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Title: Miss Stuart's Legacy
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 "Miss Stuart's Legacy" ***

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   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=UGopAQAAIAAJ
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   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                         Miss Stuart's Legacy



                                  By

                          Flora Annie Steel

                              AUTHOR OF
                  'ON THE FACE OF THE WATERS,' ETC.



                                London
                          William Heinemann
                                 1900



_All rights reserved_



                         MISS STUART'S LEGACY



                              CHAPTER I.


An Indian railway station in the first freshness of an autumn dawn,
with a clear decision of light and shade, unknown to northern
latitudes, lending a fictitious picturesqueness to the low-arched
buildings festooned with purple creepers. There was a crispness in the
air which seemed to belie the possibility of a noon of brass; yet the
level beams of the sun had already in them a warning of warmth.

The up-country mail had just steamed out of the station after
depositing a scanty store of passengers on the narrow platform, while
the down-country train, duly placarded with the information that it
carried the homeward-bound mail, had shunted in from the siding where
it had been patiently awaiting the signal of a clear line. The engine
meanwhile drank breathlessly at the tank, where, in a masonry tower
overhead, a couple of bullocks circled round and round, engaged in
raising the water from the well beneath to the reservoir beside them.
Round and round sleepily, while the primeval wooden wheel creaked and
clacked, and the clumsy rope-ladder with its ring of earthen pots let
half their contents fall back into the bowels of the earth; round and
round dreamily, with the fresh gurgle of the water in their ears, and
the blindness of leathern blinkers in their eyes; round and round, as
their forebears had gone for centuries in the cool shade of sylvan
wells. What was it to the patient creatures whether they watered a
snorting western demon labelled "homeward mail," or the chequered
mud-fields where the tender wheat spikelets took advantage of every
crack in the dry soil? It was little to them who sowed the seed, or
who gave the increase, so long as the goad lay in some one's hands. So
much the cattle knew, and in this simple knowledge were not far behind
the comprehension of their driver, who, wrapped in his cotton sheet,
lay dozing while he drove.

The sweetmeat-seller dawdled by, pursued even at dawn by his pest of
flies. The water-carriers lounged along uttering their monotonous
chant, "Any Hindu drinkers? Any Mussulman drinkers?" while in their
van, dusky hands stretched out holding metal cups and bowls, from the
very shape of which the religion of the owners might be inferred,
owners sitting cheek by jowl in third-class compartments with a gulf
unfathomable, impassable, between them in this world and the next. The
lank yellow dogs crept among the wheels, licking a precarious meal
from the grease-boxes. The grey-headed carrion-crows sat in lines on
the wire fencing with beaks wide open in unending yawns. Nothing else
appeared to mark the passage of time; indeed the absence of hurry on
all sides gave the scene a curious unreality to Western eyes, a
feeling which was plainly shown in the expression of a young girl who
stood alone beside a small pile of luggage.

"A new arrival," remarked a tall man in undress uniform, who was
leaning against the door of a first-class compartment, and talking to
its occupants.

"Yes, to judge by complexion and baggage," was the reply. "You'd
hardly believe it, but Kate was as trim once; now!--just look at the
carriage!"

A gay laugh came from behind a perfect barrier of baths, bundles, and
bassinettes. "We hadn't four babies to drag about in those days,
George, and I can assure Major Marsden that I'm not a bit ashamed of
them, or my complexion. George, dear! do for goodness' sake get baby's
bottle filled with hot water at the engine; if he doesn't have
something to eat he will cry in ten minutes, and then you will have to
take him."

While George, with the proverbial docility of the Anglo-Indian husband
and father, strolled off on his errand, the feminine voice came into
view in the shape of a cheerful round little woman with a child in her
arms and another clinging to her dress. She looked with interest at
the girl on the platform. "She seems lonely, doesn't she?"

Major Marsden frowned. He had been thinking the same thing, though he
was fond of posing as a man devoid of sentiment; a not unusual
affectation with those who are conscious of an over-soft heart. "I
wonder what she is doing here," he said, kicking his heels viciously
against the iron step of the carriage.

A twinkle of mischief lurked in his companion's blue eyes as she
replied:


             "'What are you doing here, my pretty maid?'
              'Going a-marrying, sir,' she said.


Can't you see the square wooden box which betrays the wedding cake?"

"Then if you want to do a Christian act,--and you ladies love
aggressive charity--just step out of your car as _dea ex machine_, and
take her home again. India is no place for Englishwomen to be married
in."

"Now don't go on! I know quite well what you are going to say, and I
agree,--theoretically. India is an ogre, eating us up body and soul;
ruining our health, our tempers, our morals, our manners, our babies."

The laugh died from her lips at the last word, for the spectre of
certain separation haunts Indian motherhood too closely to be treated
as a jest. Instinctively she held the child tighter to her breast with
a little restless sigh; a short holiday at home, and then an empty
nest,--that was the future for her! So she went on recklessly: "Oh,
yes! Of course we are all bad lots,--neither good mothers, nor good
wives."

"My dear Mrs. Gordon! I never said one or the other. I only remarked
that Englishwomen had no business in India."

"What's that?" asked George, returning with the bottle.

"Only Major Marsden in a hurry to get rid of me," replied his wife.

"Don't believe her, Gordon! For all-embracing generalities,
convertible into rigid personalities at a moment's notice, commend me
to you, Mrs. Gordon. But there, I regret to say, goes the last bell."

The train moved off in a series of dislocations, which, painful to
witness, were still more painful to endure, and Philip Marsden was
left watching the last nod of George Gordon's friendly head, with that
curious catching at the heart which comes to all Anglo-Indians as they
say good-bye to the homeward-bound. He was contented enough, happy in
his work and his play; yet the feeling of exile ran through it
all,--as it does always, till pension comes to bid one leave the
interests and friends of a lifetime. Then, all too late, the glamour
of the East claims the heart, in exchange for the body.

The girl was still standing sentinel by her luggage, and as he passed
their eyes met. In sudden impulse he went up and offered help if she
required it. His voice, singularly sweet for a man, seemed to make the
girl realise her own loneliness, for her lips quivered distinctly. "It
is father! I expected him to meet me, and he has not come."

"Should you know him if you saw him?" She stared, evidently surprised,
so he went on quickly, "I beg your pardon! I meant that you might not
have seen him for some time, and--"

"I haven't seen him since I was a baby," she interrupted, with a sort
of hurt dignity; "but of course I should know him from his
photograph."

"Of course!" He scanned her face curiously, thinking her little more
than a baby now; but he only suggested the possibility of a telegram,
and went off in search of one, returning a minute afterwards with
several. Behind him came the stationmaster explaining, with the
plentiful plurals and Addisonian periods dear to babudom, that without
due givings of names it was unpermissible, not to say non-regulation,
to deliver telegrams.

"I forgot you couldn't know my name," said the girl frankly, when a
rapid scrutiny had shown that none were addressed to her. "I'm Belle
Stuart; my father lives at Faizapore."

"Not Colonel Stuart of the Commissariat?"

"Yes! Do you know him?"

A radiant smile lit up her face with such a curve of red lips, and
flash of white teeth, that the spectator might well have been infected
by its wholesome sweetness into an answering look. Major Marsden's
eyes, however, only narrowed with perplexed enquiry as he said
bluntly, "Yes, slightly."

"Then perhaps father sent you to fetch me?"

This time he relaxed; confidence is catching. "I'm afraid not; but
possibly if he had known I was to be here he might. At all events I
can make myself useful."

"How?"

"I can get you a _gharri_--that is a carriage--and start you for
Faizapore. It is sixty miles from here as you know."

She bent down to pick up her rugs. "I did not know. You see I expected
father."

Philip Marsden felt impelled to consolation. "He has been delayed.
Most likely there has been"--in his haste to put forward a solid
excuse he was just about to say "an accident," but floundered instead
into a bald "something to detain him."

"There generally _is_ something to detain one in every delay, isn't
there?" she asked dryly; adding hastily, "but it is very kind of you
to help. You see I have only just arrived in India, so I am quite a
stranger."

"People generally _are_ strangers when they first arrive in a new
country aren't they?" retorted her companion grimly. Then as his eyes
met her smiling ones, he smiled too and asked with a kinder ring in
his voice, if there were anything else he could do for her.

"I'm _so_ hungry," she said simply. "Couldn't you take me to get
breakfast somewhere? I don't see a refreshment-room, and I hate going
by myself."

"There is the _dâk_ bungalow, but," he hesitated for an instant and
stood looking at her, as if making up his mind about something; then
calling some coolies he bade them take up the luggage. "This way
please, Miss Stuart; you will have to walk about half a mile, but you
won't mind that either, I expect."

In reply she launched out, as they went along the dusty road, into
girlish chatter about the distances she could go without fatigue, the
country life at home which seemed so very far off now, and the new
existence on which she was just entering.

"You are not in the least like your sisters," he said suddenly.

She laughed. "They aren't my real sisters, you see. Father married
again, and they are my stepmother's children. There are five of
them--three girls and two boys, besides Charlie who is only six years
old--but then he is my brother--my half-brother I mean. It's very
funny, isn't it? to have so many brothers and a mother one has never
seen. But of course I have their photographs."

He said he was glad of that; yet when he had seen her safely started
at breakfast, he retired to the verandah under excuse of a cigar, and
found fault with Providence. Briefly, he knew too much of the reality,
not to make poor Belle's anticipations somewhat of a ghastly mockery.
"Poor child," he thought, "how much easier life would be to some of
us, if like Topsy, we growed. What business has that girl's father to
be a disreputable scamp? For the matter of that what business has a
disreputable scamp to be any girl's father? It's the old problem."

Belle meanwhile eating her breakfast with youthful appetite felt no
qualms. Life to her was at its brightest moment. This coming out to
India in order to rejoin her father had been the Hegira of her
existence, with reference to which all smaller events had to be
classified. His approval or disapproval had been her standard of right
and wrong, his mind and body her model of human perfection; and so far
distance had enabled Colonel Stuart to do justice to this pedestal;
for it is easy to touch perfection in a letter, especially when it
only extends to one sheet of creamlaid note-paper. Most of us have
sufficient principal for such a small dividend.

"I knew father had not forgotten," she said calmly, when an abject
badge-wearer was discovered asleep under a castor-oil bush, and proved
to be the bearer of a note addressed in the familiar bold flourish to
Miss Belle Stuart. "You see he had made all the arrangements, and I am
not to start till the heat of the day is over."

"Then I will resign my charge, and say good-bye."

When they had shaken hands he went round to the other verandah where
her baggage lay, and looked at the wooden box. Was it a wedding-cake?
Even that might be better than life in the home to which she was
going, though, for all he knew, the latter might suit her admirably.
Then he went and kicked his heels at the station in order to be out of
the way, for the bungalow only boasted one room.



                             CHAPTER II.


The dawn of another day was just breaking, when the rattle and clatter
which had formed an accompaniment to Belle's wakeful dreams all night
long, ceased at the last stage out from Faizapore. Belle stepped out
of the _palki-gharri_ to stretch her cramped limbs, and looked round
her with eyes in which sleep still lingered.

A mud village lay close to the road, and from an outlying hut the
ponies, destined to convey her the remaining five miles, struggled
forth reluctantly. The coachman was furtively pulling at some one
else's pipe; a naked anatomy, halt and blind of an eye, dribbled water
from an earthen pot over the hot axles; two early travellers were
bathing in a pool of dirty water. Belle standing in the middle of the
glaring white highway, instinctively turned to where, in the distance,
a slender church-spire rose above the bank of trees on the horizon.
_That_ was familiar!--_that_ she understood. Born in India, and
therefore a daughter of the soil, she could not have been further
removed in taste and feeling from the toiling self-centred cosmogony
of the Indian village in which she stood, had she dropped into it from
another planet. So, alien in heart, she passed through the tide of
life which sets every morning towards a great cantonment, looking on
it as on some strange, new picture. Beyond all this, among people who
ate with forks and spoons and went to church on Sundays, lay the life
of which she had dreamed for years. The rest was a picturesque
background; that was all.

A final flourish of an excruciating horn, gateposts guiltless of
gates, a ragged privet hedge curving intermittently to a bright blue
house set haphazard, cornerwise, in a square dusty expanse,--and the
journey was over.

It was not only her cramped limbs that made Belle feel weak and
unsteady as she stood before the seemingly deserted house. Suddenly,
from behind a projecting corner, came a wrinkled beldame clad in dingy
white bordered with red. With one hand she grasped a skinny child
dressed in flannel night garments of Macgregor tartan, with the other
she held up her draggling petticoats and salaamed profusely, thus
displaying a pair of bandy, blue-trousered legs.

Belle looked at her with distinct aversion. "I think I have made a
mistake," she said; "this can't be Colonel Stuart's house."

The woman grinned from ear to ear. "Ar'l right, missy _ba_. _Mem
sahib_ comin'. This b'y sonny _baba_." She broke in on the whining
wail of her voice (which made Belle think of a professional beggar) to
apostrophise her charge with loud-tongued abuse for not saying good
morning to his "sissy."

Belle gasped. Could this dirty dark boy be her brother Charlie? Then a
sudden rush of pity for the little fellow whose big black eyes met
hers with such distrust, made her stoop to kiss him. But the child,
reluctant and alarmed, struck at her face with his lean brown fingers
and then fled into the house howling, followed full tilt by his aged
attendant.

Belle would have felt inclined to cry, if the very unexpectedness of
the attack, joined to the sight of the ayah's little bandy legs in hot
pursuit, had not roused her ever-ready sense of humour. She laughed
instead, and in so doing showed that she could hold her own with life;
for no one throws up the sponge until the faculty of coming up
smiling, even at one's own discomfiture, has been lost. And while she
laughed, a new voice asserted itself above the howls within; a voice
with, to Belle's ears, a strangely novel intonation, soft yet
distinctly _staccato_, sharpening the vowels, clipping the consonants,
and rising in pitch at the end of each sentence. It heralded the
advent of a tall, stout lady in a limp cotton wrapper, who straightway
took Belle to a languidly-effusive embrace, while she poured out an
even flow of wonderings, delights, and endearments. The girl, with the
reserve taught by long years of homelessness, felt embarrassed at the
warm kisses and tepid tears showered upon her; then, ashamed of her
own unresponsiveness, tried hard to realise that this was really the
great event,--the homecoming to which she had looked forward ever
since she could remember. She felt vexed with herself, annoyed at her
own failure to reach high pressure point. Yet she was not conscious of
disappointment, and gave herself up willingly to the voluble welcomes
of three slender, dark-eyed girls, who presently came running in, clad
like their mother in limp cotton wrappers. They sat beside her on the
bare string bed in the bare room which looked so cheerless to Belle's
English eyes, and chattered, fluttered, and pecked at her with little
kisses, like a group of birds on a branch.

Mrs. Stuart was meanwhile drying her ready tears on a coarse,
highly-scented pocket handkerchief, giving orders for boundless
refreshments, and expressing her joy in alternate English and
Hindustani. Belle, beset on all sides by novelty, found it difficult
to recognise which language was being spoken, so little change was
there in voice or inflection. At last, amid the babel of words and
embraces, she managed to enquire for her father. The question produced
a sudden gravity, as if some sacred subject had been introduced. In
after years she recognised this extreme deference to the housemaster
as typical of the mixed race, but at the time, it made her heart beat
with a sudden fear of evil.

"Colonel Stuart is very well, thank you," replied her stepmother,
showing a distinct tendency to reproduce the coarse handkerchief. "He
will, I am sure, be very pleased to see you;--indeed that is one
reason why I am glad myself. Though, of course, I welcome you for your
own sake too, my darling girl. I am only a stepmother, I know, but I
will allow no difference between you and my own three. So I told the
mess-president yesterday--'My daughters cannot go to your ball,
Captain Jenkins,' I said, 'unless Belle goes also.' So, of course, he
sent you an invitation." Mrs. Stuart had a habit of saying "of course"
as if she agreed plaintively with the decrees of Providence.

"But when"--began Belle, her mind far from balls.

"To-night," chorused the three girls; a chorus followed by voluble
solos adjuring her to put on her smartest frock, because all the men
were frantic to see the original of the photograph which, it appeared,
had been duly handed round for inspection and admiration. Belle
neither blushed nor felt indignant; her face fell however when she
found that her father would not be up for another two hours, but the
bated breath with which they spoke of his morning sleep prevented her
from rebellion. Those two hours seemed an eternity, and as she sat
waiting for him in the dim drawing-room, her heart beat with almost
sickening force at each sound.

Unconscious as yet of disappointment, of anything save not unpleasant
surprise, she still was conscious of an almost pathetic insistence
that father _must_ be the father of her dreams.

A mellow voice from the window calling her by name startled her from
her watch by the door. She turned, to see a tall figure in scarlet and
gold standing against the light which glittered on a trailing sword.

There was no doubt this time. With a cry of "Father? oh yes, you are
father!" she was in his arms. To him also came the re-incarnation of a
half-forgotten dream. The fair, slim, white-robed girl standing in the
dim shadows, made the years vanish and youth return. "Good God, child,
how like you are to your poor mother!" he faltered, and the ring in
his voice made his daughter feel as if life held no more content.

Despite years of dissipation Colonel Stuart was still a singularly
fine-looking man; well set up, and if a trifle fat in his
dressing-gown, no more than portly in a tightly-buttoned tunic. He had
always had a magnificent way with women, a sort of masterful
politeness, a beautiful overbearing condescension, which the majority
of the sex described as the sweetest of manners. And now, inspired by
his little girl's undisguised admiration, he excelled himself,
discoursing on his delight in having her with him, and on the
impossibility of thanking Heaven sufficiently for the care it had
taken of her. On this last point he spoke in the same terms that he
was accustomed to use towards his hostess at the conclusion of a
visit; that is to say, with the underlying conviction that she had
only done her duty. He drew a touching picture of his own forlornness,
when, as a matter of fact, the very thought of her had passed so
completely out of his life, that her death would only have caused an
unreal regret. His eloquence however brought conviction to himself.
So, to all intents and purposes, he became a fond father, because he
felt as if he had been one. After all, Belle, even had she known the
truth, would have no real cause for distress. We have no lien on the
past of another, or on the future either; the present is all we can
claim, and that only to a certain limited extent.

In truth it would have required little self-deception to convince any
one that Belle had always been an abiding factor in life. She was a
daughter any man might well have been proud to possess. Tall and
straight, clear-eyed and bright, with wholesome thoughts and tastes
expressed in every feature. As she brought a cup of tea to her father,
her face alight with pleasure, her eyes brilliant with happiness, she
looked the picture of all an English girl ought to be.

"Thank you, my dear," said the Colonel viewing the offering dubiously.
"I think,--I mean,--I should prefer a peg,--a B. and S.,--a brandy and
soda. The fact is I had a confounded bad night, and it might do me
good, you know."

He was faintly surprised at finding himself making excuses for what
was a daily habit; but it was delightful to bask in the tender
solicitude of Belle's grey eyes, as he poured out, and drank the dose
with an air of accurate virtue. Once more he imposed on himself; on
every one in fact but the servant, who, with the forethought of
laziness, sat outside with the brandy-bottle lest he should be
summoned again. And when, finally, the Colonel rode off to his
committee on his big Australian charger, Belle thought the world could
never have contained a more magnificently martial figure. That this
gorgeous apparition should condescend to wave its hand to her at the
gate, was at once so bewildering and so natural, that all lesser
details faded into insignificance before this astounding realisation
of her dreams.

This was fortunate, for many were the readjustments necessary ere the
day was over. Breakfast, where Belle sat blissfully at her father's
side, revealed two handsome, overdressed young men redolent of scent
and sleek as to hair. These the Miss Van Milders, still in rumpled
wrappers, introduced as their brothers Walter and Stanley, adding by
no means covert chaff about "store clothes," whereat the young fellows
giggled like girls, and Belle became almost aggressively sisterly in
her manner. Walter was in tea, or rather had been so; as the
plantation appeared to be undergoing transmutation into a limited
Company, in order, Belle was told, to produce a dividend. Stanley was
reading for some examination, after which somebody was to do something
for him. It was all very voluble and vague. Meanwhile they stayed at
home quite contentedly; satisfied to lounge about, play tennis, and
keep a tame mongoose.

Towards the end of the meal, however, a red-haired youth slouched into
the room, thrust an unwilling hand into Belle's when introduced as
"your cousin Dick," and then sat down in silence with all the open
awkwardness of an English schoolboy. Afterwards, whenever Belle's cool
grey eyes wandered to that corner, they met a pair of fiery brown ones
also on the reconnoitre.

Besides these present relations there were others constantly cropping
up in conversation; and of them Belle had enough ere the day was done.
The young men chattered over their cigarettes on the verandah; the
girls chattered over Belle's boxes, which they insisted on unpacking
at once; Mrs. Stuart chattered of, and to her servants. It was a
relief when, after luncheon, the whole house settled into the silence
of siesta, though Belle herself was far too excited to rest.

Dinner brought a bitter disappointment in Colonel Stuart's absence;
for she had excused herself from the ball on plea of fatigue, in the
hopes of an evening with her father. It was Cousin Dick who, as they
sat down to table, answered the expectation in Belle's face. "The
Colonel never dines on ball nights, he goes to mess. You see, the
girls bobbing up and down annoy him, and it is beastly to see people
bolting their food in curl-papers."

"I'd speak grammar if I were you," retorted Mildred Van Milder,
flushing up. Her fringe was a perpetual weariness to her, sometimes
demanding the sacrifice of a dance in order to allow hair-curlers to
do their perfect work.

"And I wouldn't wear a fringe like a poodle," growled Dick; whereat
Mrs. Stuart plaintively wondered whence he got his manners, and wished
he was more like her own boys.

Poodles or no poodles, when the dancing-party appeared ready for the
fray, Belle could hardly believe her eyes. The sallow-faced girls of
the morning in their limp cotton wrappers were replaced by admirable
copies of the latest French fashion-prints. Their elaborately-dressed
hair, large dark eyes, and cream-coloured skins (to which art had lent
a soft bloom denied by nature under Indian skies), joined to the
perfect fit of their gowns, compelled attention. Indeed, when Maud, to
try the stability of a shoe, waltzed round the room with her brother,
Belle was startled at her own admiration for their lithe, graceful,
sensuous beauty.

"I'll tell you what it is," cried Mabel, the eldest of the three;
"you'll have a ripping good time tonight, Maudie. I never saw you look
so cheek." She meant _chic_, but the spelling was against her. As for
Mrs. Stuart, she appeared correctly attired in black satin and bugles.
The girls saw to that, suppressing with inexorable firmness the good
lady's hankering after gayer colours and more flimsy stuffs.

Left alone with Cousin Dick, Belle pretended to read, while in reality
she was all ears for the sound of returning wheels. It was nearly ten
o'clock, and, to her simple imagination, time for her father to come
home. The clock struck, and Dick, who had been immersed in a book at
the further corner of the room, laid it aside, and bringing out a
chessboard began to set the men. He paused, frowned, passed both hands
through his rough red hair, and finally asked abruptly if she played.
A brief negative made him shift the pieces rapidly to a problem, and
no more was said. Again the clock struck, and this time Dick came and
stood before her. He was a middle-sized, broad-shouldered youth about
her own age, with a promise of strength in face and figure. "You had
better go to bed," he said still more abruptly. "The Colonel won't be
home till morning. It isn't a bit of good your waiting for him."

This was the second time that he had stepped in to her thoughts, as it
were, and Belle resented the intrusion. "Don't let me keep you up,"
she replied. "I'd just as soon be alone."

"Then you'll have your wish, I expect," he answered coolly, as he
swept the chessmen together and left the room.

Some two hours after Belle woke from sleep to the sound of an
impatient voice. "Bearer! Bearer! _peg lao_, quick! Hang it all, Raby!
you must, you shall stop and give me my revenge. You've the most
cursed good luck--"

"Father!" She rose from her chair with cheeks flushed like those of a
newly-awakened child. The tall, fair young man who stood beside
Colonel Stuart turned at the sound of her voice, then touched his
companion on the arm. "Some one is speaking to you."

"God bless my soul, child! I thought you were at the ball. Why didn't
you go?" His tone was kind, if a little husky, and he stretched a
trembling hand towards her.

"I waited to see you, father," she replied, laying hers on his arm
with a touch which was a caress.

The tall young man smiled to himself. "Will you not introduce me to
your daughter, Colonel?" he said with a half-familiar bow towards
Belle.

Colonel Stuart looked from one to the other as if he had never seen
either of them before. "Introduce you,--why not? Belle, this is John
Raby: a fellow who has the most infernal good luck in creation."

"I have no inclination to deny the fact at _this_ moment," interposed
the other, bowing again.

The implied compliment was quite lost on Belle, whose eyes and ears
were for her father only. "I waited for you," she said with a little
joyous laugh, "and fell asleep in my chair!"

Once more the Colonel looked from one to the other. The mere fact of
his daughter's presence was in his present state confusing, but that
she should have been waiting for him was bewildering in the extreme.
How many years ago was it that another slim girl in white had gazed on
him with similar adoration?

"You had better go to bed now," he said with almost supernatural
profundity. "Good night. God bless you."

"Let me stay, please, father. I'm not a bit tired," she pleaded.

He stood uncertain, and John Raby drew out his watch with a
contemptuous smile. "Half-past one, Colonel; I must be off."

"Hang it all!" expostulated the other feebly. "You can't go without my
revenge. It ain't fair!"

"You shall have it sometime, never fear. Good night, Miss Stuart; we
can't afford to peril such roses by late hours."

Again his words fell flat, their only result being that he looked at
her with a flash of real interest. When he had gone Belle knelt beside
her father's chair, timidly asking if he was angry with her for
sitting up.

"Angry!" cried the Colonel, already in a half doze. "No, child!
certainly not. Dear! dear! how like you are to your poor mother." The
thought roused him, for he stood up shaking his head mournfully. "Go
to bed, my dear. We all need rest. It has been a trying day, a very
trying day."

Belle, as she laid her head on the pillow, felt that it had been so
indeed; yet she was not disappointed with it. She was too young to
criticise kindness, and they had all been kind, very kind; even
Charlie had forgotten his first fright; and so she fell asleep,
smiling at the remembrance of the old _ayah's_ bandy legs.



                             CHAPTER III.


Early morning in the big bazaar at Faizapore. So much can be said; but
who with pen alone could paint the scene, or who with brush give the
aroma, physical and moral, which, to those familiar with the life of
Indian streets, remains for ever the one indelible memory? The
mysterious smell indescribable to those who know not the East; the air
of sordid money-getting and giving which pervades even the children;
the gaily-dressed, chattering stream of people drifting by; but from
the grey-bearded cultivator come on a lawsuit from his village, to the
sweeper, besom in hand, propelling the black flood along the gutter,
the only subject sufficiently interesting to raise one voice above the
universal hum, is money. Even the stalwart herdswomen with their
kilted skirts swaying at each free bold step, their patchwork bodices
obeying laws of decency antipodal to ours, even they, born and bred in
the desert, talk noisily of the _ghee_ they are bringing to market in
the russet and black jars poised on their heads; and if _ghee_ be not
actually money, it is inextricably mixed up with it in the native
mind.

All else may fade from the memory; the glare of sunlight, the
transparent shadows, the clustering flies and children round the
cavernous sweetmeat-shops, the glitter of brazen pots, and the
rainbow-hued overflow from the dyers' vats staining the streets like a
reflection of the many-tinted cloths festooned to dry overhead. Even
the sharper contrasts of the scene may be forgotten; the marriage
procession swerving to give way to the quiet dead, swathed in muslins
and bound with tinsel, carried high on the string bed, or awaiting
sunset and burial in some narrow by-way among green-gold melons and
piles of red wheat. But to those who have known an Indian bazaar well,
the chink of money, and the smell of a chemist's shop, will ever
remain a more potent spell to awaken memory than any elaborate
pictures made by pen or pencil.

On this particular morning quite a little crowd was collected round
the doorway leading to the house of one Shunker Dâs, usurer,
contractor, and honorary magistrate; a man who combined those three
occupations into one unceasing manufacture of money. In his hands pice
turned to annas, annas to rupees, and rupees in their turn to fat. For
there is no little truth in the assertion that the real test of a
_buniah's_ (money-lender's) wealth is his weight, and the safest guard
for income-tax his girth in inches.

Nevertheless a skeleton lay hidden under Shunker Dâs's mountain of
prosperous flesh; a gruesome skeleton whose bones rattled ominously.
Between him and the perdition of a sonless death stood but one life; a
life so frail that it had only been saved hitherto by the expedient of
dressing the priceless boy in petticoats, and so palming him off on
the dread Shiva as a girl. At least so said the _zenana_ women, and so
in his inmost heart thought Shunker Dâs, though he was a prime
specimen of enlightened native society. But on that day the fateful
first decade during which the Destroyer had reft away so many
baby-heirs from the usurer's home was over; and amid countless
ceremonies, and much dispensation of alms, the little Nuttu, with his
ears and nose pierced like a girl's, had been attired in the _pugree_
and _pyjamas_ of his sex. Hence the crowd closing in round the Lâlâ's
Calcutta-built barouche which waited for its owner to come out. Hence
the number of professional beggars, looking on the whole more fat and
well-liking than the workers around them, certainly more so than a
small group of women who were peeping charily from the door of the
next house,--a very different house from Shunker Dâs's pretentious
stucco erection with its blue elephants and mottled tigers frescoed
round the top storey, and a railway train, flanked by two caricatures
of the British soldier, over the courtyard doorway. This was a tall,
square, colourless tower, gaining its only relief from the numerous
places where the outer skin of bricks had fallen away, disclosing
the hard red mortar beneath; mortar that was stronger than stone;
mortar that had been ground and spread long years before the word
"contractor" was a power in India. Here in poverty, abject in all save
honour, dwelt Mahomed Lateef, a Syyed of the Syyeds;[1] and it was his
hewers of wood and drawers of water who formed the group at the door,
turning their lean faces away disdainfully when the baskets of dough
cakes, and trays of sweet rice were brought out for distribution from
the idolater's house.

The crowd thickened, but fell away instinctively to give place to a
couple of English soldiers who came tramping along shoulder to
shoulder, utterly unconcerned and unsympathetic; their Glengarry caps
set at the same angle, the very pipes in their mouths having a drilled
appearance. Such a quiet, orderly crowd it was; not even becoming
audible when Shunker Dâs appeared with little Nuttu, the hero of the
day, who in a coat of the same brocade as his father's, and a _pugree_
tied in the same fashion, looked a wizened, changeling double of his
unwieldy companion. The barouche was brilliant as to varnish, vivid as
to red linings, and the bay Australians were the best money could buy;
yet the people, as it passed, took small notice of the Lâlâ, lolling
in gorgeous attire against the Berlin-wool-worked cushion which he had
bought from the Commissioner's wife at a bazaar in aid of a cathedral.
They gave far more attention to a hawk-eyed old man with a cruel,
high-bred face, who rode by on a miserable pony, and after returning
the Lâlâ's contemptuous salutation with grave dignity, spat solemnly
into the gutter.

This was Mahomed Lateef, who but the day before had put the
talisman-signet on his right hand to a deed mortgaging the last acre
of his ancestral estate to the usurer. Yet the people stood up with
respectful _salaams_ to him, while they had only obsequious grins for
the other. Indeed, one old patriarch waiting for death in the sun,
curled up comfortably, his chin upon his knees, on a bed stuck well
into the street, nodded his head cheerfully and muttered "Shunker's
father was nobody," over and over again till he fell asleep; to dream
perchance of the old order of things.

Meanwhile the Lâlâ waited his turn for audience at the District
Officer's bungalow. There were many other aspirants to that honour,
seated on a row of cane-bottomed chairs in the verandah, silent,
bored, uncomfortable. It is an irony of fate which elevates the chair
in India into a patent of position, for nowhere does the native look
more thoroughly out of place than in the coveted honour. As it is he
clings to it, notably with his legs; those thin legs round whose
painful want of contour the tight cotton pantaloons wrinkle all too
closely, and which would be so much better tucked away under dignified
skirts in true Eastern fashion. But the exotic has a strange
fascination for humanity. Waiting there for his turn, the Lâlâ
inwardly cursed the Western morality which prevented an immediate and
bribe-won entry; but the red-coated badge-wearers knew better than to
allow even a munificent shoe-money to interfere with the roster. The
harassed-looking, preoccupied official within had an almost uncanny
quickness of perception, so the rupees chinked into their pockets, but
produced no effect beyond whining voices and fulsome flattery.

"Well, Lâlâ-ji! and what do _you_ want?" asked the representative of
British majesty when, at last, Shunker Dâs's most obsequious smile
curled out over his fat face. There was no doubt a certain brutality
of directness in the salutation, but it came from a deadly conviction
that a request lay at the bottom of every interview, and that duty
bade its discovery without delay. The abruptness of the magistrate was
therefore compressed politeness. As he laid down the pen with which he
had been writing a judgment, and leant wearily back in his chair, his
bald head was framed, as it were, in a square nimbus formed by a
poster on the wall behind. It was four feet square, and held, in
treble columns, a list of all the schedules and reports due from his
office during the year to come. That was his patent of position; and
it was one which grows visibly, as day by day, and month by month, law
and order become of more consequence than truth and equity in the
government of India.

The Lâlâ's tact bade him follow the lead given. "I want, _sahib_," he
said, "to be made a _Rai Bâhâdur_."

Now _Rai Bâhâdur_ is an honorific title bestowed by Government for
distinguished service to the State. So without more ado Shunker Dâs
detailed his own virtues, totalled up the money expended in public
utility, and wound up with an offer of five thousand rupees towards a
new Female Hospital. The representative of British majesty drew
diagrams on his blotting-paper, and remarked, casually, that he would
certainly convey the Lâlâ's liberal suggestion about the hospital to
the proper authorities; adding his belief that one Puras Râm, who was
about to receive the coveted honour, had offered fifteen thousand for
the same purpose.

"I will give ten thousand, _Huzoor_" bid the usurer, with a scowl
struggling with his smile; "that will make seventy-five thousand in
all; and Tôta Mull got it for building the big tank that won't hold
water. If it cost him fifty thousand, may I eat dirt; and I ought to
know for I had the contract. It won't last, _Huzoor_; I know the stuff
that went into it."

"Tôta Mull had other services."

"Other services!" echoed Shunker fumbling in his garments, and
producing a printed book tied up in a cotton handkerchief. "See my
certificates; one from your honour's own hand."

Perhaps the District Officer judged the worth of the others by the
measure of his own testimonial, wherein, being then a "griff" of six
months' standing, he had recorded Shunker's name opposite a list of
the cardinal virtues, for he set the book aside with a sad smile. Most
likely he was thinking that in those days his ambition had been a
reality, and his liver an idea, and that now they had changed places.
"I am glad to see your son looking so well," he remarked with pointed
irrelevance. "I hear you are to marry him next month, and that
everything is to be on a magnificent scale. Tôta Mull will be quite
eclipsed; though his boy's wedding cost him sixty-five thousand,--he
told me so himself. Accept my best wishes on the occasion."

"_Huzoor!_ I will give fifteen thou--" British majesty rose gravely
with the usual intimation of dismissal, and a remark that it was
always gratified at liberality. Shunker Dâs left the presence with his
smile thoroughly replaced by a scowl, though his going there had
simply been an attempt to save his pocket; for he knew right well that
he had not yet filled up the measure of qualification for a _Rai
Bâhâdur_-ship.

While this interview had been going on, another of a very different
nature was taking place outside a bungalow on the other side of the
road, where Philip Marsden stood holding the rein of his charger and
talking to Mahomed Lateef, whose pink-nosed pony was tied to a
neighbouring tree.

The old man, in faded green turban and shawl, showed straight and tall
even beside the younger man's height and soldierly carriage.
"_Sahib_," he said, "I am no beggar to whine at the feet of a stranger
for alms. I don't know the _sahib_ over yonder whose verandah, as you
see, is crowded with such folk. They come and go too fast these
_sahibs_, nowadays; and I am too old to tell the story of my birth. If
it is forgotten, it is forgotten. But you know me, Allah be praised!
You feel my son's blood there on your heart where he fell fighting
beside you! Which of the three was it? What matter? They all died
fighting. And this one is Benjamin; I cannot let him go. He is a
bright boy, and will give brains, not blood, to the Sirkar, if I can
only get employment for him. So I come to you, who know me and mine."

Philip Marsden laid his hand on the old man's shoulder. "That is true.
Khân _sahib_. What is it I can do for you?"

"There is a post vacant in the office, _Huzoor!_ It is not much, but a
small thing is a great gain in our poor house. The boy could stay at
home, and not see the women starve. It is only writing-work, and
thanks to the old mullah, Murghub Admed is a real _khush nawis_
(penman). Persian and Arabic, too, and Euclidus, and Algebra; all a
true man should know. If you would ask the _sahib_."

"I'll go over now. No, no, _Khân sahib!_ I am too young, and you are
too old."

But Mahomed Lateef held the stirrup stoutly with lean brown fingers.
"The old help the young into the saddle always, _sahib_. It is for you
boys to fight now, and for us to watch and cry 'Allah be with the
brave!'"

So it happened that as Shunker Dâs drove out of the District Officer's
compound, Major Marsden rode in. Despite his scowl, the usurer stood
up and _salaamed_ profusely with both hands, receiving a curt salute
in return.

British majesty was now in the verandah disposing of the smaller fry
in batches. "Come inside," it said, hastily dismissing the final lot.
"I've only ten minutes left for bath and breakfast, but you'll find a
cigar there, and we can talk while I tub."

Amid vigorous splashings from within Major Marsden unfolded his
mission, receiving in reply a somewhat disjointed enquiry as to
whether the applicant had passed the Middle School examination, for
otherwise his case was hopeless.

"And why, in Heaven's name?" asked his hearer impatiently.

The magistrate having finished his ablutions appeared at the door in
scanty attire rubbing his bald head with a towel. "Immutable decree of
government."

"And loyalty, family, influence--what of them?"

A shrug of the shoulders,--"Ask some one else. I am only a
barrel-organ grinding out the executive and judicial tunes sent down
from headquarters."

"And a lively discord you'll make of it in time! But you are wrong. A
man in your position is, as it were, trustee to a minor's estate and
bound to speak up for his wards."

"And be over-ridden! No good! I've tried it. Oh lord! twelve o'clock
and I had a case with five pleaders in it at half-past eleven. Well,
I'll bet the four-anna bit the exchange left me from last month's pay,
that my judgment will be upset on appeal."

"I pity you profoundly."

"Don't mention it; there's balm in Gilead. This is mail-day, and I
shall hear from my wife and the kids. Good-bye!--I'm sorry about the
boy, but it can't be helped."

"It strikes me it will have to be helped some day," replied Major
Marsden as he rode off.

Meanwhile a third interview, fraught with grave consequences to this
story, had just taken place in the Commissariat office whither Shunker
Dâs had driven immediately after his rebuff, with the intention of
robbing Peter to pay Paul; in other words, of getting hold of some
Government contract, out of which he could squeeze the extra rupees
required for the purchase of the _Rai Bâhâdur_-ship; a proceeding
which commended itself to his revengeful and spiteful brain. As it so
happened, he appeared in the very nick of time; for he found Colonel
Stuart looking helplessly at a telegram from headquarters, ordering
him to forward five hundred camels to the front at once.

Now the Faizapore office sent in the daily schedules, original,
duplicate, and triplicate, with commendable regularity, and drew the
exact amount of grain sanctioned for transport animals without fail;
nevertheless a sudden demand on its resources was disagreeable. So, as
he had done once or twice before in this time of war and rumours of
wars, the chief turned to the big contractor for help; not without a
certain uneasiness, for though a long course of shady transactions had
blunted Colonel Stuart's sense of honour towards his equals, it had
survived to an altogether illogical extent towards his inferiors. Now
his private indebtedness to the usurer was so great that he could not
afford to quarrel with him; and this knowledge nurtured a suspicion
that Shunker Dâs made a tool of him, an idea most distasteful both to
pride and honour. No mental position is more difficult to analyse than
that of a man, who having lost the desire to do the right from a
higher motive, clings to it from a lower one. Belle's father, for
instance, did not hesitate to borrow cash from monies intrusted to his
care; but he would rather not have borrowed it from a man with whom he
had official dealings.

Shunker Dâs, however, knew nothing, and had he known would have
credited little, of this survival of honour. It seemed impossible in
his eyes that the innumerable dishonesties of the Faizapore office
could exist without the knowledge of its chief. Bribery was to him no
crime; nor is it one to a very large proportion of the people of
India. To the ignorant, indeed, it seems such a mere detail of daily
life that it is hard for them to believe in judicial honesty. Hence
the ease with which minor officials extort large sums on pretence of
carrying the bribe to the right quarter; and hence again comes, no
doubt, many a whispered tale of corruption in high places.

"I shall lose by this contract, _sahib_," said the Lâlâ, when the
terms had been arranged; "but I rely on your honour's generous aid in
the future. There are big things coming in, when the Protector of the
Poor will doubtless remember his old servant, whose life and goods are
always at your honour's disposal."

"I have the highest opinion of,--of your integrity, Lâlâ _sahib_,"
replied the Colonel evasively, "and of course shall take it,--I mean
your previous services--into consideration, whenever it--it is
possible to do so." The word integrity had made him collapse a little,
but ere the end of the sentence he had recovered his self-esteem, and
with it his pomposity.

The Lâlâ's crafty face expanded into a smile. "We understand each
other, _sahib_, and if--!" here he dropped his voice to a confidential
pitch.

Five minutes after Colonel Stuart's debts had increased by a thousand
rupees, and the Lâlâ was carefully putting away a duly stamped and
signed I.O.U. in his pocket-book; not that he assigned any value to
it, but because it was part of the game. Without any distinct idea of
treachery, he always felt that Lukshmi, the goddess of Fortune, had
given him one more security against discomfiture when he managed to
have the same date on a contract and a note of hand. Not that he
anticipated discomfiture either. In fact, had any one told him that he
and the Colonel were playing at cross-purposes, he would have laughed
the assertion to scorn. He had too high an opinion of the perspicacity
of the _sahib-logue_, and especially of the _sahib_ who shut his eyes
to so many irregularities, to credit such a possibility.

So he drove homewards elate, and on the way was stopped in a narrow
alley by an invertebrate crowd, which, without any backbone of
resistance, blocked all passage, despite the abuse he showered around.
"Run over the pigs! Drive on, I say," he shouted to the driver, when
other means failed.

"Best not, Shunker," sneered a little gold-earringed Rajpoot amongst
the crowd, "there's a sepoy in yonder shooting free."

The Lâlâ sank back among his cushions, green with fear. At the same
moment an officer in undress uniform rode up as if the street were
empty, the crowd making way before him. "What is it, _havildar_
(sergeant)?" he asked sharply, reining up before an open door where a
sentry stood with rifle ready.

"Private Afzul Khân run amuck, _Huzoor!_"

Major Marsden threw himself from his horse and looked through the door
into the little court within. It was empty, but an archway at right
angles led to an inner yard. "When?"

"Half an hour gone--the guard will be here directly, _Huzoor!_ They
were teasing him for being an Afghan, and saying he would have to
fight his own people."

"Any one hurt?"

"Jeswunt Rai and Gurdit Singh, not badly; he has--seven rounds left,
_sahib_, and swears he won't be taken alive."

The last remark came hastily, as Major Marsden stepped inside the
doorway. He paused, not to consider, but because the tramp of soldiers
at the double came down the street. "Draw up your men at three paces
on either side of the door," he said to the native officer. "If you
hear a shot, go on the house-top and fire on him as he sits. If he
comes out alone, shoot him down."

"Allah be with the brave!" muttered one or two of the men, as Philip
Marsden turned once more to enter the courtyard. It lay blazing in the
sunshine, open and empty; but what of the dim archway tunnelling a row
of buildings into that smaller yard beyond, where Afzul Khân waited
with murder in his heart, and his finger on the trigger of his rifle?
There the Englishman would need all his nerve. It was a rash attempt
he was making; he knew that right well, but he had resolved to attempt
it if ever he got the opportunity. Anything, he had told himself, was
better than the wild-beast-like scuffle he had witnessed not long
before; a hopeless, insane struggle ending in death to three brave
men, one of them the best soldier in the regiment. The remembrance of
the horrible scene was strong on him as his spurs clicked an even
measure across the court.

It was cooler in the shadow, quite a relief after the glare. Ah!...
just as he had imagined! In the far corner a crouching figure and a
glint of light on the barrel of a rifle. No pause; straight on into
the sunlight again; then suddenly the word of command rang through the
court boldly. "Lay down your arms!"

The familiar sound died away into silence. It was courage against
power, and a life hung on the balance. Then the long gleam of light on
the rifle wavered, disappeared, as Private Afzul Khân stood up and
saluted. "You are a braver man than I, _sahib_," he said. That was
all.

A sort of awed whisper of relief and amazement ran through the crowd
as Philip Marsden came out with his prisoner, and gave orders for the
men to fall in. Two Englishmen in mufti had ridden up in time for the
final tableau; and one of them, nodding his head to the retreating
soldiers, said approvingly, "That is what gave, and keeps us India."

"And that," returned John Raby pointing to Shunker Dâs who with
renewed arrogance was driving off, "will make us lose it."

"My dear Raby! I thought the moneyed classes--"

"My dear Smith! if you think that when the struggle comes, as come it
must, our new nobility, whose patent is plunder, will fight our
battles against the old, I don't."

They argued the point all the way home without convincing each other,
while Time with the truth hidden in his wallet passed on towards the
Future.



                             CHAPTER IV.


Had any one, a week before his daughter arrived, told Colonel Stuart
that her presence would be a pleasant restraint upon him, he would
have been very angry. Yet such was the fact. Her likeness to her
mother carried him back to days when his peccadilloes could still be
regarded as youthful follies, and people spared a harsh verdict on
what age might be expected to remedy. Then her vast admiration gave a
reality to his own assumptions of rectitude; for the Colonel clung
theoretically to virtue with great tenacity, in a loud-voiced,
conservative "d---- you if you don't believe what I say" sort of
manner. He also maintained a high ideal in regard to the honour of
every one else, based on a weak-kneed conviction that his own was
above suspicion.

He was proud of Belle too, fully recognising that with her by his side
his grey hairs became reverend. So he pulled himself up to some small
degree, and began to sprinkle good advice among the younger men with
edifying gravity. As for Belle she was supremely happy. No doubt had
she been "earnest" or "soulful" or "intense" she might have found
spots on her sun with the greatest ease; but she was none of these
things. At this period of her existence nothing was further from her
disposition than inward questionings on any subject. She took life as
she found it, seeing only her own healthy, happy desires in its dreary
old problems, and remaining as utterly unconscious that she was
assimilating herself to her surroundings as the caterpillar which
takes its colour from the leaf on which it feeds. For a healthy mind
acts towards small worries as the skin does towards friction; it
protects itself from pain by an excess of vitality. It is only when
pressure breaks through the blister that its extent is realised.

In good truth Belle's life was a merry one. The three girls were
good-nature itself, especially when they found the new arrival
possessed none of their own single-hearted desire for matrimony. Her
stepmother, if anything, was over-considerate, being a trifle inclined
to make a bugbear of the girl's superior claims to her father's
affection. The housekeeping was lavishly good, and men of a certain
stamp were not slow to avail themselves of the best mutton and prawn
curry in Faizapore. Where the money came from which enabled the
Stuarts to keep open house, they did not enquire. Neither did Belle,
who knew no more about the value of things than a baby in arms. As for
the Colonel, he had long years before acquired the habit of looking on
his debts as his principal, and treating his pay as the interest. So
matters went smoothly and swiftly for the first month or so, during
which time Belle might have been seen everywhere in the company of the
three Miss Van Milders, cheerfully following their lead with a serene
innocence that kept even the fastest of a very fast set in check. Once
or twice she saw Philip Marsden, and was rallied by the girls on her
acquaintance with that solitary misogynist. Mrs. Stuart, indeed, went
so far as to ask him to dinner, even though he had not called, on the
ground that he was the richest man in the station, and Belle's
interests must not be neglected though she was only a stepdaughter.
But he sent a polite refusal, and so the matter dropped; nor to Mrs.
Stuart's open surprise did Belle make any other declared conquest.

Yet, unnoticed by all, there was some one, who long before the first
month was out, would willingly have cut himself into little pieces in
order to save his idol from the least breath of disappointment. So it
was from Cousin Dick's superior knowledge of Indian life that Belle
learnt many comforting, if curious excuses for things liable to ruffle
even her calm of content.

Poor Dick! Hitherto his efforts in all directions had resulted in
conspicuous failure; chiefly, odd though it may seem, because he
happened to be born under English instead of Indian skies. In other
words, because he was not what bureaucracies term "a Statutory
Native." His mother, Mrs. Stuart's younger sister, had run away with a
young Englishman who, having ruined himself over a patent, was keeping
soul and body together by driving engines. In some ways she might have
done worse, for Smith senior was a gentleman; but he possessed,
unfortunately, just that unstable spark of genius which, like a
will-o'-the-wisp leads a man out of the beaten path without guiding
him into another. The small sum of money she brought him was simply so
much fuel to feed the flame; and, within a few months of their
marriage, the soft, luxurious girl was weeping her eyes out in a
miserable London lodging, while he went the rounds with his patent.
There Dick was born, and thence after a year or two she brought them
both back to the elastic house, the strong family affection, and
lavish hospitality which characterise the Eurasian race. Not for long,
however, since her husband died of heat-apoplexy while away seeking
for employment, and she, after shedding many tears, succumbed to
consumption brought on by the fogs and cold of the north. So,
dependent on various uncles and aunts in turn, little Dick Smith had
grown up with one rooted desire in the rough red head over which his
sleek, soft guardians shook theirs ominously. Briefly, he was to be an
engineer like his father. He broke open everything to see how it
worked, and made so many crucial experiments that the whole family
yearned for the time when he should join the Government Engineering
College at Roorkee. And then, just when this desirable consummation
was within reach, some one up among the deodars at Simla, or in an
office at Whitehall, invented the "Statutory Native," and there was an
end of poor Dick's career; for a Statutory Native is a person born in
India of parents habitually resident and domiciled in the country.
True, the college was open to the boy for his training; but with all
the Government appointments awarded to successful students closed to
him by the accident of his birth, his guardians naturally shook their
heads again over an expensive education which would leave him,
practically, without hope of employment. For, outside Government
service, engineers are not, as yet, wanted in India. He might, of
course, had he been the son of a rich man, have been sent home to pass
out as an Englishman through the English college. As it was the boy,
rebellious to the heart's core, was set to other employment. Poor
Dick! If his European birth militated against him on the one side, his
Eurasian parentage condemned him on the other. After infinite trouble
his relations got him a small post on the railway, whence he was
ousted on reduction; another with a private firm which became
bankrupt. The lad's heart and brains were elsewhere, and as failure
followed on failure, he gave way to fits of defiance, leading him by
sheer excess of energy into low companionship and bad habits. At the
time of Belle's arrival he was trying to work off steam as an unpaid
clerk in his uncle's office when a boy's first love revolutionized his
world; love at first sight, so enthralling, so compelling, that he did
not even wonder at the change it wrought in him. Belle never knew,
perhaps he himself did not recognise, how much of the calm content of
those first few months was due to Dick's constant care. A silent,
unreasoning devotion may seem a small thing viewed by the head, but it
keeps the heart warm. Poor, homeless, rebellious Dick had never felt
so happy, or so good, in all his life; and he would kneel down in his
hitherto prayerless room and pray that she might be kept from sorrow,
like any young saint. Yet he had an all-too-intimate acquaintance with
the corruption of Indian towns, and an all-too-precocious knowledge of
evil.

Belle in her turn liked him; there was something more congenial in his
breezy, tempestuous, nature than in the sweetness of her stepbrothers,
and unconsciously she soon learnt to come to him for comfort. "Charlie
tells such dreadful stories," she complained one day, "and he really
is fond of whisky-and-water. I almost wish father wouldn't give him
any."

"The governor thinks it good for him, I bet," returned Dick stoutly.
"I believe it is sometimes. Then as for lies! I used to tell 'em
myself; it's the climate. He'll grow out of it, you'll see; I did."

Now Dick's truthfulness was, as a rule, so uncompromising that Belle
cheered up; as for the boy, his one object then was to keep care from
those clear eyes; abstract truth was nowhere.

The next time Sonny _baba_ was offered a sip from his father's glass,
he refused hastily. Pressure produced a howl of terror; nor was it
without the greatest difficulty that he was subsequently brought to
own that Cousin Dick had threatened to kill him if he ever touched a
"peg" again. Luckily for the peace of the household this confession
was made in the Colonel's absence, when only Mrs. Stuart's high,
strident voice could be raised in feeble anger. The culprit remained
unrepentant; the more so because Belle assoilzied him, declaring that
Charlie ought not to be allowed to touch the horrid mixture. Whereupon
her stepmother sat and cried softly with the boy on her lap, making
both Belle and Dick feel horribly guilty, until, the incident having
occurred at lunch, both the sufferers fell asleep placidly. When Belle
returned from her afternoon ride she found Mrs. Stuart in high good
humour, decanting a bottle of port wine. "You frightened me so, my
dear," she said affectionately, "that I sent for the doctor, and he
says port wine _is_ better, so I'm glad you mentioned it." And Belle
felt more guilty than ever.

These afternoon rides were Dick's only trouble. He hated the men who
came about the house, and more especially the favoured many who were
allowed to escort the "Van" as Belle's three stepsisters were
nick-named. It made him feel hot and cold all over to think of her in
the company which he found suitable enough for his cousins. But then
it seemed to him as if no one was good enough for Belle,--he himself
least of all. He dreamed wild, happy dreams of doing something brave,
fine, and manly; not so much from any desire of thereby winning her,
but because his own love demanded it imperiously. For the first time
the needle of his compass pointed unhesitatingly to the pole of right.
He confided these aspirations to the girl, and they would tell each
other tales of heroism until their cheeks flushed, and their eyes
flashed responsive to the deeds of which they talked. One day Dick
came home full of the story of Major Marsden and the Afghan sepoy; and
they agreed to admire it immensely. After that Dick made rather a hero
of the Major, and Belle began to wonder why the tall quiet man who had
been so friendly at their first meeting, kept so persistently aloof
from her and hers. He was busy, of course, but so were others, for
these were stirring times. The arsenal was working over hours, and all
through the night, long files of laden carts crept down the dusty
roads, bearing stores for the front.

To all outward appearance, however, society took no heed of these wars
or rumours of wars, but went on its way rejoicing in the winter
climate which made amusement possible. And no one in the station
rejoiced more than Belle. Major Marsden, watching her from afar, told
himself that a girl who adopted her surroundings--and such
surroundings!--so readily, was not to be pitied. She was evidently
well able to take care of herself; yet, many a time, as he sat playing
whist while others were dancing, he caught himself looking up to see
who the partner might be with whom she was hurrying past to seek the
cooler air of the gardens, where seats for two were dimly visible
among the coloured lanterns.

For the most part, however, Belle's partners were boys, too young to
have lost the faculty of recognising innocent unconsciousness. But one
night at a large ball given to a departing regiment, she fell into the
hands of a stranger who had come in from an outstation in order to
continue a pronounced flirtation which Maud Van Milder had permitted
during a dull visit to a friend. That astute young lady having no
intention of offending permanent partners for his sake, handed him
over to Belle for a dance, and the latter, failing to fall in with his
step during the first turn, pleaded fatigue as the easiest way of
getting through the penance.

Philip at his whist, saw her pass down the corridor towards the
garden; and, happening to know her companion, played a false card,
lost the trick, and apologised.

"Time yet, if we look out," replied his partner; but this was exactly
what the Major could not do, and the rubber coming swiftly to an end,
he made an excuse for cutting out, and followed Belle into the garden,
wondering who could have introduced her to such a man. To begin with
he was not fit for decent society, and in addition he had evidently
favoured the champagne. Philip had no definite purpose in his pursuit,
until from a dark corner he heard Belle's clear young voice with a
touch of hauteur in it. Then the impulse to get her away from her
companion before he had a chance of making himself objectionable, came
to the front, joined to an unexpected anger and annoyance.

"I have been looking for you everywhere, Miss Stuart. You are wanted,"
said Philip going up to them.

"Hallo, Marsden! what a beast you are to come just as we were gettin'
confidential--weren't we?" exclaimed Belle's companion with what was
meant to be a fascinating leer. She turned from one face to the other;
but if the one aroused dislike and contempt, the air of authority in
Major Marsden's touched her pride.

"Who wants me?" she asked calmly.

"Who!" echoed her partner. "Come, that's a good one! We both want you;
don't we, Marsden?"

Luckily for the speaker Philip recognised his own imprudence in
risking an altercation. The only thing to be done now, was to get the
girl away as soon as possible.

"Exactly so;" he replied, crushing down his anger, "Miss Stuart can
choose between us."

Belle rose superbly.

"You seem to forget I can go alone." And alone she went, while her
partner shrieked with noisy laughter, avowing that he loved a spice of
the devil in a girl.

Philip moodily chewing the end of his cheroot ere turning in felt that
the rebuff served him right, though he could not restrain a smile as
he thought of Belle's victorious retreat. By that time, however,
subsequent facts had enlightened her as to Philip's possible meaning,
and the sight of her former partner being inveigled away from waltzing
to the billiard room by the senior subaltern, made her turn so pale
that John Raby, on whose arm she was leaning, thought she was afraid.

"He won't be allowed to come back, Miss Stuart," he said consolingly.
"And I apologise in the name of the committee for the strength of the
champagne."

Belle's mouth hardened. "There is no excuse for that sort of thing.
There never can be one."

He looked at her curiously.

