' he said; 'I never realised till this moment that
she must have taken me----'

'For Sir George,' put in Grace quietly. 'Didn't you? Now I was thinking
all the time how much better you played the part than he would have
done. He is like Lesley. He loathes sentiment. No, Mr. Raymond, I won't
take it!' she added, as he tried to unfasten the _râm rucki_. 'Give it
to Sir George himself, if you like--there he is, coming to meet us.
Or,' she continued, with an elusive, almost mischievous smile, as she
went forward to greet her husband, leaving those two on the path
together, 'give it back to Miss Drummond! She gave it you first!'

Jack Raymond looked after her quite angrily; then laughed, drew out
his pocket-book and laid the _râm rucki_ between the folds of some
bank-notes.

'I shall end by doing my duty some day, if this goes on, Miss
Drummond,' he said resignedly. 'It is really very kind of you all to
take so much interest in my spiritual and bodily welfare.'

As a rule Lesley would have been ready with a sharp retort. Now she was
silent. She was thinking that it was true. She had given the bracelet
of brotherhood to him first. And then once more a vast impatience
seized her. How unreal, how fantastic it was? How far removed from the
security of the commonplace?



                             CHAPTER XVI

                          THE PRISON OF LIFE


To old Auntie Khôjee, however, the incident which Lesley had
stigmatised as unreal, and fantastic, was quite natural. Her life, and
the lives of thousands such as she, dreary, dull, squalid, as they seem
to the eyes of Western women, are yet leavened by many wholly
unpractical touches which raise them at times to pure romance. The
secret worship of the Gods, the thousand and one omens to be sought, or
avoided, the endless fanciful ceremonials; all these are, in their
monotonous lives, witnessing to the passion for self-effacement in
something beyond the woman's own individuality--in something that has
to be cajoled and considered, not because it is feared, but because it
is loved and must therefore be kept tied to the apron-string--which is
Eve's legacy to women of all races and all creeds.

So, as the old lady limped through the bazaars, huddled up in a dirty
domino, with Grace Arbuthnot's bangle clutched close to her heart, she
felt no surprise at what had happened. Her only feeling was one of
regret for having so long believed folk's tales of change. If she had
only resorted earlier to ancient methods, little Sa'adut's life might
perhaps have been spared. Though that, of course, was God's will; just
as it was His will also that at the very last gasp she should have been
told by a gossip that the Lord-_sahib_ was coming, as the Kings came in
past times to entertain their friends in the pleasure-garden.

For Khôjee was, literally, at the last gasp. Even Lateefa had not been
near the courtyard for three days, though he had promised to look in
every morning. In truth, this was not the kite-maker's fault, since he
was, once more, kicking his heels in the lock-up. He had not
anticipated this result when--on the impulse of the moment--he had
slipped the ring, instead of a morsel of brick, into one of the tiny
calico bags which he had found the easiest way of attaching ballast to
his kites. It had been but the work of a second to do this, and send
the kite up to hover in the steady west wind--on trial--with its string
attached to one of the wooden pegs driven for that purpose into the
brick wall. So he had had no time for full consideration; but even had
he had this, he would scarcely have imagined that Jehân would at once
take the irrevocable step of calling in the aid of the police; that
being a course which no wise man adopted save as a last resort, when
the choice only lay between two evils.

But Jehân's rage had mastered his caution. The loss of the symbol of
past power had raised such a tempest of desire for that power of
personal coercion, that, seeing no other means of gaining it, he had at
once given not only Lateefa, but Burkut Ali in charge for having,
between them, stolen the ring. And that despite the voluntary
demonstration of innocence afforded by a stripping to stark nakedness
of both the accused! They must, he shrilled, have swallowed it!

Dire suggestion to an executive whose chief method of detecting crime
is by personal discomfort to the fourth and fifth generation of those
presumably implicated in it! Lateefa had felt his liver dissolve, had
for one brief moment thought of confession; but the presence of the
police, he saw, would make _that_ a leaving of the frying-pan for the
fire.

So he and Burkut Ali, the latter vowing vengeance calmly (and knowing
he would get it too, since he had money and Jehân had none), were
hauled away, not to judgment, but to that worse evil, preliminary
inquiry.

Burkut, however, had found bail; and he had been back in his haunts for
two days, making Jehân begin to see his mistake, while Lateefa, very
sick and sorry for himself, still remained in process of observation.

But by this time his philosophy had returned, and, as he kicked his
heels, he composed another mathematical verselet which should equal the
values of 'I, Lateefa, laid on nothingness the burden of all things,
and the burden of all things made nothingness of Lateefa!'

Of all this, however, Auntie Khôjee knew nothing as she made her way
straight to the pawnbroker's where she had pledged Khâdeeja Khânum's
best pink satin trousers. For the recovery of these was the first
necessity. On the morrow ceremonial visits of condolence would begin in
the wide courtyard, and she dare not ask Khâdjee to receive them in her
ordinary attire.

Grace Arbuthnot's bangle would, of course, redeem the trousers over and
over again; but the old lady decided this should only be left, in
exchange, for one night, as it would be easy to return the garment
after the morrow's visits were over; since there would be no more need
for it for at least three days. And that would set the bangle free for
its legitimate purchase of the 'Essence of Happiness.'

It was growing dark as she limped along the narrow bazaar. The
cavernous shops on either side were but half lit with flaring
rushlights. The continuous stream of people passing one way or the
other seemed inevitably to thrust her furtive swathed figure into the
gutter. And so, at one shop, round which a crowd had gathered, it
needed patience before a way could be edged onwards. It was a drug
shop, and it seemed to be driving a roaring trade. As a couple of
white-robed men elbowed past her, she heard one say, with a sinister
satisfaction--

'And our _Somâj_ dispensary hath trebled its attendance these last
days. The people know their friends, know themselves safe! Not that the
tales of poison at the hospitals are true; but what will you? These
poor folks are ignorant, and we have promised----'

What the promise was, Khôjee did not catch; nor did she care to know.
All her thoughts were with Khâdjee's pink satin trousers. Therefore she
felt as if the whole round world had slipped from under her feet when
Mittun, the pawnbroker, from the midst of the miscellaneous collection
of rubbish in which he sat like a tame magpie possessed by the
nest-building instinct, told her calmly that he had just sold them!
Sold them at an incredibly high price to a lady of the bazaar who was
in a hurry for something smart in which to appear at an assignation
that evening. And then, with infinite self-complacency, he drew out
from a bag two rupees and some pice.

'See this, mother!' he said, handing her the money. ''Tis a chance such
as comes but once in a _kobari's_ life, who must needs fill his belly a
many times with other folk's leavings ere he find a grain of corn to
stay his own hunger withal.' Here he looked round distastefully at the
old lamps, keys, pickle-bottles, rags, books--Heaven knows what--that
made up his stock-in-trade, and which, in truth, looked but
indigestible fare. 'Yet I am honest,' he went on; 'this much I made,
over and above what I loaned thee on them. So there 'tis, with but the
due interest held back. Let none say Mittun, _kobari_, is no honest
man, who cares not for his customers----'

'Nay! _meean-jee_,' fluttered Khôjee, helpless. 'None said that of
thee. Yet would I rather the trousers, and I could have given thee
gold.'

Mittun eyed the bangle covetously. 'Give it me now, mother. I could
loan thee ten rupees on that to buy new trousering.'

Khôjee shook her head timidly; for even the pawnbroker, being a man,
had authority.

''Tis for to-morrow, brother; there is not time----'

'Thou couldst buy second-hand,' he persisted; 'there be many in the
bazaar, though I have them not. In truth, _Mussumat_ Khôjee, I would
have sold thine for less than I got, seeing that old clothes are no
safe purchase nowadays, what with police inspection, and no rags here,
no rags there! As if the plague came in aught but God's will!'

Khôjee, fearful of persuasion, assented hastily to the pawnbroker's
piety. Everything was God's will; even her failure to redeem the pink
satin trousers!

'I will give thee fifteen for the bangle,' called Mittun after her, and
she quickened her limp from the temptation. The bangle was for another
purpose. Still fifteen rupees would purchase the 'Essence of Happiness'
and leave a margin for _sagou dam_ (sago) and _salep misri_. Also for
real cardamoms. Yes! surely with fifteen rupees in prospect she might
afford herself some real cardamoms for to-morrow's assemblage, instead
of the cheaper kind she had laid in. It would give style to the
occasion, even if the pink satin trousers were unattainable.

Another crowd, before a shop, delayed her as she limped along in the
gutter. There was a policeman in it this time, and a voice protesting
that it was tyranny. What had the police to do with the selling of a
quilt--a quilt that was no longer wanted, seeing that the grandfather
had found freedom?

'_Ari_, idiot!' said the policeman, 'have a care I do not burn it.'

'Give him his percentage, brother!' advised Govind the editor, who, as
usual, was hunting the bazaars for news. 'That is what he wants. That
is the trick. Yea! I know. Give it him, or he will claim the whole in
the name of the plague. That is what the _Sirkar_ does in Bombay. It
claims all--money, jewels, clothes. And it will do the same here. This
is but the beginning.'

''Twill be the end for thee and thy paper, editor-_jee_, if thou
tellest more lies,' retorted the constable in righteous indignation.
'It is orders, I tell thee! There is suspicion that some one----'

Govind, who, as usual, also had been at the _bhang_ shop, gave a
jeering laugh. '_Bapree bap!_ some one! 'Tis always _some one_ or _some
thing_; but we of Nushapore, my masters, will show them we are not as
those of Bombay. We can fight for our own.'

There was a surge of assent in the crowd, as if it sought to begin at
once, and Khôjee, clutching her gold bangle tighter, fled incontinently
down a by-street. So little might turn her limp into a fall, and then
that fifteen-rupees'-worth might roll into the gutter and be snatched
up by any one. Here, in the tortuous alleys, it was at least quiet,
though it was dark. She slithered in the welter of the day's rubbish
flung from the high houses on either side, and a scamper of pattering
feet told her she had disturbed some rats battening on a bit of choice
garbage.

'_Allah hamid!_' she muttered piously, and went on. The sound of
wailing from one of the scarce-seen houses she was passing reminded her
regretfully of the cardamoms; for she had left shops behind her. Then
she remembered one, not far from the gate of the city, which she must
pass; one of those miscellaneous shops which are always to be found
near city gates, where travellers can buy most things--flour and
vegetables, red peppers, pipe bowls, tobacco. Ay, and opium perhaps;
but on the sly, since there was no licence over the door. It was not
the sort of shop that such as Khôjeeya Khânum patronised as a rule;
still it might have cardamoms.

The low-caste _buniya_, with a wrinkled monkey face and long iron-grey
hair, who crouched behind dingy platters and dusty bags, looked
ghoulish by the one flickering light set in the solitary cavern of a
shop; for on either side of it was blank wall, trending away to narrow
alleys.

Khôjee hesitated. Such men drove many nefarious trades. Still this one
might have cardamoms!

'Cardamoms! he echoed with a leer. 'Yea, yea, princess! True cardamoms
to satisfy the best of royal blood--he! he!' Those tall houses round
his shop held many such as she, and he had recognised the accent.

Khôjee scarce knew whether to be flustered or flattered beneath her
domino.

'And be speedy,' she said haughtily. 'I have no time to spare thee.'

'Lo! _Nawâbin_,' he jeered, 'I have them; such cardamoms as----' He was
rummaging in the heterogeneous mass piled up against the back wall of
his shop. 'Wait but a moment. I have them--I have them. But two days
ago, my princess, I had them.'

Here, by chance, an unwary pull sent a pile of parcels and bundles in
confusion round him, and one rolled nigh to Aunt Khôjee, who--careful
ever--laid a hold of it to save a possible fall into the gutter. The
light fell on something green and sheeny, her fingers recognised the
feel of satin, and, the bundle having unrolled itself somewhat, she
caught sight of the unmistakable cut of a trouser leg! She opened it
out a little curiously.

'Canst not leave things alone?' snapped the shopkeeper angrily. 'Those
be not cardamoms.'

'They be something I may need for all that,' retorted Khôjee with
spirit--the spirit which never fails a woman in the struggle for
_chiffons_. So there she was, testing the satin with her finger,
appraising the make. If they had only been pink!--though that was but a
detail, since they were beyond her purse; the satin better by far than
the much-to-be-regretted pink-the whole newer--

She wrinkled them aside with a sigh. 'Give me the cardamoms, brother. I
have not the money for these.' The man looked at her cunningly.

'If the Daughter of Kings needs trousers, she will find none cheaper.'

'They would yet be too dear for me, brother,' she answered mildly; 'the
cardamoms will do.'--

He edged nearer, his evil face growing confidential. 'Lo! Bhagsu never
drives a hard bargain with the noble,' he cringed. 'It might be that
the virtuous lady's money would purchase these, and save them from the
badness of bazaars; since they come from virtue and should go to
virtue. How much hath the princess to offer?'

Khôjee gave a half-embarrassed laugh. It was impossible, of course, and
yet----

'_That_ is as may be,' she replied; 'what she _will offer_, is
this----' With a flutter of shame and hope she put down the two rupees
and the handful of pice. Then she remembered the cardamoms! 'That,' she
continued, telling herself she might as well be bold to the bitter end,
'for the trousers _and_ the cardamoms.' It was a diplomatic stroke, if
an unconscious one, for Bhagsu instantly recognised that she had,
indeed, ventured her all; that the chance was his to take or leave.

He gave a melancholy groan, then began to roll up the green satin, and
tie it round with some of the triple-coloured cotton hanking used at
weddings, which, for some occult reason, is always sold at these
wayside shops. 'Shiv-_jee_ be my witness,' he whimpered, 'I give them
for naught. But what then? Virtue goes out to virtue, and those who
live amongst the noble must be noble!'

Khôjee could hardly believe her ears.

Half an hour afterwards she could hardly believe her eyes, as--Khâdjee
having retired safely to sleep with a sausage-roll pillow and a
quilt--she sate in the courtyard gloating over her wonderful purchase.

It was simply astounding. Even Khâdjee must forgive her duplicity in
regard to that secret pawning of pink trousers, with such green ones as
these for reparation! all piped, and edged, and faced, with quite a new
braiding of gold thread down the front seam, and a new scent to them
also; the wearer must have been in strange parts, though the cut was of
the North.

She folded the precious garments with loving little pats, brought out
the remaining portions of the state toilet from the almost empty store,
saw that Noormahal's muslin was as pure and white and smooth as her old
hands could make it, arranged the cardamoms in little saucers, and so,
when the city had long since become silent, curled her tired old limbs
on a string bed set across the doorway of the inner court--where the
servant should have slept, had there been one--and slept fitfully.

For she had to be up at dawn, so that everything should be ready
for the visitings, and yet leave her time to get round to the
goldsmith's, sell the bangle by weight, and purchase some 'Essence of
Happiness'--which was, alas! worth its weight in gold.

Yet when it came it had not much effect, greatly to poor Khôjee's
disappointment. Even the quivering, sobbing keene of her neighbours
and relations did not rouse Noormahal to any proper display of grief,
and--as the groups whispered--how could you expect to lose tears unless
you shed them? Was it not a distinct defiance of Providence to deal,
even with sorrow, as if it were your own absolutely? Finally, was
not _khushki_ (dryness) one of the fundamental faults in things
created?--the other being _gurm-ai_ (heat).

Khâdeeja Khânum, however, was quite sufficiently _tur_ and _tunda_
(damp and cool) to satisfy the most rigid standard of etiquette; and
what with the real cardamoms, the new trousers, a pennyworth of
orange-blossom oil which Khôjee had brought with the 'Essence of
Happiness,' and a most encouraging report of prevailing sickness and
death amongst mutual acquaintances brought by the visitors, the old
lady had quite a flush on her withered cheeks by evening, and admitted
to her sister, when the latter helped her to undress, that the whole
thing had really gone off very well.

Nevertheless she was rather fatigued on the next day. The day after
that, Khôjee, returning from the purchasing of some lemon-grass oil,
wherewith to wile away the aching in the back, caused, no doubt, by the
muscular effort of a continual whimper, found her seated on the string
bed in the centre of the lonely courtyard, attired in the green satin
trousers and concomitants, waiting, so she said, for the bridal party
to arrive.

How stupid Khôjee was! Of course, having regard to her deformity, it
was only natural she should take little heed of such things. But all
were not made that way, and it was high time the bridal party did come.
It seemed, indeed, as if an undue interval had elapsed since the
betrothal day, when--if Khôjee would remember--she wore pink, not
green. Anyhow she, _Shâhzâdi_ Khâdeeja Khânum, was not one to stand any
slackness in a bridegroom's ardour, and if he did not appear that day,
she would choose another.

She did. Death claimed her as his before twelve hours were over; almost
before poor Noormahal, roused at last from her absorption in grief, had
realised she was ill. It seemed incredible! The Nawâbin's big eyes,
larger, darker than ever--encircled as they were by great shadows which
seemed to have crept down the oval of her face, making it pointed,
pinched--turned to Aunt Khôjee, even at the moment of death, in
bewildered reproach and regret.

'And thou hast called none in to send her soul forth with prayers? Oh,
Khôjee! that was ill done. Nay? I mean no blame for thee alone, kind
one, but for us both--yet we did not know--we did not dream--did we?'

Khôjee stood for a second, speechless, rigid, her eyes staring,
yearning towards the familiar face over which the awful unfamiliar look
was creeping; then, with a wild cry, she threw up her arms and
grovelled at Noormahal's feet.

'Nay! I knew--I knew from the first. Oh, child! I have killed her--I,
Khôjee--hush! wail not! None must know. And touch her not, Noormahal;
that is for me--for her sister who killed her. Lo! child, sole hope of
the house! stand further--I can do all--I will do all.--O Khâdjee!
Khâdjee! canst thou forgive? And I knew--I knew in my heart all was not
right. I knew none would rightly sell such green satin trousers'--here
she broke into sobbing laughter--'yet wert thou happy, sister, and I
took the blame of theft, if it was theft--and it was--theft of thy
life--O Khâdjee! Khâdjee!'

Noormahal, pressed back by frantic clinging arms into a corner of the
dark room--for Khôjee, declaring the illness to be a chill, had
insisted on keeping the patient inside--caught in her breath fearfully.
'Peace, Khôjee! let me go, auntie!--Lo! thou art not well thyself--the
fever hath thee--thou art distraught with grief, as I was. Come, let us
go into the light, and I myself will call----'

Khôjee rose to her feet, and laid a quick hand on Noormahal's mouth.
'Nay! none must call,' she said sternly, her self-control brought back
by dread. 'Yea! come into the light, and leave her. Come, and I will
tell thee there--in the light.'

'How dost thou know?' asked Noormahal, gone grey to her very lips. 'It
is not that--lo! folk die of other things. I have seen them. Remember
our cousin--it was just so----'

Khôjee's mask of despair showed no wavering. 'Nay, it is the plague.
They talked of it at the wailing. It hath been here and there in the
city this week past. Mittun held it blasphemy that it should be aught
but God's will, and I cried yea! to him; but cannot God send it in the
clothes?' Her face, drawn, haggard, almost awful in its questioning,
settled after a second into decision. 'Yea! it is the plague--the
swellings they speak of are there. It was the trousers. I killed her.
And none must know, or they will come and poison thee in hospital, lest
it spread. That is why I called no one. The courtyard is wide. I can
dig a grave----' Noormahal gave a sharp cry of horrified dissent. 'Yea!
I can--my hands are not as thine, sweetheart, soft and fine. Old
Khôjee's ugliness can do more than thy beauty--the beauty of King's
Daughters which none may see! Remember that, child, remember that'--her
voice rang clear of sobs for those words; she rose from where she had
crouched to tell her tale, and looked round her with dull, yet steady,
eyes. 'There is no hurry. If folk come, none need know she is dead. I
will say she sleeps. And at night I can dig. Yea! I knew it from the
first. But there is no fear, heart's darling! Thou hast scarce been
nigh her. That is why I kept her close. And to-night I will carry her
to the outer courtyard--there is a padlock to the _nanbut khana_
stairs, and room for--room for _her_ beside them. I have thought--yea!
thought while I watched. There is no fear, Noormahal! All will go well.
Thou wilt have patience, as wives should, and Jehân will return to
thee, and little Sa'adut from his paradise will smile on brothers--ay!
and sisters too--sisters whom thou wilt spare to old Aunt Khôjee's
arms. God knows it shall be so. Deny it not, girl--dare not to deny it?
He only knows!'

Her face through its tears was alight with faith and hope and charity,
and Noormahal's, as she looked, lost its hardness; a dreaminess that
was almost tender came to the dry, bright eyes.

'Yea? He knows.'

That night, after the peacocks with their broken plaster tails ceased
to show against the growing dusk, there were faint cautious sounds
below them, where the two women dug at a grave. For in this, at least,
Noormahal had said she could help. It was not finished by dawn; and
after that Khôjee worked alone and only by snatches, while Noormahal
watched from the door of the inner courtyard, ready to give the alarm
should any visitor come--ready also to entertain them.

And the next night Khôjee would have no help at all. How she managed
was a marvel, but she did manage. Even Khâdeeja Khânum herself, had she
been able to make comments, could scarcely have found fault with any
lack of ceremony. And she would certainly have been gratified by her
dead-clothes; for Khôjee, with that terrible remorse at her heart,
spared nothing from the costume of ceremony. The green satin trousers
should deal no more death. And even the silver earrings, the few
trumpery silver bracelets, parting from which would have been worse
than death to the dead woman, she replaced with facsimiles in 'German.'
For silver could be purified by fire, and the living had need of it;
while who knew whether the corpse could tell the difference? Not
likely, since God was good, and therefore there was no need to be on
one's guard against cheating in His Paradise! So, in a way, 'German'
was as good as silver there! For poor Khôjee's white soul arrived at
right conclusions by curious methods; she worked by them also, and,
when that second dawn came, it was a very tired old woman who crept to
the string bed set against the door.

But she rose again early, and telling Noormahal that, since there was
now no one in the house but herself while marketings were going on, she
had better keep the inner door closed, went off to the bazaar. She
limped more than ever because of her tiredness, yet she sped through
the streets quicker than usual, since, for the first time in her life,
she went with her face uncovered. There was a breathlessness in that
old face, and the old hands that held the knotted corner of her veil,
wherein she had tied every available morsel of silver, every scrap of
gold lace or ornament for which even a farthing could be got, were
clasped on each other with almost painful tension.

'Lo, brother!' she said mildly to the goldsmith, 'what matters a
_ruthi_ or two. Weigh it quick, and give what is just. What is just!
that is all I ask.'

It was not much, that bare justice, but it was something; and there was
still a rupee or two over from the 'Essence of Happiness,' from the
unavoidable expenses of that secret burial. So she passed hurriedly to
a grain-merchant's shop.

Here she felt lost for a moment, lost, in the magnitude of what she
needed to one whose purchases for many years had been a bare day's
supply.

'It is for a wedding, likely?' asked the grain-dealer curiously.

'Likely,' she echoed softly. Her very brain felt tired, and it
seemed to her confusedly as if, after all, it might be a wedding. The
Lord-_sahib_ might send help, Noormahal might be saved, Jehân might
come back to her. All things were possible to patience; and she,
Khôjee, was patient enough, surely?

'Thou must send it in an hour's time,' she said to the corn-dealer, her
head being still clear enough for that one single purpose of hers,
'then I shall be back. And, look you! I have paid coolie hire. There
must be no asking for more.'

That was a necessary warning, since, when she reached home, every
farthing would have been spent.

All but one was spent, when she paused beside the public scribe who had
set up his desk at a corner where two bazaars met.

'Is it a letter, mother?' he asked of the old woman who put out a hand
against the wooden pillar of the neighbouring shop as if for support.
'To the house-master, likely.'

She shook her head this time. 'Nay, _meean_! There is no house-master,'
she said softly, as before, 'and it is not even a letter. But a
_pice_-worth of words on a scrap of paper. Listen! "_There is food
enough. Tarry the Lord's coming without fear or noise. I have locked
the door_." Canst do that for a pice, _meean_? And write clear, 'tis
for a woman's eyes.' As she repeated the message, swaying to and fro as
if she were reciting the Koran, the scribe smiled at a bystander and
touched his forehead significantly.

'If beauty lie behind the door, the locking of it is a _pice_-worth in
itself,' he said with a grin, 'and I give the rest!'

'_If beauty lay behind it!_' she thought as she went on, with the paper
folded in her hands. Yes! it was beauty, for the safety of which her
ugliness was responsible. Had she done all? Had she forgotten nothing?
Nothing that would ensure Noormahal from intrusion until she, Khôjee
the plague-stricken, had died in the streets. For that was her plan.
When death came close, as it surely must come soon, as it had done to
Khôjee, she would unbolt the doors and wander away--like a tailor-bird
luring a snake from its nest--into the outskirts of the city, right
away from the old house. And then what stranger was to know that
Khâdjee had died of plague, and was buried by the _naubut khana_
stairs?

When death came close! but not till then. Surely there was no need till
then to face the world--surely she might claim that much!

And when she was dead no one would know the lame old woman was Khôjeeya
Khânum, Daughter of Kings. Not even Lateefa.

The thought of him brought her a sudden fear. He was the only one who,
having the right to claim it, might, by chance, seek entrance to the
courtyard in the next day or two. She might on her way home see him, or
leave a message to reassure him, at the house next Dilarâm's, whither
she had fled with the news of Sobrai's escape.

There was no one in the house, no one in the little yard behind it; but
Lateefa had been there not long ago, for the clippings of his trade
littered one corner, and two draggled kites, their strings still
fastened to wooden pegs in the wall, lay huddled in another.

Dilarâm might know; a message might be left with her.

As Khôjee stumbled up the dark stairs to a balcony for the first time
in her life, she tried to straighten her veil, but her hands trembled;
it would not fold decorously.

There were three or four drowsy women lounging in the room at the door
of which she stood, beset by a sudden shyness, and three of them
tittered at the unusual sight; but the fourth said severely--

'What dost here, sister? This is no place for thy sort.'

'I--I seek Lateefa,' she faltered, and the others tittered louder.

'Peace, fools!' said Dilarâm angrily. 'Dost mean Lateefa the
kitemaker?'

But Khôjee had found her dignity. 'Yea! Lateef of the House of the
Nawâb Jehân Aziz, on whom be peace. Tell him, courtesan, that Khôjeeya
Khânum----' She paused, doubtful of her message, and, in the pause, the
jingles on Dilarâm's feet clashed once more as she rose to do honour to
a different life.

'Let the _Bibi sahiba_ speak,' she said in her most mellifluous tones.
'We in the freedom of vice are slaves to the prisoners of virtue.'

'Tell him,' said Khôjeeya Khânum, 'that it is well with the prison and
the prisoners. That they need no service.'

As she stumbled down the stairs again there was no sound of tittering.

It was nearly an hour after this, and the noonday sun was flooding the
courtyards, when Khôjee, having completed her preparations, closed the
door between them softly, so as not to disturb Noormahal--who had
already retired for the usual midday sleep--and slipped a paper through
the chink of the lintel ere drawing it close and padlocking the hasp.

Noormahal could not fail to see the reassuring message there when she
woke, and began to wonder where Auntie Khôjee had gone.

As she straightened herself from stooping to the padlock, she felt,
giddily, that she had locked herself out of life. She had but a few
hours left of seclusion, and then--the streets.

But those few hours she might surely claim. So she closed and barred
the wicket in the outer door, and dragging a string bed into the scant
shade cast by the _naubut khana_, found rest for her aching limbs. And
there she lay silent, taking no heed of Noormahal's knockings and
appeals which, after a time, rose cautiously. When they ceased the old
woman gave a sigh of relief.

Thus far all had gone well. Now she had only to wait till she felt she
dare wait no more.

So she lay, watching the shadows of the broken-tailed plaster peacocks
of royalty above the gateway creep over the courtyard, up the walls,
and disappear into thin air.



                             CHAPTER XVII

                        THE PEN AND THE SWORD


Jehân Aziz was meanwhile repenting at leisure in Oriental fashion. That
is, he had succumbed to the perpetual temptation of a string bed set
either in shade or sunshine, to which it is always possible to retire
without, as it were, quite throwing up the sponge. An Englishman who
seeks his bed and turns his face to the wall gives himself away; the
native who does the same thing is not even committed to discouragement.
And Jehân, though he had a racking headache from an attempt to drown
care in a debauch, was not exactly discouraged. His anger, though
impotent, was too strong for that. Indeed, his whole force of character
lay in his fierce arrogance; for he was neither clever nor cunning,
like Burkut Ali. And so when, the day after the disappearance of the
ring, the latter walked coolly in as if nothing had happened, and sat
down on the end of the string bed, Jehân only sat up at the other end
and glowered at the man, without whom he knew himself to be lost.

'Thou hadst best tell the truth, Lord of the Universe,' said Burkut,
with a fine sarcasm, 'for I have heard many lies from the police. My
head whirls with women, and pearls, and God knows what! Is there so
much as foothold anywhere, whence we may deal a blow?'

Jehân felt comforted by that plural, though it roused curiosity to know
what Burkut would be at. In truth, the latter's first desire for
vengeance on Jehân only, had shifted as he had listened to the tales he
bribed the police to tell. Here, it had seemed to him, was the
possibility of greater mischief; mischief which, it was true, could
have no immediate or definite object, but which would add something
fresh to that rock of offence, that stumbling-block in the way of the
alien master, on which it was the duty of the disloyal to cast every
stone they could.

It took five cigarettes, and two whisky-pegs sent for from the
liquor-shop next door, ere Jehân--in the absolute undress which seems
to afford comfort to all Indians in time of trouble--had finished his
tale.

'There is much in it,' remarked Burkut slowly. 'As for the ring, Lateef
hath it. There is none else. And he is a friend of thy house. He worked
there; is it not so? Bethink thee, is there no woman in it who hath a
hold on him?'

Jehân frowned horribly at the indecent suggestion; but even this
insult, he felt, had to be faced. 'None,' he said shortly, 'unless the
jade who escaped.'

Burkut grinned cunningly and shook his head. 'My lord doth not
understand women. Lateef hath kept the ring for the honour, not the
dishonour, of the house. It will go back, if it hath not already gone,
to the safe keeping which hath secured it all these years.'

Jehân winced again under the innuendo. 'Think you it is there already?'

'It will be, if we give him time,' replied Burkut; 'and all the more
surely, if we say it is there already. That is simple, since Nushapore
knows that the guardianship of the signet was not with my lord always.
It is but to withdraw the charge of theft, saying that we have found
the ring returned to its rightful owner, the Nawâbin.'

This time Jehân ground his teeth; he felt his impotence, even against
this man, horribly. 'And then?' he asked sullenly.

'And then we shall be free to watch Lateefa. We can give him time to go
to his hiding-place. And then we can search him--and thy house. But
without the police! We must have no more of _their_ methods. It hath
cost me somewhat to get beyond them now, which sum shall be as a debt
between thee and me--but there must be no more of it!'

'But the pearls?' replied Jehân uneasily; 'the pearls and that jade
Sobrai, whom God curse.'

Burkut gave a sudden blink of his long eyes. 'Say rather, may God curse
those who led virtue astray! 'Tis a tale, my lord, to dissolve heart
and liver! Kidnapped by order, almost by force. Bribed to a _sahib's_
pleasure by pearls. By four pearls taken--oh! most horrible!--from a
string which the head of her house had, with tears, sold to that same
_sahib_! Sold in his honourable indigence, which had not hesitated to
wrench the last ornament from the necks of virtuous women in order to
keep them virtuous----' He paused in his periods for breath.

'_Wâh!_' said Jehân stupidly--his jaw had almost fallen in sheer
surprise--'that runs well. But the proof?'

Burkut smiled a superior smile. 'Thy reluctance to allow publicity. Thy
instant assertion that the pearls were thine. Lo! is not the whole
true, save that Lucanaster _sahib_ gave the pearls to Sobrai? And that
is for him to prove. "_Tie a lie to a truth and the two will sink or
swim together_" is good wisdom!'

'But they must see the pearls--they said so but yesterday. The
magistrate _sahib_----'

'Go to him, and make thy confession. Say that there was but this
untruth. The pearls were not, they had been thine. Say that, even now,
if thou canst but get the girl back in secret----'

'In secret,' echoed Jehân fiercely, 'when already the police----'

Burkut lost patience then. 'Fool! canst not thou see that in that lies
the gain? _Thou_ canst stand aloof, but the hell-doomed must answer!
And not the one; but all. Lo! it is a tale for the bazaars! for the
newspapers! And 'tis not as if thou couldst keep it secret longer. Thou
canst not. Therefore use it against those whose fault it is that thou
canst not.' He paused, suddenly folded his hands in the attitude of
service, and said reverently: 'What orders hath the Pillar of Justice,
the Mighty in Power, the Disposer of Slaves, regarding a necklace of
pearls, and one Sobrai Begum, a woman of his household?'

The sarcasm bit deep, and Jehân Aziz, the Rightful Heir to such power,
swore, this time, horribly, feeling as Burkut intended, that revenge
was better than nothing.

'And I will bring trouble to Miss Leezie also,' he began viciously,
when Burkut cut him short.

'That were unwise. She stands too close to authority. Say it was
Dilarâm----'

'Dilarâm! wherefore?' put in Jehân stupidly.

Burkut's laugh was evil beyond words. 'Because they who touch her and
hers, rouse what they cannot still. Thou needst not say it for certain.
That is the best of lies--there is freedom for the tongue in them. Say
it seems so. And hearken----! Govind the editor will pay for this news.
If thou canst get word, by means of this money, to Sobrai herself, it
would be well. She knows her fate if she comes back to thy house.
Promise her escape if she will say it was Lucanaster.'

Jehân's pious wishes for the immediate destruction of all the
unfaithful came almost cheerfully. He felt infinitely relieved all
round. So far as the ring went, he was inclined to believe that Burkut
was right. It might even now be back in Noormahal's keeping; but,
before making sure of that, it would be as well to see what Lateefa
would do. Then as for the pearls, he at least got some revenge. And the
beauty of it was that a solid substratum of truth, sufficient to save
him from trouble, underlay all the lies. The pearls _were_ his; he
_had_ sold them to Lucanaster _sahib_; Sobrai's _four_ did belong to
that string; she _had_ been beguiled into the cantonments.

It was only that a different complexion had been put upon the facts; a
complexion which might, almost, be the right one, since who was to know
why Sobrai----

Once more the irrational, uncontrollable animal jealousy of the thought
seized on him, and he felt a fierce joy in knowing that the story was
one to rouse a similar feeling in many minds. And wherefore not? Were
not similar stories true? Were they not to be heard every day? Were not
tales of the libertinism, tyranny, and corruption of the _sahibs_ to be
read in every line of the newspapers? And none contradicted them;
therefore they could not be contradicted. So if _this_ tale were not
all true (a faint scruple, that was as much an inheritance as Jehân's
passion for power, lingered in spite of his desire for revenge), there
were plenty of others far worse that could be proved up to the hilt.

Thus, once more, that commonest of all Indian conjuring tricks, the
making of one lie out of two or more truths, started on its evil
errand.