"I wouldn't say that, Miss Stuart. It is a mistake to be so stern. For
my part I can forgive anything. It is an easy habit to acquire--and
most convenient."


Belle, however, could not even forgive herself. She lay tossing about
enacting the scene over and over again, wondering what Major Marsden
must think of her. How foolish she had been! Why had she not trusted
him? Why had he not made her understand?

Being unable to sleep, she rose, and long ere her usual hour was
walking about the winding paths which intersected the barren desert of
garden where nothing grew but privet and a few bushes of oleander.
This barrenness was not Dame Nature's fault, for just over the other
side of the wide white road John Raby's garden was ablaze with
blossom. Trails of Maréchale Niel roses, heavy with great creamy cups,
hung over the low hedge, and a sweet English scent of clove-pinks and
mignonette was wafted to her with every soft, fitful gust of wind. She
felt desperately inclined to cross the intervening dust into this
paradise, and stood quite a long time at the blue gate-posts wondering
why a serpent seemed to have crept into her own Eden. The crow's
long-drawn note came regularly from a _kuchnâr_ tree that was sheeted
with white geranium-like flowers; the Seven Brothers chattered noisily
among the yellow tassels of the cassia, and over head, against the
cloudless sky, a wedge-shaped flight of cranes was winging its way
northward, all signs that the pleasant cold weather was about to give
place to the fiery furnace of May; but Belle knew nothing of such
things as yet, so the vague sense of coming evil, which lay heavily on
her, seemed all the more depressing from its unreasonableness. A
striped squirrel became inquisitive over her still figure and began
inspection with bushy tail erect and short starts of advance, till it
was scared by the clank of bangles and anklets as a group of Hindu
women, bearing bunches of flowers and brazen _lotahs_ of milk for
Seetlâs' shrine, came down the road; beside them, in various stages of
toddle, the little children for whom their mothers were about to beg
immunity from small-pox. Of all this again Belle knew nothing; but
suddenly, causelessly, it struck her for the first time that she ought
to know something. Who were these people? What were they doing? Where
were they going? One small child paused to look at her and she smiled
at him. The mother smiled in return, and the other women looked back
half surprised, half pleased, nodding, and laughing as they went on
their way.

Why? Belle, turning to enquire after the late breakfast, felt
oppressed by her own ignorance. In the verandah she met the bearer
coming out of the Colonel's window with a medicine bottle in his hand.
Did her ignorance go so far that her father should be ill and she not
know of it? "Budlu!" she asked hastily, "the Colonel _sahib_ isn't
ill, is he?"

The man, who had known her mother, and grown grey with his master,
raised a submissive face. "No, missy _baba_, not ill. Colonel _sahib_,
he drunk."

"Drunk!" she echoed mechanically, too astonished for horror. "What
_do_ you mean?"

"Too much wine drunk,--very bad," explained Budlu cheerfully.

She caught swiftly at the words with a sense of relief from she knew
not what. "Ah, I see! the wine last night was bad, and disagreed with
him?"

"Damn bad!" Budlu's English was limited but not choice. She remarked
on it at the breakfast-table, repeating his words and laughing. None
of the girls were down, but Walter and Stanley giggled; and the latter
was apparently about to say something facetious, when his words
changed into an indignant request that Dick would look out, and keep
his feet to himself.

"Was it you I kicked?" asked Dick innocently. "I thought it was the
puppy." Then he went on fast as if in haste to change the subject: "I
often wonder why you don't learn Hindustani, Belle. You'd be ashamed
not to speak the lingo in other countries. Why not here? I'll teach
you if you like."

"There's your chance, Belle!" sneered Stanley, still smarting from
Dick's forcible method of ensuring silence. "He really is worth ten
rupees a month as _moonshee_, and 'twill save the governor's pocket if
it goes in the family."

An unkind speech, no doubt; yet it did good service to Dick by
ensuring Belle's indignant defence, and her immediate acceptance of
his offer; for she was ever ready of tongue, and swift of sympathy,
against injustice or meanness.

So the little incident of the morning passed without her understanding
it in the least. Nevertheless Dick found it harder and harder every
day to manipulate facts, and to stand between his princess and the
naked, indecent truth. Her curiosity in regard to many things had been
aroused, and she asked more questions in the next four days than she
had asked in the previous four months; almost scandalizing the Van
Milder clan by the interest she took in things of which they knew
nothing. It was all very well, the girls said, if she intended to be a
_zenana_-mission lady, but without that aim it seemed to them barely
correct that she should know how many wives the _khansamah_ (butler)
had. As for the boys, they rallied her tremendously about her
Hindustani studies, for, like most of their race, they prided
themselves on possessing but a limited acquaintance with their mother
tongue; Walter, indeed, being almost boastful over the fact that he
had twice failed for the Higher Standard. Then the whole family
chaffed her openly because she had a few sensible talks with John
Raby, the young civilian; and when she began to show a certain
weariness of pursuing pleasure in rear of the "Van," insisted that she
must be in love with him without knowing it.

"I don't like Raby," said Mildred, the youngest and least artificial
of the sisters. "Jack Carruthers told me the governor had been
dropping a lot of money to him at _écarté_."

"I don't see what you and Mr. Carruthers have to do with father's
amusements," flashed out Belle in swift anger. "I suppose he can
afford it, and at least he never stints you,--I mean the family," she
added hastily, fearing to be mean.

"Quite true, my dear! He's a real good sort, is the governor, about
money, and he can of course do as he likes; but Raby oughtn't to
gamble; it isn't form in a civilian. You needn't laugh, Belle, it's
true; it would be quite different if he was in the army."

"Soldiers rush in where civilians fear to tread," parodied Belle
contemptuously. "I wish people wouldn't gossip so. Why can't they
leave their neighbours alone?"

Nevertheless that afternoon she stole over to the office, which was
only separated from the house by an expanse of dusty, stubbly grass,
and seeing her father alone in his private room comfortably reading
the paper, slipped to his side, and knelt down.

"Well, my pretty Belle," he said caressing her soft fluffy hair, "why
aren't you out riding with the others?"

"I didn't care to go; then you were to be at home, and I like that
best. I don't see much of you as a rule, father."

Colonel Stuart's virtue swelled visibly, as it always did under the
vivifying influence of his daughter's devotion. "I am a busy man, my
dear, you must not forget that," he replied a trifle pompously; "my
time belongs to the Government I have the honour to serve." The girl
was a perfect godsend to him, acting on his half-dead sensibilities
like a galvanic battery on paralysed nerve-centres. He was dimly
conscious of this, and also of relief that the influence was not
always on him.

"I know you are very busy, dear," she returned, nestling her head on
his arm, as she seated herself on the floor. "That's what bothers me.
Couldn't I help you in your work sometimes? I write a very good hand,
so people say."

Colonel Stuart let his paper fall in sheer astonishment. "Help me! why
my dear child, I have any number of clerks."

"But I should like to help!" Her voice was almost pathetic; there was
quite a break in it.

Her father looked at her in vague alarm. "You are not feeling ill, are
you, Belle? Not feverish, I hope, my dear! It's a most infernal
climate though, and one can't be too careful. You'd better go and get
your mother to give you five grains of quinine. I can't have you
falling sick, I can't indeed; just think of the anxiety it would be."

Belle, grateful for her father's interest, took the quinine; but no
drug, not even poppy or mandragora, had power to charm away her
restless dissatisfaction. Dick's office was no sinecure, and even his
partial eyes could not fail to see that she was often captious, almost
cross. It came as a revelation to him, for hitherto she had been a
divinity in his eyes; and now, oh strange heresy! he found himself
able to laugh at her with increased, but altered devotion. Hitherto he
had wreathed her pedestal with flowers; now he kept the woman's feet
from thorns, and the impulse to make their pathways one grew stronger
day by day. She, unconscious of the position, added fuel to the flame
by choosing his society, and making him her confidant. Naturally with
one so emotional as Dick, the crisis was not long in coming, and
music, of which he was passionately fond, brought it about in this
wise; for Belle played prettily, and he used to sit and listen to her
like the lover in Frank Dicksee's _Harmony_, letting himself drift
away on a sea of pleasure or pain, he scarcely knew which. So, one
afternoon when they were alone in the house together, she sat down to
the piano and played Schubert's _Frühlingslied_. The sunshine lay like
cloth of gold outside, the doves cooed ceaselessly, the scent of the
roses in John Raby's garden drifted in through the window with the
warm wind which stirred the little soft curls on Belle's neck. The
perfume of life got into the lad's brain, and almost before he knew
it, his arms were round the girl, his kisses were on her lips, and his
tale of love in her ears.

It was very unconventional of course, but very natural,--for him. For
her the sudden rising to her full height with amazement and dislike in
her face was equally natural, and even more unforeseen. The sight of
it filled poor Dick with such shame and regret, that his past action
seemed almost incredible to his present bewilderment. "Forgive me,
Belle," he cried, "I was mad; but indeed I love you,--I love you."

She stood before him like an insulted queen full of bitter anger. "I
will never forgive you. How dare you kiss me? How dare you say you
love me?"

The lad's combativeness rose at her tone. "I suppose any one may dare
to love you. I'm sorry I kissed you, Belle, but my conduct doesn't
alter my love."

His manner, meant to be dignified, tended to bombast, and the girl
laughed scornfully. "Love indeed! You're only a boy! what do you know
about love?"

"More than you do apparently."

"I'm glad you realise the fact if _that_ is what you call love."

"At any rate I'm older than you."

The retort that he was old enough to know better rose to Belle's lips,
but a suspicion that this childish squabbling was neither correct nor
dignified, made her pause and say loftily, "How can you ask me to
forgive such a mean ungentlemanly thing?"

The last epithet was too much for Dick; he looked at her as if she had
struck him. "Don't say that, Belle," he said hoarsely. "It's bad
enough that it's true, and that you don't understand; but don't say
that." He leant over the piano and buried his face in his hands in
utter despair. For the first time a pulse of pity shot through the
storm of physical and mental repulsion in the girl's breast, but she
put it from her fiercely. "Why shouldn't I say it if it is true?"

"Because you are kind; always so good and kind."

Again the pity had to be repulsed, this time still more harshly. "You
will say next that I've been too kind, that I encouraged you, I
suppose; that would put the finishing touch to your meanness."

This speech put it to Dick's patience; he caught her by both hands,
and stood before her masterful in his wrath. "You shall not say such
things to me, Belle! Look me in the face and say it again if you dare.
You know quite well how I love and reverence you; you know that I
would die rather than offend you. I forgot everything but you,--I lost
myself,--you know it."

The thrill in his voice brought a new and distinctly pleasurable sense
of power to the young girl, and, alas! that it should be so, made her
more merciless. "I prefer actions to words. You have insulted me and I
will never speak to you again." She regretted this assertion almost as
it was uttered; it went too far and bound her down too much. She was
not always going to be angry with poor Dick surely? No! not always,
but for the present decidedly angry, very angry indeed.

"Insult!" echoed Dick drearily, letting her hands slip from his.
"There you go again; but fellows do kiss their cousins sometimes."

Had there been any grown-up spectators to this scene they must have
laughed at the full-blown tragedy of both faces, and the alternate
bathos and pathos of the pleas. They were so young, so very young,
this girl and boy, and neither of them really meant what they said,
Belle especially, with her vicious retort: "I am not your cousin, and
I'm glad of it. I'm glad that I have nothing to do with you."

As before her harshness overreached itself, and made a man of him.
"You want to put me out of your life altogether, Belle," he said more
steadily, "because I have made you angry. You have a right to be
angry, and I will go. But not for always. You don't wish that
yourself, I think, for you are kind. Oh Belle! be like yourself! say
one kind word before I go."

Again the consciousness of power made her merciless, and she stood
silent, yet tingling all over with a half-fearful curiosity as to what
he would say next.

"One kind word," he pleaded; "only one."

He waited a minute, then, with a curse on his own folly in expecting
pity, flung out of the room. So it was all over! A genuine regret came
into the girl's heart and she crept away miserably to her own room,
and cried.

"I wonder Dick isn't home to dinner," remarked Mrs. Stuart when that
meal came round. "I do hope he isn't going back to his old habit of
staying out. He heard to-day that his application for a post in the
Salt Department was refused, and he has no patience like my own boys.
I do hope he will come to no harm."

The empty chair renewed Belle's remorseful regret.

"Well! I can't have him kicking his heels in my office much longer,"
remarked the Colonel crossly. "The head-clerk complains of him.
Confound his impudence! he actually interfered in the accounts the
other day, and showed regular distrust. I must have good feeling in
the office; that's a _sine qua non_."

"Oh, Dick's got a splendid opinion of himself," broke in Stanley. "He
had the cheek to tell Raby yesterday that he played too much _écarté_
with--" The speaker remembered his audience too late.

Colonel Stuart grew purple and breathless. "Do you mean to say that
the boy,--that _boy_--presumed to speak to Raby,--to _my friend_
Raby--about his private actions? Lucilla! What is the world coming
to?"

This was a problem never propounded to his wife save under dire
provocation, and the answer invariably warned him not to expect his
own high standard from the world. This time she ventured upon a timid
addition to the effect that rumour did accuse Mr. Raby of playing
high.

"And if he does," retorted the Colonel, "he can afford to pay. Raby,
my dear, is a fine young fellow, with good principles,--deuced good
principles, let me tell you."

"I am very glad to hear it, Charles, I'm sure; for it would be a pity
if a nice, clever, young man, who would make any girl a good husband,
were to get into bad habits."

"Raby is a man any girl might be proud to marry. He is a good fellow."
He looked at Belle, who smiled at him absently; she was wondering
where Dick could be.

"Raby isn't a Christian," remarked Mabel. "He told us yesterday he was
something else. What was it, Maud?"

"An erotic Buddhist."

"Esoteric," suggested Belle.

"It's all the same. He said we were the three Thibetan sisters and he
worshipped us all. But we know who it is, don't we?"

"How you giggle, girls!" complained Colonel Stuart fretfully. "Belle
never giggles. Dear child, I will teach you _écarté_ this evening. It
will amuse you."

It amused him, which was more to the purpose; in addition it prevented
him from falling asleep after dinner, which he was particularly
anxious not to do that evening. So they played until, just as the
clock was striking ten, a step was heard outside, and Colonel Stuart
rose with a relieved remark that it must be John Raby at last. The
opening door, however, only admitted truant Dick with rather a flushed
face. "From Raby," he said handing a note to his uncle. "I met the man
outside."

The scowl, which the sight of the culprit had raised on Colonel
Stuart's face, deepened as he read a palpable excuse for not coming
over to play _écarté_. It seemed inconceivable that Dick's
remonstrance could have wrought this disappointment; yet even the
suggestion was unpleasant. He turned on his nephew only too anxious to
find cause of quarrel. It was not hard to find, for Dick was
manifestly excited. "At your old tricks again, sir?" said his uncle
sternly. "You've been drinking in the bazaar."

Now Dick, ever since the day on which Belle had come to him in
distress over Charlie's abandonment to "pegs," had forsworn liquor, as
he had forsworn many another bad habit. Even when driven to despair,
he had not flown to the old anodyne. But his very virtue had been his
undoing, and a single stiff tumbler of whisky and water, forced on him
by a friend who was startled by his looks as he returned fagged from a
wander into the wilderness, had gone to his unaccustomed head in a
most unlooked-for degree. The injustice of the accusation maddened
him, and he retorted fiercely: "I haven't had so much to drink as you
have, sir."

"Don't speak to your uncle like that, Dick," cried Mrs. Stuart
alarmed. "You had better go to bed, dear; it is the best place for
you."

"Leave the room, you dissipated young meddler," thundered the Colonel
breaking in on his wife's attempt to avert a collision. It was the
first time Belle had witnessed her father's passion, and the sight
made her cling to him as if her touch might soothe his anger.

Dick, seeing her thus, felt himself an outcast indeed. "I've not been
drinking," he burst out, beside himself with jealousy and rage. "The
man who says I have is a liar."

"Go to bed, sir," bawled his uncle, "or I'll kick you out of the room.
I'll have no drunkards here."

Luckless Dick's evil genius prompted an easy retort. "Then you'd
better go first, sir; for I've seen you drunk oftener than you've seen
me!"

The next instant he was at Belle's side pleading for disbelief. "No,
no, Belle! it's a lie! I am mad--drunk--anything--only it is not
true!" His denial struck home to the girl's heart when the angry
assertion might have glanced by. A flash of intelligence lit up the
past: she recollected a thousand incidents, she remembered a thousand
doubts which had made no impression at the time; and before Colonel
Stuart's inarticulate splutterings of wrath found words, her eyes met
Dick's so truthfully, so steadily, that he turned away in despair, in
blank, hopeless despair.

"Why to-morrow?" he cried bitterly in answer to his uncle's order to
leave the room instantly and the house to-morrow. "There's no time
like the present, and I deserve it. Good-bye, Aunt Lucilla; you've
been very kind, always; but I can't stand it any longer. Good-bye, all
of you!"

He never even looked at Belle again; the door closed and he was gone.

"Poor, dear Dick!" remarked Mrs. Stuart in her high complaining
voice. "He always had a violent temper, even as a baby. Don't fret
about it, my dear,"--for large tears were slowly rolling down Belle's
cheeks--"He will be all right to-morrow, you'll see; and he has really
been steadiness itself of late."

"He wasn't anything to speak of either," urged Mildred with her usual
good-nature. "Only a little bit on, and I expect he had no dinner."

"Dinner or no dinner, I say he was drunk," growled Colonel Stuart
sulkily. "No one lies like that unless he is,--that's my experience."

But Belle scarcely realised what they said. Her heart was full of
fear, and though sleep came with almost unwelcome readiness to drive
thought away, she dreamt all night long that some one was saying, "One
kind word, Belle, only one kind word," and she could not speak.



                              CHAPTER V.


Outside the parallelograms of white roads centred by brown stretches
of stubbly grass, and bordered by red and blue houses wherein the
European residents of Faizapore dwelt after their kind, and our poor
Belle lay dreaming, a very different world had been going on its way
placidly indifferent, not to her only, but to the whole colony of
strangers within its gates. The great plains, sweeping like a sea to
the horizon, had been ploughed, sown, watered, harvested: children had
been born, strong men had died, crimes been committed, noble acts
done; and of all this not one word had reached the alien ears. Only
the District Officer and his subaltern, John Raby, bridged the gulf by
driving down every day to the court-house, which lay just beyond the
boundaries of the cantonment and close to the native city; there, for
eight weary hours, to come in contact with the most ignoble attributes
of the Indian, and thence to drive at evening heartily glad of escape.
In the lines of the native regiment Philip Marsden went in and out
among his men, knowing them by name, and sympathising with their
lives. But they too were a race apart from the tillers of soil, the
hewers of wood and drawers of water, who pay the bills for the great
Empire.

Even old Mahomed Lateef came but seldom to see the Major _sahib_ since
he had been forced to send his Benjamin to Delhi, there, in a hotbed
of vice and corruption, to gain a livelihood by his penmanship. The
lad was employed on the staff of a red-hot Mahometan newspaper
entitled "The Light of Islâm," and spent his days in copying blatant
leaders on to the lithographic stones. Nothing could exceed the lofty
tone of "The Light of Islâm." No trace of the old Adam peeped through
its exalted sentiments save when it spoke of the Government, or of its
Hindu rival "The Patriot." Then the editor took down his dictionary of
synonyms, and, looking out all the bad epithets from "abandoned" to
"zymotic," used them with more copiousness than accuracy. Sometimes,
however, it would join issue with one adversary against another, and
blaze out into fiery paragraphs of the following order:


We are glad to see that yet once more "The Patriot," forgetting its
nonsensical race-prejudice for the nonce, has, to use a colloquialism,
followed our lead in pertinently calling on Government for some worthy
explanation of the dastardly outrage perpetrated by its minions on a
virtuous Mahometan widow, &c, &c.


And lovers of the dreadful, after wading through a column of abuse,
would discover that the ancestral dirt of an old lady's cowhouse had
been removed by order of the Deputy Commissioner! Yet the paper did
good: it could hardly do otherwise, considering its exalted
sentiments; but for all that the occupation was an unwholesome one for
an excitable lad like Murghub Ahmed. While his fingers inked
themselves hopelessly over the fine words, his mind also became
clouded by them. The abuse of language intoxicated him, until
moderation seemed to him indifference, and tolerance sympathy. He took
to sitting up of nights composing still more turgid denunciations; and
the first time "The Light of Islâm" went forth, bearing not only his
hand-writing, but his heart's belief on its pages, he felt that he had
found his mission. To think that but four months ago he had wept with
disappointment because he was refused the post of statistical writer
in a Government office! Between striking averages, and evolving
Utopias, what a glorious difference! He thanked Providence for the
change, though his heart ached cruelly at times when he could spare
nothing from his modest wage for the dear ones at home. He had a wife
waiting there for him; ere long there might be a child, and he knew
her to be worse fed than many a street-beggar. It seemed to him part
of the general injustice which set his brain on fire.

"Words! Nothing but words," muttered old Mahomed Lateef as he lay
under the solitary _nim_ tree in his courtyard and spelt out "The
Light of Islâm" with the aid of a huge horn-rimmed pair of spectacles.
"Pish! '_The pen is mightier than the sword!_' What white-livered fool
said that? The boy should not have such water in his veins unless his
mother played me false. God knows! women are deceitful, and full of
guile."

This was only his habit of thought; he had no intention of casting
aspersions on his much respected wife Fâtma Bibi, who just then
appeared with a hookah full of the rankest tobacco. "I shall send for
the boy, oh Fâtma Bi!" said the stern old domestic tyrant. "He is
learning to say more than he dare do, and that I will not have. He
shall come home and do more than he says--ha! ha!" Fâtma Bi laughed
too, and clapped her wrinkled hands, while the shy girl, dutifully
doing the daughter-in-law's part of cooking, turned her head away to
smile lest any one should accuse her of joy because _he_ was coming
back.

So Mahomed Lateef covered a sheet of flimsy German note-paper, bought
in the bazaar, with crabbed Arabic lettering, and the women rejoiced
because the light of their eyes was coming back. And after all the lad
refused stoutly to return. He wrote his father a letter, full of the
most trite and beautiful sentiments, informing his aged parent that
times had changed, the old order given place to the new, and that he
intended to raise the banner of _jehâd_ (religious war) against the
infidel. The women cried _Bismillah_, and Mahomed Lateef, despite his
annoyance at the disobedience, could not help, as it were, cocking his
ears like an old war-horse. Yet he wrote the lad a warning after his
lights, which ran thus:


God and His prophet forbid, oh son of my heart, that I should keep
thee back, if, as thou sayest, thou wouldst raise the banner of
_jehâd_. If a sword be needed, I will send thee mine own friend;
but remember always what the mullah taught thee, nor confound the
three great things,--the Dur-ul-Islâm, the Dur-ul-Husub, and the
Dur-ul-Ummun.[2] Have at the Hindu pigs, especially any that bear
kindred to Shunker's fat carcase; he hath cheated me rascally, and
built a window overlooking my yard for which I shall have the law of
him. But listen for the cry of the muezzin, and put thy sword in the
scabbard when its sound falls on thine ear, remembering 'tis the House
of Protection, and not the House of the Foe. If thou goest to China,
as perhaps may befall, seeing the _sahibs_ fight the infidel there,
remember to cool thy brother's grave with tears. Meanwhile, play
singlestick with Shâhbâz Khân the Mogul, and if thou canst get the old
Meean _sahib_, his father, on his legs, put the foils into his hand,
rap him over the knuckles once, and he will teach thee more in one
minute than his son in five.


Then the old Syyed lay down on his bed under the _nim_ tree, and Fâtma
Bi fanned the mosquitoes from him with a tinsel fan, and talked in
whispers to Nasibun, the childless wife, of the deeds their boy was to
do, while Haiyât Bi, the young bride, busy as usual, found time to dry
her tears unseen. A fire burning dim in one corner of the courtyard
was almost eclipsed by the moon riding gloriously in the purple-black
sky overhead. From the other side of the high partition wall came the
dull throbbing of the _dholki_ (little drum) and an occasional wild
skirling of pipes. The marriage festivities in Shunker Dâs's house had
begun, and every day some ceremony or other had to be gone through,
bringing an excuse for having the _marânsunis_ (female musicians) in
to play and sing. High up near the roof of the sugar-cake house with
its white filigree mouldings gleamed the objectionable window. Within
sat the usurer himself conferring with his jackal, one Râm Lâl, a man
of small estate but infinite cunning. It was from no desire of
overlooking Mahomed Lateef's women that Shunker Dâs frequented the
upper chamber. He had other and far more important business on hand,
necessitating quiet and the impossibility of being overheard. Even up
there the two talked in whispers, and chuckled under their breath;
while in the courtyard below the delicate child who stood between
Shunker and damnation ate sweetmeats and turned night into day with
weary, yet sleepless, eyes.

The moon, shining in on the two courtyards, shone also on the church
garden, as Major Marsden after going his rounds turned his horse into
its winding paths. A curious garden it was, guiltless of flowers and
planted for the most part with tombstones. Modern sanitation, stepping
in like Aaron's rod to divide the dead from the living, had ceased to
use it as a cemetery; but the records of long forgotten sorrows
remained, looking ghostly in the moonlight. The branch of a rose-tree
encroaching on the walk caught in the tassel of Major Marsden's
bridle, and he stooped to disentangle it. Straightening himself again,
he paused to look on the peaceful scene around him and perceived that
some one, a belated soldier most likely, was lying not far off on a
tombstone. The horse picked its way among many a nameless grave to
draw up beside a figure lying still as if carved in stone.

"Now, my man, what's up?" said Major Marsden dismounting to lay a
heavy hand on its shoulder. The sleeper rose almost automatically, and
stood before him alert and yet confused. "Dick Smith! What on earth
brings you here?"

The boy could scarcely remember at first, so far had sleep taken him
from his troubles. Then he hung his head before memory. "I'm leaving
Faizapore, and came here--to wait for daylight; that's all."

But the moonlight on the tombstone showed its inscription, "Sacred to
the memory of John Smith"; and Philip Marsden judged instantly that
there was trouble afoot; boys do not go to sleep on their father's
graves without due cause. Some scrape no doubt, and yet--. His dislike
to Colonel Stuart made him a partisan, and he was more ready to
believe ill of the elder, than of the younger man.

"Don't be in a hurry," he said kindly. "There's something wrong of
course, but very few scrapes necessitate running away."

"There's nothing to make me run away," replied Dick, with a lump in
his throat as he unconsciously contrasted this stranger's kindness
with other people's harshness; "but go I must."

"Where?"

The question roused the sense of injury latent for years. "Where? How
do I know? I tell you there's nothing for me to do anywhere--nothing!
And then, when a fellow is sick of waiting, and runs wild a bit, they
throw it in his teeth, when he has given it all up."

It was not very lucid, but the lad's tone was enough for Philip
Marsden. "Come home with me," he said with a smile full of pity; "and
have a real sleep in a real bed. You don't know how different things
will seem to-morrow."

Dick looked at his hero, thought how splendid he was, and went with
him like a lamb.

Next morning when the boy with much circumlocution began to tell the
tale of his troubles, Major Marsden felt inclined to swear. Would he
never learn to mistrust his benevolent impulses, but go down to his
grave making a fool of himself? A boy and girl lovers' quarrel,--was
that all? Yet as the story proceeded he became interested in spite of
himself. "Do you mean to tell me," he said incredulously, "that Miss
Stuart is absolutely ignorant of what goes on in that house?"

Dick laid his head on the table in sheer despair. "Ah Major, Major!"
he cried, "I told her--I--you should have seen her face!" He burst
into incoherent regrets, and praises of Belle's angelic innocence.

"It appears to me," remarked Major Marsden drily, "to be about the
best thing that could have happened. Fiction is always unsafe.
Belle,--as you call her--must have found it out sooner or later. The
sooner the better, in my opinion."

"You wouldn't say that if you knew her as I do," explained the other
eagerly; "or if you knew all that I do. There will be a smash some day
soon, and it will kill Belle outright. Ah! if I hadn't been a fool and
a brute, I might have stayed and perhaps kept things from going
utterly wrong."

"Then why don't you go back?" asked his hearer impatiently.

"I can't! He won't have me in the office again. You don't know what
mischief is brewing there."

"Thank you, I'd rather not know; but if you're certain this move of
yours is final,--that is to say if you don't want to kiss and make
friends with your cousin--[Poor Dick writhed inwardly, for he had kept
back the full enormity of his offence]--then I might be able to help
you in getting employment. They are laying a new telegraph-line to the
front, and, as it so happens, a friend wrote to me a few days ago
asking if I knew of any volunteers for the work."

The lad's face brightened. "Telegraphs! oh, I should like that! I've
been working at them these two years, and I think--but I'm not
sure--that I've invented a new--"

"All right," interrupted Major Marsden brusquely; "they can try you,
at any rate. You can start tonight; that settles it. Now you had
better go round and get your things ready."

Dick writhed again in mingled pride and regret. "I can't; I've said
good-bye to them all; besides, I left a bundle of sorts in the bazaar
before I went--there."

Philip Marsden shrugged his shoulders, remarking that the boy might do
as he liked, and went off to his work; returning about two o'clock,
however, to find Dick asleep, wearied out even by a half-night's
vigil of sorrow. "How soft these young things are," he thought, as
he looked down on the sleeping boy, and noticed a distinctly damp
pocket-handkerchief still in the half-relaxed hand. A certain scorn
was in his heart, yet the very fact that he did notice such details
showed that he was not so hard as he pretended. He went into the
rough, disorderly room where he spent so many solitary evenings, lit a
cigar, and walked about restlessly. Finally, telling himself the while
that he was a fool for his pains, he sat down and wrote to Belle
Stuart in this wise:--


My Dear Miss Stuart,--At the risk of once more being meddlesome, I
venture to tell you that your cousin, Dick Smith, goes off to
Beluchistan to-night as telegraph overseer. It is dangerous work, and
perhaps you might like to see him before he leaves. If so, by riding
through the church garden about six o'clock you will meet him. He
doesn't know I am writing, and would most likely object if he did; but
I know most women believe in the duty of forgiveness. Yours truly,
P. H. Marsden.

P.S. If you were to send a small selection of warm clothing to meet
him at the bullock train office it, at any rate, could not fail to be
a comfort to him.


Belle read this rather brusque production with shining eyes and a
sudden lightening of her heart. Perhaps, as she told herself, this
arose entirely from her relief on Dick's account; perhaps the
conviction that Major Marsden could not judge her very harshly if he
thought it worth while to appeal to her in this fashion, had something
to do with it. The girl however did not question herself closely on
any subject. Even the dreadful doubt which Dick's mad words had raised
the night before had somehow found its appointed niche in the orderly
pageant of her mind where love sat in the place of honour. Was it
true? The answer came in a passionate desire to be ignorant, and yet
to protect and save. Very illogical, no doubt, but very womanly; to a
certain extent very natural also, for her father, forced by the
circumstances detailed in the last chapter to retire early to bed, had
arisen next morning in a most edifying frame of mind, and a somewhat
depressed state of body. He was unusually tender towards Belle, and
spoke with kindly dignity of unhappy Dick's manifest ill-luck. These
dispositions therefore rendered it easy for Belle to make excuses in
her turn. Not that she made them consciously; that would have argued
too great a change of thought. The craving to forget and forgive was
imperative, and the sense of wrong-doing which her innate truthfulness
would not allow to be smothered, found an outlet in self-blame for her
unkindness to dear Dick. As for poor father--: the epithets spoke
volumes.

"There is your cousin," said Major Marsden to Dick as Belle rode
towards them through the overarching trees in the church garden.
"Don't run away; I asked her to come. You'll find me by the bridge."

The lad was like Mahomet's coffin, hanging between a hell of remorse
and a heaven of forgiveness, as he watched her approach, and when she
reined up beside him, he looked at her almost fearfully.

"I'm sorry I was cross to you, Dick," she said simply, holding out her
hand to him. The clouds were gone, and Dick Smith felt as if he would
have liked to stand up and chant her praises, or fight her battles,
before the whole world. They did not allude to the past in any way
until the time for parting came, when Dick, urged thereto by the
rankle of a certain epithet, asked with a furious blush if she would
promise to forget--everything. She looked at him with kindly smiling
eyes. "Good-bye, dear Dick," she said; and then, suddenly, she stooped
and kissed him.

The young fellow could not speak. He turned aside to caress the horse,
and stood so at her bridle-rein for a moment. "God bless you for that,
Belle," he said huskily and left her.

Belle, with a lump in her own throat and tearful shining eyes, rode
back past the bridge where Philip Marsden, leaning over the parapet,
watched the oily flow of the canal water in the cut below. He looked
up, thinking how fair and slim and young she was, and raised his hat
expecting her to pass, but she paused. He felt a strange thrill as his
eyes met hers still wet with tears.

"I have so much to thank you for, Major Marsden," she said with a
little tremor in her voice, "and I do it so badly. You see I don't
always understand--"

Something in her tone smote Philip Marsden with remorse. "Please not
to say any more about it, Miss Stuart. _I_ understand,--and,--and,--
I'm glad you do not." Thinking over his words afterwards he came to
the conclusion that both these statements had wandered from the truth;
but how, he asked himself a little wrathfully, could any man tell the
naked, unvarnished, disagreeable truth with a pair of grey eyes soft
with tears looking at him?

Dick, of course, raved about his cousin for the rest of the evening,
and besought the Major to send him confidential reports on the
progress of events. In his opinion disaster was unavoidable, and he
was proceeding to detail his reasons, when Major Marsden cut him short
by saying: "I would rather not hear anything about it; and I should
like to know, first, if you are engaged to your cousin?"

Dick confessed he was not; whereupon his companion told him that he
would promise nothing, except, he added hastily, catching sight of
Dick's disappointed face, to help the girl in any way he could. With
this the boy professed to be quite content; perhaps he had grasped the
fact that Philip Marsden was apt to be better than his word. And
indeed a day or two after Dick's departure Marsden took the trouble to
go over and inquire of John Raby what sort of a man Lâlâ Shunker Dâs,
the great contractor, was supposed to be.

The young civilian laughed. "Like them all, not to be trusted. Why do
you ask?" He broke in on the evasive answer by continuing, "The man is
a goldsmith by caste. I suppose you know that in old days they were
never allowed in Government service. As the proverb says, 'A goldsmith
will do his grandmother out of a pice.' But if the Lâlâ-ji gives you
trouble, bring him to me. I've been kind to him, and he is grateful,
in his way."

Now the history of John Raby's kindness to Lâlâ Shunker Dâs was
briefly this: he had discovered him in an attempt to cheat the revenue
in the matter of income-tax, and had kept the knowledge in his own
hands. "Purists would say I ought to report it, and smash the man,"
argued this astute young casuist; "but the knowledge that his ruin in
the matter of that _Rai Bâhâdur_-ship hangs by a thread will keep the
old thief straighter; besides it is always unwise to give away power."

That to a great extent was the keynote of John Raby's life. He coveted
power, not so much for its own sake as for the use he could make of
it. For just as some men inherit a passion for drink, he had inherited
greed of gain from a long line of Jewish ancestry. The less said of
his family the better: indeed, so far as his own account went, he
appeared to have been born when he went to read with a celebrated
"coach" at the age of sixteen. Memory never carried him further in
outward speech; but as this is no uncommon occurrence in Indian
society, the world accepted him for what he appeared to be, a
well-educated gentleman, and for what he was, a man with a pension for
himself and his widow. His first collector, a civilian of the old
type, used to shake his head when John Raby's name was mentioned, and
augur that he would either be hanged or become a Chief Court Judge.
"He was in camp with me, sir," this worthy would say, "when a flight
of wild geese came bang over the tent. I got a couple, the last with
the full choke; and I give you my word of honour Raby never lifted his
eyes from the _buniah's_ book he was deciphering in a petty bond
case!"

In truth the young man's faculty for figures, and his aptitude for
discovering fraud, partook of the nature of genius, and gained him the
reputation of being a perfect _shaitan_ (devil) among the natives.
Philip Marsden, associated with him on a committee for the purchase of
mules, learnt to trust his acumen implicitly, and became greatly
interested in the clear-headed, well-mannered young fellow who knew
such a prodigious amount for his years; pleasant in society too,
singing sentimental songs in a light tenor voice, and having a store
of that easy small-talk which makes society smooth by filling up the
chinks. Being a regular visitor of Colonel Stuart's house John Raby
saw a good deal of Belle, and liked her in a friendly, approving
manner; but, whatever Mrs. Stuart may have thought, he had no more
intention of marrying a penniless girl than of performing a
pilgrimage, or any other pious act savouring of the Middle Ages.

"By the way, I haven't seen the Miss Van Milders or their mother
lately," remarked Major Marsden one day to him, as they came home from
their committee together and met Belle going out for her afternoon
ride by herself.

"Oh, they've gone to Mussoorie; Belle's keeping house for her father."

"Alone?"

"Yes, alone; queer _ménage_, ain't it? I believe the girl thinks
she'll reform the Colonel; and he _is_ awfully fond of her, but--" The
younger man shook his head with a laugh. It jarred upon Philip Marsden
and he changed the subject quickly. So she had elected to stay with
her father! Well, he admired her courage, and could only hope that she
would not have to pay too dearly for it.



                             CHAPTER VI.


Lâlâ Shunker Dâs having discarded all clothing save a scarf of white
muslin tied petticoat-wise round his loins, lay on a wooden bed
perched high on the topmost platform of his tall house. But even there
the burning breezes of May brought no relief from the heat; and he lay
gasping, while his faithful jackal Râm Lâl pounded away with lean
brown knuckles at his master's fat body. The _massage_ seemed to do
little good, for he grunted and groaned dismally. In truth the Lâlâ
ached all over, both in body and soul. A thousand things had conspired
against him: his last and most expensive wife (after spending a
fortune in pilgrimages) had committed the indiscretion of presenting
him with a girl baby; his grandmother having died, he had been forced
much against his will to shave his head; his greatest rival had been
elevated to the Honorary Magistracy and (adding injury to insult) been
associated with him on a _bunch_ (bench), and justice grown in bunches
is not nearly so remunerative to the grower as single specimens. These
were serious ills, but there was one, far more trivial, which
nevertheless smarted worst of all; perhaps because it was the most
recent.

That very morning Shunker Dâs, as behoved one of his aspirations, had
testified to his loyalty by attending the usual parade in honour of
the Queen's birthday. On previous occasions he had driven thither in
his barouche, but ambition had suggested that an appearance on
horseback would show greater activity, and please the Powers. So he
bought a cast horse from the cavalry regiment just ordered on service,
and having attired himself in glittering raiment, including a
magnificent turban of pink Benares muslin, he took his place by the
flagstaff. People congratulated him warmly on his confidential charger
which, even at the _feu de joie_, seemed lost in philosophic
reflections. Shunker Dâs waxed jubilant over the success of his
scheme, and was just giving himself away in magnificent lies, when the
bugle sounded for "close order" preparatory to a few words from the
General to the departing cavalry regiment. On this the war-horse
pricked up its ears, and starting off at a dignified trot rejoined its
old companions, while the Lâlâ, swearing hideously, tugged vainly at
the reins. Arrived at the line the conscientious creature sidled down
it, trying vainly to slip into a vacant place. Failing of success, the
intelligent beast concluded it must be on orderly duty, and just as
the Lâlâ was congratulating himself on having finished his involuntary
rounds, his horse, turning at right angles, bounded off to rejoin the
General's staff. Away went the Lâlâ's stirrups. He must have gone too,
despite his clutch on the mane, had not the streaming end of his
_pugree_ caught in the high crupper-strap and held fast. So stayed,
fore and aft, he might have reached the goal in safety, had not the
General, annoyed by the suppressed tittering around him, lost
patience, and angrily ordered some one to stop that man. Whereupon a
mischievous aide-de-camp gave the word for the "halt" to be sounded.
Confused out of everything save obedience, the charger stopped dead in
his tracks, and the Lâlâ shot over his head, still in a sitting
posture. On being relieved of his burden, the co-ordination "stables"
apparently came uppermost in the horse's mind, for it walked away
slowly, bearing with it the end of the Lâlâ's turban still fastened in
the crupper. He, feeling a sudden insecurity in his headgear, and
being, even in his confusion, painfully conscious of his baldness,
clung to the lower folds with both hands. At this slight check, the
charger, not to be baulked, set off at a canter, and over rolled the
fat Lâlâ, heels in air. Then, and not till then, one roar of laughter
rent the air. For as he lay there on his back, kicking like a turned
turtle, the _pugree_ began to unwind like a ball of thread, while the
Lâlâ held on like grim death to the lower portion. Not until the last
fold had slipped through his fingers and a quarter of a mile or so of
pink muslin was fluttering across the parade ground, did he realise
the position, and struggling to his seat pass his hand over his bald
head with a deprecating smile.

"Go out, Raby, and pick him up," gasped the General aching with
laughter. "You're in political charge, aren't you?"

But Philip Marsden, who happened to be on staff duty that day, was
already pouring in oil and wine to the Lâlâ's hurt dignity when the
young civilian came up with nonchalant courtesy. "_Shâhbâsh, sahib!_"
he said, "you sat him splendidly, and that last prop would have undone
a Centaur."

The Lâlâ, grinned a ghastly smile, and Philip Marsden turned
impatiently, saying aside: "Get him home, do! He looks so helpless
with his bald head; it seems a shame to laugh."

John Raby raised his eyebrows. "The General shall lend him his
carriage. That will soothe his wounded vanity."

So the Lâlâ, with his head tied up in a red pocket-handkerchief, went
home in the big man's barouche, and the spectators of his discomfiture
laughed again at the recollection of it.

"You ought to be the editor of a native newspaper, Marsden," remarked
John Raby. "You would be grand on the unsympathetic Anglo-Indian. But
if I'd seen the Viceroy himself being unwound like a reel of cotton I
must have chuckled."

"No doubt," replied the other laughing himself. "Yet I am sure a keen
sense of the ludicrous is unfortunate in a conquering race. We English
always laugh when policy should make us grave; that is why we don't
succeed."

"Perhaps; for myself I prefer to grin. As some one says, humour is the
religion of to-day. Those who believe in eternity have time for tears.
We others,--why we cry '_Vogue la galère!_'"

Lâlâ Shunker Dâs, however, without any abiding belief in a future
state, was in no laughing mood as he lay under Râm Lâl's
manipulations, listening captiously to his items of bazaar rumour.

"And they say, Lâl-ji, that the Sirkar thinks of transferring Colonel
Estuart _sahib_."

Shunker Dâs sat up suddenly and scowled. "Transfer Estuart
_sahib!_--why?"

Râm Lâl redoubled his exertions on the new portion of the Lâlâ's frame
thus brought within reach, until the latter, uttering dismal groans,
sank back to his former position. "They say," he continued calmly,
"that the Sirkar is beginning to suspect."

"Fool! idiot! knave!" growled his master, gasping at the furious
onslaught on his fat stomach. "'Tis all thy bungling. Have I not bid
thee not go so fast? Times have changed since the Commissariat
_sahibs_ sat in their verandahs, and one could walk a file of twenty
camels round and round the house until they counted the proper number.
But remember! 'Tis thou who goest to the wall, not I. That's the
compact. Shunker finds the money, Râmu runs the risk."

"Have I forgotten it, Lâlâ-ji?" replied the other with some spirit.
"Râmu is ready. And 'tis Shunker's part to look after the wife and
children when I'm in jail; don't forget that! The master would do
better if he were bolder. This one would have made much in that fodder
contract, but your heart was as water; it always is."

"And if Estuart is transferred; what then?"

"If the branch be properly limed, the bird sticks. Is it limed? Such
things are the master's work, not mine."

"Ay! limed right enough for _him_. But the money, Râmu, the money! It
will take months to lay the snare for a new man, and the war will be
over." The Lâlâ positively wept at the idea.

Râm Lâl looked at him contemptuously. "Get what is to be got from this
_sahib_, at any rate; that's my advice."

The very next day Lâla Shunker Dâs drove down to the Commissariat
office, intent on striking a grand blow.

Things had been going on better than could have been expected in the
large, empty house, where Belle, thinner and paler as the days of
intense heat went by, did the honours cheerfully. It was not without a
struggle that she had been allowed to remain with her father. Mrs.
Stuart had prophesied endless evil, beginning with a bad reputation
for herself as stepmother; but prudential reasons had given their
weight in favour of the girl's earnest desire. To make light of the
heat, and avoid flight to the hills, was a great recommendation for a
civilian's wife, and that, Mrs. Stuart had decreed, was to be Belle's
fate. So with many private injunctions to the _khansamah_ not to allow
the Miss _sahib_ to interfere too much in the management, the good
lady had, as usual, taken herself and her family to Mussoorie. Shortly
after they left Fate played a trump for Belle by sending a slight
attack of malarious fever to the Colonel. He was always dreadfully
alarmed about himself, and a hint from the doctor about the
consequences of over-free living, reduced him to toast and water for a
week, and kept him from mess for three. Belle was in a heaven of
delight; and she was just enjoying the sight of her father actually
drinking afternoon tea, when Budlu came in to say the Lâlâ-ji wanted
to see the Colonel.

"Don't go, father," pleaded Belle. "It's only that horrid fat man;
tell him to come again."

John Raby, who often strolled across about tea-time, looked at Colonel
Stuart and smiled. He knew most things in the station; among others
how unpleasant a visitor Shunker Dâs might be to his host, and not
being ill-natured, he chimed in with the girl by offering to see the
man himself.

The Lâlâ, leaning back magnificently in his barouche, felt a sudden
diminution of dignity at the sight of John Raby. "Bruises all right,
Lâlâ?" asked the young man cheerfully, and Shunker's dignity sank
lower still. "They ought to give you that _Rai Bâhâdur_-ship for the
way you stuck to him; by George, they should! We don't often get men
of your stamp, Lâlâ, with estates in every district,--do we? So you
want to see the Colonel; what for?" he added suddenly and sternly.

"_Huzoor!_" bleated the fat man. "I,--I came to inquire after his
honour's health."

"Much obliged to you! He is better; and I really think if you were to
come, say this day fortnight, he might be able to see you."

Shunker Dâs hesitated, fear for his money making him brave. "There
were rumours," he began, "that my good patron was about to be
transferred."

"Sits the wind in that quarter," thought Raby, amused. "My dear Lâlâ,"
he said, "it's absolutely untrue. Your eighty thousand is quite safe,
I assure you."

"_Huzoor!_"

"Good-bye, Lâlâ-ji--this day fortnight," and he returned to his cup of
tea in high good-humour. Then he sat and played _écarté_ with the
Colonel for an hour while Belle worked and watched them carelessly.

"That makes fifteen," remarked the young man as he rose to go,
whereupon Colonel Stuart assented cheerfully, for he had won that
evening; and Belle looked up with a smiling farewell, unconscious and
content. She lived in a fool's paradise, hugging the belief that her
presence was the charm; as though Niagara was to be stemmed by a
straw, or the habit of years by a sentiment. As time wore on, the few
remaining ladies fled before that last awful pause ere the rains
break, when a deadly weariness settles on all living things. Belle,
feeling shy among so many men, ceased to go out except on the rare
occasions when she could persuade her father to accompany her. But,
though he still adhered to his habit of dining at home, he was moody
and out of sorts. He, too, had heard rumours of transfer, and that
meant the possibility of disaster not to be faced with composure.
Restless and irritable, he began to relieve the great craving which
took possession of him by all sorts of stimulant and narcotic drugs.
And one day came an almost illegible note from him, bidding Belle not
wait dinner for him. She felt instinctively that this was the
beginning of trouble; nor was she wrong, for though Colonel Stuart was
full of excuses the next evening, he never even sent a note the day
after that. So Belle ate her solitary dinners as best she might, and
though she often lay awake till the small hours of the morning brought
an altercation between Budlu and her father, she never sat up for him,
or made any effort to meet him on his return. From this time, brutal
though it may seem to say so, poor Belle's presence in the house, so
far from being an advantage, became a distinct drawback. But for it,
Colonel Stuart would have yielded to the mad craze for drink which
generally beset him at this time of the year; and after a shorter or
longer bout, as the case might be, have been pulled up short by
illness. Instead of this, he tried to keep up appearances, and drugged
himself with chloral and laudanum till the remedy grew worse than the
disease so far as he himself was concerned. It served, however, to
hide the real facts from his daughter; for he met her timid protests
by complaints of ill-health, assertions that he knew what was best for
him, and absolute refusal to call in a doctor.

She grew alarmed. The long, silent days spent in brooding over her
father's altered demeanour were too great a strain on her nerves, and
she began to exaggerate the position. Her thoughts turned again and
again to Dick; if he were there! ah, if he were only there! No one who
has not had in extreme youth to bear anxiety alone, can fully
understand the horror of silence to the young. Belle felt she must
speak, must tell some one of her trouble; it seemed to her as if her
silence was a sort of neglect, and that some one must be able to do
something to set matters straight. But who? She hesitated and shrank,
till one day her father broke down and began to cry piteously in the
middle of his ordinary abuse of the servants at lunch. A stiff glass
of whisky-and-water restored his anger effectually, and he made light
of the incident; but that evening, when Philip Marsden came in late to
dress for dinner he found a note awaiting him from Belle.

She, having received no answer, had been expecting him all the
afternoon, and as time passed began to wonder at her own temerity in
writing. Dick, it is true, had bidden her look on Major Marsden as one
willing to help if needs be; but what could Dick know? She went out,
after a pretence of dinner, to the little raised platform in the
garden where chairs were set every evening for those who preferred it
to the house. Belle liked it far better; the purple arch of sky,
spangled with stars save where the growing moon outshone them, rested
her tired eyes, and the ceaseless quiver of the cicala prevented her
from thinking by its insistence. Suddenly her half-doze was
interrupted by a voice asking for the Miss _sahib_, and she stood up
trembling and uncertain. Why had she sent for him, and what should she
say now that he had come?

"I came as soon as I could, Miss Stuart," said Major Marsden,
formally, as their hands met. "But I was out all day, and had a guest
to entertain at mess." He stopped, dismayed at her appearance, and
added in quite a different tone, "I am afraid you are ill."

She did indeed look ghastly pale in the moonlight, her eyes full of
appeal and her lips quivering; yet her shyness had gone with the first
look at his face, and she felt glad that she had sent for him. "It is
father," she began, then could say no more for fear of breaking down.

The trivial words brought back the recollection of that first meeting
with her months before, when she had made the same reply to his offer
of help; and as he stood waiting for her to master the fast-rising
sobs, a remorse seized him with the thought that surely some of this
pain might have been prevented somehow, by some one.

"You must think me very silly," she murmured hastily.

"I think you are overdone," he replied, "and I don't expect you've had
any dinner. Now have you?"

A smile struggled to her face. "I don't think I had,--much."

"Then I will tell the _khansamah_ to bring you something now."

The full-blown tragedy of life seemed to have departed. She even
wondered at her own tears as she sipped her soup, and told him of her
troubles with a lightening heart. "Budlu says he never saw father like
this before," was the climax, and even that did not seem a hopeless
outlook.

"Could he not take leave?" suggested Major Marsden at once; leave
being the panacea for all ills in India.

"That's what I want to know. I begged him to go, but the very idea
excites him. Would it harm him officially? Is there any reason why he
should not?"

Dick's words of warning recurred to Major Marsden unpleasantly. "None
that I know of," he replied. "I will go round to Seymour's to-morrow,
and get him to bundle you both off to the hills. You want change as
much as your father. In a month's time you will be laughing at all
these fears."

"I think you are laughing at them now," said Belle wistfully.

"Am I? Well, I promise not to laugh at you any more, Miss Stuart." He
stood up, tall and straight, to say good-bye.

"Isn't that rather a rash promise, Major Marsden?"

"I don't think so. Anyhow I make it, and I'm very glad you sent for
me. Considering how little you knew of me,--and how disagreeable that
little had been--it was kind."

"I know a great deal of you," she replied, smiling softly. "Dick has
told me a lot,--about the brevet,--and the intelligence-work--and the
Afghan sepoy--"

"And the men in buckram too, I suppose? I'm afraid Dick is not to be
trusted. Did he tell you how the man escaped next day, and I got a
wigging?"

"No!" cried Belle indignantly. "Did he?--Did you, I mean?--what a
shame!"

"On the contrary, it was quite right. I'll tell you about it some day,
if I may. Meanwhile, good-bye, and don't starve; it really doesn't do
any good!"

She watched him jingle down the steps, thinking how like an overgrown
school-boy he looked in his mess-jacket. So life was not a tragedy
after all, but a serio-comedy in which only the monologues were
depressing and dull. She went in and played the piano till it was time
to go to bed. Yet nothing had really changed, and Fate marched on
relentlessly as before. We make our own feelings, and then sit down to
weep or smile over them.

The very next afternoon Colonel Stuart was brooding silently over
nothing at all in his private office-room, passing the time, as it
were, out of mischief, till he went to dine with John Raby. For the
latter, with a sort of contemptuous kindness, put the drag of an
occasional game of _écarté_ on to the Colonel's potations. Sitting in
the dusk his face looked wan and haggard, and, despite his profound
stillness, every nerve was wearied and yet awake with excitement; as
might be seen from his unrestrained start when Shunker Dâs came into
the room unannounced; for the office-hours being over the _chuprassie_
had departed.

"Well, what is it now?" he cried sharply. "I saw you this morning.
Haven't you got enough for one day? Am I never to have any peace?"

An angry tone generally reduced his native visitors to submission, but
the Lâlâ was evidently in no mood for silence. He had taken up a small
contract that morning, the earnest-money of which lay for the time in
Colonel Stuart's safe. Since then he had heard casually that a
long-expected source of profit over which he had often talked with the
Colonel, and for which he had even made preparations, had slipped
through his fingers. In other words, that all the mule-transport was
to be bought by a special officer. "I've come, _sahib_," he blurted
out, sitting down unasked, "to know if it is true that Mardsen _sahib_
has the purchase of mules."

"And if he has, what the devil is it to you, or to me?" The man's
arrogance was becoming unbearable, and Colonel Stuart was a great
stickler for etiquette.

"Only this; that if you are not going to deal fairly by me, you
mustn't count on my silence; that's all!"

"Go and tell the whole bazaar I owe you money, you black scoundrel,"
cried his hearer, annoyed beyond endurance by the man's assumption of
equality. "I'll pay you every penny, if I sell my soul for it, curse
you!"

"Eighty thousand rupees is a tall price, _sahib_," sneered the Lâlâ.
"And how about the contracts, and the commission, and the general
partnership? Am I to tell that also?"

The Colonel stared at him in blank surprise. God knows in his queer
conglomerate of morality it was hard to tell what elementary rock of
principle might be found; yet to a certain extent honour remained as
it were in pebbles, worn and frayed by contact with the stream of
life. "General partnership! you black devil, what do you mean?"

"Mean!" echoed the Lâlâ shrilly. "Why, the money I've lent you, _paid_
you for each contract; the commission I've given your clerks; the
grain your horses have eaten; the--"

The Colonel's right hand was raised above his head; the first coarse
rage of his face had settled into a stern wrath that turned it white.
"If you stop here another instant, by God I'll kill you!"

The words came like a steel-thrust, and the Lâlâ without a word turned
and fled before the Berserk rage of the Northman; it is always
terrible to the Oriental, and the Lâlâ was a heaven-sent coward.

"Stop!" cried the Colonel as the wretched creature reached the door.
He obeyed and came back trembling. "Take your money for the contract
with you; it's cancelled. I won't have it in the house. Take it back
and give me the receipt I gave you; give it me, I say." The Colonel,
fumbling at the lock of the safe, stuttered and shook with excitement.
"Take 'em back," he continued, flourishing a roll of notes. "The
receipt!--quick! out with it!--the receipt for the three thousand five
hundred I gave you this morning!"

"_Huzoor! Huzoor!_ I am looking for it; be patient one moment!"
The Lâlâ's quivering fingers blundered among the papers in his
pocket-book.

"Give it me, or, by heaven, I'll break every bone in your body!" His
hand came down with an ominous thud on the table.

"I will give it, _sahib_,--I have it,--here--no--ah! praise to the
gods!" He shook so that the paper rustled in his hand. Colonel Stuart
seized it, and tearing it to bits, flung the pieces in the waste paper
basket at his feet. "There goes your last contract from me, and
there's the door, and there's your money!" As he flung the notes in
the man's face they went fluttering over the floor, and he laughed
foolishly to see them gathered up in trembling haste.

"Gad!" he muttered as he sank exhausted into a chair, "there isn't
much fear of Shunker so long as I've a stick in my hand. Hullo! what's
that? Something rustled under the table. Here, Budlu! quick, lights!
It may be a snake! Confound the servants; they're never to be found!"

He stopped and drew his hand over his forehead two or three times.
Just then Budlu, entering with the lamp, stooped to pick something
from the floor. It was a note for a thousand rupees, crisp and
crackling.

Colonel Stuart looked at it in a dazed sort of way, then burst into a
roar of laughter and put it in his pocket-book. "My fair perquisite,
by Jove! and it will come in useful to-night at _écarté_. Budlu, give
me the little bottle. I must steady my nerves a bit if I'm to play
with Raby."



                             CHAPTER VII.


People who talk of the still Indian night can scarcely do so from
experience, for, especially during the hot weather, darkness in the
East is vocal with life. The cicala shrills its loudest, the birds are
awake, and the very trees and plants seem to blossom audibly. Go round
an Indian garden at sunset and it is a sepulchre; the roses shrivelled
in their prime, the buds scorched in the birth, the foliage beaten
down by the fierce sun. Visit it again at sunrise and you will find it
bright with blossom, sweet with perfume, refreshed with dew. That is
the work of night; what marvel then if it is instinct with sound and
movement! Never for one hour does silence fall upon the world. The
monotonous beat of some native musician's drum goes on and on; a
village dog barks, and is answered by another until seventy times
seven; a crow takes to cawing irrelatively; the birds sing in
snatches, and the Indian cock, like that of scriptural story, crows
for other reasons besides the dawn.