Yet not a mile away from its starting-place rose the Government
College, the Courts of Justice, the Secretariat, the Revenue Offices;
all the plant, the stock, and lock, and block, of an administration
which, take it as you will, is the only one India has ever had, which
has allowed even a whisper to be raised against it without condign
punishment.

At that very moment Sir George Arbuthnot, in his private office, was
reading an article from the day's issue of the _Voice of India_, that
had been brought over amongst the usual selections from the native
newspapers which are submitted by the Press censor.

'_Is it too late_,' he read, '_ere the great crisis comes upon us which
may mean so much to the poorest of the poor, the richest of the rich,
to implore the Government to think, ere it inflicts on the helpless,
the horrible and needless tortures which, there is too much reason to
fear, have been inflicted on our fellow-countrymen in other parts of
unhappy India? May we not once more venture to plead with the
authorities for our poor townsfolk, and point out to them that these
weaker brethren have beliefs which they would rather die than deny? The
sacredness of the cow, for instance, must, and does seem silly,
foolish, to those who eat beef every day, but to our people it is a
dogma. To yield one tittle of it is eternal damnation. So with the
sacredness of their women. This thesis may not be held by our rulers.
We know that it is not. Those of us who have seen London do not need to
be told this, and even a visit to cantonments shows us a different
standard. Tales that are harrowing to the fathers and husbands of India
may be food for laughter elsewhere. Therefore is it that at this crisis
we venture to implore the great English Government to remember that to
us such things are all important. That we cannot, we dare not away with
them_.

'_The late generous announcement of Sir George Arbuthnot, our popular
Lieutenant-Governor, to the effect that no coercion will be used, at
the outset, has greatly soothed the natural alarm of all, raised by
general and credible belief in a plan of campaign similar to those
approved by authorities in all other parts of India. For which
diplomatic utterance we poor folk are grateful, and which emboldens us
to ask the following pertinent questions:_--

'1. _Would it not be possible, by treating ignorant poor folk with
kindness and consideration, to allay their natural fears?_

'2. _Would it not be well to issue stringent rules that no woman shall
be examined for plague even by British soldiers, and that Brahmins,
cows, and family idols be not wilfully ill-treated?_

'3. _Though it is to be feared, alas, that jack-in-offices must
perforce exhibit greed and covetousness, should not some supervision be
exercised to prevent unnecessary removal of valuables, 'et hoc genus
omne,' from plague-stricken houses?_

'4. _Finally, is it not possible, even at this late hour, when Plague
overshadows us with horrible mantles of dread_ (_there are persistent
rumours of three cases in Muhalla Kuzai_), _that the co-operation and
advice of educated natives be invited as to means of avoiding friction.
Comparisons are invidious, but it is not too much to say that Messrs.
Bhola-nâth_----'

'You can leave off there, sir,' said the assistant-secretary. 'It is up
one side of Shark Lane and down the other.'

Sir George turned over the slip to the next with elaborate patience.
'It is ingeniously suggestive,' he remarked. 'By the way, have we
succeeded in getting any more volunteers for search parties?'

'Two, sir; but they are both retired native officers, and as that would
make all but five, military, the commissioner thought----'

'Then we want twenty more. Send a reminder to Shark Lane. And about the
destruction of infected clothes?'

'There is only one thing for it, sir, as we agreed before,' replied the
chief of the police. 'We must have an Englishman with each search
party. It's absurd to expect constables on five rupees a month to keep
their hands from picking and stealing. That fact must be faced. We do
our best; but our department, which is the most difficult to deal with,
is the worst paid.'

'That's a nasty story,' said Sir George suddenly. He had been glancing
through another excerpt. 'Hm, the _Ear of the Wise_, editor Govinda
Râm.'

'He has the best nose, anyhow, for unmitigated filth in India,'
remarked the assistant-secretary; 'but of course one can't notice that
sort of thing.' Here he shrugged his shoulders.

The chief of the police, who was an old military man, squared his.
'There I totally disagree, as his Honour knows. That paper has a
greater effect in Nushapore than all those high-falutin' prints put
together; and that's all my business. I'd have him up, on every
slander, in the criminal courts. You wouldn't allow that sort of thing
about the masters to be circulated in a school? And the more we
remember that our position in India is virtually that of a
schoolmaster, or, if you like it better, trustee to a minority, the
better it will be for that minority.'

'Bravo, Grey!' said Sir George, with a smile. 'You stick to your
colours. And a good many of us agree; only the people at home won't
have it. They can't grasp the situation; they would as soon believe it
to be a grave political danger if the little street boys hung garlands
round Guy Fawkes instead of burning him! Now, about the plague itself.
Is it on us, doctor?

'Yes, sir,' replied a small man who had just been shown in. 'We have
just inspected all the native charitable dispensaries. They have no
proper records, of course, and they deny increased attendance. But they
are almost out of drugs. Then there are three undoubted cases in the
butchers' quarter. But the fishiest part of the city is all about the
Garden Gate. Those tall old houses--there has been a lot of deaths.'

'Poor, high-class Mohammedans,' remarked the assistant-secretary
significantly. 'Rather bad luck.'

Sir George rose and put away his papers. 'Then we had better start. I
think everything is settled. The great point is to keep--to keep normal
as long as possible.'

As he quitted the room the men left in it looked at each other.

'Right so far; but after----' said one.

'Telegraph home for orders; what else can you do nowadays?'

'Do! I'd show them, if I had a free hand. I'd settle this lot.' The
chief of the police slapped his confidential file viciously as he
pocketed it. 'I'd limit their circulation by a little wholesome
bloodletting.'

'Not worth it! They're like the fifty thousand Irish patriots.'

'What patriots?' asked the chief snappishly. He hailed from across St.
George's Channel himself, and was a trifle touchy on the point of his
countrymen's disloyalty.

'The fifty thousand Irish patriots whom the orator said were armed to
the teeth ready to strike a blow for liberty. "Then why the devil don't
they strike it?" asked one of the audience. "Bedad! the polis' won't
let them."'

'Hm! the "polis" wouldn't, if I'd my way,' muttered the old soldier.

Sir George, meanwhile, had gone straight to his wife's sitting-room;
for he was already due at his daily reception of native visitors, and
he had something he wished to tell her.

Scrupulously particular as he was about the absolutely English ordering
of his home-life, there was something fantastic--even to him--to-day in
the sight of Grace in a low rocking-chair, reading Hans Andersen to
Jerry, in a room as dainty and sweet with English flowers as any in an
English country-house. What possible right had this to be here, cheek
by jowl with the city! And between them nothing but Shark Lane!

'Well! George?' she asked almost nervously, for, despite the days that
had passed, her fear lest that unlucky letter should turn up to give
the lie to her husband's protestations on the part of the Government,
lingered with her.

'Only those two ladies, my dear,' he answered with a certain
meritorious air to which he had a perfect right; for he was almost
worked off his legs, and might very excusably have forgotten all about
poor Khôjee's appeal. 'Dawkins inquired. They belong to Jehân Aziz's
pensioners. But there is a discrepancy. He says they are young and
flighty girls, so he is obliged to keep them tight----'

'My dear George! she was as old as old----'

'She need not have been one of the real petitioners, my dear. In fact,
seeing that they are strictly secluded, I doubt if she could be. It is
quite easy to personate, when no one has any means of knowing----'

'And quite easy to say people are young and flighty, when they are not,
_if they cant be seen_. How are we to find out?'

Sir George looked thoughtful. 'I'm afraid we must take the Nawâb's
word. Or, with his approval, we might appoint----'

'Some one who would agree with him,' interrupted Grace impatiently.
'I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll go myself. His house is somewhere by
the Garden Gate, isn't it? Surely, George, there can be no objection to
that,' she added, noting his look.

He paused a moment; then said gravely: 'Only one; and that is, that we
must have as little communication with the city as possible for some
time to come, Grace. Yes,' he continued, as she looked at him startled.
'It is on us; but there is no need, of course, to worry for the next
few days at any rate.'

She rose and stood looking out of the window thoughtfully. 'You never
can tell,' she said. 'Father used always to say so to his young
officers: "Remember that in India you cannot tell what the next day may
bring forth."'

'Used he to say that to Mr. Raymond?'

If a bombshell had fallen between those two it could scarcely have
startled them both more.

'George!' exclaimed Lady Arbuthnot reproachfully.

'I beg your pardon, my dear,' he said, going up to her with the
quaintest look of elated affection, as if he were rather proud of
himself; 'I don't know why the deuce I said that--except that--well!
that the best of us can't quite forget--I don't believe you do--we are
all a bit fundamental. However, what I mean is that times have changed
since your father's day.'

'And yet you say every one is fundamental,' she interrupted in a voice
that held both tears and laughter, tenderness and a faint resentment.
'And that is so true--we go back and back.'

'Then I shall go back too,' he replied cheerfully. 'Only I must give
the New Diplomacy a chance. Besides'--here an obstinate look crept over
his face--'as a matter of fact I have to obey orders like every one
else, and my orders are clear; thanks--I don't mean it nastily--to you
and your father. In fact I'm very much obliged to you. It relieves me
of a lot of responsibility. All the same, I can assure that there is
not the very faintest chance of difficulty for the next week at any
rate. There cannot be--for the simple reason that we are not going to
offend any one's prejudices. For instance, no search for plague
patients will be made for the present except by special request of the
natives themselves. So I really cannot see----'

'Is it likely we could?' asked Grace quickly, 'when we cannot see if a
woman is young or old?--when we have to trust interested people for
information? George! I often wonder you men have the courage to rule
India, when you know nothing of its women, except that there has been
one at the bottom of every trouble you have ever had.'

Sir George smiled indulgently. 'Well, my dear, I hope they will keep
their fingers out of this pie.'

It was rather a vain hope, considering that at that very moment Govind
Râm's fingers were all black with lithographic ink, and that the first
edition of his broadsheet was being hawked through the bazaars. There
was quite a crowd round Dilarâm's balcony where, in full dress, she
sat, defiant yet sullen; now refusing to say a word, now letting
herself loose in shrill abuse with disconcerting candour. She find
recruits for such as Miss Leezie? Not she! Though, had she chosen, she
might here had followed tales half-true, half false, that were listened
to, not with eagerness or anger, but with the calm assent which is so
much more dangerous, since it passes on to tell the tale with additions
in the next street.

By evening it was all over the city that Dilarâm and her like were to
be put in gaol for refusing to kidnap girls for the _Sirkar_. And that
the _Sirkar_ in consequence, being hard put to it, would be sure to
make the plague--which the doctors had discovered that very day,
though, God knows, folk had been dying that way for a week--an excuse
to search respectable houses for recruits to Miss Leezie's profession.

Such a thing may seem impossible to those who have not lived in a
native town, but those who have, know that nothing is incredible to its
vast curiosity, its still more vast ignorance. In the dead darkness of
that, as in the darkness of night, all voices are equal.

And so round the smouldering rubbish-heaps and within the closed doors
of the courtyards where the women gathered, as in the bazaar, the tale
was told; not with absolute assurance, but tentatively. So folk said;
and so, no doubt, it had been in the past. It remained to be seen if it
would be so in the present, since _that_ was all poor folk had to
consider. And as the tale was told, a sound of sudden wailing would
rise far or near in the city to prove part of the tale was true.

The plague had come.



                            CHAPTER XVIII

                         THE FREEDOM OF DEATH


Jehân Aziz had withdrawn his charge of theft against Lateefa by saying
that the whole affair was a misunderstanding, and that the ring was in
the possession of  the Nawâbin, to whom it really belonged. It had been
returned to her without his knowledge; _etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!_

Now a monopoly in lies gives freedom, but when you have an accomplice
whose fertility of imagination exceeds your own, there is tyranny in
them. Jehân found this out when Lateefa, after one silent second of
surprise, had grasped the position, and instantly claimed his right to
lie also. For in India false accusation is a sort of personal duel in
which the challenger, having chosen his weapon, cannot complain of his
opponent's more skilful use of it.

So Lateefa had launched into corroborative evidence of the most
startling description. Did not the Nawâb-_sahib_ remember this, and
that? And Jehân had remembered. What else could he do?

But he felt it was dangerous work, and was glad when Lateefa's audience
was confined to the coachman who drove them back to the city, in the
wagonette lined with red flannel and tied up with string! Yet, all the
time that he was enlarging, Lateefa was wondering if there was any
truth whatever in the story he had been confirming.

Had the ring really been found?

The fact that Burkut Ali was waiting to receive them in the little
house next Dilarâm's, inclined him to believe it was not, and that
there was still some scheming afoot.

But, on the other hand, the ring might really be lost. The kite might
have fluttered down in the next courtyard, or the next. It was a pure
chance.

His first glance into the little backyard, however, showed him that the
chance had been in his favour. He had the eyes of a hawk, and, even
from a distance, could see, not only that those were the kites crumpled
in one corner, but that the precious morsel of ballast was still in its
place.

And this knowledge gave him, instantly, an enormous advantage over the
two plotters, to whom it was, of course, inconceivable that he should,
already, know for a certainty that the ring had not been found.

So when, in the most natural manner in the world, they congratulated
each other on his being freed from a false accusation in time to allow
of his making kites for the annual competition amongst the immediate
members of the Royal Family, for what was called the 'Sovereignty of
Air,' he assented cheerfully and waited for them to go further. Which
they did, by saying that as it was most important to have the best of
kites, he had better go back to the old workshop, since the courtyard
here was too narrow and sunless to dry the paste and paper quick
enough. Indeed, the last kites he had made there had flown askew.

Here Lateefa crossed to the battered ones in the corner, and shook his
head over them solemnly. It was true, he said, such kites would ill
carry the honour of kings. Yet, since he had none too much leisure--if
the trial was to be in two days' time--he would waste no good daylight
in moving tools. That could be done at any hour, and leave him
half-a-day's work here.

On which Jehân and Burkut winked at each other, thinking it evident
that he was falling into the trap, and was man[oe]uvring for an
opportunity of getting at his hiding-place. So they gave it to him,
discreetly, by playing cards meanwhile on the string bed set this time
_within_ the room across the doorway; thus combining complete isolation
with comparative freedom. Whereat Lateefa smiled to himself.

It was quite a happy little family party, and Lateefa sang, as usual,
of 'oughts' and 'naughts' as he worked; sang all the more cheerfully
when those two began to yawn.

He kept them at the yawning, out of pure mischief, until it was almost
dark; then he piled the kites he had made in the corner, tied his tools
into a bundle, and asked the cardplayers politely to let him pass.

Whereupon, as he knew they would, they closed the door and stripped
him. He did not expostulate. He seemed to think it quite right
that they should thus prove the truth of their own words. He
had not, he confessed, been sure, before, of the assertion that the
ring was in the Nawâbin's possession. He had thought that, perhaps, the
Light-of-the-Universe had retained it himself. Now it was evident that
he had not.

And then, refusing to resume any clothing except a mere waist-cloth of
decency, or to take his tools or anything which might cause suspicion
to go with him, he went out into the bazaars, leaving those two
cursing, and swearing, and wondering if by chance they had hit on the
right lie! Had the ring really found its way to the ruined palace which
was the only other relic of kingship remaining to the Rightful Heir of
all?

And even that possession was burdened by conditions!

It is impossible to overestimate what the loss of absolute power means
to men like Jehân Aziz who have nothing to take its place. As a rule,
when their personal interests do not clash with their environments,
they only grin horribly, and contrive to bear the loss. But when, as
Jehân Aziz did, they feel enmeshed in a network of petty limitations,
their impotent arrogance finds the position intolerable.

As he flung himself angrily once more on the eternal string bed, he
felt that the only thing which would satisfy him was the grip upon his
finger of a gold circlet set with a green stone, on which was scratched
the kingly legend.

And despite Burkut's help he had failed to get it; as yet--

Meanwhile Lateefa, naked as he was born--save for his rag of decency
and an embroidered skull-cap of inexpressibly filthy white muslin set
on the oily, grizzled hair that hung in an inward curve about his
ears--was at large in the gutters and lanes, feeling the freedom of a
bird newly escaped from a cage. His last sense of allegiance to the
Nawâb had gone; he had not yet attached himself to the Nawâbin. He did
not really care much as to the fate of the ring. It had been more a
desire to outmatch their cunning, than any hope of keeping his promise
to Khôjee, that had made him transfer the precious ballast--as he had
done in the leisure afforded him by that discreet game of cards--from
the old kite to a new one, and leave it in the pile. It was a trifle
safer there; but, on the other hand, any one might find it at any time.
If so, it would be the fault of Fate. Not Lateefa's, as it would have
been had he been foolish enough to try and take the ring, or even the
kites with him. That would have been fatal.

So as, with a twopenny-halfpenny wisp of a muslin scarf he borrowed
from a friend, superadded to his costume--or the lack of it--and a
certain soft brilliance of opium in his eyes, the kitemaker lounged
about in the more disreputable quarters of the town, listening to tales
and telling them with equal indifference, he was, in a way, the spirit
of an Indian bazaar incarnate. Truth had gone from him utterly. In its
place had come an impersonal appreciation of the value of vice or
virtue as a mere ingredient of anecdote, and an absolute lack of
responsibility for the result of his admixture of good and evil.

Therefore, as he sat crouched up in the corner of a frail lady's
reception room, fingering a lute which he had found there, and trilling
softly of 'oughts' and 'naughts' while she retailed the latest lies to
the shifting audience which came and went up and down the steep
musk-scented stairs, he was at once a thing dreadful, a thing pathetic.
For his keen face, seen by the smoking oil lamps set high in a brass
trefoil before the mistress of the house, was alight with a sensuous
spirituality, and his lean figure, so listless in its lounge, was
instinct with that power of energy, of spring, that shows even in a
sleeping tiger.

'Lo, thou in the corner!' came the narrator's voice; 'hold thy peace.
What are thy "oughts" and "naughts" to us of the bazaar? Take them to
thy virtuous beauties who leave messages for thee at Dilarâm's--at
Dilarâm's forsooth! an odd "_post-arffis_"[16] for virtue! And so, my
masters,' she went on, 'the _daghdars_[17]--there were five of
them--carried the woman off by force, and----'

Lateefa was not one of the breathless listeners. He was winking
elaborately at the buxom assistant who was handing round the sherbets,
and asking irresponsibly, 'Didst leave a message for me at Dilarâm's,
beloved?'

'Not I, fool!' she giggled; 'thou must be drunk indeed to think virtue
fits me. Yet it is true. One such _did_ come when I was at Dilarâm's
with her----' She nodded to the speaker--who, having reached her
climax, was becoming dramatic, the light before her making her face all
eyes and lips--'An old body--out on thee for thy bad taste, Lateef! And
she says, says she, "Tell Lateef of the house of the Nawâb that it is
well with us in the prison--that we want no service." See you, friends?
not even his! Nay, take it not to heart, beloved! there be others less
unkind.'

But Lateefa had risen with a sudden sense of something beyond his
present freedom; that freedom from truth, clothes, kite-making, above
all things, from the methods of the police! And that something was
Auntie Khôjee. For the messenger, he felt, could have been no one else.
Why had she come to say it was well with her? Had they made her do so?
And if so, what had they been doing to those helpless women? What they
_could_ have done, had they dared, Lateefa knew only too well; and his
brain was too confused to remember that _had_ they dared, they would
scarcely have bidden him go back to his workshop in the old palace.

His feet were as confused as his brain, but, in or out of the gutter,
they steered him pretty straight for the big iron-studded door with the
little wicket in it beneath the _naubat khana_.

'Khôjee!' he called cautiously, rattling at the wicket; for it was
barred, as usual, at night. There was no answer. He raised his
voice--'Auntie Khôjee, it is Lateef! Rise, sister, and let me in.'

She ought to have heard that; for he knew her to be a light sleeper. He
paused doubtfully. Was she simply asleep, or had those two been at
work? Then it occurred to him that he had been a fool not to ask the
sherbet-hander _when_ the message had been left at Dilarâm's. It might
have been that very day, in which case he could afford to postpone his
inquiries till the morrow. He must find out. That was the first thing
to be done.

Late as it was growing, there was no slackening, as yet, in the tide of
life ebbing and flowing through the bazaars, when he returned to them.
Everybody in the city seemed astir, and he hastily turned his face to
the lamp-sprinkled caverns of the arcaded shops, as he saw Burkut Ali
and Jehân Aziz coming towards him in the crowd. They passed him talking
together in low tones, and he looked after them doubtfully. Were they
simply promenading, as half the town seemed to be doing, or----?

Their sudden turn down a by-lane decided him. He followed cautiously.

Alike though the bazaars and the by-ways of a native city are in form,
the change of atmosphere between them is striking beyond words. So
here, within a whisper of unceasing talk and movement, Lateefa found
all silent, deserted. Lightless too; except when a farthing rushlight
at a niched shrine where two lanes crossed, shone on the black slime in
the gutters, as if it had been ink, and showed the glistening black
streaks upon the windowless walls, down which the sewage from the upper
stories of the tall houses trickled to the sewage below. Here and there
a dog slunk in the shadows; here and there a woman crept furtively from
doorway to doorway. And overhead, with a fathomless depth of purple in
which the stars seemed trivial bits of tinsel, a notched ribbon of sky
showed between the turreted roofs.

A garland of marigolds--sending their curious odour into the general
compound of smells as they hung over a closed door--and a muffled
sound of women's laughter told of a marriage within. A knife--still
swinging from the touch of the last visitor--and a louder shrill
of voices drowning a woman's cries, told of birth. And that faint
whimper--practised, conventional--meant death!

All three within closed doors.

And now, from the vantage-ground of the last turn, Lateefa waited and
watched those two go on. Had they been there before? Had they the means
of entry?

No! The rattle of the wicket sounded loudly; then the voice of
authority--'Open! Open to the Master! Open to the Nawâb!'

Even to that there was no answer, and as the two looked at each other,
Jehân's face was fierce with rage. ''Tis as thou saidst, when Dilarâm
spoke of the message,' he muttered savagely. 'They are in league!
Lateef is here, and means to defy us.'

Then he raised his voice and called again, 'Open! Open to the
Possessor! Open to the Master!'

A door or two down the alley creaked ajar, showing dim white-sheeted
figures of wonder; for that was not a call to be ignored.

Lateefa, from his corner, wondered still more. What could have
happened? Something, evidently, about which those two knew nothing.

A man who had pushed past the dim shadows into the lane, started the
question as to when the door had last been seen open; whereat voices
came from the dim shadows in answer. One had not seen it so these three
days, others had noticed Khôjee's limp that morning. The voices grew
contentious over the point, so that Nawâb Jehân Aziz growled a curse
under his breath, and turned away savagely.

'Come, Burkut,' he said, 'did I not tell thee they could not have
arrived by now? The paper at the "estation" says the mail is
"change-time." Let me pass, good folk,' he went on irritably to the
little group that hung round, curious. 'Can a body not come to see if
his family be returned from a journey without the neighbours crowding
out?'

The remark was plausible explanation enough; but as the two passed
Lateefa in the dark, Jehân could be heard girding at Burkut. Why had he
suggested coming on the sly? It would be all over the town how that
Jehân's women had refused him entrance. He, Burkut, would be suggesting
the police next.

'Not the police, my lord,' came Burkut's suave, cunning voice; 'there
be better ways of gaining entry than that nowadays!'

When they had gone, and the lane--with clucks of incredulity
and remarks that it was time some folk refused to be treated
scandalously--had settled behind closed doors again, Lateefa stole back
to the wicket.

Once more he had the advantage. _He_ knew that it was no obstinacy
induced by his presence which kept the inmates silent. And Jehân had
made noise enough to wake the dead.

The dead? But they could not all be dead! A vast curiosity, more than
any apprehension, made Lateefa look up to the balcony of the _naubat
khana_ and wonder if he could climb to it. Once there, the shutters he
knew were rotten. It seemed possible--if a foothold or two were picked
out of the crumbling brick, and a rope hitched on to an iron hook he
knew of, some ten feet up the wall. In fact, given a quiet hour or so,
he would undertake to make a felonious entry somehow. But it was too
early in the night to try. The time for such work came with the false
dawn when sleep simulated death. And that was--how many hours away? He
did not know, or care. In that strange life of the bazaars, night was
as day. No question of bed-time entered into it; so, sooner or later,
he would see that the hour he waited for had come, by the look on those
ribbons of sky between the close-packed houses; that network of sky,
following the pattern of the network of streets and alleys, which was
all that thousands in the city knew of the heaven above it.

The bazaars were scarcely more empty, when once again he returned to
them; but they were less noisy. Many voices had dwindled to one voice;
the voice of the tale-teller. Therefore the voice of the most
imaginative mind in the assemblage.

Lateefa listened here, listened there, curious, indifferent, receptive;
approving--as the East always approves--the voice with authority that
speaks not as the scribes.

He wandered here, he wandered there; even, with that absorbing
inquisitiveness of his, into the courtyard common to Dilarâm and her
neighbours. Her balcony was dark and silent; the police, he told
himself, had likely been bothering her. But the light, and the sound of
a crank in Govind's room, meant a special edition of lies. Then with
his ear to the chink of the door below he could hear Burkut Ali's
voice; then Jehân's--louder, shrill with protest or anger. They were
quarrelling, likely, over drink or cards.

Yet Burkut was sober enough when--barely giving time for Lateefa to
find shelter behind the eternal string-bed which was now reared up
against the wall--he came out into the yard.

'Fool!' he muttered as he passed, 'not to see his own good. As if it
mattered. He would get house and all. Mayhap he will be drunk enough by
morning.'

What new villainy was he planning? Lateefa pondered over the question
as he drifted on.

The time of felonies was near, for the dogs were forgetting to skulk; a
sign that men were fewer in the lanes and streets. Here and there,
round an ebbing flicker of light, listeners lingered, and a drowsy
voice droned on; but for the most part the cavernous arcades showed
still, white-swathed sleepers, simulating death.

This, however, coming swiftly down the bazaar--a strange, swaying,
headless body with many legs, monstrous, weird, half-seen--was death
itself being shuffled out secretly to the city gates.

Folks said true, then. The plague _was_ abroad?

He had found himself what he needed for his task--a bit of old iron, a
bit of leathern rope; but when he reached the wicket his first stealthy
touch on it showed him he needed neither. It was ajar. He pushed it
open noiselessly and entered; groping his way, since it was dark in the
archway below the _naubut khana_. Beyond, in the open court, it was
lighter; yet, even so, he stumbled over a bed set right in the entrance
as watchmen set them.

There was no one in it, but the quilt was warm. So some one had been
there a moment ago. Some one who had gone out by the open door, and who
would therefore return.

He crouched in a recess by the stairs that led upwards and waited. He
had not to wait long. A shuffling step sounded outside, and, after a
pause to bar the wicket, some one stumbled to the bed. And then out of
the darkness came a quavering grace before meat, that grace which is
also the prayer of blood-sacrifice.

'In the name of the Merciful and Clement God!'

It had not needed the grace to tell Lateefa that this was Aunt Khôjee.
She must have gone out to draw water from the well down the lane, for
the grace was followed by the sound of rapid, thirsty drinking. But why
had she not drawn water as usual from the well in the women's
courtyard? He must find out.

'God quench thy thirst, sister,' he said piously; then added, 'fear
not, it is I, Lateef,' for she had given a startled cry and let fall
the water-vessel, which, bottom upwards, gave out a _glug glug_ as the
liquid escaped from its narrow neck, that was louder than her feeble
attempt at sobbing, as she crouched up on the bed rocking to and fro.

It was all her fault, she was very wicked, she moaned; she had tried to
go into the streets, she had tried to feel as if she were going to die,
but she could not. And then the thirst had been so dreadful! But she
had only opened the door for a little moment. Who would have thought of
any one stepping in? And now he must go away, or she would kill him
too. Why did he not go when it was the plague? He would surely die, and
she did not want to kill any one else....

Lateefa could make out enough of her ramblings for comprehension, but
he did not therefore flinch from the huddled-up figure, which was now
faintly visible in the grey beginnings of dawn. The fear of death is
not easily learned in the bazaars where, so long as it comes naturally,
it scarcely excites comment. Nevertheless, he cleared his throat and
spat as Jân-Ali-shân had done in the garden; for that propitiatory
offering to the dread destroyer is common to all races all over the
world.

'Thou wouldst kill no more?' he echoed, his curiosity aroused. 'Who
hast killed already? The Nawâbin or Khâdjee, or both?'

So once more, even there, he sat listening, listening, listening, while
Khôjee rambled through her tale of the green satin trousers, and her
plan to save the Nawâbin from being dragged away and poisoned, which
had been frustrated by thirst. But who could have expected to want
either food or drink----

Lateefa gave a sudden laugh. 'Lo! brave one!' he said, stooping to pick
up the fallen water-vessel, 'and when thou hadst got the drink, thou
didst spill it from sheer fright of a familiar voice! Of a truth,
sister, women are made in bits like a conjurer's puzzle. It needs a
man's wit to piece them together. Now think not, Khôjee,' he continued
warningly, 'to shut me out whilst I get thee water. If thou dost, I
swear by my kites, I will go tell the _daghdars_ at the _horspitâl_ to
come and poison Noormahal.'

The fantasy of his own threat amused him; yet it roused a sudden
remembrance that others might, at least, tell the doctors; especially
if, after the scene of last night, the door remained shut. The
neighbours, in that case, would begin to talk. And then he recollected
Burkut Ali's words, and wondered if the latter could possibly have been
contemplating so vile a plan as giving false information. The Nawâb
himself would not consent. It was infamy. But if the Nawâb was drunk?

The thought was disturbing, so, after Khôjee, refreshed by the water,
had apparently sunk into a profound sleep, he went outside, and,
sitting on the door-lintel, prepared replies to the questionings which
should surely come when folk began to go backwards and forwards to the
well. He prepared, also, for the interview with the Nawâbin which he
meant to have by and by. He meant to tell her about the ring, as an
inducement to common-sense; the common-sense of escaping, while she
could, from evil to come.

As he sat, answering questions and passing the time of day jauntily, he
heard a faint knocking from within, a low-voiced 'Khôjee! Khôjee! art
returned yet?' The Nawâbin was therefore well; so, if Khôjee woke the
better for her sleep, the whole affair might be simple.

The sun rose, and so did Lateefa's spirits. He joked and laughed with
the veiled serving-women, he played with the children when they began
to drift out to the gutters, he even cast a gay remark or two into the
air for the women who stood on the roofs gossiping. Soon they would be
going down into the courtyards, the doors would be closed, and his
opportunity for arguing the matter out with two foolish creatures would
come.

Then, suddenly, the children stopped playing, the women scuttled to
shelter, and Lateefa rose with an awful malediction in his heart.

Two Englishmen had come round the corner, and behind them was Burkut
Ali.

Then he had done it! done this infamous thing!----

'It is a nuisance coming at the very beginning,' the English doctor was
saying, 'but I can't help myself. And one can only hope it will give
the lot a wholesome fright.'

His companion shook his head. 'Doubt it. And to tell the truth, I don't
understand this request. There is hanky-panky, I feel sure.'

The speaker was Jack Raymond. By pure chance he had passed the hospital
on his morning ride just as the doctor was going out on this, his first
search; and, remembering the scene in the king's pleasure-grounds, the
latter had asked him to run his eye over the written request for
inspection, so as to make sure there was no nonsense.

Thus the names of Khôjeeya and Khâdeeja had come to remind him of the
silk bracelet, at that moment reposing with some bank-notes in his
pocket. It was not in Jack Raymond to refuse such a lead over. He had
felt, it is true, a trifle impatient at the necessity for accepting it,
but even that feeling had vanished when Burkut Ali, who met them where
the lane turned off from the bazaar, apologised for the Nawâb's
absence. The latter was too much overcome, he said, by the sacrifice of
dignity required in thus proving his devotion to the _Sirkar_ in
setting such a good example to others, to attend in person.

'Hanky-panky!' Jack Raymond had murmured under his breath, with a
thanksgiving that he was there to prevent more villainy than could be
helped.

Lateefa too, seeing _Rahmân-sahib_, who was known to all attendants at
the race-course, was glad of his presence also, but for a curiously
different reason. He was glad, because _Rahmân-sahib_ was, by repute,
not only a real _sahib_, but, by repute also, he understood what people
said thoroughly, and was therefore amenable to deception--that is to
words generally, true or false; whereas wit was of no use with most
Englishmen!

Jack Raymond's first remark, too, was reassuring, since it betrayed
suspicion of Burkut Ali's good faith.

'The door is _not_ closed against entrance,' he said sharply. 'Why was
it said to be so?'

Burkut, who had brought a most venerable-looking villain of the royal
house to back him up, appealed to the neighbours, who, already, had
crowded out to join the rabble which the efforts of a couple of
constables had not succeeded in keeping back. Were they not witness, he
asked, that last night----

'It doesn't matter, Raymond,' said the doctor aside, 'I've got to get
through with it now, and the quicker the better; so I'd rather have an
open door than a shut one.' He slipped through the wicket as he spoke,
and an odd murmur, half of horror, half satisfied curiosity, ran round
the spectators.

It was true, then! The _Sirkar_ did do such things!

'There is no need for those two to come in; it isn't their house,'
objected Jack Raymond, as Burkut and the venerable villain prepared to
follow. 'Stand back, _sahibân_,' he added in Hindustani; 'and sergeant,
when the conservancy sweepers are through, close the wicket. This is
not a public spectacle.'

True. Yet in a way the remark and action, spoken and done with the best
intention, the kindest consideration, were a mistake. They left a crowd
with nothing for its amusement but Khôjee's screams of sheer terror as
she woke to find the doctor feeling her pulse. They were heart-rending,
dangerous screams; and Jack Raymond recognising this, and also the fact
that the old lady was his petitioner of the garden, supplemented the
doctor's commonplace 'Have no fear, mother' with something more ornate,
in Persian, which changed the screams to piteous cries of, 'Poison me
not! I will die! Yea, I will die without poison!'

And this being almost worse, he tried the effect of showing her the
_râm rucki_, and asking if a bracelet-brother was likely to do her any
injury; finally, as she only seemed to grasp his meaning vaguely, he
fastened the silken cord on her wrist.

Its touch was magical. She clutched at the hand that had put it on, and
the cries died down to a whimper.

'Lo, my brother! Lo, my brother, my brother! Tell them I can die. Let
them give me time, and I will die! Yea, with time I can die, as well as
with poison.'

It was impossible to avoid a smile; the doctor, indeed, laughed
cheerily. 'No doubt about that, mother,' he said to her in a relieved
tone of voice, 'but not just yet. You haven't got the plague. And you
haven't it either,' he continued, turning to Lateefa. 'That is two of
you--one woman and a servant. Now, if you can show me the other two
inmates in like case, I can give a clean bill. So where are they? In
here, I suppose.'