The long-legged rooster who habitually retired to sleep on the summit
of Colonel Stuart's cook-room, had, however, legitimate cause for his
vociferations, and dawn was just darkening the rest of the sky when
the sudden flapping of his wings startled the horse of an early
wayfarer who came at a walk down the Mall.

It was Philip Marsden setting out betimes for a two days' scour of the
district in search of the very mules out of which Shunker Dâs had
hoped to make so much profit. Most men, carrying ten thousand rupees
with them, would have applied for a treasure-chest and a police guard;
but Major Marsden considered himself quite sufficient security for the
roll of currency notes in his breast-pocket. As he quieted the
frightened horse, his close proximity to the Commissariat office
reminded him that he had forgotten to apply for a certain form on
which he had to register his purchases; the omission would entail
delay, so he anathematised his own carelessness and was riding on,
when a light in the office-windows attracted his attention. It was
early for any one to be at work, but knowing how time pressed in all
departments under the strain of war, he thought it not improbable that
some energetic _babu_ was thus seeking the worm of promotion, and
might be able to give him what he required. Dismounting, lest his
horse's tread should disturb the sleepers in the house by which he had
to pass, he hitched the reins to a tree, and made his way towards the
office; not without a kindly thought of the girl, forgetful of care,
who lay sleeping so near to him that, unconsciously, he slackened his
step and trod softly. He had been as good as his word, and that very
day the doctor was to go over and prescribe immediate change. Change!
he smiled at the idea, wondering what change could stem the course of
the inevitable.

As he drew near he saw that the light came, not from the office, but
from its chief's private room. He hesitated an instant; then a
suspicion that something might be wrong made him go on till he could
see through the open door into the room. Thefts were common enough in
cantonments, and it was as well to make sure. Through the _chick_ he
could distinctly see a well-known figure seated at the writing-table,
leaning forward on its crossed arms.

"Drunk!" said Philip Marsden to himself with a thrill of bitter
contempt and turned away. The bearer would find the Colonel and put
him decently to bed long before the girl was up. Poor Belle! The
little platform where she had stood but the night before was faintly
visible, bringing a recollection of her pale face and sad appeal. "It
is father,"--the first words she had ever said to him; the very first!
He retraced his steps quickly, set the _chick_ aside, and entered the
room. The lamp on the table was fast dying out, but its feeble flicker
fell full on the Colonel's grey hair, and lit up the shining gold lace
on his mess-jacket. Silver, and gold, and scarlet,--a brilliant show
of colour in the shabby, dim room. A curious smell in the air and a
great stillness made Philip Marsden stop suddenly and call the sleeper
by name. In the silence which followed he heard the ticking of a
chronometer which lay close to him. He called again, not louder, but
quicker, then with swift decision passed his arm round the leaning
figure and raised it from the table. The grey head fell back inertly
on his breast, and the set, half-closed eyes looked up lifelessly into
his.

"Dead," he heard himself say, "dead!"--dead, not drunk. As he stood
there for an instant with the dead man's head finding a resting-place
so close to his heart, the wan face looking up at him as if in a mute
appeal, a flame of bitter regret for his own harsh judgment seemed to
shrivel up all save pity. The great change had come, to end poor
Belle's anxieties. And she? Ah! poor child, who was to tell her of it?

He lifted the head from his breast, laying it once more, as he had
found it, on the crossed arms; then looked round the room rapidly. An
empty bottle of chloral on the table accounted for the faint sickly
smell he had noticed. Was it a mistake? If not, why? Perhaps there was
a letter. Something at any rate lay under the nerveless hands,
powerless now to defend their secret. Philip Marsden took the paper
from them gently and turned up the expiring lamp till it flared
smokily. The blotted writing was hard to read, yet easy to understand,
for it told a tale too often written; a tale of debt, dishonour,
remorse, despair. Ten thousand rupees borrowed from the safe, and an
unsigned cheque for the amount, drawn on no one, but payable to the
Government of India, lying beside the dead man in mute witness to the
last desire for restitution in the poor stupefied brain. A pile of
official letters were scattered on the floor as if they had fallen
from the table. All save one were unopened, but that one contained a
notification of Colonel Stuart's transfer. Major Marsden drew a chair
to the table and deliberately sat down to think.

Something must be done, and that quickly, for already the merciless
light of day was gaining on the darkness. "And there is nothing hid
that shall not be made manifest;" the words somehow recurred to his
memory bringing another pulse of pity for poor Belle. What was to be
done? The answer came to him suddenly in a rush, as if it had all been
settled before. Why had Fate sent him there with more than enough
money to save the girl from shame? Money that was his to use as he
chose, for he could repay it twenty times over ere nightfall. Why had
Fate mixed the girl's life with his, despite his efforts to stand
aloof? Why had she sent for him? Why,--why was he there? The dead
man's keys lay on the table, the sum owed was clearly set down in
black and white, the safe close at hand. What was there, save a
personal loss he could well afford, to prevent silence? And he had
promised help--

When the hastily-summoned doctor came in a few minutes later the
bottle of chloral still lay on the table, but the blotted paper and
the cheque were gone. The lamp had flared out, and a little heap of
grey ashes on the hearth drifted apart as the doors and windows were
flung wide open to let in all the light there was.

"He has been dead about two hours," said the doctor. "Over-dose of
chloral, of course. I forbade it from the hospital, but he got it
elsewhere."

They had laid the dead man on the floor, and the grey dawn falling on
his face made it seem greyer still. The native servants huddled
trembling at the door; the two Englishmen stood looking down upon the
still figure.

"There is always the fear of an over-dose," said Philip Marsden
slowly, "or of some rash mistake."

The doctor met his look comprehensively. "Exactly! who can tell?
Unless there is circumstantial evidence, and I see none as yet. Anyhow
he was not responsible, for he has been on the verge of _delirium
tremens_ for days."

"Then you give the benefit of the doubt?"

"Always, if possible."

Again the wind of dawn fanning the dead man's hair drifted the grey
ashes further apart.

"He had better stay here," continued the doctor. "Moving him might
rouse the poor girl, and there's no need for that as yet. By the way,
who is to tell her? There isn't a lady or a parson in the place."

"I suppose I must," returned Philip after a pause. "I think it might
be best, since she confided her trouble to me. But couldn't I get some
sort of a woman from barracks just to stay with her?"

"Right; you're a thoughtful fellow, Marsden. Take my buggy and go to
the sergeant-major; his wife will know of some one. I'll stay till you
return in case she wakes; and look here, as you pass send a man about
the coffin. The funeral must be this evening, and--"

Philip Marsden fled from the dreary details of death with a remark
that the doctor could send a messenger. He was no coward, yet he felt
glad to escape into the level beams of the rising sun. As he drove
down along the staring white roads he asked himself more than once why
he had interfered to save a girl he scarcely knew from the knowledge
of her father's dishonour; and if he could find no sufficient reason
for it he could find no regret either. It had been an impulse, and it
was over. He had kept his word to Dick, and done his best to drive
care from those clear eyes,--what beautiful eyes they were!

"Och then!" cried Mrs. O'Grady, the sergeant-major's wife, who,
hastily roused from her slumbers, came out into the verandah in scanty
attire, "and is the swate young leddy alone? It's meself wud go at
wanst but that I'm a Holy Roman, surr, and shud be talkin' of the
blessed saints in glory. An' that's not the thing wid a Prothestant in
his coffin."

Despite his anxiety her hearer could not repress a smile. "I don't set
so much store by religious consolation, Mrs. O'Grady. It's more a
kind, motherly person I want."

"Then, Tim!" cried the good lady, appealing to her spouse who had
appeared in shirt and trousers, "Mrs. Flanigan wud be the woman, but
that she's daily expectin' her tinth--"

"Isn't there some kindly person who's seen trouble?" hastily
interrupted the Major.

"Ah, if it's the throuble you're wantin', take little Mrs. Vickary. A
Baptist and a widder,--more by token twice; bore with two dhrunken
bastes, Major, like a blissed angel, and wud be ready to spake up for
anny one."

Major Marsden, with a recollection of Widow Vickary's sad face as
nurse by a comrade's sick bed, pleaded for a younger and brighter one.
Thereupon the serjeant-major suggested poor Healy's Mary Ann, but his
wife tossed her head. "What the men see in that gurrll, surr, I can't
say; but she'll go, and cheerful, wid her little boy; a swate little
boy, surr, like thim cherubs with a trumpet--for her father she come
to live wid died of the fayver a month gone, and her man is waiting to
be killed by thim Afghans somewhere."

So Major Marsden, driving back with poor Healy's Mary Ann and the
cherub wielding a piece of sugarcane as trumpet, found Belle still
sleeping.

Then together, in the fresh early morning, they broke the sad tidings
to the girl. How, it does not much matter, for words mean nothing. We
say, "He is dead," many and many a time, carelessly, indifferently.
Then comes a day when the sentence is fraught with wild despair and
helpless pain. The sun seems blotted out, and the world is dark. Yet
the words are the same, nor can pen and ink write them differently.

"Let me see that he is dead! Oh, let me see him!" was her cry; so they
took her across to the shabby room where everything stood unchanged
save for the sheeted figure on the string bed. The gardener had strewn
some roses over it and the sun streamed in brightly. The sight brought
no real conviction to Belle. It all seemed more dreamlike than ever.
To fall asleep, as she had done, in the turmoil of life, and to wake
finding the hush of death in possession of all things! She let Philip
Marsden lead her away passively like a child, and all through the long
day she sat idle and tearless, with her hands on her lap, as if she
were waiting for something or some one. Yet it was a busy day in that
quiet, empty house; for in India death comes rudely. Many a time has
the father to superintend the making of the little coffin, while the
mother stitches away to provide a daintier resting-place for the
golden head that is used to frills and lace; until, in the dawn, those
two go forth alone to the desolate graveyard, and he reads the Church
service as best he can, and she says "Amen" between her sobs. There
was none of this strain for Belle, nothing to remind her of the
inevitable; so she wondered what they wanted of her when, as the glare
of sunset reddened the walls of her room, Major Marsden came and
looked at her with pitying eyes. "It is time we were starting, Miss
Stuart," he said gently.

"Starting! where?"

"We thought you would like to go to the cemetery, and I have arranged
to drive you down. It will be a military funeral, of course."

She rose swiftly in passionate entreaty. "Ah no, no! not so soon! he
is not dead! Oh I cannot, I cannot!" Then seeing the tender gravity of
his face, she clasped her hands on his arm and begged to see _him_
once more,--just to say good-bye.

He shook his head. "It is too late--it is best not."

"But I have no dress,--it can't be--" she pleaded vainly.

"Every one will be in white as you are," he returned with tears he
could not check in his eyes. "Come! it will be better for you by and
by." He laid his hand on her clasped ones. She looked in his eyes
doubtfully, and did as she was bidden.

"We will drive out a bit first," said Philip, when she had taken her
seat by his side in the tall dog-cart that seemed so out of keeping
with its dismal office. "We have plenty of time for I thought the air
would do your head good,--and,--it was best for you to be away just
now."

Better, and best! As if anything could make any difference now! "You
are very kind," she said in dull recognition of his care.

Philip Marsden never forgot that drive; the memory of it remained with
him for years as a kind of nightmare. The girl in her white dress and
sailor hat as he had seen her at many a tennis-party; the great bank
of clouds on the horizon telling of welcome rain; the little squirrels
leaping across the white road; the cattle returning homewards amid
clouds of dust; the stolid stare of the natives as they passed by. It
was almost a relief to stand side by side before an open grave
listening to an even, disciplined tramp audible above the muffled
drums coming nearer and nearer.

A dingy brick wall bleached to mud-colour shut out all view, but high
up in the sky, above the fringe of grey tamarisk trees, a procession
of flame-edged clouds told that, out in the west, Nature was
celebrating the obsequies of day in glorious apparel. Suddenly _The
Dead March_ struck up, loud and full, bringing to Philip Marsden's
memory many a sword-decked coffin and riderless charger behind which
he had walked, wondering if his turn would come next. The music ceased
with a clash of arms at the gate; and after a low-toned order or two
the procession appeared in narrow file up the central path. The white
uniforms looked ghostly in the deepening shadows; but through a break
in the trees a last sunbeam slanted over the wall, making the spikes
on the officers' helmets glow like stars.

Belle's clasped yet listless fingers tightened nervously as the
Brigade-Major's voice rose and fell in monotonous cadence about "our
dear brother departed." It seemed to her like a dream; or rather as if
she too were dead and had no tears, no grief, nothing but a great
numbness at her heart. Then some one put a clumsily-made cross of
white flowers into her hands, bidding her lay it on the coffin, bared
now of the protecting flag; and she obeyed, wondering the while why
other people should have thought of these things when she had not, and
thinking how crooked it was, and how much better she could have made
it herself. Perhaps; for the hands that twined it were not used to
such woman's work. It was Philip Marsden's task, also, to throw the
first handful of earth into the grave, and draw Belle's arm within his
own before the salutes rang out. They startled the screaming parrots
from their roost among the trees, and sent them wheeling and flashing
like jewels against the dark purple clouds.

"Was it never going to end?" she thought wearily as they waited again,
and yet again, for the rattle of the rifles. Yet she stood heedlessly
silent, even when the band struck into quick time and the cheerful
echo of the men's answering footsteps died away into the distance.

"Take her home," said the doctor, who with John Raby had remained to
see the grave properly filled in. "I'll call round by and by with a
sleeping draught; that will do her more good than anything."

As they drove back she complained, quite fretfully, of the cold, and
her companion reined in the horse while he wrapped his military coat
round her, fastening it beneath her soft dimpled chin with hands that
trembled a little. She seemed to him inexpressibly pitiful in her
grief, and his heart ached for her.

"It is going to rain, I think," she said suddenly, with her eyes fixed
on the dull red glow barred by heavy storm clouds in the west; adding
in a lower tone, "Father will get wet!"

Major Marsden looked at her anxiously and drove faster, frightened at
the dull despair of her tone. He had meant to say good-bye at the
door, but he could not. How could he leave her to that unutterable
loneliness? And yet what good could he do beyond beguiling her to take
a few mouthfuls of food? Poor Healy's Mary Ann proved helpless before
a form of grief to which she was utterly unaccustomed, and as her
presence seemed to do more harm than good Philip Marsden sent her into
the next room, where she nursed her boy and wept profusely. He sat
talking to Belle till long after the mess-hour, and then, when he did
turn to go, the sight of her seated alone, tearless and miserable in
the big, empty room was too much for his soft heart. He came back
hastily, bending over her, then kneeling to look in her downcast face,
and take her cold little hands into his warm ones and say kind words
that came from his very heart. Perhaps they brought conviction,
perhaps the touch of his hand assured her of sympathy, for suddenly
her dull despair gave way; she laid her head on his shoulder and cried
pitifully, as children cry themselves to sleep.

With the clasp of his fingers on hers and his breath stirring her soft
curly hair, Philip Marsden's heart beat fast and his pulses thrilled.
His own emotion startled and perplexed him; he shrank from it, and yet
he welcomed it. Did he love her? Was this the meaning of it all?

"How good you are," she whispered, trying to regain her composure.
"What should I have done without you?" Her unconsciousness smote him
with regret and a great tenderness.

"There are plenty who will be kind to you," he answered unsteadily.
"Life holds everything for you yet, my dear; peace, and happiness, and
love."

Love! Did it hold his for her? he asked himself again as he walked
homewards in the dark. Love! He was quite a young man still, only two
and thirty, yet he had deliberately set passion and romance from him
years before. Poverty had stood between him and the realisation of a
dream till, with the sight of his ideal profoundly happy as some one
else's wife, had come distrust and contempt for a feeling that
experience showed him did not, could not last. Why, therefore, should
it enter into and disturb his life at all? Friendship? ah, that was
different! Perhaps the future held a time when he would clasp hands
with a life-companion; a woman to be the mistress of his home, the
mother of his children. But Belle! poor little, soft Belle Stuart,
with her beautiful grey eyes! He seemed to feel the touch of her hand
in his, the caress of her hair on his lips; and though he laughed
grimly at himself, he could not master the joy that took possession of
him at the remembrance. Dear little Belle! Amidst the doubt and
surprise which swept over him as he realised his own state of mind,
but one thing gave him infinite satisfaction,--he had saved her from
the far more lasting trouble of her father's disgrace. Friend, or
lover, it had been a good deed to do, and he was glad that he had done
it. Nothing could alter that. And while he slept, dreaming still of
his clasp on the little cold yet willing hand, an official envelope
lay on the table beside him mocking his security. He opened it next
morning, to lay it aside with a curse at his own ill luck, though it
was only a notification that Major P. H. Marsden would carry on the
current duties of the Commissariat office till further orders. He had
half a mind to go over to the Brigade office and get himself excused:
a word or two about his other work would do it; but his pride rose in
arms against any shirking for private reasons. Besides, there might be
nothing wrong in Colonel Stuart's accounts, and even if there was, he
would be the best man to find it out. Yet he walked up and down the
verandah a prey to conflicting desires, bitterly angry with himself
for hesitating an instant. Common sense told him that it might be as
well for one less biassed than he was by previous knowledge to
undertake the scrutiny, that it was scarcely fair for him to go to the
task with a foregone conclusion in his mind; but pride suggested that
he could not trust himself to decide fairly even now. How could he,
when he was bitterly conscious of one overmastering desire to save
Belle? Then came the thought that if she was indeed what in his heart
he believed her to be, if her steadfastness and straightforwardness
were more than a match for his own, then the very idea of his refusing
the task would be an offence to her. After that, nothing could have
prevented him from placing himself with open eyes in a position from
which, in common fairness to himself and others, he ought to have
escaped.



                            CHAPTER VIII.


A few days after Colonel Stuart's death John Raby was making up his
accounts in a very unenviable frame of mind, though the balance on the
right side was a large one. As a rule this result would have given him
keen pleasure; for though he was as yet too young to enjoy that
delight of dotage, the actual fingering of gold, he inherited the
instinct too strongly not to rejoice at the sight of its equivalent in
figures. There were two reasons for his annoyance. First, the
constantly recurring regret of not being able to invest his savings as
he chose. With endless opportunities for turning over a high
percentage coming under his notice, it was galling to be restricted by
the terms of his covenant with Government from any commercial
enterprise. Not that he would have scrupled to evade the regulation
had the game been worth the candle; but as yet it was not. By and by,
when his capital warranted a plunge, he had every intention of risking
his position, and, if need be, of throwing it up. But for this
justification he must wait years, unless indeed Fate sent him a rich
wife. Heiresses however are scarce in India, and furlough was not yet
due. So John Raby had to content himself with four per cent, which was
all the more annoying when he remembered that Shunker Dâs was making
forty out of the very indigo business on which he had tried to evade
the income-tax. Sooner or later John Raby intended to have his finger
in that pie, unless some more fortunate person plucked the plum out
first.

The other reason for his annoyance arose from the fact, clearly
demonstrated by his neat system of accounts, that over nine thousand
rupees of his balance were the proceeds of _écarté_ played with a man
who had had the confidence to make him his executor. The young
civilian had no qualms of conscience here either; it had been a fair
fight, the Colonel considering himself quite as good at the game as
his antagonist. But somehow the total looked bad beside that other
one, where intricate columns of figures added themselves into a row of
nothings for the widow and orphans. Not a penny, so far as the
executor could see, after paying current debts. About Madame and the
black-and-tans, as he irreverently styled her family, he did not much
concern himself; but for Belle it was different. He liked the girl,
and had often told himself that the addition of money would have made
her an excellent wife; just the sort one could safely have at home;
and that to a busy man meant much. The thought that Philip Marsden
with his large fortune showed a disposition to annex the prize
lessened his regrets for her poverty, and yet increased them. Why, he
asked himself savagely, did nice girls never have money? The only
gleam of satisfaction, in short, to be yielded by the balance was the
remembrance that his possession of the nine thousand rupees prevented
Lâlâ Shunker Dâs from absorbing it. As a matter of fact his
executorship had proved a wholesome check on the usurer's outcries,
and it gave the young man some consolation to think that no one could
have managed the Lâlâ so well as he did. The smile raised by this
remembrance lingered still when Major Marsden walked, unannounced,
through the window in unceremonious Indian fashion.

"Hullo," said John Raby, "glad to see you. Miss Stuart is much better
to-day."

There was no reason why this very pleasant and natural remark should
annoy his hearer, but it did. It reminded him that John Raby had
acquired a sort of authority over the dead man's daughter by virtue of
his executorship. Neither of them had seen her since the day of the
funeral, for she had been hovering on the verge of nervous fever; but
the responsibility of caring for her had fallen on John Raby and not
on Philip Marsden. John Raby, and not he, had had to make all the
necessary arrangements for her comfort and speedy departure to the
hills as soon as possible; for Mrs. Stuart had collapsed under the
shock of her husband's death, and the rapid Indian funeral had made
the presence of the others impossible. So Philip Marsden felt himself
to be out in the cold, and resented it.

"The nurse told me so when I inquired just now," he replied shortly.

"I'm to see her this afternoon when she comes back from her drive.
I've sent for Shunker Dâs's carriage."

Major Marsden frowned. "You might have chosen some one else's, surely.
He ruined her father."

"Not at all; he lent him money. Some one had to do it."

"Well, it's a grim world, and her drive can't be more so than the last
she had." The remembrance evidently absorbed him, for he sat silent.

"You're looking used up, Marsden," said the other kindly. "Anything
the matter?"

"Yes."

"Well, if it has to do with the Commissariat business I don't wonder.
The Colonel's private affairs are simply chaos." He pointed to the
piles of papers on and below the table with a contemptuous smile.

Major Marsden shook his head. "The public ones are in fairly good
order. I'm surprised at the method; but of course he had good clerks;
and then the system of checks--"

"Make it possible to be inaccurate with the utmost accuracy. What's
wrong?"

Philip Marsden moved uneasily in his chair and gave an impatient sigh.
"I suppose I've got to tell you, because you're the man's executor;
but I don't want to."

"Never do anything you don't want, my dear fellow; it's a mistake. You
don't know what will please other people, and you generally have a
rough guess at your own desires."

"I don't suppose this will please you, the fact is there is a deficit
of four thousand five hundred rupees in the private safe of which
Colonel Stuart kept the key."

"Is that all?"

"All! Surely it is enough?"

"Quite enough; but I'm not exactly surprised."

"Then I am," returned the Major emphatically. "In fact I don't believe
there really is any deficit at all. Do you think Shunker Dâs is the
sort of man to make a false claim?"

"Not unless he has fallen upon fair proofs," said the other coolly.
"What claim does he make?"

"He says he paid in three thousand five hundred the very day of
Colonel Stuart's death and produces a receipt. Another thousand was
paid in by some one else the day before. It seems odd that this should
just make up the deficiency."

"But you have no proof that these are actually the notes missing?"

"Curiously enough I have. Contrary to what one would have expected,
Colonel Stuart made a practice of writing the numbers of notes
received in a private ledger, and none of the four entered as having
been given by Shunker are to be found. Now, as you were Stuart's
friend, and are his executor, do you know of any large payment made to
any one within two days of his death? It limits itself, you see, to
that time."

"Nothing to account for three thousand five hundred," returned John
Raby a little hastily. "Let's stick to Shunker's claim first; it may
be false. You say he holds a receipt?"

"Yes, and gives the numbers of the notes also."

"Right?"

"All but one. The book gives a 3 where he gives a 5; but natives often
confuse figures."

John Raby nodded, and leant back in his chair thinking. "I believe the
notes were paid," he said at last, "and if they are not to be found,
the inference, I'm afraid, is clear. The Colonel _borrowed_ them."

"I don't believe it," returned the Major slowly. He had been drawing
diagrams idly on a piece of paper and now threw aside the pen with
decision. "I don't believe it," he repeated, "and I'll tell you why;
I'd rather not tell you, as I said before, but as you're his executor
I must. When I found him dead that morning there was a paper,--it
wasn't a mistake, you understand"--his hearer nodded again--"and
in it he had set down the reasons, or want of reasons, clearly
enough. I haven't got the paper; I burnt it. I suppose I ought to
have kept it, but it seemed a pity at the time. Anyhow the total he
had,--borrowed--was close on ten thousand."

"Ten! you said there was only--"

"Just so; you see, as luck would have it, I had money with me at the
time. So I replaced it."

"Ten thousand?"

"No; to be strictly accurate nine thousand seven hundred and fifty.
Well,--you needn't stare so, Raby! Why the devil shouldn't I if I
chose?"

John Raby gave a low whistle. "You must be awfully fond of Belle," he
said after a pause.

Philip flushed a deep angry red. Ever since the possible necessity for
giving his action to the world had dawned upon him he had known what
comment would be made; but the knowledge did not lessen its sting.
"Don't you think we had better keep Miss Stuart's name out of the
conversation? I merely tell you this to show that I have good reasons
for supposing that there is some chicanery, or confusion--"

"I beg your pardon! exactly so," assented John Raby with a smile. "I
am as anxious as you can be to keep her out of it; and so, as
executor, I'll undertake to refund the deficiency at once. There may
be some mistake, but it is best to have no inquiry."

"I hardly see how that is to be prevented, for of course I had to
report the matter."

John Raby literally bounded from his chair in unrestrained vexation.
"Reported it! my dear Marsden, what the devil!--Oh, I beg your pardon,
but really, to begin with, you cut your own throat."

"What else could I do?" asked the other quietly. "You forget I am in
charge of the office."

"Do?" returned his hearer, pausing in his rapid pacing of the room.
"Ah, I don't suppose _you_ could do anything else; but I'm not so
high-flown myself, and I can't see the good of chucking ten thousand
rupees into the gutter for the sake of a sentiment, and then chucking
the sentiment after it. For the girl adored her father, and I warn
you--"

"If we can't keep off that subject I'll go," interrupted Philip
rising. "I thought you might know something. Colonel Stuart dined with
you that last evening, if you remember."

The civilian needed no reminder; indeed for the last ten minutes he
had been distractingly conscious of a note for a thousand rupees lying
in his despatch-box which might throw-some light on the mysterious
disappearances. "Yes," he replied, "he did, and,--I see what you are
thinking of, Marsden--he played _écarté_ too; but to tell the truth,
he was so fuddled and excited that I refused to go on, and sent him
home. See what comes of benevolence. If I had let him play and rooked
him, he wouldn't have had the opportunity of brooding over
difficulties and putting an end to them. Again, you see there's
nothing so unsafe as unselfishness."

Philip, remembering the notice of transfer he had found open by the
dead man's side, wondered if matters might not have turned out
differently had it been viewed by the calm light of day.

"Well, it can't be helped now," continued the speaker. "I don't
approve of what has been done, but I'll do my best,--in fact I'm bound
as executor--to clear the matter up. Though I'm sure I don't know
where the inquiry may not lead me. It's an infernal nuisance, nothing
less! Well, hand me over the papers and--I suppose you've no objection
to my searching the office?"

"None; the Colonel's room is as he left it. I was afraid of noise so
near the house." The speaker frowned at his own words, annoyed to find
how thought for Belle crept into all his actions.

"So far, good. And look here, Marsden, if you value that girl's
opinion go and tell her the downright truth. She will be able to see
you this afternoon."

A piece of sound advice meant kindly, which had the not unusual effect
of making the recipient hesitate about a course of action on which he
had almost decided. In after years, when he considered the tangled
clew Fate held at this time for his unwinding, he never hesitated to
say, "Here I went wrong;" but at the time it seemed of small
importance whether he saw the girl that day or the next. And once more
the assumption of authority on John Raby's part irritated him into
contradiction. "It will be a pity to disturb Miss Stuart's first day,"
he replied stiffly, and rode away.

The young civilian shrugged his shoulders. Philip Marsden wasn't a bad
fellow on the whole, but a prig of the first water. Imagine any one
gifted with a grain of common sense acting as he had done! Why, if he
wanted the girl's good graces, had he not paid up the rest of the
money and finished the whole affair? It was a long price to pay, of
course, but it was better than giving ten thousand for nothing. Only a
morbid self-esteem could have prevented him. Really, the sense of duty
to be found in some people was almost enough to engender a belief in
original sin. The mere struggle for existence could never have
produced such a congeries of useless sentiment.

He threw himself into a chair determining to have a quiet cigar before
tasking his brain with further thought about what he had just heard.
But the first glance at the daily paper which had just come in made
him throw it from him in disgust; for it contained a fulsomely
flattering notice extolling Major Marsden at the expense of Colonel
Stuart, and openly hinting at discrepancies in the accounts which the
former officer was determined to bring home to the latter. The style
betrayed the hand of some clerk toadying for promotion; but style or
no style, the matter was clear, and to be read by the million. It all
came from Marsden's infernal sense of duty, and John Raby had half a
mind to spoil his little game by sending the paper over to Belle as
usual. But with all his faults he was not a spiteful man, or one
inclined to play the part of dog-in-the-manger. Consequently when Lâlâ
Shunker Dâs's carriage went over for Belle the _chuprassi_ in charge
only carried a bouquet; the newspaper remained behind, keeping company
with John Raby and magnanimity.

Belle never noticed the omission, for she was still strangely
forgetful and indifferent; even when she drove along the familiar
road, she hardly remembered anything of her last dismal ride. Only one
or two things showed distinctly in the midst of past pain; such
trivial things as a crooked cross of flowers, and screaming parrots in
a stormy sky. The rest had gone, to come back,--the doctor told John
Raby--ere long; just now the forgetfulness was best, though it showed
how narrowly she had escaped brain-fever. So nobody spoke of the past,
and while Philip was cherishing the remembrance of that first day, and
using it to build up his belief in her trust, she was not even
conscious that he had been the kindest among many kind.

Meanwhile Philip Marsden had not found himself in a bed of roses. The
impossibility of seeing Belle left him a prey to uncertainty, and if
he was ready fifty times a day to admit that he was in love, there
were quite as many times when he doubted the fact. Yet love or no
love, he was strenuously eager to save her from trouble; so his relief
at finding the office in good order had been great. In regard to
matters which had been in Colonel Stuart's own hands he naturally felt
safe; the discovery of the deficiency therefore had been a most
unpleasant shock, the more so because he saw at once that inquiry
might make it necessary for him to betray his own action. He wearied
himself fruitlessly with endeavours to discover any error, but the
thought of hushing the matter up never occurred to him as possible. To
some men it might have been a temptation; to him it was none, so he
deserved no credit on that score. He told himself again that if Belle
were what he deemed her, she would see the necessity of a report also;
but then he was reckoning on perfection, and poor Belle, as it so
happened, was in such a state of nervous tension that she was utterly
incapable of judging calmly about anything relating to her father.

She lay on the sofa after she returned from her drive, feeling all the
dreariness of coming back to everyday life, and, in consequence,
exalting the standard of her loss till the tears rolled quietly down
her cheeks. Whereupon poor Healy's Mary Ann, full of the best
intentions, brewed her a cup of tea, and sent over the road for the
newspaper, which she imagined had been forgotten. The master of the
house was out for his evening ride, and thus it came to pass that when
he called on his way home, he found Belle studying the misleading
paragraph with flushed cheeks and tearful eyes. "What does it mean?"
she asked tempestuously. "What is it that he dares to say of father?"

With her pretty, troubled face looking into his John Raby washed his
hands of further magnanimity. He refused to play the part of
Providence to a man who could not look after his own interests, and
whom, in a vague way, he felt to be a rival. So, considering Belle
only, he told the modified truth, making as light as he could of the
deficiency, and openly expressing his regret that it should ever have
been reported, the more so because Major Marsden himself believed
there was some mistake. This consolation increased her indignation.

"Do you mean to say," she cried, trembling with anger and weakness,
"that he has dragged father's name in the dirt for a mistake? Why
didn't he come to me, or to you? _We_ would have told him it was
impossible. But he always misjudged father; he hated him; he never
would come here. Ah yes! I see it all now! I understand."

The "we" sounded sweetly in the young man's ears, but its injustice
was too appalling to be passed over. He felt compelled to defence. For
a moment he thought of telling the whole truth, but he reflected that
Philip had a tongue as well as he, and that no one had a right to make
free with another man's confidence. Consequently his palliation only
referred to the culprit's well-known inflexibility and almost morbid
sense of duty; all of which made Belle more and more angry, as if the
very insistence on such virtues involved some depreciation of their
quality in the dead man.

"I do not care what happens now," she said vehemently. "I know well
enough that nothing he can say will harm father's good name; but I
will never forgive him, never! It is no use excusing him; all you say
only makes it more unnecessary, and cruel, and,--and stupid. I will
never forgive him; no, never!"

And all that night she lay awake working herself into a fever, mental
and bodily, by piling up the many evidences in favour of her theory as
to Philip's long-cherished enmity. He had never called, never spoken
to them when all the world beside had been friendly. His very kindness
to Dick was tainted; for had he not sided with the boy against her
father? Once the train of thought started, it was easy to turn the
points so that there seemed no possibility of its following any other
line than the one she laid down for it as she went along. Finally, to
clinch the matter, memory served her a sorry trick by suddenly
recalling to her recollection Philip Marsden's gloomy face when
she had told him who she was on their first meeting at the
railway-station. She sat up in bed with little hot hands stretched
into the darkness. "O father! father! I was the only one who loved
you,--the only one!" A climax at once of sorrow and consolation which
somehow soothed her to sleep.

Now, while she was employed in blackening his character, Philip
Marsden was crediting her with all the cardinal virtues. He had not
seen the daily paper, for reasons which put many other things out of
his head for the time being. He had no idea when he wilfully went to
play racquets that evening instead of following Raby's advice of
seeing Belle, that he was throwing away his last chance of an
interview; but as he sat outside the court, cooling himself after the
game, an urgent summons came from the orderly-room. Ten minutes after
he was reading a telegram bidding the 101st Sikhs start to the front
immediately. Farewell to leisure; for though the regiment had been
under warning for service and in a great measure prepared for it, the
next forty-eight hours were ones of exceeding bustle. Philip, harassed
on all sides, had barely time to realise what it meant; and, despite a
catch at his heart when he thought of Belle, the blood ran faster in
his veins from the prospect of action. His own certainty, moreover,
was so great, that it seemed almost incredible that one, of whose
sympathy he felt assured, should see the matter with other eyes.
Nevertheless he was determined to tell her all at the first
opportunity; and often, as he went untiringly through the wearisome
details of inspection, his mind was busy over the interview to come;
but the end was always the same, and left him with a smile on his
face.

John Raby happened to be standing in the verandah when, between pillar
and post, Philip found that vacant five minutes which he had been
chasing all day long.

"Can't see you, I'm afraid," he returned, cheerfully, to the inquiry
for Miss Stuart. "The fact is she has worried herself into a fever
over that paragraph. I don't wonder; it was infernal!"

"What paragraph?" asked Philip innocently.

John Raby looked at him and laughed, not a very pleasant kind of
laugh. "Upon my soul," he said, "you _are_ an unlucky beggar. I begin
to think it's a true case, for you've enough real bad luck to make a
three-volume-course of true love run rough! So you haven't seen it?
Then I'll fetch it out. The paper is just inside."

Philip, reining in his restive horse viciously, read the offending
lines, punctuating them with admonitory digs of his heels and tugs at
the bridle as the charger fretted at the fluttering paper. He looked
well on horseback, and the civilian, lazily leaning against a pillar,
admired him, dangling sword, jingling spurs, and all. He folded the
paper methodically against his knee and handed it back. "And Miss
Stuart believed all that?" he asked quietly.

"Women always believe what they see printed. She is in an awful rage,
of course; but I warned you, Marsden, you know I did."

"You were most kind. Will you tell Miss Stuart, when you see her, that
I called to say good-bye and that I was sorry,--yes! you can say I was
sorry, for the cause of her fever." His tone was bitterness itself.

"Look here, Marsden," said the other, "don't huff; take my advice this
time and write to her."

"Do you think the belief of women extends to what they see written? I
didn't know you had such a high opinion of the sex, Raby! Well,
good-bye to you, and thanks."

"Oh, I shall be down to see the 101st march out. Five A.M., isn't it?"

Philip nodded as he rode off. All through that last night in
cantonments he was angry with everything and everybody, himself
included. Why had he meddled? What demon had possessed the Brigadier
to put him in charge of the Commissariat office? Why had not this
order for the front come before? Why had it come now? What induced the
_babu_ who penned that paragraph to be born? And why did a Mission
school teach him the misuse of adjectives? He was still too angry to
ask himself why he had not taken John Raby's advice; that touched too
closely on the real mistake to be acknowledged yet awhile.

The gloom on his face was not out of keeping with the scene, as the
regiment marched down the Mall at early dawn while the band played
_Zakhmi_, that plaintive lament of the Afghan maiden for her wounded
lover. Yet there was no pitiful crowd of weeping women and children,
such as often mars the spectacle of a British regiment going on
service. The farewells had all been said at home, and if the women
wept in the deserted lines, the men marched, eyes front without a
waver, behind the sacred flag borne aloft by the tall drum-major,
whose magnificent stature was enhanced by an enormous high-twined
turban. Close at his heels went two men waving white silver-mounted
whisks over the Holy Grunth, watchful lest aught might settle on the
sacred page which lay open on a yellow satin cushion borne by four
sergeants. There, plainly discernible even by the half-light, was
inscribed in broad red and black lettering the sure guide through
death to life for its faithful followers. Then, separated by a wide
blank from the book in front and the men behind, rode the Colonel.
Finally, shoulder to shoulder, marched as fine a body of men as could
be seen east or west, with dexterously knotted turbans neutralising
the least difference in height, so that the companies came by as if
carved out of one block.

It was a stirring sight, making the blood thrill, especially when, at
the turn of the road leading to barracks, the bands of the British
regiments formed in front to play their fellow soldiers out of the
station, and the Sikhs broke into their old war cry, "_Jai! Jail
guru-ji ke Jai!_ (Victory, victory, our Teachers' victory)." It
mingled oddly with the--strains of "The Girl I left Behind Me."

A little group of horsemen waited for the last farewells at the
cantonment boundary, and one of them riding alongside told Philip
Marsden that a clue had been found, and the truth would be made
manifest. The conventional answer of pleasure came reluctantly, but as
the hands of the two men met, the gloomy, troubled face looked almost
wistfully into the clever, contented one. "You are very good to her,
Raby; I know that; good-bye." The workmanlike groans and shrieks of
the fife and drum replaced the retiring bands, and as cheer after
cheer greeted the final departure Philip Marsden felt that John Raby
was left completely master of the situation.

That evening, twenty miles out among the sandhills, he put his pride
in his pocket, impelled thereto by a persistent gnawing at his heart,
and followed the advice of writing to Belle; an honest, if somewhat
hard letter, telling her, not of his good deeds, but the truth of
those which seemed to her bad. Ten days after at Peshawar, with the
last civilised post he was to see for many weeks, his letter came back
to him unopened and re-addressed in a shaky hand.

The heart-ache was better by that time. "She might have afforded me
the courtesy of an envelope," he said as he threw the letter into the
camp-fire.



                              CHAPTER IX.


The clue spoken of by John Raby lay in the note for a thousand rupees
with which Colonel Stuart had paid a portion of his card debts during
his last deal in the great game. It proved to be not only one of the
missing notes, but, as luck would have it, the very one about the
number of which uncertainty existed. The figures stood as the Colonel
had written them; so the mistake lay with the usurer, if it was really
a mistake. John Raby lit a cigarette and meditated, with the list
before him; but beyond an odd persistency in threes and fives, the
figures presented no peculiarity. So he set the problem aside till he
could tackle it on the spot where it had arisen; for he was a great
believer in scenery as an aid to the senses.

The day was almost done, however, ere he found leisure for the task;
nevertheless, fatigued as he was, he set to work methodically and was
rewarded by the immediate discovery that uncertainty existed as to the
number of another note, the one which had been paid in by some one
else. The entry had been blotted by the hasty closing of the ledger,
and though it read like 159934, it was quite conceivable that it might
be something else. Again those threes and fives! Idly enough he wrote
the two uncertainties on a sheet of paper, and sat staring at them
till suddenly a suggestion came to him, making him re-write the number
given by Shunker in close imitation of the dead man's bold black
figures, and then deliberately blot it by placing it in the ledger.
The result bore so close a resemblance to the blurred entry that his
quick brain darted off in a wonder how the usurer had got hold of the
number of a note which he had not paid in. No reasonable explanation
suggesting itself, he began a systematic search in the waste paper
basket; the scraps there would at least tell him on what work the
Colonel had been engaged during his last day. He knew that Shunker had
had an interview with him in the morning, but that did not account for
the shreds of a receipt for three thousand five hundred maunds of
grain which he found almost on the top. An old receipt dated some
months back; three thousand five hundred too--an odd coincidence! So
far good; the next thing was to have a sight of Shunker's face before
he had time to hear rumours or make plans.

The summons to come up for an interview early next morning rather
pleased the Lâlâ, for he received it while at the receipt of custom,
when it added to his importance in the eyes of the wedding guests who
sat watching a nautch girl sidle, like a pouter pigeon, over a strip
of dirty carpet. She was stout to obesity; her oiled hair was
plastered so as to narrow her forehead to a triangle; her voluminous
skirts ended just under the arms in a superfluity of bust. She held
one fat hand to her cheek persistently as if in the agonies of
toothache, while she yelled away as if the dentist had failed to
comfort her. Yet the best native society of Faizapore had sat there
for an hour and a half with the impassive faces of the Asiatic bent on
amusement; a face which surely will make Paradise dull work for the
_houris_.

"Yea! I will come to Raby if he needs me," assented the rich man,
turning with a spiteful chuckle to his right hand, where old Mahomed
Lateef sat solemn and dignified. "See you, Khân _sahib_, how even the
Sirkar favours money?"

"When I was young, Oh Shunker!" retorted the other grimly, "the hands
of Nikalsane and Jan Larnce held the sword too tight to leave room for
the rupees."

"Ay! when you Khâns of Kurtpore brought fifty swords to flash behind
theirs, without payment. Swords are bought nowadays, and those who
lack money must e'en go to the wall."

The old Mahomedan's eyes flared. "_Mashâllâh_, oh _buniah-ji_, if they
go to the wall in my poor house they will find swords enow! But
yesterday a hut fell--I mean 'twas pulled down for repairs--and we
came on five Persian blades![3] Ready to use, O Lâlâ-ji; no spot or
blemish of rust. Haply they may help back the rupees some day."

Shunker moved uneasily in his chair, and the guests sank again into
silence, broken only by the occasional tributary hiccup which native
etiquette demands for the memory of dinner. The stars shone overhead,
and a great trail of smoke from the brazier of oil and cotton-seed
seemed to mix itself up with the Milky Way. Little Nuttu, the hero of
the feast, had fallen asleep in his chair, his baby bride being
engaged in cutting her teeth elsewhere. A group of younger men,
squatted in the far corner round a flaring paraffin lamp, talked
vociferously in a mixed jargon of "individual freedom," "political
rights," and "representative government." And no one laughed or cried
at anything; neither at the nautch girl with her unmentionable songs,
nor the spectacle of people discussing freedom while engaged in taking
it away from two harmless infants.

So the night wore on in dull dissipation, leaving Shunker at a
disadvantage when he came to confront the young civilian's clear-cut,
clean-shaven face in the morning.

"You have made a mistake, Lâlâ-ji," he began, opening fire at once; "a
serious mistake about the notes you claim to have left with Colonel
Stuart." So much, at least, was certain; John Raby, however, saw more
in the unrestrained start of alarm which the surprise evoked. "It
isn't so very serious," he continued blandly; "nothing for you to be
so frightened about, Lâlâ-ji; we all make mistakes at times. By the
way, did you keep your original memorandum of the numbers in English
or Mâhâjani [accountant's character]?" "In Mâhâjani, _Huzoor_,"
bleated Shunker, and John Raby smiled. For this diminished the
possibility of clerical error enormously; indeed it was to settle this
point that he had sent for the usurer. "So much the better for you,"
he went on carelessly, "and if you will bring the paper to me this
evening, say about six, I'll see if we can get the error in your claim
altered. You have interchanged a five and a three in one number, and
it is as well to be accurate before the inquiry commences. It will be
a very stringent one. By the by, what time did you last see Colonel
Stuart?"

But the usurer was prepared this time, and when he finally bowed
himself out, John Raby was as much in the dark as ever in regard to
the details of a plot which he felt sure had been laid.

All day long in a sort of under-current of thought he was busy
ransacking memory and invention for a theory, coming back again and
again, disheartened, to the half-tipsy laugh with which Colonel Stuart
had given him the note, declaring it was a windfall. A windfall! what
could that mean! Had Shunker given it back? Then there must have been
a second interview; but none of the servants could speak to one. He
went over early to the office and sat in the dead man's chair trying
to piece things together. The shadows were beginning to cling to the
corners ere the usurer was announced, and something in the scared
glance he gave towards the tall figure in the seat of office convinced
John Raby that the man was reminded of another and similar visit to
that room. The quaver in hand and voice with which he produced his
day-book, and said that the _Huzoor's_ number was right after all,
clinched the matter.

"I suppose," remarked the young man coolly, "you were confused by the
other note." A random shot, but it struck home!

"_Huzoor!_" faltered the fat man.

John Raby looked him full in the face, and went one better; poker was
a game of which he was passionately fond. "The other note with the
threes and the fives which you saw,--which you got when,--I mean the
second time you came here--when you brought the receipt for the grain
which he destroyed--By Jove!" He threw his hand up, and a light came
into his face. "Fool not to see it before--the receipt,--the _wrong_
receipt of course."

"But he never gave me the money; I swear he didn't!" protested
Shunker, completely off his guard.

His hearer broke into a fit of cynical laughter. "Thank you, Shunker,
thank you! Of course he gave you the money: I see it all; and as one
of the numbers were different, you improved on your original
memorandum, thinking you had made a mistake. Stay,--number 150034
wasn't your note. By Jove! he must have given you back the whole roll
of four thousand five hundred by mistake. You're a bigger blackguard
than I thought!"

"No, no!" cried the usurer, beside himself with fear of this
_shaitan_. "Only three! I swear it! I only picked up three."

"Thank you again, Lâlâ. You picked up three. Let me see; how was it?"
The young man rose, pacing the room quickly and talking rapidly.
"Stuart must have taken four from the safe. The windfall! by George!
the windfall. The Colonel must have thought Shunker had only taken
two. Well! you're a nice sort of scoundrel," he went on, stopping
opposite the usurer and viewing him with critical eyes. "So you gave
him the wrong receipt on purpose, and now claim a second payment, is
that it?"

Shunker collapsed to the floor as if every bone had left his body. "I
didn't,--I'll swear by holy Ganges, by my son's head--I didn't mean
it. I thought he would kill me, and I gave him the wrong receipt in my
hurry. Oh, sir, I swear--"

"Let go my legs, you fool, or I shall! Stand up, and don't let your
teeth chatter. I'm not going to kill you. So you weren't even a good
scoundrel, Shunker, only a pitiful fortune-finder. Having done a
clever trick by mistake, you thought it safe to claim the money again,
as the only witness was dead. And it was safe, but for that chance of
the other note! It was hard luck, Lâlâ-ji, hard luck!"

There was something almost uncanny in John Raby's jeering smile as he
threw himself into a chair and began to light one of his eternal
cigarettes. The fact being that he was elated beyond measure at his
own success, and unwilling to detract, as it were, from his own skill
by any hint of carelessness on the other side.

"And now, Shunker," he asked, his chief attention being apparently
given to his tobacco, "what do you intend to do?" Coolly as he spoke,
he was conscious of inward anxiety; for he had rapidly reviewed the
position, and confessed himself impotent should the usurer regain the
courage of denial, since any attempt to prove the facts must bring to
light his own possession of the unlucky note. His best chance
therefore was to work on the Lâlâ's terror without delay.

"I throw myself on your honour's mercy," quavered the usurer in a dull
despairing tone, knowing by experience that it was but a broken reed
on which to rely.

"You don't deserve any; still there are reasons which incline me to be
lenient. Your son is young to be deprived of a father's care; besides,
as the Colonel _sahib's_ executor, I do not wish to have a committee
of inquiry in the office. You understand?"

"_Sahib_, I understand." This eminently sensible view of the matter
was as welcome as it was unexpected.

"Therefore I shall be content if you withdraw your claim, in some
credible way of course. Equally, of course, you will sign a
confession, which I will burn when--"

"But, _sahib_, how--?"

"Not another word. I particularly do not wish to know what you are
going to do; but I haven't lived seven years in India without being
aware how things _can_ be burked."

"If the _sahib_ would only tell me--"

"I tell you to burke it! Why, man, if I only had _your conscience_ all
things would be possible; I'd make money even out of this. I'll help
you so far. You have somehow or another to restore certain notes, the
numbers of which are known. I happen to have traced one of these
already, and you happen to have got hold of a wrong one. I will
exchange. If you haven't got it about you,--ah! I see you have; that
is a great saving of trouble."

A quarter of an hour later John Raby wrote a few lines to Major
Marsden's successor enclosing a thousand-rupee note which he had found
in an unexpected place in Colonel Stuart's office, adding his belief
that the others would doubtless turn up ere long, and suggesting a few
days' grace in order that a thorough search might be made.

"Never lie if you can help it," he said to himself sardonically. "That
dear old prig Marsden would be shocked at my squaring this business,
though at one stage of the proceedings he tried to do so himself. What
the devil would be the good of an inquiry to any living soul? And as
I've lost a thousand in avoiding one, no one could accuse me of
interested motives. Marsden and I row in the same boat, and if I had
had as much money as he has!-- Well, she is a dear little girl, and
that's a fact."

He called on the dear little girl after leaving the office, and
comforted her greatly by general expressions of hope. They made her
almost more grateful to him than any certainty would have done, for
they showed a more perfect trust in her father's integrity. So even
the young man's caution told in his favour, and he went home very well
satisfied with himself, to await the final explanation that was to
emanate from the Lâlâ's fertile brain. The notes would be found
somewhere, no doubt; or else in looking over his accounts he would
discover a like sum owing to Government which would cause the
disappearance of the apparent deficiency.

But amid all his terror, the Lâlâ had noted John Raby's assertion
that, given a certain conscience, he could make money out of the
restitution; and these idle words stood between him and many a
solution of the difficulty. His soul (if he had one) was full of hate,
a sense of defeat, and a desire for revenge. If only he could devise
some plan by which he could retain the plunder, especially that
thousand-rupee note the white-faced _shaitan_ had given him in
exchange!

Dawn found him still in the upper chamber alone with his faithful
jackal. There was determination in his face and dogged resistance in
Râm Lâl's.

"Fool!" whispered the usurer. "If I fall, where art thou? And I swear
I will let the whole thing go. I have money,--thou hast none. It is
only a year without opium or tobacco, Râmu, and the wife and children
well cared for meanwhile. Are you going to back out of the agreement,
unfaithful to salt?"

"A year is ten years without opium, Lâlâ; and there is no need for
this. I am the scapegoat, it is true, but only for safety."

"Son of owls!" cursed the usurer, still under his breath. "It is for
safety, thy safety as well as mine. For if thou wilt do as I bid thee,
it will tie that _shaitan's_ hands; and if they be not tied, they will
meddle. Besides, the _sahib-logue_ are never satisfied without a
scapegoat, and if some one go not to jail they will inquire; and then,
Râmu, wilt thou fare better? 'Twill be longer in the cells, that is
all. Opium can be smuggled, Râmu! See, I promise five rupees a month
to the warder, and a big caste dinner when thou returnest from the
father-in-law's house [a native euphemism for the jail]. And listen,
Râmu--"

So the whispered colloquy went on and on through the hot night, and
during the course of the next day John Raby was asked to sign a
search-warrant for the house of one Râmu Lâl, who was suspected by his
master, Shunker Dâs, of having stolen the missing notes from Colonel
Stuart's office-table. For a moment the young man, taken aback by this
unexpected turn of affairs, hesitated; but reflection showed him that,
for all he could prove to the contrary, the crime might have been
committed. At least there would be time enough for interference at a
later stage of the proceedings. So Râmu and his house were searched; a
note for five hundred rupees was found on his person, and two previous
convictions against him promptly produced by the police.

The discovery of but one, and that the smallest, note gave John Raby
the key to Shunker's plan; for if it could be proved that the money
had been stolen after it had been duly handed over to the Commissariat
officer, the Lâlâ's claim would remain intact. Thus he would be the
gainer by exactly three thousand rupees. Some of this would of course
go towards indemnifying the scapegoat; but Râmu was notoriously the
contractor's jackal, and bound to take such risks.

What was to be done? It was maddening to be outwitted in this manner,
but after all no one was really the worse for it. Râmu had evidently
been squared: Shunker was bound to escape in any case; and Government
had gained all round. Practically speaking, he and Marsden were the
only sufferers; the latter in having paid up ten thousand rupees which
the authorities must otherwise have lost; he, in having restored one
thousand out of his honest earnings. Besides, he had forced Shunker to
disgorge another five hundred; in fact, but for him and his _écarté_
the fraud could not have been discovered. Surely that was enough for
any man to do; especially as one disclosure must lead to another, and
in that case Government would have to pay Marsden back his money. All
of which devious but straightforward arguments ended in John Raby
taking care that the case should be tried in another court; which it
was and successfully. Râm Lâl, confronted by a mass of evidence
ingeniously compounded after native fashion from truth and
falsehood,--from the denials of honest people who could not possibly
have seen anything, and the assertions of those who were paid to have
seen everything,--pleaded guilty to having watched his master give the
money to Colonel Stuart, who, being in a hurry, had placed it in an
envelope-box on the writing-table, whence Râmu, returning after dark,
had taken it "in a moment of forgetfulness" [the usual native excuse].

Here the Lâlâ interrupted the Court to say in a voice broken by
emotion that Râmu was a faithful servant, a very faithful servant
indeed.

So the jackal got eighteen months for the theft, and Shunker drove
down next morning to the jail on a visit of inspection and took the
opportunity of presenting one of the warders with five rupees.

The net result of the whole affair, from a monetary (that is to say
from John Raby's) point of view, being that Shunker gained three
thousand rupees, the Government six thousand and odd, while Philip
Marsden lost over nine, and he himself forfeited one. He did not count
other gains and losses; not even when a day or two after the trial he
stood, with Belle's hand in his, saying good-bye to her ere she
departed to the hills. The _gharri_ waited with its pile of luggage
outside in the sunlight; poor Healy's Mary Ann, who was to accompany
her to Rajpore, was arranging the pillows and fussing over the
position of the ice-box which was to ensure comfort.

"I can't thank you," said the girl tearfully, her pretty eyes on his.
"I wish I could, but I can't."

"Perhaps you may,--some day," he replied vaguely, wishing it were
possible. "After all I did nothing; it was clear from the first that
there was a mistake."

"Some people did not see the clearness," she returned bitterly. "So
your kindness,--and--and confidence--were all the more welcome. I
shall never forget it."

Once more the young civilian was driven, by sheer keenness of
perception, to the position of an outsider who, seeing the game, sees
the odds also. "If I were you I'd forget all about it," he said, more
earnestly than was his wont. "It has been a bad dream from beginning
to end. When we all come back from the wars with a paucity of limbs
and a plethora of medals we can begin afresh. You look surprised. The
fact is I've just accepted a political berth with one of the forces,
and am off at once. I am glad; Faizapore will be dull when you are
gone."

"What a nice young gentleman a' be, miss," said poor Healy's Mary Ann
when he had seen them safely stowed away, and with a plunge and a wild
tootle of the coachman's horn they were dashing out of the gate. "So
cheerful like. He must a' suffered a deal 'imself for to keep up 'is
sperrits so in trouble. It's wonderful what one gets used to."

"He has been very good to me,--and to father," replied Belle softly.



                              CHAPTER X.


A cold wind swept down the Peirâk valley, driving the last leaves from
the birch trees, which, filling the gully, crept some short way up the
steep ascent to the Pass, where the ridges of grey-blue slate seemed
almost a part of the staring blue sky against which they showed like a
serrated line of shadow. Nearer at hand the slopes of withered bent
were broken by sharp fang-like rocks gathering themselves in the
distance into immature peaks and passes. Here and there a patch of
dirty snow, having borne the burden and heat of summer, lay awaiting a
fresh robe of white at the hands of the fast-coming winter. Already
the round black tents of the pasture-seeking tribes were in full
retreat to the plains, and the valley lay still and silent, without
even the sweep of a hawk in its solitary circle, or the bird-like
whistle of a marmot sunning itself on the rocks. Ere long the snow
would wrap all in its soft white mantle, and the bunting, paired with
its own shadow, flicker over the glistening drifts.

Notwithstanding the lateness of the season the Peirâk was not utterly
deserted. In a sheltered bit behind a cluster of rocks sat two young
men. One, despite the sheepskin coat and turban-wound peaked cap of
the Afghan, showed unmistakable signs of alien blood in the steady
gaze of a pair of brown eyes, and a white line of clean skin where the
fur collar met his neck. It was our old friend Dick Smith, and he was
on the watch for the last British regiment which was to cross the Pass
in order to strengthen the little garrison beyond, before winter set
her silver key upon the mountains. His companion carried his
nationality in his face, for even when Afzul Khân had condescended to
wear the uniform of a Sikh soldier no one could have mistaken the
evidence of his long, straight nose and cruel, crafty expression, in
which, however, lurked little hint of sensuality.

"You are deeply interested in this particular regiment," remarked Dick
in fair Pushtu. "What's up, Afzul?"