He passed towards the inner door, but Lateefa was there before him.
Sharp as a needle, the doctor's words had made him see that Noormahal,
alone, would be no good. There must be two women, or the tragedy of the
green satin trousers would be as surely discovered as if poor Khâdjee
had not been buried; and that would mean a segregation camp, at best,
for all three of them. It might be impossible to hoodwink the _sahibs_,
but he could try. So he appealed volubly to Jack Raymond. This was
infamy, as the _Huzoor_ knew, to secluded dames. It had to be, of
course; but let it be done in the easiest way. Let the sick woman--she
was none so ill but that she could do so much for humanity's sake--go
in first and tell of the _Huzoor's_ kindness; of how he was a
bracelet-brother (Lateefa had, of course, grasped this fact without in
the least understanding how it had happened); no doubt she would be
able to persuade the secluded ones to come out for inspection, and that
would be less disgrace than the invasion by male things of their sacred
isolation.

Jack Raymond watched the keen audacious face narrowly; then once more
he said aside to the doctor, 'Hanky-panky! That sick woman is as much
secluded as the others; but I'd let her go. Give them a free hand and
they will be quieter, if we find them out. Anything is better than
hunting them down, poor souls!'

Lateefa, therefore, much to his inward delight--also contempt!--was
allowed free instructions to Aunt Khôjee, while the search-party stood
aside.

'We can t let 'em down easier, can we?' said the doctor as he waited;
and Jack Raymond shook his head despondently.

'No,' he answered, 'but it's a brutal business all the same--to their
notions, and you can't change _them_ in a hurry.'

Meanwhile Lateefa's instructions ran in this fashion. Khôjee was to
tell Noormahal that the big Lord-_sahib_ had sent the bracelet-brother
to fetch her to a private interview. That the state _dhoolies_ were
waiting. That all was of the strictest ceremonial. On that point she
had a free hand. She was to say anything which would induce the Nawâbin
to come out. And she herself was to change her dress swiftly and
personate Khâdjee. It was a chance--the _Huzoors_ might not think of
seeing the three women together. So, with a parting admonition to be
brave, he pushed the tottering Khôjee through the inner door, closed
it, and turned to the two Englishmen appealingly.

'The _Huzoors_ must give time, for it is as death to noble ladies to
see strangers; but the old woman will tell them that the _Huzoors_ are
as their fathers and mothers. May God promote them to be Lords!'

'Hanky-panky!' remarked Jack Raymond again, 'but it can't do any harm.'

'No,' assented the doctor.

There was no one there to remind them that that is a formula which can
never be safely used in India, or to repeat, as Grace Arbuthnot had
repeated, a lifelong experience embodied in the words--'You can never
tell.'

'They are a long time coming,' said the doctor aggrievedly. He was up
to his eyes in work, and he had waited five minutes, ten minutes,
patiently, silently. So had the crowd outside silently, but
impatiently.

'_Huzoor!_' protested Lateefa from the door, 'to noble ladies it is as
death----'

He broke off, for a sudden shriek rose from within; another; another;
and above them a woman's voice shrill, awful, in its intensity of
scorn--

'Lies! Lies! Lies! Stand back, fool, thief, liar!' And mixed with these
words were others in agonised appeal--'Nay! Noormahal! Lateef? Help!
God and his prophet! Thou shalt not! Noormahal!'

Lateefa seemed paralysed--uncertain what to do. But Jack Raymond, the
doctor at his heels, had the door open. They were through it in a
second. His first glance within, however, made the former grip the
latter's arm with a grip of iron, and whisper breathlessly--

'Keep still, man; it's the only chance.'

For, in the centre of that inner courtyard, standing--arrested for a
second by the opening of the door--on the parapet of the wide wall, was
a tall white-robed figure, its face distorted by passion, its black
eyes blazing.

'Lateef! Help!' moaned Khôjee, who was clinging frantically, uselessly,
to one corner of the lone white veil. 'She is mad! the ring!--I had to
dress--and she too---for the Lord-_sahib_--and it was not there! I told
you how it would be--it is the ring!'

An awful laugh echoed through the courtyard.

'Yea! the ring! the ring!' repeated Noormahal mockingly. 'Sa'adut's
ring--the Ring of Kingship. Liar! Lo! I could kill thee for the lie.
It is not there--Noormahal! Mother of Kings, dost hear? It is not
there--it was not there when I went to find it.'

There was self-pity, amazement, now, in the voice which had begun so
recklessly, and Jack Raymond--watching the figure with every nerve and
muscle tense for action--breathed a quick breath of relief; for
self-pity meant almost the only hope of averting the mad leap there was
so little chance of preventing.

But Lateefa's high voice followed sharply, almost exultingly--

'What then?' he cried, 'when I have it safe! Yea! Mother of Kings! The
ring is safe. I swear it. I have it yonder in the bazaar--in the
Nawâb's house--I----'

He paused, compelled to silence by her face, by the outstretched hand
which, falling from its appeal to high Heaven, pointed its finger at
him accusingly.

'Dost hear him?' she asked mincingly, and Jack Raymond instinctively
moved a step nearer. 'He, the pandar, hath the ring safe; safe in the
bazaar; safe in the Nawâb's house; safe for the Nawâb's bride----'

'Look out!' shouted Jack Raymond, dashing forward, for he knew what
that thought would bring.

But he was too late. With one cry of 'Liars,' one horrid laugh, the
slender white figure leaped into the air, the veil--detained uselessly
in Khôjee's helpless hold--falling from the small sleek head; and the
Nawâbin Noormahal, the Light-of-Palaces, went down as she had stood,
mocking, defiant, into the depth of the well; the last thing seen of
her, those wild appealing hands.

And outside the crowd was listening, eager to find fault, eager for a
tragedy to tell in the bazaars.



                             CHAPTER XIX

                           ON THE BED ROCK


'My dear Chris, if you insist on going to see your mother in that
horrid filthy city where, every one knows, the plague has regularly
begun,' said Mrs. Chris Davenant to her husband, 'I won't stop in your
house. That's an end of it. I don't see why I should. Of course, if it
was your duty to inspect, and that sort of thing, I'd have to grin and
bear it. But it isn't; so you can't expect me to run the risk.'

'It is my duty to see my mother,' replied Chris, with that faint pomp
which is inseparable in the native from a virtuous sentiment, be it
ever so trite.

She laughed, quite good-naturedly. 'The fact is, Chris, you've an
awkward team of duties to drive; but a man's got to leave his father
and mother, you know. Not that I want you to leave yours. Go to her, by
all means, if you want to, but in that case I shall go where _I_ want.'

'And where is that?' he asked almost fiercely.

She laughed again. 'To the hotel, of course. My dear Chris, I am not a
fool. Not as a rule, I mean, though I was one, of course, when I
married you. But you were a greater fool in marrying me; for you _knew_
you were a bit of a prig, and I didn't! However, let's drop that,
though, as I've told you before, the best thing for you to do would be
to let me slide and marry your cousin----'

'Will you hold your tongue,' he burst out, almost as an Englishman
might have done, and she raised her eyebrows and nodded approvingly.

'Bravo, Chris! that was very nearly right--but as you don't favour that
easy solution, you must stick to me. You can't eat your cake and have
it, my dear boy. If you marry a civilised woman, you must behave _as
sich_. And civilised people don't run the risk of infection needlessly.
They don't go and see their relations if though of course no civilised
person's mother would live in a dirty plague-stricken town by choice,
would she?'

Poor Chris! If he had not been so civilised himself, if he had not been
such a good sort, he could have faced the position better; but he saw
the justice of hers. 'I think if she were sick'--he began.

She gave a little scream. 'Sick! my dear Chris! that settles it. I
can't have you bringing back microbes. It--it isn't fair on _us_, you
know. And there are a lot of jolly globe-trotters at the hotel--one of
them says he knew me in London.'

There was a world of regret in her tone, and the pity of it, the
hideous mistake for _her_ came home to Chris. 'There is no reason,' he
said, in a sort of despair, 'why I should turn you out of this'--here
he gave a hard sort of laugh--'I don't really care for it, you know,
Viva, though I used to think I did. So you had better stop here,
and--I'll--I'll go.'

The pity of the hideous mistake for _him_ came home even to her.
'Where?' she asked. 'You won't go and live in that awful city--you
mustn't do that. You're not like them, you know; you'd die of it.'

He felt it was true; that he belonged to No-man's-land.

'Perhaps that would be the best solution of the difficulty,' he said
gloomily, with a sententiousness which quite took the pathos from the
remark.

She looked at him gloomily in her turn, with a certain exasperation.
'Oh! if you want to, of course; but, my dear Chris, do you really think
I'm worth that sort of thing; from your point of view, I mean?'

Something about her as she stood, dainty as ever, reminded him of those
days in the boarding-house down the Hammersmith Road, when India, and
that part of himself which belonged to India, had seemed so very far
off. He took a step nearer to her.

'You might be, Viva, you might be.'

She drew back. 'In fifty years' time, perhaps,' she replied
shrewdly--for, as she said, she was no fool. 'Why, Chris! can't you see
that you have just gone dotty over the new idea of woman as a helpmeet,
and companion, and that sort of "biz." And I--why--we girls have left
it behind us a bit in England, nowadays.

The fatal truth of her remarks invariably silenced Chris, born as he
was of a long line of men to whom argument was a religion.

'Well! good-bye, Viva, I will try and not trouble you any more,' he
said, accepting defeat with a pang of remorse at his own readiness to
do so, at the sense of relief which would not be ignored.

She shrugged her shoulders. 'Don't be so tragic, please. And remember I
didn't send you away. You want to go visiting your mother in the city,
and I'm quite willing you should, provided you take proper precautions;
so good-bye, and take care of yourself. There is nothing to worry
about. You are up to the ropes there, and I am up to them here, so
there is no harm done.'

Chris, however, as he packed a portmanteau of necessaries, felt that
though this might be true for the present, and though--so far as she
was concerned--it might even remain true, it was a different affair for
him; there was danger ahead in his future.

And this became more and more certain, as, in packing, he had to decide
on what were necessaries and what were not. For that depended so much
on the sort of life you were going to lead. And what sort of life _was_
he going to lead?

He ended by taking very little; but amongst that little were two things
which, though they both contained the staple of life--common corn--
could scarcely be called necessaries. Man, however, does not live by
bread alone.

So he put these and himself into a hired green box on wheels, and drove
to a lodging he knew of, close to the city, yet not of it. It was in
the upper part of a house used as a meeting-place by the Brahmo Somaj,
who, by this means, paid the rent of the quaint, semi-Europeanised
building. It stood in a bit of garden, thick with plantains, between
which two straight mud walks and a curved one showed curiously black
and damp, as if the soil was sodden with sewage, as it may have been.
But upstairs, when the green shutters were thrown back, it was fresh
and breezy enough.

A Brahmo-Somaj clerk in the railway, whom Chris knew and liked, had
quarters on the ground floor in consideration of his services as
secretary, and with his help Chris soon found himself settled in. A
bed, a table, a chair--the last two doubtfully desirable--completed the
furniture, and left a delightful sense of space and freedom in the wide
empty room. He had escaped, he felt, from Shark Lane. Surely from this
standpoint it might be possible to be sincere. Here it might be
possible to reconcile himself to his environment, his environment to
himself.

He took off his European dress, not from any distaste to it, but
because he knew it to be an absolute barrier between him and his
desire. So, in the ordinary costume of a native clerk, he strolled out
to pass the time till he could safely go and see his mother; safely,
because she lived amongst the strictest of neighbours, whom he did not
wish to meet--as yet. That might be afterwards, but not now. It was
already growing dusk--for he had changed his quarters after the day's
work was over--but the irregular sort of bazaar between him and one of
the city gates had not yet begun to twinkle with little lights after
its usual fashion. Indeed, many of the shops were closed. Yet there was
no lack of possible customers. The roadway was crowded with all sorts
and conditions of men. It suddenly struck him that nearly all were
coming towards him; therefore there must be some attraction behind him.
He turned and drifted with the tide until, after a few hundred yards,
he saw ahead of him to one side of the road, a dim clump of stunted
trees, with a red rag on a stick tied to the topmost branch, and,
showing in a soft yellow radiance which rose from the ground, a glint
of white tombs among the lower ones. Then he remembered--an odd regret
that he should have forgotten something which to his childhood had been
all-important, coming with the remembrance--that this must be the day
of Sheikh Chilli's fair, which was held every year at this shrine;
Sheikh Chilli, the pantaloon of India; the man of straw, the lover's
dupe, the butt of every one; the type which, in varying form, plays its
part in the serio-comic tragedy of sex all over the world. Sheikh
Chilli, whose beard any one can pull, whose wife is never his own, whom
a child can deceive.

Perhaps that was the reason, Chris thought, why, as a child,
Sheikh Chilli's fair had been such a supreme occasion; that and the
toys--those toys which, as it were, set Nushapore the fashion in
playthings for a whole year. And that meant something, since the two
hundred and odd thousand people in the city, idlers by inheritance,
were great in the manufacture of toys.

Chris, who had not seen a Sheikh Chilli fair for years, went forward
eagerly as a child himself, the whole scene coming back to him with
absolute familiarity: the rows of little lights set on the ground to
mark the streets, and behind them, ranged in squares, the toys;
thousands of them, millions of them; baked mud, bent bamboo, curled
cotton; soda-water corks, match-boxes, even brass cartridges, all
pressed into the service by a truly marvellous ingenuity. And between
the lights, along the paths, jammed almost to solidity by the barriers
of toys, humanity of all sorts and sizes, seen in that curious soft
radiance rising from the earth below its feet! humanity trying to pause
and admire, trying to pause and laugh; helpless for either when
standing, and driven to gain absolute solidity by squatting down and
letting the stream sweep over it.

A group of dancing-girls showed on the flat plinth of the shrine;
musicians strummed here and there; here and there a conjurer essayed
tricks. But all this was trivial beside the toys.

Yet they were still more trivial: one for a farthing, two for a
farthing, even three for a farthing if you chose mud monkeys, or brass
rings made out of sliced cartridge-cases set with drops of blue or red
sealing-wax.

'Lo!' came the voices of peasants in for the show. 'See to that! That
is new!' And some grave-faced husbandman would buy a sort of Mercury's
_caduceus_ made of bamboo, with two writhing, twisting snakes to it,
fearfully, horribly alive.

This piece of ingenuity, indeed, ran a couple of cotton-wool bears who
chased each other endlessly over a loop of bamboo, close for the pride
of first place in the fair; a place for which there was keen
competition. So that, whenever any toy seemed to hit the fancy, there
were instantly trays of it being hawked about above the crush, above
the soft light, with the cry--'The best in the fair, one farthing! one
farthing for the best in the fair!'

Chris, caught in the crowd, drifted on with it, wondering, as he had
wondered as a child, which of the many claimants up aloft in the
semi-darkness was the true one. It was a strangely absorbing wonder;
but then the whole scene was absorbingly unlike anything else in the
world. It was humanity herded by toys, limited by them, forced to go
one way, and one way only, by them!

The rows of little flickering lamps between the two seemed as if they
were shaking with silent laughter at the sight.

'The best in the fair! one farthing! One farthing for the best in the
fair!'

The cry came this time with something that was hardly a toy, and yet
hands were stretched out to buy it. Chris, tall enough to see over the
heads of his neighbours, noticed that more trays, full of this
something, were being hawked on all sides.

It was only a hank of the coarse ring-streaked cotton thread used in
betrothals as an amulet for the bridegroom's wrist, and for plaiting
into the bride's hair. Attached to it was a thin brass medal,
apparently cut out of a cartridge case, and shaped like the talisman a
second wife wears as a safeguard against the machinations of the first.
It was stamped, Chris found on buying one, with what seemed, at first,
a crescent and a cross; but a closer look showed him that the latter
was a _swastika_, or death-mark. In other words, the equal-limbed cross
with bent ends. Below that again was a sort of Broad Arrow.

'The best in the fair! Safety for females! Victoria Queen's
mercifulness! Freedom from tyrannies for one farthing!'

These more elaborate cries came from farther down the serried band of
humanity of which Chris was a unit, and so beyond his reach; but, after
a while, the steady, glacier-like movement of the whole brought him
opposite to what was evidently the home of the amulet; for such the
something seemed to be. Here, behind the rows of lamps, thousands of
these cotton hanks lay in tangled heaps. Behind them again sat the
sellers, raking in money. Every one seemed to buy, even those who did
not know what they were buying.

'What is't for?' answered one of the sellers--whom Chris fancied he had
seen in some rather different position--to an old man who had bought a
whole penny's worth. 'For the plague, of course! Wear it, and none dare
come nigh thee. It gives the right to peace.'

'Dost pretend----?' began Chris hotly, when the seller, looking up,
interrupted him audaciously--

'I pretend naught, _baboo-jee_,' he replied. 'I sell amulets for what
they are worth, a farthing. The rest is God's will. Yet, have not all a
right to peace, my masters? Have we not all the right to live as we
have lived? Ay! and to quarrel with those who interfere; above all with
those who make promises and break them? Who'll buy? Who'll buy the
promise of peace, the freedom from tyranny, the female ruler's
mercifulness to females?'

The hands were stretching out on all sides still, as the onward sweep
of that human glacier carried Chris beyond the power of argument or
denial.

He found the opportunity of both, however, when he joined a group
beyond the crush in which he recognised several of his Shark Lane
acquaintances. He had not meant to show himself in his present
dress to them, but he was eager for sympathy. 'The police ought
not to allow that sort of thing,' he said decisively; 'it might lead
to-to--trouble.'

'I fail to see your point, sir,' replied a keen-faced lawyer. 'It
appears to me to lead to the soothing of groundless terrors. Then the
sale of amulets is not prohibited by law. Nor is there fraudulent
statement over and above a general appeal to superstition and
ignorance, which, alas! are but too common.

'I join issue with you, sir,' put in another keen face; 'nor, to my
mind, is there even _suggestio falsi_. Is not our beloved Queen
merciful to females, and has not the Government graciously asserted
that there _shall_ be no interference with the liberty of the subject?'

Some one behind laughed loudly, a trifle uncontrollably, and a voice,
which Chris instantly recognised as Govind the editor's, said jeeringly
in Hindustani, '_Alâ! lâlâ-jee!_ there is no lack of gracious words!
But as I have said ever, as I mean to prove when I choose, there is
more than the words in the Lord-_sahib's_ office-box!'

'Prove!' echoed another of the same type who had paused, in passing, to
join the group; 'thou art behind the times, Govind! It is proved
already. But this morning two Englishmen, on excuse of plague
visitation, offered such insult to three virtuous females that with one
accord they threw themselves down the well!'

'Impossible!' cried Chris; and not he only, for nearly every man
present voiced doubt, if not denial.

'There is no doubt,' reiterated the news-bringer complacently; 'I had
it from a man whose uncle was outside. They closed the doors, and none
could enter, despite the women's screams. It was in the Bâdshâhzâi
quarter, and the folk have closed their gates and sit in terror.'

'Small wonder!' put in Govind, eager to have his say in horrors; 'it
was thence that the girl was abducted the other day. Lo! 'tis a good
beginning! What wonder if folk lay hold of amulets and fair promises!'

'I tell you,' asserted Chris passionately, 'it cannot be true. And as
for the other story, was it not told on the word of Jehân Aziz, and
which of us would trust him? None. Shall we believe him in this,
against what we see, and know, of our own senses?'

'We do not believe these stories, sir,' remarked the lawyer pompously.
'False evidence is, alas! a hobby of our ignorant countrymen. There is
no doubt a substratum of truth in these stories----'

'No! pleader-_jee_,' interrupted Chris vehemently--the conversation
shifted between English and Hindustani in the strangest fashion--'there
is no foundation for such stories, and we all know it. There is
foundation for mistakes, for wrong enough, God knows--but for such as
that, no!'

'Your contention is true,' put in a temperate voice; 'but the
difficulty of sifting wheat from chaff is proverbial.'

Once again Chris broke from his like in absolute discouragement. And
yet what could he do to dissociate himself from their policy of
non-interference? Absolutely nothing. Here, in this world mapped out by
toys, with that soft unsteady brilliance rising from about men's feet,
he could not even hope to rouse dissent. That onward glacierlike sweep,
full of outstretched hands buying a piceworth of promises, would pass
by him and his words, unheeding of either.

And, after all, the lawyer was right so far. That miserable strand of
the wedding-skein which links man and woman--that trumpery brass
cartridge-case medal, rudely stamped with the Hindoo death-mark, the
Mohammedan faith-mark, and the English possession-mark--would carry
comfort and calm to many a hearth.

And yet the promise that could not be kept was dangerous. He must write
of that to Mr. Raymond. And then the question came, Why should he? Why
should he, who had no voice at all in his own country's welfare, help
those who thought they could dispense with the services of such as he?

The clock, striking nine from the tall Italian campanile on which some
past bureaucrat had spent money that might have been better used,
warned him that if he was to write that evening he must do it at once;
but it warned him also that it was time he went to his mother's.

Should he, should he not?

It was no sense of duty which decided him. It was the remembrance that
if he went back to his lodging, he could kill two birds with one stone.
He could not only write the warning, but also put a certain small
rose-scented, rose-satin-covered boxlet and a paper of corn in his
pocket, in case Naraini, poor little soul, needed comforting.

Something that was not Eastern or Western, but simply human, surged up
in him as he thought of what her face would be when he proved to her
that, so far from being angry at her throwing the corn into the gutter,
he had gathered it up--every grain!

He had not told his mother that he had done so; that is not the sort of
information sons give their mothers, East or West.

But he meant to tell Naraini!

He ran up the brick stairs which led from outside to the upper story
lightly as a boy, feeling a sort of exultation in his new freedom of
circumstance. He had purposely brought no servant with him, for _they_,
he knew, would have brought Shark Lane with _them_, and he wished to
forget its ways and works for a time. So he had determined to engage a
new and uncontaminated attendant on the morrow. One consequence of
this, however, was that his room was dark to-day!

He stood on its threshold feeling, of a sudden, strangely forlorn and
lost. Then he pulled himself together sharply. What a trivial thing is
man, that even the lack of a bedroom candle should discourage him! On
the threshold, too, of a new life! Especially when he had not so far
forsaken civilisation as to be without wax vestas!

He lit one after another, laboriously, and managed by their light to
scrawl a short note to Jack Raymond. Then he rummaged in his
portmanteau for the rose-scented box, trusting more to touch and smell
than sight, until, having found it, he laid it beside him on the floor
in order to relock the portmanteau, ere leaving the room to take care
of itself. And then? Then a travelling-inkstand and the little casket
got mixed up in the darkness, and he became conscious of something wet
on his hands.

He swore--in English--and lit another match. The rose-coloured box was
uninjured, but his fingers were hopeless. He turned naturally to soap,
water, towels; and found none.

There was the well in the compound, of course, but--he swore again.
Then, half inclined to laugh half to frown, at the annoyance he felt,
he began to feel his way towards the stairs. As he did so, a chink of
light at the bottom of a door, farther down the wider roof of the lower
story from which the upper rooms rose, arrested him. He might beg for a
wash there. A voice answered his knock. He opened the door and went in;
then stood petrified.

Seated on a chair facing him, his legs very wide apart, a bit of
looking-glass in one hand, a brush in the other, Jân-Ali-shân was
putting the finishing touches to an elaborate parting. He was otherwise
got up to the nines in an old dress-suit, which he had picked up for
the half of nothing at an officer's sale. His white tie and shirt-front
were irreproachable; he had a flower in his buttonhole. The only
discordant note was a reminiscent odour of patchouli.

He paused, awestruck--hair-brush and looking-glass severed from each
other by the width of his arm-stretch--at the sight of his superior
officer in native costume.

'Well! I--am--eternally'--his present and future state was evidently an
uncertainty, but he finally said, a trifle doubtfully--'blessed!'

Then he rose, and accepted the situation with his usual confidential
cheerfulness.

'Beg pardin, sir,' he explained, 'titivatin' for a 'op. The girls like
it, an' you likes yourself; so it's all round my 'at for the lot o' us,
an' a straight tip to "England expec's every man to do 'is dooty." An'
wot was you please to want, sir?'

Chris paused in his turn for a second; then followed suit in
confidential explanation. 'I want to wash my hands, please. You are
wondering how I got here--in--in this dress. I came to the room over
there this afternoon, because--my mother is sick, Ellison, and I want
to be near her, and see her.'

Jân-Ali-shân's face expressed unqualified approval. 'Right you are,
sir!' he said. 'I disremember mine, seein' she went out as I come in;
but I know this, sir--I've missed 'er all my life--an' shall do, please
God, till I die.' He had gone to the washhand-stand and was making
elaborate preparations with soap and a clean towel. 'Lor' bless you,
sir!' he went on, 'I'd 'ave 'ad cleaner 'ands myself to-day if she'd
bin there to smack 'em w'en I was a hinfant. She's powerful for
horderin' a man's ways, sir, is a mother.'

And as he resumed his interrupted occupation, thus leaving Chris
unobserved, he hummed 'My mother bids me bind my hair' with a
superfluity of grace-notes.

'And I want also,' went on Chris, recovering his lost sense of dignity
under the effects of a nail-brush and a piece of pumice-stone--he had
often noticed Jân-Ali-shân's hands and wondered at their tidiness for a
working man's--'to find out the state of feeling in the city. From what
I hear people are saying--and you must hear a lot too----'

Jân-Ali-shân laid down the brush and the looking-glass. 'Hear?' he
echoed, 'Lor' love you, they don't tell me them tales. I'm a _sahib_, I
am. An' I wouldn't listen if they did. 'Tisn't as if we 'ad to do with
words ourselves; but we ain't. "By their works shall ye know them," as
it say in 'Oly Writ; an' if it come to that, sir, why, they shall know
'oo 's 'oo in John Ellison. An' now, sir, if you've done, I'll light
you down them stairs, for of all the inconsiderate, on-Christian stairs
a 'eathen ever built, them's the most disconcertin' in the "stilly
night."' There was pure pathos in the voice that wandered off into the
song.

'I didn't know you lived here, Ellison,' said Chris, following
cautiously. 'You were in another house when I----'

A chuckle was wafted back from the candle. 'Wen 'Oneyman titivated in
dress bags! If you'll excuse me, sir, that story's bin worth a fiver to
me nigger-minstreling, as Bones. I don't give no names, sir; but you
should 'ear the Tommies laugh! No offence, sir, but it do tell awful
comic, and they needs perkin' up a bit, pore lads, in them beastly
barracks. Better'n the bazaar for 'em any'ow, so that's something due
to 'Oneyman, ain't it? Yes, sir!' he went on, still piloting the way
towards the gate, 'I left them diggin's soon's I could pay a better
lot, for I likes a bit o' 'ome, sir, an' a bit o' furniture. "An' who
shall dare to chide me for lovin' an old arm-chair?" That's about it,
sir. The "'appy 'omes of Hengland," and Hingia too, sir,' he added, as,
after blowing out the end of candle and putting it into his pocket for
future use, he paused to say--'Good-night, sir, an' I 'ope you'll find
the good lady better.'

'Good-night, Ellison, I hope you'll enjoy yourself.'

Jân-Ali-shân gave an odd, half-sheepish laugh. 'An' oughter, sir; she's
an awful nice girl, an' not a drop o' black blood in 'er veins--beggin'
your pardin, sir, but you know 'ow 'tis.'

'Yes!' said Chris suddenly, 'I know how it is.'

He knew better than he had ever known before, when hours
afterwards--his blood running like new wine in his veins--he came back
from the city and stumbled up to his room.

The stairs were certainly, as John Ellison had said, most
inconsiderate. Yet one stumble was not due to them, but to John Ellison
himself, who was crumpled up, snoring peacefully, at the most difficult
turn.

'Hillo!' he said conclusively, after a prolonged stare at Chris, made
possible by another resort to wax vestas on the latter's part, 'Is that
you, sonny?' And then he wandered off melodiously into the parody--


         'My mother bids me dye my hair the fashionable hue.'


When Chris had seen his subordinate safe to bed, he made free with the
bit of candle-end for his own use.

And by its light he saw his letter to Jack Raymond lying forgotten on
the floor in a half-dried pool of ink.

'I cannot send that one, anyhow,' he said to himself as he tore it up.
But he felt as if he could send nothing--that he could never give
another thought to such things. For Naraini had needed comfort, and he
had given it to her. But he could not even think of her; a profound
physical content lulled him to a dreamless sleep, his last thought, ere
that sleep claimed him, being that he had not felt so happy for years.



                              CHAPTER XX

                             THE OLD WINE


Chris woke suddenly, and yet without that sense of dislocation which
such awakening often brings with it.

The vast content that had been his in falling asleep was his still, as
with eyes which seemed to him to have grown clear of dreams he lay
smiling at what he saw, though that was only a wide, empty, whitewashed
room with many window-doors set open to the dawn; and through these,
nothing but a strip of mud roof; and beyond that again, the broad
blades of the plantain leaves shining grey-green in the grey light. A
slight breeze swayed them, and rustled in the frayed straws of the rude
matting with which the floor was covered.

But that louder, more intermittent rustle was not the wind. It was the
patter of a bird's feet. And there, with tail erect on the coping,
clear against the glistening grey-green leaves, which swayed like
sea-weeds in a swift tide, a striped squirrel was breakfasting on some
treasure-trove.

Chris filled his lungs with a long 'breath. He was back in the old
world; the world where all living things are alike mortal, where even
man is as the flower that fadeth, the beast that perisheth.

And the old way was better.

So far he had gone, when the consciousness that he was not alone--that
strange consciousness of humanity which, be the old way never so
charming, separates men from it inevitably--came to him, and he sat up
on the low string cot, set so regardless of symmetry just where it had
first been dumped down in the room.

His instinct had been right. A figure had been seated, unmovable as a
statue, just behind his head; but as he turned it turned also, and held
out a folded paper. The figure was that of a young man about his own
age and of much the same build, but guiltless of clothing save for a
saffron-coloured waist-cloth. The forehead was barred with white lines,
and a leopard's skin hung over the shoulder. Palpably this was the
disciple of some learned ascetic, as he, Chris, would have been, had
not the West interfered with custom. The thought made him smile, but
the face opposite his remained grave, almost disapproving; the figure
rose without a word, turned on its heel, and disappeared. Chris, left
with the paper in his hand, felt as if a message had been sent to him
from another world; felt so still more when he had read the broad black
Sanskrit lettering inside.

'Thy _guru_ calls thee'--it ran--'come, ere it be too late.'

He sat staring at the words, conscious--despite his better sense--of a
compulsion, almost of fear.

For why had this claim of authority been made now? Wherefore should the
_guru_--that is, the spiritual adviser of his family--desire to see
him?

The answer was but too plain; he must already know of that stolen visit
Chris had made to his mother's house; a visit which, should one, who
was her spiritual guide also, choose to proclaim it, might bring
endless trouble, vexation, disgrace upon her.

Chris stood up, inwardly cursing his own recklessness. He might, he
told himself, have known that priestly spies would be about him after
that incident of the bathing-steps. He ought not to have gone; not at
least as he _had_ gone, leaving his mother still in her fond belief
that he had done, or was willing to do, the necessary penance.

Yet without that belief-strengthened as it had been by his repeated
requests for secrecy in the present--she would not have received him as
she had. And Naraini----

Plainly he must obey the order, and so find out what was wanted, what
was threatened. He rose therefore and went out into the cool grey dawn.

The arcaded courtyard recessed about a cluster of temples, where Swâmi
Viseshwar Nâth taught his disciples, was empty as yet when Chris
reached it, save for half a dozen figures scarce distinguishable from
the one which had summoned him. All, in these early hours, were busy
over ceremonials of sorts; but all looked up at the newcomer with that
dull disapproval.

'The _guru_ is within,' said one sullenly.

Chris did not need direction. Had he not learned the precious
shibboleths of his twice-born race yonder at the master's feet?

'So thou hast come, Krishn. Take thy seat, pupil, and listen,' came a
voice.

It was almost dark in the slip of a room behind the arcades, but Chris
could see, by the help of memory, the unmovable figure, the placid face
with its wide thin lips. He saw in a flash, also, everything that had
ever happened to him in this, his earliest school, and the old awe that
comes with such memories fell on him as he obeyed.

'There is no need,' continued the voice, 'to tell thee that I know what
thou wouldest rather I did not know. Neither canst thou pretend
ignorance of what such knowledge means. Therefore, Krishn, there is
naught to say but this. What art thou about to do?'

Chris had been asking himself the question, but he resented its being
put to him.

'That depends,' he was beginning, when the Swâmi stopped him by laying
an impassive hand on his wrist.

'To save time, I will tell thee. Out of past years--_as thou didst
disappear in them_--thou shalt return--_as thou didst go_--Krishn
Davenund, Brahmin, twice-born. There shall be no question asked, no
answers needed. Thou shalt return to us--I, Viseshwar Nâth, _parohit_
of thy race, say it, and none shall quarrel me--thou shalt return to
hold a woman's hand, and circle the sacred fire--_her_ hand, Naraini's,
whom the gods keep for thee, whom I, child, have kept for thee!'

The words with the nameless rhythm in them, which the use of Sanskrit
phrases gives to the vulgar tongue, echoed softly into the arches, and
Chris felt his eyes, his ears held captive by the insignificant figure
that was hedged about by no sign of dignity or office save the leopard
skin on which it crouched, naked.

'Kept for me--how so?' he echoed, trying once more to be resentful.

The Swâmi smiled. 'Hast, indeed, forgotten the old life so utterly,
boy, as never to have wondered why one of Naraini's age remained virgin
in thy mother's house?'

Chris felt the blood go tingling to his face; for he could not pretend
to such ignorance. He knew that the limit of laxity in such matters had
almost been overpast in the hope that when he returned from England he
would marry the girl. But that possibility had vanished when he had
married Viva. Therefore, to blame him for the subsequent delay was
unfair; so he answered boldly--

'I have not wondered. I have known and regretted the idle dream.
But that was over long ago--ere my father died. Had he chosen, he
might----'

The Swâmi's hand stopped him once more. 'Not so,' he said calmly.
'If thou hast forgotten much, there are other things thou hast never
known; that none would have known save thy father and I--not even thy
mother--hadst thou been dutiful and fulfilled the dream. Listen and
reflect! Thy cousin Naraini was betrothed or ever she came to thy
father's house, betrothed as an infant to one who--who left her.'

'Left her?' echoed Chris hotly, 'wherefore?'

'That matters not,' replied Viseshwar Nâth; 'there be many reasons, but
the result is the same: _if the betrothed be dead, Naraini is widow!_'

In the pause Chris clenched his hands; for he saw whither the wily lips
were leading him, and in a flash realised his own impotence if this
were true.

'It is a lie!' he muttered helplessly. 'I must--my mother must have
known. And my father----' Then memory came to remind him that his
father had been a champion of widow remarriage, and he broke off still
more helplessly.

'Even so!' continued the Swâmi, not unkindly; 'thy father agreed with
me (we of the temple have to keep touch with the world, Krishn). Yea!
he gave gold, since that is in thy thought! to hide the wrong. And if
he were willing to give her to you, his only son, as wife, wherefore
should I speak? No harm was done to others; no deception to ignorant
honour. But it was different when he died and thy mother came to me,
with heart split in twain between the dream and duty, to speak of
another betrothal. So I said then--"Wait yet a while. The gods have
mated these two. He may return." That was better, was it not, Krishn,
than--than _widowhood_ for the girl?'