"Nothing, _Huzoor_. A fool who called himself my relative took service
once with your Sirkar. Mayhap in this regiment--God knows! It does not
matter if it was."

The studied indifference made his hearer smile. "You are a queer lot,
you Pathans," he said lazily. "Not much family affection; not much
welcome for a long-lost brother, eh, Afzul?"

"The Presence should remember there are Pathans and Pathans. He has
not seen my people; they are not here." He spread a well-shaped
nervous hand emphatically east, west, and south.

"Tarred with the same brush north, I expect," muttered the Englishman
to himself.

Afzul Khân frowned. "These are my enemies," he went on. "But for the
Sirkar,--_chk!_" He gave a curious sound, half click, half gurgle, and
drew an illustrative finger across his throat. It was rather a ghastly
performance.

"Then why stop?"

Afzul Khân plucked at the withered bents carelessly. "Because--because
it suits this slave; because the merciful Presence is my master;
because I may as well wait here as anywhere else."

"What are you waiting for?"

He showed all his long white teeth in a grin. "Promotion, _Huzoor_. It
should come speedily, since but yesterday the _sahib_ said I was worth
all the rest of the gang."

"I must be more careful. Where the dickens did you pick up English,
Afzul?"

"From you, _Huzoor_." A statement so irredeemably fictitious that it
made Dick thoughtful.

"You're sharp enough, Heaven knows; but I don't understand why you
wanted to learn signalling. Are you going to give up your _jezail_ and
become a _bâbu?_"

Afzul Khân fingered the matchlock which lay beside him. "I have
changed my mind," he said shortly. "I will leave it to the Presence to
bring down fire from Heaven; _I_ bring it from this flash-in-the-pan."

"Now what can you know about Prometheus?"

He shook his head. "The Presence speaks riddles. The fire comes to
some folk, to many of the _sahibs_--to you, perhaps. God knows! The
Pathans are different. Our work is fighting."

Dick, looking at his companion's sinewy strength, thought it not
unlikely. "While we are waiting, Afzul," he said idly, "tell me the
finest fight you ever were in. Don't be modest; out with it!"

"Wherefore not? Victory is Fate, and only women hang their heads over
success. The best fight, you say? 'Twas over yonder to the north.
There is a dip; but one way up and down. Twenty of us Barakzais and
they were fifteen; but they were ahead of us in count, for, by Allah!
their wives were so ugly that we didn't care to carry them off."

"Why should you?"

"'Twas a feud. Once, God knows when, a Budakshân Nurzai carried off
one of ours and began it. If the women ran out, we killed the men
instead. So it was a moonlight night, and the fifteen were fast
asleep, snoring like hogs. By Allah! my heart beat as we crept behind
the rocks on our bellies, knowing that a rolling stone might waken
them. But God was good, and _chk!_ they bled to death, like the pigs
they were, before their eyes were wide open."

Dick Smith stared incredulously. "You call that the best fight you
ever were in? I call it--" The epithet remained unspoken as he started
to his feet with a shout. "By George! I see the glitter. Yonder,
Afzul! by the turn. Hurrah! hurrah!"

He was off at long swinging strides, careless of the fact that the
Pathan never moved. The latter's keen eyes followed the lad with a
certain regret, and then turned to the straggling file of soldiers now
plainly visible.

"Marsden _sahib_ with the advance guard," he muttered. "Why did I give
in to those cursed hawk's eyes when my bullet was all but in his
heart! _Wah-illah!_ his bravery made me a coward, and now my life is
his. But I will return it, and then we shall cry quits. Yonder's the
_subadâr_. By God! my knife will be in his big belly ere long, and
some of those gibing Punjâbis shall jest no more."

So he watched them keenly with a fierce joy, while Dick tore down the
hill, to be brought, by an ominous rattle among the rifles below, to a
remembrance of his dress. Then he waited, hands down, in the open,
until the advance guard came within hail of his friendly voice; when
he received the whole regiment with open arms, as if the Peirâk were
his special property. Perhaps he had some right to consider it so,
seeing that he was the only Englishman who had ever attempted to make
those barren heights his head-quarters. But, as he explained to Philip
Marsden, while they climbed the narrow gully hemmed in by
perpendicular rocks which led to the summit, the breaks in
communication from storms and other causes had been so constant, that
he had cut himself adrift from head-quarters at Jumwar in order to be
on the spot, and so avoid the constant worry of small expeditions with
an escort; without which he was not allowed to traverse the unsettled
country on either side.

"Here I am safe enough," he said with a laugh; "and if I could only
get my assistant, a Bengali _bâbu_, to live at the other hut I have
built on the northern descent, we could defy all difficulties. But he
is in such a blind funk that if I go out he retires to bed and locks
the door. The only time he is happy is when a regiment is on the
road."

"Then his happiness is doomed for this year,--unless you use
discretion and come on with us to Jumwar. I doubt your being safe here
much longer."

Dick shrugged his shoulders. "Perhaps not, and of course I shall have
to cut and run before the snow; but I like the life, and it gives me
time. I've been at work on a field-instrument--" here his eyes lit up,
and his tongue ran away with him over insulators and circuits.

Major Marsden looked at the lad approvingly, thinking how different he
was from the slouching sullen boy of six months back. "I'm afraid I
don't understand, Dick," he said with a half-smile; "but I've no doubt
it will be very useful, if, as you say, it enables you to tap the
wires anywhere with speed and certainty."

Dick gave a fine blush. "I beg your pardon, but these things get into
my head. It will work though, I'm sure of it. I'd show you if it was
here, but I left it at the other shanty. There's a stretch of low
level line across the Pass where I was testing it."

The half-aggrieved eagerness in his voice made Philip smile. They were
sitting together under the lee of a rock on the summit while a halt
was called, in order to give time for the long caravan-like file,
encumbered by baggage ponies, to reach the top and so ensure an
unbroken line during the descent. For in these mountain marches the
least breach of continuity is almost certain to bring down on the
detached portion an attack from the robbers who are always on the
watch for such an opportunity.

"You had best come with us, Dick," said Philip, returning to the point
after a pause.

"No! The fact is I want to be certain of the communication until you
are safe in Jumwar. Those two marches, between your next camp and the
city, are risky. I have my doubts of the people."

"Doubts shared by head-quarters apparently, for the chief got a
telegram yesterday to await orders at Jusraoli. I expect they are
going to send to meet us from Jumwar."

"I wish I'd known in time," replied Dick lightly; "in that case there
is not much reason for staying. Yet I don't know; I'd rather stick on
till I am forced to quit."

"That won't be long; the snow's due already, and you are coming on
with us so far in any case, aren't you?"

Dick sat idly chucking stones and watching them leap from point to
point of the cliffs below him. "I don't think I shall, if you are to
be in camp Jusraoli for some days. You see, my _bâbu_ is no use, and
something might turn up. I'll see you across the Pass and come back. I
could join you later on if I made up my mind to cut." He lay back with
his arms under his head and looked up into the brilliant blue
cloudless sky. "Major," he said suddenly, after a pause, "do you know
that you have never asked after Belle?"

"Haven't I? The fact is I had news of her lately. Raby wrote to me a
few days ago."

"I wouldn't trust Raby if I were you. Did he tell you that Belle
hadn't a penny and was trying to be independent of charity by
teaching?"

"I am very sorry to hear it."

Dick sat up with quite a scared look on his honest face. "I thought
there must be something wrong between you two by her letters," he said
in a low voice; "but I didn't think it was so bad as that. What is
it?"

"Really, my dear boy, I don't feel called upon to answer that
question."

"It's beastly impertinent, of course," allowed Dick; "but see here,
Major, you are the best friend I have, and she,--why, I love her more
dearly every day. So you see there must be a mistake."

The logic was doubtful, but the faith touched Philip's heart. "And so
you love her more than ever?" he asked evasively.

"Why not? I seem somehow nearer to her now, not so hopelessly beneath
her in every way. And I can help her a little by sending money to Aunt
Lucilla. _She_ wouldn't take a penny, of course. But they tell me that
when my grandfather,--I mean my mother's father--dies I might come in
for a few rupees; so I have made my will leaving anything in your
charge for Belle. You don't mind, do you?"

Philip Marsden felt distinctly annoyed. Here was fate once again
meddling with his freedom. "I'm afraid I do. To begin with, I may be
lying with a bullet through me before the week's out."

"So may I. Look on it as my last request, Major. I'd sooner trust you
than any one in the wide world. You would be certain to do what I
would like."

"Should I? I'm not so sure of myself. Look here, Dick! I didn't mean
to tell you, but perhaps it is best to have it out, and be fair and
square. The fact is we are rivals." He laughed cynically at his
hearer's blank look of surprise. "Yes,--don't be downcast, my dear
fellow; you've a better chance than I have, any day, for she dislikes
me excessively; and upon my word, I believe I'm glad of it. Let's talk
of something more agreeable. Ah, there goes the bugle."

He started to his feet, leaving Dick a prey to very mixed emotions,
looking out with shining eyes over the dim blue plains which rolled up
into the eastern sky. It must be a mistake, he felt. His hero was too
perfect for anything else; and she? Something seemed to rise in his
throat and choke him. So nothing further was said between them till on
the northern skirts of the hills they stood saying good-bye. Then Dick
with some solemnity put a blue official envelope into his friend's
hand. "It's the will, Major. I think it's all right; I got the _bâbu_
to witness it. And of course the--the other--doesn't make any
difference. You see I shall write and tell her it is all a mistake."

The older man as he returned the boyish clasp felt indescribably mean.
"Don't be in a hurry, Dick," he said slowly. "You can think it over
and give it me when you join us, for join us you must. I won't take it
till then, at all events. As for the other, as you call it, the
mistake would be to have it changed. Whatever happens she will never
get anything better than what you give her, Dick--never!--never!
Good-bye; take care of yourself."

As he watched the young fellow go swinging along the path with his
head up, he told himself that others beside Belle would be the losers
if anything happened to Dick Smith; who, for all the world had cared,
might at that moment have been lying dead-drunk in a disreputable
bazaar. "There is something," he thought sadly, "that most men lose
with the freshness of extreme youth. It has gone from me hopelessly,
and I am so much the worse for it." And Dick, meanwhile, was telling
himself with a pang at his heart that no girl, Belle least of all,
could fail in the end to see the faultlessness of his hero.



                             CHAPTER XI.


The sun had set ere Dick reached the narrowest part of the defile
where, even at midday, the shadows lay dark; and now, with the clouds
which had been creeping up from the eastward all the afternoon
obscuring the moon, it looked grim and threatening. He was standing at
an open turn, surprised at the warmth of the wind that came hurrying
down the gully, when the low whistling cry of the marmot rang through
the valley and died away among the rocks. A second afterwards the
whizz of a bullet, followed by the distant crack of a rifle, made him
drop in his tracks and seek the shelter of a neighbouring boulder.
Once again the marmot's cry arose, this time comparatively close at
hand. To answer it was the result of a second's thought, and the
silence which ensued convinced Dick that he had done the right thing.
But what was the next step? Whistling was easy work, but how if he met
some of these musical sentries face to face? Perhaps it would be wiser
to go back. He had almost made up his mind to this course when the
thought that these robbers, for so he deemed them, might out of pure
mischief have tampered with his beloved wires came to turn the balance
in favour of going on. A disused path leading by a _détour_ to the
southern side branched off about a mile further up; if he could reach
that safely he might manage to get home without much delay. Only a
mile; he would risk it. Creeping from his shelter cautiously he
resumed his way, adopting the easy lounging gait of the hill-people;
rather a difficult task with the inward knowledge that some one may be
taking deliberate aim at you from behind a rock. More than once, as he
went steadily onwards, the cry of a bird or beast rose out of the
twilight, prompting his instant reply. "If they would only crow like a
cock," he thought, with the idle triviality which so often accompanies
grave anxiety, "I could do that first-class."

Yet he was fain to pause and wipe the sweat from his face when he
found himself safely in the disused track, and knew by the silence
that he was beyond the line of sentries. A rough road lay before him,
but he traversed it rapidly, being anxious to get the worst of it over
before the lingering light deserted the peaks. As he stood on the
summit he was startled at the lurid look of the vast masses of cloud
which, rolling up to his very feet, obscured all view beyond. They
were in for a big storm, he thought, as he hurried down the slopes at
a break-neck pace; with all his haste barely reaching the shanty in
time, for a low growl of thunder greeted his arrival, and as he pulled
the latch a faint gleam of light showed him the empty room. He called
loudly; darkness and silence: again, as he struck a match; light, but
still silence. Quick as thought, Dick was at the signaller, and the
electric bell rang out incongruously. _Tink-a-tink-a-tink_ was echoed
from the eastward. But westward? He waited breathlessly, while not a
sound returned to him. Communication was broken; the wires had
possibly been cut, and Dick stood up with a curiously personal sense
of injury. His wires tampered with out of sheer mischief! Yet stay!
Might it not be something more? Where the devil had the _bâbu_ hidden
himself? After fruitless search an idea struck him, and he signalled
eastward once more. "Repeat your last message, giving time at which
sent." With ears attuned to tragedy Dick awaited the reply. "6 P.M. To
north side. 'Will send cocoa-nut oil and curry stuff by next mail.'"

The echo of Dick's laughter, as he realised that but an hour or so
before the _bâbu_ had been putting the telegraph to commissariat uses,
was the last human sound the shanty was to hear for many a long day.
For the next moment's thought roused a sudden fear. The _bâbu_ had
doubtless gone over the Pass with the troops for the sake of company;
that was natural enough, but if he was still in the north shanty
awaiting Dick's return, why had he not answered the signal sent
westward? It could not be due to any break in the wire, unless the
damage had been done after dark, for he had been able to telegraph
eastward not so long ago. Was there more afoot than mere mischief?

It was not a night for a dog to be out in, and as Dick stood at the
door he could see nothing but masses of cloud hurrying past, softly,
silently. Then suddenly a shudder of light zig-zagged hither and
thither, revealing only more cloud pierced by a few pinnacles of rock.

Not a night for a dog certainly; but for a man, with a man's work
before him? Belle would bid him go, he knew. A minute later he had
closed the door behind him, and faced the Pass again. Ere he reached
the end of the short ascent it was snowing gently; then, with a
furious blast, hailing in slanted torrents that glittered like
dew-drops in the almost ceaseless shiver of the silent lightning.
Everything was so silent, save for the wind which, caught and twisted
in the gullies, moaned as if in pain. Ah! was that the end of all
things? Round him, in him, through him, came a blaze of white flame,
making him stagger against the wall of rock and throw up his hands as
if to ward off the impalpable mist which held such a deadly weapon.
Half-blinded he went on, his mind full of one thought. If that sort of
thing came again, say when he was passing the snow-bridge, could a man
stand it without a start which must mean instant death? The question
left no room for anything save a vague wonder till it was settled in
the affirmative. Then the nickname of "lightning-_wallahs_," given by
the natives to the telegraph-clerks, struck him as being happy, and
Afzul's reference to fire from heaven passed through his mind. More
like fire from hell surely, with that horrible sulphurous smell, and
now and again a ghastly undertoned crackle like the laughter of
fiends. There again! Wider this time, and followed by a rattle as of
musketry. But the snow which was now sweeping along in white swirls
seemed to shroud even the lightning. Horrible! To have so much light
and to be able to see nothing but cloud, and the stones at your feet.
How long would he see them? How long would it be before the snow
obliterated the path, leaving him lost? He stumbled along, tingling to
his very finger-tips, despite the cold which grew with every
explosion. The very hair on his fur coat stood out electrified, and
his brain swam with a wild excitement. On and on recklessly, yet
steadily; his footsteps deadened by the drifting snow, until he stood
at the threshold of shelter and threw open the door of the shanty.

Great Heaven, what was this! The _bâbu_, green with fear, working the
signaller, while Afzul Khân, surrounded by six or seven armed Pathans,
stood over him with drawn knife. "Go on, you fool!" he was saying,
"your work is nearly finished."

The full meaning of the scene flashed through Dick Smith's excited
brain quicker than any lightning. Treachery was at work, with a coward
for its agent. His revolver was out in a second, and before the
astonished group had time to grasp the unexpected interruption, the
_bâbu's_ nerveless fingers slipped from the handles, as with a gasping
sob, rising above the report, he sank in a heap on the floor.

"By God and His Prophet!" cried Afzul, carried away, as men of his
kind are, by the display of daredevil boldness which is their
unattained ideal of bravery. "Yea, by the twelve Imaums, but it was
well done."

"Liar, traitor, unfaithful to salt!" cried Dick, whose extraordinary
appearance and absolutely reckless behaviour inspired his hearers with
such awe that for the moment they stood transfixed. The revolver was
levelled again, this time at Afzul, when the memory of other things
beside revenge sobered the lad, and a flash of that inspiration which
in time of danger marks the leader of men from his fellows made him
throw aside the weapon and fold his arms. "No!" he said coolly, "I am
faithful. I have eaten the salt of the Barakzais; they are my
friends."

"Don't hurt the lad," cried Afzul, not a moment too soon, for cold
steel was at Dick's throat. "God smite you to eternal damnation,
Haiyât! Put up that knife, I say. The lad's words are true. He has
eaten of our salt, and we of his. He hath lived among us and done no
harm to man or maid. By Allah! the lightning has got into his brain.
Bind him fast; and mark you, 'twill be worse than death for him to lie
here helpless, knowing that the wires he made such a fuss about have
lured his friends to death. I know his sort. Death?--this will be
seventy hells for him; and we can kill him after, if needs be."

Dick, as he felt the cords bite into his wrists and ankles, ground his
teeth at the man's jeering cruelty. "Kill me outright, you devils!" he
cried, struggling madly. It was the wisest way to ensure life, for the
sight of his impotent despair amused his captors.

"Give him a nip of his own brandy, Haiyât, or he will be slipping
through our fingers," said one, as he lay back exhausted.

"Not I; the bottle's near empty as it is."

Tales of his boyhood about drunken guards and miraculous escapes
recurred to Dick's memory, and though he felt to the full the
absurdity of mixing them up with the present deadly reality, the
slenderest chance gave at least room for hope. "There is plenty more
in the cupboard," he gasped. "The key is in my pocket."

"True is it, O Kâreem, that the Feringhi infidel cannot die in peace
without his _sharâb_," remarked Haiyât virtuously. But he did not fail
with the others to taste all the contents of the cupboard, even to a
bottle of Pain-killer which had belonged to the _bâbu_. Meanwhile
Dick, lying helpless and bound, felt a fierce surge of hope and
despair as he remembered that behind those open doors lay something
which could put an end to treachery. Five minutes with his
field-instrument in the open, and, let what would come afterwards, he
would have done his work. The thought gave Dick an idea which, if
anything, increased the hopelessness of his position, for the only
result of his offer to work the wires on condition of his life being
saved, was to drive Afzul, who saw his dread of Dick's getting his
hands on the instrument in danger of being over-ruled, into settling
the question, once and for all, by severing the connection with a
hatchet.

"I know him better than that," he said; "he would sit and fool us
until he had given warning. Let him lie there; if he has sense, he
will sleep."

There was something so significant in his tone that Dick felt wisdom
lay in pretending to follow the advice. He strained his ears for every
whispered word of the gang as they crouched round the fire, and
gathered enough to convince him that the sudden change of plan at
head-quarters had endangered some deep-laid scheme of revenge, and
that Afzul Khân, believing Dick had gone on to the camp, had suggested
a false telegram in order to lure the regiment into the open. A
frantic rage and hate for the man who had suggested such a devilish
prostitution of what constituted Dick's joy and pride roused every
fibre of the lad's being. Lecoq, that greatest of examples to
prisoners, declares that given time, pluck, and a cold chisel, the man
who remains a captive is a fool. But how about the cold chisel? Dick's
eyes, craftily searching about under cover of the failing fire-light,
saw many things which might be useful, but all out of reach.

"I am cold," he said boldly; "bring me a rug or move me out of the
draught."

They did both, in quick recognition of his spirit, and, with a laugh
and an oath to the effect that the dead man would be a warm
bed-fellow, dragged him beside the wretched _bâbu_ and threw a
sheepskin rug over both. Dick's faint hope of some carpenter's tools
in the far corner fled utterly: but his heart leaped up again as he
remembered that his cowardly subordinate had always gone about armed
with revolvers and bowie-knives. Rifling a dead man's pockets with
your hands tied behind your back is slow work, but the rug covered a
multitude of movements. Half an hour afterwards Dick's feet were free,
and with the knife held fast between his heels he was breaking his
back in obstinate determination of some time and somehow severing the
rope upon his wrists. Some time and somehow--it seemed hours; yet when
he managed at last with bleeding hands to draw the watch from his
pocket he found it was barely two o'clock. Hitherto his one thought
had been freedom; now he turned his mind towards escape. There was
still plenty of time for him to reach the camp ere dawn found the
regiment on the move; but the risks he might have to run on the way
decided him, first of all, to try and secure his field-instrument from
the cupboard. He lay still for a long time wondering what to do next,
furtively watching Afzul Khân as he busied himself over the fire,
while the others dozed preparatory to the work before them. Having
possessed himself also of the dead _bâbu's_ revolver, Dick felt
mightily inclined to risk all by a steady shot at Afzul, and immediate
flight. But the remembrance of those sentries on the downward road
prevented him from relying altogether on his speed of foot. Yet Dick
knew his man too well to build anything on the chance of either wine
or weariness causing Afzul to relax his watch. It had come to be a
stand-up fight between these two, a state of affairs which never fails
to develop all the resources of brain and body. Dick, keenly alive to
every trivial detail, noticed first a longer interval in the
replenishing of the fire, and then the fact that but a few small logs
of wood remained in the pile. Thereafter, whenever Afzul's right hand
withdrew fresh fuel, Dick's left under cover of the noise made free
with more. The sheepskin rug had shelter for other things than a dead
body and a living one.

"It burns like a fat Hindoo," muttered the Pathan, sulkily, as the
last faggot went to feed the flame. "Lucky there is more in the
outhouse, or those fools would freeze to death in their sleep."

Dick's heart beat like a sledge-hammer. His chance, the only chance,
had come! Almost before the tall figure of the Pathan, after stooping
over him to make sure that he slept, had ceased to block the doorway,
Dick was at the cupboard. A minute's, surely not more than a minute's
delay, and he was outside, safe and free, with the means of warning
carefully tucked inside his fur coat.

Too late! Right up the only possible path came Afzul, carrying a great
armful of sticks. To rush on him unprepared, tumble him backwards into
a snowdrift alongside, deal him a crashing blow or two for quietness'
sake and cram his _pugree_ into his mouth, was the work of a minute;
the next he was speeding down the descent with flying feet. The storm
was over, and the moon riding high in the heavens shone on a white
world; but already the darkness of the peaks against the eastern sky
told that the dawn was not far off.

The first dip of the wires, he decided, was too close for safety,
besides the drifts always lay thickest there. The next, a mile and a
half down the valley, was best in every way; and as he ran, the keen
joy of victory, not only against odds but against one man, came to him
with the thought of Afzul Khân gagged and helpless in the snow.
But he had reckoned without the cold; the chill night air which,
finding its way through the open door, soon roused the sleepers by the
ill-replenished fire. Haiyât, waking first, gave the alarm, and the
discovery of their leader half suffocated in the snowdrift followed
swiftly. Yet it was not until the latter, slowly recovering speech,
gasped out a warning, that the full meaning of their prisoner's escape
was brought home to them.

"After him! Shoot him down!" cried Afzul, staggering to his feet. "He
can bring fire from heaven! If he touches the wires all is lost. Fool
that I was not to kill him, the tiger's cub, the hero of old! Curse
him, true son of Byramghor, born of the lightning!" So with wild
threats, mingled with wilder words of wonder and admiration, Afzul
Khân, still dazed by the blows Dick had dealt him, stumbled along in
rear of the pursuit.

The latter's heart knew its first throb of fear when the signal he
sent down the severed wire brought no reply. After all, was the
outcome of long months of labour, the visible embodiment of what was
best in him, about to fail in time of need? Again and again he
signalled, urgently, imperiously, while his whole world seemed to wait
in breathless silence. Failure! No, no, incredible, impossible; not
failure after all! Suddenly, loud and clear, came an answering trill,
bringing with it a joy such as few lives know. A shout from above, a
bullet whistling past him; scarcely fair that, when his hands were
busy, and his mind too, working methodically, despite those yelling
fiends tearing down the slope. "_Major from Dick--treachery_."
Something like a red-hot iron shot through his leg as he knelt on the
cliff, a clear mark against the sky. Lucky, he thought, it was not
through his arm. "_For God's sake_--" He doubled up in sudden agony
but went on "_Stand fast_."

There was still a glint of life left in him when Afzul Khân,
coming up behind the butchers, claimed the death-blow. Their eyes met.
"Fire--from--heaven!" gasped Dick, and rolled over dead. The Pathan
put up his knife gloomily. "It is true," he said with an oath. "I knew
he was that sort; he has beaten us fairly."

An hour afterwards, heralded by winged clouds flushed with the
ceaseless race of day, the steady sun climbed the eastern sky and
looked down brightly on the dead body of the lad who had given back
his spark of divine fire to the Unknown. Perhaps, if bureaucracy had
not seen fit to limit genius within statutory bounds, Dick Smith might
have left good gifts behind him for his generation, instead of taking
them back with him to the storehouse of Nature. And the sun shone
brightly also on Belle Stuart's bed; but not even her dreams told her
that her best chance of happiness lay dead in the snow. She would not
have believed it, even if she had been told.



                             CHAPTER XII.


It was a walled garden full of blossoming peach-trees, and chequered
with little rills of running water beside which grew fragrant clumps
of golden-eyed narcissus. In the centre was a slender-shafted,
twelve-arched garden-house, with overhanging eaves, and elaborate
fret-work, like wooden lace, between the pillars. On the sides of the
stone daïs on which the building stood trailed creepers bright with
flowers, and in front of the open archway serving as a door lay the
harmonious puzzle of a Persian carpet rich in deep reds and yellows.
Easy-chairs, with a fox-terrier curled up on one of them, and a low
gipsy table ominously ringed with marks of tumblers, showed the
presence of incongruous civilisation.

From within bursts of merriment and the clatter of plates and dishes,
without which civilisation cannot eat in comfort, bore witness that
dinner was going on. Then, while the birds were beginning to say
good-night to each other, the guests came trooping out in high
spirits, ready for coffee and cigars. All, with one exception, were in
the _khâki_ uniform which repeated washing renders, and always will
render, skewbald, despite the efforts of martial experts towards a
permanent dye. Most of the party were young and deeply engrossed by
the prospect of some sky-races, which, coming off next day, were to
bring their winter sojourn at Jumwar to a brilliant close. One, a
lanky boy with pretensions to both money and brains, was drawing down
on himself merciless chaff by a boastful allusion to former stables he
had owned.

"Don't believe a syllable he says," cried his dearest friend. "I give
you my word they were all screws. Stable, indeed! Call it your
tool-chest, Samuel, my boy."

Lieutenant Samuel Johnson, whose real name of Algernon, bestowed on
him by his godfathers and godmothers in his baptism, had been voted
far too magnificent for everyday use, blinked his white eyelashes in
evident enjoyment of his own wit as he retorted: "Well, if they were
screws I turned 'em myself. You buy yours ready made."

"Well done, Samivel! Well done! You're improving," chorused the others
with a laugh.

"You might lend me that old jest-book, Sam, now that you've got
a new one," replied his opponent calmly. "I'm running short of
repartees,--and of cigars, too, bad cess to the Post! By Jove! I wish
I had the driving of those runners; I'd hurry them up!"

"Man does not live by cigars alone. I'm dead broke for boots,"
interrupted another, looking disconsolately at the soles and uppers
which not all the shameless patching of an amateur artist could keep
together.

"I have the best of you there," remarked some one else. "I got these
at Tom Turton's sale. They wouldn't fit any one else."

"Yes, poor Tom had small feet."

There was a pause among the light-hearted youngsters as if the grim
Shadow which surrounded that blossoming garden had crept a bit nearer.

"This is delightful," said John Raby, the only civilian present, as he
lay back in his easy-chair which was placed beyond the noisy circle.
His remark was addressed to Philip Marsden, who leaned against one of
the octagonal turrets which like miniature bastions flanked the
platform. "I shall be quite sorry to leave the place," continued Raby.
"It's a perfect paradise."

In truth it was very beautiful. The pink and white glory of the peach
blossoms blent softly into the snow-clad peaks, now flushed by the
setting sun; while a level beam of light, streaming in through a
breach in the wall, lit up the undergrowth of the garden, making the
narcissus shine like stars against the dark green shadows.

"Doubtless," remarked Philip, "--for a Political who comes with the
swallows and summer. You should have seen it in January,--shouldn't
he, boys?"

"Bah! the usual 'last Toosday' of 'Punch!' The hardships of
campaigning indeed! _Perdrix aux choux_ and cold gooseberry tart for
dinner; an idyllic mess-house in a peach-garden; coffee and iced pegs
to follow."

"Well, sir," cried a youngster cheerfully, "if you had favoured us in
winter we would have given you stewed Tom in addition. It was an
excellent cat; we all enjoyed it, except Samuel. You see it was his
favourite _miaow_, so he is going to give the stuffed skin to an aged
aunt, from whom he expects money, in order to show that he belongs to
the Anti-Vivisection League."

"A certain faint regard for the verities is essential to a jest,"
began Samuel, affecting the style of his illustrious namesake.

"I wish some one would remove the mess-dictionary," interrupted the
other. "The child will hurt himself with those long words some day."

"Bad for you, if they did," grinned a third. "D'ye know he actually
asked me last mail-day if there were two f's in affection. _Whoo
hoop!_" Closely pursued by the avenger he leapt the low balustrade,
and the garden resounded to much boyish laughter, as one by one the
youngsters joined the chase.

"Remarkably high spirits," yawned John Raby, "but a trifle reminiscent
of a young gentleman's academy. They jar on the _dolce far niente_ of
the surroundings."

"We were glad enough of the spirits a few months ago," replied Philip
significantly. "The _dolce far niente_ of semi-starvation requires
some stimulant."

"That was very nearly a _fiasco_, sending you over the Pass so late.
Lucky for you the Politicals put the drag on the Military in time."

"Lucky, you mean, that poor Dick Smith managed to send that telegram.
I've often wondered how he did it. The story would be worth hearing;
he was one in a thousand."

"You always had a leaning towards that red-headed boy; now I thought
him most offensive. He--"

"_De mortuis_," quoted the Major with a frown.

"Those are the ethics of eternity combined with a sneaking belief in
ghosts. But I mean nothing personal. He was simply a disconcerting
sport, as the biologists say, from the neutral-tinted Eurasian, and I
distrust a man who doesn't look his parentage; he is generally a fraud
or a monstrosity."

"That theory of yours is rather hard on development, isn't it?" said
Philip with a smile.

"Only a stand in favour of decency and order. What right has a man to
be above his generation? It is extremely inconvenient to the rest of
us. If he is successful, he disturbs our actions; if he uses us as a
brick wall whereon to dash out his brains, he disturbs our feelings.
To return to Dick Smith; the whole affair was foolhardy and
ridiculous. If I had been Political then I should certainly have
refused to allow that camping-out on the Pass; and so he would
probably have been enjoying all that money, instead of dying miserably
just when life became worth having."

"What money?" asked Philip Marsden hastily.

"Didn't you hear? It was in the papers last week,--haven't seen them
yet perhaps? Some distant relation of his father's died in England,
leaving everything to Smith senior or his direct male heirs; failing
them, or their assigns, to charity. So as no one had made a
will,--paupers don't generally--some dozens of wretched children will
be clothed in knee-breeches or poke-bonnets till Time is no more."

In the pause which ensued Philip Marsden felt, as most of us do at
times, that he would have given all he possessed to put Time's dial
back a space, and to be standing once more on the northern slope of
the Peirâk with Dick's hand in his. "_There's the will, Major; it
doesn't make any difference, you know_." The words came back to him
clearly, and with them the mingled feeling of proud irritation and
resentful self-respect which had made him set the blue envelope aside,
and advise a more worldly caution. Temper, nothing but temper, it
seemed to him now. "There was a will," he said at last, in a low
voice. "Dick spoke to me of one when we came over the Pass together.
You see there was a chance of his getting a few rupees from old
Desouza."

John Raby threw away the end of his cigarette with an exclamation. "By
George, that's funny! To make a will in hopes of something from a man
who died insolvent, and come in for thirty thousand pounds you knew
nothing about! But where is the will? It was not among his papers, for
strangely enough the people had not looted much when the Pass opened
and we went over to search. Perhaps he sent it somewhere for safe
custody. It would make a difference to Belle Stuart, I expect, for
he--well, he was another victim."

"I think,--in fact I am almost sure,"--the words came reluctantly as
if the speaker was loth to face the truth,--"that he had the will with
him when he died. He showed it me--and--Raby, was every search made
for the body?"

His hearer shrugged his shoulders. "As much as could be done in a
place like that. For myself I should have been surprised at success.
Think of the drifts, the vultures and hyenas, the floods in spring. Of
course it may turn up still ere summer is over, but I doubt it. What a
fool the boy was to carry the will about with him! Why didn't he give
it to some one else who was less heroic?"

"He could easily have done that, for I tell you, Raby, he was worth a
dozen of us who remain," said Philip bitterly, as he stood looking
over the peach-blossom to the lingering snows where Dick had died.
"Well, good-night. I think I shall turn in. After all there is no fool
like an old fool."

The civilian followed his retreating figure with a good-natured smile.
"He really was fond of that youngster," he said to himself. "The mere
thought of it all has made him throw away half of the best cigar on
this side the Peirâk. By Jove! I won't give him another; it is too
extravagant."

The next morning Philip Marsden came over to the Political quarters,
and with a remark that last night's conversation had borne in on him
the necessity for leaving one's affairs in strict business order,
asked John Raby to look over the rough draft of a will.

"Leave it with me," was the reply, given with the usual easy
good-nature. "It appears to me too legal, the common fault of
amateurs. I'll make it unimpeachable as Cæsar's wife, get one of my
_bâbus_ to engross it, and bring it over ready for you to fill up the
names and sign this afternoon. No thanks required; that sort of thing
amuses me."

He kept his promise, finding Philip writing in the summer-house. "If
you will crown one kindness by another and can wait a moment, I will
ask you to witness it," said the latter. "I shall not be a moment
filling it in."

"The advantage of not cutting up good money into too many pieces,"
replied his friend smiling.

"The disadvantage perhaps of being somewhat alone in the world. There,
will you sign?"

"Two witnesses, please; but I saw Carruthers in his quarters as I came
by; he will do."

John Raby, waiting to perform a kindly act somewhat to the prejudice
of his own leisure, for he was very busy, amused himself during Major
Marsden's temporary absence by watching a pair of doves with pink-grey
plumage among the pink-grey blossom. Everything was still and silent
in the garden, though outside the row of silvery poplar trees swayed
and rustled in the fitful gusts of the wind. Suddenly a kite soaring
above swooped slightly, the startled doves fled scattering the petals,
and the wind, winning a way through the breach in the wall, blew them
about like snowflakes. It caught the paper too that was lying still
wet with ink, and whirled it off the table to John Raby's feet. "I
hope it is not blotted," he thought carelessly, as he stooped to pick
it up and replace it.

A minute after Major Marsden, coming in alone, found him, as he had
left him, at the door, with rather a contemptuous smile on his face.
"Carruthers is not to be had, and I really have not the conscience to
ask you to wait any longer," said the Major.

John Raby was conscious of a curious sense of relief. In after years
he felt that the chance which prevented him from signing Philip
Marsden's will as a witness came nearer to a special providence than
any other event in his career. Yet he replied carelessly: "I wish I
could, my dear fellow, but any other person will do as well. I have to
see the Mukdoom at five, and I start at seven to prepare your way
before you in true Political style. Can I do anything else for you?"

"Put the will into the Political post-bag for safety when I send it
over," laughed Philip as they shook hands. "Good-bye. You will be a
lion at Simla while we are still doing duty as sand-bags on the
scientific frontier; diplomacy wins nowadays."

"Not a bit of it. In twenty years, when we have invented a gun that
will shoot round a corner, the nation which hasn't forgotten the use
of the bayonet will whip creation, and we shall return to the belief
that the man who will face his fellow, and lick him, is the best
animal."

"In the meantime, Simla for you and service for us."

"Not a bit of that, either. Why, the British Lion has been on the
war-trail for a year already. It's time now for repentance and a
transformation-scene; troops recalled, _durbar_ at Peshawar, the Amir
harlequin to Foreign Office columbine, Skobeloff as clown playing
tricks on the British public as pantaloon."

"And the nameless graves?"

"Principle, my dear fellow," replied John Raby with a shrug of his
shoulders, "is our modern Moloch. We sacrifice most things to it,--on
principle. By the bye, I have mislaid that original of the will
somehow; possibly my boy packed it up by mistake, but if I come across
it I'll return it."

"Don't bother,--burn it. 'Tis no good to any one now."

"Nor harm, either,--so good-bye, warrior!"

"Good-bye, diplomatist!"

They parted gaily, as men who are neither friends nor foes do part
even when danger lies ahead.

That same evening the homeward bound post-runner carried with him over
the Peirâk Major Marsden's will leaving thirty thousand pounds to
Belle Stuart unconditionally. It was addressed to an eminently
respectable London firm of solicitors, who, not having to deal with
the chances of war, would doubtless hold it in safe custody until it
was wanted. The testator, as he rode the first march on the Cabul
road, felt, a little bitterly, that once more he had done his best to
stand between her and care. Yet it must be confessed that this feeling
was but as the vein of gold running through the quartz, for pride and
a resentful determination that no shadow of blame should be his,
whatever happened, were the chief factors in his action. Nor did he in
any way regard it as final. The odds on his life were even, and if he
returned safe from the campaign he meant to leave no stone unturned in
the search for Dick Smith's body. Then, if he failed to find the will,
it would be time enough to confess he had been in the wrong.

John Raby, as he put the bulky letter in the Political bag according
to promise, felt also a little bitter as he realised that Belle with
thirty thousand pounds would come as near perfection in his eyes as
any woman could. And then he smiled at the queer chance which had put
him in possession of Major Marsden's intention; finally dismissing the
subject with the cynical remark that perhaps a woman who was
sufficiently fascinating to make two people leave her money ere she
was out of her teens might not be a very safe possession.



                            CHAPTER XIII.


In the tiny drawing-room of a tiny house, wedged in between a huge
retaining wall and the almost perpendicular hill-side, Belle Stuart
sat idly looking out of the window. Not that there was anything to
see. The monsoon fogs swept past the stunted oaks, tipped over the
railings, filled the verandah, crept in through the crevices, and
literally sat down on the hearth-stone; for the room was too small,
the thermometer too high, and humanity too poor, to allow of a fire.
Without, was a soft grey vapour deadening the world; within, was a
still more depressing atmosphere of women, widow's weeds, and
wrangling.

On her lap lay the newspaper filled, as usual, with items from the
frontier. To many a woman that first sheet meant a daily agony of
relief or despair; to Belle Stuart it was nothing more than a history
of the stirring times in which she lived, for with Dick's sad end, and
John Raby's return to reap rewards at Simla, she told herself that her
personal interest in the war must needs be over. A passing pity,
perhaps, for some one known by name, a kindly joy for some chance
acquaintance, might stir her pulses; but nothing more. Yet as she sat
there she was conscious of having made a mistake. Something there was
in the very paper lying on her lap which had power to give keen pain;
even to bring the tears to her eyes as she read the paragraph over
again listlessly.


Severe Fighting in the Terwân Pass. Gallant Charge of the 101st Sikhs.
List Of Officers Killed, Wounded, and Missing.--The telegram which
reached Simla a few days ago reporting a severe skirmish in the Terwân
has now been supplemented by details. It appears that a small force
consisting of some companies of the 101st Sikhs, the 24th Goorkhas,
the 207th British Infantry, and a mule battery, were sent by the old
route over the Terwân Pass in order to report on its practical use. No
opposition was expected, as the tribes in the vicinity had come in and
were believed to be friendly. About the middle of the Pass, which
proved to be far more difficult than was anticipated, a halt had to be
made for the purpose of repairing a bridge which spanned an almost
impassable torrent. The road, which up to this point had followed the
right bank of the river, now crossed by this bridge to the left in
order to avoid some precipitous cliffs. Here it became evident that
the little force had fallen into an ambuscade, for firing immediately
commenced from the numerous points of vantage on either side. The
Goorkhas, charging up the right bank, succeeded in dislodging most of
the enemy and driving them to a safe distance. From the advantage thus
gained they then opened fire on the left bank, managing to disperse
some of the lower pickets. Owing, however, to the rocky and almost
precipitous nature of the ground the upper ones were completely
protected, and continued to pour a relentless fire on our troops, who
were, for the most part, young soldiers. During the trying inaction
necessary until the bridge could be repaired,--which was done with
praiseworthy rapidity despite the heavy fire--Major Philip Marsden, of
the 101st Sikhs, volunteered to attempt the passage of the torrent
with the object of doing for the left bank what the Goorkhas had done
for the right.

Accordingly the Sikhs, led by this distinguished officer, rushed the
river in grand style, how it is almost impossible to say, save by
sheer pluck and determination, and after an incredibly short interval
succeeded in charging up the hill-side and carrying picket after
picket. A more brilliant affair could scarcely be conceived, and it is
with the very deepest regret that we have to report the loss of its
gallant leader. Major Marsden, who was among the first to find
foothold on the opposite bank, was giving directions to his men when a
bullet struck him in the chest. Staggering back almost to the edge of
the river, he recovered himself against a boulder, and shouting that
he was all right, bade them go on. Lost sight of in the ensuing
skirmish, it is feared that he must have slipped from the place of
comparative safety where they left him and fallen into the river, for
his helmet and sword-belt were found afterwards a few hundred yards
down the stream. None of the bodies, however, of those lost in the
torrent have been recovered. Nor was it likely that they would be, as
the stream here descends in a series of boiling cataracts and swirling
pools. In addition to their leader, whose premature death is greatly
to be deplored, the Sikhs lost two native officers, and thirty-one
rank and file. The Goorkhas--


But here Belle's interest waned and she let the paper fall on her lap
again. One trivial thought became almost pitifully insistent, "I wish,
oh, how I wish I had not sent back that letter unopened!" As if a
foolish girlish discourtesy more or less would have made any
difference in the great tragedy and triumph of the man's death. For it
was a triumph; she could read that between the lines of the bald
conventional report.

"There's Belle crying, actually crying over Major Marsden," broke in
Maud's cross voice from a rocking-chair. Now a rocking-chair is an
article of furniture which requires a palatial apartment, where its
obtrusive assertion of individual comfort can be softened by distance.
In the midst of a small room, and especially when surrounded by four
women who have not rocking-chairs of their own, it conduces to nervous
irritation on all sides. "You talk about disrespect, mamma," went on
the same injured voice, "just because I didn't see why we shouldn't go
to the Volunteer Ball in colours, when he was only our stepfather; but
I call it really nasty of Belle to sit and whimper over a man who did
his best to take away the only thing except debts that Colonel
Stuart--"

"Oh, do hold your tongue, Maudie!" cried Mabel. "I'm getting sick of
that old complaint. I don't see myself why we shouldn't wear our pink
tulles. It would be economical to begin with, and, goodness knows, we
have to think of the rupees, annas, and paisas nowadays."

Here Maud, who was not really an ill-tempered girl, became overwhelmed
by the contemplation of her own wrongs, and began to sob. "I
never--wore--a year-behind-fashion dress before, and--when I suggest
it--just to save the expense--I'm told I'm heartless. As if it was my
fault that mamma's settlement was so much waste paper, and that our
money went to pay--"

"Really, Maud, you are too bad," flared up her youngest sister. "If it
was any one's fault, it was Uncle Tom's, for not being more careful.
The governor was awfully good to us always. Ah, things were very
different then!"

This remark turned on the widow's ready tears. "Very different indeed.
Three in the kitchen, and I wouldn't like to say how many in the
stable. And though I don't wish to repine against Providence, yet caps
are so expensive. I can't think why, for they are only muslin; but
Miss Crowe says she can't supply me with one that is really respectful
under five rupees."

"It is all very well for you to talk, Mabel," insisted Maud from the
rocking-chair; "you have a settlement of your own in prospect."

"So might you," retorted the other, "if you were wise, instead of
wasting your time over men who mean nothing, like that handsome
Captain Stanley."

"Yes!" yawned Mildred. "It is the stubby Majors with half-a-dozen
motherless children growing up at home who marry."

Mabel flushed through her sallow skin and in her turn became tearful;
for in truth her _fiancé_ was but too accurately described in these
unflattering terms. "It is not your part to jeer at me for sacrificing
myself to the interests of you girls. In our unfortunate position it
is our duty to avail ourselves of the chances left us, and not to go
hankering after penniless probationers in the Post-Office."

Yet one more recruit for pocket-handkerchief drill rushed to the
front, though more in anger than sorrow. "If you are alluding to
Willie Allsop," retorted Mildred fiercely, "I dare say he will be as
well off as your Major some day. At any rate I'm not going to perjure
myself for money, like some people."

"Oh, girls, girls!" whimpered the widow plaintively, "don't quarrel
and wake Charlie, for the doctor said he was to be kept quiet and not
excited. Really, misfortunes come so fast, and things are so dear,--to
say nothing of Parrish's Chemical Food for Charlie--that I don't know
where to turn. If poor Dick had but lived! It was too bad of those
nasty Afghans to kill the dear boy just as he was getting on, and
being so generous to me. I always stood up for Dick; he had a warm
heart, and people don't make their own tempers, you know."

Belle, who had been sitting silent at the window, clasping and
unclasping her hands nervously, felt as if she must stifle. "I wish,"
she said in a low voice, "you would let me go on teaching as I did in
the winter. Why should we mind, even if there are old friends here
now? I am not ashamed of working."

Her remark had one good effect. It healed minor differences by the
counter irritation of a general grievance, and the upshot of a
combined and vigorous attack was that there had been quite enough
disgrace in the family already, without Belle adding to it. Of course,
had she been able to give lessons in music or singing, the suggestion
might have been considered, since the flavour of art subdued the
degradation; but the idea of teaching the children of the middle class
to read and write was hopelessly vulgar. It was far more genteel to
become a _zenana_-lady, since there the flavour of religion disguised
the necessity. Belle, trying to possess her soul in patience by
stitching away as if her life depended on it, found the task beyond
her powers. "I think I'll go out," she said in a choked voice. "Oh,
yes! I know it's raining, but the air will do me good; the house is so
stuffy."

"It's the best we can afford now," retorted Maud.

"And the position is good," suggested Mrs. Stuart feebly.

"Belle doesn't care a fig for position, mamma," snapped up her
daughter. "She would have liked one of those barracks by the bazaar
where nobody lives."

"We might have got up a scratch dance there," remarked Mildred in
tones of regret. "Oh, not _now_, mamma, of course; but by and by when
things got jollier."

"I don't believe they ever will get jollier," came in gloomy prophecy
from the rocking-chair, as Belle escaped gladly into the mist and
rain. Six weeks, she thought; was it only six weeks since the
maddening, paralysing drip, drip, drip of ceaseless raindrops had been
in her ears? And yet these experienced in hill-weather spoke
cheerfully of another six weeks to come. Would she ever be able to
endure being the fifth woman in that ridiculous little room for all
those days? What irritated her most was the needlessness of half the
petty worries which went to make up the dreary discomfort. The
extravagant clinging to the habits of past opulence, the wastefulness,
resulting in the want of many things which might have made life more
pleasant; the apathy content to grumble and do nothing, while she felt
her spirits rise and her cheeks brighten even from her rapid walk
through the driving mist. The rain had lessened as she paused to lean
over the railings which protected a turn of the road where it was
hollowed out from the hill-side; sheer cliff on one side, sheer
precipice on the other. Up to her very feet surged the vast grey sea
of mist, making her feel as if one more step would set her afloat on
its shoreless waste. Yet below that dim mysterious pall lay, she well
knew, one of the fairest scenes on God's earth, smiling doubtless in a
sunshine in which she had no part. Then suddenly, causelessly, the
words recurred to her--"_The world is before you yet; it holds life,
and happiness, and love_." Who had said them? Even now it cost her an
effort to remember clearly the events following on the shock of her
father's death. The effort was so painful that she avoided it as a
rule; but this time the memory of Philip Marsden's kindness came back
sharply, and the trivial remorse about the letter rose up once more to
take the front place in her regrets until driven thence by one vague,
impotent desire to have the past back again. Looking down into the
impalpable barrier of cloud through which a pale gleam of light
drifted hither and thither, she could almost fancy herself a
disembodied spirit striving after a glimpse of the world whence it had
been driven by death; so far away did she feel herself from those
careless days at Faizapore, from the kindly friends, the--

"Miss Stuart! surely it is Miss Stuart!" cried a man's voice behind
her. She turned, to see John Raby, who, throwing the reins of his pony
to the groom, advanced to greet her, his handsome face bright with
pleasure. His left arm was in a sling, for he had been slightly
wounded; to the girl's eyes he had a halo of heroism and happiness
round him.

"I am so glad!" she said, "so glad!"

As they stood, hand in hand, a sunbeam struggling through the cloud
parted the mist at their feet. Below them, like a jewelled mosaic,
lay the Doon bathed in a flood of light; each hamlet and tree, each
silver torrent-streak and emerald field, seemingly within touch, so
clear and pellucid was the rain-washed air between. Further away, like
fire-opals with their purple shadows, flashed the peaks of the
Sewaliks, and beyond them shade upon shade, light upon light, the
mother-of-pearl plain losing itself in the golden setting of the sky.

"I am in for luck all round," cried John Raby in high delight. "That
means a break in the rains, and a fortnight of heaven for me,--if fate
is kind--"

But Belle heard nothing; one of those rare moments when individuality
seems merged in a vast sympathy with all things visible and invisible
was upon her, filling her, body and soul, with supreme content.

"Are you not coming in?" she asked, when, after walking slowly along
the Mall, they reached the path which led downward to the little
drawing-room and the four women.

"I will come to-morrow," he replied, looking at her with undisguised
admiration in his eyes. "Today it is enough to have seen you. After
all, you were always my great friend,--you and your father."

"Yes, he was very fond of you," she assented softly; and with her
flushed cheeks and the little fluffy curls by her pretty ears all
glistening with mist drops, showed an April face, half smiles, half
tears.



                             CHAPTER XIV.


Two months later found Belle Raby sitting in the shade of a spreading
deodar-tree, placidly knitting silk socks for her husband, who,
stretched on the turf beside her, read a French novel.

Pages would not satisfactorily explain how this sequence of events
came about, because pages would not suffice to get at the bottom of
the amazing, unnatural ignorance of first principles which enables a
nice girl to marry a man towards whom she entertains a rudimentary
affection, and afterwards, with the same contented calm, to acquiesce
in the disconcerting realities of life. Belle was not the first girl
who chose a husband as she would have chosen a dress; that is to say,
in the belief that it will prove becoming, and the hope that it will
fit. Nor was she (and this is the oddest or the most tragic part in
the business) the first or the last girl who, after solemnly perjuring
herself before God and man to perform duties of which she knows
nothing, and to have feelings of which she has not even dreamed, is on
the whole perfectly content with herself and her world. In fact Belle,
as she looked affectionately at her lounging spouse, felt no shadow of
doubt as to the wisdom of her choice; so little has the mind or heart
to do with the crude facts of marriage, so absolutely distinct are the
latter from the spiritual or sentimental love with which ethical
culture has overlaid the simplicity of nature to the general confusion
of all concerned.

"Upon my life, Paul de Kock is infinitely amusing!" remarked John
Raby, throwing the book aside and turning lazily to his young wife.
"Worth twice all your Zolas and Ohnets, who _will_ be serious over
frivolity. Our friend here has an inexhaustible laugh."

"I'm sure I thought him dreadfully stupid," replied Belle simply. "I
tried to read some last night."

"I wouldn't struggle to acquire the art of reading Paul de Kock, my
dear," said John Raby with a queer smile. "It's not an accomplishment
necessary to female salvation. The most iniquitous proverb in the
language is that one about sauce for the goose and the gander. Say
what you will, men and women are as different in their fixings as
chalk from cheese. Now I,--though I am domestic enough in all
conscience--would never be contented knitting socks as you are. By the
way, those will be too big for me."

"Who said they were meant for you?" retorted Belle gaily. "Not I!"

"Perhaps not with your lips; but a good wife invariably knits socks
for her husband, and you, my dear Belle, were foreordained from the
beginning of time to be a good wife,--the very best of little wives a
man ever had."

"I hope so," she replied after a pause. "John, it is all very well
here in holiday time to be lazy as I am, but by and by I should like
to be a little more useful; to help you in your work, if I could; at
any rate to understand it, to know what the people we govern think,
and say, and do."

Her husband sat up, dangling his hands idly between his knees. "I'm
not sure about the wisdom of it. Personally I have no objection;
besides, I hold that no one has a right to interfere with another
person's harmless fancies; yet that sort of thing is invariably
misunderstood in India. First by the natives; they think a woman's
interest means a desire for power. Then by the men of one's own class;
they drag up 'grey mare the better horse,' &c. How I hate proverbs!
You see, women out here divide themselves, as a rule, betwixt balls
and babies, so the men get _cliqué_. I don't defend it, but it's very
natural. Most of us come out just at the age when a contempt for
woman's intellect seems to make our beards grow faster, and we have no
clever mixed society to act as an antidote to our own conceit. Now a
woman with a clear head like yours, Belle, you are much cleverer than
I thought you were, by the way, is sure with unbiassed eyes to see
details that don't strike men who are in the game,--unpleasant,
ridiculous details probably,--and that is always an offence. If you
were stupid, it wouldn't matter; but being as you are, why, discretion
is the better part of valour."

"But if I have brains, as you say I have, what am I to do with them?"
cried Belle, knitting very fast.

"There are the balls,--and the babies; as Pendennis said to his wife,
'_Tout vient à ceux qui savent attendre_.' By the way, I wonder where
the dickens the postman has gone to to-day? It's too bad to keep us
waiting like this. I'll report him."

"_Tout vient--!_" retorted Belle, recovering from a fine blush. "Why
are you always in such a hurry for the letters, John? I never am."

"No more am I," he cried gaily, rising to his feet and holding out his
hand to help her. "I never was in a hurry, except--" and here he drew
her towards him in easy proprietorship--"to marry you. I was in a
hurry then, I confess."

"You were indeed," said the girl, who but a year before had felt
outraged by the first passionately pure kiss of a boy, as she
submitted cheerfully to that of a man whose love was of the earth,
earthy. "Why, you hardly left me time to get a wedding-garment! But it
was much wiser for you to spend the rest of your leave here, than to
begin work and the honeymoon together."

"Much nicer and wiser; but then you are wisdom itself, Belle. Upon my
soul, I never thought women could be so sensible till I married you.
As your poor father said the first time we met, I have the devil's own
luck."

He thought so with the utmost sincerity as he strolled along the turfy
stretches beyond the deodars, with his arm round his wife's waist. The
devil's own luck, and all through no management of his own. What
finger had he raised to help along the chain of fatality which had
linked him for life to the most charming of women who ere long would
step into a fortune of thirty thousand pounds? On the contrary, had he
not given the best of advice to Philip Marsden? Had he not held his
tongue discreetly, or indiscreetly? Finally, what right would he have
had to come to Belle Stuart and say, "By an accident, I have reason to
suppose that you are somebody's heiress." For all he knew the
sentimental fool might have made another will. And yet when two days
later the dilatory postman brought in the English mail, John Raby's
face paled, not so much with anxiety, as with speculation.

"Have you been running up bills already?" he asked, lightly, as he
threw an unmistakably business envelope over to her side of the table
along with some others.

"You wouldn't be responsible, at all events," she replied with a
laugh, "for it is addressed to Miss Belle Stuart."

"I am not so sure about that," he retorted, still in the same jesting
way. "It is astonishing how far the responsibility of a husband
extends."

"And his rights," cried Belle, who in a halfhearted way professed
advanced opinions on this subject.

"My dear girl, we must have some compensation."

He sat reading, or pretending to read, his own letters with phenomenal
patience, while his wife glanced through a long crossed communication
from her step-sisters; he even gave a perfunctory attention to several
items of uninteresting family news which she retailed to him. He had
foreseen the situation so long, had imagined it so often, that he felt
quite at home and confident of his self-control.

"John!" came Belle's voice, with a curious catch in it.

"What is it, dear? Nothing the matter, I hope? You look startled." He
had imagined it so far; but he knew the next minute from her face that
he had under-rated something in her reception of the news. She had
risen to her feet with a scared, frightened look. "I don't
understand," she said, half to herself; "it must be a mistake." Then
remembering, apparently, that she no longer stood alone, she crossed
swiftly to her husband's side, and kneeling beside him thrust the open
letter before his eyes. "What does it mean, John?" she asked
hurriedly. "It is a mistake, isn't it?"

His hand, passed round her caressingly, could feel her heart bounding,
but his own kept its even rhythm despite the surprise he forced into
his face. "It means," he said, at length,--and the ring of triumph
would not be kept out of his voice--"that Philip Marsden has left you
thirty thousand pounds."

"Left _me!_--impossible! I tell you it is a mistake!"

Now that the crisis was over, the cat out of the bag, John Raby knew
how great his anxiety had been, by the sense of relief which found
vent in a meaningless laugh. "Lawyers don't make mistakes," he
replied. "It is as clear as daylight. Philip Marsden has left you
thirty thousand pounds! By Jove, Belle, you are quite an heiress!"

She stood up slowly, leaning on the table as if to steady herself.
"That does not follow," she said, "for of course I shall refuse to
take it."