He leant towards the young man as he spoke the words, his sombre eyes
fixed on Chris Davenant's shrinking face. Though the latter had known
what was coming, the certainty of it overwhelmed him. He sat staring
breathlessly, with such absolute paralysis of nerve and muscle that a
damp sweat showed on his forehead, as on the foreheads of those who are
in the grip of death.

And widowhood was worse than death. It would be a living death to
Naraini--Naraini with her little rose-coloured, rose-scented casket.

'Which is it to be, my pupil?' came the Swâmi's voice, swift and keen
as a knife-thrust. 'Widowhood, or marriage?'

Chris buried his face in his hands with a groan; then he looked up
suddenly. 'Why?' he began, and ended. Appeal he knew was useless; but
he might at least know why this choice was forced on him, for choice it
was. His had been in the eye of the law a mixed marriage--his right as
Hindoo remained in India.

The Swâmi's lean brown hand was on his wrist again, but it was no
longer impassive; it seemed to hold and claim him almost passionately.

'Because we of the temple need such as thou art, my son, in these new
days when the old faith is assailed--ay! even by such as Râm Nâth,
low-born, with his talk of ancient wisdom, his cult of Western ways
hidden in the old teachings, his cult of the East blazoned in the
outside husks of truth--the husks that we of the inner life set at
their proper value! But thou art of us! Deny it not--the blood in thee
thrills to thy finger-tips even as I speak. Thou art of us! and thy
voice trembled in that dawn over the _gayatri_ thou hadst not said for
years--nay, start not! we of the temple know all---as it trembled,
Krishn, when thou didst first learn it here, as thou art to-day, at my
feet.'

In the silence that followed, Chris Davenant, who had so often ridden
in a Hammersmith 'bus, was conscious of but two things in the wide
world. That thrill to his finger-tips, and the scarlet stain of a
woman's petticoat passing templewards beyond the arches; the only scrap
of colour in the strange shadowless light which comes to India before
the sun has risen over the level horizon.

So, once more, the Swâmi's voice came, still dignified, but with a
trace of cunning in it now, of argument. 'Thou canst not do it unaided,
Krishn; but with us behind thee--giving more freedom, remember, that
the herd knows or dreams--thou couldst have thy wish--thou couldst
teach the people.'

True. Chris, listening, saw this, even as he saw that scarlet streak;
but all the while he was thinking idly that if Naraini were doomed to
widowhood, the bridal scarlet would never be hers.

And yet he forgot even this when the Swâmi struck another string
deftly. 'Our best disciples leave us'--the rhythm grew fateful,
mournful.--'The new wisdom takes them soul and body ere they have
learned to unhusk the old, and find its heart. But thou hast found it.
Come back to us and teach us! For day by day the husk hides more. Even
on the river, Krishn, where the old sanctuaries of the Godhead in Man
and Woman stand side by side, the younger priests quarrel over Her
power and His. As if the Man and the Woman were not, together, the
Eternal Mind and Body! And the quarrel grows keen, like many another in
those days; keener than ever since the golden paper fell, prophesying
blood upon Her Altar. Lies, Krishn, lies! we know them so; but we are
driven to them to keep our hold upon the people. What other hold have
we but ignorance, if young wisdom leaves us?'

Chris gave a sort of inarticulate cry, and his hands rose passionately
to his ears as if to shut out the words which were enlisting all things
that were good in him on the side of something which he still
condemned. But, as he stopped his ears despairingly, a sound came which
no hand could quite shut out.

It was the clang of the temple bell, proclaiming that the Eucharist of
Hindooism was ready for communicants; that the Water of Life which had
touched the gods was waiting for those who thirsted for it.

Muffled, half heard, it seemed to vibrate afresh on every tense nerve
of his mind and body. He stood up dazed, half hypnotised by it, by the
figure--a dim shadow of a man that had risen also, smiling softly,
among the dim arches.

'Come, my son,' it said, 'so far thou _art_ with us! Let the rest be
for a while. But this, stripped of its husk, is thine.--Come!'

And as it passed silently into the courtyard, Chris passed too, lost in
the familiar unfamiliarity of all things. Of the clustering spikes of
the temples seen against the primrose sky; of the drifting hint of
incense shut in by the arcades; of the bare empty silence broken only
by that clanging bell. The scarlet streak was passing outwards, already
sanctified, approved. Others would come, but for the moment there was
solitude; save for that half-dozen of indifferent disciples droning
over their devotions, and the officiating priest, unseen within the
temple.

Unseen, because it was the Swâmi himself who, returning from the
darkness of the sanctuary--into which he had passed swiftly, leaving
Chris hesitating on the lowest step--stood on the upper one, the
_Churrun-âmrit_ in his hands, and bending low, said--

'Drink, Krishn Davenund! and live.'

The words came like a command, making the slender brown hands curve
themselves into a cup.

How cool the holy water was on those hot palms! Dear God! How cool, how
restful! The man's whole soul was in his lips as he stooped and drank
thirstily.

A dream! a dream! but what a heavenly dream!

Chris stood there, in that shadowless light of dawn, unable even to
realise what the dream was. And then, suddenly, a great desire to be
alone, and yet to find companionship--a shrinking from the routine
around him, and a longing to find shelter in the hidden heart of
things--came to him as the worshippers, answering the call of the bell,
began to crowd about the temple. So--the Swâmi having kept his promise
of asking no more of him for the time--he passed out of the court into
the bazaar beyond. But here the world was already chaffering over the
needs of the body, and Chris, who was only conscious of his soul, stood
bewildered in it, uncertain which way to go. Nothing seemed to claim
him, not even his work; for it was Sunday morning.

And after that act of communion, the hope of companionship anywhere
seemed, strangely enough, further from him than ever. So he stood idly
watching the worshippers pass in and out of the arched entry to the
temple court, leaving the world and coming back to it with businesslike
faces, until he saw Râm Nâth approaching him, and the sight made him
pull himself together swiftly.

'The very man I want!' said Râm Nâth in English, with such an elaborate
lack of surprise at Chris's costume that the latter felt instantly that
it was known, and had been discussed in Shark Lane. 'If you will wait a
moment, I will walk--er--back with you.' The hesitancy showed that
something else was known also, and Chris felt a faint resentment come
to lessen his forlornness as he waited while Râm Nâth disappeared
towards the temple and reappeared again wiping his hands daintily with
a hemstitched pocket-handkerchief.

'We of the world,' he explained as he tucked his arm English fashion
into Chris Davenant's, 'have to keep in touch with the priests. You
disagree, I know; but I hold you wrong. We are driven to acquiesce in
much we think untrue in order to keep our hold on the masses. What
other hold have we but their ignorance, if they deny our wisdom?'

The forlornness deepened again round poor Chris. Here was the Swâmi's
argument upside down.

'What was it you wanted to see me about?' he asked resignedly, feeling
that he could not go on with that subject.

'About this afternoon,' began Râm Nâth, and Chris stared blankly.

What! was it possible! his companion continued; had he forgotten that
the afternoon was to see the realisation of their long-cherished
project of founding an Anglo-Vernacular College? It came back to Chris
then, and he hastened to deny what had really been the case; whereupon
Râm Nâth went on, mollified. At the last moment, it seemed, some one
had remembered that Lady Arbuthnot--who had kindly consented to lay the
stone--ought to be presented with a bouquet; and Hâfiz Ahmad had
claimed the honour for his wife, thereby raising so much jealousy in
Shark Lane that he, Râm Nâth, thought the only solution of the
difficulty was to intrust the giving to Mrs. Chris, as wife of the
Vice-President of the Managing Committee (Chris heard himself so
described with a sense of absolute bewilderment); only, of course, it
might not, perhaps, be convenient now.

Chris came back to sudden perception of the other's meaning.

'She will be very glad,' he said quickly; 'I will tell her when I go
home.'

It was done in a moment; but Chris felt his dream to be madder than
ever as he realised that his afternoon's occupation would be standing
in a frock-coat simpering, while Viva presented a bouquet. How prettily
she would do it! How beautifully she would be dressed! Then in the
evening? In the evening would the Swâmi come and ask for an answer?

Meanwhile, Râm Nâth was full of relief. That would settle the
difficulty; really a most serious one, since nothing must mar the
harmony of the memorable occasion. It would be singularly appropriate
too, because, in order to ensure a large attendance, it had been
arranged to hold an Extraordinary Chapter of the 'National Guild for
Encouraging Comradeship,' to which most of the English officials and
their wives belonged. In fact, it was to be a memorable occasion, and
one that would fully justify our popular Lieutenant-Governor in, for
the nonce, waving his rule against Sunday ceremonials in order to allow
all employees to be present. Having here cut in on the lines of the
speech he had prepared for the afternoon, Râm Nâth was fluency itself,
and went on and on quite contentedly, while Chris, absorbed in that
vision of himself in a frock-coat, listened without hearing. After all,
which was the real Krishn Davenund, which the ideal? One was the older
certainly; but change must come to all things.

They had reached the river steps by this time, and he paused--making
Râm Nâth pause also--to look down on a scene which had not changed a
hair-breadth in essentials for thousands of years. Yet Chris Davenant's
eye noted one change of detail, in a moment, as a woman passed him on
her way to fill her waterpot. There was a new sort of amulet on her
wrist; an amulet made out of a brass cartridge casing. He glanced round
quickly to see if other women were wearing it, and, by so doing,
recognised rather a momentous fact; namely, that there were singularly
few women to be seen, and that all who were, belonged to the working
class.

He turned to Râm Nâth instantly and pointed out both signs, as to one
who ought to know their value. 'What is up?' he said briefly. 'You must
have seen these amulets being sold, as I did. Is it a trick? and who is
doing it? and why?'

His companion shrugged his shoulders. 'The priests, I should say--it is
on a par with the paper which fell from heaven. There is always
something. You think we ought to protest; but why? Such manifestations
of the temper of the masses strengthen the hands of the Opposition by
engendering a fear of resistance in the Government, and so making for
the considerate treatment at which we aim. It is not as if such
trivialities could do harm.'

'They might--there is some hope of mischief behind them--there must
be----'

'Mischief!' echoed Râm Nâth acutely; 'you know as well as I that there
are many folk in Nushapore whose only hope lies in mischief, and here
comes one of them.' He pointed to Burkut Ali, who, accompanied by a
servant carrying a bundle of kites, was passing towards the bastion
beyond the bridge. He was followed by other claimants to the
'Sovereignty of Air,' which was due to be decided that evening after
the kites had been chosen and entered for the competition. Râm Nâth
looked after the faded brocades contemptuously. 'Poor devils!' he
said--as an Englishman might have said it--'one cannot help pitying
them, and yet, between ourselves, if we were in power we couldn't do
anything else with them; though, of course, as the Opposition, it does
not do to say so! But to return to our argument. Believe me, the
ignorant masses are helpless without a lead, and we, the educated
party, will not give it towards anything unconstitutional.'

'But others might. Burkut Ali, for instance.'

'Burkut Ali? Not to-day, at any rate! He will be occupied in the
Sovereignty of Air--really an appropriate employment, is it not?'
replied Râm Nâth lightly. 'And as we--and all Nushapore which
carries any weight--will be otherwise engaged also, this affair of
amulets--even if there is anything in it--will be like the heaven-sent
paper by tomorrow. I, at any rate, know of no reason why this should
not be so,' he added a trifle resentfully, seeing the look on his
companion's face, 'and if I don't, who should? Well! good-bye, if you
are not coming on.'

Chris felt doubly relieved; partly at the almost unhoped-for
straightforwardness of Râm Nâth's words, but mostly because he had been
growing conscious during the conversation of the fact that, wherever he
might find comradeship, it was not here. Still in that same weary
bewilderment, therefore, he seated himself on the uppermost step and
looked down to where, in the deep shadow of the archway of _Mai_ Kâli's
temple, he could just see--above the heads of a little crowd listening
to a declaiming priest--a hint of the idol's red outstretched arms.

They brought back to him, in an instant, the sense of his own personal
powerlessness. Gripped on either side by East and West, what could he
do? In the afternoon a frock-coat! In the evening the Swâmi with his
question! How should he, how _could_ he answer it? How could he condemn
Naraini to a living death? How could he give up the past with its good
and evil, the future with its evil and its good? Putting himself aside,
for the truth's sake, what ought he to do? God! how powerless he was!
_Mai_ Kâli's widespread arms seemed to close on him, to choke him.

Till suddenly, a swift vitality came back to him, as a whistle--mellow
as a blackbird's--made itself heard behind him. He turned with a smile,
with a sense of relief, knowing it was Jân-Ali-shân.

It was. Jân-Ali-shân coming to feed the monkeys. Jân-Ali-shân looking
marvellously spruce, alert, self-respecting, seeing that most of his
night's rest had been on a brick stair!

'Mornin', sir!' he said, touching his cap decorously; but his hand
lingered to hide a smile, as he added with deep concern, 'Ain't lost
nothin' more o' your wardrobe to-day, sir, I hope?' Then his
recollections got the better of his politeness, and the laugh came
openly. 'Beg pardin, sir, I'm sure, but wen I think o' 'ole 'Oneyman
and them pants--oh! Lordy Lord!'

The recollection, however, brought more than amusement to poor Chris,
who, in truth, felt as if he had lost everything. It brought a sense of
grateful comradeship, and there was quite a tremble in his voice, a
mist in his eyes, as he said, 'It's all very well to laugh, but you
saved my life that day, Ellison; you know you did. I've often thought
of it since----'

The memory of kindness received was almost too much for him, he paused,
unable to go on.

John Ellison looked the other way as he sat down at a respectful
distance, and began to scatter sugar-drops to the monkeys. Then he
cleared his throat elaborately.

'Like as you saved me, I expect, sir, from breaking my neck over them
blamed stairs last night, sir. One good turn deserves another, as the
sayin' is, so we're about quits. Not,' he went on, as if to make a
diversion, 'that I was, so to speak, onnecessary drunk, sir, for it was
a case o' gettin' tight or killin' a chap as cut me out, fair an'
square, with my fancy. So, it bein' fair an' square, I chose the better
part an' drowned my sor'rers in the flowin' bowl. It's surprisin',' he
continued, with the affable defiance with which he always alluded to
his own lapses from grace, 'wot a teeny drop o' whisky will drown 'em;
don't it, sir?' As he scattered the sugar-drops he sang the chorus of a
drinking-song with great gusto.

They were an odd couple those two, the alien feeding the sacred
monkeys, the native watching him silently, and both conscious of a bond
of fellowship between them.

'I suppose so,' replied Chris, after such a lapse of time that the
remark seemed almost irrelevant, 'but I never tried it. I'm a
teetotaller.'

'Deary dear!' ejaculated Jân-Ali-shân sympathetically. It was really
the only remark he could think of in such an extraordinary connection.

'It doesn't last, though, does it?' asked Chris after another long
pause. 'And it gives you a headache next morning, doesn't it?'

Jân-Ali-shân's fluency returned to him. 'Lor' love you, no, sir! Not if
you's used to it; special if kind friends put you to by-bye proper.' He
broke off, then turned to Chris and shook his head--'Now you, sir, if I
may make so bold, looks as if you 'ad one. You takes things too
dutiful, sir, I expec's. It's 'ard on the 'ead, sir, is duty.'

Even _so_ much sympathy drove Chris to hiding the mist in his eyes by
watching the monkeys. They were jostling and hustling, as ever, over
the prize; but the sight for a wonder had brought few spectators, and
such as they were stood far off, more curious than amused.

Jân-Ali-shân, looking towards them, raised his eyebrows and nodded
carelessly. 'Got the 'ump to-day, 'as you, Ram-sammy? Well, keep it,
sonny! It don't make no odds to me or 'Oneyman. Do it, siree?'

Apparently none, for the hoary old sinner, out and away the tamest
there, was pouching sugar-drops as fast as he could from the loafer's
hand.

'Ellison,' came Chris Davenant's voice at last, with a note of decision
in it, 'what would you do if you found yourself in--in such a tight
place that you couldn't--yes, that you couldn't possibly get out of
it?'

'Do?' echoed the other slowly, as he shook out the crumbs and tore the
paper into fragments. 'W'y, kill the chap as put me there, if it was
John Ellison 'imself as done the job! That's what I'd do, sir.'

Chris rose, and the note of decision was stronger. 'Thanks,' he said
briefly, 'I think you're right.'

But Jân-Ali-shân had risen also, and now stood facing his superior
officer with an expression of kindly tolerance and mournful respect.

'Not, sir, as there ever is sich an almighty tight place, as a chap
can't get out of by leavin' a h'arm or a leg or a bit of hisself
generally to be cast into 'ell fire, as it say in 'Oly Writ; for there
ain't nothin' impossible, if you've enough of the devil in you--that's
'ow it comes in, sir; here he paused, doubtful, perhaps, whether Holy
Writ contained this also, then went on easily, 'for it ain't no manner
of use, sir, reachin' round for things as you can't catch no real holt
of--you must jes' take wot comes 'andy, though it mayn't be much to be
proud of--such as cuss words an' kicks and that like. But they give a
powerful grip sometimes, sir, as you'd find, savin' your presence, if
you was to give 'em a fair try.' He paused again, looked at Chris
tentatively, then smiled a perfectly seraphic smile full of pity,
wisdom, almost of tenderness. 'If I might make so bold, sir, w'ot a man
you an' me 'd make if we was mixed up! H'arch-h'angels wouldn't 'ave a
look in! And w'ot's more, I shouldn't 'ave to clean damn myself keepin'
them _Kusseye_ coolies from sneakin' the cold chisels; an' a good name
too for the lot, though it is cuss-you as I make it in general.'

'_Kuzai?_' echoed Chris quickly. 'What! are those fellows from the
butcher's quarter giving trouble--and I only put them on out of
charity? Why didn't you tell me before?'

But Jân-Ali-shân had reverted to his affable indifference. 'Trouble,'
he echoed in his turn, 'Lord, no, sir! I has to read the Riot Act
summary most days--they get quarrelling with the 'Indoos over some
cow-killin' tommy-rot; but w'en it come to sneakin' cold chisels, I 'ad
to knock 'arf a dozen o' 'em down. But they don't give no trouble to
speak of. Nor won't,' he added significantly, 'if they're spoke to
proper.'

'I'll see to it to-morrow,' said Chris, and then, once more, wondered
at his own words. This afternoon a frock-coat; to-morrow an inquiry
into a workmen's quarrel; and between the two, inevitably, that
decision. The rest was all unreal, but that was certain, that must
come.

Jân-Ali-shân, however, as--after touching his cap decorously--he moved
away, sang


                      'To-morrow will be Monday'


as if all the foundations of his world were absolutely sure.

And there were others, besides these two, on the river steps that
morning whose outlook on the future showed the same divergence. A
couple of municipal scavengers, armed with the broom and basket which
under our rule bids defiance to privilege, prejudice, and privacy,
talked with cheerful certainty as they swept up the paper Jân-Ali-shân
had torn to bits. The _Sirkar_ would have to employ everybody's
relations if the plague went on as it had begun. They were shutting the
shops already in the butcher's quarter, the hospitals were full, the
bazaars empty. Of a surety there was a good time coming for scavengers!

Two women, however, returning with their waterpots from listening at
the temple, agreed that if, as the priest said, _Mai_ Kâli had declared
there must be blood on her altars ere the plague was stayed, what was
the use of amulets? Besides, who could tell if the promise was not a
trick; who, briefly, could tell anything except that it was an ill time
for virtuous women, and that those were lucky who could stay at home?
So with furtive glances, and keeping close together, they shuffled back
to some dim alley, to retail what they had heard.



                              CHAPTER XXI

                               RED PAINT


Over on the other side of the city, however, on the wide stretch of
sandy waste behind an outlying dispensary which had been turned into a
segregation camp, the advocates of certainty and uncertainty had
changed places. Here, in the little grass-screened yard, six feet
square, which Jack Raymond's kindliness had secured for the ordinary
reed hut to which poor crushed old Auntie Khôjee had been brought, it
was a scavenger who doubted, a woman who--even amid tears--had faith.

'Lo! brother,' said Khôjee in gentle reproof, as she sat on the string
bed hiding her grief-blurred face discreetly from the tottering old man
who had been sent in to sweep out the premises; an old man bowed,
palsied, senile, yet still, as a male creature, claiming that calm
perfunctory drawing of a veil an inch or two more over a withered
cheek, 'thou shouldst not repeat such tales; they do harm. As I have
told thee before, God knows what happened was not the fault of the
_Huzoors_. It was Jehân's, and mine, and Lateef's; if indeed it was
ought but God's will. And lies will not bring her back again! It was
lies that killed her, Noormahal, Light of Palaces!'--a sob choked the
quavering voice, but she struggled on truthfully--'and the _Huzoors_
were kind in concealing what they could. What use to drag the honour
of the King's House in the dust? Even Jehân saw that and held his
peace. It is ye--ye of the basket and broom--strangers--not of the
house knowing the honour of the house as in old time--who have done ill
in talking. And of the girl too. Lo! what thou sayest of her and the
pearls may be true; but I know naught of it, and Jehân hath lied ever.
Then for the bracelets! Have I not worn one and cried for death? But
death has not come, as thou sayest it comes; though I have worn _this_
these two days.'

She held out her thin arm as she spoke, in order to show the _râm
rucki_ which Jack Raymond, in his efforts to reassure her, had fastened
round her wrist.

The old man ceased sweeping to peer at it, then chuckled wheezily.
'Oho! Oho! _bibi!_ and wherefore not, since that is a _râm rucki_ which
all know of old! But this other I speak of is new. I tell thee it hath
the death-mark on it, and the arrow-head which claims all for the
_Sirkar's_ use. Its like none have ever seen before. They sold it
deceitfully as safeguard yesterday at Sheik Chilli's fair, and men
bought it for their wives and children--_Ala!_ the tyranny of it, the
cleverness! who can stand against their ways? So now it is proved a
sign of death indeed; all who wear it, all who have worn it, are in the
_Huzoor's_ power. When they are wanted, they will die.'

Despite her disbelief--a disbelief founded largely on her own kindly
grateful heart--Aunt Khôjee felt a cold creep in her old bones. 'How
canst tell by now? Some may escape,' she quavered.

The old scavenger waggled his head wisely. 'This I know, _bibi_, that
in the _Kuteeks'_ and _Lohars'_ houses--yea! and in others too where
the sickness was rife, for, see you, it hath been in the city this
fortnight past, though folk held their tongues--all bought these
bracelets for safety. All! and it is from these very houses that the
dead come! Am I not _Dom_ by craft, though I grow too old and crooked
to straighten even dead limbs? Have I not seen? I tell thee, _bibi_,
not one of the corpses taken out of the city this morning but had the
bracelet on its wrist! Ay! and not one of those carried by force to the
_hospitarl_ but had it too!'

It was an absolutely true statement, even if capable of a more natural
explanation.

'But _Rahmân-sahib_, the bracelet-brother, did not give them
bracelets?' protested Aunt Khôjee, falling back fearfully on what still
seemed incredible.

'God knows,' mumbled the superannuated streaker of dead things. 'Mayhap
he did not sell them, but it was by order. A Hindoo in the city, Govind
by name, hath a paper with the order written on it, and signed by the
_Lat-sahib_ and _Wictoria-Queen_. So there is no lie there, _bibi!_'

He passed out resentfully, driving the refuse he had swept up, into the
world beyond the six-feet-square yard, with a last flourish of his
broom.

Khôjee, left forlorn, sat looking at her _râm rucki_ doubtfully. Could
the tale be true? Could the _Huzoors_ have been capable of such a
devilish treachery? Even so, he, _Rahmân-sahib_, had not been so. His
bracelet had brought safety. Even after two days, Auntie Khôjee
recognised this. The _daghdar-sahib_ had laughed at her fear of plague;
they had given her seclusion of the strictest; a Musulman woman, who
had called her 'my princess,' had brought her better food than she had
had for years, and even Lateef had been allowed to come during the day
and talk to her. Last, not least, the _daghdar_ himself had respected
her veil, and sent a miss-_sahiba_ instead--a miss in a curious
dress, who had let her cry about Noormahal, and comforted her with
cardamoms--real cardamoms. It had almost been a visit of condolence!
Then she was told that in eight days she might go back--though not to
the wide dreary house, since it had already been utilised as a
hospital. But _Rahmân-sahib_ had promised to settle that from the rent
of this, Jehân should pay for a more suitable lodging, and also allow
her a proper pension.

A bracelet-brother indeed! Yet lying tongues traduced him and she, a
bracelet-sister, could do nothing but listen to them! She wept softly
over her own ingratitude, so that Lateefa, finding her thus engaged,
attempted consolation on the old, old lines which belong to all faiths,
all people, by saying that it was God's will, that Noormahal was taken
from the evil to come, that she was at peace; until, finding his
comfort unavailing, and being pressed for time, he told the old lady
gently that she must not expect any more of his companionship that day,
since, the term of his more rigorous segregation being over he was free
to go out, provided he returned by sundown.

Then to his surprise she suddenly ceased her curious whimpering wail,
and looked up at him swiftly.

'Thou canst go out! Then thou shalt go to him and tell him of the lies!
Yea! and tell him that I, Khôjeeya Khânum, wear his gift, and--and will
never forget him, and his beauty, and his kindness!'

'Tell _him?_ echoed the kite-maker, wondering if he stood on his head
or his heels when he was asked to take so fervent a message to a man,
from so discreet a lady as Aunt Khôjee. It did not take long, however,
to make him understand; for the old scavenger had swept out the men's
quarters also. But, to the dear old lady's disgust, he was inclined to
laugh at, and be sceptical over, both her indignation and that of those
who had bought the amulet. The tale was not likely to be true. Why
should the _Huzoors_ go such a roundabout way to work when they had
soldiers and guns? To be sure, these were few in Nushapore at the
present moment, and folk were saying that the talk about Sobrai and
Noormahal and Dilarâm--God curse the low-born pryers who know not how
to keep silence for decency's sake!--had set the _pultan_ (native
regiment), which was a high-class Mohammedan one, by the ears; but
there were plenty of _rigiments_ close by. And, if it _was_ true, what
good would a message to _Rahmân-sahib_ do? It would only make him
angry. And if the tale were a lie, what would he care? Did the
_Huzoors_ ever care what folk said? Never! That was why they ruled the
land.

But Aunt Khôjee was firm; even when Lateef--who had told her
everything--protested that he had no time to lose; that if he was to
have any chance of getting at the ring, which, he trusted, was still
concealed among the kites, it must be before their selection for the
flying match. Since, once they were chosen, none might touch them till
the 'Sovereignty of Air' was decided. Even now he might be too late for
the courtyard, and have to go to the turret, ready to seize his chance
during the trials. And what is more--here he gave a glance at the
sky--if he knew aught of kite-flying, those with fair ballast would
surely be chosen to-day; and therefore, of course, the one which had
the ring hidden in the guise of a bit of brick within a little calico
bag!

'Then it is safe so far. It will be guarded till evening, and then thou
canst see to it,' asserted Aunt Khôjee autocratically.

'Not till after sundown, mayhap, and I must return then; and who can
tell what may happen if it is left longer,' persisted Lateef.

'Let what may happen! The _daghdars_ will not kill thee--they are kind;
and what is the ring, now, but empty honour, since there is no heir?
But the other is different. _Rahmân-sahib_ is bracelet-brother. He hath
been kind--we owe him this. Wouldst thou be even as Jehân, Lateef,
willing to steal honour from any?' Never in her long life had Aunt
Khôjee been so obstinate.

'I care not, so Jehân doth not steal the ring,' muttered Lateef
revengefully. 'Nay, sister, I will not go!'

She bent towards him and laid a wistful hand on his. 'But if God give
him back honour, Lateef, should we hinder it?--we who have sinned also?
Not so, brother! Let Him decide; and for the rest, help _me_. Lo! for
all her years, this is the first bond between Khôjeeya Khânum, King's
Daughter, and a man. Let her keep it faithful, unstained.'

Lateef gave an odd sound, some part of it being his thin musical laugh.
'Sure, sister, thou wouldst make a saint even of a kite-flyer!' he said
lightly. 'So be it! I will go by way of the courtyard. Then if the
kites be gone already--as I misdoubt me--I will to _Rahmân-sahib's_
with thy message; so to the turret--or wait till evening as thou
sayest. 'Tis a chance either way; and mayhap, if I give God His will
with Lateef whom He made, He may give Lateef his will with the kites he
made! That is but fair, sister.'

'Yea, brother,' assented Khôjeeya piously, not in the least
understanding what he said. 'So it will come to pass, surely, since He
is just.'

Thus it happened, an hour or two after this, when Grace Arbuthnot was
once more standing beside her husband's office table, as she had stood
a few weeks before with the telegram which withdrew the confidential
plan of campaign in her hand, that a card was brought in to Sir George
by the orderly. He put it on the table with a frown, ere looking at his
wife again, and finishing his remark--

'Tear it up, my dear, and throw it into the waste-paper basket! Why
should you worry about the thing? I only showed it to you to amuse you,
and because it was a good example of the lies the natives will tell,
the threats they will use--on occasion.'

Lady Arbuthnot, who was once more holding a paper in her hand, looked
up from it. Her face was pale.

'I think you ought to inquire, George, I really do. If there is
anything----'

'My dear child!' interrupted her husband impatiently, what can there
be? Didn't I burn the thing with my own hands? You mustn't get nervous,
Grace; I've noticed you have been so ever since--well! for some little
time past. And, of course, all that about the pearls, and the loathsome
imbroglio regarding them, is annoying. I should like to kick Lucanaster
and Jehân Aziz and the lot! Anything more unfortunate at this juncture
can scarcely be imagined; but there is nothing to worry about.' He laid
his hand on her shoulder as he rose to touch the hand-bell. 'And now,
my dear,' he added, 'I have to see Mr. Raymond--he has written
"important" on his card.'

'Mr. Raymond!' echoed Grace, her face flushing, then growing pale
again. 'Oh, George!' she paused for a moment, then spoke more
calmly--'George! I want you to do something for me. I want you to
consult Mr. Raymond about--about this matter--will you?'

Sir George stood rather stiff, and the placidly obstinate look came to
his mouth. 'Mr. Raymond?' he echoed in his turn. 'Why on earth should
Mr. Raymond know anything about it--unless you have been speaking to
him?'

She had realised her slip before the suggestion came, a suggestion
whose truth she was too proud to deny, even though her husband's
displeasure at the thought was unmistakable. 'I _have_ spoken to him,'
she replied steadily. 'I told him your opinion as to the danger should
the hints in the native press prove to have any foundation; and he
quite agreed.'

'I feel flattered,' remarked Sir George coldly, as he sat down again.
'Perhaps, my dear, when you are ready to go, you will ring the bell.
Mr. Raymond may be in a hurry.'

Grace Arbuthnot's heart sank within her. A woman--especially a sensible
woman--can hardly live for ten years in close and affectionate
companionship with a man without having seen him at his best and his
worst; and that the latter was the case with Sir George now his wife
recognised instantly; albeit with a clear comprehension of the cause,
which made her feel a pathetic regret that she should thus handicap a
man, as a rule so just, so unbiassed. And that, too, at a moment when
much might depend on his being free from personal feeling; since Jack
Raymond, she knew, would not have come lightly. Some woman might have
fought against facts. Grace was too wise for that. She simply rang the
bell, and passed into her own sitting-room with that pathetic regret.
It seemed so pitiful after these long years to find antagonism in these
two men; and yet what right had she to feel scornful? Was it not
bitterly true that she herself could not forget?--not quite!

Seated at her writing-table, her head on her hand, she tried to argue
the matter out with herself, and failed. Only this seemed clear. That
once you admitted certain emotions to be inevitable, it was very hard
to set limits to them. Surely, therefore, there must be a firmer basis
than the conventional one; but what was it?

She roused herself, after a time, to the consideration that no matter
how the state of tension between herself, her husband, and Jack Raymond
came about--and that such a tension did exist, she was again too proud
to deny--it must not be allowed to interfere with matters more
important; and that it might do so was only too palpable; all the more
so because those two, especially her husband, would be loth to admit
the very existence of such a possibility.

Therefore, she herself must see and talk to Mr. Raymond. Nay, more! she
must get him to do what her husband would not do: make inquiries
concerning this threat of publishing some documents if payment
for it was not made, which was contained in the letter which--half
unconsciously--she had brought away with her in her hand from the
office.

She passed out into the anteroom, told the attendant orderly that
Raymond _sahib_, on leaving Sir George, was not to be shown out as
usual by the office entry, but through the suite of reception-rooms,
and then went thither herself to await and waylay him.

Being seldom used in the morning, these rooms leading the one from the
other into a hall beyond, and so to the grand portico, were dim and
silent, the jalousies closed, the great _jardinières_, full of flowers,
mysteriously sweet in the shadowy corners. And Grace herself, ready for
church save for the bunch of flowers and lace that go to make up the
headgear of a _grande toilette_, looked mysteriously sweet also in the
curves of a cushioned chair. She suited the vista of rooms, so empty of
trivial nicknacks, so restful in its perfect blending of comfort and
beauty. Comfort, not luxury; beauty, not decoration. Cold in its marble
floors, warm in its oriental embroideries, and, above all things,
charming in both its scented chilliness and scented warmth.

Perhaps she knew that she suited it, and that it suited her, since
the hope of this decides the disposition of furniture in most
drawing-rooms. Perhaps, in a way, she calculated on this, also on the
effect of memory, in reducing Jack Raymond to obedience, since it was
in these very rooms, scarcely different even in detail, that the most
part of those two happy years had been spent. Such unconscious
calculations are quite inevitable when women hold, as they are taught
to hold as sacred, the dogma that true womanhood should never permit
manhood to forget that it is woman.

She certainly succeeded in this instance, and her words--'Oh! Mr.
Raymond, I am so glad. I want to speak to you so much'--brought the
latter back into the past with a vengeance, as, inwardly cursing
himself for having taken the trouble to come and warn Sir George of
something he thought serious, he mechanically followed the orderly's
lead.

She scarcely looked a day older; she certainly was more beautiful. And
surely, the last time he had seen her in those rooms alone, there had
been just such a scarlet hand of poinsettia against the cold marble
above her head.

'You have been seeing my husband,' she began quite unconsciously, and
he broke in on the remark with a curious little laugh.

'I have, Lady Arbuthnot; and I fear I have wasted my time; and his. The
former is of little consequence, but the latter I regret.'

As she so often did, out of a blessed unconsciousness that her mental
position towards him was quite untenable, she appealed at once to that
past confidence.

'Don't be angry, please! I was afraid there might be--difficulties.
Sir George,' she smiled frankly, 'was in a very bad temper. I had
just'--she broke off, realising that absolute confidence was
impossible, then went on--'but you must not let that interfere
with--with what you think advisable. And you do think with me, don't
you? that it would be advisable to inquire whether--whether that
unfortunate letter of mine----'

Jack Raymond, who had remained standing in impatient hesitation between
his politeness and his desire to escape as soon as possible, stared at
her.

'What letter?' he asked.

She rose too in sudden surprise, and they stood facing each other
against that background of white marble and scarlet outspread
poinsettia. 'Then it was something else,' she said; 'I thought it must
be _this_.'

He took the letter she held out, and read it.

'It says nothing definitely,' she went on, 'but--but I think it must be
that; don't you? If so, what ought we to do?'

The 'we' struck him sharply, and he asked, 'Have you told Sir George?'

'Told him?' she echoed, flushing a little. 'No! I wish, now, I had, at
first; he--he would have faced the possible danger by this time. But
now? now it is impossible, Mr. Raymond! I have thought it out
thoroughly. It would be better to take the risk, if that is necessary.
But it need not be, if you will help me.'

He shook his head.

'Why should you not?' Her head was up, her beautiful face full of a
faint scorn, her clear eyes were on his unflinchingly.

He met her look, as he always met a challenge, with almost brutal
sincerity.

'Because I do not choose to--to stultify the last ten years; because
I gave up all that sort of thing when--when I said good-bye to
you--here.'

'And you would let that stand between you and--no! not between you--but
between death and life perhaps for others; between order and disorder,
anyhow. You think it important, I know----'

'Sir George does not,' he interrupted.

'What does that matter? You are as capable of judging as he; perhaps
more so! Why should you be a coward? Why should you, who possibly--no!
probably--know far more of the ins and outs of the city than the
regular officials?--Oh, don't deny it! Have I not heard them say, "Ask
Raymond" this or that, and "Raymond will know," and have I not been
glad--so glad that everything has not been spoilt! Why should you, I
say, give up your own opinion? For it comes to that. What you came here
to tell Sir George to-day, for instance; you must have thought it
important, or you would not have come.'

'I came because I thought it my duty to acquaint the authorities with
certain facts that had been brought to my notice. I have done so, and
that ends it----'

'It does not end it! You and Sir George disagreed, you know you did, as
to its importance. You still think you are right, and yet you yield to
him--why?'

There was a moment's pause, and then Jack Raymond gave a hard laugh.
'Why? I will tell you the truth, Lady Arbuthnot, though you may not
like it--though I acknowledge it is humiliating--for all of us! Because
I have had to yield to him before. Because he hasn't forgotten, and I
haven't forgotten, and you haven't forgotten--not quite, have you? It
is nothing to be ashamed of; it is only natural--one of the limitations
of life--but there it is, isn't it?'

He took a step nearer in the silence.

'Isn't it?' he repeated. 'Tell the truth, Grace, and shame--don't let
us say the devil--but fate. There, put your hand in mine, and face our
own--forgetfulness!'

She faced it boldly, even though he felt her hand tremble in his--'Did
I ever deny it?' she said softly, with tears in her voice; 'I do not, I
_cannot_ forget quite. It is pitiful, of course; but why----?'

'Don't!' he interrupted quickly. 'Don't, my dear lady! You will only
make me remember more; that is the truth. As you say, it is pitiful;
but there it is.'

She stood looking at him with a world of regret, some anger, and a
little, a very little scorn.

'And you will let this interfere with--with everything.'

'Not with everything, but with this, certainly,' he pointed to the
letter which he had laid on the console below the poinsettias. 'And
that is all the easier to do, because I don't believe in it--quite. But
if I were you, I should tell Sir George the truth and let him decide.
As for the other matter about which I came to speak, he may be right,
and I wrong. Time will show.'

'It may, disastrously, to many--to India--even to Empire!'--the scorn
came uppermost now.

'Surely,' he replied, reverting to his usual manner, 'the Empire can
take care of itself. If not, Lady Arbuthnot, I am afraid it must do
without my help--in Nushapore. Good-bye.'

The qualification held all his previous arguments in it, and re-aroused
his own bitterness at his own memories, so that as he walked on down
the long vista of rooms, he felt each well-remembered bit of it to be a
fresh injury; and his impatience, his obstinacy grew at each step. Why
had not Grace the sense to believe, once for all, as he had told her at
the very first, that hers was not the hand to wile his back to the
plough?

Her hand! Ye Gods! And he could feel its touch now on his. That woman's
touch so full of possibilities, so full of power.

'Mr. Waymond! Oh, Mr. Waymond! Do please don't go away!' came Jerry's
voice from a side-room used as a schoolroom which opened out from the
hall. 'Oh, please do come and help me wif this. I'm 'fwaid I don't know
somefing I ought to know.'

It never needed much of Jerry's voice to cajole any one; so the next
moment, temper or no temper, Jack Raymond was bending over the little
figure which, perched on a high chair at the table, was busy over a map
of India.

'Hullo, young man!' he said. 'Lessons?'

Jerry looked at him in shocked surprise. 'Why, it's Sunday! And I've
learned my hymn--'bout babes an' sucklings an' such is the kingdom of
heaven, don't you know. An' I'm not 'llowed to go to church 'cos mum
says I'm not normal yet; don't you fink, Mr. Waymond, it's just orful
dull of people always twying to be just the same? I like it when mum
says I'm feverish. I dweam dweams. Las' night I dweamt there was a weal
wow, an' dad made me his galloper, an' I had secwet dispatches. Oh! it
was just wippin', I tell you. I think secwet dispatches is--is the
loveliest game! 'Cos it's--it's all your own, you know, and nobody,
nobody else mustn't have them, or know, not even mum. And you keep 'em
quite, quite secwet, an' you don't even know what's inside, yourself;
do you? Not if you play it ever, ever so long as I do. And I _did_ it
once too, you know, weally; at least I fink I did, though they say I
didn't.'

The child's eyes were still over bright, his cheeks flushed with the
last touches of the sun fever which comes and goes so easily with
English children in India; and Jack Raymond smiled softly at the little
lad who reminded him so much of his own boyhood, even though the
remembrance, at that particular moment, brought a fresh bitterness
towards the woman he had just left--the woman who would have liked, as
it were, to eat her cake and have it.

'And what are you up to now?' he asked, seating himself on the table
and looking down at what lay on it--the outspread map, a paint-box, and
a crimson-stained tumbler of water--'spoiling the map of India; eh?'

'I ain't _spoiling_ it,' retorted Jerry indignantly, 'I'm only paintin'
it wedder. Mum said I might.'

'I'll tell you what, though, young man! You'll spoil yourself if you
suck your paint-brush.'

It came out of Jerry's mouth with the usual crimson flag of contrition
all over his cheeks. 'It's orful hard to wemember when one is
finking-finking of nothin' but the wed, and yet twyin' to play fair.'

'Play fair?' echoed Jack Raymond. 'What game are you playing now,
Jerry?'

'Oh! it isn't a game; it's weal. Only, I mean the tiddly little
bits'--Jerry, his tongue in his cheek, was laboriously at work again on
Rajputana with a brush so surcharged with carmine that it left perfect
bloodstains on the general tint of pale yellow--'I don't want, in
course, to take more 'n belongs to the Queen, but they mustn't have the
teeniest bit of what belongs to us, must they, Mr. Waymond?'

'I see,' replied the man slowly. 'You are painting the town red for Her
Majesty--I mean the map.--Isn't it red enough as it is, Jerry?'

The child--in his excitement put down his paint-brush in the middle of
Bengal as a safe spot. 'Not half wed enough! An' besides! there's
mistakes an' mistakes, an' the yellow an' gween run over the line. I
don't mind the yellow so much, 'cos we only allow them to be that
colour; but it's dweadful with gween! An' then there's some orful
fings. You see that spot'--he pointed triumphantly to an almost
invisible speck of red like a midge bite--'I made that! It wasn't
there. Mum said the map people fought it was too small to put in, but
it's got to be, you see; so when I give the map to Budlu--Budlu's got a
little grandson older nor me at school who learns maps, and mum said I
might give him this one--I'll tell him it isn't _quite_ the wight size.
But it may be, some time, you know. Perhaps when I gwow up it will be.'
The clear bright eyes grew dreamy, as Jerry, with conscientious care,
skirted around the possessions of an extremely minor chieftain.

'Perhaps!' echoed the man still more slowly. 'And I expect you'd like
to make it bigger, wouldn't you?'

'Wather! I should think I just would! Like as mum says her
gweat-gweat-gwandfather-people--an' yours too, she said, Mr.
Waymond--did. Just like Clive, you know, an' all the people that people
wemember.'

The man's face was very close to the child's now, as resting his elbows
on the table, he watched the crimson brush.

'What a Jingo you are, Jerry! And if any one were to try--to try and
make a really red bit yellow, for instance--or even pale pink--what
would you do?'

Jerry went on with his task laboriously. 'I wouldn't let 'em, in
course. I'd take away their tumblers, an' their paint-brushes, an'
everything, till they hadn't no excuse; an' then, if they was bad
still, I d whack 'em!'

Jack Raymond rose to go. 'A very sound theory of Government, young
man,' he said, and his voice had an odd ring in it, 'especially the
whacking. It's a pity you're not grown-up now, Jerry--why aren't you?'

Jerry looked up with the child's sudden consciousness of a joke, and
smiled at his friend roguishly.

'Why? 'Cos _you_ are, in course! When you're dead, I'll do it. It's
your turn now! Oh don't go, please! you haven't told me yet----'

'What?' asked Jack Raymond, pausing with a still odder look on his
face.

Jerry's finger travelled carefully down to Pondicherry. 'That!' he
said. 'They say it is Fwench, an' it's beastly; but when I looked in
the atlas for Fwance colour, it was all sorts--gweens, and blues, and
yellows, and weds, all mixed up. So, please! wouldn't it be fair to
make it wed too? I couldn't help what it _looks like_, could I, if I
didn't mean cheating?'

'My dear little chap!' replied Jack Raymond, 'if I were you, I'd paint
every blessed bit of it bright scarlet!' And then suddenly, much to
Jerry's surprise, he stooped and kissed the child's puzzled yet open
forehead.

'Oh! fank you,' said Jerry politely. 'Mum kisses me like that
sometimes, and dad too. I--I like it.'



                             CHAPTER XXII

                           THE BETTER PART


When Jack Raymond left Jerry painting the map red, he was in that
curiously ill-used frame of mind which comes to most of us, when a good
action--which we have steadily refused to do--becomes imperative, and
ceases therefore to have any virtue save the virtue of necessity; when,
briefly, we have neither eaten our cake nor have it. He knew perfectly
well that sooner or later that day--the later the better to his
ill-humour--he would go down to the city, make inquiries concerning
that letter, pay for its possession--here the remembrance of those
bank-notes, ready for use even on a Sunday, in his pocket-book, came to
make him swear inwardly at a coincidence that was too much like fate
for freedom--if needful, and then send it to Lady Arbuthnot, he
supposed, with a polite little note!

And all because a boy who reminded him of his own boyhood, had made him
feel that no other course was open to him--that he was bound to do this
thing--or shoot himself for not doing it!

The church-bells had just finished chiming as, on his way to the club,
he walked down the Mall; for the main entrance to Government House gave
on it, and not on the Garden Mound. In his present evil temper even
this triviality annoyed him. Why, in heaven's name, could not Lady
Arbuthnot have let him go as he had come? go back to his own life?--to
the philosophic peace which had been so pleasant! And now----

What cursed nonsense it was for him to put himself within the reach of
disturbing elements!--for they were disturbing. If it could even be of
any real use to her--here something in his own thought of her, so
beautiful, so good, made him realise his position in regard to her
still more clearly. No! despite his respect, and her goodness, it would
not take much to make him passionately in love with her again. And
would she----?

That was another question; but she had not forgotten!

As he told himself this, she and Lesley Drummond came by in the
Government House carriage, and he paused to let it turn in to the
church compound.

'We are dreadfully late, I'm afraid,' called the former concernedly.
'Are you coming?'

Was he coming? And she could fret herself over being two minutes late!
Good women were really quite incomprehensible, especially in India,
where they did so little to deserve the name. The hundred or so, for
instance, in church at that present moment--did they do an atom
more--no! not half so much as he did--for the good of the world around
them, or the Empire--except perhaps in supplying it with sons! Yet
there they would be, quite satisfied with themselves. The thought
attracted him. He was in no hurry himself to do the thing he knew he
must do--in fact, any delay was welcome--so he turned into the church
compound also, and stood decorously at the door till the Absolution,
which was being given, was over, before slipping into the nearest seat,
next to a very stout old lady whose only claim to be considered even a
Eurasian was her bonnet. But as he had stood for those brief moments
looking over the heads of the bowed congregation, he had noticed, with
a sense of the humour of the thing, that the percentage of dark blood
in the worshippers could be very fairly gauged by their distance from
the white robes of the choir boys! The good lady beside him, however,
ended the scale of colour, for the native Christian, _pur et simple_,
was, of course, absorbed by the Mission churches.

And the non-Christian native? There was no sign of him either. No sound
of him, no thought even of him from beginning to end! Jack Raymond
stood up decorously, and sat down decorously, knelt decorously, and
listened decorously, with a sense of unreality, a sense of dislocation
from his surroundings, that was not much less keen than Chris
Davenant's had been when he listened to the 'Society for the General
Good of Peoples' at Hâfiz Ahmad's house. The sermon--a good one in its
way--might have been preached in a London suburb, save for this, that
beyond a little perfunctory solacing of Eurasian paupers, there was
none of the active attempt to carry words into deeds which would have
existed in the listeners of a suburban congregation. Absolutely,
utterly, none. Not one woman there knew as much as he, the idler, of
the hard poverty-stricken lives of the people. Yet these very women,
when they went home, would feel themselves accursed as worldlings if
they did not district-visit or join the Charity Organisation!

These considerations did not improve one listener's temper. On the
contrary, they increased his desire for delay; for, having already
warned Sir George that, in his opinion, the city was more unstable
than authority seemed to think, he washed his hands of that
responsibility. All he had to do, therefore, was to get and pay for
this paper, if needful, and so prevent its being made use of against
the Government--prevent its being a worry to--to Jerry's mother!

He therefore had lunch and a cigar quietly. It was, in fact, close on
four o'clock when he started, riding, for the city. But at the nearest
gate to the bazaar, whence the threat of using the information had
emanated, he gave his pony to the _sais_, bidding him go home; since he
knew by experience the attention which a European on horseback excites
in a native town, and without in the least wishing for concealment, he
had no desire to be followed by gossip-mongers. The gate in question
was that giving on the poor Hindoo quarter, the glass-bangle makers,
the poultry keepers, the burden carriers, and--in a sort of off-shoot
half-in, half-out of the city--the leather workers; that curious class,
apart from all caste and creed, yet necessary to all, and from their
ignorance, their isolation, the most difficult to civilise.

So far Jack Raymond, personally, had seen and heard nothing beyond Aunt
Khôjee's tale, as reported by Lateefa, to give grounds for more than
caution; but he had not gone a dozen yards down the miserable bazaar
which served the neighbourhood, before he realised that action might be
necessary. Most of the shops were shut, and scarcely a human being was
to be seen; signs--in upside-down Eastern fashion--that the peace of
the people was disturbed. And it might mean more. These signs, to be
seen of all, might have been duly reported to the proper authorities
and been disregarded by them. But if they had not been so reported,
there could, considering the perfection of organisation for such
reports which exists in every native town, be but one explanation of
the fact--treachery! He would find out about this, he told himself,
merely for his own satisfaction, on his way back, since the minor
treachery of police constables and such like had its price, and he had
five thousand rupees in his pocket towards a good deed! It would be
curious if, after all----

The thought of Lesley made him smile good-humouredly. What with the
_râm rucki_ and the green sleeves, and now this possible good deed, it
was hopeless to escape that young person. He walked on more cheerfully,
and in a few minutes found himself in the courtyard of Dilarâm's house
on his way to Govind's den on the second story; since his--as yet
unknown--quarry had given that address. The whole house, however, was
so still, so deserted, that he half feared his journey might be in
vain. But it was not so. The door, marked 24 in rough white letterings,
was ajar, and Govind, yawning, dishevelled, rose from a corner with an
apology of a _salaam_ as his visitor entered. The room was almost
empty. Even the printing-press had disappeared, gone, like all else, in
the attempt to live upon lies; for, even with Govind's nose for
nastiness, he had been driven to sell the goodwill, stock, and block of
the '_Ear of the Wise_' to another unwise aspirant towards literary
fame. His last issue had been the one detailing the horrors of Sobrai's
disgrace and Noormahal's death; to the unusual success of which,
especially among the Mohammedan soldiers in cantonments, had been due
the unexpected offer to buy the going concern. The would-be purchaser
being a new discontent, who, having been turned out of a regimental
office for falsifying returns, was keen on revenging himself by
spreading disaffection in the native army. Govind had naturally jumped
at the offer, and for two days past had been debauching himself on the
proceeds, in certain anticipation of more money to come from the sale
of something which could no longer be used as copy; for, he told
himself, even if his first bold bid for a buyer produced no results,
almost every native newspaper in Nushapore would be glad of anything
which might help to damage--when the proper time came--the good faith
of their rulers.

But now, as the figure of a _sahib_ showed at the door, his
_bhang_-dulled eyes lit up with triumph; the next moment, however, he
was murmuring a humble '_Gharib-nawâz!_' and wishing that the earth
would open and swallow him--wishing he had never sent the letter! But
who could have dreamt of its being answered by _Rahmân-sahib_!

'Oh! it is you, is it?' remarked Jack Raymond, recognising an old club
_baboo_ whom he had run in for theft of cigars. 'You are Govind Râm,
editor, are you? That simplifies matters. I suppose you wrote this, and
that the talk of knowing a man who knows, etc., is the usual business.
You have a paper--you want five thousand rupees for it--just like your
cheek! You'll get two. Hand it over.'

He made the offer advisedly; for he knew the man to have friends in the
Secretariat; knew, briefly, that he was a likely man to have got
hold--if not of the lost letter, yet of something confidential. To
haggle with him, therefore, was mere waste of time; more especially as
he himself had long since ceased to regard the five thousand rupees he
carried about with him as his own money. So it might as well go--in a
good action!--and save him bother.

It did. Govind, who at most had expected five hundred, lost no time in
producing the paper.

Jack Raymond looked at it, then at Govind.

'You d--d fool,' he said softly, 'I don't think you'll find it worth
while.'

Then he looked at the crumpled document again. It was merely a _précis_
as it were, written in a clerkly hand, of what the rescinded
confidential instructions might have been, such as any one who by
chance had seen them--or any scoundrel who had not--could easily have
written. Absolutely unauthentic, and of no possible value, as proof of
anything.

It was characteristic of Jack Raymond that the idea of taking back the
notes which he had given Govind, as had been stipulated in advance,
never occurred to him. He was a backer of odds, a better of bets. He
had staked money lightly, and lost it. So far good; but he meant to
have his money's worth.

'Hold up, you brute!' he said, as Govind writhed at the first touch on
the scruff of his neck. 'I won't kill you, but you shall have the
soundest licking you ever had in your life.'

As he spoke the lash of the hunting-whip, with which he always rode,
curled round Govind's thin legs, making their owner in his sheer animal
terror escape from Jack Raymond's hold-strong as it was--to the floor,
where he lay on his back, his limbs crunched together like a dead
crab's--a hideous spectacle. So hideous that the very licking of such
an abject beast seemed impossible.

'_Huzoor_, no!' he gasped. 'No, _Huzoor!_ not that! not that! I will
pay it back! I will pay--I will pay----'

'Get up, you brute, and take it decently,' interrupted Jack, feeling
more decidedly that if the brute would not, he would have to give up
the sickening business. He emphasised his command by another flick with
the thong.

The crumpled crablike terror gave a sort of sob, and edged
itself--still on its back--till it could kiss Jack Raymond's boots
frantically. 'Not that! not that!' it moaned. 'I will pay--yea! I _can_
pay!' Then in a purely insane fear of physical pain, Govind's English
came back to him--'O my lord god almighty, I can give money's worth--I
can give cheap--O lord god, yes! I can tell--listen, listen!' So,
without a pause, he burst out into words which first made Jack Raymond
hesitate, and then--catching the lash of the whip back into his
hand--point to the corner and say, 'Sit down there, you skunk, and tell
the truth; don't try to escape, or I really _will_ do for you.'

The tale which came from between Govind's chattering teeth made the
listener set his. Here was confirmation of old Khôjee's story with a
vengeance; explanation also of the closed shops, the empty alleys. And
the explanation was so natural. Given an amulet which brought death by
the visitation of God at once, or, in lieu of that, death by removal to
hospital and subsequent poisoning, what more obvious palliative--since
God's act must stand--than to strike at the works of the devil? If, by
dawn, neither hospitals nor doctors remained, that would surely mend
matters. Meanwhile, in every house to which the cursed charm had gone,
there must be purification by prayer and fasting, by spells, and
incantations, and burnings of the hateful thing.

It did not need much imagination to picture the scene. A narrow court,
a dead child or husband awaiting dusk for secret removal, shuddering
excited women, hysterical from lack of food, listening to the
denunciations of officiating priests and _mullahs_, looking at their
dead, at their living--round whose wrists the amulet had been perhaps
an hour before--and remembering that though half the evil in the future
lay with God, Who was beyond coercion, the other half lay with men who
were!

Not a reassuring scene in a city whose two hundred and odd thousand
inhabitants were curiously unreliable.

Still less so, because, if those immediately responsible had been true
to their salt, all this information would have been in the strong hands
of authorities hours ago.

That it had not been so when he left the club, Jack Raymond felt sure.
Why! he had seen the city magistrate there reading the _Illustrated
London News!_

'Who is in it? Who is working it? Come, hurry up!' he asked, with a
significant dropping of the whip-lash.

Govind squirmed horribly, but protested ignorance. It was not that sort
of trouble. No one had thought of it twenty-four hours ago, in spite of
all the talk, all the misfortunes, in spite even of the conspirings. It
had come of itself.

That was true, the listener knew. This sort of thing always did; but
there were always people to help it on, and every hour that had been
lost had increased the aiders and abettors. By now, half the city might
be implicated.

He took out another thousand-rupee note and held it out.

'Take me to the most likely scoundrel,' he said briefly. 'You
understand!'

Govind understood perfectly, and from abject terror passed to such
infernal, such jubilant betrayal, that Jack Raymond put his hands and
his whip behind his back in fear of using them. For he was going to see
this thing through. He had still two thousand-rupee notes in his
betting-book, and that in a native city meant much; the only caution
necessary being not to bribe the wrong person.

He passed out into the bazaar with Govind, feeling a curious sense of
power, a vast antagonism. He would be wise, he felt, to assure himself
absolutely as to the trend any disturbance would take before going with
his information to those who could checkmate it; for, he thought
rapidly, a few companies of the native soldiers who were at hand could
easily stave off action until proper arrangements could be made.

'It is among the railway people, Protector of the Poor,' said Govind
fulsomely--he had reverted absolutely to Hindustani, its ways and
works--'that there is most turbulence. For the reason that there is a
_baboo_ in charge of works, so there is little fear among them. Then
the Bengâlis--they have a dispensary of their own, with a saint who
works miracles; so they----'

'_Chuprao!_' interrupted Jack Raymond sternly, 'and remember, if you
try and throw dust in my eyes, I'll kill you!'

Yet, half an hour afterwards, he felt that he was no nearer a clear
conception of what sort of solid backing these vague threats of
violence had, than at the beginning. Every one was only too glad--for
sums varying from ten to a hundred rupees--to tell what they knew, and,
what is more, to pass the tale-telling on; but the result was not worth
the wasted time.

He had told himself this should be his last trial, that time failed for
more, when a pure accident put him in possession of certainty. He was
coming down an almost pitch-dark tenement stair some little way behind
Govind, when a door at the turn below opened and a man came out.

'Lo! Govind! is't thou? Well met!' said the newcomer in a low voice,
looking no farther than the figure close to him, seen in the light from
the door. 'Be ready for midnight. Tis to be the _Generali-hospitarl_
first--all is arranged. I have a letter here----'

He was passing on downwards, but got no further in speech or step, for
Govind--impelled by a kick from behind--fell on him like an avalanche,
and the next moment Jack Raymond was beside the heap.

'The letter,' he said simply, 'give me the letter!'

He had a brief struggle for it, since this scoundrel had grit, till the
butt-end of the whip came in savagely handy. By that time Govind had
disappeared, rather to Jack Raymond s relief; so, leaving the owner of
the letter stunned, he ran downstairs and put an alley or two between
him and the scene of the swift scuffle, before looking at his prize;
since, Englishman as he was, that was no quarter of the city in which
to begin violence.

The letter, which was, of course, in the vernacular, was fairly
lengthy, but he saw enough on the first page to make him turn to the
end, then with a hurried exclamation take out his watch.

A quarter to six! The next moment he was off as quick as he dared for
Government House. He chose the gate giving on the Garden Mound as his
exit from the city, since once there, he could run without fear of
being stopped as a lunatic or a thief, and another reference to his
watch, following on a swift calculation, warned him he had not much
time to spare.

Being Sunday, there were no orderlies in waiting at the office
entrance, and, knowing his way and the way of the place, he did
not pause to call one, but passed on through the house to the
entrance-hall, where some one was certain to be found.

He was right; but the person was not the one he expected. It was Lesley
Drummond, ready in short skirt for a bicycle ride.

'Sir George!' he said sharply. 'I must see him at once!'

She stared at his hurry, his breathlessness. 'Sir George!' she echoed.
'He is not in. He has gone to lay the foundation-stone of the
College--every one has gone. I only stopped because of Jerry not being
quite well.'

She paused, startled, for Jack Raymond literally threw up his hands in
impotent anger. Fool that he had been to forget? Of course! Everybody
who could be of any use whatever, in this emergency, would be spouting
rot five miles away on the other side of the city! If he had only
thought of it before, and gone there instead of here! There might have
been time, then, to arrange the only plan which was in the least
likely--and now----

'What is it, Mr. Raymond?' came Lesley's voice. 'Let me help if I can.'

He shook his head. 'Nobody can--even I can't, though I know it's the
only thing--that it ought to be done at once--that----' he broke off
with an impatient gesture--'It's no use--it can't be helped!'

Lesley came a step nearer to him, with an odd look of resolve on her
face.

'Do you mean that it would be wrong of you to do it, or that you
haven't the right? I mean, is it something you could do if--if you were
Sir George?'

The quickness of her perception made him say 'Yes?' frankly.

'Would Sir George do it if he were here?' followed sharply.

He gave another gesture of impatience. 'Don't let us play clumps, for
Heaven's sake!' he exclaimed. 'I'll tell you--though it's no good.
There is a row on in the city to-night--the native regiment is in it--I
have a letter here--or at any rate they won't be much help; and if once
we get fighting in the streets----' he shrugged his shoulders--'the
only way is to prevent it starting. And Morâki is beyond call. But
there's a wing of the Highlanders at Fareedabad, forty miles down the
line. If I could have got a wire sent there before the mail passes--the
up-mail which left here a little ago--it could have been stopped and
sent back with troops. For Fareedabad is only an outpost--no railway
stock--so there is only that one chance before midnight. There would
have been time then--but now----'

'Then why don't you send one?'

'I?'

'Yes, you! You know the cipher. You know that Sir George would send
it.'

'Pardon me!' he said, recovering his breath, recovering his obstinacy,
his dislike to coercion, 'I am not in the least sure that he would.
Judging by this morning----'

'Then _she_ would--Lady Arbuthnot, I mean. And you--you are bound to do
it for her-you know you are bound----'

'I?' he echoed again.

'Yes, you!' she repeated, and there was a quiver in her voice--'because
you loved each other once. Oh! she didn't tell me--I have been learning
a lot of things for myself lately, and I learned that because--but that
is nothing! What I mean is, that it hurts her most, for she was
wrong--quite wrong--she spoilt your life----'

'Perhaps I may be allowed to differ,' he began, stiffening himself
again after his surprise; but she took no notice of his remark. Her
face was troubled by her own thought--she was absorbed in it.

'It has come between you and everything, not the regret, but--I don't
know what to call it quite--the value you have put upon it. And she has
put it too. So you want to forget, and yet you don't. You think it so
big a thing that it must be forgotten--made a fuss about. But it isn't.
It isn't really part of one at all. I've learned that lately. And there
is a better way'--she broke off, and came quite close to him, looking
him in the face: 'not to forget, and yet not to care. Do this for her,
Mr. Raymond, do it as you would do it for me?' Here, for the first
time, a faint smile showed in her eyes, not on her lips. 'It is a funny
thing for me to say, perhaps, but--but I gave you the _râm rucki_,
didn't I? And so, no matter what else there is in the world that,
perhaps, we can't help, I want you to do this for her and for me
together, as you would for a man, as I would do it for a woman.'

She laid her hand on his as she spoke, and held it there; not in a
touch, but a clasp.

'And--and forget--whatever else there may be--always,' he asked
steadily; 'forget for you both?'

'Please,' she replied quietly; 'for her and for me--always!'

For an instant--one short instant--the man's instinctive recognition of
woman's goodness and kindness--and of something else, perhaps, which
had lain behind the appeal--made Jack Raymond feel as if he must kiss
the hand that lay on his; then he laid his other one on it, returning
the clasp.

'But how on earth is it to be done?' he said, frowning as they stood
thus, like children playing a game; 'the office won't take it without
authority--some one's name--'

'Couldn't you sent it from here--I can signal. I've learned--oh! such a
lot of things that have never been of any real use, and--No! they keep
the instrument locked, I know--that won't do! I'll forge the name--I
could--and I don't mind.'

He smiled. 'Nor I--they can't stop my promotion now. But the
telegraph-office will be closed. I might get hold of some one, perhaps,
by saying--No! for why shouldn't it have been sent from here! That
question would stump us. We might try the railway station. Yes! of
course! The wire to Fareedabad is only a railway one. Even the regular
office could only pass it on. By Jove! that's lucky all round.'

She caught at the idea. 'Write it out quick--there are forms in Captain
Lloyd's room over there! My bicycle's ready, I'll take it. How much
time have I?'

'Plenty still.' He glanced round the room they had just entered and saw
another bicycle. 'I'll take that, and save you lending yours.'

'But I'm coming too,' she put in swiftly. 'I must! I'm only going,
while you write, to tell the bearer to look after Jerry--he's in bed
already--while I'm away. It won't take long.'

She was down the stairs again as he was wheeling the cycle into the
hall, the still wet telegram loose in his hand.

'Hold that a minute,' he said, 'that tyre wants a pump--it will save
time in the end. It wouldn't do to have a smash--would it?' He spoke
quite cheerfully.

'No!' she replied, smiling back as she helped him. 'Not if there is
going to be a "weal wow," as Jerry calls it.'

'Something very like one, anyhow!' he answered. 'And you never can tell
what may happen if these things aren't stopped at once. We might have
them all over the place by to-morrow morning--trying to pull down the
flag perhaps--who knows?' He spoke lightly again, but for all that he
had thought it worth while to pocket a revolver, which had been lying
on Captain Lloyd's table; and as Lesley passed out first, with her
bicycle, he gave a look at the weapon to see how many chambers were
loaded; that was always a wise precaution.

So, being busy, neither of them saw a little figure in a scarlet
flannel sleeping-suit which had stealthily followed Lesley downstairs;
a listening little figure with wide grey eyes.

The next instant those two were careering down the Mall, fast as wheels
could carry them.

'It is a quaint cipher,' said Lesley, who, hands off, was folding the
now dry telegram.

'Yes!' replied Jack Raymond absently--he was working out what had to be
done. 'I might send it plain, but for the _cachet_ of authority--Heaven
save the mark!--it gives. And, of course, the contents are better not
known, even by the _baboo_. But I'm afraid he must know something; for
I must first of all wire direct to the station-master at Fareedabad to
stop the up-mail--there isn't time for the order to go through the
magistrate. And that's really the thing to make sure of, for the
down-mail doesn't pass Fareedabad till midnight, and it would take
almost as long to get steam up from here--especially as it is Sunday
and the railway people all over the place.'

There were not many of them certainly in the wide deserted station,
which echoed under their hurrying feet. Indeed, barring a few would-be
native passengers, huddled up listlessly in their shawls waiting on the
steps outside for the train, which experience told them would come
sooner or later--figures common to every railway station in India--not
a human being was visible. That, too, was nothing uncommon, when trains
come four or five times a day at least. And the up-mail had passed but
a short time before; so all things were at their slackest after that
excitement.

'There must be some one, somewhere!' remarked Jack Raymond, 'and if
not, I must break in to the telegraph-office, and you must signal.'
Then he laughed. 'You are leading me horribly astray, Miss Drummond. I
shall be transported for life before I know where I am.'

'They will have to transport me too, then,' she said cheerfully.

But there was no need for felonious entry. The telegraph-office door
was open, and Jack Raymond, seeing a native clerk asleep inside, told
Lesley she had better remain unseen for the time.

So she walked up the empty platform with its closed doors and looked
down the lessening ribbon of line to the drawbridge pier, and came back
again. Absorbed in her own thoughts, it was not until she heard the
click click of a telegraph instrument, clearly audible in the dead
silence, that she recognised she was passing beyond her goal. She
pulled up to wait, to listen.

T--U--M-- What on earth was the man signalling? And what symbol was
that? Something she did not know. Had they a different code? No.
S--H--S--H--K--those she recognised. But what a combination! Was it the
cipher? No! she had seen that--that was mostly vowels----

Then it flashed upon her that the man was telegraphing nonsense--he was
not telegraphing at all!--he was against them!

She had hardly realised this, when Jack Raymond came out. 'There!
that's done, and God go with it,' he said hurriedly; 'the only thing
is--what had we better do with the _baboo_? He must suspect. I have a
thousand-rupee note left of your money. Shall I bribe him with it to
keep quiet for two hours?'

'No!' she said swiftly, savagely; 'you had better kill him!' He stared.

'He hasn't sent them--the telegrams, I mean--at least not the last. It
was all gibberish. I was listening.'

He gave a low whistle. 'By Jove!'--then he looked at her--'you _have_
been of use.'

His pause was only for a second. 'You 'd better come in with me, and
lock the door--we shall have to see this thing through, I expect. I
remember they told me some of the railway people were in it, and if
that is so we must prevent them getting wind of this, till it's too
late for _them_.'

With that he drew out his revolver and went in; and Lesley, following
him, locked the door behind her.



                            CHAPTER XXIII

                         A MEMORABLE OCCASION


'A Memorable occasion!'

The phrase seemed, somehow, to be inevitable on the further side of the
city, where, as Râm Nâth had foretold, all of Nushapore that was worth
considering was gathered together for the ceremony of laying the
foundation-stone of the Anglo-Vernacular College. Râm Nâth may have
started the assertion, but every one else followed suit. Sir George in
his presidential address, the treasurer in his financial statement, the
distinguished native official who--in proposing the vote of thanks to
Lady Arbuthnot for her able assistance--managed to drag in the Dufferin
fund and the benefits of female education by the way! So, one by one,
the delegates of the various sects and associations who were,
blissfully, to forget their differences over----over this memorable
occasion!

Some added a 'most' to it; others went so far as to say it marked an
era; while a peculiarly eloquent speaker went one better by introducing
the 'Annals of Empire.'

But the point on which they were all agreed was--that it _was_ 'a
memorable occasion.'