Her husband stared at her incredulously. "Refuse thirty thousand
pounds,--are you mad?" He need not have been afraid of under-doing his
part of surprise, for her attitude took him beyond art into untutored
nature.

"It is an insult!" she continued in a higher key. "I will write to
these people and say I will not have it."

"Without consulting me? You seem to forget that you are a married
woman now. Am I to have no voice in the matter?" His tone was instinct
with the aggressive quiet of one determined to keep his temper.
"Supposing I disapproved of your refusal?" he went on, seeing from her
startled look that he had her unprepared.

"Surely you would not wish--"

"That is another question. I said, supposing I disapproved of the
refusal. What then?"

Standing there in bewildered surprise, the loss of her own
individuality made itself felt for the first time, and it roused the
frightened resentment of a newly-caught colt. "I do not know," she
replied, bravely enough. "But you would surely let me do what I
thought right?"

"Right! My dear girl, do stick to the point. Of course if there were
urgent reasons _against_ your taking this money--"

"But there are!" interrupted Belle quickly. "To begin with, he had no
right to leave it to me."

"I beg your pardon. The law gives a man the right to leave his money
to any one he chooses."

"But he had no right to choose me."

"I beg your pardon again. It is not uncommon for a man to leave his
money to a woman with whom he is in love."

"In love!" It was Belle's turn to stare incredulously. "Major Marsden
in love with me! What put that into your head?"

He shrugged his shoulders impatiently. "My dear child, even if you
didn't know it before,--and upon my soul you are unsophisticated
enough for anything--surely it is patent now. A man doesn't leave
thirty thousand to any woman he happens to know."

For the first time Belle flinched visibly and her face paled. "All the
more reason for refusing, surely," she replied in a low tone, after a
pause. "You could not like your wife--"

"Why not? It isn't as if you had cared for him, you know."

The blood which had left her cheeks came back with an indignant rush.
"Care for him! Can't you see that makes it doubly an insult?"

"I'm afraid not. It makes it much more sentimental, and
self-sacrificing, and beautiful, on his part; and I thought women
admired that sort of thing. I know that leaving money to the girl who
has jilted you is a stock incident in their novels."

"I did not jilt Philip Marsden. I refuse to admit the incident into my
life. I don't want to vex you, John, but I must do what I think
right."

Her husband, who had walked to the window and now stood looking out of
it, paused a moment before replying. "My dear Belle," he said at last,
turning to her kindly, "I hate on principle to make myself
disagreeable to any one, least of all to my wife, but it is best you
should know the truth. The law gives that money to me, as your
husband. You see, you married without settlements. Now, don't look
like a tragedy-queen, dear, for it never does any good. We have to
accept facts, and I had nothing to do with making the law."

"You mean that I have no power to refuse?" cried Belle with her eyes
full of indignant tears.

"I'm afraid so. But there is no reason why I should stand on my
rights. I should hate to have to do so, I assure you, and would far
rather come to a mutual understanding. Honestly, I scarcely think the
objections you have urged sufficient. Perhaps you have others; if so,
I am quite willing to consider them."

The curious mixture of resentment, regret, and remorse which rose up
in the girl's mind with the mere mention of Major Marsden's name, made
her say hurriedly, "Think of the way he treated father! If it was only
for that--" The tears came into her voice and stifled it.

John Raby looked at her gravely, walked to the window again, and
paused. "I fancied that might be one, perhaps the chief reason.
Supposing you were mistaken; supposing that Marsden was proved to have
done his best for your father, would it make any difference?"

"How can it be proved?"

"My dear Belle, I do wish you would stick to the point. I asked you if
your chief objection would be removed by Major Marsden's having acted
throughout with a regard for your father's reputation which few men
would have shown?"

"I should think more kindly of him and his legacy certainly, if such a
thing were possible."

"It is possible; and, as I said before, it is best in all things to
have the naked, undisguised truth. I would have told you long ago if
Marsden hadn't given it me in confidence. But now I feel that respect
for his memory demands the removal of false impressions. Indeed, I
never approved of his concealing the real facts. They would have been
painful to you, of course; they must be painful now--worse luck to it;
but if it hadn't been for that idiotic sentimentality of poor
Marsden's you would have forgotten the trouble by this time."

Belle, with a sudden fear, the sort of immature knowledge of the end
to come which springs up with the first hint of bad tidings, put out
her hand entreatingly. "If there is anything to tell, please tell it
me at once."

"Don't look so scared, my poor Belle. Come, sit down quietly, and I
will explain it all. For it is best you should not remain under a
wrong impression, especially now, when,--when so much depends on your
being reasonable."

So, seated on the sofa beside her husband, Belle Stuart listened to
the real story of her father's death and Philip Marsden's generosity.
"Is that all?" she asked, when the measured voice ceased. It was
almost the first sign of life she had given.

"Yes, dear, that is all. And you must remember that the trouble is
past and over,--that no one but we two need ever suspect the truth--"

"The truth!" Belle looked at him with eyes in which dread was still
the master.

"And he was not accountable for his actions, not in any way himself at
the time," he continued.

With a sudden sharp cry she turned from him to bury her face in the
sofa cushions. "Not himself at the time!" Had he ever been himself?
Never, never! How could a dishonoured, drunken gambler, dying by his
own act, have been, even for a moment, the faultless father of her
girlish dreams! And was that the only mistake she had made; or was the
world nothing but a lie? Was there no truth in it at all, not even in
her own feelings?

"I am so sorry to have been obliged to give you pain," said her
husband, laying his hand on her shoulder. "But it is always best to
have the truth."

His words seemed a hideous mockery of her thoughts, and she shrank
impatiently from his touch.

"You must not be angry with me; it is not my fault," he urged.

"Oh, I am not angry with you," she cried, with a petulant ring in her
voice as she raised herself hastily, and looked him full in the face.
"Only,--if you don't mind--I would so much rather be left alone. I
want to think it all out by myself,--quite by myself."

The hunted look in her eyes escaped his want of sympathy, and he gave
a sigh of relief at her reasonableness. "That is a wise little woman,"
he replied, bending down to kiss her more than once. "I'll go down the
_khud_ after those pheasants and won't be back till tea. So you will
have the whole day to yourself. But remember, there is no hurry. The
only good point about a weekly post is that it gives plenty of time to
consider an answer."

That, to him, was the great point at issue; for her the foundations of
the deep had suddenly been let loose, and she had forgotten the
question of the legacy. Almost mechanically she gave him back his
farewell kiss, and sat still as a stone till he had left the room.
Then, impelled by an uncontrollable impulse, she dashed across to the
door and locked it swiftly, pausing, with her hand still on the key,
bewildered, frightened at her own act. What had she done? What did it
mean? Why had her one thought been to get away from John, to prevent
his having part or lot in her sorrow? Slowly she unlocked the door
again, with a half impulse to run after him and call him back. But
instead of this she crept in a dazed sort of way to her own room and
lay down on the bed to think. Of what? Of everything under the sun, it
seemed to her confusion; yet always, when she became conscious of any
clear thought, it had to do, not with her father or Philip Marsden,
but with her own future. Was it possible that she had made other
mistakes? Was it possible that she was not in love with John? Why else
had she that wild desire to get rid of him? The very suggestion of
such a possibility angered her beyond measure. Her life, as she had
proudly claimed, was not a novel; nothing wrong or undignified,
nothing extravagant or unseemly should come into it; and it was surely
all this not to be in love with one's lawful husband! It was bad
enough even to have had such a suspicion after a bare fortnight of
wedded life; it was absurd, ridiculous, impossible. So as the day
passed on, all other considerations were gradually submerged in the
overwhelming necessity of proving to herself that she and John were a
most devoted couple. As tea-time approached she put on a certain
tea-gown which her lord and master was pleased to commend, and
generally prepared to receive the Great Mogul as husbands should be
received. Not because she had come to any conclusion in regard to that
locking of the door, but because, whatever else was uncertain, there
could be no doubt how a husband _should_ be treated. For, as some one
has said, while a man tolerates the marriage-bond for the sake of a
particular woman, the latter tolerates a particular man for the sake
of the bond.

So Belle poured out the tea and admired the pheasants, to John Raby's
great contentment; though in his innermost heart he felt a little
manly contempt for the feminine want of backbone which rendered such
pliability possible. Only once did she show signs of the unstilled
tempest of thought which lay beneath her calm manner. It was when,
later on in the evening during their nightly game of _écarté_, he
complimented her on some _coup_, remarking that her skill seemed
inherited. Then she started as if the cards she was handling had stung
her, and her face flushed crimson with mingled pain and resentment;
yet in her homeless life she had necessarily learned betimes the give
and take required in most human intercourse. The fact was that already
(though she knew it not) her husband was on his trial, and she could
no longer treat his lightest word or look with the reasonable
allowances she would have accorded to a stranger. A man is seldom
foolish enough to expect perfection in a wife; a woman from her
babyhood is taught to find it in her husband, and brought up to
believe that the deadliest sin a good woman can commit is to see a
spot in her sun. She may be a faithful wife, a kindly companion, a
veritable helpmate; but if the partner of her joys and sorrows is not,
for her, the incarnation of all manly virtues, or at least the man she
would have chosen out of all the world, her marriage must be deemed a
failure. Love, that mysterious young juggler, is not there to change
duty into something which we are told is better than duty, and so the
simple, single-hearted performance of a simple, perfectly natural
contract becomes degradation.

Belle, confused yet resentful, lay awake long after her husband slept
the sleep of the selfish. Her slow tears wetted her own pillow
quietly, decorously, lest they might disturb the Great Mogul's
slumbers. Yet she could scarcely have told why the tears came at all,
for a curious numbness was at her heart. Even the thought of her dead
father had already lost its power to give keen pain, and she was in a
vague way shocked at the ease with which her new knowledge fitted into
the old. The fact being, that now she dared to look it full in the
face without reservation, the loving compassion, the almost divine
pity which had been with her ever since the day when poor Dick had
first opened her eyes to the feet of clay, seemed no stranger, but a
familiar friend. Then Philip Marsden! Dwell as she might on her own
ingratitude, his kindness seemed too good a gift to weep over; and
again she stretched out her hands into the darkness, as she had done
on the night when her anger had risen hot against the man she
misjudged; but this time it was to call to him with a very passion of
repentance, "_Friend, I will take this gift also. In this at least you
shall have your way_."

"By George, Belle!" said John Raby next morning, when she told him
that she had made up her mind to take the legacy without demur, "you
are simply a pearl of women for sense. I prophesy we shall be as happy
as the day is long, always."

And Belle said she hoped so too. But when he fell to talking joyously
of the coming comforts of sweet reasonableness and thirty thousand
pounds, in the life that was just beginning for them, her thoughts
were busy with schemes for spending some at least of the legacy in
building a shrine of good deeds to the memory of her friend,--surely
the best friend a woman ever had. She was bound by her nature to
idealise some one, and the dead man was an easier subject than the
living one.



                             CHAPTER XV.


Murghub Ahmad, with nothing on but a waistcloth, his high narrow
forehead bedewed with the sweat which ran down his hollow cheeks like
teardrops, was fanning the flame of his own virtue with windy words in
the dark outhouse which he designated the editor's room. Four square
yards of court beyond constituted the printing office of the _Jehâd_,
a bi-weekly paper of extreme views on every topic under the sun. For
the proprietors of _The Light of Islâm_ having a wholesome regard to
the expense of libels, had dispensed with the young man's eloquence as
being too fervid for safety. So, Heaven knows by what pinching and
paring, by what starvation-point of self-denial, the boy had saved and
scraped enough to buy a wretched, rotten handpress, and two used up
lithographic stones. With these implements, and a heart and brain full
of the fierce fire of his conquering race, he set to work with the
utmost simplicity to regenerate mankind in general, and the Government
of India in particular, by disseminating the smudged results of his
labours on the poor old press among his fellow-subjects; for the most
part, it is to be feared, free, gratis, and for nothing. Poor old
press! No wonder it creaked and groaned under Murghub Ahmad's thin
straining arms; for it had grown old in the service of Government, and
on the side of law and order. Generation after generation of prisoners
in the district jail had found a certain grim satisfaction and
amusement in producing by its help endless thousands of the forms
necessary for the due capture and punishments of criminals yet to
come. Reams and reams of paper had they turned out as writs of arrest,
warrants for committal, charge-sheets, orders for jail discipline, or,
joyful thought, memos of discharge. And now order and discipline were
unknown quantities in its life. Perhaps the change was too much for
its constitution; certain it is that it became daily more and more
unsatisfactory in regard to the complicated Arabic words with which
its present owner loved to besprinkle his text. Then the damp,
overworked stones refused to dry, even under the boy's hot feverish
hands; and he lost half his precious time in chasing the shifting
sunlight round and round the narrow courtyard in order to set the ink.
Something there was infinitely pathetic about it all; especially on
the days when, with the look of a St. Sebastian in his young face, the
lad could stay his hard labour for a while, and rest himself by
folding the flimsy sheets within the orthodox green wrapper where a
remarkably crooked crescent was depicted as surrounded by the beams of
the rising sun. False astronomy, but excellent sentiment! Then there
was the addressing for the post. Most of the packets bore the
inscription _bearing_; but one, chosen with care, and cunningly
corrected with a deft pen, never failed to carry the requisite stamp
above the quaint address: _To my respectable and respected father,
Khân Mahommed Lateef Khân, in the house of the Khân of Khurtpore, Sudr
Bazaar, Faizapore_. Which is much as though one should address a
Prince of the Blood to Tottenham Court Road.

Then, with the precious parcels in his arms, and one copy in his
bosom, he would joyfully lock the door above which "Press of the Jehâd
Newspaper" was emblazoned in English, and make his way to some cheap
cook-house, where, in honour of the occasion, he would purchase a
farthing's worth of fried stuff to eat with his dry dough cakes.
Thereafter he would repair to the steps of a mosque, or to one of the
shady wells which still linger in the heart of cities in India, in
order to discuss his own views and writings with a group of young men
of his own age. For in that large town, with its strange undercurrents
of new thoughts and aims underlying the steady stream of humanity
towards the old beliefs, Murghub Ahmad was not without his audience,
nor even his following. He had the sometimes fatal gift, greater than
mere eloquence, of leading the minds of his hearers blindfold by some
strange charm of voice and personality; and when, as often happened,
discussion took the form of harangue, the slow-gathering, stolid crowd
used to wake up into muttered approbation as the familiar watchwords
of their faith were presented to them in new and bewildering forms.

It was the eve of Mohurrim, the great feast and fast of orthodox and
unorthodox Mahomedans; an occasion which claimed more zeal than usual
from the young reformer. On the morrow the paper shrines of the dead
Hussan and Hussain, which were now being prepared in many a quiet
courtyard, would be borne through the streets in triumph, followed by
excited crowds of the faithful. And, as sometimes happens, it was
Dussarah-tide also, and the Hindus held high festival as well as the
Mahomedans. A simple thing enough to Western minds, accustomed to the
idea of wide thoroughfares and religious toleration; a very different
affair in the tortuous byeways of a native town, and among the ancient
antagonisms. It was critical at the best of times, and this year
doubly, trebly so, for with the newly-granted franchise of municipal
government, the richer Hindus out-numbered the Mahomedans in the
committee which had power to direct the route open to each procession.
So the cry of favouritism went forth, and as the gaudy paper streamers
were being gummed to the frail bamboo frames, many a dark face grew
darker with determination to carry the sacred symbol where he chose;
yea, even into the midst of the cursed idol-worshipping crew, despite
all the municipal committees and fat, bribing usurers in the world.

The _Jehâd_ was full of sublime wrath and valiant appeals for justice
to high Heaven, because a certain connecting alley between two of the
big bazaars had been closed to the Mahomedans and given to the Hindus.
True, another, and equally convenient, connection, had been allowed
the former; but for many years past the procession of _tâzzias_ had
struggled through that particular alley, and the innovation was
resented as an insult. East and west, mankind is made the same way. It
was astonishing how many imperious demands on the resources of
Providence this trivial change aroused in Murghub Ahmad. He called for
justice, mercy, and religious freedom, for the stars as witness, for
the days of Akbar. On the other hand, a rival print with an
unpronounceable title, clamoured for Bikramâjeet, the hero-king of
old, for Hindu independence and the sword. Either faction, it may be
observed, asked for those things in others of which they had least
themselves, after the way of factions all over the world.

Thus many a quarterstaff was being diligently whittled that evening,
and down in the butchers' quarter even deadlier weapons were being
talked of openly by its inhabitants, the most truculent of all the
mixed races and trades with which rulers have to deal. John Raby,
doing his judicial work in the big court-house outside the town, felt,
with that sharp, half-cunning perception of concealed things which he
possessed so pre-eminently, that there was mischief brewing, and drove
round by the executive official's house in order to tell him so. The
latter assured him that the newly-elected municipal committee were
fully alive to the necessity for precautions; whereat the young man
shrugged his shoulders and said he was glad to hear it. He mentioned
it casually to Belle with a sneer, which he did not allow himself in
public, at the crass stupidity of needlessly setting race against race
by premature haste to confer the blessings of vestrydom on India. And
Belle agreed, since, even with the limited experience of the past
year, she had learnt a sort of reverence for the old ways, which seem
so irredeemably bad to the unsympathetic philanthropy of the West.

For a whole year had passed since the fateful letter announcing the
legacy had come to disturb the foundations of her world. It had had
surprisingly little effect on her, chiefly because she was determined
that her life must run in one ordered groove. There must be no mistake
or fiasco, nothing but what she considered decent, orderly, virtuous.
Uninteresting, no doubt; but it is nevertheless true that a very large
number of women are born into the world with an unhesitating
preference for behaving nicely; women who can no more help being
longsuffering, cheerful, and self-forgetful, than they can help being
the children of their parents. Her husband's clear sight had early
seen the expediency of concealing from her the radical difference
between her view of life and his own. He even felt pleased she should
think as she did; it was so much safer, and more ladylike. In his way
he grew to be very fond of her, and there was scarcely any friction
between them, since, moved by a certain gratitude for the change her
money had wrought in his prospects, he gave her free play in
everything that did not interfere with his settled plans. Half the
said money was already invested in Shunker Dâs's indigo concern, and
John Raby was only awaiting its assured success to throw up his
appointment and go openly into trade; but of this Belle knew nothing.
She had money enough and to spare for all her wishes, and that was
sufficient for her; indeed, on the whole, she was happy in the larger
interests of her new life. The tragic, poverty-stricken, yet contented
lives of the poor around her had a strange fascination for the girl,
and the desire to see and understand all that went to make up the
pitiful sum-total of their pleasures, led her often, on her solitary
morning rides (for John was an incurable sluggard) through the alleys
and bazaars of the great city. In the latter, the people knowing in a
dim way that she was the judge _sahib's_ wife, would _salaam_
artificially, but in the back streets both women and children smile on
her, much to her unreasoning content.

So the morning after her husband's sarcasm over the mistakes of his
seniors, she determined, in the confidence of ignorance, to see
something of the processions; and with this intention found herself,
about seven o'clock, in the outskirts of the town. Here the deserted
appearance of the streets beguiled her into pushing on and on, until
close to the big mosque a blare of conches, and the throbbing of
ceaseless drums mingled with cries, warned her of an advancing
procession. Wishing to watch it unobserved, she turned her horse into
a side alley and waited.

As in all countries, a rabble of boys, sprung Heaven knows whence,
formed the advance guard. Behind them came an older, yet more
mischievous crowd of men flourishing quarterstaves and shouting
"Hussan! Hussain!" Next emerged into the square, a swaying, top-heavy
_tazzia_, looking every instant as though it must shake to pieces, and
behind it more quarterstaves and more _tazzias_, more shouts, and more
dark faces streaming on and on to overflow into the square, until the
procession formed a part only of the great crowd. So absorbed was she
in watching the swooping out of each successive _tazzia_, like some
gay-plumaged bird from the intricate windings of the way beyond, that
she failed to notice the current settling towards her until the
vanguard of urchins was almost at her horse's hoofs. Then she
recognised the disconcerting fact that she had taken refuge in the
very path of the procession. Turning to escape by retreat, she saw the
further end of the alley blocked by a similar crowd; only that here
the shouts of "_Dhurm! Dhurm! Durga dei! Gunga_ (the faith, the faith!
the goddess Durga! Ganges!)" told of Hindu fanaticism.

She was, in fact, in the very alley which both sides claimed as their
own. Bewildered, yet not alarmed, for her ignorance of religious
ecstasy made her presuppose deference, she turned her horse once more,
and rode towards the advancing _tazzias_ at a foot's-pace. The look of
the crowd as she neared it was startling, but the cry of "_Jehâd!
Jehâd!_ Death to the infidel!" seemed too incredible for fear; and ere
the latter came with the conviction that not even for a judge _sahib's
mem_ would the stream slacken, a young man, his gaunt face encircled
by a high green turban, rushed to the front and seized her horse by
the bridle.

"No words! Dismount yourself from steed and follow your preserver. We
war not with women." The effect of these stilted words uttered in
tones of intense excitement was somehow ludicrous. "Smile not! Be
nimble, I entreat. Unhorse yourself, and follow, follow me."

The vision of a hideous leering face leading the quarterstaves decided
her on complying. The next instant she felt herself thrust into a dark
entry, and ere the door closed, heard a scream of terrified rage from
her horse, as some one cut it over the flank with his staff. The
outrage made her temper leap up fiercely, and she felt inclined to
confront the offender; but before she could reach the door it was shut
and hasped in her face.

Then the desire to escape from darkness and see--see something, no
matter what--possessed her, and she groped round for some means of
exit. Ah! a flight of steep steps, black as pitch, narrow, broken; she
climbed up, and up, till a grating in the wall shed a glimmer of light
on the winding stair; up further, till she emerged on a balcony
overlooking the street, whence she could see far into the alley on one
side and into the square on the other. Beneath her feet lay a small
empty space edged by the opposing factions hurrying into collision.

"Give way! Give way, idolaters! Hussan! Hussain! _Futeh Mahommed_
(Victory of Mahomed)," yelled the _tazzia_-bearers.

"_Jai, Jai, Durga Devi, de-jai!_ Give way, killers of kine," shouted
the Hindus.

For an instant or two Belle's horse, hemmed in by the advancing
crowds, kept the peace by clearing a space between them with head and
heels; then, choosing the least alarming procession, it charged the
Hindus, breaking their ranks as, maddened by terror it plunged and
bit. Only for a moment, however, for the packed mass of humanity
closing in round it, held it harmless as in a vice.

"The charger of Pertâp!"[4] cried a huge rice-husker with ready wit,
as he leapt to the saddle, and coming rather to grief over the
crutches, raised a roar of derision from the other side. He scowled
dangerously. "Come on, brothers!" he cried, digging his heels
viciously into the trembling, snorting beast. "Down with the cursed
slayers of kine. This is Durga-ji's road,--_Dhurm! Dhurm!_"

"Hussan,--Hussain!"

Then the dull thud of heavy blows seemed to dominate the war of words,
and business began in earnest as a Mahomedan, caught behind the ear,
fell in his tracks. It was not much of a fight as yet, for in that
narrow street the vast majority of the crowd could do nothing but
press forward and thus jam activity into still smaller space, until
the useless sticks were thrown aside, and the combatants went at each
other tooth and nail, but unarmed. So they might have fought out the
wild-beast instinct of fighting, but for the fact that the Hindus,
with commendable foresight, had headed their procession by athletes,
the Mahomedans by enthusiast. So, inch by inch, surging and swaying,
yelling, cursing, yet doing comparatively little harm, the combatants
drifted towards the square until the wider outlet allowed a larger
number of the Mahomedans to come into play, and thus reverse the order
of affairs. Once more the _tazzias_, surrounded by their supporters,
carried the lane, and swept back the red-splashed figure of Durga
amidst yells of religious fury. So the battle raged more in words than
blows. Belle, indeed, had begun to feel her bounding pulses steady
with the recognition that, beyond a few black eyes and broken heads,
no harm had been done, when a trivial incident changed the complexion
of affairs in an instant.

The foremost _tazzia_, which had borne the brunt of conflict and come
up smiling after many a repulse, lost balance, toppled over, and went
to pieces, most likely from the inherent weakness of its architecture.
The result was startling. A sudden wave of passion swept along the
Mahomedan line, and as a young man sprang to the pilaster of the
mosque steps and harangued the crowd, every face settled into a deadly
desire for revenge.

"Kill! Kill! Kill the idolaters--_Jehâd! Jehâd!_"--the cry of
religious warfare rang in an instant from lip to lip. And now from
behind came a fresh burst of enthusiasm, as a body of men naked to the
waist pushed their way towards the front with ominous glint of
sunlight on steel as they fought fiercely for place.

"Room! Room for the butchers! Kill! Kill! Let them bleed! let them
bleed!"

The shout overbore the high ringing voice of the preacher, but Belle,
watching with held breath, saw him wave his hand towards the lane.
Slowly, unwillingly at first, the crowd gave way; then more rapidly
until a roar of assent rose up. "The butchers, the butchers! Kill!
Kill!"

Belle gasped and held tight to the railing, seeing nothing more but
the tide of strife beneath her very feet. Red knives, gleaming no
longer, straining hands, and every now and again a gurgle and a human
head disappearing to be trodden under foot. Heaven knows how weapons
come in such scenes as these,--from the houses,--passed to the front
by willing hands--snatched from unwilling foes who fall. In a second
it was knife against knife, murder against murder. "_Durga! Durga
devi!_ Destroy! Destroy!" "Hussan! Hussain! Kill! Kill!" Then
suddenly, a rattle of musketry at the far end of the square, where,
cut off from the actual conflict by an impenetrable crowd, a strange
scene had been going on unobserved. Two or three mounted Englishmen
unarmed, but sitting cool and square on their horse sat the head of a
company of Mahomedan and Hindu sepoys who stood cheek by jowl, calm,
apparently indifferent, their carbines still smoking from the recent
discharge. About them was a curious stillness, broken only by the
sound of more disciplined feet coming along at the double. A glint of
red coats appears behind, and then a police-officer, the sunlight
gleaming on his silver buckles, gallops along the edge of the rapidly
clearing space, laying about him with the flat of his sword, while
yellow-trousered constables, emerging Heaven knows from what safe
shelter, dive in among the people, whacking vigorously with the
traditional truncheon of the West. A rapid order to the sepoys, an
instant of marking time as the company forms, then quick march through
an unresisting crowd. As they near the combatants a few brickbats are
thrown: there is one free fight over the preacher: and then the great
mass of mankind falls once more into atoms, each animated by the
instinct of self-preservation. Five minutes more, and the processions
have gone on their appointed ways with the loss of some chosen
spirits, while the ghastly results are being hurried away by
fatigue-parties recruited from the bystanders.

"Only one round of blank cartridge," remarked John Raby, as the Deputy
Commissioner rode forward ruefully to inspect the damage. "Ten minutes
more, and it wouldn't have been so easy, for the fighting would have
reached the square, and once a man begins--Great God! what's that?"

He was out of the saddle staring at a horse that was trying to stagger
from the gutter to its feet. Perhaps in all his life he had never felt
such genuine passion as then; certainly Belle herself was never so
near to loving her husband as when she saw the awful fear come into
his face at the sight of the riderless steed. She had been waiting for
him to come nearer before calling for assistance, and now the thought
of her past danger and its meaning almost choked her voice. "I'm not
hurt! Oh, John! I'm not hurt," she cried, stretching her hands towards
him.

He looked up to see her on the balcony, and his relief, as it often
does, brought a momentary resentment. "Belle! What the devil--I mean,
why are you here?"

Now that it was all over, she felt disagreeably inclined to cry; but
something in his voice roused her pride and urged her to make light of
what had happened, and so avoid being still more conspicuous. "I'll
come down and explain," she replied with an effort.

"Wait! I'll be with you in a moment. Which is the door?" As he paused
to kiss her before helping her down the dark stair, Belle passed the
happiest moment of her married life. Physically and morally she felt
crushed by the scenes she had witnessed, and his calm, half-callous
strength seemed a refuge indeed.

"Not across the square," whispered the police-officer as he was about
to take her the shortest route. "That poor brute must be shot."

John Raby raised his eyebrows a little, but took the hint. Women were
kittle cattle to deal with; even the best of them like Belle. Who, for
instance, would have thought of any one with a grain of sense getting
into such a position? Underneath all his kindness lay a certain
irritation at the whole business, which he could not conceal.



                             CHAPTER XVI.


Belle, recovering from the shock healthily, looked for a like
forgetfulness in her husband, but she was disappointed. "There is
nothing to make such a fuss about, John," she said, when a few days
brought no cessation of his regret at her having been mixed up in such
a scene. "It hasn't hurt me, you see; and as for the notoriety, people
will soon forget all about it."

"At any rate it shows you that I was right in saying that the
philanthropical dodge doesn't do in the wife of an official," he
replied moodily. "A thing like that might do a man a lot of harm."

"I can't see how; besides, there isn't much philanthropy in watching
men--Oh, John! don't let us talk of it any more. It makes me feel ill;
I want to forget all about it."

"But you can't. I don't want to be disagreeable, Belle; but have you
ever considered that there must be a trial, and that you, as an
eye-witness, must--"

She turned pale, and clutched the arm of her chair nervously.

"No! I see you haven't,--that's always the way with women. They want
all the fun of the fair without the responsibility. The ring-leaders
will be tried for their lives of course; eight of the poor beggars
were killed, and two more are dying, so they must hang some one. You
had a box-seat, so to speak, and are bound to give your evidence."

"But I could only see the tops of their heads. I couldn't possibly
recognise--"

"You must have seen and heard that fool of a preacher, my dear child.
That's the worst of it; if you hadn't studied the language it would
have been different. As I said before, it all comes of taking what you
call an interest in the people. I don't see how you are to get out of
being called on for evidence, and I tell you honestly I'd have given
pounds to prevent you putting yourself in such a position. It may mean
more than you think."

"But I couldn't give evidence against that boy," said Belle in a very
low voice. "I told you, John, I thought it was he who,--who--"

"It doesn't matter a straw if he did help you. The question is, if he
excited the crowd. Of course he did, and with your predilection for
abstract truth, you would say so, I suppose, even if it was,--well,
unwise."

"What,--what would the punishment be?" she asked after a pause.

He looked at her with unfeigned surprise. "Really, Belle! you surely
see that some one must be hanged? The question is, who?"

"But he used such long words."

He had been quarrelling with a cigarette during the conversation, and
now threw it away impatiently. "You are certainly a very ingenuous
person, Belle. On the whole, perhaps you _had_ better stick to the
truth. You couldn't manage anything else satisfactorily."

"Of course I shall stick to the truth, John," she replied hotly.

"Well, I don't want to be disagreeable, you know; but in your place I
shouldn't, and that's a fact."

"Why?" she asked, in a startled voice.

"For many reasons. To begin with, the boy comes of decent folk;
Marsden used to swear by the father. There were three brothers in the
regiment, and one of them saved the Major's life, or something of that
sort. Why, Belle, what's the matter?"

She had risen, and was now fain to catch at his outstretched hand to
steady herself. Why, she scarcely knew; finding the only explanation
in an assertion, made as much for her own edification as his, that her
nerves must be out of order.

"Nerves!" he echoed, as he placed her with half contemptuous kindness
in his chair, and brought her a scent-bottle. "I'll tell you what it
is, dear, no woman should have both nerves and conscience. It's too
much for one frail human being. It is no use my advising you to forget
all about this wretched business, or to suppress the disagreeable
parts; and yet, in your place, I should do both."

"Oh, John!"

"Yes, I should, from a sense of duty,--to myself first, and then to
society. What will be gained by hanging that blatant windbag of a
boy?"

Murghub Ahmad, who, in his cell awaiting trial, was meanwhile
comforting himself with the belief that the fate of nations depended
on his life or death, would no doubt have resented this opinion
bitterly. Yet it was all too true. The evil lay much further back than
the utterance of the half-realised words which had poured from his
lips like oil on the flame. He had said things as wild, as subversive
of the law, dozens of times before, and nothing had happened; no one
had taken any notice of it. And now! The boy buried his face in his
hands, and tried to think if he was glad or sorry for martyrdom.

Mahomed Lateef, stern and indignant, hurried from far Faizapore to see
his Benjamin, and in the sight of the pale half-starved face forgot
his anger, and pledged his last remaining credit to engage an English
lawyer for his son's defence. And then he girt his old sword about
him, counted over the precious parchments of olden days, and the still
more precious scraps of modern note-paper, which were all that was
left to his honour, and thus armed set off to see the big Lord _sahib_
at Simla. He came back looking years older, to await, as they bade
him, the usual course of law and order.

So it came to pass that as her husband had foretold, Belle found
herself one day saying in a low voice: "I heard him call on the people
to fight. I saw him wave his hand towards the Hindus."

"You mean,--pray be careful Mrs. Raby, for it is a point of great
importance--that, as the butchers were coming up, you saw the prisoner
wave them on to the conflict?"

"I cannot say if that was his intention. I saw him wave his hand."

"As they were passing?"

"As they were passing."

"Should you say,--I mean, did it give you the impression that he was
encouraging them, urging them on?"

Belle Raby, before she answered, looked across the court at the boy,
then at her husband, who with a slight frown, sat twiddling a pen at
the Government Advocate's table. "It did. I think it would have given
that impression to any one who saw it." And with these words every one
knew the case was virtually at an end so far as Murghub Ahmad was
concerned.

"Roman matrons are not in it," thought John Raby as he flung the pen
from him impatiently; "and yet she will regret it all her life, and
wonder if she didn't make a mistake, or tell an untruth, to the end of
her days. O Lord, I'm glad I wasn't born a woman! They won't hang him,
if that's any consolation to you, my dear," he said as they drove
home; "though upon my word, it isn't your fault if they don't. I'm
beginning to be a bit afraid of you, Belle. Your conscientiousness
would run me out of that commodity in a week; but I suppose some
people are born that way."

The fresh wind blew in her face, the sun was shining, the little
squirrels skipping over the road. The memory of that drive to her
father's funeral returned to her, sharply, with a sort of dim
consciousness that something else in her life was dying, and would
have to be buried away decently ere long. "Why didn't you tell me
before that he would not be hanged?" she asked in a dull voice.

"Why? For many reasons. For one, I thought you might be more merciful,
and,--but there's an end of it! They'll give him fourteen years over
in the Andamans. By George, the boy will learn that the tongue is a
two-edged sword! Pity he wasn't taught it before."

Perhaps it was. At all events Mahomed Lateef, his father, went back to
his sonless house with a vague sense of injustice not to be lost this
side the grave, and a palsied shake of his head only to be stilled by
death. Not to stay there long, however, for he was ousted even from
that dull refuge by the necessity for selling it in order to redeem
his pledges. So he flitted drearily to his last hold on life. A scrap
of land between the Indus and the sand-hills, where, if the river ran
high, the flooding water raised a crop, and if not the tiller must
starve,--or go elsewhere; if only to the six feet of earth all men may
claim whereon to sow the seed for a glorious resurrection.

About a month after the trial John Raby came home from office, not
exactly in a bad temper, but in that cynical, contemptuously-patient
frame of mind which Belle began to see meant mischief to the
hero-worship she still insisted on yielding to her husband.

"I've brought you something to read," he said coolly, laying a
newspaper on the table and taking up the cup of tea she had poured out
for him. "As that unfortunate trial has led to this premature
disclosure, I think it only fair to ask you what you would rather I
did in the matter. Honestly, I don't much care. Of course I would
rather have had a little more time; but as the native papers have got
hold of the business I'm quite ready, if you prefer it, to throw up
my appointment to-morrow. However, read it,--on the second page I
think--and skip the adjectives."

"Well?" he asked, as after a time she laid down the newspaper, and
stared at him in a bewildered sort of way. "The main facts are true,
if that is what you mean. I was lucky enough to hit on that indigo
business; it will pay cent per cent if properly worked."

"I thought," she replied in a toneless voice, "that it was
against,--the rules."

"Exactly so; but you see I haven't the slightest intention of
remaining in the service. I never had, if once I got an opportunity,
and I've got it."

"But the rules?"

"Bother the rules! I am not going to buy a pig in a poke to please
propriety. That part of it is done, and I think it is always best to
let by-gones be by-gones. If you like me to send in my papers to-day,
I'll do it; if not I shall hang on for a time, and defy them. Why
should one lose twelve hundred a month for an idea? I do my work quite
as well as I did, and there won't be any necessity for personal
supervision down in Saudaghur till next spring. But as I said before,
if you have scruples,--why, you brought the money, and I'm deeply
grateful, I assure you. Don't look scared, my dear; I'll insure my
life if you are thinking of the pension of a civilian's widow!"

"Don't laugh, John; I can't stand it. Have any more of the native
papers been writing,--things like that?" And she shivered a little as
she spoke.

"No, that's the first; but the others will follow suit. They were
desperately indignant about the Mohurrim riot. That is why I wanted--"

Belle stood up, and stretched her hands out appealingly to her
husband, "Don't say it. Oh, please don't say it! You don't,--you can't
mean it!"

He came across to her, taking her hands in his. "That's not
consistent, Belle; you're always for having the truth. I do mean it.
What harm would you have done to anybody by toning down what you saw?
For the matter of that, what harm have I done to any one by investing
money in indigo? None, absolutely none! However, it is no use talking
about it; we should never agree; people seldom do on these points. But
you ought to know by this time that I never mean to hurt your feelings
in any way. So which is it to be,--dignity or impudence?"

And Belle, as he kissed her, felt helpless. It was like being
smothered in a feather bed, all softness and suffocation.

"Well, I'm waiting. Am I not a model husband? Now don't begin to cry
when it's all over; perhaps it is best as it is, for I shall have to
build you a house, Belle. Think of that; a house of your very own! And
look here! you can go in for doing good to your heart's content when
you are no longer the wife of an official. Cheer up! There's a good
time coming, and you have to decide if it's to come now, or next
spring."

"How can you ask?" she said, breaking from him hurriedly, to walk up
and down the room, twisting her fingers nervously. "We must go,--go at
once."

"Very well. It's a little hasty; but remember it's your doing, not
mine; and for goodness' sake, you poor, little, conscience-stricken
soul, don't cry at getting your own way."



                            CHAPTER XVII.


John Raby's announcement that he was about to leave the service fell
like a thunderbolt on his old friend Shunker Dâs, for that astute
gentleman had sketched out a very different programme in which the
_shaitan sahib_ was to figure as chief actor. Indeed, when the latter
had first come nibbling round the indigo prize, Shunker had, as it
were, asked him to dine off it, chuckling in his sleeve the while at
the idea of getting his enemy into the toils. But then he knew nothing
of the thirty thousand pounds, which the young civilian rightly
considered a sufficient insurance against any punishment for breaking
the rules of his covenant. So all the Lâlâ's deft hounding of the
native papers on the track of "disgraceful corruption and disregard of
law on the part of Mr. John Raby of the Civil Service" had simply
resulted in bringing a personal supervision, destructive of
account-cooking, into the business.

He went down to Saudaghur shortly after the Rabys, and nearly had a
fit over the calm decision with which the young Englishman took
possession of the field. New machines were being imported, new vats
built, new contracts made with growers throughout a large stretch of
the district. On all sides Shunker found himself forestalled,
outpaced, left in the cold. He would dearly have liked to break
absolutely with this shrewd, unmerciful partner; yet to indulge this
desire meant loss, for the Lâlâ, despite his hatred of the work, was
not blind to John Raby's supreme capability for making the business
pay. He was torn asunder by rage at having been outwitted, and
admiration for the wit which had effected the task. He came home one
day to the square block of a house he owned on the outskirts of
Saudaghur village, cursing freely, and longing for some covert means
of relieving his spite. The recipient of his curses took them with
stolid indifference. She was a dark-browed, deep-chested lump of a
woman, engaged in cooking the Lâlâ's dinner in a dutiful,
conscientious sort of way, while she kept one eye on a solid
two-year-old boy who was busy over a pumpkin rind. This was Kirpo, the
absent Râm Lâl's wife, who had been sent to occupy this empty house of
the Lâlâ's for several reasons. Chiefly because it was out of the way
of scandal, and it had pleased Shunker to combine pleasure with the
business of supporting her during her husband's imprisonment;
wherefore, is one of those problems of human perversity best left
alone. Kirpo herself had merely adopted the surest way of securing
comfort and a pair of gold bangles, during this unpleasing interlude,
and in her heart was longing to return to her rightful owner; but not
without the bangles. There was, however, considerable divergence of
opinion between her and the Lâlâ on this point, resulting, on the one
side, in her refusal to retire discreetly before the off chance of any
remission of her husband's sentence which might induce a premature
appearance; and, on the other, in Shunker's half alarmed desire to let
her risk her nose by discovery. Neither of them being altogether in
earnest, and each anxiously awaiting symptoms of capitulation in the
other.

"I don't care for your words, Lâlâ-_ji_," she retorted in answer to
his abuse. "We women have to eat curses, aye! and blows too; but we
get our own way for all that. I mean to have the bangles, so the
sooner you unstomach them the better." Her black brows met in
determination as Shunker consigned her and all her female ancestors to
unspeakable torments. "If you say much more I'll have the evil eye
cast on that sickly Nuttu of yours. Mai-Bishen does it. You take seven
hairs--"

"Be silent, she-devil!" shouted the Lâlâ turning green. "What ails you
to give the mind freedom on such things? Lo! I have been good to you,
Kirpo, and the boy there,--would mine were like him!"

Kirpo caught the child in her arms, covering him with kisses as she
held him to her broad brown breast. "Thine! Pooh! thou art a poor body
and a poor spirit, Shunker. Afraid for all thy big belly; afraid of
Raby-_sahib!_ Look you, I will go to him: nay, I will go to his _mem_,
who loves to see the black women, and she will make you give me the
bangles."

Now Shunker's evil disposition partook of the nature of an am[oe]ba.
That is to say, no sooner did a suggestion of food dawn upon it, than
straightway the undefined mass of spite shot out a new limb in that
direction. Kirpo's words had this effect upon him. After all why
should she not go to see the _mem?_ How angry the _shaitan_ would be
if he knew that his, Shunker's mistress, had had an interview with the
stuck-up English girl. What business, too, had she to bring her
husband money when her father was bankrupt? Rare sport indeed to
chuckle over when Raby put on his airs. "By the holy water of Gunga!"
he cried, "thou shalt go, Kirpo, as my wife. No one will know. Silks
and satins, Kirpo, and sheets held up for thee to scuttle through so
that none may see! Aha! And I have to take off my shoes at the door,
curse him!" He lay back and chuckled at the bare idea of the petty,
concealed insult of which no one but himself would know.

Kirpo looked at him in contemptuous dislike. "If I was a bad woman
like thy friends in the bazaar I would not go, for they say she is
easy to deceive and kind; but I am not bad. It is you who are bad.
So I will go; but with the bangles, and with the boy too, in a
_khim-khâb_ (cloth of gold) coat. 'Twill be as thy son. Lâlâ-_ji_,
remember, so thou wouldst not have him look a beggar."

Her shrill laughter rang through the empty house, making an old woman
glance upwards from the lower court. "Kirpo should go home," muttered
the hag, "or she will lose her nose like Dhundei when they let her
husband out of gaol by mistake. A grand mistake for poor Dhunnu! oho!
oho!"

"Kirpo Devi," returned the Lâlâ, with a grin of concentrated
wickedness. "Thou shalt have the bangles, and then thou shall go see
the _mem_ first, and to damnation after. Mark my words, 'tis a true
saying." For another suggestion of evil had sprung into vision, and he
already had a feeler out to seize it.

Two days later he sat on the same bed grinning over his own
cleverness, yet for all that disconcerted. Kirpo had fled, with her
boy and her bangles. That he had expected, but he was hardly prepared
to find a clean sweep of all his brass cooking-pots into the bargain.
He cursed a little, but on the whole felt satisfied, since his spite
against Belle Raby had been gratified and Kirpo got rid of, at the
price of a pair of deftly lacquered brass bangles. He grinned still
more wickedly at the thought of the latter's face when she found out
the trick.

As he sat smoking his pipe a man looked in at the door. A curiously
evasive, downcast figure in garments so rumpled as to suggest having
been tied up in tight bundles for months; as indeed they had been,
duly ticketed and put away in the store-rooms of the gaol.

"Holy Krishna!" muttered the Lâlâ, while drops of sweat at the thought
of the narrow escape oozed to his forehead, "'tis Râmu himself."

And Râmu it was, scowling and suspicious. "Where's my house?" he asked
after the curtest of greetings.

Unfortunately for the truth Shunker Dâs had answered this question in
anticipation many times. So he was quite prepared. "Thy house, oh
Râmu? If she be not at home, God knoweth whither she hath gone. I
sent her here, for safety, seeing that women are uncertain even when
ill-looking; but she hath left this security without my consent."

His hearer's face darkened still more deeply as he looked about him in
a dissatisfied way. "I went straight to Faizapore; they said she was
here." He did not add that he had purposely refrained from announcing
his remission (for good conduct) in order to see the state of affairs
for himself.

Shunker meanwhile was mentally offering a cheap but showy oblation to
his pet deity for having suggested the abstraction of the brass pots
to Kirpo. "I say nothing, Râmu," he replied unctuously; "but this I
know, that having placed her here virtuously with an old mother, who
is even now engaged in work below, she hath fled, nor stayed her hand
from taking things that are not hers. See, I am here without food
even, driven to eat it from the bazaar, by reason of her wickedness;
but I will call, and the old mother will fetch some; thou must be
hungry. Hadst thou sent word, Râmu, the faithful servant should have
had a feast from the faithful master."

Râmu and he looked at each other steadily for a moment, like two dogs
uncertain whether to growl or to be friends.

"Fret not because of one woman, Râmu," added his master peacefully.
"Hadst thou sent word, she would have been at home doubtless. She is
no worse than others."

"She shall be worse by a nose," retorted his hearer viciously. Whereat
the Lâlâ laughed.

He sat talking to his old henchman till late on into the night, during
the course of his conversation following so many trails of that
serpent, his own evil imaginings, that before Râmu, full of fresh
meats and wines, had fallen asleep, Shunker Dâs had almost persuaded
himself, as well as the husband, that Kirpo's disappearance had
something to do with gold bangles and a series of visits to the
_shaitan sahib_ in the rest-house, where, until their own was
finished, the Rabys were living.

This scandalous suggestion found, to Râmu's mind, a certain
corroboration next day; for on his way to the station in order to
return to Faizapore, he came full tilt on his wife, also hurrying to
catch the train. The gold bangles on her wrists, and the fact of her
having remained in Saudaghur after leaving the Lâlâ's house, pointed
to mischief. He flew at her like a mad dog, too angry even to listen.
Now the station of Saudaghur was a good two miles from the town, and
the road a lonely one; so that the enraged husband had no
interruptions, and finally marched on to his destination, leaving his
wife, half dead, behind a bush; a brutal, but not uncommon occurrence
in a land where animal jealousy is the only cause of women's
importance. That evening John Raby, riding back from a distant village
in the dusk, was nearly thrown at the rest-house gates by a sudden
swerve of his horse.

"_Dohai! Dohai! Dohai!_" The traditional appeal for justice rose to
high heaven as a female figure started from the shadow, and clutched
his bridle. It was Kirpo, with a bloody veil drawn close about her
face.

The young man swore, not unnaturally. "Well, what's the matter?" he
cried angrily; past experience teaching him the hopelessness of
escaping without some show of attention. "I'm not a magistrate any
longer, thank God! Go to the police, my good woman. Oh!" he continued,
in contemptuous comprehension, as the woman, clutching fiercely with
both hands, let go her veil, which falling aside, showed a noseless
face; "'tis your own fault, no doubt."

"The Lâlâ! the Lâlâ!" shrieked Kirpo. "'Tis his doing."

"Shunker Dâs?" asked John Raby, reining up his horse in sudden
interest.

"Yes, Shunker Dâs! He gave me the gold bangles for going to see your
_mem_ and pretending to be his wife. He did it. The ill-begotten son
of a hag, the vile offspring of a she-devil!"

So, with sobs and curses, she poured the whole tale of her wrong into
the young man's ear. He listened to it with wonderful patience. "All
you want, I suppose, is to punish your husband?" he asked, when she
paused for breath.

"No!" almost yelled the woman. "The Lâlâ! the Lâlâ! I could choke him
on his own flesh."

John Raby laughed. These half savages had certainly most expressive
methods of speech, a pity their actions were not as forcible. "Wait
here," he said quietly. "I'll send you out a note for the native
magistrate; but mind! no word of your visit to my wife. I'm not going
to have that all over the place."

Kirpo squatted down at the gate-post, wrapping the bloody veil round
her once more; a habit she would have to grow into with the years.
Not a stone's throw from this ghastly figure, in the large bare
sitting-room of the rest-house, which she had decorated to the best of
her ability with Indian draperies disposed after the fashion of the
West, sat Belle in a low wicker chair. A tea-table bright with silver
and china awaited the master's return, while a pile of music scattered
on the open piano showed her recent occupation. "There you are at
last, John!" she said. "Cold isn't it?--quite Christmas weather; but
your tea is ready."

"And what has my wife been doing with herself all day?" he asked, with
the complacent affection which invariably sprang up at the sight of
his own home comfort.

"Oh, I? Working, and reading, and practising as usual. There's a very
interesting article on the morality of the Vedas in the _Nineteenth
Century_. It seems wonderfully pure."

"A little more sugar, if you please, and one of those cakes with the
chocolate, dear," was the reply, given with a stretching of the limbs
into the curves of a cushioned chair. "Do you know, Belle, India is a
most delightful country. If Blanche Amory had lived here she would not
have had to say, '_Il me faut des emotions_.' They sit at the gate, so
to speak, and the contrasts give such a zest to life. You, with that
white gown and all the accessories (as the studio-slang has it) are
like _pâté de foie_ after the black bread of the Spartans. If you have
done your tea, go to the piano, there's a dear girl, and play me a
valse; _Rêves d'Amour_ for choice; that will put the truffles to the
_pâté_."

Kirpo squatting at the gate, waiting for vengeance, heard the gay
notes. "What a noise!" she said to herself; "no beginning or end, just
like a jackal's cry. I wish he would send the letter."

It came at last; and Kirpo, for one, always believed that to it she
owed the fact that Râmu was caught, tried, sentenced, and imprisoned
for a whole year; for as she used to say, in telling the tale to her
cronies, "I hadn't a cowrie or an ornament left, so it would have been
no use complaining to the police."

The Lâlâ, too, impressed a like belief on the indignant Râmu. "'Tis
true enough," he said, "that it is tyranny to deny a man his right to
teach his wife caution; but there!--she went straight to Raby _sahib_,
and now you are in for a whole year without a friend to stand treat,
my poor Râmu."

Râm Lâl's teeth chattered at the prospect of desertion. "But you will
stand by me still, master?" he asked piteously.

"Wherefore, Râmu? Even a _buniah_ leaves old scores alone when there
is a receipt-stamp on the paper," chuckled the usurer. "Pray that thou
hast not the same warder, oh my son! and come back to me, if thou
wilst, when the time is over." He happened to be in high good spirits
that morning owing to a slip on John Raby's part in regard to the
signing of some contract which promised to put rupees into the Lâlâ's
private pocket. So much so, that he went to the rest-house in order to
gloat over the prospect in his unconscious partner's presence. It was
the first time that the latter had seen him since Kirpo's appeal and
confession, for John Raby had purposely avoided an interview until the
trial, with its possibility of unpleasantness, was over. Now he calmly
shut the door, and made the practical joker acquire a thorough and yet
superficial knowledge of the ways of the ruling race, finishing up by
a contemptuous recommendation to vinegar and brown paper.

"I've been fighting your battles, dear," he said, coming into his
wife's room, and leaning over to kiss her as she lay resting on the
sofa. A pile of dainty lace and muslin things on the table beside her,
told tales for the future.

"My battles, John? I didn't know I had any enemies here." Or any
friends she might have added, for those three months in the rest-house
had been inexpressibly lonely; her husband away all day, and no white
face within fifty miles.

"Enemies? No, Belle, I should say not; but I have, and what's mine's
yours, you know." Then, half amused, half irritated, he told her of
Kirpo's visit.

Her eyes sought his with the puzzled look which life was beginning to
put into them. "I suppose it was intended as an insult," she said;
"but when a man has half a dozen wives, some married one, some another
way, it,--it doesn't seem to matter if they are married or not."

"My dear!" cried he, aghast. "I do hope you haven't been reading my
French novels."

She smiled, a trifle bitterly. "No; they bore me. It's the gazeteer of
this district which is to blame. How many kinds of marriage? I forget;
one is called a kicking-strap, I know. It is a mere question of names
all through. What difference can it make?"

John Raby walked up and down the room in, for him, quite a disturbed
manner. "I'm sorry to hear you speak that way, Belle. It's always a
mistake. If you can't see the insult, you will at least allow that it
confirms what I have always maintained, the undesirability of mixing
yourself up with a social life that doesn't fit in with ours. It has
put me into rather a hole at all events."

"A hole, John? What do you mean?"

"Why, even the Lâlâ won't work with me after this, and I must take all
the risk; there isn't much of course; but somehow I've been hustled
all through. First by that foolish trial--"

"I thought we had agreed to leave that alone, John?" interrupted his
wife with a heightened colour.

"True, O queen! And you needn't be afraid, Belle. You and the babies
shall be millionaires, billionaires if you like." And a speech like
this, accompanied as it was by the half-careless, half-affectionate
glance she knew so well, would start her self-reproach on the road to
that sanctuary from all her vague puzzles; the fixed belief that she
and John were the most attached of couples.

It would, nevertheless, be almost impossible to over-colour the
absolute loneliness of the girl's life at this time. Her husband away
from dawn till sundown, her only companions a people whose uncouth
_patois_ she hardly understood, whose broad simplicity of purpose and
passion positively confused her own complexity. It was utter
isolation, combined with the persistent reflection that close by in
the native town, humanity went to and fro full to the brim with the
same emotions of joy and sorrow, hope and fear, though the causes were
different. It made her feel as if she had dropped from another world;
and being, from physical causes, fanciful, she often thought, when
looking over the wide level plain, without one tree to break its
contour, which stretched away from her to the horizon, that, but for
the force of gravity, she could walk over its visible curve into
space. One of her chief amusements was what her husband laughingly
called her _jardin d'acclimatisation_; a dreary row of pots where, in
defiance of a daily efflorescence of Glaubers salt, she coaxed a dozen
or so of disheartened pansies into producing feeble flowers half the
size of a wild heart's-ease. She was extremely patient, was Belle
Raby, and given to watering and tending all things which she fancied
should adorn a woman's house and home; and among them gratitude.
Scarcely a day passed but the thought of Philip Marsden's ill-requited
kindness set this irreclaimable hero-worshipper into metaphorically
besprinkling his grave with her tears, until countless flowers of fact
and fancy grew up to weave a crown for his memory, a frame for his
virtues. The extent to which she idealised him never came home to her,
for the fact of his having passed finally from life prevented her from
having to decide his exact position in her Pantheon. Another thing
which intensified her inclination to over-estimate the benefits she
had received at Philip's hands was her husband's evident desire for
complete silence on this subject. Naturally in one so impulsively
generous as Belle, this seemed to make her remembrance, and her
gratitude, all the more necessary.

So time passed until, as women have to do, she began to set her house
in order against life or death. To-day, to-morrow, the next day,
everything familiar, commonplace,--and then? How the heart beats in
swift wonder and impatience even though the cradle may be the grave!

A hint of spring was in the air; that sudden spring which in Northern
India follows close on the first footsteps of the new year. Belle,
with a light heart, sat sorting her husband's wardrobe, and laying
aside in camphor and peppercorns, things not likely to be required;
for who could tell how long it might be ere she could look after
John's clothes again? As she paused to search the pockets of a coat, a
building sparrow hopped across the floor to tug at a loose thread in
the pile of miscellaneous garments among which she was sitting, and a
bright-eyed squirrel, hanging on the open door, cast watchful glances
on a skein of Berlin wool, which appeared utterly desirable for a
nest. The whole world, she thought, seemed preparing for new life,
working for the unknown, and she smiled at the fancy as she began
methodically to fold and smooth. More carefully than usual, for this
was John's political uniform, and the sight of it invariably brought
her a pang of regret for the career that had been given up. Suddenly
her half-caressing fingers distinguished something unusual between the
linings; something that must have slipped from the pocket, for she had
to unrip a rough mend in the latter ere she could remove a sheet of
thin paper folded in two, smooth, uncrushed.

The writing startled her; it was Philip Marsden's, and she sat there
for a minute staring at it blankly. In after years the smell of
camphor always brought her back to that moment of life; the sunlight
streaming on the floor beside her, the twittering bird, the watchful
squirrel.

The draft of a will,--surely _the_ will--and yet! How came it in her
husband's pocket, in the coat that he must have worn? Then he had
known--he _must_ have known about the money! Money! Yes, the one
passion she had ever seen on his face; the one love--

The sparrow came back again and again robbing one life for another.
The squirrel, emboldened at her silence, made off with its heart's
desire; but still poor Belle lay in a dead faint on the floor. And
there she might have remained, with the accusing paper in her hand to
face her husband, had not pain, sharp compelling pain, roused her. To
what? To a new life, to something beyond, yet of herself, something to
defy fate and carry hope and fear from the present to the future.

A vague understanding of her own position came to her as she lay
slowly gathering consciousness, until she rose to her feet and looked
round her almost fearfully. "It must not alter anything," she
muttered, as the torn shreds of paper fell from her shaking hand. "It
cannot,--oh, dear God! it shall not. Not now, not now; I could not
bear it; not now, not now!"