And there was curiously little unreality about the assertion, for
everybody went about with a noticeable satisfaction that was due to a
feeling of duty done. It was all infinitely proper; also pleasing, for
when the initial ceremony was over and a pause came for tea between it
and the giving of diplomas, it was quite a pretty sight to see the
mixed multitude walking about admiring and criticising the building,
that some time or another--for funds at the moment were a trifle
low--would be built. And this had been made possible by the ingenious
and distinctly novel device of laying out the site as a lawn, on which
narrow beds of flowers followed the lines of the foundations to come,
while in the centre, under what was to be the central dome, stood a
model (large enough to allow the delighted native visitors to creep
through it if they chose), which had been made of bamboo, brown paper,
and mud plaster by a distinguished toy artist in the city, who had had
long practice in the making of _tazzias_[18] for the _Mohurrum_
processions.

He stood beside his latest creation now, a perfect incarnation of smile
in spotless white robes, with a muslin skullcap on his well-oiled hair,
ready to receive congratulations on his work. They were many, though
the English people kept theirs chiefly for the garden.

'I wish I could make my pansies grow as evenly,' remarked one lady who
was devoted to hers, as she looked enviously round the reading-room to
be, that was outlined by a dense border of purple and yellow.

'Nothing easier!' replied the Secretary-to-Government, who was showing
her round. 'Cut them to pattern with a foot-rule--they are only stuck
in for the day!' He pulled up one as he spoke, showed it to her
rootless, then stuck it in again with a laugh. 'It is a regular native
dodge. They are A1 at making dream-palaces, you know. Curious, isn't
it? that the mushroom should grow so well in India, the most
conservative of countries; but cheap labour and cheap words are
absolutely demoralising.'

'Stuck in! So they are,' echoed the gardening lady. 'Just a regular
child's garden; but it looks well, doesn't it! Poor things!' she added,
stooping to touch a pansy with the caressing touch of the flower-lover;
'but if they were only left alone for a time, you know, they would soon
strike root.'

'Perhaps!' admitted the Secretary-to-Government dubiously, as they
drifted off to the tea-table where Mrs. Chris Davenant--who had
presented her bouquet with charming grace--was presiding, assisted by
Chris in his frock-coat with a flower in his buttonhole.

He was, in the eyes of many around him, at the pinnacle of prosperity,
for the Lieutenant-Governor, as he drank his tea, was talking to him
(as Vice-President); yet he did not look happy, perhaps because he
could catch a glimpse outside the tent of Swâmi Viseshwar Nâth,
standing apart from the ruck amid the little knot of high-caste Hindoos
who had brought him there with blandishings and bribes, as ocular
demonstration of the widespread sympathy and support the college was
receiving from all classes of the community, and who had promised to be
responsible for his bodily and spiritual immunity from defilement.

By and by, Chris knew, he would have to reckon with that figure, whose
brown, bare shaven head, and brown, bare legs, showed beyond a short
salmon-pink shirt hung with a rope of big brown beads matching the tint
of the skin. Such an inconceivable, incredible figure, seen behind that
of Mrs. Carruthers in her last Paris frock!

Yes! by and by Chris must make his choice. If it had only been for
himself, that choice, it would have been easy; but it was for Naraini
also----

_Naraini! Naraini! Naraini!_

The thought of her haunted him. Her very aloofness from such a scene as
this, the impossibility of imagining her in any part of it, held him
captive. No! there was no place here for such as she; not even in the
tent where a few of the more emancipated wives, and sisters, and
mothers of Shark Lane were, literally, on show to the elect; and
whither Lady Arbuthnot was at that very moment being conducted by an
elate but apologetic husband, who was saying with cheerful pomp--

'You will find them very stupid, since they have as yet enjoyed small
benefit from liberal education; but time will show.'

Time will show! Undoubtedly; it was showing results already in the
foundations of flowers through which the speaker was passing. Results
that were oddly despotic, beyond the expectation or control of those
who had planted that child's garden. The poppies, for instance, native
to the soil as they were, had given up the pretence of root; the exotic
pansies, on the other hand, winked boldly at the westering sun as at an
enemy vanquished.

It was fate, or something beyond fate, even here.

'It really,' remarked Sir George almost mechanically, 'is a memorable
occasion.'

'Very, indeed!' assented poor Chris, realising that it was one, at any
rate, that _he_ was not likely to forget.

'Excuse me!' put in the Commissioner, coming up hurriedly, 'but if I
may, sir, I should like to have a word with you!'

Sir George put down his cup, Chris moved off, and so did the two
officials, to converse earnestly as they circled round that toy model
of the College to come.

'I agree that it is unfortunate,' admitted Sir George, pausing at last,
a trifle impatiently, 'but I refuse to believe there is any immediate
likelihood of disturbance. It is inconceivable with _this_ going on.
Every one looks content, except perhaps the pensioners. Jehân Aziz,
I notice, is absent, but that is only decent--and one cannot wonder
at their annoyance.' Here his glance fell resentfully on Mr.
Lucanaster, who--the day being Sunday when no other entertainment was
available--had honoured the 'memorable occasion' with his presence.
'That has been a most unfortunate business,' he continued, frowning,
'but you will admit that the Nawâb has, on the whole, behaved well in
allowing both his wife's death and the girl's abduction--though, I
believe, Lucanaster is, as he says, out of that--to be hushed up.'

'Why should he allow it? that's what I want to know, sir,' argued the
Commissioner. 'There is something behind, depend upon it, and that is
never satisfactory with a native. The whole thing is fairly maddening,
just at a time when I wanted to feed the lot on soothing syrup--even
the fact that that culpable homicide case in cantonments has to be hung
up because the accused is ill with typhoid!'

'I wouldn't worry about it, though, Kenyon,' replied Sir George kindly,
'as I told Mr. Raymond this morning.'

'Raymond?' echoed the Commissioner eagerly. 'What did he say? His views
are always interesting.

The kindness vanished. 'Something of what you tell me. I disagreed with
him, as I disagree with you. However, to show you that I have perfect
confidence in your discretion, and also to back my own opinion--for,
mind you, if I thought there was the very slightest chance of your
having to use it, I would hesitate to give it--you shall have what you
ask for, sanction to wire direct to Fareedabad after you have seen what
the city is like for yourself, instead of returning to report. It
might, as you say, make the difference of catching the midnight mail;
though there really is no----' He shrugged his shoulders tolerantly.
'However, you had better have it in order,' he continued, taking out
his pocket-book and pencil with a certain elaborate patience, and
finally, with a return to his usual kindly manner, holding out a duly
signed and dated service-telegram. 'There!' he said, with a smile, 'I
carry forms about with me these times. Now, mind, this is a personal
favour for to-night only, Kenyon. I wouldn't do as much for any one
else in India, and it is only to sot your mind at ease; you can bring
it back to me when you come to report! And now, for heaven's sake, let
us get over this diploma business. I only wish I could come with you to
the city, but I must see this show through.'

So, while the hoofs of the Commissioner's horse, as he rode citywards
with the chief of the police and the magistrate who had brought the
disturbing rumours, echoed down the hard white road, which was laid so
evenly between a double row of mud roundels protecting lately planted
trees, the show--as Sir George had called it--began. It was rather like
a school-prize-giving, with men and women instead of children, for the
inevitable table (covered with the twopenny-halfpenny _phul-kâri_ made
for the European market, which, with its sham Orientalism, has on such
occasions replaced the honest red office baize) was set in front of Sir
George and Lady Arbuthnot. On it were three packed posies in green
glass tumblers, a pile of diplomas, duly made out in the recipients'
names, and another pile of sham Oriental brocade bags in which to keep
them.

'You belong, of course?' said the Secretary-to-Government, who was
standing apart during the opening speeches, to a sunburnt little lady
in a wide pith hat.

'Who, I?' she answered cheerfully. 'Oh dear, no--I am not often in at
headquarters, and I get on all right with my schools and that sort of
thing without it, so it doesn't seem worth while.'

'Perhaps not,' replied the man of headquarters, once more dubiously. It
was impossible for him to avoid that attitude towards much that had to
pass through his hands, so he set the doubtful point aside and listened
to the President's certainties as he enlarged on the great need for
closer ties of friendship and sympathy between the rulers and the
ruled, and the excellent results to be expected from meetings of this
kind. Then, of course, some one else spoke, and some one else. And
outside the lawn, enclosed with grass hurdles, and set with those
foundations of flowers, India was going on its way as it had gone,
untouched by change, for thousands and thousands of years; and two
women, furtively sweeping up a prize of horse-droppings on the
outskirts of the assemblage in order to make them into fuel, talked, as
they swept, of the amulet that had promised safety and brought death.

'Will you come, please, and form up in line,' said a steward, fussily
collecting his candidates among the listening circle. 'It will look
better, and save time.'

'Oh dear! I hope I shan't get put next a native,' murmured one little
lady, quite plaintively, as she obeyed.

The Secretary-to-Government, who overheard the remark, smiled; still
dubiously.

He smiled again, and so did some others, when Mrs. Chris Davenant came
up to receive a diploma which--it had occurred to her astuteness--might
be worked to her advantage in English society. Perhaps the reflection
that she had already shown her willingness to enter into social
relations with the other race was accountable for these smiles, but she
herself, and Chris too, were quite grave over it.

The latter, indeed, could not at the moment have been otherwise over
anything in heaven or earth; for not five minutes past, as he stood
dully indifferent on the edge of that circle of listeners, he had felt
a touch on the sleeve of his frock-coat; heard a low voice.

'To-night, Krishn, at the "Circling of the Lights" in Kâli's shrine. We
meet there, Her priests and His, to settle this matter. And thou must
be there also.'

He had not turned to see who the speaker was; he had known all too
well. For the moment he could have laughed aloud at the hideous
incongruity of it, with Viva standing there waiting for her diploma.

It was growing late. The light atoms were trooping in streams across
the western sky, crowding closer and closer into rays as they sought
shelter from the coming darkness in the sinking sun. There was a great
hush over all things, in which Grace Arbuthnot's voice, as she read out
the names of the recipients, could be distinctly heard. A hush, not a
silence: that cannot come within earshot of a great city.

'It has taken longer than I thought,' remarked one of the stewards,
yawning, when--at long last--the list came to an end.

'Gracious!' exclaimed Mrs. Chris--horrified at the watch Mr. Lucanaster
showed her sulkily--'we shall be late. Here, Chris! take this thing
while I put on my jacket.'

She thrust the diploma into her husband's hand, and left it there, as
she hurried into the dusk after Mr. Lucanaster, who had gone to search
for his dogcart.

'Jerry will be fast asleep, I expect,' said Grace Arbuthnot
regretfully, as she settled herself in the carriage beside Sir George,
'for I told Lesley to put him to bed early and give him some bromide.
Oh! there is nothing the matter with him, George! Only, you know, he
gets a little over-excited sometimes when he has a touch of fever, and
bromide sets him off to sleep nicely. I am sorry Lesley couldn't come
this afternoon--it must have been dull for her at home!'

Dull, however, was the last word Lesley Drummond would have applied to
that afternoon's experience. When she had followed Jack Raymond into
the telegraph-office at the station, she had simply obeyed orders, not
knowing in the least what was going to happen. He had, however. He had
walked straight up to the clerk, who had turned deadly grey-green at
his reappearance, and seized him by the throat; so that violence was
over, and the offender in collapse on the stool behind him, by the time
that Lesley had locked the door and looked round.

'Will you come here, please?' Jack Raymond said to her quietly. 'You'll
find a pencil and paper, I expect, on the table--and where is the
cipher telegram--oh, there!--that will do. Now, _baboo_, telegraph that
right, will you? Miss Drummond, if you will look over and tick the
letters off as he signals them, and _let me know when he makes a
mistake_, I'll--I'll settle it!'

He drew the revolver out of his pocket as he spoke, and stood to one
side to let those two pass to the instrument. 'Of course, _baboo_,' he
continued, 'the lady, who--unfortunately for you--can signal, could do
it herself, but I prefer that you should do what you are told. Do you
understand?'

The greyness and the greenness became almost deathlike. And Lesley
Drummond's colour forsook her also. Would it be a death-warrant she
would have to give by looking up and saying 'Wrong'? It might be.
His face--the face she was accustomed to see so careless--looked
stern enough now even for that. Yet it might be needful. This
treachery--there had not been time to exchange a single word about
it--might mean so much. But _he_ would know how much, and so be able to
judge.

Yet as she bent over the telegram, ticking the--to her--unmeaning
cipher off, letter by letter, she felt that her heart echoed that
uneven shudder of the handles; and she felt that Jack Raymond's eyes
upon her, as he watched for a sign, were like the eyes of fate. Would
she have to give that sign? And if so, what would happen? There was no
thought of pity _for the man_, in her mind, only a great dread, a
horrible apprehension, of this responsibility _for herself_. Yet it
must be so; she knew that, though the words, 'Don't--don't, please,
don't--oh! don't be a fool,' came constantly to the very verge of her
lips.

'Is that all?' asked Jack Raymond, when a longer pause than usual came.
She felt quite sick and giddy with relief as she nodded--for even now
she feared lest a look up might be construed into a sign.

'I ought to have told you-before you began--that his sort aren't
obstinate,' he went on observantly. 'There is no fear of--of that--Miss
Drummond! So now, please, for the station-master. And I think it will
be better to tell them not to wire back. There are evidently railway
men in this affair; besides, we mustn't risk being found out too soon,
must we? So "extreme caution" and "utmost secrecy" is our game--the
great thing is to get the troops started before we _are_ found out.'

Found out! Lesley had hardly realised that view of the matter as yet,
and the thought gave her a qualm. Yet she went on checking the
_baboo's_ signals and the brief answers that were asked for, just to
show that the orders were understood.

When that was over, Jack Raymond looked at the _baboo_ distastefully,
then turned to the girl--'I'm puzzled what to do with him,' he said in
French; whereat the _baboo_ seemed to give up all hope of escape and
sank in a dejected heap on the floor, rocking himself backwards and
forwards, and murmuring, 'I quite innocent man--oh, my lord! innocent
as suckling babes,' until Jack bid him be quiet.

'It is no use wasting time by trying to find out how far he is in it.
He would only lie, and I know enough for the present. As I told you
coming along, the danger is in the native regiment refusing to keep
order, if they are _asked_ to do so. That would be mutiny, and the
knowledge of the penalty would make the men reckless, and there
might--excuse me--be the devil of a row; What we want to do is to avoid
the necessity for asking them, by having other men available. They
won't be wanted before ten o'clock at earliest--the rush on the
hospitals was to be about midnight. The Fareedabad fellows should be
here, at latest, by nine--plenty of time! And if we let Sir George and
Co. know what we have done by, say, eight o'clock, that should do. It
is no use giving ourselves away too soon, and the thing we have to make
certain of is that the Fareedabad men do come up to time. Now, I could
tie the _baboo_ up and lock the door on him, but how am I to guard
against the likelihood of fellow-conspirators coming to look after him?
_They_ might get to sending telegrams; they may be sending them now
through the other office for all I know, in which case they must be
stopped here. At any rate, this man must have been on his guard against
any communication with Fareedabad, or he would not have been so sharp.
In fact, if we had gone to the Post Office, he would never have
repeated our message: for, as I told you, the only wire to Fareedabad
is the railway one. _That_, I expect, is why he was on duty. However,
I'm inclined to think we had best stop here, for a time, and make
certain. Of course, if one of us could stop and the other go, it might
be best. But I can't do without you--a message might come through any
moment and I should be in _his_ hands, the brute!--he thought himself
quite safe, and would have been, but for you! You locked the door,
didn't you?'

He walked over to it, however, to make sure of the fastening, and then
pushed the heavy office table across it. 'They may have duplicate keys,
and I don't want them inside,' he explained. Then he stood for a moment
looking at the girl--'I m awfully sorry; but you won't mind, I know. I
wonder if there is a cushion anywhere to make you more comfortable. No!
but a ledger will be better than the bare floor.' He took one or two
and placed them behind the table. 'Now, if you don't mind sitting down
there, where I can see you and nobody else can--even if we have to open
the shutter--that will do nicely.' Then he turned to the heap in the
corner. 'Now get up, _baboo-jee_,' he said politely, 'and resume your
duties; you can sit on that stool. If anybody comes along, keep quiet,
and don't open the shutter till I give the signal. Then you can
transact business as usual. But mind, if you try it on again, the
Miss-_sahiba_ will warn me, and I will--warn you.'

He laid the revolver ostentatiously on the table, then--borrowing the
_baboo's_ comforter, which was hanging on a peg--he sat down at the
table in a beautifully _baboo_-esque attitude with his legs twined
round his chair.

'Will I do?' he asked gravely of Lesley when he had finished making
himself a smoking-cap out of black transfer-paper, and she could not
help laughing softly.

'I assure you it is very serious, he said, smiling also; 'and I'm
awfully sorry to keep you; but you ought to get back in time for
dinner.'

'Dinner!' she echoed, a trifle hurt, 'surely dinner----'

'Is a minor matter? Never! Besides, I hope to God we are both going to
have a _good_ dinner to-night; for that means--success. There is no
earthly reason why there _should_ be a row, you know. If we see this
through, and the troops come up to time----' he paused, lost in his own
previsions. 'Well,' he said finally, 'we had better not talk. A
native's bare feet are more inaudible than our whispers, and it won't
do to be found out. So--steady it is for an hour or so.'

An hour! Lesley's heart sank after the first ten minutes. They seemed
interminable to her, seated on the ledgers behind the table. She could
just see Jack Raymond at the other end of it, his head down on his
crossed arms. Was he dozing? As likely as not; he was just that sort;
while her nerves were quivering. The action had been well enough; the
excitement of that had carried her with it; but now----? What if Mr.
Raymond's estimate of the danger had been excessive? He had once, long
ago, fired on a mob in too great haste. At least Government had thought
so. What had possessed her, in a moment, to trust his judgment
absolutely--to cast in her lot with his, as it were, unreservedly? She
blushed even in the darkness, that was fast obscuring all things, at
the thought----

'You had better light the lamp, _baboo_. There is one, isn't there? by
your desk,' came his voice calmly.

Then he was not asleep!

'And he was very kind. But if they were found out? If they asked her
why she had done this thing, what would she answer? What _could_ she
say to Grace Arbuthnot, who had been wiser; even though she had
loved----

The lamp flared up under the _baboo's_ trembling fingers and showed her
face.

'You poor child!' came his voice again, 'I'm bitterly sorry; but it
can't be long now; and--and let's hope for that good dinner!'

She was glad of the jesting finish, glad that the lamp went out this
time under those trembling fingers. When it flared up again she was
ready to be more cheerful. And it was an easier task after that, for
the deadly quiet passed and the thrill came into life again, making her
forget the question--What if they should be found out?--in the
possibility of being found out all too soon.

For some one tried the handle of the door hurriedly, called loudly on
Mohun Ditta to come out and report; then after a time departed with
curses.

'You had better open the shutter, _baboo_,' said Jack Raymond; 'and go
on, not exactly as if I wasn't here--that mightn't be safe under the
circumstances--but as if you were thinking of your pension.'

'Yes, sir,' bleated the _baboo_, 'I will do best endeavours to please.'

So silence fell again, to be broken by another step outside; clearly an
English step, making the listener at the table look up as the steps
died away.

'Here, _baboo_! send this off quick!' came an English voice; and Jack
Raymond had hard work not to look round.

But the wire was only to lay odds on a race in Calcutta; and even the
strain of listening for each unknown letter did not come to Lesley, for
the _baboo_ showed the adaptability of his kind, by reading out the
words loudly and saying, 'Is that right, sir?' to the sender.

'I hope so, _baboo_!' said the English boy with a laugh, 'or I shall be
stony broke!' So the steps died away once more.

'Only twenty minutes left!' remarked Jack Raymond as silence fell
again; but not for long. The first voice came back--this time to the
shutter--full of reproaches; and the frantic anxiety of the _baboo_ to
keep the conversation within bounds, and prevent anything absolutely
incriminating from cropping up, made one listener smile as he sat
pretending to copy way-bills into a ledger. And when the voice passed
on, and he turned to look, he laughed outright to see the wretched
creature mopping the perspiration off his forehead.

'Had about enough?' he began, then paused, for an imperative 'kling
kling' rang out from the electric bell.

'Asking if the line is clear,' said Lesley from her post, and Jack
Raymond rose and stretched himself.

'Then that's over! The train has reached Bahâna, and we can
go--and--and face the rest!' He held out his hand to help her to rise.

Face it! Could she? She hesitated, and at that moment a step sounded
outside, rapid, with a clink in it--the clink of spurs!

'Here, _baboo!_' said a guttural Northern voice. 'This for
dispatch--_be-rung_ (bearing) _Sirkâri_. Take it, fool--I have no time
to lose--and give receipt!'

There was a pause, then the clink of spurs passed again, and Jack
Raymond, who had slipped into his chair, crossed to the desk, looked
over the _baboo's_ shoulder at the telegram, which was in cipher, and
turned to Lesley smiling.

'Perhaps we shan't have to face it after all! They are sending to
Fareedabad off their own bat. Well! better late than never!' There was
a ring of bitterness in his voice.

'You mean----' began Lesley, who had crossed too, and now stood looking
down at the official signature below the cipher with a half
comprehension.

'That they will be a bit surprised when the troops turn up at nine; but
stay! we can dodge them a bit! _Baboo!_ what time was this telegram
given in?'

The baboo glanced at the clock. 'A quarter to eight, sir.'

'Nothing of the kind!' contradicted Jack Raymond in a tone of voice
which turned his hearer grey-green once more; 'it came in at--let me
see, what is the latest I can give it?--twenty minutes to seven. Fill
that in, _baboo_, and file it--not there, you fool!--below the other
one--_that_ didn't come in till half-past! You won't forget these
facts, will you? If you don't, I--I won't remember that you made a
_mistake in telegraphing_ at first. Do you understand? Now, Miss
Drummond, you should have just time to get home and dress for dinner.'

After he had pushed away the table and unlocked the door, she followed
him out into the still almost-deserted station without a word. A lamp
or two had been lit; at the farther end a group of coolies lounged;
closer in, a light showed from an office.

'I'll bring the cycles,' said Jack Raymond, and she passed out from the
semi-darkness and shadow into the clear dusk beyond, and stood waiting,
full of a vague amazement at herself and all things.

Behind the long line of sheds, the overhanging bastion belonging to the
Royal Pensioners rose dark against the sky, where the sunset still
lingered pale, flawless. But the risen moon turned the slanting
silhouette into a reality of brick and mortar, and the dark spots
crowning it to the figures of men.

And overhead, those specks in the pearl grey were kites; for the
'Sovereignty of Air'--delayed by the necessity for some of the
competitors appearing on the 'memorable occasion'--had not yet been
awarded. Five or six kites still floated for the supremacy, and many a
pair of dark eyes watched them, wondering which would soar the longest,
and gain the Kingship. Lateefa's most of all, as in his capacity of
kite-maker to the Royal Family he pulled in each kite as it sank, and
added it to the bundle of the vanquished. Only six kites left, and one
of them carried the sign of Kingship with a vengeance; for he had been
too late, as he had feared he would be, in his visit to the courtyard.
Six kites, and which of them held the ring?

No wonder his eyes never left those hovering specks that still defied
the falling dew.

But Lesley, looking at them also, scarcely realised that they _were_
kites. She was absorbed by her own mean miserable lack of backbone. She
had shrunk, she told herself, from the possibility of having to face
failure hand-in-hand, as it were, with Jack Raymond, and now she shrank
from losing her hold on his success. Or was it her hold on him--the man
himself?

'You will just have time if you scorch,' he said in cheery haste as he
came down the steps. 'I'm going round first to see if those in
authority know all I do. If they do, they can't help falling into line
with--with _our_ plans, and we can fall out! But I shall suggest that
if, by chance, the up-mail was a bit late, the Fareedabad people might
have taken advantage, etc. It will be as well to prepare the way for
the troops arriving, before they're supposed to have started!'--he
paused at the look on her face. 'At least I _can_ do so! Of course, if
you would rather _not_ back out--but, as far as I'm concerned, I think
it would be better to lie low, until the row's over, at any rate.
Afterwards, it may be necessary--or you might wish----'

She shook her head hastily as she mounted.

'Good-bye,' he said, holding out his hand; 'and--and--your way is
better, Miss Drummond!'

Better! As she sped through the warm peaceful dusk she felt herself a
fraud, for she could have cried because it was all over--because she
was losing her hold on him!

But everything was a fraud; the peaceful dusk most of all, since its
peacefulness held danger, perhaps death. Not unknown, unlooked--for,
but expected, appraised----

The gong was sounding as she raced up to the portico, a carriage stood
at the door, some guests for the Sunday dinner-party were stepping out
of it. She would be horribly late, and what excuse could she make to
Lady Arbuthnot?

None was needed. As she came out of her room again after an incredibly
short space of time, and ran down-stairs, she overtook Grace coming
from hers.

'Oh! Lesley,' she said, turning as she fastened her bracelet, 'I wanted
to see you, and I haven't had a moment since I came in. Sir George is
called out--the Commissioner met us on our way back. It is trouble in
the city--but George has sent for troops, and they say it will pass
over, as it was _taken in time_. But, of course, no one is to know--so
George, remember, has a touch of fever, and everything is to go on as
usual.'

'I 'm--I'm very sorry,' said the girl lamely.

'Sorry!' echoed Grace, 'I'm not sure if I am. I felt it would come, and
I'm glad, oh! so glad, that George was so prompt! It will be well over,
and it _must_ be so, for it was taken _in time_, you see. By the bye!
how was Jerry this afternoon? I only had time to glance in at the door
as I ran up to dress, but he didn't stir, so he must have gone to sleep
all right--Needham said he hadn't been talking.

Lesley, who had not had time even for that glance, felt relieved. 'Oh!
he was very happy. I put him to bed, and gave him what you left before
I went out on my cycle.'

The next moment she had passed into the circle of expectant guests in
the drawing-room, and was adding her apologies for being late to Lady
Arbuthnot's.

'Bicycling is a very wholesome exercise,' gravely remarked the young
assistant--in for a Saturday to Monday from an out-station--who took
her in to dinner.

'Very,' she replied as gravely, telling herself that a vertebrate
creature had some excuse for not being able to control its backbone,
when it was uncertain if it had to stand on its head or its heels.



                             CHAPTER XXIV

                        THE SOVEREIGNTY OF AIR


After Lesley had gone home to dinner, and Jack Raymond--in quaint
contrast--was off to make certain that a rising in the city was
expected before long, the station settled down once more into the
silence and slackness of between-train time on a Sunday evening. The
listless passengers to be, it is true, still sat in groups on the steps
outside, and every now and again some one--who ought to have been on
duty and was not--gave a look in, and went off again. Once, indeed, an
assistant station-master called at the telegraph-office perfunctorily;
but the _baboo_ had by that time recovered from his paralysis of
terror, and begun to see his own advantage clearly. True, he had so far
been in with the conspirators, as to have promised his collaboration,
should the authorities be enough on the alert to use the telegraph to
Fareedabad; but in doing so he had thought himself safe from detection.
He had not been so; but now he had once more a hope of safety that wild
horses would not have dragged him to lessen. Therefore the assistant
station-master went, as he had come, in ignorance of anything unusual.

Up on the turret of the bastion too, which abutted on to the river only
a few yards from the first bridge-pier, and which therefore gave full
on the station, the kite-flyers went on with their match undisturbed.
Jehân was there and Burkut Ali, together with most of the Royal Family;
the former jubilant because his kite was one of those still defying the
falling dew. And Lateefa was there also, his pile of vanquished kites
growing steadily. He sat on the ground beside it, his slender hands
crossed over his knees, his thin, acute face upturned. It had an odd
amusement on it, and every time he rose to pull in a fresh victim, his
high trilling voice quavered of 'oughts' and 'naughts.'

And on the bathing-steps, also, down on the other side of the terraced
track which ran between them and the turret, there was peace. They
were, in fact, emptier than usual at that hour; for the 'Circling of
the Sacred Lights' must be nigh at hand, since the priests were already
coming for the office; among them, Viseshwar Nâth----

The _baboo_ saw him, and _salaamed_ at the unusual sight, when--with
his whole-hearted betrayal of everything likely to be a personal
disadvantage--he walked out beyond the station to satisfy himself that
the signalman obeyed his instructions. For realising--as he sat on his
stool, still trembling with fear lest by any mischance the soldiers
should not come in time and he be blamed for it--that it was necessary
to have 'line clear' for the unexpected train, he had sought out the
right man, and told him that a special from the north had just been
wired to pass through Nushapore in half an hour on its way south. So he
stood watching, waiting to see the red light change to green on the
tower-pier, and catch the first echo of that change in the far distance
at the other end of the bridge. And as he stood, he beguiled his fat
body and mind from a faint remorse, by telling himself that, under the
circumstances, he was doing the wisest thing for his own party
also--that party of progress which had seized on the ignorant alarm of
the herd as a fitting time in which to record their own protest against
illegal tyranny. Since, if their plans had been blown upon, they were
better postponed.

He heaved a sigh of relief, therefore, when the signal 'Line clear, go
ahead' showed close at hand and far off. But at the same moment he
heard a step behind him, and turned hastily to see Chris Davenant.
Chris, still in his frock-coat and with a flower in his buttonhole;
with his wife's diploma of membership in the 'Guild for Encouraging
Intercourse between the Rulers and the Ruled,' also, in his pocket.
For he had not been home since he left the 'memorable occasion';
neither to the home in Shark Lane, nor the home in the city, nor that
betwixt-and-between home in the garden of plantains. In a way they all
claimed him, and yet they were all alike insufferable, impossible to
the man himself. Looking round his world, there was but one thing which
brought no sense of revolt with it; and that was his work. He felt that
if he could leave, not one thing, but all things behind him save this,
life might still be endurable.

And so, when the foundations of flowers (freshened for the time into a
promise of stability by the romance of moonlight) were deserted alike
by the Rulers and the Ruled, he had, almost mechanically, wandered off
to the scene of that work, and had ever since been strolling up and
down among the general litter and order of his new goods station. It
soothed him. The sight of the piles of brick that would fall into line
after his plan, the whole paraphernalia brought together to give form
to his idea--an idea which would take shape bit by bit according to
_his_ will as surely as the sun would rise--comforted him. And yet it
brought no strength for the moment that was coming, as surely.

Half-past eight! And at nine the Circling would begin. Half an hour
left--for it would not take him a minute to reach the temples--they
were close enough----

Close! God in heaven! they were too close! Was it possible to escape
from them? was there foothold for an honest man between them and the
Palace of Lies in which he had lived so long?

Was there? Only half an hour left for decision, and he had not argued
out the matter with himself at all. He had only felt.

He _must_ think; and that seemed impossible out here with the moonlight
showing each rib of the skeleton roof, each tier of bricks waiting for
the next.

And above those black girders--so strong, so tense--were the faint
stars. And among them--what?--kites!

He gave a bitter laugh, and told himself that he must get away from
fancies into facts. He would go into the little galvanised iron shed,
dignified by the name of the office, and there, with pen and paper
before him, think the matter out solidly. Yes! with pen and paper. He
had always been at his best with them, and the memory of many an
examination was with him, idly, as he walked across the line to the
station on the other side of it, to borrow a light. But the only
ones--in the telegraph and the assistant station-master's offices--were
behind closed doors; and so, seeing a figure at the end of the
platform, outlined against the distant dimness of bridge and river, he
went on towards it.

'I want a lamp, _baboo_; bring one over to my office, I have to look up
some figures,' he said curtly; for the excuse had brought back the
memory of something else that he had promised to see to in the works,
and Jân-Ali-shân's advice having come back also, made him speak more
after the manner of the master than usual.

That--and the frock-coat possibly--produced an instant and almost
servile obedience on the part of the _baboo_, whose mind was still in
that state of dissolution which crystallises round the least thread of
authority.

So, the lamp being brought, Chris sat down and tried to figure out
facts.

Taking it from the point of abstract Right and Wrong, to begin with----

He leant his head on his hand and thought; but five minutes after had
to pull himself up from a vague regret that already he had failed--he
had held back information--though he had promised Mr. Raymond, who had
always been so kind----

What a fool he was! What had these personal details to do with it?

He bent himself to his task again. Right and Wrong! Higher and Lower!
Yet when, by chance, he looked at the paper before him on which he had
been idly jotting down the heading of his subject, it was not 'Right or
Wrong,' 'Higher or Lower,' that he saw. It was 'Naraini'!

He stood up then and faced himself; and her! He _could_ marry her--Viva
would not mind--she could not help it, anyhow, she had taken the risk!
What if he _did_? And then--then went back on the priests!--then
chose----

For a moment he stood tempted, as he had never been tempted in his life
before.

And then the door burst open, and the _baboo_, stuttering, blubbering
in his haste, almost fell at his feet.

'Oh, sir, come! You are nearest in authority. Come and issue order
sharp. You are master, sir! Stop them, or this poor devil of _baboo_ is
lost. Issue order, sir, and stop them from the bridge!'

'The bridge!' echoed Chris, completely at fault, 'what bridge?'

'Drawbridge, sir,' almost shrieked the _baboo_, 'and express train
coming _instanter_. Oh! what can do? Oh! this poor devil, this poor
innocent devil!'

He was grovelling now, and Chris bade him stand up and speak Urdu,
almost as Jack Raymond had bidden Govind. But as _he_ listened to the
_baboo's_ words, each one, each phrase did not translate itself into a
definite aspect of the one central fact that had to be reckoned with;
and so, when the tale ended in fresh blubbers, he was not ready to
act--he had to think! The very keenness of his intellectual
apprehension--claimed clear perception of all points, and he hesitated
as he recapitulated them.

Trouble expected in the city--ah! about the amulets, no doubt--why had
he not spoken? Troops sent for to Fareedabad, and coming sooner than
the authorities expected. How could that be? Coming in a few moments,
and the fact of their having been sent for leaking out through the
second telegram, the Commissioner's telegram! Why had there been two
telegrams?

'Ob, Lord God!' moaned the _baboo_, reverting to English at this
question, 'because this poor devil of a _baboo_ one fool! Yet doing
duty, sir--getting line clear, go ahead, all serene till _Kuzai_
fellows come bribing signalman for midnight train, so discovering
special, beat this poor body to bruises--Oh, sir! issue orders! issue
orders!'

Chris, in a whirl, stood aghast. Issue orders? What orders?

'Yes, sir! Ah! come and see, sir, and issue orders!' moaned the _baboo_
again.

Come and see? Well! he could at least do that! He dashed out at the
door, and, followed breathlessly by the _baboo_, cut across the line.
As he did so a figure, crouching by the telegraph-office, ran towards
the bridge end of the station. In the moonlight he saw the man's face,
and recognised him as one of his butcher's gang.

He pulled up short, the consciousness that _this_ was something in
which he could be no mere onlooker, but one in which his part must be
played as that man's superior officer, coming to him. And as he paused,
looking down the narrowing ribbon of steel, he gave a quick gasp of
comprehension. All lay silent, peaceful, but against the dark shadow of
the pier-tower a darker shadow was rising, and below it that narrowing
ribbon of steel ended sharp, square, as if cut off with a knife.

The drawbridge was being raised!

Yet above it the green light of safety, the signal '_Line clear, go
ahead_' shone bright, and was echoed from the faint moonshine and the
deepening dark over the river.

And troops, in a special train, were almost due. At the very moment,
indeed, a sudden ringing of an electric bell from the telegraph-office
could be heard distinctly in the silence. The sound seemed to
finish the _baboo_; he squatted down on the rails, murmuring, 'Oh,
flag-station now! Oh, coming _instanter_! Oh, please, master, issue
orders!'

No! not orders; something beyond orders surely! Who was it--was it he
himself in a different life?--who had been through this before, with
some one who had said, '_But we don't let 'em. No, sir! Two men, if
they was men, 'ud keep that pier a Christian country for a tidy time_.'

But he was only one, for that thing at his feet was not a man! The old
north-country contempt for the down-country swept through Chris as
fiercely as contempt for the east sometimes sweeps through the west;
as, no doubt, it sweeps through the east for the west!

'How many were there?' he asked swiftly. 'Of the gang, I mean.'

'Too many,' moaned the _baboo_; 'oh, sir, too many for one poor man.
Therefore _vis et armis_ forced into telling truth on compulsion
because, they knowing already of train and troops, little knowledge
became dangerous thing causing grievous hurt.'

'How many?' reiterated Chris fiercely; 'don't "men in buckram"!' He
could not help the quotation, even then.

Five or six! And the man who had run forward was one, left as a scout,
of course. And that must be another in the shadow of the city wall,
close to the gap. Say three or four, then, on the bridge-pier; and
behind him? He turned citywards, then realised that if--if the _pier
was to be held as a Christian country_, it would not matter how many
men were on this side of the drawbridge, provided those three or four
on the pier could be reckoned with.

If! The next moment, still uncertain what he should do to gain his
object, yet intellectually certain of that, he had run along the
platform, swung himself over the low parapet of the retaining-wall, and
dropped on to the bathing-steps, the top of which was here not six feet
below the level of the line. And below him again the temple of _Mai_
Kâli rose out of the levels of the river; rose from the sunken ridge of
rock, on which, farther out in the deeper stream, the drawbridge tower
was built; the ridge along which he must pass, since he was no swimmer,
if he was to gain that iron ladder.

There were lights in the temple; twinkling lights. In his headlong rush
downwards he could see the many-armed, blood-red idol between the
figures of those circling round it with the sacred lamps. And that
compelling clang of the temple bell was in his ears. Yet he did not
pause. He was on the threshold, when it was barred by Viseshwar Nâth.

'Not yet, Krishn! Not yet! The penance first, the vow first!'

'It is not that,' gasped Chris, forgetful of the possibility, nay, the
probability, that what to him was dire misfortune might be to this man
a very different thing. 'It is treachery, murder! a train is due; they
have raised the drawbridge. Look! and let me pass.'

The drawbridge! Half a dozen worshippers grouped about the plinth heard
the words and looked bridgewards; so did the Swâmi, and seized his
advantage.

'Take thy shoes from off thy feet, Krishn Davenund,' he called in a
louder voice, 'and vow the vow first!'

The circling priests within paused at the sound, and crowded to the
temple door; the scattered worshippers, curious at the strange sight,
closed in round the figure in the frock-coat, the figure in the
saffron-shirt.

Yet there was something stranger to come. For from within, pushed to
the front at a sign from the Swâmi, came two more figures: a widow, her
face hidden in her white shroud, a slender slip of a girl with hers
hidden in her bridal scarlet.

Chris fell back from the sight with a cry.

'Choose quick, Krishn!'

Choose! How could he choose, when behind those shrinking figures which
meant so much to him, he could see that which, in a way, meant more.
For, hidden in the arched shadows of the temple, wafted to him in the
perfume of incense and fading flowers--yes! symbolised even in the
red-armed idol--was the great Mystery of Right and Wrong, Higher and
Lower, which had haunted him all his life. It was years since he had
stood so close to these eastern expressions of a world-wide thought,
and the old awe came back to him at the sight.

Choose! How could he choose between old and new--even between Viva and
Naraini; were they not the same? were they not both----

'Now then, guv'nor! wot 'ave you lost this time?' came a cheerful
voice, and with it the sound of shod feet running down the steps. 'You
jes' put a name to wot you want done, an' I'm blamed if the best A1
copper-bottomed as ever was 'all-marked----'

Jân-Ali-shân paused, for Chris, with another cry--a cry that had a ring
of appeal in it like a lost child's--had caught at the newcomer's hand
desperately, while he pointed with his other to the gap.

'The bridge!' he cried in frantic haste. 'Look! the gang, the _Kuzais_
have got at it; there is a train signalled; a train----'

He was going on, but that was enough for Jân-Ali-shân. More than
enough! He had wrenched his hand away, turned to look for some weapon,
and found one. Found it in the soda-water bottle closely netted round
with twine, prolonged into a cord handle, which pilgrims carry so
often, and which hung on the wrist of one close by him.

The next instant it was whirling--a veritable death-dealer--round his
head, as he dashed forward among the little knot of people outside the
temple, and the whole strength of his splendid voice rose echoing over
the steps in a triumphant chant--


             'I was not born as thousands are.'


There was a free path so far--


             'Where God was never known.'


He paused here in the narrow entry to say, 'Stand back, my darlin's, we
ain't got no quarrel with you'; and then, facing the priests inside, to
call back--

'Now for it, sir!--use your fists on the _Ram-rammers_ if they tries to
stop yer!'


             'And taught to pray a useless prayer.'


The words were broken a bit by blows, an oath or two, yells and
desperate scuffling, until--breathless but continuous--the chant rose
again among the shadows and the incense--


             'To blocks of wood and stone!'


Here Jân-Ali-shân, clear of all his adversaries save the Swâmi, who
stood with upraised hands barring the way before the image of _Mai_
Kâli, pushed the former aside and aimed a passing swing at the latter.

The crash of a fall mingled with his gay 'Yoicks forre'd! gone away!
gone away!' and the next moment, closely followed by Chris, he was
through the temple and waistdeep in the water beyond.

'Mum's the word now, sir!' he whispered, when--after having given Chris
a heft up to the lowermost rung of the iron ladder, which hung on the
pier--he swung himself up by sheer strength, and then paused for
breath. 'How many on them are there, I wonder?'

'Not more than four or five,' whispered Chris, as he climbed. The man
behind him made no answer, but Chris could hear him mutter the old
complaint--'It don't give a fellow a chanst--it don't, really.'

So, stealthily, they were on the bridge in the rear of the tower.

'Like a thief in the night, sir,' whispered Jân-Ali-shân approvingly.
'Of that day an' hour, as it say in 'Oly Writ--that's the ticket. An'
you lay a holt on somethin' 'andy, sir; even a broken brick's better
nor trustin' to Providence--there's a biggish bit on the track, sir.
An'--an' don't waste time killin'; it's the bridge we want, not the
butchers. Now for it!'

Were there four or five of them, or fifty, in the almost pitch darkness
of the little inner room? Chris never knew. It was a confused struggle,
short, sharp, silent; till, suddenly, John Ellison's voice called--

'That'll do, sir! I've bagged three on 'em, and can't find no more. Now
to business!'

He was out as he spoke in the dim light to lay his ear to the rails.
And as he listened, he smiled to see a couple of figures scudding for
bare life along the single rails as only coolies can do, in hope of
shelter from the coming train in the safety, half-way across the
bridge.

''Ave to be nippy, my sons,' he remarked affably as he rose, more
leisurely, and, from habit, dusted the knees of his trousers as he
turned to look stationwards.

But what he saw there made him stop the dusting and swear under his
breath.

A little crowd had gathered on the farther side of the gap; a hostile
crowd armed with sticks and stones. And with more!

For a bullet whizzed past between him and Chris, who had followed him
out, and the sharp report of a rifle roused the echoes of the city
wall; and roused, also, a sudden sense of strain, of anxiety, in
thousands within the wall; thousands till then ignorant that
disturbance was in the air, or at least that it _could_ come so soon!

Even on the turret, amid the schemers and plotters ready--perhaps
inevitably--to fall in with any quarrel, this was so; for something
else had been in the air, absorbing the attention. Some of those there
had remarked, it is true, on the raising of the drawbridge, but others
had been ready to tell of the day, not long ago, when it had been so
raised and lowered many times without cause, and without result.

So the attention of all had reverted to the two kites which now
remained overhead among the faint stars. They were Jehân's and--since
little Sa'adut had resigned his claim--that of the next Heir to All
Things or Nothingness; a coincidence which, by its hint of fatefulness,
had kept interest keener than usual. Even Lateefa, beside his
balloonlike bundle of the vanquished, was beginning to wonder if Aunt
Khôjee had been true prophet, and Jehân's Creator meant to give him
back his honour?

But at that rifle-shot, all else was forgotten and all crowded to the
parapet.

'Back, sir! back!' shouted Jân-Ali-shân, roused beyond silence, as he
grasped a fresh danger; and the crowd, recognising the new turn of
affairs, broke silence also in a deep-toned murmur, on which a shriller
sound rose sharply--the distant whistle of an engine. And Chris, as he
dashed back to shelter, felt a faint quiver in the linked ribbon of
steel beneath his feet.

'She's on the bridge, sir!' said Jân-Ali-shân--there was breathless
hurry in his voice, but absolute certainty, as he felt hurriedly in his
pocket for a match--'but we must wait a bit: if we looses off till the
last minute, them Kusseyes'll swarm over. Oh! jes' wait till I gets a
holt of them--sneakin' cold chisels won't be in this job!' He had the
match lit, his watch out. ''Arf a minute gone, say, an' it takes a cool
four minute on the bridge slowin' her off, an' _she_'--he laid his hand
on the lever crank of the hydraulic lift--'kin do it in fifty seconds;
two and a 'arf left, say, for it won't do to miss the train this
journey--but you look 'ere, sir--you give the time-creep round to the
back and keep your h'eye on the distance-signal-when she falls sing
out, and I'll'--he clasped the crank tighter-'do Sandow! And,' he added
to himself as Chris disappeared, 'you can talk your _ikbally_ rot all
you know, to-night, you can, you fools! for it won't come up to
sample--no! it won't.'

Then, as if the reminiscence had brought another with it, he began
softly on the song which he had sung that day on the bridge. The song
of surplice-choir days. He had learned it with an organ accompaniment;
and a sound was to be heard now, growing louder and louder, that like a
deep organ note seemed to set the whole world a-quivering, even the
very ground beneath his feet--a rumble and a roar, with a rhythmic
pulse in it.

'They are trying to get a rope over,' shouted Chris. 'In two
places--from the bastion as well.'

Jân-Ali-shân's hand left the crank for a second. He was out at the door
looking, not citywards, but bridgewards. And then he laughed, laughed
in the very face of a monstrous form with red eyes and a flaming mane
coming steadily at him.

'They'll 'ave to be nippier than they is general,' he called back, his
hand once more waiting for its task, as he continued his song--


             'Trees where you sit----
              Shall crowd into a sha----a----a----'


The dainty little runs, mellow, perfect, paused when the wire
connecting the distance-signal with the station thrilled like a
fiddle-string as the signal fell, and Chris Davenant's 'Now!' followed
sharply, but they went on again in the darkness, backed by that growing
rumble and roar.

'Is it working? I can't hear the water! My God! if it isn't--what is to
be done?'

The brown hand that had found a place on the crank also trembled
against the white one.

'Do? We done our best, sir; an' she's a lydy, so the odds is fair--


                      "aa--a--a--aa--a--
       Trees whe--re you--sit, shall crowd into--o--a--shade.'"


Done our best! The words, blending with the tender triumph of those
final bars, were in Chris Davenant's ears but a few seconds, yet they
brought a strange dreamy content with them, till Jân-Ali-shân, almost
before the last note he had learned in his white-robed days ended,
burst into a regular yell of relief, as the resistance on the crank
lessened, ceased.

'She's down, or nigh it! Now for the fun, and the fightin', sir! Now to
see them blamed Kusseyes!----'

Clear of the clamour of confined sound in the little room, his voice
rose in a laugh, as, to gain a standpoint on the wider ledge beyond
the archway, he dashed, followed by Chris, right in front of the
thundering engine, which was already so close, that the glare of its
red eyes shone full on their reckless figures, as the scream of the
danger-whistle rang out shrill and sharp.

Not in warning to them only. Not even to the crowd in front; _that_ had
parted, as it were, mechanically, leaving the steel-edged ribbon of
rail in its midst, clear to the station. It was for the long links of
carriages behind, out of which heads were already craning to catch the
first glimpse of the fun and the fighting to which they had been
summoned so hastily.

For there was danger ahead to every one behind. The girders of the
drawbridge were still slightly aslant; they had barely closed into the
sockets, and beside these a group of half-naked figures were busy.

Over what? Jân-Ali-shân guessed in a second that they were trying to
prevent a further closing, they were trying to derail the train, and he
was off like an arrow across the narrow bridge, hidden by the clouds of
steam that rose in an instant from the curbed monster, as the brakes,
the valves, were jammed home hard in the effort to stop it.

Chris could not understand the cry that came back through the
steam--'Drop it, you devils! them's _my_ cold chisels'; but, as ever,
he followed on the other's heels, half-scalded, half-deafened; followed
blindly until in the clearer air beyond--as yet!--that snorting,
sliding, resistless fate behind him, he saw that the group about the
sockets had scattered at the mere sight of that reckless onslaught.

All but one figure--the figure of the biggest bully of the butchers'
gang, Jân-Ali-shân's sworn foe--that, with a yell of absolute hate, had
run out as recklessly to bar the way.

Jân-Ali-shân gave a shout as he closed with it, for the man was a noted
wrestler--'None o' yer buttin's an' booin's; fight _seeda_, or it
ain't----'

There was no time for more words, since this was no place for a
wrestling match--this narrow platform with the river below it, and
scarcely room upon it for a man with steady nerves to stand slim and
let a fierce shadow with a screaming voice pass in a roar and a rattle.

And such a fierce shadow half hidden in the steam fog was sliding on,
battling against the curb, thundering, shaking the track with brakes
down! So close! Dear God! so close!

Chris gave a desperate cry of fear and courage--but was beside those
two.

And so was the red glare of the angry eyes seen through the steam
clouds; so was the scream of the whistle heard above the roar and the
rattle.

'Now then, sir, heave!


             "_Yo-ho--yo-ho, ho! yo-ho, ho!_"'


The engine-driver, craning from his cab, heard so much beyond that fog
of steam. The officers in the first carriage heard a brief--

'Keep your head, sir, and git a holt of me.'

Only those voices; no more. Then everything was lost in an awful
grating sound--a sound of iron grinding iron to powder--a jerk, a
wrench, a dislocation; a shock that shook the very air and made the
very water in the river ebb and flow as the piers, the retaining-wall,
quivered to their foundations.

But the next instant the rocking engine recovered its smooth slide, and
the carriages were sliding after it over the girders it had jammed
home--sliding on to the station, to safety, to the fun and the
fighting!

And yet a yell of horror rose from the watching crowd. Not because the
onward sliding which left the bridge free of steam clouds left it free
also of all trace of those wrestling figures. That was only to be
expected, since, if they had not fallen victims to the steam-devil, the
water must have claimed them.

It was because the river was claiming something else, and the bastion,
cracked so long, had yielded to its importunity at last--yielded
perhaps to the shock, perhaps to that reckless rush of spectators to
one side, perhaps to fate! And with a silence, awful in comparison with
the clamour around it, it was sliding outwards, downwards. Sliding so
slowly that it was well on its way ere an answering yell of terror rose
from the figures upon it. Sliding so softly--brick holding fast to
brick--that the final rending was almost unheard in the sound of
hissing water closing in on water.

So, for an instant, nothing remained except two kites whirling
distractedly at the swift downpull on their strings, until, giving up
the battle, giving in to fate, they yielded the Sovereignty of Air and
sank slowly into the river.

By this time, however, some of the claimants to that sovereignty had
come to the surface again, shrieking for help, and reaching round for
anything to support them.

Lateefa, luckily for him, found that bundle of the vanquished close to
his hand, and managed with its help to get a grip upon a jag of wall.
Luckily, for something had struck him on the back as he went down.

But there was no sign of Jehân or Burkut Ali; no sign even of those
other two whom the river had claimed.

And none came to seek for one; for none knew rightly what had happened
or who the bridge-savers had been, save the bridge-wreckers, and they
had fled. Most of the crowd, therefore, drifted back to the station or
the city. The station that was full of the rattle of rifles being
shouldered, of the tramp of feet falling into line.

'How on earth you got here so soon, I can't think,' said a
police-officer who had ridden up in hot haste at the news of some
disturbance on the bathing-steps. 'The up-mail? By Jove! what luck! It
will settle the whole "biz," I expect.'

And in the city voices were saying much the same thing.

If the troops were there, ready for the first sign, what was the use of
making it? Let the rabble rise if they chose. Let fools commit
themselves. Wise men would wait a better opportunity.



                             CHAPTER XXV

                          SECRET DESPATCHES


Nushapore, however, was not all wise; very far from it. Out of its two
hundred and odd thousand souls, there were some to whom the possibility
of disturbances meant a long-looked-for opportunity of indulging--with
comparative safety--in criminal habits. And there were many also, who,
without any special desire for evil, regretted the diminishing chance
of a night's excitement and amusement.

At first some of these found solace in the catastrophe at the
kite-flyers' bastion; though, after a time, this proved to be less
disastrous than might have been expected, for, out of all those who
were known to have been on the building, only two or three were
even injured. Jehân Aziz, it is true, had disappeared, but even
in the first knowledge of this, the fact brought scarcely a word of
regret--especially in the Royal Family. It felt vaguely that it stood a
better chance without him, even though the next heir was not close
enough to that dead dynasty to hope for the practical recognition of an
increased pension from Government!

Neither did the sight of Burkut Ali being carried off to hospital on a
stretcher distress it much. But it had a word or two of encouragement
and sympathy for Lateefa who, still clinging to his kites, refused all
help as he sat propped against a wall waiting for the numbness to pass
from his legs--as it must pass, since he had no pain.

Of Jân-Ali-shân and Chris no one thought on that side of the bridge;
for the simple reason that the disaster to the bastion absorbed all
tongues for a time, and, in addition, beyond the fact that there had
been some fighting for the bridge, no one knew anything.

In the station, also, there was no one to explain what had happened.
The _baboo_, who might have told what he knew, had, in that interval of
suspense, discreetly fled to his lodgings in the city, where he was
trying to concoct _alibis_.

It was only on the bathing-steps that anything definite was known, and
there a curious consternation had followed immediately on the rapid
raid made by those two through the temple. For, when the brief tumult
of resistance had passed with their passage, the only trace of it that
remained was fateful, beyond words, to the superstitious eyes which saw
it.

Swâmi Viseshwar Nâth, the high priest of Shiv-_jee_, lay with crushed
skull on _Mai_ Kâli's very lap! His blood was pouring out upon her
altar; yet, despite the blow which all had seen, despite the crash
which all had heard, not one of her many widespread arms was injured!

Here was a miracle indeed! For what had been her words on that golden
paper which she had flung, in defiance as it were, into the temple of
her rival?

'_Yea! though they smite me, there shall be Blood upon Mine Altar_.'

And there was. The blood of the arch-detractor of Her Supremacy.

A miracle indeed! to be affirmed or denied to the exclusion of all
other thoughts.

And so, on those wide steps leading down to the river, the newcomers,
hastening thither at vague rumours of strange doings--stranger even
than fixed bayonets at the city gates--were caught in the conflict of
opinions and held captive by the question--

'Would _Mai_ Kâli stay the plague now, as She had promised to do when
there was blood upon Her altars, or would She not?'

In other words, dare men--mere men--take the remedy into their own
hands, and risk offending the Great Goddess by lack of faith?

Would it not be better to wait a bit and see what happened? So, coming
and going on the steps--coming in fierce haste, going in awestruck
doubt--men asked themselves if their part was to wait and watch. But,
inside the temple, two poor souls crouched in a corner knew what their
part as women must be; and therefore, after a time of fruitless
waiting, they stole out hand-in-hand and went back to the city, back to
their empty house, realising but one thing: that the stray sheep which
had been lost and found, had gone astray once more; had defied the
priests, perhaps killed his _guru_.

And they had left that house empty with such joy, believing they were
to bring their dear one back to it! And now, to whom were they to go
for advice; for weddings and burials--since such things must be--if
Viseshwar Nâth was dead? Viseshwar who had known all things concerning
the family? So they wept, not knowing that his death made future
happiness for one of them possible.

The city itself was by this time like a hive of bees about to swarm,
which is disturbed by a finger-touch. People hurried hither and thither
causelessly; excited, anxious, yet harmless; for those who had meant to
give the cue for action hung back at the sight of the soldiers. Yet
many of these would-be mischief-makers had not quite given up hope, and
their unwillingness to do so, strangely enough, was in inverse ratio to
their hope of achieving any good by raising a riot. For, while every
minute that passed showed the more reasonable, the more interested,
that wisdom lay in postponement, those who had very little stake or
thought in the matter beyond a general desire to kick over the traces,
grew more and more desperate as the opportunity for this seemed to be
slipping from them. Govind the editor was one of these, and,
gravitating naturally to his like, found himself after a time in one of
the bands of discontents who were ready for any trivial mischief that
might come handy. But as yet, even these had no objective.

And so, after all, Jack Raymond had time for a late dinner. And he ate
a good one too, in ignorance--like every one else except a few of the
would-be train-wreckers who discreetly held their tongues--of the real
history of the drawbridge. For the steam fog had effectually hidden all
the heroism of that struggle for it. Had hidden all things save the
voices in the fog; save that almost incredible chanting of a sailor's
chorus heard by the engine-driver, those few words, 'Keep your head,
sir, and take a holt of me,' half-heard by some of the officers.

And Sir George Arbuthnot, too, ate his dinner at the club. He did not
make so good a one, however; and when he had finished it, hurriedly, he
paused beside the table where Jack Raymond was finishing his,
leisurely, to say with rather elaborate point, 'So you were right after
all, Mr. Raymond!--and--and I was wrong--should, I expect, have been
still more wrong, if Kenyon here had not insisted on telegraphing to
Fareedabad.' He looked as he spoke at the Commissioner, who had come in
for a mere bite and sup.

Jack Raymond rose, feeling that he liked the man better than he had
ever done before; feeling for the first time that he was glad he had
helped.

'I don't know, sir,' he said cheerfully, 'about the right and the
wrong. I happened to hear. But it was uncommonly lucky the troops
managed to nick the up-mail, or they might have been a bit late. It
must have been a near shave!'

'Very!' put in the Commissioner with a slightly puzzled frown. 'I don't
know exactly how the deuce they did it, but that's a detail for the
present. Now, sir, if you will write that note to relieve Lady
Arbuthnot's anxiety, we can start back to the hospital--though really
there is no necessity for it--the danger is over.'

Jack Raymond shook his head. 'Not till daylight--it never is. I don't
mean for the hospital. If nothing happens at midnight, nothing will;
but there are lots of other games--at least I should fancy so,' he
added as he sat down again, resuming his dinner and his indifference.

'That is one of the most able men in India!' remarked the Commissioner
to Sir George; 'it is a thousand pities he allowed----'

And then, hurriedly, he changed the subject. It would have been less
significant if he had not done so, and Sir George felt inclined to ask
him to finish the sentence. But even that defiance would have been
significant in its turn, so he gave in resignedly to the awkwardness of
the situation--for he could not help feeling it was awkward--and sat
down to write his note to Grace before returning to the city.

She had been hoping for some message all the evening, and Lesley
realised how great a strain the waiting for news had been on Lady
Arbuthnot's nerves when she saw the sudden relief the note brought with
it.

Till then the Sunday dinner-party had been unusually dull. Now, just as
people were beginning to wonder if they had not ordered their carriage
to come a trifle late, a new life seemed to spring up. The hostess
herself started music by going to the piano, and as she did so, she
found time for a whisper to Lesley--'It's all right! The troops caught
the up-mail and came back in it--sharp work, wasn't it? and George says
everything is settling down, but I am not to expect him home till one
or two. Oh! I feel so happy!'

She looked it, and--good singer as she was--she sang as few had ever
heard her sing. Lesley for one, who listened to the quaint little
French _chansons_, half-laughter half-tears, and the pretty,
comic-opera trills and runs with a new perception of the woman who sang
them--the woman who was, as a rule, so unlike most of her sex in her
calm intelligence.

And now? Now every man in the room was crowding round the piano. She
was holding them there by something that was not beauty or
intelligence, not by her looks or her singing, but by the woman's
desire to have and hold the admiration of her world by making it depend
on her for pleasure--the desire which made Eve share her apple with
Adam!

Yes! that was it! The woman's desire to have and to hold for herself
alone.

But while the dinner-party at Government House had taken a fresh
lease of life under Grace Arbuthnot's guidance, there was another
dinner-party going on in Nushapore, where the good wine of high spirits
had come first and the ditch-water of dulness last. This was at Mr.
Lucanaster's; and it had been the probability of being late for this--a
supreme effort on his part towards something preeminently jolly--which
had made him sulky at being delayed by the 'memorable occasion.' For,
to begin with, more time would be required for dressing than usual,
since the party was to be a _réchauffé_ of the Mutiny Lancers. It was
to be a Mutiny dinner; and for the first time Mrs. Chris had consented
to act as hostess and sit at the top of Mr. Lucanaster's table; Mrs.
Chris in that bewildering costume of pink roses and white shoulders.

And everything had been perfect. The dinner worthy of a _chef_, the
champagne iced enough to cool the tongue, not enough to lessen its
sparkle. And yet, at eleven o'clock, the guests were beginning to
leave. At half-past, Mrs. Chris--there was no mistake in her costume
either--was eyeing Mr. Lucanaster with the amused superiority to the
trivialities of sentiment or passion which--as she had always told poor
Chris--made her absolutely capable of taking care of herself in any
situation.

'No, thanks! I don't want another cigarette, and I'd rather not have a
cherry-brandy before I go back; but you can tell the bearer to tell my
_ayah_ to bring my cloak and overshoes in here. I told her to come and
wait.'

Mr. Lucanaster swore under his breath.

'Oh! I don't think it was quite so bad as that,' she continued
cheerfully, ignoring the palpable cause of his annoyance. 'It really
was quite jolly at first, and nothing could have been better done. It
was that little fool Jones with his cock-and-bull story of a row in the
city; and then the dresses, you know, made one a bit shivery, thinking
of the Mutiny. It did--even me--and I'm not that sort. But you couldn't
help that, you know--your part of it was perfect.'

He looked at her grimly, his determination not to be played with in
this fashion growing.

'Not quite!' he answered. 'There was yet one thing lacking; one thing
that I had meant to have secured--only I could not--you were so late in
coming.'

'I?' she asked curiously. 'Was it something to do with me, then?'

'With the perfection of your dress--it needs something!'

She coloured up pink as her roses, and gave a hurried glance at a
mirror opposite. 'I do not see it,' she said angrily.

'Yes, you do!' he persisted, looking in the mirror also. 'There is
something wanted _here_.' He pointed to her white throat, and in the
mirror his hand pointed to it also.

'Ah'h,' she sighed thoughtfully.--'Yes! pearls--but I had no real ones.
And--and I can stand paste--but somehow sham pearls----!'

'No! not pearls! No! never! Not milk-and-water pearls!' he protested.
'Not with roses there'--he pointed to the glistening shoulders--'and
roses there'--the hand in the mirror seemed almost to touch the
glistening hair.--'It should be roses here. And--and I had some pink
topazes--a bagatelle--you might have bought them from me if you would
not take them as a gift. Bah! a trifle!--just drops of pink dew hanging
from a fine gold chain----'

Her hard blue eyes grew covetous; she drew in her breath. 'Drops of
pink dew hanging from a fine gold chain!--How--how perfectly delicious!
And cheap too--oh! do let me see them.'

'Why not, madame? Are they not in my office room; but'--he looked at
her and laughed--'will you not smoke _one_ cigarette while you inspect
them?'

She looked at him sharply in her turn, then laughed too. He had been
clever! She rather admired him for it; though, if he thought he had
gained any advantage, he was mistaken.

'Why not, monsieur?' she answered, coolly helping herself from the box.
'As I have to see the topazes, I may as well smoke while you are
fetching them.'

She threw herself into an arm-chair and nodded at him. But when the
pink topazes came, as they did come to her, after a minute or two, she
stood up again in the intensity of her admiration. There were other
jewels in the quaint little Indian casket which, with an ill grace, he
had brought back with him from the office;--among them a string of
remarkably fine pearls--but she never even looked at them. The topaz
dewdrops absorbed her. He had been right! They were the one thing
wanting.

The only question that remained was, briefly, how much she could afford
to give for them.

As she stood calculating, as only women of her type can calculate, Mr.
Lucanaster watched her with an easy smile, thinking what a curious hold
little stones--which to him only meant so much money--had upon
humanity. There was a ruby, for instance, in that very casket, which
had taken him three years to wile away from a minor member of the Royal
Family. Then there was the emerald----

A sudden sound of distant voices echoed through the stillness of the
night, and Mrs. Chris looked up from the pink dew, startled.

'I wonder what that is?' she said, pausing. 'I wish that man Jones
hadn't told his foolish tales. He has made me nervous, quite nervous.'

Mr. Lucanaster moved a step nearer. 'You needn't be afraid with me,
Jenny,' he said, attempting sentiment, 'even if there was----'

He got no further, for the figure of a very old native, withered, bent,
dressed (or undressed) in the nondescript garb of a scullion, showed at
the door, then advanced with furtive haste and equally furtive
importance.

'_Khodawund!_' it said toothlessly and with joined hands. 'It is about
to come again. This slave saw it then--in '57. He was _khânsâman_ then
to Ricketts-_sahib bahadur_, who was killed----'

'Curse you!' shouted Mr. Lucanaster, 'what the devil----? Then, as the
simplest way of getting at the truth, he ran into the verandah. Every
servant had disappeared; but there was no mistaking the sound that came
clearer now--it was the sound of a crowd, an angry crowd! He stood
irresolute for a moment, and then, along the road that lay between his
house and Chris Davenant s, he saw two men running with torches.

'There is thatch to both,' called one. 'We will take _his_ first--he
who spoilt our plan. The others will settle the depraver of Kings'
Houses!'

That was enough! He was back in the house in a second, but not in the
drawing-room. In his office, at the safe which he had left open!

Meanwhile Viva, alone with the furtive haste and furtive importance
which had seen it all before, stood paralysed with terror; stood in
that dress of the year of grace 1857, feeling as if that past had
claimed her.

But it _had_ claimed the old anatomy who had returned, in his old age,
to the first rung of the ladder whence he had climbed to that dignity
of '_khânsâman_ to Ricketts-_sahib bahadur_ who was killed.'

They had come back to him, those days of livery and gold lace when he
had served a lady, dressed perhaps in pink tarlatan! They had come
back, and the furtiveness left the remnant that remained of that
dignity; the importance returned. 'But the _mem_ was not killed,
_Huzoor_! How should it be so when Mohubbut Khân was there? Quick!
follow me, _Huzoor_! This slave knows where safety lies! Has he not
seen it all before? Quick, _Huzoor_, quick! The _mem-sahiba_ is
safe--quite safe if she follows Mohubbut Khân.'

Safe, quite safe! Those words were enough for this woman in her pink
tarlatan, whose nerves, such as they were, had been juggled with by
that same pink tarlatan! She forgot everything else, even the pink
dewdrops!

The next instant she was out--as many a _mem-sahiba_ had been out in
that fateful May-time more than forty years before--with no guide to
safety but a native servant. And this was no servant of hers, bound to
her by the slender tie--slender in the West, at any rate!--of personal
service. Mohubbut Khân was only servant of that past--the past which
had brought him nothing for his old age save a return to the greasy
swab and miserable pittance of his apprenticeship to service!

Yet as, with a breathlessness that had not been in that midnight flight
of forty years ago, he headed straight as a die for the Garden Mound,
he prattled cheerfully of the future as he might have done then.

Let the _mem-sahiba_ stay herself on the Merciful and Clement,
including, of course, His servant Mohubbut! As for the master, the
_âkâ-sahib_, who, perforce, had to think of more than mere safety, the
Merciful and Clement had him in his keeping also. And though Mohubbut
could not, unfortunately, be in two places at once, some other slave
would doubtless be raised up!

There was no fear; none! Was not Jân-Ali-shân-_sahib_--he pointed into
the night--there to be reckoned with still? And had it been possible
during that nine long months for any black face--even Mohubbut's, which
had remained outside after he had put the _mem_ inside--to win in to
the Garden Mound?

So, hovering between past and present, the old man who had been
'_khânsâman_ to Ricketts-_sahib bahadur_ who was killed,' chattered of
safety----

Until the Garden Mound was reached, and then----

Then he stood in the dim moonlight--helpless--bewildered--importance
gone! For where was safety, where was Jân-Ali-shân?

Ruins, and flowers! Only one thing as it had been forty years before.

The English flag!

He headed straight for it comforted, the importance returning. 'The
_mem-sahiba_ need have no fear,' he muttered glibly; 'was not Mohubbut
_khânsâman_ to Ricketts-_sahib bahadur_ who was killed?--but the _mem_
was not. Ah! no!'

Yet, once more, the wide ruined doorways of the Residency upset the
unstable balance of the half-crazy old man's confidence. But only for a
moment. The next, he had lost even importance in quick decision, as the
sound of running footsteps, of men's voices, rose against the
background of faint elusive cries and distant disturbance which had
been with them, fitfully, in their flight.

'Quick, _Huzoor_, quick! they come! Have no fear! The _mem_ was never
killed! yet they came before!'

And Viva, tarlatan in ribbons, almost fainting with fear, followed
blindly; then sank behind a heap of stones that lay--part of a ruined
stair--in the lowest story of the turret.

Only just in time; for the voices were close at hand, the steps upon
the outside stair that led to the roof.

'Lo! we can do so much, if naught else,' came savagely: 'we can end
their boast, brothers!' The voice was an educated one, and there was
some answering laughs, as five or six white figures passed upwards.

'Have no fear, _mem-sahiba_!' whispered the toothless comforter.
'Jân-Ali-shân will settle _them_.'

Apparently he did; or some one else carrying on the tradition of the
dead man who lay in the Hollow of Heroes; for almost ere the last
climber could have reached the top, they were down the narrow stairs
again helter-skelter.

'Trra!' said one vexedly. 'To think they should not have forgotten
that! Truly, it is ill doing aught against them, and they so wise! Let
us go back to the city--there be plenty of fools there.'

'Said I not so?' whispered the toothless comforter triumphantly, as the
steps died away. 'He hath sent them forth discomfited. It was even so
before, when Mohubbut was _khânsâman_ to Ricketts-_sahib_ who was
killed--but the _mem_, was not.'

Mrs. Chris, however, was past comfort. Had they come back again she
would not have stirred; and she sat in the darkness behind the heap of
stones, shuddering and sobbing, too terrified even to hear that
monotonous refrain--'Have no fear! Have no fear!'

They are idle words when the heart is full of forebodings. Grace
Arbuthnot was finding them so but a few hundred yards away, though she
stood calmly saying them to herself.

'There can be no fear!' she said. 'Why should they do him an injury?'