All that night Belle Raby fought a strange, uncertain battle, fought
hard for the old life and the new, for life or death, scarcely knowing
why she did either, and caring little, thinking little, of anything
save the blind instinct of fight. And with the dawn the child which
was hers, but which she was never to see, gave up its feeble desire,
and left nothing but a pitiful waxen image to tell of life that had
been and was gone.

But Belle, fast clasping her husband's hand, was in the Land of
Dreams; the land to which many things besides the dead child must
belong forever.



                            CHAPTER XVIII.


Death, we are told, changes our vile bodies and minds. It is at any
rate to be hoped so, if orthodox heaven is to be endurable to some of
us. And when mind and body have gone nigh to death, so nigh that he
has stilled us in his arms for long days and nights, when he has
kissed the sight of all things mortal from our eyes, and charmed away
love and dread till soul could part from flesh without one sigh; does
not that sometimes send us back, as it were, to a new life, and make
us feel strangers even to ourselves?

Belle Raby felt this as she came back discreetly, decently, according
to her wont in all things, from the Valley of the Shadow. Everything
was changed, and she herself was no longer the girl who had cried
uselessly, "Not now! Ah, dear God, not now!"

When she first floated up to consciousness through the dim resounding
sea which for days and nights had seemed to lull her to sleep, it had
been to find herself in John's arms, while he fed her with a teaspoon,
and she had drifted down again into the dark, carrying with her a
faint, half-amused wonder why a man who had so deceived his wife
should trouble himself about her beef-tea. Neither was it a fit season
for tragedy when, with hair decently brushed for the first time, and a
bit of pink ribbon disposed somewhere to give colour to the pale face,
she lay propped up on the pillow at last, fingering a bunch of roses
brought her by the traitor. Nor when he had carried her to the sofa
with pleasant smiles at the ease of the task, could she begin the
dreadful accusation, "You knew I was an heiress,--that was why you
married me." Horrible, hateful! The blood would surge over her face,
the tears come into her eyes at the thought of the degradation of such
a mutual understanding. Better, far better, that the offender should
go scot-free. And after all, where was the difference? What had she
lost? Only ignorance; the thing itself had always been the same. And
yet she had not found it out--yet she had been content! That was the
saddest, strangest part of all, and in her first bitterness of spirit
she asked herself, more than once, if she had any right to truth, when
lies satisfied her so easily. He had not chosen her out of all the
world because he loved her, and yet she had not found him out. Was it
not possible that she had not found herself out either? And what then?
Did it make any difference, any difference at all?

During her tedious convalescence she lay turning these things over and
over in her mind, almost as if the problem referred to the life of
some one else. It was a critical time for the new venture, and long
before she could leave the sofa, her husband had to spend a day here,
two days there, arranging for labour and machinery; above all for the
new house into which he was so anxious for her to settle comfortably
before the hot weather came on. All was very natural and right;
nevertheless it marked the beginning of the epoch which comes about in
most marriages; the time when Adam and Eve leave the garden of Eden,
and face the world; the time when different dispositions naturally
drift apart to different interests. Belle, still weak and unstrung,
found a morbid significance in her husband's growing absorption in the
business; she seemed to see the greed of gold in his handsome face as
he sat descanting, over his cigarette, on the many projects of his
busy brain. Yet she said no word of blame or warning, for she began to
lack the courage of criticism. The fact was, she did not want to know
the extent of the gulf between them; therefore she kept silence on all
points which might serve as a landmark to their relative positions.
Even so she came on the knowledge unawares.

"I'm glad you don't fret over the baby," he said to her one day; "but
you were always sensible. The poor little thing might have got ill,
you know, and it would have been a bore if you had had to go to the
hills this year, when there is so much to be done."

After that she would have died sooner than mention a grief that was
always with her, despite her smiling face. Yet, when he was away, she
wept unrestrained tears over a forlorn little spot in the dreary
garden where they told her the lost hope lay hidden away, for ever,
from her eyes. If she had only seen it once, she used to think; if she
could only have shed one tear over the little face of which she used
to dream! If she could only have whispered to it that she was sorry,
that it was not her fault. Such grief, she told herself, was natural
even in the happiest wife; it could not be construed into a complaint,
or counted as a surrender to Fate. She was not going to do that,
whatever happened. Never, never! That was the ruling idea to which
even her own unhappiness gave place; and the cause of this fixed
purpose was a curious one. Nothing more or less than a passionate
desire not to defeat the purpose of Philip Marsden's legacy. He had
meant kindly by her; when, she thought with the glow of ardent
gratitude which his memory invariably aroused, had he not meant kindly
by her and hers! And no one, least of all she herself, should turn
that kindness to unkindness. Poor Belle! She was bound hand and foot
to hero-worship, and life had shown her unmistakably that it was safer
to canonise the dead. She lived, it must be remembered, in a solitude
hard even of explanation to those unacquainted with out-station life
in India. The growing gulf between her and her husband had to be
bridged over a dozen times a day by their mutual dependence on each
other even for bare speech. The saying, "It takes two to make a
quarrel," falls short of truth. It takes three; two to fight, and one
to hold the sponge, and play umpire. After a few days of silence
consequent on his frequent absences, Belle was quite ready to welcome
John back with smiles; and this very readiness gave her comfort.
Things could not be so far wrong after all. And so every time he
went away, she set herself to miss his company with a zest that would
have seemed to the spectators--had there been any--right-minded,
wrong-headed, and purely pitiful. It was so even to herself,
at times, when, for instance, the shadows of day lifted in the
night-time, and she woke to find her pillow wet with tears,--why, she
knew not. Perhaps because those who had loved her best were lying in
unknown graves far away among the everlasting hills. It seemed so
strange that they should have met such similar fates; their very
deaths mysterious, if all too certain. In her mind they seemed
indissolubly mixed up with each other, living and dying, and her
thoughts were often with them. Not in sadness, in anything but
sadness; rather in a deep unreasoning content that they had loved and
trusted her.

And all the while Fate was arranging a cunning blow against her
hard-contested peace.

She was expecting her husband one evening when the rapid Indian
twilight had begun to fill the large bare room with shadows, and as,
driven by the waning light from her books, she sat down at the piano,
her fingers found one theme after another on the keys. Quite
carelessly they fell on the _Frühlingslied_, which three years before
had wrought poor Dick's undoing. And then, suddenly, she seemed to
feel the touch of his warm young lips on hers, to see the fire and
worship of his eyes. Was _that_ Love? she wondered, as her fingers
stilled themselves to silence; or was _that_ too nothing but a lie?
Dear, dear old Dick! The shadows gathered into an eager protesting
face, the empty room seemed full of the life that was dead for ever.
Ah, if it could be so really? If those dear dead could only come back
just to know how sorely the living longed for them.

A sound behind made her rise hastily. "Is that you, John? How late you
are!" she said with face averted, for, dark as it was, the unbidden
tears in her eyes craved concealment.

"No! it is I, Philip Marsden."

Her hand fell on the keys with a jarring clang that set the room
ringing. Philip! Nervous, overwrought, unstrung as she was by long
months of silence and repression, it seemed to her that the dead had
heard her wish. How terribly afraid she was! Afraid of Philip? A swift
denial in her heart made her turn slowly and strain her eyes into the
shadow by the door. He was there, tall and still, for darkness dazzles
like day and Philip Marsden's eyes were seeking her in vain by the
sound of her voice until he saw a dim figure meeting him with
outstretched hands. "Philip, oh, Philip! kindest! best! dearest!"

In the shadows their hands met, warm clinging hands; and at the touch
a cry, half-fear, half-joy, dominated the still echoing discord. The
next instant like a child who, frightened in the dark, sees a familiar
face, she was in his arms sobbing out her relief and wonder. "Ah,
Philip, it is you yourself! You are not dead! You have come back to
me, my dear, my dear!"

He had entered the room cynically contemptuous over the inevitable
predicament into which Fate and his impulsive actions had led him.
During his long captivity he had so often faced the extreme
probability of her marrying John Raby that the certainty which had met
him on his arrival at Kohât two days before had brought no surprise,
and but little pain. The past, he had said, was over. She had never
liked him; and he? That too was over; had been over for months if,
indeed, it had ever existed. He must go down at once, of course,
explain about Dick's legacy and settle what was to be done in the
meantime--that was all. And now she was in his arms and everything was
swept away in the flood of a great tenderness that never left him
again.

"Oh, Belle! You are glad, you are glad that I have come back!"

The wonder and joy of his voice seemed to rouse her to realities; she
drew away from him, and stood with one hand raised to her forehead in
perplexity. "How dark it is!" she cried, petulantly. "I did not see. I
cannot,--Why did you come like a thief in the night? Why did you not
write? Why?--you should not have come, you should not!"

"I did write," he answered gently, the blame in her tone seeming to
escape his ear. "I wrote from Kohât to tell you. The dog-cart was at
the station and I thought--"

"It was for John, not for you," she interrupted almost fiercely. "It
was for my husband--" She broke off into silence.

"Yes; I heard at Kohât you were married."

He could not see her face, nor she his, and once more her voice was
petulant in complaint. "You startled me. No one could have seen in the
dark."

"Shall I call for lights now?"

"If you please."

When he returned, followed by a servant bringing the lamp, she was
standing where he had left her. Great Heavens, how she had changed!
Was this little Belle Stuart with her beautiful grey eyes? This woman
with the nameless look of motherhood, the nameless dignity of
knowledge in her face; and yet with a terror, such as the tyranny of
truth brings with it, in the tired eyes which used to be so clear of
care.

"I am sorry," he began; then his thought overflowed conventional
speech, making him exclaim--"Don't look so scared, for pity's sake!"

"Don't look like that!" she echoed swiftly. "That is what you said the
last time I saw you: 'Don't, Belle, the whole world is before you,
life and happiness and love.' It was not true, and you have only made
it worse by coming back to upset everything, to take away everything."

"I am not going to take anything. The money--"

"Money, what money? I was not thinking of money. Ah, I remember now!
Of course it is yours, all yours."

Then silence fell between them again; but it was a silence eloquent of
explanation. So eloquent that Philip Marsden had to turn aside and
look out on the red bars of the sunset before he could beat down the
mad desire to take instant advantage of her self-betrayal. But he was
a man who above all things claimed the control of his own life, and
the knowledge that he too had been caught unawares helped him. "It is
all my fault, Mrs. Raby," he said, coming back to her, with a great
deference in voice and look. "This has startled you terribly, and you
have been ill, I think."

"Yes, I have been ill, very ill. The baby died, and then--oh, Philip,
Philip! I thought you were dead; I did indeed."

That was the end. Every atom of chivalry the man possessed, every
scrap of good in his nature responded to the pitiful appeal. "I do not
wonder," he answered, and though he spoke lightly there was a new tone
in his voice which always remained in it afterwards when he addressed
her. "I thought I was dead myself. Come, let us sit down, and I will
tell you how it all happened. Yes, I thought I was dead; at least so
Afzul Khân declares--"

"Afzul Khân! That was the name of the sepoy you arrested at
Faizapore."

Did she remember that? It was so long ago; long before the day he had
seen her last, when he had tried to comfort her, and she had sobbed
out her sorrow as to a brother, in just such another bare shadowy room
as this. Ah, poor Belle, poor Belle! Had it all been a mistake from
beginning to end? The only refuge from bewildering thought seemed
speech, and so he plunged into it, explaining, at far greater length
than he would otherwise have done, how he came to be sitting beside
her, instead of lying with whitening bones in some deep pool in the
mountains. He must, he said, have become unconscious from loss of
blood, and slipped into the river after he was wounded, for Afzul Khân
from his place of concealment on the water's edge had seen him
drifting down and dragged him to safety. They were a queer lot, the
Afghans, and Afzul believed he owed the Major a life. After that it
was a week ere he could be taken to decent shelter, because Afzul was
also wounded; but of all this he himself knew nothing. His
unconsciousness passing into delirium it was six weeks ere he awoke to
find himself in a sort of cave with snow shining like sunlight beyond
the opening, and Afzul cooking marmot-flesh over a smoky fire. Even
after that there was a rough time what with cold and hunger, for it
was an enemy's country, and the people about were at blood-feud with
Afzul's clan. At last it became a toss-up for death one way or the
other, seeing he was too weak to attempt escape. So he had given
himself up to the tribe, trusting that to their avarice an English
prisoner might be worth a ransom, while Afzul had gone east promising
to return with the swallows.

Then months had passed bringing threats of death more and more
constant as the promised ambassador never returned, until towards
autumn, being stronger, he managed to escape, and after running the
gauntlet of danger and starvation succeeded in reaching Afzul's tribe,
only to find him slowly recovering from rheumatic fever brought on by
exposure and privation. The poor fellow had been at death's door, and
long ere he was strong enough to act as pilot eastwards winter had set
her seal on the passes. So there they had remained, fairly
comfortable, until spring melted the snows. "And," he added with a
smile, for Belle's face had resumed its calm, "I grew quite fat, in
comparison! Yet they all took me for a ghost when I walked in to the
mess-room at Kohât one evening after dinner,--just as I walked in
here."

But her truthful eyes looked into his and declined the excuse. "No! I
did not take you for a ghost, except for an instant. I knew it was
you, and that you had come back to claim--everything."

"Then you knew wrong. I have come to claim nothing. Perhaps I have no
right to claim anything; so it need make no difference--"

"It must make a difference to John," she interrupted coldly. "I was
thinking of him. It is hard on him at all events."

"Hard! Of course it is hard," he answered with a sudden pain at his
heart. "Yet it is not my fault. I meant no harm."

"You have done no harm as far as I know," was the still colder reply.
But in her turn she rose and looked out to that low bar of red still
lingering in the horizon. "It is all very unfortunate, but we shall
manage,--somehow." There was a pause, then she added in quite her
ordinary tone, "I don't think John can be coming to-night, so we need
not wait dinner for him. They have taken your things to the end room.
I see a light there."

"But I have no right--" he began, crossing to where she stood.

She turned to him with a sudden gracious smile. "Right! you have every
right to everything. You have given me,--what have you not given me?"

A tall figure crouching in the verandah rose as they passed through
the open French window.

"Who is that?" she asked, half startled.

"Afzul Khân. I can't take him back to the regiment, of course, but he
came so far with me. He has business, he says, in Faizapore."

"Afzul Khân! Call him here, please."

It was a curious group: those two bound to each other by such a tissue
of misunderstanding and mistake, and the Pathan responsible for part
of those mistakes. He stood by _salaaming_ stolidly; for all that
taking in the scene with a quick eye.

"You have brought me back the best friend I ever had," said Belle with
a ring in her voice, and all instinctively her hand sought her
companion's and found it.

"It is God's will, not mine," was the reply. Not an atom of sentiment
in the words, not a scrap of sanctimoniousness; simply a statement of
fact. God's will! And stowed away in the folds of his fur coat lay a
long blue envelope, ominously stained with blood, and addressed in a
free bold hand to Miss Belle Stuart, favoured by Major Marsden of the
101st Sikhs. That was poor Dick's will at any rate. Even in their
ignorance those two looked at each other and wondered. God's will! It
was strange, if true.

"We dine in the garden now, it is cooler. I shall be ready in ten
minutes," said Belle.

She was waiting for him under the stars when he came out from his
room, and the slender figure against its setting of barren plain and
over-arching sky seemed all too slight for its surroundings.

"You must be very lonely here," he said abruptly.

Her light laugh startled him. "Not to-night at any rate! To-night is
high holiday, and I only hope the _khânsâmah_ will give us a good
dinner. Come! you must be hungry."

Thinking over it afterwards the rest of the evening seemed like a
dream to Philip Marsden. A halo of light round a table set with
flowers; a man and a woman talking and laughing, the man with a deep
unreasoning content in the present preventing all thought for the
future. How gay she was, how brilliant! How little need there was for
words with those clear sympathetic eyes lighting up into comprehension
at the first hint; and with some people it was necessary to have
Johnson's dictionary on the table ready for reference! Afterwards
again, as he sat in the moonlight smoking his cigar, and the cool
night wind stirred the lace ruffle on the delicate white arm stretched
on the lounge chair, how pleasant silence was; silence with the
consciousness of comprehension. Then when her hand lay in his as they
said good-night how dear her words were once more. "I want you to
understand that I am glad. Why not? You thought I meant the money, but
it was not that. I don't know what I meant, but it was not that. I
used to cry because I couldn't thank you; and now you have come, I do
not want to."

"Thank me for what?" he asked, with a catch in his voice.

But there was no answering tremble in hers. "You are not so wise as
your ghost; it knew. Supposing it was better to be dead after all?
That would be a pity, would it not? Good-night. John will be home
to-morrow."

He stood and stared at the lamp after she had gone, as if its feeble
ray would illuminate the puzzle of a woman's face and words. He did
not know that for the first time in her life Belle had turned on Fate.
"I do not care," she had said, recklessly, as she walked up and down
waiting for him amid the flowering oleanders. "One cannot be always
thinking, thinking. He has come back and I am glad. Surely that is
enough for to-night."

It was not much to claim, and yet it made the puzzle so much the
harder for Philip Marsden. He sat on the edge of his bed, and swore to
himself that he did not know what it all meant, that he did not even
know his own feelings. To leave a girl with whom you fancied yourself
in love and who apparently hated you; to die, and fall out of love,
only to find when you came back to life, that she who had scorned you
living had taken a fancy to your memory. Nay more, to find that
something in you had survived death. What? Were the elements of a
French novel born out of such materials? He had never thought over
these questions, being one of those men who, from a certain physical
fastidiousness, are not brought into contact with them. So he may have
been said to be, in his way, quite as conventional in his morality as
any woman; and the suggestion of such a situation offended him quite
as much as it would have offended Belle. The pride and combativeness
of the man rose up against the suggestion even while the very thought
of her glad welcome thrilled him through and through. He wished
no harm to her,--God forbid! And yet if one were to believe the
world--bah! what was one to believe? He was too restless to sleep,
and, with the curious instinct which drives most good men to be
tempted of the devil in the wilderness, he put on a pair of thick
boots, turned up his trousers methodically, and set out to seek peace
in a moonlight walk. Bathos, no doubt; but if the sublime borders on
the ridiculous, the commonplaces of life must touch on its tragedy. It
was a broad white road down which he started at a rattling pace.
Before, behind, it merged into a treeless horizon and it led--God
knows where! For all he knew it might be the road leading to
destruction; the ready-made conventional turnpike worn by the feet of
thousands following some bell-wether who had tinkled down to death
when the world was young. The moon shone garishly, eclipsing the
stars. It seemed a pity, seeing they were at least further from this
detestable world than she,--a mere satellite dancing attendance on a
half-congealed cinder, and allowing it to come between her and the
light at every critical moment! A pretty conceit, but not thought; and
Philip was there with the firm intention of thinking out the position.
Yet again and again he found himself basking in the remembrance of
Belle's welcome. How glad, how unfeignedly, innocently glad she had
been, till fear crept in. Fear of what? Of the French novel, of
course. He had felt it himself; he had asked himself the same
question, doubtless, as she had; and what in heaven's name was to be
the answer? Must love always be handfast to something else? Or was it
possible for it to exist, not in the self-denying penance of propriety
and duty, but absolutely free and content in itself? Why not?

As he tramped along, stunning noises came from a neighbouring village;
thrummings of tom-toms, and blares of inconceivable horns mingling in
a wild, beast-like tumult. That meant a marriage in all its unglozed
simplicity of purpose; a marriage, to use the jargon, unsanctified by
love. But after all what had love to do with marriage? What could the
most unselfish dream of humanity have to do with the most selfish, the
most exacting, the most commonplace of all ties? Love, it is true,
might exist side by side with marriage, but the perfection of the one
was not bound up in the perfection of the other. Had not the attempt
to find an unnecessary fig-leaf by uniting sentiment to passion, only
ended in an apotheosis of animalism not much above that which found
expression in those hideous yells and brayings? Above! nay below! for
it degraded love and passion alike by false shame.

To escape the wedding party he struck away from the road, and felt
relieved when he had got rid of its hard-and-fast lines, its arrogance
of knowing the way. The clumps of tall tiger-grass shot arrowlike
against the velvet sky, and every now and again a faint rustle at
their roots told of something watching the intruder; a brooding
partridge may be, perhaps a snake with unwinking eyes. And as he
walked, his thoughts seemed to lead him on, till something of the
truth, something naked yet not ashamed as it had been before mankind
ate of the sorrowful tree, came home to him. It could not be true,
that verdict of the world. He would defy it.

Suddenly he found himself confronted by a strange barrier, blocking
his way. As far as eye could reach on either side rose a wall of
shadow twenty feet high, a wall dense and dark below, filmy as cobwebs
where the tasselled reeds of which it was composed touched the purple
of the sky. The gossamer wings of a day could pass through those
feathery tops; but below, even the buffalo had to seek an oozy track
here and there. He had often heard of this reed wall, which, following
the old river bed, divides village from village as effectually as when
the stream ran fast and deep; but its curious aptness to his thoughts
startled him. Impenetrable save for those who sought the mire, or
those with the wings of a dove. Which was it to be? As he stood
arrested by his own fancy a night-heron flitted past; its broad white
wings whirred softly, and its plumed head, craning forward, with
blood-red eyes searching the shadows, cleft the moonlight. By some
strange jugglery of fancy it reminded him of a picture by Gustave
Doré, and with the remembrance of Francesca da Rimini came that of the
scared look in poor Belle's face.

He turned aside impatiently beset once more by the desire for escape
and struck across the plain; coming, after a time, on a footpath which
he followed mechanically through the tamarisk bushes, until he emerged
on an open space where a hoar frost of salt crystals glittered on rows
and rows of tiny mounds. So pure, so white, that the eye might have
sworn to a winter's night even while the other senses told of more
than summer's heat; a deception increasing the unreality with which
Philip recognised that his wandering steps had led him to a village
grave-yard. A far cry from the marriage feast! He sat down on the pile
of disordered bricks and stucco which marked the resting-place of the
saint round whose bones the faithful had gathered, and asked himself
what chance there was of standing out against the opinion of the many
in life, if even in death it was always follow my leader?

A quaint place it was; no enclosure, no token of hope or grief, no
symbol of faith; nothing but the dead, clean forgotten and out of
mind. Ah! but Belle had not forgotten him, and if he had remained dead
she would have gone on giving him the best part of herself without
reproach, without remorse. Was death then the only freedom from the
body? He sat so long immersed in his own thoughts that the slow stars
were wheeling to meet the dawn ere he rose, and threw out his arms
cramped by long stillness. Dead, yet alive,--that was the old panacea.
Was nothing else attainable? Must love be killed? Why?

A rustle in the tamarisks beyond the open made him turn sharply, and
make his way towards the corner whence it proceeded. As he did so a
group of men defiled from the bushes, set down the burden they
carried, and, without looking round, began to dig a grave. The hour,
the absence of wailing, gave Philip a momentary thought that he might
be assisting at the concealment of some crime, but his knowledge of
the people reassured him. Yet as he approached, all the party--save a
very old man mumbling his beads--scurried into the jungle, and so he
judged it wiser to stop and give the orthodox salutation. The
patriarch rose in feeble haste. "Allah be praised! we thought you were
the ghost already. Come back; come back!" he cried in louder quavering
voice. "'Tis only a Presence, seeking sport, doubtless. Come back, and
get her under earth ere dawn, or 'twill be the worse for all."

Then, as one by one his companions crept back to their task, he
answered Philip's curious looks with waggling head. "Only a wanton
woman, _Huzoor_. Seven months ago meek as a dove, playing about the
village with maiden-plaited hair. But when the matrons unbound it for
the bridegroom, as in due course of duty, the wickedness came out. It
is so with some women; a fancy that hath not bit nor bridle; a
wantonness of mind when God made them to be mothers. And she would
have been one--ay, a happy one--for all her fancies, had she not wept
herself into a wasting and died with her unborn child. Cursed
creature, bringing evil on the whole village with her whims! Quick,
quick, my sons! Hide her before dawn, with the irons round her thumbs,
and the nails through her feet. Then will I sow the mustard-seed in
her path homewards, so that cock-crow will ever send her back to the
worms ere she hath done gathering. And all for a fancy when God made
women to be mothers! A wanton mind! A wanton mind!"

The broken, quavering voice went on accusingly as Philip turned away
sick at heart. Here was the other side of the shield; and which was
the truth?

He went home feeling he had gained very little from the wilderness.



                             CHAPTER XIX.


The night which had proved so restless to Philip Marsden had been for
Belle, strangely enough, one of profound repose. Never, since as a
child she fell asleep with the fresh cool caress of her pillow, had
she felt less inclination to be wakeful, less desire for thought. The
measureless content which comes so seldom, save in a pleasant dream,
held her, body and soul. To feel it was enough. Yet as she woke to the
sound of her husband's early return, she woke also to a full
consciousness of the change Philip's resurrection from the dead must
bring into their lives. A hasty remorse at her own brief happiness
made her slip on a morning-gown and go into her husband's office-room.
The wonder whether he knew, or whether the post which always went to
him direct while he was in camp in order to save time, had failed to
find him, made her cheek pale. She scarcely knew which would be worst;
to meet him crushed by the news, or to have to kill his easy content
with bitter tidings.

She found him already engaged with the tea and toast which the servant
had brought in on his arrival, and her heart sank; face to face with
it, anything seemed better than the task of telling.

"Hullo! Belle, little woman! is that you up so early? But it must
have been deuced startling for you to have Marsden walking in like
Lazarus--"

"Then you have heard?" she interrupted with quite a sigh of relief.

"Of course I've heard. One always does hear that sort of thing. But
the fool of a _peon_[5] took the letters to the village I'd just left,
so it was too late to send you word. And then I had to finish some
work. It's a queer go, isn't it? Poor old Marsden! Somehow it makes me
laugh."

Belle sat down helplessly in the low chair by her husband, feeling
utterly lost. Was she never to be able even to guess at his moods? She
had imagined that this would be the most bitter of blows, and he found
it provocative of laughter. "I'm so glad you take it that way, John,"
she began, "I was afraid--"

"Afraid of what? By the way, he is here, I suppose. You haven't sent
him elsewhere, or done anything foolish, I hope?"

"Why should I send him away? I don't understand--"

"Oh, nothing! Only,--you see, when you have got to keep on the right
side of a man it is as well not to be too particular. I suppose you
have been talking about the money. What did he say?"

A slow colour crept into Belle's face. "Not much,--at least,--I don't
think we talked about it at all. There were so many other things."

John Raby whistled a tune; then he smiled. "Upon my soul, you are
sometimes quite incomprehensible, Belle; but perhaps it is as well.
You might have put your foot in it somehow; and as it is absolutely
necessary that the legacy should remain in the business, we must be
careful. If we play our cards decently this ridiculous resurrection
won't make much difference. You see, Marsden is a gentleman. He
wouldn't ruin anybody, least of all a woman he-- Hullo! what's the
matter now?"

Her hand gripped his arm almost painfully. "Don't, John, don't! For
pity's sake, don't!"

"Phew! you needn't pinch me black and blue, my dear, for hinting at
the truth. You know what Marsden did to save you once. Why shouldn't
he do something to save you now? There is no use mincing matters when
one is in a corner like this. I mean to have the use of that money,
and if we play our cards fairly we shall get it. I mean to have it,
and you're bound to help; for, though I don't wish to reproach you,
Belle, you must see that you are mainly responsible for the position."

"I!"

"Yes, you. If it hadn't been for your squeamishness I should still
have been a civilian and able to go back on my tracks. Then again, but
for having to quarrel with Shunker for his impudence, I should only
have been at half-risks; he would have had to sink or swim with me,
and that would have ensured his advancing more capital. The fact is
that luck has been against me all through."

"What is it you want me to do?" she asked faintly. "How can I help?"

"Oh, if you ask in that tragedy-tone it's no use answering. I want you
to be sensible, that is all. There really is nothing to make a fuss
about. I'll ensure him a fair interest. And his coming back doesn't
alter our position; we have been living on his money for the last
year."

"But we thought he was dead--that it was ours. Oh, John, there is a
difference! Don't you see he is tied;--that he has no choice, as it
were?"

"If you mean that Marsden is a gentleman and sees that the predicament
is none of our making, then I agree."

She knelt down beside him, looking into his face with passionate
entreaty in hers. "John!" she said, "I can't make you understand, but
if you love me,--ever so little--don't, don't beg of--of this man.
Surely we have taken enough! You have some money of your own,--indeed
I would rather starve! It would kill me if you took advantage of,--of
his kindness." Then, seeing the hopelessness of rousing sympathy in
him, she buried her face against the arm of his chair with a sob of
pain.

"I'll tell you what I do know, Belle," he answered kindly enough. "It
was a confounded shame of Marsden to upset your nerves by popping up
like a Jack-in-the-box. You're not a bit strong yet. Go and lie down
till breakfast-time, and leave me to settle it. Why, you little goose,
you don't think I'm going down on my knees to beg of any man! I am
only, very wisely, going to take advantage of the natural strength of
the position. It isn't as if you had ever cared a button for him, you
know."

Something like a flash of lightning shot down from heaven on poor
Belle, shrivelling up all her strength. She crept away to her room,
and there, with flaming cheeks, paced up and down wondering why the
sky didn't fall on the house and kill every one; every one but Philip.
The memory of the night before had come back to fill her with shame
and doubt, and yet with a great certainty. When had she felt so happy,
so content? When had she talked to John, straight out from her very
heart, as she had talked to Philip? What must he have thought? That
she had been seeking to please him; as John called it, trying to play
her cards well? No! he would not think such things; and yet the
alternative was even less honourable to her. What had possessed her?
She, John's wife, who had tried,--who had always tried so hard to be
content! How had this inconceivable thing come about? Preposterous!
Absurd; it had not come about; it could not, should not, must not be.
Yet, after all, what was the use in denying it? Philip stood far above
John in her Pantheon. She had known that for months. But then it was
allowable to canonise the dead. Why had he come back? Above all, why
had he brought his saintship with him? So the circle of passionate
resentment at fate, and still more passionate contempt for herself,
went round and round, bringing no conclusion. She would have liked to
throw herself on her bed and cry her eyes out; but, trivial yet
insuperable barrier to this relief, it was too near breakfast-time for
tears, since no one must guess at her trouble.

So she appeared at the appointed time, and asked Philip if he had
slept well, and if he would take tea or coffee; and no one knew that
she was wondering half the time why the sky didn't fall down and crush
her for noticing that Philip saw she was pale, that Philip handed her
the butter, and Philip looked to her always for an opinion. What right
had he to do all this when her husband did not? Poor Belle; she had
dreamed dreams only to find herself, as she thought, in the most
despicable position in which a woman can possibly find herself. She
never paused to ask if the verdict of society in its more virtuous
moods was trustworthy, and that a woman who discovers some other man
to be nearer the sun than her husband, must necessarily call her
marriage a failure, and so forfeit some measure of her self-respect.
Her righteous ignorance simply made her feel, as she looked at the
well-laid table, that here were all the elements of a _mariage à
trois_; an idea hateful to her, and from which, according to what she
had been taught, the only escape was flight. Yet how could there be
flight if John would not give up the money? And then the thought that
the table laid for two last night had been ever so much more pleasant,
came to reduce her reasoning powers to pulp. She listened to the
story of poor Dick's will,--that will which had led to the present
puzzle,--feeling that the half-excuse it gave to John's avarice, was
but another rivet in the chain which bound her life to Philip's; for
with his kind face before her eyes, and his kind voice in her ears, it
was useless denying the tie between them. That was the worst of it;
she knew perfectly well that, as he sat there calmly talking to her
husband, silence was no protection to her feelings. He knew them, just
as she knew of a certainty what his were; not by any occult power, not
by any mysterious affinity, but by the clear-eyed reason which affirms
that, given certain conditions and certain ideals, the result is also
certain. And yet, while she acknowledged her confidence in him,
something, she knew not what, rebelled against his sympathy; it was an
interference, an offence.

"It is a pity you did not take the will," she said coldly. "It would
have saved us all a great deal of annoyance." The patience in his
reply made her still more angry. She positively preferred her
husband's frown, as he suggested with a very different tone in his
voice, that if Major Marsden had finished breakfast he should come and
talk over details in the office.

"But I should like your wife--" began Philip.

"John is much better at business than I am," interrupted Belle. "I
don't take much interest in that sort of thing, and,--I would rather
not, thank you."

So the two men whom fate had always placed in such strange antagonism
to each other sat amicably arranging the business, while Belle
wandered about from one occupation to another, angry with herself for
knowing which of the two had her interest most at heart.

"It's all settled, Belle!" cried her husband gaily, as they came in to
lunch. "Marsden's a trump! but we knew that before, didn't we? You'll
never regret it though, Philip, for it is twenty per cent, and no
mistake. I say, Belle! we must have a bottle of champagne to drink to
the new firm, Marsden, Raby, and Co."

He hurried off for the wine, leaving Belle and the Major alone.
Marsden, Raby, and Co.! Horrible, detestable! Nor was the position
bettered by Philip's remark that there was no other way out of it at
present. Dick's will might turn up, if, as was not unlikely, some one
had buried the poor lad; there was no doubt that some one had looked
after his effects in the shanties. At all events her husband had
arranged to pay back the money, by instalments, so soon as possible.
All this only made her reply stiffly, that she was sure John would do
his utmost to lessen the risk.

"I shall leave it in his hands, at any rate," said Philip, who despite
his pity and sympathy was human. "I shan't trouble you much with
interference. By the way, when does the train leave tonight? I shall
have to be going on my way."

"What's that?" cried John, returning with the champagne. "Going away?
Nonsense! You must see the new house, your new house for the time
being. And then there is the new dam; you must see that as member of
the firm, mustn't he, Belle?"

Her silence roused Philip's old temper. "Yes, I suppose I ought to see
it all. Afzul is leaving tonight, as he has business somewhere or
other, but I will stop till to-morrow. We might ride over in the
morning to the house, if you have a horse at my disposal?"

"They are all at your disposal," said Belle quickly. "Major Marsden
can ride Suleimân, John. I shall not want him."

They dined in the garden again that evening, but it was a different
affair, and the perception that it was so added to Belle's wild
rebellion at the position in which she found, or fancied she found,
herself. When they stood out under the stars again saying good-night,
Belle's hand lay in Philip's for an instant while John filled himself
a tumbler from the tray in the verandah. Somehow the tragedy of her
face proved too much for the humour of the man, who knew himself
guiltless of all save a great tenderness. "I am not going to bite my
poor Belle!" he said with a smile half of amusement, half of
annoyance. "You needn't call in the aid of the policeman, I assure
you."

She looked at him angrily, but as she turned away there were tears in
her eyes.

He sat on the edge of his bed once more, pondering over the events of
the day, but this time there was no doubt in his mind at all. He cared
more for Belle's peace than for anything else in the world. He would
go away for a while; but he would not give her up; he would prove to
her that there was no need for that.

To his surprise she was waiting in the verandah when he came out of
his room at daybreak next morning. She looked business-like and
self-reliant, as all women do in their riding-habits, and she was
fastening a rose at her collar.

"John's not quite ready," she remarked easily; "but he said we had
better go on and he would catch us up. I want to see about the garden.
The roses here are mine, and as some of them are quite pretty,--this
one for instance--won't you take it? you can't have seen many roses
lately--I intend moving them. By the bye, I've sent out breakfast, so
as your train doesn't leave till midnight we can have a jolly day."

Philip, fastening the rose in his buttonhole, wondered if the best
parlour with all the covers off was not worse than calls on the
policeman. Both seemed to him equally unnecessary, but then he had all
the advantage in position. He could show his friendship in an
unmistakable way, while poor Belle had only the far harder task of
receiving benefits.

"You don't remember Suleimân, my Arab at Faizapore?" she said as they
cantered off. "You are riding him now,--oh, don't apologise, the pony
does well enough for me; John gave me such a delightful surprise in
buying him back after we were married."

"Got him dirt cheap from a woman who was afraid to ride him," remarked
John coming up behind cheerfully; and Belle was divided between
vexation and pleasure at this depreciation of his own merits.

"I should think you rode pretty straight as a rule," said Philip,
looking at her full in the face. "Many women make the mistake of
jagging at a beast's mouth perpetually. If you can trust him, it's far
better to leave him alone; don't you think so?"

"John, race me to the next _kikar_ tree. It's our last chance, for we
shall be among the corn soon. Come!"

Major Marsden, overtaking them at regulation pace, owned that Belle
did ride very straight indeed. Perhaps she was right after all, and
the position was untenable. He felt a little disheartened and weary,
only his pride remained firm, telling him that he had a perfect right
to settle the point as he chose. Surely he might at least rectify his
own mistakes. The sun climbed up and up, and even in the cooler,
greener river-land beat down fiercely on the stubble where here and
there the oxen circled round on the threshing-floors and clouds of
chaff, glittering like gold in the light, showed the winnower was at
work. John was in his element, pointing out this field promised to
indigo, and that village where a vat was to be built.

"It is getting a little hot for Mrs. Raby to be out," remarked Philip,
though he was quite aware it would be an offence.

"By George, it is late! Look, Belle! there's the house beyond those
trees on the promontory. It is three miles round, but if you cut
across, so, by the sand, it's only one and a half. Marsden and I will
go the other way. I have to see a village first, and then we can look
at the new dam."

"It is over yonder, I suppose?" said Philip pointing to a likely bend
in the river bank.

"Just so."

"Then I will see Mrs. Raby across the cut, and join you there."

"But I can manage quite well by myself," protested Belle.

"I have no interest in villages, Mrs. Raby; and,--excuse me--before we
start your pony's girths require tightening." He slipped from his
horse and was at her side before she could reply.

"Then I'm off," cried John with a faint shrug of his shoulders. "I'll
meet you at the corner, Marsden, in twenty minutes."

"Steady, lad, steady!" murmured the Major with his head under the flap
of the saddle, as Suleimân figeted to join his stable-companion. Belle
standing, tapping her boot with her whip, moved forward. "Give me the
reins. I don't see why you should do everything."

Philip came up from the girths smiling, and began on the curb.

"What a fidget you are! I'm glad John isn't like that."

"Curbs and girths mean more than you suppose. There! now you can go
neck-and-crop at everything, and I won't say you nay. Steady, lad,
steady! One, two, three--are you all right?"

"Thank you, I think I have the proper number of hands and feet, and so
far as I know my head is on my shoulders," replied Belle tartly.

They dipped down a bit from the fields to a sluggish stream edging the
higher land, and then scampered across the muddy flats towards the
promontory which lay right at the other side of the bend.

"Pull up please!" cried Philip. "That strip looks _quick_."

"Nonsense! John comes this way every week; it's all right." Belle gave
her pony a cut, making it forge ahead; but it was no match for
Suleimân who, unaccustomed to the spur, bounded past her.

"Pull up, please; don't be foolish, pull up!" Philip shouted, hearing
the ominous cloop of his horse's feet. Another dig of the spur, a
leap, a flounder, and Suleimân was over the creek. Not so Belle's
pony; slower, heavier, it was hopelessly bogged in a second, and
floundering about, sank deeper and deeper.

"Throw yourself off!" cried Philip; "as far as you can,--arms flat!
So,--quite still, please. There is no danger. I can get at you easily,
and it is not deep." A minute after his hand closed on her wrist as
she lay sinking slowly despite her stillness; for the pony, relieved
of her weight, was plunging like a mad thing and churning up the sand
and water to slush. "I must get a purchase first; these sands hold
like birdlime;" he said after an ineffectual attempt. "Don't be
frightened if I let go for a moment." Then with one hand through
Suleimân's stirrup he knelt once more on the extreme edge of the firm
ground and got a grip of Belle again. "Now then,--all together!" More
all together than he desired, for Suleimân, alarmed at the strain,
backed violently, reared, and finally broke away, leaving Philip prone
on his back in the dirt. "I hope I didn't hurt you," he said,
struggling up, rather blindly, to aid Belle's final flounder to safe
ground.

"Not much," she replied with a nervous laugh as she shook the
curiously dry sand from her habit. "My wrist will be a bit black and
blue, that's all. Why, Philip, what's the matter? Philip!"

He had doubled up limply, horribly, as if he had been shot, and lay in
a heap at her feet.

"Philip! What is it?"

As she slipped her arm beneath him to raise his head, something warm
and wet trickled over it,--blood!

"The wound," he murmured. "My handkerchief,--anything,--I am sorry."
Then the pain died out of his face and his head felt heavy on her arm.

The wound! She sought for it by the aid of that ghastly trickle only
to find, when she tore the coverings away, that it was no trickle, but
an intermittent gushing. That must be stopped somehow,--her
handkerchief, his handkerchief, her own little white hands. It had all
passed so quickly that it seemed but a minute since he had cried "Pull
up," and there she was with his head on her knee, face downwards, and
the warm blood soaking over her. People make long stories afterwards
of such scenes; but as a matter of fact they derive all their horror
from their awful swiftness.

Belle, bareheaded in the sunlight, was full of one frantic desire to
see the face hidden away in her habit. Was he dead? Was that the
reason why the blood oozed slower and slower? She craned over his
close-cropped hair only to see the outline of his cheek. "Philip,
Philip!" she whispered in his ear; but there was no answer. Was it
five minutes, was it ten, was it an hour since she had sat there with
her hands?--? Ah, ghastly, ghastly! She could not look at them; and
yet for no temptation in the world would she have moved a finger, lest
he was not dead and she,--oh, blessed thought!--was staving death
aside.

A shout behind, and her husband tearing down at a mad gallop, alarmed
at the return of the riderless horse. "Good God! Belle! what has
happened?"

"Look, and tell me if he is dead," she said. "Quick! I want to
know,--I want to know!"

He was not dead, and yet the bleeding had stopped. Then they must get
him home; get him somewhere as best they could. A string bed was
brought from the nearest village, with relays of willing yet placid
bearers; Belle walked beside it, in Philip's helmet, for her own hat
had been lost in the quicksand, keeping her hand on the rough bandages
while John raced ahead to set the doors open. It was dreary crossing
the threshold of the new house, with the jostling, shuffling footsteps
of those who carry something that is death's or will be death's. But
there was a light in Belle's eyes, and even her husband, accustomed as
he was to her even nerves, wondered at her calm decision. Since they
must procure a doctor as quickly as possible, the best plan would be
for John to ride across country to a station where the afternoon mail
stopped. To return to Saudaghur and a mere hospital assistant would be
needless delay. She did not mind, she said, being left alone; and
meanwhile they must send for a supply of necessaries since it was
evident that Philip could not be moved, at any rate for a day or two.
So Belle sat in the big empty room, which by and by was to be hers,
and watched alone by the unconscious man, feeling that it was her turn
now. It was a vigil not to be forgotten. And once as she raised his
head on her arm in order to moisten his lips with the stimulant which
alone seemed to keep life in him, he stirred slightly, his eyes opened
for a second, and a faint murmur reached her ear, "No need for a
policeman."

A smile, pathetic in its absolute self-surrender, came to her face as
she stooped and kissed him with the passion of protection and
possession which a mother has for her helpless child; and that is a
love which casts out fear. As she crouched once more beside the coarse
pallet where he lay, for the room was destitute of all furniture save
the string woven bed, Belle Raby, for the first time in her life,
faced facts undistorted by her own ideals, and judged things as they
were, not as they ought to be. She loved this man; but what was that
love? Was it a thing to be spoken of with bated breath just because
the object happened to be a person whom, all things consenting, one
might have married? Her nature was healthy and unselfish; her
knowledge of the "devastating passion" which is said to devour
humanity was derived entirely from a pious but unreasoning belief in
what she was told. It is not the fashion nowadays to say so, but that
is really the position in which a vast majority of women find
themselves in regard to many social problems. And so, in that dreary,
shadowy room, with the man she loved dependent on her care for his
sole chance of life, Belle Raby asked herself wherein lay the sin or
shame of such a love as hers, and found no answer.

And yet, when her husband returned with the doctor, he brought back
with him also the old familiar sense that something, she knew not
what, was wrong. The old resentment, born of the old beliefs, at the
odious position in which she found herself. But now she tried to set
these thoughts aside as unworthy, unworthy of her own self, above all
unworthy of Philip.



                             CHAPTER XX.


Afzul Khân was sitting in Shunker Dâs's house at Faizapore with a
frown upon his face. He had come all the way in order to consult
Mahomed Lateef, the old Syyed, about a certain blue envelope which was
hidden away in his _posteen_, only to find that the old man had
retreated before his enemies to his last foothold of land, while the
usurer had enlarged his borders at the expense of the ruined old
chief's ruined house.

Now Mahomed Lateef was Afzul Khân's patron. In this way. The latter
was foster-brother to that dead son who had died gloriously in the
regiment, and who had been born at an outpost on the frontier. Indeed,
but for the old man, Afzul would never have put the yoke of service
round his neck. So his frown was not only on account of his useless
journey; much of it was anger at his old friend's misfortunes, and
those who had taken advantage of them. It angered him to see a blue
monkey painted on the wall in front of which the staunch Mohammedan
used to say his prayers; it angered him still more to see the rows of
cooking-pots where there used to be but one. Yet business was
business, and Shunker might be able to tell him what had become of the
Commissariat-Colonel _sahib's_ daughter; for Afzul had had the address
of the letter spelt out for him by a self-satisfied little schoolboy
at Kohât, and knew enough of poor Dick's family history to suppose
that Belle Stuart must be his cousin.

"Estuart _sahib's_ daughter," echoed Shunker, a sullen scowl settling
on his face; as it always did at the memory of his wrongs. "Why she
married that _shaitan_ Raby who lives at Saudaghur now, because he was
turned out of the service. _Wah!_ a fine pair, and a fine tale. She
had a lover, Marsden of a Sikh regiment, who paid for her with lakhs
on lakhs. Then, when he was killed, she took the money and married
Raby. Scum! and they talk about our women, bah!"

This was not all malice and uncharitableness on the usurer's part; for
it must be remembered that, if we know very little of Indian social
life, the natives know still less of ours; the result being, on both
sides, the explanation of strange phenomena by our own familiar
experience; and this is not, as a rule, a safe guide in conditions of
which we know nothing.

Afzul gave a guttural snort, startling but expressive. "She married
Raby! Truly it is said 'The journeyings of fools are best not made.'
And Marsden _sahib_--long life to him!--was her lover! _Inshallah!_
she might have found a worse."

"Before the worms got him," chuckled Shunker; "and then his money was
worth another fine man. That is woman's way, white or black."

"Raby _sahib's mem_," repeated Afzul meditatively. "There thou
speakest truth, O Shunker. He is with her now." The memory of those
two, standing together hand in hand, came to him and he nodded his
head approvingly, for the thought that Belle's allegiance might return
to its original object commended itself to his mind; his view of the
subject not being occidental.

"Who is with her now?" asked Shunker with a stare.

"Marsden _sahib_. Hast not heard he hath come back to life?"

The usurer's eyes almost started from his head. "Come back!" he
shrieked. "He is not dead! Oh holy Lukshmi! what offerings to thy
shrine! Why, the _shaitan_ will lose the money; he will have to give
up the business; and I--oh Gunesh-_ji!_ I am revenged, I am revenged!"
He lay back on his bed gasping, gurgling, choking with spiteful
laughter and real passionate delight.

The Pathan scowled. His knowledge of English law was limited, and he
objected to laughter at Marsden _sahib's_ expense. "If he gave it to
the _mem_ for what he got, as thou sayest, Shunker, Marsden _sahib_
will never ask it back. He will take the woman instead; that is but
fair."

"Thou dost not understand their crooked ways," gasped Shunker; "and
'tis waste of time to explain. So Marsden _sahib_ is alive again; that
is news indeed! _Hurri Gunga!_ I must go down to Saudaghur and
felicitate the _shaitan_ on his friend's return. He! he! on his
friend's return!"

Afzul felt the longing of the frontiersman to stick a knife in a fat
Hindu stomach, but he refrained. The blue envelope was going to be a
heavier responsibility than he had thought for, and till that was
settled he must not wander into by-ways. No matter how the pig-faced
idolater had lied in other things, it was true, about the _mem_ and
the Major, he had seen that with his own eyes. Had Dick _sahib_ been
her lover too? And what did both those brave ones see in such a poor,
thin creature? Truly the ways of the _sahib-logue_ were past finding
out. Nevertheless he would seek out the old Khân, and see what he
said. Shunker might be lying, all except that about the _mem-sahib_
and the Major; that was true.

It was well on to noon when Afzul, after many hours of varied
travelling by train, by canal, and finally on foot, found himself in
Mahomed Lateef's last few acres of land. Of a surety they were not
ones to be voluntarily chosen as a resting-place; bare of everything
save the sparse stalks of last year's millet crop, showing all too
clearly how scanty that crop had been; bare to the very walls of the
half-ruined tower which stood supported on one side by the mud hovel
occupied by the owner. A significant fact, that bareness, showing the
lack of flocks and herds, the lack of everything that was not wanted
for immediate use. And as he stood at the open door of the yard, it
also showed clean-swept and garnished, dire sign of the poverty which
allows nothing to go to waste. Yet it was not empty of all, for as the
Pathan knocked again, a child, bubbling over with laughter, ran from a
dark door into the sunlight.

"Nâna, Nâna! [grand-dad] catch, catch!" it cried, and its little legs,
unsteady though they were, kept their advantage on the long ones
behind, long but old; crippled too with rheumatism and want of food to
keep the stern old heart in fighting order; yet bubbling over with
laughter, also, was the stern old face. "Catch thee, gazelle of the
desert! fleetest son of Byramghor! Who could catch thee? Ah, God and
his Prophet! thou hast not hurt thyself, little heart of my heart!
What, no tears? Fâtma, Fâtma! the boy hath fallen and on my life he
hath not shed a tear. _Ai_, the bold heart! _ai_, the brave man!"

An old woman, bent almost double with age, crept from the door. She
kissed the child's feet as it sat throned in its grandfather's arms.
Her lips could reach no higher, but that was high enough for worship.
"He never cries! None of them cried, and he is like them all,"
she crooned. "Dost have a mind, Khân _sahib_, of Futteh Mahomed
falling?--the first, and I so frightened. There was a scratch a finger
long on his knee and--"

"Peace, Fâtma, and go back! There is a stranger at the door. Go back,
I say!"

It was a difficult task to draw the veil over those bent shoulders,
but the old woman's wrinkled hands did their best as she scurried away
obediently.

"_Salaam Alaikoom!_" said the Pathan. "The mother may return. It is I,
Afzul, brother of the breast."

"Afzul!" The old martinet's face grew dark. "The only Afzul I knew was
a runaway and a deserter. Art thou he?"

"Ay! Khân _sahib_," replied the man calmly. "I ran away because I had
sold my life to Marsden _sahib_, and I wanted to buy it back again. I
have done it, and I am free."

"Marsden _sahib!_ 'Tis long since I heard that name. Allah be with the
brave! Pity there was none to stand between him and death as on that
day when my son died."

"Thou liest, Khân _sahib_. I stood in my brother's place. Marsden
_sahib_ is not dead. I left him three days ago at Saudaghur."

"Not dead? This is a tale! A prisoner no doubt. _Inshallah!_ my blood
scents something worth words. Here, Fâtma, take the child; or, stay,
it's best he should hear too. Such things sink through the skin and
strengthen the heart. And bring food, woman, what thou hast, and no
excuses. A brave man stomachs all save insult."

So, with the child on his knee, the old soldier listened to Afzul
Khân's story, while in the dark room beyond the women positively shed
tears of shame over the poor appearance which the plain _bajra_,[6]
cakes, unsweetened, unbuttered, presented on the big brass platter.

"There is the boy's curdled milk," suggested his sad-faced mother. "He
will not mind for a day."

"Peace, unnatural!" scolded the grandmother. "The boy's milk,
forsooth! What next? Women nowadays have no heart. A strange man, and
the boy's milk forsooth!"

Haiyât _bibi_ blushed under her brown skin. Hers was a hard life with
her husband far over the black water, and this stern old man and woman
for gaolers. But the boy was hers; she hugged that knowledge to her
heart and it comforted her.

The evening drew in, the child dozed off to sleep, but not one jot or
tittle of adventure was to be passed over in silence. "_Inshallah!_
but thou didst well!" "God send the traitors to hell!" "Ay! Marsden
_sahib_ was ever the bravest of the brave!" These and many another
exclamation testified to the old campaigner's keen interest. But when
Afzul began tentatively to question him about the blue envelope, the
light died from the hollow eyes. Raby _sahib?_ Nay, he knew nought,
save that the people said it was the _mem-sahib's_ money he was
spending in this new talk of indigo and what not. He wished them no
ill, but Murghub Ahmad, far away in the Andamans, had saved the _mem_
from insult,--perhaps worse--and she had given evidence against him in
the trial. He wished no man ill, but if what the people said was true,
and Raby _sahib's_ new dam would prevent the river from doing its
duty, then it would be a different matter. Ay! the new factory was but
ten miles up the river, but no one lived there as yet.

Now the matter of the blue envelope became more and more oppressive to
Afzul Khân the more he thought of it. Easy enough to send it
anonymously to Raby _sahib's mem_, and so be quit of it once for all;
but what if she had taken the Major's money, as Shunker asserted, in
order to buy a new husband? And what if this paper of Eshmitt
_sahib's_ meant more loot? Afzul was, all unconsciously, jealous of
this white-faced _mem_, and but for a strange sort of loyalty to the
boy he had betrayed would have liked to put the letter in the fire,
shake himself loose of all ties, and return to his people.

"Nay! thou askest more than I have to give," replied Mahomed Lateef to
his questioning. "I know 'tis on paper they leave their moneys, for,
as I said, the Colonel _sahib_ once asked me--'twas in China, during
the war--to set my name as witness to something."

"Was it long-shaped, in a blue cover?" asked Afzul, eagerly.

"There was no cover, but it was long, like the summons from the
courts. Stay! if thy mind be really set on such knowledge there is a
friend of my poor Murghub's--one who pleads in the courts--even now
resting in his father's village but a space from here. He must know
more than thou canst want to hear."

So in the cool of the next morning Afzul walked through the barren
fields to see the pleader. A keen-faced sallow young man, seemingly
glad to escape for the time from patent-leather boots and such like
products of civilisation. The Pathan found him squatting over against
a _hookah_ and basking in the sunshine like the veriest villager. For
all that he was fulfilled with strange knowledge of law and order as
administered by the alien, and Afzul sat open-eyed while he discoursed
of legacies, and settlements, of the _feme covert_ and the Married
Women's Property Act, with a side glance at divorces and permanent
alimony--strange topics to be gravely discussed at the gateway of an
Indian village through which men were carried to their rest and women
to their bridal beds, with scant appeal to anything but custom. It
utterly confused Afzul, though it sent him away convinced that the
blue envelope must mean the loot of another lover to the _mem-sahib_.

"I will wait," he said to himself decisively; "yes, I will wait until
she is faithful and goes back to the Major; then, as that pleader
fellow says, he will get the money. But if _he_ leaves her and takes
his money instead, then I will send her the envelope. That is but
fair. God and his Prophet! but their ways are confusing. 'Tis better
to steal and fight as we do; it makes the women faithful."

That evening he spent half an hour with a needle and thread, borrowed
from old Fâtma, in sewing the blue envelope safely into his skin-coat.
Then he sat once more stirring the old Mohammedan's blood with tales
of fight and adventure till far on into the night. Yet the earliest
blink of dawn found him creeping away from the still sleeping
household, and his right arm bare of a massive gold bracelet he had
worn for years. That he had left lying on the baby's pillow; for was
not the child the son of his brother? Had not his father saved Marsden
_sahib_ also? Ah! that score was not paid off yet. He still seemed to
see the tall figure standing in the sunlight. Fool that he had been
not to fire, instead of giving himself away at a mere word! Even now,
though he knew that but for him Philip Marsden's bones would have been
churning in a dreary dance of death at the bottom of some boiling pool
in the Terwân torrent, he felt the bitterness of defeat. His very
admiration, growing as it did with the other's display of pluck, added
to his resentment. To take an order from a man when you had your
finger on the trigger of your rifle! It was all very well to save a
wounded comrade, to stand by him through thick and thin, but that did
not show him, or convince yourself, that you cared as little for his
menace as he had done for yours. Some day, yes, some day! he would
stand up before Marsden _sahib_ and defy him. Then he could cry quits,
and go home to his own people in peace.

Nevertheless, the news of his master's accident which met him on his
return to Saudaghur sent him without an instant's pause to the factory
where Philip still lay unconscious. And when he walked, at the dead of
night, into the big bare room where Belle sat watching, his face
softened at the sight of that dark head on the pillow. It softened
still more when something of the past--Heaven knows what--seemed to
come with him, rousing a low, quick voice from the bed. "Afzul, it is
cold; put on more fuel. Do you not feel the cold? Afzul, Afzul!" For
that something had carried Philip Marsden back to the smoky cave among
the snows, although the windows stood wide open to let in the tardy
coolness of the summer night.

The Pathan drew himself together and stood at attention. "_Huzoor!_"
he answered quietly. "It is done; the fire blazes."

Belle in the half-shadows thrown by the sheltered lamp stood up
looking kindly at the new-comer. "I'm glad you have come, Afzul," she
whispered; "he has been calling for you so often."

Behind his military salute the man smiled approvingly. She was of the
right sort, faithful to the old love. Marsden _sahib_ should marry her
and get the money, if that was the way they managed things over the
black water. And this solution of the question grew upon him as he
watched her unfailing devotion when, between them, they helped the
sick man through the dreary trouble which was all too familiar to the
Pathan. "It was so in the cave," he would say, as time dragged on
through days when the sick man lay still and silent, through nights
when the quick hurried words never seemed to leave his lips and it was
all they could do to keep on the bandages.

"It's the bullet in the shoulder blade that's troublin' him," said the
clever little Irish doctor, who rode forty miles every day between two
trains in order to see his patient and keep an eye on his hospital.
"Put three more days' strength into him, Mrs. Raby, and I'll bring
over another man and we'll have at it somehow. The wound has niver
haled, and niver will till it gets a fair chance."

Shortly after this Belle found herself pacing up and down the
verandah, scarcely daring to think of what was going on within. Would
he die? Was this really the end? Was it to be peace at last, and no
more struggle? And lo and behold! when the doctors let her into the
room again he was lying with a smile on his face, because the pain,
the ceaseless pain which had annihilated everything else in the world,
was gone.

"I've given you a lot of trouble," he said; and even as he spoke fell
asleep from sheer, blessed ease.

After that again came a time when even Afzul stood aside and let the
_mem_ take the lead while he sat watching her curiously--a time when
it positively seemed more to her that Philip should take so many
spoonfuls of nourishment every hour than that he should get better;
when the content of immediate success blotted out the thought of
future failure, and the fear of death was forgotten in the desire of
staving it off. Most people who have nursed a case in which even the
doctors stay their hands and wait on Nature, know that strange
dream-like life wherein the peaks and passes on the temperature chart
seem by contraries to raise or depress the whole world. Belle fought
the fight bravely; and not until she stood one day looking at a
thermometer which registered normal did she feel a sinking at her
heart. They had come down into the low levels of life; they were back
in the work-day world. Yet it was not the one they had left six weeks
before. Even outwardly it had changed. The last green blade of grass
had withered to a brown shadow on the sunbaked soil, and the
dust-storms of May swept over the half-finished house.

"It looks dreary enough now, but just you wait till next year," said
John Raby, in his cheerful confident way. "The new dam will be
finished, I hope, the water will come in at high level to the garden,
the place will be a paradise of flowers, and we shall be dividing
thirty per cent, profit! There's a prospect! Oh, by the way, did I
ever tell you that beast Shunker Dâs came down just after you did,
Marsden, expecting to find me on my back like a turned turtle? His
face, when he saw I was jolly as a sand-boy, was a caution! By George!
that man does hate me and no mistake."

Belle moved a step nearer her husband and laid her hand on the back of
his easy-chair. Perhaps it was only his good-nature in leaving her
free to nurse Philip, but somehow she felt they had drifted far apart
during the past six weeks. "I seem to have heard nothing," she began,
wistfully.

"Better employed on the head of the firm, my dear," he replied with a
laugh. "You do her credit, Marsden. And now I must be off again, for
there is some idiotic fuss at a village a few miles off. Shunker's
work, I expect; but we are too strong for him. Even the native
recognises the almighty dollar, and if they will only have patience,
I'll engage to treble the revenue of this district. Well, good-bye,
Belle. I'll be back to-morrow or next day. Soon as I can 'get,' as the
Americans say. Take care of yourselves."

When he had gone the punkah went on swinging, Belle's hands knitted
busily, Philip's lay idle in the languor of convalescence; all was as
before, and yet there was a difference--a difference of which each was
conscious, and which brought a certain restraint.

"Why does Shunker hate him?" asked Major Marsden.

There was no lack of confidence now between these two, and if he asked
many questions, she was quite ready to answer them faithfully,
according to her lights. In this one, however, she failed to give a
just impression, for the simple reason that she herself had no
conception of the extent of the usurer's malice. In fact, his impotent
rage on discovering that Philip's return had apparently made no
difference to the Rabys would have been incredible to an educated
Englishwoman, had she been aware of it, which she was not. The man,
coming down to Saudaghur expectant of consternation, had found nothing
but a stir of fresh enterprise which his keen business eye told him
meant money. He wandered about from village to village, noting the
golden seed being sown by his adversary, until the thought of the
harvest in which he would have no share positively worried him into
spleen and ague. And as he lay among the simple village folk a fresh
idea for revenge came to console him. It is never hard to change the
stolid opposition of the Indian peasant into stolid obstruction. No
overt injustice is required; nothing but a disregard of custom. And so
Shunker, taking advantage of the short period during which he had been
associated in partnership with John Raby, began cautiously to call in
debts in the name of the firm. Now in an Indian village a debt to the
ancestral usurer is a debt; that is to say no nighty ephemeral
liability which may crop up at any time claiming payment, but a good,
solid inheritance going back sometimes a generation or two; a patent
almost of solvency, a claim certainly for consideration at the hands
of your banker; since a bumper crop might any day give you the
upper-hand, or a bad one make it still more unwise for the creditor to
present his bill. Thus, when Shunker disregarded time-worn prejudices
to the extent of asking one Peru, an old-established customer, to make
a settlement, the latter looked as if the foundations of the round
world had been moved.

"Pay," he said slowly, his broad nostrils inflated like those of a
horse shying at novelty, "I am always paying, _buniak-ji_, year by
year, one harvest or another. God knows how much, but 'tis the old
way, and old ways are good."

"They are good," sighed the usurer, piously. "I like them myself,
Peru; but new masters have new ways."

"New masters do not make new land," retorted the peasant shrewdly
enough. "That remains the same. It must be sown; yet when I ask the
seed-grain, as my fathers have done, the answer is '_Pay!_' Pay! of
course I will pay when the crops ripen. Does not harvest mean payment
to the peasant?"

"Your crops won't ripen long on those fields, I'm afraid, my poor
Peru! The _sahib_ wants land, here, everywhere, for this new factory
of his. The men who will not pay will see what befalls. A little will
go this year, a little more next. If I were alone 'twould be a
different matter, for I was ever faithful to my friends."

Shunker's air of virtuous distress was admirable, but Peru laughed;
the rough peasant laugh full of broad toleration. "As vermin to the
Pathan, so are the grain-dealers to the farmer! We warm you, and you
feed on us till you grow troublesome, then--off goes the coat! One
_buniah_ is like another; why then dost change?"

"I change not, dunderhead!" cried Shunker enraged at a certain slow
superiority in the other. "'Tis Raby _sahib_ claims payment."

"Then tell Raby _sahib_ I will pay when the river comes. It will come
this year perhaps, if not, next year; if luck be bad, it may tarry
twain, not longer. It comes ever sooner or later; then, let us talk of
payment."

Shunker leaned forward, his evil face kindling with malice. "But what,
Peru, if the river never returns? What if Raby _sahib's_ new dam is
built to prevent the water coming, so that he may have a grip on the
land? What if the seed-grain thou sowest springs green, to die yellow,
year after year?"

Pera Ditta's ox-eyes opened helplessly. What if the river never
returned? The idea was too vast for him, and yet it remained with him
long after Shunker had gone to sow the same seed of mischief in other
minds. He did it deftly, taking care not to turn the screw too tightly
at first, lest he should bring down on himself the villagers' final
argument of the stick. The reason given by the Laird of Inverawe for
hanging the Laird of Inverie, "that he just didna like him," has been
given before now as fair cause for doing an unfortunate usurer to
death with quarterstaves. So Shunker did not disturb primeval calm too
rudely. Nevertheless as he paused for a night ere returning to
Faizapore, in the empty house at Saudaghur, where Kirpo had passed the
months of Râmu's captivity, he felt content with his labours. He had
started a stone of unpopularity on its travels, which by and by would
bring down an avalanche on his enemy.

As he lounged on the string bed, set for coolness on the flat roof, he
told himself, not without a measure of truth, that sooner or later all
his enemies perished. Ah, if it were only as easy to keep those you
loved in life, as it was to drive those you hated down to death! But
it was not; and the thought of frail, sickly Nuttu came, as it often
did, to take the savour even from revenge. The memory of deserted
Kirpo's sons,--those strapping youngsters whom he had often seen
playing on that very roof--made him groan and roll over on his fat
stomach to consider the possibility of marrying yet another wife. He
had married so many only to find disappointment! As his face came
back, disheartened, to the unsympathetic stars which fought against
him, he started as if he had been shot. For there was Kirpo herself
tall and menacing standing beside the bed. The veil wrapped tightly
round her body, left her disfigured death's-head face visible.

"Don't be more of a coward than need be," she said scornfully, as the
Lâlâ, after shooting up like a Jack-in-the-box, began to sidle away
from her, his dangling legs swinging wildly in his efforts to move his
fat form. "I've not come to beat the breath from thy carcase. 'Twill
die soon enough, never fear; and just now there is a son to perform
the obsequies. There won't be one by and by."

The indifference of her voice, and the aptness of her words to his own
thoughts, roused the Lâlâ's rage. "What dost want, hag of a noseless
one?" he shrieked, "she-devil! base-born!--"

"Not bad words, Lâlâ," she interrupted calmly. "I've had enough of
them. I want money. I'm starving; thou knowest it. What else could I
be?"

"Starving!" The word rolled sweeter than any honey under Shunker's
tongue. "Then starve away. So thou thoughtest to trick me--me! How
didst like the bangles, Kirpo dear? the brave bangles,--he,--he!"

To his surprise the allusion failed to touch her. Instead of breaking
into abuse she looked at him curiously, drew her veil so as to hide
all but her great dark eyes, and squatted down, as if for a chat, on
the ground opposite to him.

"Look here, Lâlâ!" she said. "This is no matter for ill words: 'tis
business. What is past, is past. I'm going to give thee a chance for
the future--a last chance! Dost hear? So I've come to say I am
starving. For six months I paid for my food in this very place; paid
for it in thy pleasure. Fair and square so far. But now, because of
that pleasure, Râmu is in jail again and I am noseless. Then Râmu's
people have taken his sons,--_hai! hai!_ his beautiful sons--from me
because of that pleasure. Is not that payment enough, Lâlâ? Shall I
starve also?"

"Why not?" chuckled Shunker, "I have no need of thee any more."

Kirpo leaned forward with hand raised in warning, her fierce eyes on
his face. "Have a care, Lâlâ! Have a care! It is the last chance. Thou
dost not want me; good. I asked for naught to be taken; I asked for
something to be given."

"Not a _paisa_, not a _pai!_" broke in the usurer brutally. "I'm glad
of thy starvation; I'm glad they've taken away thy sons."

"Stop, Lâlâ!" shrieked Kirpo, her calm gone, her voice ringing with
passion. "I did not say _my_ sons! I said Râmu's! Look, Shunker, look!
I have another,--" as she spoke, she tore her veil aside--"in my arms,
Lâlâ! Is he not fair and strong for a two months' babe? Would you not
like to have him? No, no, hands off, no touching! He is mine, I say,
mine, mine!" She sprang to her feet holding the baby high above his
head exultantly. He sat staring at it, and trembled like a leaf.

"Kirpo!" he gasped, "give it to me; by all the Gods in Heaven, I will
pay--"

A peal of mocking laughter greeted the words. "Bah! Now I have roused
thee. 'Tis all a lie, Shunker, all a lie! Only a trick of starving
Kirpo's! And yet, somehow he favours thee as thou mightest have been
before the grease came to spoil beauty. For all that not like Nuttu,
the sickly one. Nuttu will die, this one will live. Wilt thou not,
heart's darling and delight?" She covered the babe with a storm of
passionate kisses.

"Kirpo! by all the torments of hell--" urged Shunker.

"What! art there already? Not so fast, Lâlâ! not so fast. Wait till I
bring this babe to curse thy pyre, to spit on thy ashes,--thy son--thy
son!"

"It is a lie!" burst in the wretched man, beside himself with doubt,
certainty, and desire. "He is not mine."

"Well said, Shunker, well said!" laughed Kirpo triumphantly, growing
calmer with her evident success. "He is not thine, he is mine." She
folded her veil round the sleeping child with a flourish, as if to
emphasise her words, and stepped backwards. As she stood there sombre,
malignant, the winged thoughts flew through Shunker's brain. There is,
strictly speaking, no possible divorce, no remarriage for the Hindu;
but if Râmu could be got out of the way, he, Shunker Dâs, might pose
as a social reformer. It was a fine idea. Or he might,--a thousand
suggestions found expression in the covetous hands he stretched
towards his victim. "Kirpo, listen!"

"I will not listen. I gave the chance for the child's sake. Now--"

"Kirpo! take what thou likest--"

"I _will_ take what I like, Lâlâ. That is revenge!" Before he could
say another word she had turned her back on him, and ere he could rise
to stop her was down the narrow stair and out into the street with her
precious burden.

So Lâlâ Shunker Dâs lay down and cried, because not one of the women
his wealth had bought could bear him a son save this Kirpo whom he had
betrayed. Fool that he was not to have seen she must have some deep
move on hand ere she came to beg of him! Revenge! He had dreamt of
that himself; but what was his poor spite to this devilish malice? He
tried to remember that want was a hard master; that Kirpo's own people
came from beyond the fourth[7] river and were therefore useless to her
as a refuge; that it was woman's way to bark more than bite. In his
heart of hearts he knew that she had said truly when she offered him
his last chance. And, as a matter of fact, while he sat trying to
recover confidence on the edge of his bed, Kirpo and the baby, with
many a swing of the full skirts as she strode along, were making their
way direct to the enemy's camp; in other words to John Raby's new
factory. The _sahib_ had interfered on her behalf once, and he hated
Shunker. He could give her coolie's work on the new dam, and in return
she could give him valuable information as to the usurer's little
game. The Lâlâ, had had his chance, partly for the sake of comfort,
partly for the sake of the child. Now she would devote herself to
revenge and gain a living at the same time.

Of all this, however, Belle was profoundly ignorant; nor did Kirpo say
more to her new master than was necessary to show a sound, conceivable
reason for her professions of attachment to his cause. John Raby
laughed when he heard of his enemy's vows of vengeance; but he was
wise enough to see the prospect of unpopularity with his poorer
neighbours, and the advisability of being prepared for opposition.

"I hope you don't mind, Marsden," he said a day or two before the
Major left, "but I've been treating with that truculent rascal of
yours, Afzul. He's coming back to India, he says, next cold weather,
on business or something. I've asked him to bring me a gang of navvies
and do overseer himself till next rainy season. Those hill-men work
like Englishmen, and the new dam will require constant care until it
solidifies; besides, I believe in mercenaries; a bandit is always
handy."

"And Afzul consented?" asked Philip in surprise.

"Jumped at it. There is no one like the noble savage for turning an
honest penny when he can, and I own to tempting him pretty stiffly. We
may want that sort of fellow by and by to keep things going."

"I am surprised at Afzul for all that," continued Philip,
thoughtfully. "I wonder what he means?"

"Devotion to you," laughed the other; "you should have heard him. And
you too, Belle! He laid the butter on thick about your capabilities as
a nurse."

She looked up quickly. "I suppose it's ungrateful, but I don't like
that man. He always seems to have something in his mind that I can't
get hold of."

"He is very intelligent," replied her husband with a shrug of his
shoulders; "and took quite an interest in the business, I assure you;
he asked a lot of questions. And, to tell the truth, I think a
thoroughly devoted rascal is the most useful thing in creation; so I
hope he is one."

Philip laughed. "Shall I leave my interests in his hands, Belle, or in
yours?"

"Leave them to me, my dear fellow," interrupted John. "Belle doesn't
understand business."



                             CHAPTER XXI.


Perhaps her husband was right in saying Belle did not understand
business. At any rate she had little to do with it in the uneventful
months which followed. It was a dry, hot year bringing no respite of
rain to the long weary hours. It brought plenty of work, however, to
John Raby, who was up with the dawn, and never seemed to tire or flag
in his unceasing pursuit of success. In good sooth, as Belle confessed
to herself, Philip could have found no better custodian for his money;
and this knowledge was a great consolation,--how great she scarcely
realised until something came to disturb it.

She was writing to Philip Marsden one day when John entered the room.
She rose hastily, even though she felt vexed with herself for doing
so. Why should she not write? As a matter of fact she spent a
considerable portion of her time over these letters. Sometimes she
would resolutely put pen and paper away, and set to work to sew every
possible button on John's under-garments, or perform some other
virtuous domestic duty, only to find when all was done that leisure
still stared her in the face. For the leisure of a long hot-weather
day in an outstation may be compared to that of a solitary cell. Their
nearest neighbours were twenty miles away, and Belle's experiment of
having her youngest and most good-natured step-sister on a visit had
ended in disastrous failure. The girl had cried for three days
consecutively out of sheer low spirits. It was all very well, she said
plaintively, when one was married and got something by it; but what
was the use of being miserable before there was any necessity for it,
and when one couldn't even scold the servants to amuse one's self? By
and by, when Charlie Allsop got his step, she would no doubt have to
put up with jungle life for a time; but now her dearest Belle must
excuse her. Maud had written _such_ a description of the dress she was
going to wear at the Masonic ball; and really, now that Mabel was
married to her widower, and Charlie's schooling paid for by John, they
got on splendidly in the little house. Why shouldn't Belle go back to
Missouri with her, and take rooms at Scott's Hotel? They would have
such fun! But, though her husband gave her full leave to do as she
liked, Belle shook her head over this tempting offer. She felt that
she could not afford to neglect the tithes of mint and cummin, the
jots and tittles of the law; she must at any rate make offering of
what she had to give. So she stayed at home, and blushed violently
when she rose from her desk.

"Writing to Marsden?" said John carelessly. "I thought you might be,
and I wanted you just to give him a hint or two about the business. It
would come naturally from you and save surprise. The fact is, there
has been a lot of unforeseen expense; then the firm in Calcutta to
which I sent my first batch of stuff has failed. Altogether I sha'n't
be able to spare any interest on the money this year."

"No interest?" Belle could only echo his words stupidly, for the very
idea of such a contingency had never entered her head, and the fact
seemed to bring back all the old sickening dislike to the situation.

"Well!" He looked at her with the expression of distasteful patience
which always came to his face when awaiting a remonstrance. But none
followed. She was so absorbed in the fresh shame, to her, of this
failure, that she could think of nothing else.

"Of course it is a pity," he went on, somewhat mollified by her
silence, "but Marsden isn't a fool. He knows one has generally to wait
for a return; indeed I consider it lucky we have not to borrow. I wish
you wouldn't look so tragic over it, Belle. We are not ruined; far
from it. Only for the present we have to live on our capital."

Belle's face brightened. "Could we not pay the interest out of
capital, too, John?"

Her husband burst out laughing as he threw himself into an easy chair.
"Upon my soul, for utter incapacity to understand even the morals of
business, commend me to a really good woman! Interest out of capital!
We are not a swindling company, Belle!"

"We might pay it out of your own savings, John," she urged, knowing
how hopeless it would be to argue.

"Transference from one budget-head to another, and consequent cooking
of accounts! No, my dear; I left that system of book-keeping behind me
when I quitted Government service. Marsden must go without his
interest for the present; he has very good pay, and the loss is quite
temporary. In any circumstances the returns would have been
unfavourable for this year, owing to the drought. Why, even with the
aid of the dam I have scarcely had enough water for a quarter of the
acreage I intend to have next season."

His voice tailed off into indifference as his attention became
concentrated in a paper he had taken up, and there was an end of the
matter so far as he was concerned.

Pens, ink and paper had lost their attraction for Belle that day, and
for many days after; indeed, it was not until the knowledge that her
long silence would cause anxiety, that she faced the task of finishing
her letter to Major Marsden. The very certainty that he would care
little for the absence of the promised dividend, and be quite ready to
accept her husband's views on the matter, made it seem all the more
hard for her; and though she determined to leave the proper person to
tell the unwelcome news, she found herself hampered on all sides by
her own knowledge. Even remarks on the dryness of the weather savoured
of an attempt at excuse, and for the first time she felt glad to write
her signature at the bottom of the page. When it was done she leant
her head over her crossed arms in a sudden rush of weariness, and
thought how different it would have been if she could have met Philip
on equal terms; if they could have told each other the truth in all
things. Theoretically it was all very well to say that the money had
nothing to do with the position, but practically she could not get rid
of the conviction that she and John were preying on a man's sense of
honour, or, worse, on his affections. It was no use telling herself
she was despicable in having such thoughts; that, setting love aside,
friendship itself excluded the question of give or take. As a matter
of fact Philip did give her all he had, and he took,--what did he not
take? She cowered before that, the worst question of all. She could
not escape from the haunting sense of wrong which seemed to sap the
strength of her self-respect; and back through all her heart-burnings
came the one foolish fancy that if she could only have met Philip with
the money, or even a decent five per cent, interest on it, in her
hand, she could have looked into his face with clear unshadowed eyes.
And now! How was she to meet him when there was not even a dividend?

Philip meanwhile was undergoing no qualms; on the contrary, he was
having a very good time. To begin with he was in command of the
regiment and drawing, as John Raby said, excellent pay. Furthermore he
was enjoying, as was inevitable, the return to health and life after
eighteen months of death to all pleasure. Lastly, his conscience was
absolutely at rest in regard to Belle. He would have been more, or
less, than human had he not been aware that he had behaved as well as
a man could, in very trying circumstances. In fact he was a little
complacent over what had been, so far, a very simple and easy solution
of a problem which other people held to be insoluble. He sent Belle
the last new books, and wrote her kind brotherly letters, and thought
of her as the best friend he had, and always with the same underlying
consciousness of pure virtue. He forgot, however, that poor Belle
stood in a very different position; one in which calm peace was
well-nigh impossible. So as her letters became less frequent and less
frank, he began to puzzle somewhat captiously over the cause. Finally
he hinted at an explanation, and receiving nothing but jesting
replies, he took ten days' leave and went down to Saudaghur,
ostensibly to settle the half yearly accounts; for both John and he
found a sort of solemn refuge from the truth in the observance, so far
as was possible, of strict business relations.

It gave him quite a shock to find how much change his few months'
absence had wrought. The bare deserted house where Belle had nursed
him back to life, and where he and she had spent so many days
forgetful of the work-a-day world, content in a kindly constant
companionship, was now a luxurious house hedged about by
conventionalities. The drawing-room, where his sofa had reigned
supreme, was full of _bric-à-brac_ tables and heaven knows what
obstacles, through which a man had to thread his way like a performing
ape. Belle herself, despite her kind face and soft voice, was no
longer the caretaker full of sympathy. She was his hostess, his
friend, but also another man's wife; a fact of which she took care to
remind him by saying she was glad he had come in time to celebrate the
anniversary of her wedding-day on the morrow. Despite his theories
Philip did not like the change. It vexed him, too, that she should
look pale and worried when he had really done all, all that an honest
man could do, to smooth her path. Had he not even kept away for five
whole months? So he was decidedly out of humour when, coming from a
long spell of business with John in the office, he found her alone for
the first time. She was standing by the fireplace in the drawing-room,
and he made his way towards her intent on words. But she forestalled
him. "Well! he has told you about it, I suppose,--that there is no
dividend?" she said defiantly; and as she spoke she crushed the
withered roses she had been removing from a vase and flung them on to
the smouldering embers.

He looked at her in surprise. "I scarcely expected one. Oh, Belle!" he
continued hotly, "is it that? Did you think, could you think I would
care?"

She gave a little hard laugh. "How stupid you are! Of course you don't
mind. Can't you see it is that,--which hurts? Can't you understand it
is that,--your kindness,--which must hurt,--always?"

The dead leaves had caught fire and flamed up, throwing a glare of
light on both their faces. It seemed to light up their hearts also.
Perhaps she had not meant to say so much; yet now that she had said it
she stood gracefully upright, looking him in the eyes, reckless, ready
for anything. The sight of her brought home to Philip what he had
forgotten before; that in this problem of his he had not to do with
one factor but with two, and one of them a woman. Not a passionate one
it is true, but a woman to whom sentiment and emotion were more than
reason; a woman whose very innocence left her confused and helpless,
uncertain of her own foothold, and unable to draw the hard-and-fast
line between good and evil without which she felt lost in a wilderness
of wrong. The recognition startled him, but at the same time aroused
his combativeness.

"I confess I don't see why it should," he said rather coldly. "Surely
I have a perfect right to set,--other things before money, and it is
wrong--"

"Shall I give you a copy-book so that you may write the sentiment down
for future reference, Philip?" she interrupted swiftly. "Copy-book
maxims about right and wrong are so useful when one has lost the way,
aren't they? For myself I am tired of them,--dead tired,--dead tired
of everything." And once again with a gesture of utter weariness she
leant against the mantelpiece, her head upon her crossed arms.

His hands clenched as if to hold something tighter; something that
seemed slipping from him. "I am sorry," he said huskily. "Is it my
fault?"

She flamed round upon him. "Yea! it is your fault! All your fault! Why
did you ever leave me that money?"

The truth, and the unfairness of her words, bit deep. "It was 'Why did
you come back to take it away?' when we first met," he retorted in
rising anger. "I told you then I had a right to live if _I_ chose. I
tell you now I will take the money back if _you_ choose. I will do it
to-day if you like. It is only lent, I can give notice."

"What difference will it make now?" she went on recklessly. "Will it
undo the mischief? Your legacy did it all. It made John--" She broke
off suddenly, a look of terror came to her eyes, and she turned away.

"Well! I am waiting to hear. It made John--?"

"Nothing," she said in a low voice. "What is the good? It is all
past."

"But I have a right to know; I will know. Belle, what wrong did my
legacy do you? What wrong of which I know nothing? Let me see your
face--I must see it--" He bent over her, almost rough in his
impatience at the fine filmy threads of overwrought feeling which,
seeming so petty to a man, yet have the knack of tying him hand and
foot. What did she mean? Though they had never talked of such things,
the fact that her legacy had decided John's choice could be no
novelty, even to her. A woman who had money must always know it would
enhance her other charms. Then suddenly a hitherto unappreciated fact
recurred to him--if this was her wedding-day, she must have been
married very soon--the memory of a marble summer-house in a peach
garden, with his will on the table and John standing by, flashed upon
him, making the passionate blood leap up in resentment. "Belle!" he
cried imperiously, "did he--did you know? Have you known--?" He
paused, his anger yielding to pain. Had she known this incredible
baseness all these weary months, those months during which he had been
priding himself on his own forbearance? And she had said nothing! Yet
she was right; for if once this thing were made clear between them
what barrier would remain? Why should they guard the honour of a man
who had himself betrayed it? In the silence which ensued it was lucky
for them both that the room was full of memories of her kind touch,
soothing his restless pain; so the desire to give something back in
kind came uppermost.

"Is there nothing I can do?" he said at last, moving aside and
standing square and steady. "Nothing I can say or do to make it easier
for you?"

"If you could forget--"

He shook his head. "I will go away if you like, though I don't see why
I should."

"Then it would only be giving up one thing more to please me," she
answered with a little sad smile. "Why should you give up anything,
when I can give--nothing! Ah, Philip, Philip! If you had only taken
poor Dick's will and were free to go,--if you chose."

He frowned moodily. "I should not choose, so it would make no
difference; except that you think there would be one. I cannot see it.
As for the will, I'm afraid it is hopeless; but if you like I can take
leave and try. Afzul might come with me."

"If I like!" she echoed in despair. "If I like! It always comes back
to that."

The slow tears overflowing her tired eyes cut him to the quick, though
in sober truth he thought them needless. "It must,--seeing that I love
you. Why should you shrink from the truth, Belle? Great Heavens! what
have you or I done that we should be ashamed of ourselves?"

"Don't let's speak of it, Philip," she cried in a sort of terror. "It
is all my fault, I know; but I cannot help it. It is no use saying I
am wrong; everything is wrong from beginning to end."

And though he fretted and fumed, argued and appealed, nothing he could
say sufficed to re-assure her. Rightly or wrongly she could not view
the situation as he viewed it. She was galled and chafed on every
side; nor could he fail to see during the next four days that his
presence only brought her additional misery. She seemed unable to take
anything naturally, and she shrank equally from seeming to avoid being
alone with him, or from being alone. Yet, with true womanly
inconsequence, she shrank most of all when he told her that he had
made up his mind to go, and not to return until she sent for him. They
were walking up and down the new dam, which curved across a bend in
the sandy reach, waiting for her husband who with Afzul and his gang
of bandits was busy seeing to a strengthening of the side nearest the
river. A red sun was setting over the jagged purple shadow of the
Suleiman Hills, and flaring on the still pools of water below the
embankment.

"I am driving you away," she said despondently. "You cannot even look
after your own business because of me."

Then his patience gave way. "Damn the business!" he cried heartily,
and walked along beside her kicking the little clods from his path
before turning to her apologetically. "I beg your pardon, Belle, but
it is a little trying. Let us hope the business will be successfully
dammed, and then, according to John, I shall get my money back in two
years. So cheer up; freedom is beneath your feet!"

Just below them, measuring up earthwork, stood John Raby and Afzul
Khân. As they passed the latter looked up, _salaaming_ with broad
grins. "I wonder if he will take her away soon," was his thought. "I
wish he would; then I could get rid of the paper and be off home by
summer with Raby _sahib's_ rupees in my pocket. What is he waiting
for? She likes him, and Raby _sahib_ would be quite content with the
money."

John looked up too, and nodded. "Don't wait for me, good people. I
have to go over to the further end. You needn't keep tea for me,
Belle, I prefer a whiskey-peg. Ta, ta!"

And as they moved off, their figures showing dark against the red sky,
he looked after them, saying to himself that the Major could not
complain. One way and another he got his money's worth.

"Your husband works too hard, Belle," said Philip. "You should
persuade him to take it easier."

"He is so anxious to make it a success," she replied quickly.

"So are we all," retorted Philip cynically. "We ought to manage it
between us, somehow."

As they passed the coolies' huts a big strapping woman with her face
hidden in her veil came out and _salaamed_.

"Who is that?" asked Philip at once. The last few days had brought him
a curious dissatisfaction with Belle's surroundings. Despite the
luxurious home she seemed out of keeping with Afzul and his bandits,
the tag-rag and bobtail of squalid coolies swarming about the place,
and the stolid indifference of the peasants beyond the factory.

"A _protégée_ of John's. He got her out of trouble somewhere. He says
he has the biggest lot of miscreants on the frontier on his works.
They don't look much, I must allow; but this woman seems to like me.
She has such a jolly baby. I had to doctor it last week. How's Nuttu
to-day, Kirpo?"

The woman, grinning, opened her veil and displayed a sleeping child.

"Isn't he pretty, Philip?" said Belle softly. "And see, they have
pierced his nose and ears like a girl's."

"For luck, I suppose. May God spare him to manhood," prefaced Philip
piously, in native fashion before he asked the mother if it were not
so.

She shook her head. "No, Protector of the poor! All my boys are
healthy. He is called Nuttu, so that as he thrives some one else of
the same name may dwindle and pine. That is why." She hugged the baby
to her with an odd smile.

"She could not have meant that there was really another child whose
death she desired," said Belle as they went on.

"I would not answer for it if I were you. They are a queer people. By
Jove! How that woman does hate some one; I'm glad it isn't you,
Belle!"

And Kirpo looking after them was saying in her turn that they were
very queer people. If he was her lover why did the _mem_ look so
unhappy? The _sahib logue_ did not cut off their wives' noses, or put
them in prison; so what did it matter?

Truly those two were compassed about by a strange cloud of witnesses
as they strolled homewards. Perhaps the civilised world would have
judged them as harshly. But no tribunal, human or divine, could have
judged Belle more harshly than she did herself; and herein lay all the
trouble. She could not accept facts and make the best of them.

John Raby coming in later found the two reading solemnly, one on
either side of the fire, and told them they were horribly unsociable.
"I couldn't get away before," he said. "Afzul wanted a day's leave and
I had to measure up before he started."

"Has he gone already? I'm sorry," remarked Philip. "I wished to see
him before I leave tomorrow."

"To-morrow!" John Raby looked from one to another. "Have you been
quarrelling?"

And poor Belle, with the necessity for derisive denial before her,
felt more than ever that she was on the broad path leading to
destruction.

"I am sorry I have to go," said Philip with perfect truth; "but I
really am of no use here."



                            CHAPTER XXII.


Could Philip Marsden have seen into Mahomed Lateef's old tower about
the time he was leaving Nilgunj his regrets might have had a still
more truthful ring, and Belle might have been saved from once more
adding to the difficulties of her own lot, and, as it were, making a
stumbling-block of her own good intentions. For in that case, Major
Marsden would have stopped another day in order to see his old friend,
and in the course of conversation would have heard things which might
have changed the current of subsequent events; but Fate decreed
otherwise.

More than once, seeing the daily increasing poverty of his patron,
Afzul Khân had suggested an appeal to the Major, as one sure to do
something for the father of the man who had stood between him and
death; but the stubborn old malcontent had lumped the whole Western
creation in his category of ingrates. "The past is past," he would say
angrily. "I will not even ask justice from one of them. And, according
to thy tales, Marsden _sahib_ has taken to trade and leagued himself
with Raby, who is no better than a _buniah_,--no better than Shunker
Bahâdur, whom God smite to hell! Hast heard what they are doing down
yonder? Pera Ditta was here last week, saying his land was to be sold
because he could not pay. And how could he pay when water never came?
And how could water come when strangers enter and build dams without
let or hindrance?"

Afzul frowned. "True, father, and 'tis about that dam I would have you
speak. Not, look you, that it did harm this year. 'Twas God's fault,
not Raby's, that the river failed, though folk will not have it so.
And next year, even, the dam will do good, not harm, if a sluice be
put in it such as they have north in the big canals. Look you, Raby is
no fool. Before Allah! he is wise; and he offered to put one, so that
the water would run every year right away to the south, if the people
would promise him to grow indigo, and dig part of the channel. But
Shunker, or God knows who, hath stuffed their ears, and they will not
listen. So Raby means the pig-headed fools shall learn reason. I blame
him not, but that is no cause why you should starve; and starve you
must if the river does not come.

"I will starve sooner than beg."

"And the child?"

That was an argument which invariably brought the discussion to a
close in vehement objections to interference, and loud-voiced
assertions of independence. Nevertheless, Afzul returned to the charge
again and again, moved to insistence by a personal desire to be free
from the necessity of eking out the expenses of the household. He gave
cheerfully enough to the women, on the sly lest the old martinet
should wring his neck for the impertinence; but for all that he wanted
to be free to go his own ways when summer came. If the sluice were
made and a constant supply of water insured, the old man and the women
would at least escape starvation. John Raby, who had found the Pathan
singularly intelligent and with some knowledge of levelling (learnt
from poor Dick), had so far given him confidence that he knew what
ought to be done; but he was not well enough up in the whole matter to
understand that his master had considerable excuse for refusing to do
it. As a matter of fact the dam had been constructed with great care
so as to avoid cutting off the water supply from the neighbouring
villages, where the floods came with fair regularity. John Raby had
even spent money in improving their chances, on certain conditions
about indigo, which he well knew would eventually be of enormous
benefit to the people themselves. In regard to those further afield he
had made a very fair proposal, which, mainly owing to Shunker's
machinations, they had rejected; briefly, he had offered a constant
supply of water at the price of a little labour and a few reasonable
concessions. When they refused his terms, he smiled and went on
building his dam. Up to a certain flood-point he knew it would be an
obstruction; beyond that, the river would still find its way. He only
enlarged the cycle of floodless years; but on this fact he counted for
eventual submission. As for the owners of the few small holdings
between the dam and the basin of alluvial soil tilled by these
pig-headed Hindus, he was sorry for them; but as it was quite
impossible for him to ensure a water-supply without giving it beyond,
their best plan would be to exert their influence towards a reasonable
solution of the difficulty. In a matter like this he was not a man to
swerve a hair's breadth from his own plan for the sake of anybody. He
conceived that he had a perfect right to do as he chose, and if others
disputed his action they could go to law about it; only, long before
the vexed question of the frequency of flood in past years could be
decided one way or the other, he felt certain that the sight of the
surrounding prosperity would have overcome all opposition.

Afzul Khân, however, only half in the secret, believed that the
sluice-gate might be made by an appeal to Major Marsden; and, when the
latter came to the factory, took a day's leave on purpose to rouse the
old Khân to action, it being quite hopeless to expect him to ask a
favour of John Raby, of whom he never spoke save with a gibe. Perhaps
the thought of seeing a familiar face influenced the old man, for when
the argument reached its usual climax of, "And the child, Khân
_sahib_, what of the child?" he gave a fierce sigh, and pressing the
boy, who was sitting on his knee, closer to his heart, muttered
impatiently, "What is the pride of a man before the hunger of a child?
I will go; so hold thy devil of a tongue, and let us have peace!"

Afterwards, however, when Afzul with solemn satisfaction at his
victory was polishing up the old warrior's sword, Mahomed Lateef
became restive again. "I know not that I will go. He owes me somewhat,
'tis true, and in past time I thought him just; but I like not this
talk of trade; 'tis not a soldier's task."

The Pathan leaning over the shining blade breathed on it to test its
lustre. "_Wah!_ Khân _sahib_, all's fair in love and war. Men do much
for the sake of a woman without tarnishing their honour longer than my
breath lingers on good steel. Marsden _sahib_ did it for love of the
_mem_, look you."

The old man scowled. "I like not that either. Let him choose the one
or the other, and use his sword to keep his choice."

Afzul smiled cunningly. "Wait a while, Khân _sahib_, wait a while; the
fowler must have time to lure his bird, and some women have cold
hearts."

"She hath a heart of ice! Yea! I will go, Afzul, and I will tell him
of Murghub Ahmad and how she bore false witness."

"Not so! Thou wilt ask for water, and get thy revenge safe in thy
pocket; it lies heavy on an empty stomach."

So they borrowed a pink-nosed pony from the pleader's father in the
next village, and with his little grandson, arrayed in huge turban and
tarnished tinsel coatee, disposed in front of the high-peaked saddle,
Khân Mahomed Lateef Khân set off to see the Major and plead the
child's cause. A picturesque group they made, as they passed along the
sandy ways and treeless stretches of hard sun-baked soil; Afzul
leading the pony, the boy laughing and clapping his hands at the
novelty, the old soldier's white beard showing whiter than ever
against the child's dark curls, Fâtma and Haiyât standing outside,
recklessly unveiled, to shriek parting blessings and injunctions. And
lo! after all these preparations, after all this screwing up of
courage and letting down of pride, the Major had gone! Afzul could
scarcely believe his ears. Gone! and he had been reckoning on giving
certain hints about Dick's will which might have served to bring
matters to a crisis. He returned to the hut where he had left the Khân
and his grandson while he went to arrange for an interview, and tried
to persuade Mahomed Lateef not to allow his journey to go for nothing,
but to prefer his request to Raby _sahib_ himself. He might even write
a petition, and demand that it should be sent on to the Major, if
pride forbade asking a favour of the former. Afzul might as well have
urged the old man to wear patent-leather shoes or perform any other
such abomination of desolation. "Am I a baboo that I should cringe and
beg?" he answered, wrathfully. "The Major is a soldier and knows what
it means to stave a blow from a comrade's head; 'tis but defending
your own in the future. But this man! He would talk of rupees, and I
have none to give. Let it be, fool! I will stop the night here as was
arranged, since the child seems tired. To-morrow we can return. I am
not so far through that a day's journey will kill me."

So, from the recesses of the windowless shanty, he watched John Raby
passing back to the house when the day's work was done; then he went
forth in the twilight and prowled about the new factory, noting the
unmistakable signs of masterful energy with a curious mixture of
admiration and contempt. "As thou sayest he is a man, and no mere
money-bag like Shunker," was his final comment. "Come, little one, say
thy evening petition and let me roll thee in thy quilt, for thine eyes
are heavy."

The child, already half asleep, slid from his grandfather's knee, and
standing, stretched his little hands skywards. "God bring justice to
those who brought my father injustice," he murmured drowsily.

A savage exultation came to the old face looking down on the curves
and dimples. "_Ameen, ameen!_ Justice! That is all we seek. Come,
light of mine eyes, and God give thee many wakenings."

Thereafter the two men sat silent, waiting for sleep to come to the
child. And it came, but not for long. Perhaps in less careful hands
the boy had taken chill, perhaps Afzul's more sumptuous fare was the
exciting cause; anyhow, a few hours afterwards Kirpo, roused by the
helpless men from the death-like slumber of the domesticated savage,
found little Hussan Ahmad struggling for breath in his grandfather's
arms, a prey to spasmodic croup. Of course she had not the remotest
idea what was the matter, or what was to be done. She could but take
the child to her capacious bosom and add to the general alarm by
shrill sympathy. It was a fit--the dear one would die--_Hai,
hai!_--some one had bewitched it. Then suddenly an inspiration seized
her. The _mem!_ let them send for the _mem!_ But last week her own boy
had had the gripes until the _mem_ came with a little bottle and cured
him. _Hai, hai!_ the darling was choking! Send for the _mem_, if they
would not have him die before their eyes.

Afzul looked at the grandfather interrogatively. Pride, fear,
resentment, and love fought hard for the mastery. "She will not come;
she hath a heart of ice," quavered the old voice, seeking for excuse,
and escape from responsibility.

"Who can count on a woman? but death is sure; and she is wise in such
ways, I know. Say, Khân _sahib_, shall I go?"

There was an instant's pause, broken by the child's hoarse crow. Then
the faith of a life-time spoke. "Go! It is Kismet. Give her the
chance; it is God's will to give it. She may not come, and then--"

But ten minutes after Belle Raby in her soft white evening dress had
the struggling child in her arms and reassuring words on her lips.
Afzul Khân, too, held a bottle and a teaspoon, whereat Kirpo's face
broadened to content. "Have no fear, master," she whispered in the old
man's ear; "'tis the same one, I swear it. A charm, a potent charm!"

Most Englishwomen in India gain some knowledge of doctoring, not only
from necessity, but from the neighbourliness which turns them into
nurses where in England they would be content with kind inquiries;
and, though croup is comparatively rare among the native children,
Belle had seen it treated among English ones. Such knowledge, a
medicine-chest, and common sense seem, and indeed often act, like
magic to the ignorant eyes helplessly watching their loved ones fight
for life. The old Mohammedan stood aside, bolt upright as if on
parade, a prey to dull regrets and keen joy as Belle's kind voice
conjured up endless things beyond the thought or comprehension even of
the child's mother, had she been there. Hot water, a bath fetched from
somewhere in the dark beyond the feeble glimmer of light in which
those bare white arms gleamed about the child's brown body, ice, a
soft white blanket, within the folds of which peace seemed to come to
the struggling limbs till sleep actually claimed the child again.

"He is all right now," said Belle smiling. "Keep him in your arms,
Kirpo, and give him plenty of air. I will come to-morrow and see him
again. Afzul, have you the lantern?"

She stood--a strange figure in that mud-floored, mud-roofed
hovel--fastening the silver clasp of her fur cloak with slim fingers
sparkling with jewels; a figure more suitable to some gay gathering on
the other side of the world. Then from the darkness into the ring of
light where she stood stepped another figure. A tall old man, made
taller by the high-twined green turban proclaiming him a past pilgrim
to the great shrine of warriors, a man with his son's medals on a
threadbare velvet coat, and a sharp curved sword held like a sacrament
in his outstretched palms. "_Huzoor!_" he said bowing his proud old
head. All the conflicting emotions of the past hour had concentrated
themselves to this. Words, either of gratitude or blame, were beyond
him. God knows which, given opportunity of calm thought, he might have
offered. But so, taken by surprise, carried beyond his own personal
interests by admiration, he gave, in the true old fighting instinct
which dies hard amongst the Mohammedans, his allegiance to what was
brave and capable. "_Huzoor!_"

The English girl had learnt enough of native customs to know her part.
Those slim white fingers lingered an instant on the cold steel, and
her bright eyes smiled up into the old man's face. "The gift is not
mine, but yours." Perhaps it was; the faculty of just admiration is a
great possession.

She found her husband still smoking cigarettes over a French novel.
"By George! Belle," he said, "you look awfully nice. That sort of
thing suits you down to the ground. You were born to be a Lady
Bountiful, and send social problems to sleep with sentiment. By the
way, do you know who the little beggar is? I asked the _khansaman_; he
is the son of that man Murghub Ahmad who was transported! His
grandfather is living on the ancestral estate about ten miles down the
old _nullah_. I'm precious glad Marsden didn't find him out, or he
would have been bothering me to do something for the old fellow. And I
haven't time just now for charity. I leave that to you, my dear; it
suits you--as I remarked just now--down to the ground."

Belle, who had turned very pale, said nothing, but she seemed to feel
the chill of the cold steel at her finger-tips. She understood better
what that offering had meant, and, sentiment or no sentiment,
something rose in her throat and kept her silent. Next morning,
according to promise, she went over to the huts again. The dew shone
on the flowers as she crossed the garden, an indescribable freshness
was in the air. The child, but newly aroused from a sweet sleep, was
still surrounded by the white blanket in the midst of which he sat
cuddled up, rubbing his eyes and yawning. Afzul was smiling at the
door, the grandfather, calmed into stern politeness, standing by the
bed.

"Rise, O Hussan Ahmad!" he said to the child after a few words of
inquiry and reply. "Rise and say thy thanks to the _mem_ for her
kindness. They are due; they are justly due."

Still drowsy, and mindful only of an accustomed order, the boy
stretched his chubby little arms skyward. "May God bring justice to
those who brought injustice to my father."

Khân Mahomed Lateef Khân started as if he had been shot, and his right
hand fell sharply on the child's shoulder, then wandered to his
sword-hilt. "It is Fate," he muttered gloomily. "Out of his own mouth
I am rebuked."

Belle's heart gave a great throb of anger and pain. She had lain awake
piecing the stray threads of the story together till it had seemed to
her a sad yet beautiful pattern on the web of life, and now-- "Why do
you say that?" she asked gently of the child, as if he were the only
person present.

He looked at her fearlessly. "I say it morning and evening. Listen!
May God bring justice to those who brought injustice to my father."

The eyes of those two men watching her were like spurs to her high
spirit. "Listen," she said. "I will say it too. May God bring justice
to those who brought injustice to your father."

The eyes fell as she passed out without another word. "By the God who
made me," swore the old soldier, "she is a brave one, and she hath my
sword! Remember that, Afzul. If the time should ever come, my sword at
least is for her and hers. For the rest, the child has spoken."

Afzul smiled grimly. He was beginning to see what those two brave ones
fancied in the pale-faced _mem_. She was too good for Raby _sahib_
with his rupees, he decided; yet women are always influenced by
wealth. Perhaps the thought of what she would leave behind hindered
her from following the Major. If so, a little reverse in the business
might be beneficial. Anyhow, and come what may, he must get rid of
that cursed blue envelope ere summer opened the passes for homesick
footsteps. Even if he had to leave it behind him unconditionally, he
must do so, since by that time he would have money saved to last for
an idle year or two.



                            CHAPTER XXIII.


Some ten days after this John Raby came from the office into the
drawing-room with a letter in his hand and vexation on his face. "Upon
my word, Belle," he began, "you have a most unfortunate turn for
philanthropy, as I always told you. I've no doubt your doctoring that
little croupy imp suggested the idea that we were made up of
benevolence. Sentiment, my dear child, is the devil in business."

"What is it now, John?" she asked, with an effort at lightness. For
all that, her tone made him raise his eyebrows impatiently. There is
no accounting for the jar which comes at times between two natures,
especially when circumstances are emphasising their respective
individualities. This was the case between Belle and her husband; her
conscientiousness being hyper-sensitised by constant self-blame, and
his being dulled by the keen desire to triumph over all opposition.

"Only that bankrupt old warrior appealing through Marsden to the firm
for an annual supply of water from my dam. A cool request, isn't it?
And Marsden, of course, being sentimental as you are, hopes it will be
done. All I can say is, that it is lucky he and you have me to look
after your interests."

"But if it could be done--"

"My dear child, don't you think I'd have done it had the thing been
possible without detriment to us? I don't suppose Marsden thought of
it in that light, but he ought to have done so. I have my faults no
doubt, but I'm not an ogre."

"I wish it had been possible!"

"So do I; but it isn't. Therefore, if you don't mind, I hope you will
refrain from arousing Philip's benevolence more than you can help. I
mean by allusions to the old man and the child. They are a most
picturesque couple, of course, but if sentiment is to come in, I may
as well throw up the whole business. For mind you, Belle, it is just
as well you should know that the factory is bound to be unpopular at
first."

"Unpopular! Why?" asked Belle in surprise. "I thought you said it
would improve the condition of the people immensely."

"After a time. However it is no use discussing it; I shall write to
Marsden and say,--well, I shall say, chiefly, that I also am filled
with pious and benevolent intentions, but that I desire a free hand.
Meanwhile, as I see from Philip's letter that Afzul has been priming
you with pity which you have been handing on, I wish you wouldn't.
Give the old man as much money as you like, of course; but don't egg
my partner on to socialism, there's a good girl." He looked very
bright and handsome as he bent over and kissed her. "Do you know,
Belle," he said, laughingly, "you are the most transparent fraud in
creation. I believe you set the old man on to Marsden; now didn't
you?"

She flushed scarlet. "I only told Afzul when he was speaking of it
that the best way was to write a petition. And Philip was an old
friend."

"Just so; but we don't want old friends, or new ones either, to
interfere. I'm manager of this factory, and I intend to manage it my
own way."

"Do you mean without consulting Philip's wishes?"

He turned round on her sharply as he was leaving the room. "That is
about it. He knows nothing of business, and should be glad to have
some one to act for him who does."

There was, as usual, so much sound common sense in her husband's words
that Belle tried to crush down the dissatisfaction she could not help
feeling at the idea of Philip being made responsible for actions of
which he might know nothing. After all, had it really come to this,
that she did not trust her husband to behave uprightly? The thought
was poison to all peace, and she thrust it aside in horror at its very
appearance. Yet a new element of trouble had entered into life and she
found herself, quite unconsciously, keeping ears and eyes open for
things which she had previously ignored. This did not escape her
husband's keen sight, and in his light, half-serious way he rallied
her on this newly-developed interest in the business. The fact was
they were beginning to understand each other too well; and now and
again a tone came into John's voice which sent the blood to her heart
in a throb of fear and made her grovel, positively grovel, before her
ideal of wifely duty. Then her husband would recover his careless
good-nature, and the household run so smoothly that even Belle's
high-strung nerves scarcely felt a jolt.

So the spring came, bringing to the garden a rush of blossom well-nigh
impossible of description to those accustomed to slow northern lands.
Belle could have picked clothes-baskets full of Maréchal Niel roses
from the bushes and yet have left them burdened with great yellow
cups. The pomegranates glowed with a scarlet positively dazzling to
the eyes; the gardenias were all too strongly scented; the bees and
butterflies drugged themselves with honey from the wild tangle of
overgrown, overblown annuals which, forgetting their trim English
habit, usurped the very paths by thickets of mignonette, sweet pea,
dianthus, and a host of other familiar flowers. Belle, walking round
her domain in the early morning when the nightly gift of dew still lay
on the leaves, used to wonder how serpents could creep into such a
paradise. The very isolation of the life had an irresistible charm.
What was the use of worrying about ideas? Where was the good of
fretting over the mischances of that world which lay beyond this calm
retreat?

Suddenly, however, that world asserted its existence. She had still
kept up her habit of morning rides, and though her husband was now up
with the dawn, he was far too much absorbed in his work to accompany
her save when business sent him beyond his own boundaries. Even
then she began to notice his excuses for escaping her companionship,
and when in her drowsy content she went so far as to express a
half-jesting remonstrance, he would reply in the same tone, that he
had no intention of slaving forever; and that this was his working
day. By and by, when he had turned Marsden adrift, and could have the
whole thing to himself,--why, he meant to have it and enjoy it.
Meanwhile it was much pleasanter for her to ride along the river bank
and through the inundation lands, than in the dust southwards where
his business took him so often. But this level expanse of bare
fruitless soil had an attraction for Belle; and one day, losing her
way on it, she made for the landmark of a village on the horizon, and
thus found herself considerably beyond her usual distance from home.
It was a village with poverty and sloth written on the blistered,
rain-marked, mud walls, and in the absence of fuel-heaps and
thorn-enclosures. A sorry forsaken spot it was, despite the swarm of
low-bred-looking brats who came out to stare at her as she rode at a
foot's pace through the widest lane. A woman stood slouching at the
entrance to a courtyard, and Belle, pausing, asked her the way to
Nilgunj. The scowl on the face raised to hers startled her, so did the
words. "Are you Raby's _mem?_"

Her answering assent met a rude reception in the curt recommendation
to find the way herself, accompanied by a sudden closing of the door.
Then came a shrill clamour of voices from within, and one by one, over
the alley walls, dark disapproving faces full of angry curiosity. The
display of hostility might have gone no further if her horse, restive
at being checked and, no doubt, disliking the crowd of children
following close on its heels, had not sidled and backed, putting the
young imps to hustling flight. This was naturally the signal for
shrieks and abuse from the mothers, and though a touch of the whip
recalled her beast to duty, humanity was not so reasonable. A little
ragamuffin took up a piece of dirt and threw it after her; the others
approved, and though fear of her horse's heels kept the little arms at
a comparatively safe distance, Belle Raby had nevertheless to submit
to the indignity of riding through the village pursued by pelting
urchins, and by no means pleasant abuse from over the walls. Her
indignation was greater than her fear or even than her surprise, and
the scornful glance with which she met the angry eyes on a level with
her own silenced more than one of the tongues. But for a sense that it
would have been undignified, she would dearly have loved to dismount,
seize one of the ringleaders, and administer summary justice. The
possible meaning of this unusual reception did not strike her until,
emerging from the village still pursued by her tormentors, she came
straight upon her husband. His look, as he recognised the position,
filled her with alarm; and there was something in it of such
absolutely uncontrolled passion and hatred, that it flashed upon her
that he, at least, must have good reason to understand the scene.
"John! don't do anything, please don't!" she cried as he threw himself
from his horse. "They are only children."

"I'm not going to run after those little demons, if you mean that," he
replied, giving her the reins of his mount to hold; "but they have
parents, I suppose. I'll be back in a moment. Don't be afraid, Belle;
they are curs, every one of them. But they shall pay for this, in more
ways than one."

He came out five minutes afterwards, followed by a protesting and most
venerable looking pantaloon, representative of that past age in which
a white face was, verily, a sign of kingship. He took no notice of the
lavish appeals and apologies, but, putting his note-book in his
pocket, remounted. "I'm sorry you came this way," he said as they rode
off; "but, as I often say, you have a faculty for getting into
mischief which is surprising in such an eminently virtuous person as
you are, Belle. However, you mustn't do it again. In fact I should
prefer your keeping to my land for the next two or three months."

Belle, given time to think, had lost much of her courage in dismay at
this most unexpected insight into the world beyond her gates. Could
such a state of affairs be necessary? "Why,--" she began.

"My dear child, don't ask _me_ why! I can't supply reason to these
pig-headed brutes. And don't, for goodness' sake, make a fuss over it,
and bring Marsden's soft-heartedness down on me just when I need to
have a free hand. I told you I should be unpopular, and I am; that is
the long and short of it; more unpopular than need be, for somehow the
people have got an idea that I could help if I chose. Why didn't
Marsden put their appeals in the waste paper basket, as I do, instead
of raising hopes by referring to me?"

"Has he been referring to you?"

Her husband looked at her and laughed. "I'm not going to give myself
away in confidence. As I said before, I'm awfully sorry you came out
this way and chanced on that village. It is the worst about here. For
all that, there is no need for any anxiety, I assure you. Afzul and
his bandits are worth a hundred of these curs; and once the people see
I am a man of my word, they will come in sharp enough."

"But if Philip--"

"Bother Philip! He is a trump of course, but I think he has mixed
himself up a little too much in this business. I shall be glad when he
is out of it."

"Surely if you were to explain--"

"My dear Belle, explanation is nothing to demonstration. In six weeks'
time, when the first flood comes, I shall prove myself right, and
waltz in, hands down, an easy winner. That is to say if nobody fouls
me now out of goodness, and righteousness, and all charitableness."

It was one thing to be told this, another to find comfort in it, and
as the days passed Belle grew more and more uneasy. She felt sure all
could not be fair and square; that there must be some antagonistic
element at work to make the unpopularity so intense. Perhaps because
she watched for it so keenly, it seemed to her that discontent showed
itself more and more freely on the faces of the people she did meet in
her now limited walks. One evening she had a bad five minutes
listening to a row in the coolies' quarters with her husband's clear
voice dominating the clamour. She was still pale when he came
whistling through the garden as if nothing had happened. It was only,
he said, a war of words between Kirpo and Afzul. There had always been
a jealousy between them; the latter declaring that such a hideous
female was not worthy to touch any man's bread, for the former had
risen by favour from mere cooliedom, to act as cook for a gang of
Hindu workers; the woman retorting that the hillmen were no better
than pirates, ready, despite their professions of horror at meats
prepared by idolaters, to steal her supplies if her back was turned.
Afzul had of late been growing idle and uppish; so John had sided with
Kirpo in this particular dispute.

"I think Kirpo is rather uppish too," replied Belle. "I heard her
ordering some of the men about as if she was their mistress."

Her husband laughed easily. "Just like a native! The fact being that
Kirpo is useful to me at present, by giving me information I can rely
upon; and she presumes on the fact. When the floods have come I shall
be able to dispense with her,--with a variety of things, in fact. I
shall not be sorry; I hate being beholden to people."

Belle bent her head over her work and sewed faster. "I don't like
Afzul, I don't like Kirpo, and I like the unpopularity least of all.
Oh, John, could you not give way a little? I am sure Philip--"

"Now look here, Belle, I said just now that I hated being beholden to
any one, and you yourself made enough to-do when I borrowed this money
from Marsden. And you've fussed and worried about it ever since,
because you think he consented for your sake. Perhaps he did; and so I
mean to show him he should have consented for his own. I call that a
laudable ambition which should satisfy your pride. Now in my opinion
the only road to success lies my way. That, I think, should settle the
matter once and for all. Of course I am not infallible; but, unless
something very unexpected turns up, you will be laughing at your own
fears this time two months. Now, as I told Kirpo to come up to the
office as soon as it was dark, let me get some peace and quiet first.
I think Haydn would suit me to-day; there is no forced sentiment in
him, jolly old chap!"