'Why, indeed?' echoed Sir George with an inward groan, born of wider
experience of what men can do in such times as these; 'but what _can_
have become of the child?'

He had returned home but a few moments before--and far later than he
had anticipated, owing to a raid which had been made on Chris
Davenant's and Mr. Lucanaster's bungalows, which had ended in the
burning of both--to find the whole household distracted.

For Jerry had disappeared; he was not to be found anywhere, neither was
his Mohammedan _chuprassi_, nor his Hindoo bearer; both men who
worshipped the child, who would to all appearance have given their
lives for him.

For an instant Sir George's face had cleared at this information; but
it had clouded again at the utter incomprehensibility of the whole
affair. Lesley had put the child to bed before she had gone out on her
cycle. He had then been quite happy, and was to play with his soldiers
on 'The Land of Counterpane' till he felt sleepy. That was the last
that had been seen of him. Needham, the maid, who worked in the next
room, had heard no disturbance. She had been in and out of other rooms,
naturally, but not for long. Grace had given a look in about eight
o'clock, had seen the nightlight burning as usual--a little dimmer,
perhaps--and, Jerry not having called to her, she had not risked
disturbing him. Then had come the dinner-party. People had stayed late;
and after they had gone she and Lesley had sat up talking, expecting
every instant to hear Sir George return;--growing a little anxious as
time went on, until, about half an hour ago, Captain Lloyd--who had
gone off after the guests had left to see what news he could pick
up--had come back with such good accounts, that Grace had sent Lesley
to her bed.

Then, not till then, the child's absence was discovered. How long he
had been absent, none could tell, for the only two servants likely to
know, the two who never left him day or night, were gone also.

They had hunted everywhere: Nevill Lloyd had run back to the club to
give the alarm to the men he had left there a few minutes before, Grace
had made every inquiry of the other servants; but, she suggested,
perhaps a man accustomed to cross-examining native witnesses might get
at some clue--'There is nothing else to be done for the moment,'
assented Sir George briefly. 'You had better leave me to do it,
Grace--if you are here, they will be remembering what they said
_to you_.'

So Lesley and Grace--the latter still repeating those words: 'There can
be no fear! Who would hurt the child? Why should they choose him, of
all others?'--went and waited in the verandah overlooking the Garden
Mound, for the first hint of Nevill Lloyd's return. And yet, while
Grace said the words, she was conscious that there might be a reason.
If some one wanted to force their hand about that unlucky letter--the
letter that now meant the worst, since the troops _had_ been sent for,
the promise of no coercion broken at the very beginning; unavoidably of
course, yet none the less disastrously, if that letter became public
property.

And Lesley's mind, also, was not without its sting of remorse added to
its anxiety, as she stood in the fast-lightening dawn looking out into
the dim shadows for hint or sign. Ought she to have told Grace why her
cycle ride had been so long? Yet _that_ made no difference to _this_,
and a knowledge of the truth would only take from Grace a belief that
had made her glad.

No! she could not tell her now! She would wait till Jerry returned--if
he did return!

Oh! what could have become of the child?

'Jerry! Jerry!' she called almost involuntarily, and with the cry came
back a memory of that midnight chase after the boy.

And with that, came the thought of Jack Raymond and his warning--'He
takes it too hard, dear little chap.' She laid her hand quickly on
Grace Arbuthnot's wrist. 'I believe I know!' she said, starting to run.
'Come! Let us find Budlu first.'

But she was too late; as they rounded the carriage-drive, and saw on
the grey sky of dawn above the blossoming trees the flagstaff with its
drooping flag ready to welcome the sun as ever, there was a sound of
voices, of laughter, from the ruins. And the next moment Nevill Lloyd,
catching sight of them, was tearing across the lawns to meet them,
shouting as he ran--

'It's all right, Lady Arbuthnot! Raymond ran the little beggar to earth
in five minutes. He was up on the top of the tower with his
_chuprassi_, his bearer, and Budlu the caretaker, and the young imp had
got my whole sporting-magazine too! By Jove! if I'd only known _that_,
I might have guessed--but Raymond did----

Grace, who had pulled up, felt the relief almost worse than the
suspense; yet she kept calm.

'Lesley!' she said, 'run back and tell Sir George.'

'Let me!' cried Nevill Lloyd. 'Or stay! I'd better go and stop the
search-parties.'

So, with light hearts and feet, they left Grace alone to meet the
little procession that was coming across the dim lawns. Rather a
crestfallen little procession--Jerry, full of yawns and but half awake,
led by Jack Raymond, and followed by guilty figures carrying the
sporting magazine.

'He is very sorry to have made you so anxious,' said Jack Raymond,
grave with difficulty, 'but I have promised you won't scold him,
because he meant well. He thought it was a mutiny, and he went to guard
the flag.'

'And I did guard it!' put in Jerry aggrievedly, 'afore I went to sleep.
For they comed to pull it down--didn't they?' He turned sharply to his
henchmen.

'_Huzoor!_' they assented eagerly, seeing extenuation in the plea,
'without doubt they came.'

'They may have!' said Jack Raymond aside, 'I haven't had time to find
out yet. He was asleep when I came, with the key of the door in his
hand; and they were positively afraid to take it from him till I
insisted!'

'He is more than half-asleep now, poor child,' replied Grace in the
same tone, struggling with her desire to laugh, and cry, and hug Jerry
all at once. 'Bearer, you had better take the _chota-sahib_ back to his
bed, and I will inquire about the rest by and by. Good-night, Jerry! or
rather good-morning! You gave poor mum such a fright!'

'I'm solly,' murmured Jerry sleepily, shrinking as ever from the
passionate caress she could not help giving, 'but they weally did
come--didn't they?'

'_Huzoor!_ without doubt they came!' echoed the trio forlornly.

'And I wouldn't be hard on them either,' said Jack Raymond, as the
disconsolate little group moved homewards. 'I fancy they must have had
some inkling of the city business, and then, when he started this game,
they were in two minds if he wasn't right. You were all away, you see.
And Master Jerry was completely master of the situation, I can tell
you. He must have been thinking about it for some time, for he had
provisions--chocolate caramels, and heaven knows what!--stored in the
crevices--dear little chap! And that reminds me'--he paused with a
laugh, and drew an official envelope sealed with a red seal out of his
pocket--'here's his "Secret Despatches." They fell out of Lloyd's
cartridge-case he was wearing, as he came down-stairs--he was so dead
sleepy he could hardly stand--and I promised to hand them over to you.
He has had them, he told me, these two months! and they are most
important.'

Grace Arbuthnot took the envelope, gave a glance at it, a cry, certain,
yet incredulous--

'It is my letter--_the_ letter--how could he have found it!'

There was a pause as those two stood, in the dawn of another day, with
that immemorial past about them, looking at each other almost
doubtfully.

'There are more things in heaven and earth,' said the man at last. 'And
so Jerry really has--hullo, what's up now? What do _you_ want?'

'_Khodawund!_' replied the furtive importance, which was all that
remained of the '_khânsâman_ to Ricketts-_sahib bahadur_ who was
killed,' as it salaamed low to the masters. 'There is a _mem_ yonder in
the Residency, whom I, Mohubbut, brought thither as I brought the
other, into the keeping of Jân-Ali-shân. And he hath kept her! Yea!
during the night when the evildoers came, he kept her safe as he did of
old. But now it is dawn, and though I tell the _mem_ it is safety, she
listens not; but if the _Huzoors_ come, she will believe.'

'During the night!' commented Jack Raymond swiftly, as, scarcely able
to believe their ears, those two followed the old man's lead. 'Then it
is true--Jerry has--has kept the flag!'



                             CHAPTER XXVI

                              FAIR ODDS


The pendulum of India is a heavy one; it soon returns to its normal
arc; and so, after a very few days, nothing remained to show that any
force had sent it beyond its usual swing in Nushapore except the
charred ruins of two bungalows; and they, being in Shark Lane, were not
so much _en evidence_ as they would have been elsewhere.

So far, even, as personal disturbance to the owners was concerned, the
sum-total of effect was small; for Chris Davenant had not returned to
hear of his loss, and Mrs. Chris, after the terrors of that night, when
she had become part of the old half-crazy _khânsâman's_ memory of the
past, seemed glad to be rid of any tie to India. Indeed, as the faces
around her became graver when no tidings came of her husband, and the
impression grew that he and Jân-Ali-shân had, in some mysterious way,
been mixed up in the attempt to wreck the train, and the fall of the
bastion, she seemed almost relieved. Her one desire was to escape from
a place where such terror was possible; to return to London, to its
ways and works. To the red Hammersmith 'bus that runs to Kew on
Sundays; to the baker, the butcher, and the little greengrocer round
the corner. And when she wept, it was chiefly because--having no
worldly goods beyond a torn and tattered pink tarlatan--she could not
engage her passage home, until a sufficient subscription was raised to
pay for it. And she had not many friends.

So far as the one bungalow, therefore, was concerned, there were few
regrets. On the other hand, Mr. Lucanaster's were distinctly above the
average. He had not only been burned out of house and home, but of
other more valuable things; since, almost before he had had time to
consider how best to ensure their safety, an inrush of voices and steps
in the verandah had made him think of that most valuable of all
possessions--his life--and leave the rest--even the woman in the next
room!

And as if this was not bad enough, something else had occurred which
had reduced him to helpless impotent cursing and swearing against Fate,
Jehân Aziz, Mrs. Chris Davenant, and everything that had conspired to
bring about such incredible ill-luck.

And yet it was a very simple thing, almost ludicrously so.

The very day after the rioting, when all Nushapore was being searched
for evidence, the police with great pride had brought him back the
casket which had been left open on the table with the pink dewdrops
beside it, when Mrs. Chris fled with the _khânsâman_ of Rickett-_sahib
bahadur_ (who was killed). It was now closed, and had been discovered,
they said, in the house of one Govind, who had been arrested on
suspicion. And he, to screen himself doubtless from worse accusations,
had stated that he had found it flung away on the road not far from the
blazing bungalow. Therefore, since it was evidently a jewel casket, it
was most likely part of the _Huzoor's_ lost property; and if so, he
could detail its contents and open the spring-lock with his key, in
order that the description might be duly verified and the necessary
forms filled up.

For one brief second Mr. Lucanaster had returned thanks to such gods as
he possessed for this small mercy. Here was something saved from the
general _débâcle_; to begin with, a very valuable ruby--and----

And then had come the horrid recollection of a certain string of pearls
which could not be claimed.

It had nearly killed him to deny the ownership of the casket; but he
had denied it. There was literally nothing else to be done, with that
spring-lock and the key in his possession.

So when the police took it away in order to find the rightful owner, he
had gone into his room at the hotel--it was next the one to which Mrs.
Chris had been taken--and shaken his fist at her through the wall, and
sworn horribly not only at his own loss, but at the gain of others,
which, with his experience in jewel-jobbing, he knew would follow.

And it did; for no sooner was the casket filed open by the police and
its contents made known by a list, than owners began to crop up--crowds
of them.

But it was when an assistant police-officer at the club, thinking to
rouse him from his general despondency by putting him on the track of a
good thing, mentioned that there had been a ruby in the casket which he
really ought to get hold of; a ruby that had been claimed, on
irrefragable evidence, as an heirloom by a peculiarly impecunious
member of the Royal Family, from whom he could no doubt get it cheap
without much trouble--it was then that Mr. Lucanaster had fled from his
fellows, and actually wept to think that after three years' hard
scheming he had bought that ruby at something like its real value.

That had been the worst blow; but there had been similar ones, and
quite a large number of the pensioners invested in new cocks and quails
and went about with cheerful countenances.

Another result was that Grace Arbuthnot, as she stood one day
re-threading the four pearls which Sobrai Begum had brought to Miss
Leezie's house on to the string that had been found in the casket,
declared that it was just like the last chapter in a novel. Everything
was clearing itself up--her face certainly warranted the remark--and
rounding itself off neatly for the end. She thought, as she spoke, of
the lost letter, the recovery of which, as Jerry's 'Secret Despatches,'
had seemed so mysterious, until the child had told her quite simply
that he had found the envelope in a bush in the garden--flung away most
likely by the thief as valueless--and had kept it to play with, because
some one 'must have hidden it, you know, an' didn't want people to wead
it, so it was secwet.'

But she did not speak of this; she only said that she had never
expected to see her pearls again, yet here they were, with only one
a-missing--her dear old pearls! She held them up to her white throat
and smiled, thinking of the many happy hours she had spent with their
touch upon her.

If any one had told her that that was the first time they _had_ touched
a slender white throat, and that the last time a woman had worn them,
they had been snatched from a slender brown one and flung in the dust
from scorn of the hours they had brought to a bride, she would not have
believed it.

Not her pearls! Whose else could they be? Had not even Mr. Lucanaster
given his opinion on them as an expert? for even that agony had not
been spared to the unfortunate man.

'Yes,' answered Sir George, who had stopped his writing to admire his
wife and think how happy and handsome she looked, and how glad he was
for her sake that the strain and anxiety was over, as it seemed to be,
'it is rather curious how everything is falling into line. It is always
the "first step" in India, of course, and so it was only to be
expected that things would settle into march time after a bit. But
Jehân Aziz's death and this finding of the pearls has disposed of that
story, for Burkut Ali, the doctors say, isn't likely to live, and the
girl is certainly a thief, whatever else she may be. And it disposes of
the pestilent fellow who wrote that threatening letter also.' He
paused. 'Then Kenyon was only telling me this morning what an
extraordinary quieting effect that incident in _Mai_ Kâli's temple has
had. Of course, we haven't got to the bottom of it quite. No one will
give evidence, because of the miracle; but the fact remains that the
prophecy was fulfilled.'

'Then there is the bridge business,' said Grace thoughtfully. 'Has
anything new cropped up?'

Sir George shook his head, then frowned. 'Not about that, beyond the
fact that the engine-driver is quite certain he heard singing, and that
of course points to the loafer Ellison; and as he was Davenant's
foreman of works, the two were likely to be together. But--but,' he
frowned again, and let his hand busy itself impatiently with a pile of
papers, 'there is something else. You know, we wondered how the troops
got here so soon. Well, there is something odd about the telegram.
Times don't tally, and it seems another telegram was sent direct
to the station to detain the up-mail, pending orders. It came
in--"urgent"--just as the train was in, and the station-master--he is a
native--got flurried and sent up, with the telegram we know about--at
least I suppose so--to cantonments for further orders, when, of course,
the commandant jumped at the chance. And now the station-master can't
find the wire, isn't sure if it ever was written out, as he was in the
telegraph-office at the time waiting for the up-signals. And there is
no trace of it this end. Nothing but the telegraph--form I gave Kenyon
to fill in, and which he sent to the railway-office. But there, again,
the time doesn't tally with Kenyon's recollections, and though the
order is identical the wording is slightly different, for he put in
something about stopping the night-mail, which isn't in the wire the
commandant received. That part seems to have been made into a separate
order and construed into the up-mail. But that may be due to the
_baboos_; a couple of greater fools never were. They seem to know
nothing; especially the one here. Kenyon says the clocks may have been
wrong; but I can't help wondering. Davenant seems to have known
something, and he was seen at his works after dusk; if he had been
another sort of fellow--but it is impossible! There isn't one
Englishman in a thousand, let alone a native, who would take such a
responsibility. I wouldn't, and I don't know any one who would; at any
rate who would, and then keep quiet when it was successful--for it was!
It made all the difference: as I've told Kenyon, he has the entire
credit; but for him we should have had a row.'

'But if you hadn't given him the telegram----'

Sir George shook his head in honest obstinacy. 'I never meant it to be
used; I didn't believe in the danger. As I told Mr. Raymond, he was
right, and I was wrong; so that is an end of it, my dear.'

He seemed quite satisfied, especially when his wife stooped suddenly,
and kissed the top of his head; though he wondered, as she left the
room, if he was really getting a little bald! not so much because her
lips had thrilled him, but because he was observant enough to have
noticed that a partially bald head is provocative of wifely kissing.
Still, even that evil had to be faced in the cause of empire, and so
the honest gentleman took up his pen and continued the report of recent
affairs which he was writing, and in which the credit of saving the
situation was given unstintingly not to himself, but to others; for Sir
George was a gentleman.

Grace, however, though she was a lady, and despite that kiss of
approval, felt a trifle annoyed. It was very nice of George to minimise
his part in the business; yet when all was said and done, he _had_
consented to give the order--consented almost in defiance of the
official programme. The more she thought of it, the more aggrieved she
felt for him; and so, when she found Lesley alone in the school-room,
she sought her sympathy, explained the whole position at great length,
and wound up by the appeal--

'Now, do you see what right Mr. Kenyon has to all the credit?'

Lesley had so far managed to keep a calm sough without much difficulty;
at the present moment, however, something seemed wrong with her work,
for she was very busy with it at the window.

'No!' she said at last, 'I don't!' and then she repeated the remark
with palpable resentment: 'Certainly not! He had nothing to do with
it--nothing at all.'

Grace looked in her direction with dubious curiosity.

'You don't mean, do you,' she asked, 'that you think any one else----'

'I don't think anything at all,' interrupted the girl hurriedly. 'I
only say that Mr. Kenyon didn't--I mean that he isn't the right person
to praise.'

But Lady Arbuthnot was not to be put off. 'Because that really is quite
absurd, as I told George. And he admitted that he did not know of any
one--not a single man who would have taken such a grave responsibility.
Now do you? Tell the truth, Lesley! do you know any one?'

'Perhaps there was more than a single man,' suggested Lesley evasively,
the knot in her thread becoming extremely troublesome.

Grace, from her chair, gave an irritated glance towards the window. 'My
dear Lesley! you are not often so--so precise! As if it mattered to my
argument if there were one or two! I wish you would leave off threading
your needle, or whatever it is, and come here and be a little
sympathetic. It means so much to _me_, you know--so, if you wish it, we
will say two! Do you know of any two people who could and would do such
a thing?'

Lesley folded up her work with great method, but remained where she
was.

'Why should we complicate matters by saying two?' she asked
pugnaciously. 'And after all, it wasn't--I mean it would not be such a
very big thing. There must be lots of people in the world who could do
it. Just think! even among the men one knows.'

'People who could, and would!' echoed Grace in the same tone. 'No! I
don't know any one!' She paused, and added a trifle bitterly: 'I know
one, who _could_; but then he wouldn't!--Mr. Raymond.'

'Mr. Raymond! Why should you say he wouldn't?' asked the girl swiftly.
'Why----?'

'You needn't be so fierce, Lesley!' interrupted Grace, with a little
hard laugh, 'though you don't think him half bad. For many reasons!
No--he wouldn't help--us--in a thing like that--not he!'

'That isn't fair,' cried Lesley in a flame. 'If you knew----' She
paused, but was too late.

'If I knew what?' asked Lady Arbuthnot, rising and coming to the
window; then standing before the girl, to say, after a pause: 'You will
have to tell me, you know, Lesley; you have started me, and I'm not a
fool. And of course I know--Jerry told me--that Mr. Raymond had come to
cycle with you that evening--that _that_ was why you were so late; but
I said nothing, because I thought it was only----'

'I don't care what you thought,' interrupted Lesley angrily; 'and I
won't tell you anything unless you promise not to speak----'

'I will promise not to tell any one who ought not to know that I know,'
put in Grace Arbuthnot proudly. 'I won't promise more----'

'And who wants more?' cried the girl hotly. 'Of course, if people ought
to know, they must know. That is the only reason why I'm telling you. I
didn't mean to, but if you can be so--so unjust, it is only right that
you should know the truth.'

'I can judge of that for myself when you have told me, so you needn't
waste time,' retorted Grace.

A sudden antagonism had sprung up between the two women of which they
were both aware, of which they were both vaguely ashamed, but which
they could not ignore.

'Thank you!' said Grace, with chill dignity when the recital was over.
'You were right to tell me. I will apologise to Mr. Raymond.'

'To Mr. Raymond!' echoed Lesley, carried beyond her resentment by
eagerness. 'No! Lady Arbuthnot--not to him. He is not one of the people
who ought to know that you know!'

'May I ask why?'

For an instant it seemed as if Lesley would have matched Grace in
resentment, and then suddenly she held out her hands in swift appeal.

'Oh! don't be angry, please! but surely after what happened between
you--I cant help knowing that, can I?--you owe Mr. Raymond
something--you ought to let him have this--this revenge to
himself--just to take the sting away.'

'To himself!' echoed Grace scornfully. 'I presume you mean to himself
and you----'

'Oh! you may be as nasty as you like about that,' interrupted Lesley
hotly, 'but I know I am right. It would only be a fresh tie between
you--a new sentiment.'

Lady Arbuthnot flushed up to the eyes. 'Really, Lesley! you pass
bounds! You speak as if I wanted to--to clutch at Mr. Raymond, when I
should only be too glad if---- However, as you say, my apology is a
triviality. Sir George shall----'

'Sir George!' echoed Lesley in her turn, shaking her head. 'No! he is
not one of those who ought to know that you know, either. He may have
to know, perhaps, but it should not be through you. Look! how he _will_
give the credit to Mr. Kenyon; and if he knew it was Mr. Raymond, he
would insist still more on giving it to him. You know he would, Lady
Arbuthnot--there would be a fuss, and every one would talk, and he
would hate it--almost worse than Mr. Raymond. Why not leave it
alone--if we can--what harm does it do?'

'You have grown very wise, Lesley,' said the elder woman after a pause.
'Love, they say, has eyes----'

'Love!' Lesley flashed round on her like a whirlwind. 'Ah! I wish there
was no such thing in the world. Then we women would have a chance of
being sensible. Love! No, Lady Arbuthnot, love has nothing to do with
it---nothing.'

They stood facing each other, those two, and then a smile--distinctly a
pleased smile--came to the older face. 'But, my dear child, you don't
mean to tell _me_ that you are not in love with Mr. Raymond!'

The flush up to the eyes was Lesley's now; but she stood her ground
bravely. 'It does not matter if I am or not; I am not going to talk of
it. And I promised him----'

Grace broke in with a little peal of laughter, tender, amused,
pathetic, yet acquiescent laughter. 'Has it got so far as that? Ah!
Lesley dear! I'm so glad.'

The girl looked at her with a faint wonder, a great admiration, then
shook her head.

'I believe you are made different from me,' she said soberly. 'I can
only understand one thing about it all--how it was that _he_ never
forgot--well, never quite forgot. For there is nothing to be glad of, I
can assure you--nothing at all.'

She did not, in truth, look as if there was; but Grace, as she took Sir
George his tea, as she always did, had her eyes full of that mysterious
gladness which any sentiment, even sorrow, brings to some women's
faces. It suited hers, and so her husband's had quite a lover-like
diffidence in it as he watched her fingering the thin gold chain with
pink topazes hanging from it, which he took from a drawer.

'It was in that casket the police found,' he explained, 'and I told
them, if no owner turned up for it, to send it for you to see, and then
if you liked it----'

She looked up, smiling. 'It is too young for me. Yes! it is true,
George, I am getting old--ever so old! But I'll tell you what we will
do! If we can buy it, we will give it to Lesley as a wedding-present
when she marries Mr. Raymond.'

Sir George sat back in his chair--perhaps she had meant that he should.

'My dear girl!' he said feebly, 'this is the first I have heard of it.
Mr. Raymond! And I thought----'

'Never mind what you thought,' she put in decidedly: 'it isn't quite
settled yet; but it is going to be. Oh yes! it is going to be!'

'Well!' said Sir George--recovering himself for the usual formula,--'he
is a very lucky fellow! But it is--er--all the more likely to be so,
because, curiously enough, I have been told to offer Mr. Raymond the
trusteeship of the old Thakoor of Dhurmkote's affairs. In fact, the old
man refused pointblank to have any one else, and as we want him to
retrench and adopt an heir properly----'

'My dear George!' exclaimed Lady Arbuthnot, 'how perfectly
delightful!--it--it will settle everything!'

'Yes; I--I suppose it will,' replied Sir George dubiously, and then his
sober common sense came to the front--'not, my dear, that I exactly see
what had to--to--er--be settled.'

'No! perhaps not,' said Grace thoughtfully, 'but it will, all the
same.'

With which mysterious remark she went off to set springes for that Love
with a big L, which _was_ to settle all things.

She was an expert in the art, as women of her type always are, and yet
the days passed without bringing her success. For something, of which
she knew nothing, stood between those two.

Put briefly, it was a _râm-rucki_. And so when they met--which was
inevitably often, under Lady Arbuthnot's skilful hands--they talked of
everything under the sun--of their adventure together, of the
extraordinary way in which Fate had favoured them, of Chris Davenant
and Jân-Ali-shân's mysterious disappearances, of the pearls, and the
signet of royalty that was not to be found anywhere. They even talked
of the Thakoor of Dhurmkote, and the almost endless interest and power
of such a life as that now offered to Jack Raymond--they even
quarrelled over his hesitancy in accepting it; but they never talked of
what Lesley had asked him to forget--what she had stigmatised
scornfully as the 'rest of it.'

Grace became almost tearful over the fact. It seemed to her at last as
if, even here, hers was not to be the hand to wile Jack Raymond back
either to duty or pleasure.

And it was not. That task was reserved for a simpler hand; a hand that
had neither clutched nor refused, the hand of a woman to whom 'the rest
of it' was neither to be despised nor overestimated, and who had
neither scorned it nor sought for it.

It was Auntie Khôjee's when, one day, Jack Raymond and Lesley
found themselves deftly man[oe]uvred by Grace Arbuthnot into the
_tête-à-tête_ of a visit to the old lady; not in the least
against their wills, for he was quite content with, and she vastly
superior to, such palpable ruses; besides, she really wanted to see the
originator of the _râm-rucki_, who was now decently established on the
top of an offshoot of the city, which jutted out into that very
pleasure-garden to which the old lady had come with her petition to
the bracelet-brother.

So, one morning, Lesley drove down to the Garden. Jack Raymond met her,
riding, at the gate, and together they strolled along that wide cross
of water and marble and flowers, and climbed the dark stair which led
to the little square of roof and the little slip of room that were only
just large enough for Auntie Khôjee and the helplessness for which she
cared; for Khôjee, helpless as she was, had always stood between some
one still more helpless and the buffets of fate, and would have felt
lost without the occupation.

And there was no reason why she should be without it, when Lateefa,
paralysed from the waist beyond all hope of ever getting about again,
lacked a caretaker.

And so he sat, busy as ever, with slips of bamboo and sheets of
tissue-paper on the little square of roof, just as he had sat in the
wide courtyard where the royal peacocks now spread their broken plaster
tails over plague patients--those plague patients which the vast
stability of the Oriental had by this time accepted as inevitable;
which it had taken, as it were, into its immemorial custom.

Lateefa had been once more asking for paste, and Khôjee had brought him
some--without lumps!--in a leaf cup; for she laid it aside to receive
Jack Raymond with a '_Bismillah!_' of pleasure, and the strange Miss
with a ceremonious _salaam_. Lateefa had the latter for both visitors,
but there was a bold questioning in his black eyes for the _Huzoor_,
who gave back the look with a valiant attempt at unconsciousness.

There was a curious peace up there on the roof, Lesley felt, with only
one or two of Lateefa's kites between you and the sky, and the even
flow of Lateefa's Persian quotations in your ears; for Auntie
Khôjee--after disposing her guests on two rush stools--had hurried into
the slip of a room for cardamoms, since they belong to congratulations
as well as to consolations.

And, nowadays, what with her pension and Lateefa's earnings, there were
always cardamoms, real cardamoms, on the roof, and many another comfort
besides.

Lateefa, making polite conversation, admitted this openly, while Jack
Raymond looked uneasily at Lesley, wondering--if her knowledge of the
vernacular had not been mercifully limited--what she would have said to
the pointed allusions to the benefit every man derived from associating
himself with a truly virtuous woman, and the desirableness of settling
down in time; not as he--Lateefa--had done, too late for hope of
leaving aught behind him but the flimsy children of naught above him! A
sorry legacy to the world; though in their day they had done strange
things! But the _Huzoor_ was wiser! He----

Here Aunt Khôjee--who with the most innocent of vanities had spent part
of her absence in putting on a very stiff new pink net veil, which
during the rest of the visit refused to stop on her head, and to the
old lady's intense discomfiture left her sparse grey hairs indecently
exposed at crucial moments--reappeared with the cardamoms, to Jack
Raymond's great relief; though he soon discovered that the real horror
of the situation was only just beginning.

For, seated decorously apart, yet with her half-averted face alight
with smiles and interest, she began on a series of questions which made
his heart sink within him, since he knew Lesley of old.

And sure enough it was not long before the latter said, aggrievedly,
'You might translate what she is saying. After all, I did come to visit
her, you know!'

He left the path of truth, then, desperately, with the result that
Lesley commissioned him to make the proper reply to such Oriental
periphrasis--something, _he was to be sure_, that would please the dear
old thing.

Then he realised that he was hopelessly emmeshed, for, of course,
Auntie Khôjee wanted a reply to her question; and it was not what she
had desired, at all.

'She doesn't look a bit pleased,' remarked Lesley, _de haut en bas_.
'Dear me! I wish I could speak. I know I could do better than that! And
I hate being dependent.'

'I wish you could,' said Jack Raymond grimly. 'I don't want to be a
go-between!'

His evident ill-temper mollified her. 'Well! at any rate, you might try
again, and say something else.'

So he did; and he and Aunt Khôjee had quite an animated passage, while
Lateefa from his kites listened, and looked knowing.

'Well!' remarked Lesley at last, quite angrily. 'I don't see what was
the use in my coming at all! You might at least give me a hint of what
you are talking about! It is very rude.'

His temper went then altogether. 'If you want to know,' he said, still
more grimly, 'she was asking when we are going to be married.'

Lesley gasped. 'Married!'--she echoed indignantly, yet conscious
of a curious desire to smile and feel happy which must be squashed
firmly--'well! if she does, Mr. Raymond, you can tell her--_never!_'
Her dignity was tremendous.

'I have told her so three times,' replied Jack Raymond gravely, 'but
she won't believe it; she says----'

'I don't care what she says,' retorted Lesley quickly. 'She must be
_made_ to believe it. Tell her--tell her about the _râm-rucki_, and all
that. She will understand then.'

'She may,' assented Jack dubiously; 'but it is a little--ahem--mixed
up----isn't it?'

A suspicion that the situation was beginning to amuse him made her
say--

'Not at all! Of course she will understand. She gave you a _râm-rucki_,
and why--why shouldn't I?'

'No reason at all. I'm awfully glad you did.'

He looked it, and Lesley felt once more that absurd desire to smile and
feel happy as she sat listening, watching the withered old face,
waiting for the answer.

It was not much when it came. It was only a pursing up of the lips
that had never known a lover's kiss, a gentle raillery in the kind
tear-dimmed eyes, and a brisk flirt of the fingers that had worn
themselves to the bone to bring happiness to others.

'_Trra!_' said Auntie Khôjee, with supreme unconcern for explanations.
'_Trra!_'

'I'm afraid it is no go, Miss Drummond,' said Jack decorously. 'I
believe it--it would save trouble if we--for the time only, of
course----'

Lesley blushed a fine blush. 'I daresay you are right,' she assented,
supremely superior; 'it doesn't really matter--for the time,' she added
significantly.

And after that an almost reckless happiness was added to the peace of
the roof.

Lateefa quoted Hâfiz by the yard. Auntie Khôjee got hold of Lesley's
hand and held it fast with one of hers, while the other slid up and
down the girl's arm with the little caressing pats and pinches with
which she had tried to wile away Noormahal's weariness, and Jack
Raymond sat and looked on with----

With what? Lesley did not quite realise what the expression was till
they were alone together on their way back through the garden once
more. Then she recollected it; for his face was all soft and kind, all
lit up with a delicate raillery, a forgetfulness of the workaday world,
just as it had been that evening--that evening, when another woman had
been his companion--that evening when she had felt so lonely--when the
cinnamon dove----

'_Do-you-love-too? do-yon-love-too?_' came the question from the
rose-bush once more; but the bird did not fly from its shelter now.
There was no thorn in the path now to make those two pause and
startle it. So the question followed them. '_Do-you-love-too?
do-you-love-too?_' as they walked side by side, leaving the Sanctuary
behind them, nearing the gilded summer-house before them.

'There's no hurry, is there?' said the man suddenly when they reached
it. 'Let us sit down a bit and talk--about ourselves.'

The girl sat down, but shook her head. 'It was only for the time, Mr.
Raymond,' she said, not pretending to misunderstand his meaning.

'Why should it only be for the time?'

'Why?' she echoed, looking out into the Pleasure-garden of Kings. 'For
a great many reasons, I think.'

And then she began on them, one by one, dispassionately, rationally;
and sometimes he agreed with her despondently as to his character and
interests, and sometimes he gave in to her greater knowledge regarding
her own.

And the dove cooed on its question, and the jewelled parrots--winged
creatures as they were--flew from one screen of flowering trees to the
other, unable to escape the thraldom of the high wall hidden by leaf
and blossom--unable to escape from that prisonment of pleasure.

'And so you see, Mr. Raymond,' came the girl's voice, 'the odds
are----'

'The odds!' he echoed quickly, almost mischievously. 'Ah! if it is a
question of odds, it's my innings--I'll take twenty to one on Bonnie
Lesley!' He held out his hand.

She essayed a frown, she essayed a smile, and then she said, 'Really,
you are too foolish----Jack!'


                          *   *   *   *   *


And so in the years to come, the old Thakoor of Dhurmkote will no doubt
rescind his reproof, and, having forgotten Jerry, will call another
little laddie 'a son of heroes.' And he may be; but Jack Raymond
himself will keep that name for a boy who, by that time, will be at
Eton or Harrow. And that boy will think of the graves in the Hollow of
Heroes, and wonder if Jân-Ali-shân ever came back to claim his.

He has not yet, and so the two hundred and odd thousand people in the
city of Nushapore, and the fifty thousand people in cantonments, still
expect him to be there some day, _when he is wanted_.

And he will, no doubt; for it is only the Spirit of Slaves that dies;
the Spirit of Kings lives for ever.



                              FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: Barrister.]

[Footnote 2: Members of Municipal Committee.]

[Footnote 3: The Mohammedan Easter.]

[Footnote 4: Failed for middle school examination; a very general claim
to culture in India.]

[Footnote 5: In India, members can buy provisions or wines imported by
their club.]

[Footnote 6: Measure.]

[Footnote 7: _Nigar bani_, lit. looking at, favouritism.]

[Footnote 8: Straight, fair.]

[Footnote 9: Lit. earth, a corpse.]

[Footnote 10: Lit. outcast.]

[Footnote 11: Worshipper of Shiva.]

[Footnote 12: The king of death; his emblem is a crocodile, _i.e_.
death will be busy.]

[Footnote 13: _Hansi-ki-bat_, lit. smiling word.]

[Footnote 14: The true faith.]

[Footnote 15: _Ikbal_, lit. power, prestige.]

[Footnote 16: Post-office.]

[Footnote 17: Doctors.]

[Footnote 18: Models of the tombs of Hussan and Hussein.]



                          *   *   *   *   *
       Printed by T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty
                  at the Edinburgh University Press





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