So Belle played Haydn, and John dozed in his chair till the darkness
settled deep enough to hide Kirpo as she stole through bye-paths to
the office verandah. There, behind a creeper-hung pillar, she waited
till John's tall figure showed itself at the writing-table. Then she
went forward, and raising the bamboo _chick_ said softly: "I am here,
_Huzoor!_"

"All right! Come in and shut the door."

Some one hiding in the oleander bushes in full view of this incident
muttered a curse, and settled himself down in a new position. So what
Shunker had said was true, and, disfigured as she was, Kirpo still
kept her hold on the _shaitan sahib_. But for a promise he had made to
the usurer not to anticipate the great revenge brewing for John Raby's
discomfiture, Râmu (for it was he, once more out of prison) would have
asked nothing better than to have waited patiently till Kirpo appeared
again, and then in the darkness to have fallen on her and killed her
outright. As it was he sat with eyes fixed on the door, controlling
his passion by the thought of future and less hazardous revenge upon
them both. He had a long knife tucked away in his waistcloth, but it
seemed to him as if he could feel its sharp edge and see its gleaming
curve plunging into flesh. Truly a venomous, dangerous animal to be
lurking among the white oleanders in Belle's paradise, as she sat
playing Haydn, and John, with a contemptuous smile on his face, was
listening to Kirpo's tales. She knew a good deal did Kirpo, but not
all. She did not know, for instance, that her husband lay among the
oleanders, else she might have hesitated in playing the part of spy;
though she was no coward, and her revengeful desires were keen.

By and by she came out, and a crouching, shadowy figure followed her
through the garden, and then struck across the barren plain to the
village which John Raby had described as the worst of the lot; the
village of which Belle used persistently to dream; the village where
even the children looked at her with eyes of hate. Her husband did not
dream of anything. He used to sleep the sleep of the just, and wake
fresh as a lark to the pursuit of the one reality in his life,--money.
And even in its pursuit he was content, because it occupied him so
thoroughly that he had no time to notice minor details. Sometimes
Belle irritated him, but the instant after he would smile; it was a
way women, especially good women, had,--they could not help it.
Sometimes he fell foul in spirit of his senior partner, but not for
long. What were such trivialities in comparison with the main fact of
general success? Belle was a good wife, Marsden a good friend; above
all, the concern was a good concern, a rattling good business; and he,
John Raby, had plucked the plum out of Shunker's very hands. That last
thought was always provocative of a smile.

Meanwhile the Lâlâ was smiling too. The reappearance of Râmu,--who
seemed to keep all his virtue for the purpose of procuring a
ticket-of-leave,--had considerably strengthened the usurer's hands by
providing him with one absolutely reckless tool. When the time came
for setting fire to the carefully laid train he would not have to seek
for a match; and that, when one had to deal with these slow-brained
peasants, was a great gain. With such a leader he looked forward
confidently to mischief sooner or later. Kirpo might tell tales, but
there were some tales Shunker meant to keep secret, till the right
moment came for turning passive opposition into active interference.



                            CHAPTER XXIV.


Belle's paradise did not last long. In less than three weeks the hot
winds came to shrivel the bursting buds and turn even the promise of
blossom into a sign of death. The sunshine took a deeper yellow glow,
the blue faded from the sky, an impalpable dust began to settle on all
things. Down in the sand stretches below the house the net-work of the
river grew finer day by day, and the mudbanks left by shrinking
streams assumed airs of perpetuity by clothing themselves with green
herbs, as if the time of floods were not nigh to swallow them up once
more. All else, far and near, seemed fainting in a great thirst,
longing for the crisis which was to bring them life.

But Belle, though the floods had not yet come, felt one calm still
morning as if the waters had gone over her head, and she had no power
to resist the current which swept her from her feet. It was a trivial
thing which roused the feeling; only a word or two in one of Philip's
letters which she held in her hand as she stood beside her husband's
writing-table.

"I quite admit it, my dear girl," he was saying calmly. "Marsden has
written to me on that subject several times, and I have replied as I
thought fit. It is quite possible I may have given him the impression
I was willing, or even that I was going, to do more than has really
been done. What then?"

"Only this," she replied hotly; "that you have degraded him in the
eyes of these people. He promised inquiry and--"

"He had no business to promise anything. He referred it to me, and he
has no right to complain of my decision."

"He does not complain! When has he ever complained?" she interrupted,
trying hard to keep the passion from her voice. "You can read what he
says, if you like. He thinks,--I do not ask how--that you have done
your best."

"Exactly! I _have_ done my best for the business."

"He did not mean that. Oh, John, the shame of it will kill me! To take
everything from a man, even his honour and good name--"

"You don't appear to be so much concerned about mine. But I promised
to pay Philip back his money in two years, and I mean to do it. Be
reasonable, my dear child. Some one must take the responsibility; some
one must take the odium which is unfortunately inseparable from
success. Why should you complain because I take it cheerfully?"

Belle crushed the letter closer in vexed despair. "I can never make
you understand! Do you not see it is a question of right and wrong?
You have taken his money and are using it as he would hate to have it
used. You have,--I do not say deceived him--but kept the truth from
him; and even if you succeed, what will you be doing but giving him
money gained as he would have scorned to gain it?"

Her husband laughed a very ugly laugh, and for the first time his face
showed some emotion. "I always knew you thought Marsden perfect, but I
wasn't aware of your estimate of my comparative virtue. I cannot say
I'm flattered by it."

"I can't help it," she said, almost with a sob. "I can't see things in
the light you see them."

"That is a mutual disability, so for heaven's sake let us agree to
differ. The thing is done. Even if I wished to do so, the sluice could
not be built now. The river is due in three weeks, or sooner, and any
interference with the dam at present must mean disaster to all
concerned. I tell you this because I want you to understand that now,
at any rate, my hands are tied."

"Perhaps,--I mean, no doubt; but he must be told, and--and given his
choice. It is not right--"

"Tell him, my dear, if' it pleases you to do so; though I think it is
a pity, for in two months' time, if all this fuss doesn't play the
devil with my plans, the difficulties will be over. By the way, what
do you propose to tell him? That I have behaved like a scoundrel?"

"You have no right to say such things, John!" she cried indignantly.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Well! That I have behaved as he would have
scorned to behave? &c., &c. It seems to me about the same thing in
different words."

The flush which rose to her face told how hard she was hit. That was
the mischief of it all!--that fatal comparison between these two men,
against which she had struggled in vain. Why should she have compared
them? Why, even now, should she not let things be and trust to John's
superior wisdom? For he was wise in such matters, and, heaven knows!
gave himself up wholly to insure success. How could she tell Philip?
What was she to tell him? Yet he must know; even for John's sake he
ought to know what was being done in his name. "I will ask him to come
here," she said with an effort, "then he can see for himself."

John Raby looked up quickly. "Very well, do so. Only remember this: I
disclaim all responsibility for what may happen, and I tell you fairly
I mean to have my own way. You know perfectly well that I consider
quarrelling mere waste of time; but if the position becomes awkward,
that will be your doing, not mine."

"I will tell him to come," repeated Belle slowly.

"Then that's settled. Perhaps it may be best, after all," he added,
his face losing its last trace of vexation. "Indeed I thought of
asking him before; but the fact is the last time he was here you
showed your uneasiness so distinctly that I hesitated."

Once more the colour rose to his wife's face as she turned away. Was
everything from beginning to end her fault, she wondered, as she sent
off a telegram asking Philip to come, if he could get leave. She chose
a telegram more because it relieved her from the necessity of giving
her reasons than from any desire to save time, and so accelerate the
explanations she dreaded. Yet when, late in the evening of the next
day, John, coming from the factory, told her with a certain elation in
his voice, that the river was on the rise, she clasped her hands
nervously and wished Philip had wings.

All the next day she found herself going to the verandah whence she
could see the sandy flats, and wondering if those distant streaks of
water were indeed creeping nearer.

"The barometer's falling fast, so I'm afraid your philanthropy comes a
little too late, Belle," said John when he came in to lunch; "but
personally I'm glad the floods will be early. I don't mind confessing
to a little anxiety as to whether the dam will work, and it will be a
relief to see you looking less worried. I think every one is too much
on the strain just now, even Afzul. He was only saved from throwing up
his place this morning by the news that Philip was coming to-morrow;
so you see your plan has done some good already."

The night closed dark and hazy, and Belle's last look from the
verandah showed her nothing but dim distances stretching away to a
lighter horizon. She could not sleep, yet she would not make any stir,
so she lay awake wondering what forces were at work among the shadows,
and what the dawn would bring forth.

"John, John!" she cried, touching his shoulder to rouse him when the
first glimmer of light came to reveal the labour of the night. "The
floods are out right up to the high bank!"

He was on his feet in an instant. "By George! I _am_ in luck!" he
cried. "It will take them all by surprise. Tell them to bring tea,
Belle; I must be off to the dam at once. And don't expect me back till
lunch; Marsden will excuse me, and besides," he gave a little light
laugh, "it will give you leisure to get over your confession. It's
awfully nice to have some one to be penitent in your place. It saves a
lot of bother. Don't you remember Florac's reply to Pendennis about
his mother's tears. 'You must have made her weep a good deal,' says
Pen 'Mais enormément, mon cher!'"

A few minutes later he had left her with a kindly good-bye, and a
recommendation to take things easy as he did. As she walked up and
down the verandah waiting for Philip's arrival, she asked herself more
than once whether it would not be wiser to follow John's advice. Now
that the last chance of remedy was over for the present, why should
she give herself the pain of acknowledging that she condemned her
husband's action? Drifting this way and that in the current of
thought, as many another thing swept from its moorings was drifting in
the floods beneath her eyes, she had reached no certain conclusion
when the even tread of the horse, which they had sent to meet Philip,
brought her back to action with a strange dread of herself. He was
beside her in an instant and though she had worded her telegram so as
to avoid anxiety, it was clearly evident in his face.

"Well, what is it?" he said, still holding her outstretched hand of
welcome, and looking into her face curiously.

"Nothing," she answered hurriedly; "nothing in the least important.
Only--I wanted to see you. Come in; you must be tired, that beast has
such rough paces; I would have sent Suleimân, but he is lame. Come in,
tea is ready."

So she ran on, and Philip, who, to say sooth, had been on tenter-hooks
ever since the receipt of her summons, had to fall into her mood, not
without a certain sense of injury. But the pleasure of being within
touch of her hand and sight of her face was irresistible, so that the
following hours seemed to take him back to the most perfect memory of
his whole life, to that evening at Saudaghur which he and she had
spent together in thoughtless, unreasoning content. Perhaps this
memory cast its glamour over Belle likewise; certain it is that
something beat down and overwhelmed all thought and care. John, coming
in almost late for lunch, found them laughing over the last week's
"Punch" which Philip had brought with him; and taking his cue quickly,
if with some contemptuous surprise, dropped his serious air and became
the genial host. Never was there a gayer or more light-hearted trio;
but outside the house the clear promise of the morning had dulled to a
yellow haze, and every now and again a swirl of dust swept past,
making the yellow deeper.

"In for the first _andi_[8] of the season," said John Raby standing by
the window. "The natives say it is a sign of a healthy year to have a
dust-storm early. More good luck, you see, Belle! There is nothing
like keeping a calm sough, and trusting to Providence. Doesn't it make
you feel 'heavenly calm,' Marsden, to be here in this jolly room and
know that outside, in all that dust and pother, the elements are
working together for your good?"

Philip laughed. "I feel very well content, thank you. The comfort of
contrast always appeals to my selfish nature."

"Hark to that, Belle! I'll never believe in Philip's saintship again,"
cried her husband triumphantly. "Well, I must be off; there was the
tiniest crumble in the dam, and I must get my bandits to work on it
before dark. By the way, Marsden, Afzul said he was coming to see you
this afternoon. If so, sit on him. The beggar has been half mutinous
of late. Faugh! what an atmosphere; but I dare say it will be better
outside."

"How well he is looking," said Philip, as he watched the figure
disappearing through the haze. "I wish I could see you do more credit
to the 'heavenly calm.'" He made the remark lightly enough, thinking
only of his first glance at her when he arrived; a glance which had
prompted his swift inquiry as to what was the matter. But he was
startled out of all save surprise by the look on her face as she
turned towards him from the window.

"Heavenly calm!" she echoed almost wildly. "Yes, for you and for me,
and for him; but for the others? You asked me, and I said nothing was
the matter. It was a lie, everything is the matter! Outside there, in
the dust,--" as she spoke the hand she had laid on his arm in her
vehemence tightened to a clutch, her eyes fixed themselves on
something. "John!" she cried. "He is coming back, running! Oh, what is
it? what is it?"

Almost before he could grasp her meaning the door burst open, and John
Raby was back in the room, calm for all his excitement. "Quick,
Marsden, quick! get your revolver,--the fools are at the dam! There's
treachery, and not a moment to lose! Quick, man, quick!"

"Treachery! What? How? I don't understand--Belle, what is the matter?"

For she had thrown herself between him and her husband, and stood with
one hand on his breast as if to push him back. "He shall not go; he
does not understand!" she cried passionately. "I tell you he shall not
go until I have told him all. He does not know, he does not
understand; it is not fair--Philip!--"

"--Don't heed her, Marsden; it's all fancy, and there is no time for
words. I tell you they are at the dam,--the fools!" cried John, his
self-control seeming to give way at the very thought of danger to the
work of his hands. "Belle, let him go! I command you,--I entreat--"

But she stood firm, every fibre of her nature tense in this final
conflict, a conflict not so much between the two men, as between her
instincts and her beliefs. And yet, the sense of personal injury so
long repressed made her words reckless. "You have taken everything
from him--everything that makes life worth living--even his love. And
because of that he has given up everything without a word; and now you
ask his honour, his life, in a bad cause; but you shall not have it!
Philip! if you love me,--if you love your own good name,--stay where
you are. It is I who command it!"

With an oath John Raby dashed past her to the office, but ere Philip
had time to do more than unclasp, as gently as he could, the arms she
had flung about his neck, her husband was back again, revolver in
hand, his clear face blurred by anger; sheer, animal anger.

"Belle!" he cried, beside himself with uncontrolled passion, "don't
add this folly to your other foolishness. Think! I am your husband; so
choose between us. Choose between us I say, or by God--"

She interrupted him in tones so bitter that no escape remained from
their finality. "Choose? Yes! I have chosen at last--at last! Philip
shall not suffer."

His answer came swiftly! "Then stay with your lover; I might have
known I was a fool to trust a woman."

Ere the echo of his voice died away he was out in the storm again,
leaving those two in a silence worse than the words just spoken. He
had disengaged her arms, but her hands had tightened themselves on
his, and so they stood face to face, looking into each other's eyes.
But in his lay a pity and tenderness before which hers failed and
fell.

"You must not go," she whispered, low and fast. "I have not told you,
and I ought to have told you. He had no right to use your name, to be
so hard; and they may kill you. I have a right to tell you,--surely I
have a right to so much?"

Her warm clasp held him unresisting, yet in his heart of hearts he was
not thinking of her, only of some expedient which should avoid the
last resource of brute force; for with all his tenderness his pride
was in arms. "Have I not given you enough, Belle?" he said hoarsely.
"Will you not even leave me my courage?"

With a sob she flung his hands from her as if they bit and stung.
"Go!" she cried. "You are unjust, ungenerous; but go!"

He did not wait. Torn as he was by love and compassion for the woman
he was leaving so forsaken and abased, he could not pause in the
mad hurry which seized him, even for a word of comfort; time, if he
was to retrieve his self-respect and hers, was too precious. Another
instant and he was searching frantically for his revolver among his
half-unpacked things, and feeling a certain fierce joy in anticipation
of the struggle to come. A quick snatch, a breathless relief, and he
looked up to find Afzul Khân standing by the only door of exit from
the room. "Afzul!" he cried, "why are you here? Why are you not at
your post when there is danger afoot? Follow me at once!"

But the Pathan's answer was to close the door and stand with his arm
thrown across it, bolt-wise. Then he looked at the Major boldly, yet
respectfully. "I'm here, _Huzoor_, because I have grown tired of
helping a tyrant. The _sahib_ should be tired of it too and take his
reward. That is what I came to make known to the Presence."

"Let me pass, fool!" shouted Philip, struggling to get at the door.
But Afzul was his match in strength, and, even as he resisted, found
time for words. "Listen, _Huzoor!_ If it is the money, let it go. I
have here in my pocket something that will put more money into the
_mem's_ hand. So you can have her and the money too."

"Are you mad? Let me pass, I say, or it will be the worse for you!"

"For you, _Huzoor_. There is danger; the men mean fight, but if Raby
_sahib_ has none to back him, he will choose prudence. He wrought the
evil--I will not stir, _sahib_, till you have listened--he wrought the
evil, let him bear the loss. You--"

Philip gave one glance round for other means of escape; then
the breathless hurry of the last few moments left his voice and
manner. "Stand back, Afzul," he said quietly, "or I'll fire.
One,--two,--three!--"

An instant's pause, and the hand on the trigger wavered. Something,
the memory of those days and nights in the smoky cave, perhaps, came
between Philip and the wrist he aimed at, for the ball struck the door
below it, splintering the wood. But that waver, slight though it was,
caught the Pathan's quick eye. He threw up his arm with a laugh of
malicious triumph. "We are quits, _Huzoor!_ We have both been fools
before the other's bravery; that is the end, the end at last!"

The meaning of his words, even the words themselves, were lost on
Philip, who was already down the verandah steps, his head, as he ran,
bent low to save himself from being blinded by the swirl of dust which
now swept past continuously. Afzul scowled after the retreating
figure. "Fool!" he muttered between his teeth. "But I have done with
him now--done with everything save this accursed letter. I wish I had
sent it to the _mem_ at first. It belongs to her, and she is the best
of the bunch."

So muttering he made his way to the verandah, and raising the bamboo
screen looked into the drawing-room. Belle, crushed to a dull
endurance by the consciousness of her own impotence to aid; nay more,
with the very desire to help killed by the awful knowledge that both
those men had flung her aside as something beneath their manhood, had
thrown herself face downward on the sofa, where she lay with clenched
hands, striving to regain some power of thought or action; yet in the
very effort driving herself to greater helplessness by her wild
insistence that time was passing, that she must decide, must do
something.

"_Huzoor!_"

She started to her feet, and found Afzul beside her with outstretched
hand. The sight, by rousing a physical fear, brought back the courage
which never failed her at such times. "Well?" she asked boldly.

"I am not come to hurt you, _Huzoor_, but to give you this. It belongs
to you."

She put out her hand mechanically, and took a small package done up,
native fashion, in a bit of old brocade.

"Mine! what is it?" she asked in a dull tone.

"It is Dick _sahib's_ will. He died fighting like the brave one he
was; but they were all brave, those three,--Dick _sahib_, and Marsden
_sahib_, and Raby _sahib_. They die fighting,--curse them!"

They die fighting? With the first cry she had given, Belle broke from
him, and, still clutching the packet, followed in the footsteps of
those two; and as she ran, beaten back by the wind, and half-blinded
by the sand, she scarcely thought of their safety, only that she might
get there in time. Only in time, dear God! only in time to show them
that she was brave also.

The lurid yellow of the dust-storm had darkened or lightened
everything to the same dull tint; the sand beneath her feet, the sky
above, the swaying trees between, each and all seemed like shadows
thrown upon a screen, and her own flying figure the only reality in an
empty world of dreams. Not a sound save the broad rush of the wind,
not a sight save the dim dust hazed paths bordered by shrivelled
flowers. Then, beyond the garden, the long curve of the dam, the
deeper sinking into dun-coloured soil of those frantic feet; and,
running with her as she ran, the swirls and dimples of the yellow
river angry for all its silence.

If only she might be in time! There, in the centre of the curve, like
a swarm of bees, shifting, crowding, pressing,--was that John's fair
head in the centre? If the wind were only the other way, she might
have heard; but now, even if they were crying for help, she would not
hear!--

Suddenly her stumbling flight ceased in a stumbling pause. Was that
the wind? She threw up her hands without a cry, and stood as if turned
to stone. It seemed to her as if the seconds beat themselves in on her
brain--one--two--three--four--five--not more than that; then a low
dull roar ending in silence; silence and peace, for she lay huddled up
in a heap upon the ground as if struck by lightning.



                             CHAPTER XXV.


When John Raby, waking at Belle's touch to find the floods had come,
remarked that the people would be taken by surprise, he said truly.
The corollary he drew from this premise--that he was to be
congratulated on good luck--was not so sure. For there are times when
the unforeseen acts as a spur to those who, when prepared, often lack
the courage of action. And this was the case with a large body of the
malcontents whom Shunker Dâs, aided of late by his lieutenant Râm Lâl,
had been diligently instructing in the necessity for resistance at the
proper time. But a vague formula of this sort is a very different
thing in the eyes of the stolid law-abiding peasant, from the
resolution that to-day, this hour, this minute, they had to set aside
their inherited endurance, their ancestral calm, and fight. So, had
the floods come in due course and after due warning, it is more than
probable that even Râm Lâl's reckless desire for revenge would have
failed to excite the people to the organised attack on the new dam
towards which all Shunker's machinations had tended, and in which he
saw at least temporary ruin to his enemy's plans. Fate, however,
provided the element of surprise, and, to these slow-brained rebels,
seemed to leave no choice beyond instant revolt or instant submission.

Aided by Râm Lâl's envoys the news that the river was rising travelled
fast; down the depression of cultivated land along which--given a high
flood-mark--the water might be expected: nor was the assertion wanting
that such a flood-mark had already been reached during the past two
days, and its benefits neutralised by Raby _sahib's_ unholy
contrivance. By dawn bands of the restless had begun to drift about
from village to village, eager to discuss the position, and by degrees
gaining a certain coherence of intention. Even those who hung back
from the idea of active interference joining the crowd out of
curiosity and so increasing the quantity of human tinder ready for
ignition by the smallest spark. Before noon Khân Mahomed Lateef Khân,
looking out from his ruined tower, saw a cloud of dust beyond his bare
brown fields and ere long was in parley with a recruiting band.

"Not I," swore the old man fiercely; "these are not days for honest
blows. My son--God smite those who smote him!--could tell you so much;
and his son must learn his father's wisdom. Ye are fools! Let every
one of you give one rupee after the manner of a wedding, and go
purchase the slithering lies of a pleader. Then may ye have justice in
the _sahibs'_ courts; not otherwise. Besides, look ye, Shunker is in
this, and his jackal Râmu; and by the twelve Imaums I hate them worse
than Raby _sahib!_"

"Râm Lâl hath cause," retorted a villainous-looking goldsmith, hailing
from the village where Belle had been pelted by the children. "We
Hindus, Khân _sahib_, are peace-lovers till they touch our women."

The old Mussulman burst into a scornful laugh. "Best not chatter thus
to me, Gurdit! _Inshallah_; there have been times when honest blows
with a good sword have brought the faithful many a Hindu _peri!_ But I
quarrel not, so go your way, fools, like sheep to slaughter if so your
wisdom teaches. I bide at home."

"Nay but, Khân _sahib_," expostulated that very Peru with whom Shunker
had begun his work, "we go not to, or for slaughter. We mean to
petition first to Marsden _sahib_, who comes to-day; so the Pathan
hath given out."

"What!" interrupted the Khân with a frown. "He hath returned! Then go
ye doubly to slaughter, for there is one who dallies not with words.
He knows how to smite, and if it comes to blows I know which side good
swords--But there! I bide at home."

Nor, despite their urgent importunities, would he consent even to join
those who favoured a petition. No doubt the racial disinclination to
be mixed up with idolaters had something to do with the refusal;
beyond this there was a stronger desire to give no help to Shunker;
and stronger than all was that liking for sheer pluck which makes a
native regiment, recruited from the martial races and led by
Englishmen it trusts, well nigh the perfection of a warlike weapon.
Many records bear witness to this fact, none more so than the story of
Ahmad Kheyl, when, but for an Englishman's voice and the steady
response of Indian soldiers, the tale might have been writ "disaster"
instead of "victory." Perhaps some of the three thousand Ghazies who
on that day dashed like an avalanche down the hill-side on to the thin
brown line guarding a mistaken retreat of red-coats may have expected
colour to side with colour. If so they paid dearly for their error. It
is pluck with pluck; and the words "_Retreat be damned--stand fast,
men!_" attributed rightly or wrongly to an Englishman not mentioned in
despatches, were sufficient to weld two nationalities into a wall
which broke the force of one of the most desperate charges ever made.
At least so runs the story,--out of despatches.

Khân Mahomed Lateef Khân, then, retreated growling to his tumbledown
roof, and betook himself inconsequently to polishing up his sword.
Half an hour afterwards, however, he suddenly bade old Fâtma bring him
his company raiment with the medals and clasps of his dead sons sewn
on it. Then he said a brief farewell to the child, left the women
without a word, and went over to borrow the pink-nosed pony of the
pleader's father, who, being the Government accountant, was of course
discreetly at home.

"Why didst not make thy son take up the case without payment?" asked
the old man wrathfully, as his neighbour held the stirrup for him to
mount. "Then should I not have had to go in mine old age and strive
for peace,--mark you, for peace!"

But as he rode off, the old sword clattered merrily about his old
legs, and he smiled, thinking of the gift given when the light of his
eyes lay sick in the _mem's_ arms.

"The sword is for her and hers, according to my oath," he said to
himself. "God knows it may be peace; I will do naught to hinder it;
but with Marsden _sahib_--_Allah Akbar!_ at least they do not worship
stocks and stones like these pigs."

So behind the gathering cloud of witnesses, half hidden in the
gathering dust, came the pink-nosed pony ready for peace or war. The
odds, either for one or the other, flickered up and down a dozen times
as village after village sent or held back its contingent. Finally it
flared up conclusively with the advent of Râmu at the head of his
particular villains, armed not only with sticks and stones, but with
picks and shovels. Like a spark among tinder the suggestion flamed
through the mass,--why waste time in words when, without a blow,
except at solid earth, they could bring the floods into their own
channel, since Afzul and his gang had declared in favour of the
people? So said Râmu, and the peasants were only too ready to believe
him, seeing that picks and shovels were more to their minds than
blows. Thus, while the trio of aliens to whom that low curve of
earthwork meant so much, were talking and laughing over their lunch,
the dam was being assailed by a swarm of men eager for its
destruction. Almost at the same time the Khân _sahib_, spurring the
pink-nosed pony to the overseer's hut, found Afzul asleep, or
pretending to sleep. Perhaps the hint of bribery was true; perhaps the
Pathan thought a crisis was needed; at all events he was too crafty to
show his hand to his stern old patron, and set off ostensibly to give
the alarm at the house and summon his gang, who by a curious
coincidence happened to be employed half a mile or so further up the
river. Not till he saw his messenger reach the verandah did the Khân
seek the scene of action. Picks and shovels indeed! Well! these
ploughmen had a right to use such weapons, and he would stand by and
see fair play.

How Afzul fulfilled his mission has already been told; also the result
of John Raby's appeal for help to Philip Marsden. To say that the
former could not believe his eyes, when, on first turning out of the
garden, he caught sight of the crowd gathered on the dam, is but a
feeble description of the absolutely incredulous wrath which
overpowered him. He had been prepared for opposition, perhaps even for
attack, when such attack was reasonable. But that these fools, these
madmen, should propose to cut a channel with the full weight of a
flood on the dam was inconceivable. As he ran back for his revolver, a
savage joy at the danger to the workers themselves merged itself with
rage at the possible ruin of his labour, and a fierce determination by
words, warnings, and threats to avert the worst. They could not be
such fools, such insensate idiots! As he passed the workmen's huts on
his return, he shouted to Afzul, and getting no reply ran on with a
curse at all traitors. He was alone against them all, but despite them
all he would prevail. As he neared the crowd, bare-headed, revolver in
hand, he felt a wild desire to fire without a word and kill some one,
no matter whom. The suspicion, however, that this attack could not
proceed from anything but revenge had grown upon him, and became
conviction as he saw that the largest portion of his enemies were of
the ruck; men who never did a hand's turn, and who even now stood by,
applauding, while others plied spade and mattock. In the latter, in
their stolid wisdom and experience, lay his best chance, and he
slipped the revolver to his pocket instantly. "Stop, you fools!" he
shouted, "stop! Peru! Gunga; where are your wits? The flood,--the
flood is too strong." Then, recognising the old Khân, he appealed
instinctively to him for support. "Stop them, Khân _sahib!_ you are
old and wise; tell them it is madness!"

As he spoke, reaching the growing gap, he leapt down into it and
wrested a spade from the man nearest to him. It was yielded almost
without resistance, but a murmur ran through the bystanders, and the
workers dug faster.

"Jodha! Boota! Dhurma!" rose John's voice again, singling out the men
he knew to be cultivators. "This is folly! tell them it is folly, Khân
_sahib!_"

"I know not," answered the other moodily; "'tis shovel, not
sword-work, and they have a right to the water--before God, _sahib_,
they have a right to so much!"

"Before God, they will have more than they want," interrupted that
eager tone; and something in its intelligent decision arrested one or
two of the older workers. They looked round at the swirling waste of
the river and hesitated.

"Tis but his craft," cried Râmu excitedly, showing himself for the
first time; "I know Raby well. On! On, my brothers! He has wiles for
men as well as for women!"

The revolver came out of John Raby's pocket again swiftly, but an
ominous surge together of the crowd showed him that it must be a last
resource when all else had failed; and now there were steps behind him
coming down the embankment hard and fast. The next instant Philip's
voice with the ring of accustomed command in it came sharp. "Listen!
The first of you who puts spade to ground, God save his soul from
damnation!"

The native is essentially dramatic. The very turn of his speech, where
the imperative remains intact even when it has filtered through other
lips, shows him to be so; and Philip Marsden, with the intimate
knowledge of years, counted not unwisely on this characteristic for
effect. The surprise, the appearance of one who in a vague way they
considered of the right sort, the certainty that the voice they heard
meant what it said, produced a general pause among the diggers; a
pause during which Mahomed Lateef drew his sword gently from the
scabbard.

"Listen again!" cried Philip. "Put down those spades and you shall
have justice. I promise it."

But even as he spoke John Raby gave a quick excited cry. "Back!
Marsden, back! the dam is cracking! Back, for God's sake! It is too
late! Let the fools be!"

He sprang up the gap, and as he did so a man sprang after him. It was
Râmu, ready for the deed he had come to do, fearful lest by this
unexpected flight his prey might escape him. The glance of a knife, a
cry, more of surprise than pain, and John Raby, twisting round in a
last desire to get at his assassin, overbalanced and fell headlong
down into the ditch. The next instant, before Philip's revolver could
single out the criminal, the old Khân's sword swirled above the high
turban.

"_Allah-i-Hukk! Allah-i-Akbar!_" (God is Right and Might.) The fervour
of youth rang in the familiar war-shout, and the memory of youth must
have nerved the hand, for Râmu's head heeled over on his shoulder in
ghastly fashion as he doubled up beneath the force of the blow. But
ere he fell the ground beneath him split as if for a grave, and with a
hiss of water pouring through the cracks the loosened soil gave way on
all sides. Philip, bounding down to reach his fallen friend, felt a
sudden dizziness as the solid earth swirled round, split up, broke
into islands. Then, with an awful swiftness, while the crowd fought
frantically for a crumbling foothold, the dam, like a child's
sand-castle before an incoming wave, broadened, sank, melted,
disappeared, leaving nothing but a sheet of water racing madly to find
its old haunts.

Then it was, when the scene in which all her life seemed bound up
disappeared bodily from before her eyes, that Belle Raby threw up her
hands and forgot the whole world for a time.

Philip, strong swimmer as he was, struggled hard with the underdraw
ere he rose to the surface, shook the mud and water from his
eyes, and looked about him. Many a wretch swept past him shrieking
for aid, but he searched for something which, even amid his own
danger, he could not think of without a curse. Once, twice, thrice, he
dived after a hint, a hope; then, coming on Mahomed Lateef, drifting
half-unconsciously down stream, he gave up the useless search and,
buoying the old man's head against his shoulder, struck out for the
back eddy. He was so spent when he reached the shore, that he could
with difficulty drag his burden to the dry warm sand and sink down
beside it. The whole incident had passed so rapidly that it seemed but
an instant since he had been running down the embankment, eager to be
in time. And he had been in time for what? Suddenly he remembered
Belle and staggered to his feet. The storm was darker than ever and
aided by the afternoon shadows wrapped everything in a dim twilight
which hid all save the immediate foreground. Still he could see from
the ebb of the flood in front of him that the great mass of upheld
water must have surged first in a forward direction, and then recoiled
to find the lower levels which lay at right angles. Thus it seemed
probable that many of those swept away in the great rush might have
been left high and dry a quarter of a mile or so lower down; and in
this case nothing was more likely than a further attack on the house,
for once blood has been shed,--and that some of those engaged must
have lost their lives seemed certain--even the proverbially placid
peasantry of India loses its head. Belle, therefore, must be found,
not merely to tell her of the calamity, but to secure her safety; the
instant after this thought flashed upon him, Philip Marsden was making
his way to the house, stumbling as he ran through heavy sand and in
the teeth of a choking dust-storm. Men, even strong men, have in such
a storm lost their way and been smothered to death as they sought
shelter in some hollow, but Philip was too set on his purpose to think
of pausing.

"Belle! Belle!" he cried as he ran up the verandah-steps and burst
into the drawing-room. She was not there. "Belle! Belle! I want you."
But there was no reply. The absence of servants, the deserted
verandah, did not surprise him; news flies fast among the people. But
Belle? was it possible she too had ventured out, perhaps along the dam
itself? The very thought turned him sick with fear, and he dashed into
her room calling on her again and again. The thousand and one delicate
tokens of her presence hit him hard by contrast with the idea of her
out there alone, perhaps swirling down that awful stream with which it
seemed to him he was still struggling.

"Belle! Belle!" He was out of the house once more, through the garden,
down by the huts. Was it a year, or a minute ago, that he had passed
that way, running, as now, to be in time? Or were past and present
nothing but a bad dream? One of those endless nights from some unknown
horror which survive a thousand checks, and go on and on despite
perpetual escape? No, it was not a dream! The last time there had been
a low curve of earth before him where now nothing showed save a dim
yellow flood sliding so smoothly that it seemed to have been sliding
there since time began. Each step bringing him nearer to it brought
him nearer also to despair. Then, just as he had given up hope, on the
very brink, so close that one clenched hand hung over the water, he
found her lying as she had fallen; found her none too soon, for even
as he stooped to raise her, another few inches of loosened soil
undermined by the current fell with a dull splash, and he realised
that ere long the river would have turned her forgetfulness to death.

Lifting her as best he could in his arms, he paused an instant to
consider what had best be done. One thing was certain, neither house
nor hut was safe until time showed the temper of the survivors. Yet
help and remedies of some sort he must have, and shelter too from
storm and night. He thought of Kirpo, but decided not to trust her. A
lucky decision, since to seek her would have been but waste of time,
as, recognising her husband among the rioters, she had fled into the
jungle with her child. The servants might be found if fear had not
dispersed them, but where in the meantime was he to leave Belle? At
last his thoughts returned to the old Khân. He was faithful, and if he
had recovered might at least keep watch while Philip sought other
help. Besides, not far from where he had left the old man, Philip had
noticed a reed shanty built against the abutment of the dam, and so
hidden from the sight of all save those coming from that side. He
determined therefore to carry Belle thither, and if he could find
Mahomed Lateef to leave her in his charge. This was no easy task, for
Belle, unconscious as she was, proved an awkward burden over such a
rough road, and it was a great relief to be able to lay her down at
last in comparative shelter and assure himself that she was still
alive; for, as he had struggled on, the dead weight in his arms had
filled him with apprehension. The next thing was to find the Khân.
Here fate proved kind, and within a few yards of the shanty Philip
came upon him, battling against the wind yet finding breath for a
running fire of curses on all idolaters. To cut short his gratitude
and explain what was wanted took but a moment; the next saw Philip
hurrying towards the house again, since, if the rioters returned, time
might run short. It did, despite his hurry, so that after vainly
searching for the servants, he was still rummaging for more ammunition
and (most potent weapon of all) for money, when the sound of advancing
voices warned him to be off. Thanks to the almost blinding dust there
was little fear of being seen in his retreat; yet when, on reaching
the shanty, he found Belle still quite unconscious, he recognised that
the most difficult part of his task had yet to come. He had brought
back a few comforts snatched up hastily as he made his escape, and now
set to work to force a few drops of brandy down her throat, wrap her
in warmer garments, and chafe her cold hands and feet. To do so he had
to unclasp the fingers of her right hand by force and withdraw
something she held in it. This, without giving it a glance, he slipped
into the breast-pocket of his coat and so continued his efforts. After
a time her colour became less deathlike: she moaned once or twice,
turning her head aside as if to escape from some distasteful sight;
but beyond this there was no change, and the hope of her recovering
the shock sufficiently to aid in her own escape seemed very slender.
Nor did Philip wonder at her collapse when he thought of what it must
have been for her to stand by helpless, and see those who had left her
in anger swept away into the unforgiveness of death.

"_Huzoor_" whispered the old Khân, who in deference to inviolable
custom had been sitting with averted face in the doorway, where,
shivering from the chill of the wind through his wet clothes he had
been considering the position carefully, "We must get out of this. To
sit here will have us crippled with ague by dawn. There is my pony; I
will go fetch it from the huts. Perchance they may not see me;
perchance they would not touch me if they did, for Râmu--the man I
killed, _Huzoor_--hath no blood-kin in these parts, and death cools
friendship. Besides, their wrath will be only against white faces.
When I am gone ten minutes, lift the _mem_, and make for the dip in
the south road by the _nullah_. If all goes well, you will hear hoofs
ere long. But if these fools are set on blood, make your way as best
you can due south. Eight miles, more or less, keeping the left bank
till you see a square-towered house. Give this to the women; they will
obey it."

He took the talisman signet from his thumb, and slipping it into
Philip's hand left the hut. The next ten minutes seemed interminable;
and the relief of action when it came was great. This time Belle
proved an easier burden, when wrapped closely in a shawl and lifted
leisurely. Once amongst the tall tiger-grass in the _nullah_ he rested
his knee against a high tussock and still holding her in his arms
waited anxiously, for he was now on the direct route to the house and
liable to come across a straggling rioter at any moment. The risk,
however, had to be run, as the only available bridge over a cut from
the river lay a few yards further on. Sheltered by the high grass,
Philip's eyes were practically useless to him, and the pony's hoofs
being deadened by the sand, it needed a low whistle from the Khân to
bring him out on to the road beside the pink-nosed pony.

"Give me her here, across the pummel, _Huzoor_," said the old man
briefly. "Your legs are younger than mine, and time is precious.
So, gently! _Mashallah!_ I have seen women carried thus before
this!--women who gave the rider more trouble than she is like to do.
Now, if you are ready, _Huzoor_; for though 'tis dark enough there
will be a blaze ere long. Those low-caste, pig-leather-working dogs
had got to the _sahib's_ brandy-bottles, and you know what that
means."

"Did they try to stop you?" asked Philip, when after crossing the
bridge in silent anxiety they struck into the comparative safety of
the jungle.

The old man grunted softly, his anger tempered by the necessity for
caution. "By the twelve Imaums they said I was afraid!--_I_, Mahomed
Lateef Syyed!--that I was sneaking away! And I,--I never even called
them pigs."

Despite his anxiety Philip could not resist a smile, partly of
confidence, for no better proof of the Khân's resolution to bring
Belle safely out of trouble could have been found than this
unparalleled meekness. So they went on swiftly. Philip at the
bridle-rein, the old Khân supporting Belle partly on his arm, partly
by a dexterous arrangement of his scabbard, over which the old man
chuckled as if in contented reminiscence of bygone days. "'Tis as I
said, _Huzoor_," he remarked pointing to a red flush rising behind
them. "That is the bungalow roof. 'Tis well she is out of it so far."
Philip thinking of all the horrors of the past few hours, and
contrasting them with his memories of Belle in her pretty home,
clenched his hands, wishing _he_ were nearer. Perhaps the Khân's
sympathy saw to his thought, for the old man went on in aggrieved
tones, "And we get no good from it. Not even an honest set-to when the
women are safe; for to-morrow the _tâhseeldar_[9] and the police will
spoil sport. Besides, these shovel-diggers will be afraid of their own
actions by dawn! Even now we are safe; safe as if we are driving down
the watered road of a cantonment, our only care to convey this poor
soul to woman's hands. _Inshallah!_ The women have the best of it in
your reign, _Huzoor!_"

"Well! some one will have to answer for the day's work," replied
Philip grimly.

"Some _one_. Ay, that is to-day's law, and even of that I know not,"
grumbled the Khân. "For look you, Râmu and none else killed the
_sahib_, and I killed Râmu, so that is done. The rest were peaceable
enough, God knows, and you hang not for the bursting of _bunds_ (dams)
and burning of bungalows. There is no justice nowadays!"

It was past midnight ere the pony pulled up of its own accord at a
ruinous door, and the owner with mighty shouts and much impatient
rattling of his sword-hilt on the panels roused the inmates.
"Come forth, Fâtma," he cried to the white-sheeted form muttering
faint excuses which appeared at length. "Heed not the stranger
to-night,--Haiyât also. He is my brother, and this, look you, is my
sister. We will carry her within to the women's room, and ye must see
to her as women should, and bring us word of her state speedily. 'Tis
best so, _Huzoor_; Fâtma is learned in woman's lore and hath simples.
She will tell us if there be hurts or danger. For to-night the _mem_
had best stay here, since there is nought to be done save rest."

"Not so, Khân _sahib_; I must return and see after--"

The old Mussulman raised his right hand solemnly. "Let the dead rest
in peace also for tonight, _Huzoor_. I saw Raby _sahib_ fall, and I
know how dead clay toucheth the earth to which it returns. The knife
struck home, _Huzoor_; right through the heart! Lo, it was Kismet!
Raby _sahib_ is dead, but his slayer is dead also, so we, his
comrades, may rest awhile till dawn comes."

"I will wait till dawn," said Philip, "and hear what the women say."

So the Khân disposed himself to sleep with the calm of an old
campaigner, and Philip sat out in the warm night air waiting for the
dawn. The storm had ended in weak-minded thunder and a few spots of
dry rain, which had nevertheless left a freshness behind them. Here
and there through the parting drifts of cloud and dust the stars
twinkled brightly, making Philip's thoughts turn to a future more
peaceful than past or present. He drove the erring fancies back to
realities with a certain scorn of himself, but they broke from control
again and again with the insistence which truth brings to bear on
conventionalities. It was true that by and by time would heal the
present trouble; it was true that by and by regrets would soften.
There was no hurry, no thought but pity and sorrow for what was, and
yet he started from a vision of peace to find old Fâtma by his side.
The Khân had long since been snoring placidly, so the old matron's
eyes could look into Philip's with straightforward confidence.

"The _mem_ will do for now, _Huzoor_. There is no danger, none at all.
But by and by, in the months to come, may God save from harm the child
that will be born!"

He rose to his feet white to the very lips. Just Heaven! Was this poor
Belle's last legacy!



                            CHAPTER XXVI.


The old Khân's forecast proved correct in every particular. By noon on
the day after the outbreak the ringleaders were safe in the lock-up
awaiting trial, and, save for the smouldering house and the yellow
flood of water sliding down the old channel, there was nothing to tell
of the past night's work. For the dead bodies had been carried to
their homes, and the women wailed over them discreetly behind mud
walls, as if they had died in their beds. All save John Raby's, and
that was making a dismal procession towards the nearest railway
station, preceded at a little distance by poor Belle, crushed and but
half-conscious of the truth. Philip, riding by the side of the litter,
felt there was something exasperating in the absolute insignificance
of the whole affair. It almost seemed as if some one must be to blame,
as if something could surely have been done to avert so terrible an
ending to what was, after all, but a storm in a tea-cup. But then
neither he, nor the authorities who had to inquire into the matter,
were in possession of that master-key to the whole position which was
to be found in Shunker Dâs's desire for revenge. For he had worked
carefully, leaving scarcely a trace behind him; and though Kirpo came
forward boldly to declare his responsibility, her palpable motive for
spite discredited her statements. Besides, at the very outset of the
inquiry, it became clear that John Raby's murder by Râmu had nothing
whatever to do with his action in regard to the water; and however
absurd the man's jealousy might seem, it was certainly sufficient to
explain the rancour with which Kirpo's husband had set himself to
conspire against the Englishman. It was evident therefore that the
latter had met his death, not from his harshness towards the people,
but from the good-nature with which he had originally espoused the
woman's cause. Both Philip Marsden and the Khân could only witness to
the freedom from all attempt at personal violence on the part of the
crowd, even when John Raby had thrown himself among the workers and
taken a spade from them by force; while the subsequent burning and
looting of the factory was evidently an after impulse caused by the
rage of the survivors at the loss of their companions. The whole
affair, in short, being one of those perfectly maddening mistakes and
misapprehensions which serve sometimes to emphasise the peculiar
conditions of life in our Indian Empire.

All this, or most of it, was in due time dinned into the widow's ears
by kindly but strange voices; for there was one familiar voice which
she dreaded to hear because the owner knew of something which the
others did not know: something she could not remember without despair.
So day after day she lay in the spare room of the head official's
house,--that spare room which shelters such an odd variety of guests,
the travelling Member of Parliament, the widow, the homeward and
outward bound, the dying, sometimes the dead--and when Philip's name
was mentioned she would turn her head away and beg to be left alone a
little longer, just a little longer. Hurt as he could not fail to be
at her avoidance of him, he understood the reason of it all too well,
and waited patiently. Then the last day of his leave came, and he sent
to say he _must_ see her before he left; so Belle, white as her
widow's cap, nerved herself for the interview with the man whom she
had preferred before her dead husband. That is how, in her abject
remorse, she put it to herself. She had chosen her lover. The natural
indignation at deceit, the generous instinct, the sense of injustice
which had forced her to the decision were all forgotten before the
memory of those minutes of delay. How could she meet Philip?--Philip,
round whose neck she had thrown her arms while defying the husband
whom she had sent alone to seek death! That Philip had refused to play
the part she gave him, that he had forced her to play a better one
herself, brought her no comfort. She was too much absorbed in the
scene as it affected her and the dead man to care what Philip had said
or done. The very fact of his entering into it at all was an offence.
She would not consider him in the least, except to tell herself that
she was also responsible to _him_ for the loss of his money. To this
additional self-reproach she clung firmly, as if to a protection, and
when she saw him pausing for half a second at the first glimpse of her
in her widow's weeds, she thrust it forward hastily, like a shield
against his sympathy.

"I am so sorry," she began coldly, "it was not his fault. He did his
best about the money, and now you have lost it all."

A sort of irritated amazement came over him. What did he care for the
money? Why should she be fretting over it when his thoughts were full
of her,--of her only? He looked into her grief-darkened eyes with a
certain impatience--the old impatience at seeing her unhappy--the old
eagerness to rouse her into hope. "Oh Belle! what does all that
matter? Don't look so miserable over it, for pity's sake!"

She drew her hand from his, slowly, with her eyes full on his face.
"You are fond of saying that. But how can I look anything else when I
killed my husband?"

"Belle!" The horrified surprise in his tone scarcely expressed his
bewilderment, for he had little experience of women or the morbid
exaggerations in which, at times, they find a positive relief. "Belle,
what do you mean? How can you say such things?"

"What is the use of hiding the truth from ourselves?" she answered
almost with satisfaction at her own self-torture. She had not meant,
at least she thought she had not meant, to broach the subject at all;
but now that it was begun she threw herself into it with out reserve.
"You know as well as possible that it was I who really killed him; I
who prevented your being in time to save him."

There was more pity than amazement in his voice now. "Have you been
tormenting yourself with that thought all these long days? Poor child!
No wonder you have been miserable. Belle, my dear, it isn't true. You
know yourself,--surely you must know it isn't true."

"I know nothing of the sort," she interrupted quickly, with a dull
hard voice. "I kept you, and you were too late. Nothing can alter
that. It is the truth."

"It is not the truth," he answered quietly. "If you had but let me see
you at first I might have spared you this unnecessary pain. Perhaps I
ought to have insisted on seeing you, but--" He went on after a slight
pause, "but I respected your wishes, because--"

"Because you knew I had reason to dread seeing you!" she broke in
passionately. "Because you knew it was I who killed him! Because you
were afraid! Don't deny it, Philip; you knew,--yes! you knew why."

He stood before her, manly and strong, pitiful yet full of vexation.
"I will not have you say such things--of me at any rate, Belle. I will
not even have you think them of me; or of yourself either. In your
heart of hearts you know they are not true. True!--they are lies,
Belle, wicked lies. You have been working yourself up in your
loneliness to believe something impossible, preposterous, and it is my
fault for letting you be lonely. I was not too late. No power on earth
could have saved John. I was there armed, ready; the Khân was there
also with drawn sword; yet we could not save him. No one could have
saved him. _That_ is the truth."

"If you had gone sooner," she murmured, pressing her hands tightly
together till the rings on them cut and hurt, as if she were glad of
pain, of something to appease her own self-condemnation; "if you had
not been delayed, you might have persuaded him to be more cautious."

Philip almost smiled, a smile of vexed surprise at her perversity. "My
dear Belle! Am I a man to preach caution when I am opposed? Was John a
man to listen to such caution when the time for action had come?
Nonsense! I don't wish to be hard, dear; I don't say, mind you, that
the remembrance of his anger is not very bitter--God only knows how
bitter--for you to bear. But, Belle, if he knows anything now, he
knows that he was wrong."

"He was not wrong; he was right. I chose you and forsook him."

Philip gave a little impatient shake of his head, then walked away to
the window feeling how hopeless it was to argue with a woman in
Belle's position. A man was absolutely helpless before such weakness
and such strength. Yet, after a pause, he returned to the attack by a
side route. "Besides," he said, coming back to where she was seated,
and standing beside her resting one hand on the back of her chair, "it
was not really you who delayed me. It was something else of which you
know nothing. If I had seen you I would have told you, but there was
no use mentioning it to others because the man had gone and there was
nothing to be done. It was Afzul kept me. He came to my room when I
went to fetch my revolver, and barred the door. He wanted me to listen
as you did. I think he was mad, but I had to fire ere he would let me
pass. You see it was he who delayed me, not you. One reason why I did
not mention it was this: the man was a deserter, but he had saved my
life and,--I think--I think he must have been mad."

But Belle made no answer. With her head resting on her hand she was
frowning slightly in pursuit of a fugitive memory. "Afzul!" she echoed
at last in puzzled tones. "I had quite forgotten; but surely he came
to me in the drawing-room. He gave me something and he said something;
surely about Dick! Could it have been about Dick?"

Her eyes sought Philip's for the first time with appeal, and he was
sorry to chill the interest in them with a negative. Yet what could
Afzul possibly have to say about poor Dick Smith? "Hardly, I should
think; I doubt if they ever met even at Faizapore. But this reminds
me,--you had something tight clasped in your hand when I found you
close to the river;--so close,--did they tell you how close it was to
death, my dear, when I came upon you lying--Oh, Belle, so close!"

"Something in my hand," echoed Belle coldly. "What did you do with
it?"

"Like you I had forgotten," said Philip, recovering from the break in
his voice. "I put it in the pocket of my coat when I was trying to
bring you back to consciousness in the hut. I dare say it is there
still. Shall I go and see?"

Her affirmative sent him away relieved at the more human interest in
her face. A minute afterwards he returned with a little brocaded
packet looking as if it had lain in damp lodgings. "I hope it isn't
hurt," he said lightly; "but having no servant here, my clothes have
dried as best they could, and it feels rather pulpy. Open it and see
what parting gift that inexplicable compound of fidelity and treachery
left behind him. He had a great admiration for you, Belle."

"It is not for me after all. It is for you," she replied after a
pause, as she smoothed out the long blue envelope which had been
rolled round a smaller packet. "At least I think so. The writing above
is smudged, but 'Marsden, 101st Sikhs' is quite clear. Look at it,
while I open the other."

He took the letter from her calmly, without a misgiving. His first
glance at it, however, roused a sudden doubt, a sudden memory; but ere
he had grasped the meaning of his own thoughts, Belle's hand was on
his arm, and her voice appealing to him in a new, glad tone of hope.
"Oh Philip, it is Dick's ring! I have seen him wear it,--so often; I
can't be mistaken. It is Dick's ring,--can he be alive,--is he,--do
you think he can be alive still?"

For an instant they stood so, she like a resurrection of her girlhood,
he stupidly staring at a curious dark stain blotting out part of the
address. Then the truth began to dawn upon him, and his hand clenched
in a growing passion. "No!" he said fiercely, and his voice was almost
a whisper at first. "No! This is his will,--the will I would not
take,--Afzul! My God! Afzul had it all the time! He must have been in
the Pass,--Ah! I remember,--the _subadar_,--those others, all _his_
enemies,--He must have killed the boy,--He must have killed the boy!"

His horror, his anger, burst bounds. He forgot everything else in the
wild hatred which rose up in him against the murderer, as he strode up
and down the room, silent for the most part, but every now and again
breaking out into a passionate regret. Why had he been so blind? To
think that all the time this man had nursed him, all the time he had
taken so many benefits from that hand, it had been red with poor,
brave Dick's blood. Why had he not shot the scoundrel when he had the
chance?

But Belle stood as he had left her, the fingers of her right hand
still caressing the ring which, half unconsciously, she had slipped to
the third finger of her left, where, over-large for the slender
resting-place, it almost hid the golden circlet of her wedding ring.
Her eyes, soft with a great tenderness, seemed to see nothing but a
young face eager in its plea for toleration. Dick, poor Dick! Had
anything better than his love ever come into her life? The sight of
her as she stood almost with a smile on her face brought a new element
into Philip's thoughts. All that time, while Belle had been beating
her wings against the cage, Afzul had been walking about with release
in his pocket. "It is God's will!" The scene in the verandah at
Saudaghur on the first night of their return from death recurred to
Philip's mind, as such forgotten incidents do when time has shown
their true significance, making him realise more clearly than he had
ever done before in all his life what mere shuttlecocks in the game of
Fate the strongest-willed may be at times. A certain defiant revolt
made him cross to where Belle stood and put his arm around her as if
to claim her. "The Fates have been against us, my darling," he
whispered passionately, "against us all along!"

She scarcely seemed to hear him, scarcely seemed to notice his touch.
In truth she had forgotten him, forgotten even her troubles. "Philip,"
she said, and there was a strange thrill in her voice, "if we had only
known, he could have told us what Dick did. It was something very
brave, I know; but if we could only be sure what it was."

Before the eyes full of a great tenderness which were raised to his,
he felt as far beneath her in his selfishness as she had seemed to him
but just now in her morbid weakness. How could he be angry with her?
How could he even blame her?

And yet when he left her room at length, he looked so dispirited that
the little Irish doctor coming in on his daily visit to Mrs. Raby,
felt impelled to clap him on the back and remark somewhat
inconsequently that "women, God bless 'em!" were only occasionally
responsible for their words; certainly not so when their nerves were
jangled and out of tune. Whereat Philip's pride rose at the very idea
that the bystanders understood, or thought they understood, the
position. Perhaps they were even now speculating how soon those two
would give up mourning and be married. The only drop of comfort came
from Mildred Van Milder, who had come to be with Belle, and take her
back to the little house at Missouri when she was fit to travel. And
her consolation consisted in a tearful remark that Belle had far
better have married Dick Smith. He was very young, of course, and had
no money, but Charlie Allsop hadn't any either, and yet she wouldn't
change him for all the legacies in the world. The news of the
discovery of Dick's will was a nine days' wonder, and even found its
way into the daily papers, much to Philip's annoyance. Otherwise the
fact itself was a distinct relief, since it gave Belle independence
and removed the fear of her choosing poverty in preference to his
help; a choice which in her present frame of mind seemed a foregone
conclusion. At the same time it was likely to raise a new crop of
difficulties, for three years had passed by since the money had fallen
in to the charity, and a long time must elapse before it could be
recovered; if indeed it could be recovered at all. Luckily the proving
of the will was not difficult, despite the peculiarities of its
custody. To begin with it was in Dick's own writing, and the old Khân
was able to speak with certainty as to having seen both envelope and
ring in the Pathan's possession, and bear out the fact that Philip had
taken the brocaded packet from Belle's hand in the hut. The question
as to how Afzul had come by it was, in Philip's opinion, all too
clear; especially when inquiry proved that the Pathan had at any rate
been on the Peiwar Pass about the time of the murder. So far good; the
remainder, however, was more puzzling, and Philip felt that Belle made
a wise decision in refusing to disturb any existing arrangements
until, as she put it, time should show what she ought to do. The
doctors strongly advised her going home to England as soon as the
advent of the rains should make the long railway journey to Bombay
possible. The complete change would give her the best chance of
recovering the shock, and she could then see with her own eyes how the
money had been spent, and what portion of it, if any, she would care
to leave in its present employment.

"I shall meet you in Delhi," he wrote in reply to the letter in which
she gave him her final decision, "and see you safe to Bombay. To begin
with, there are one or two little business formalities which require
my presence as executor, and then I must see you once more. There is
to be a punitive expedition over the frontier in spring; so leave will
be impossible until the cold weather after next, and that is a long
time. I may never see you again."

She read these words as she sate on the window-seat of the little
drawing-room where she had read the news of his death three years
before. Three years! Was it only three years, since, with her eyes
still wet with the tears she did not understand, she had gone out into
the mist and the rain to find that vision of a sunlit world at her
feet with John Raby standing at her side? And now he was dead, dead in
anger, while tears, far more bitter than those she had shed at the
thought of Philip's death, came to her eyes with the thought of seeing
him again. Yet the world seemed to have stood still otherwise; the
little room, the slanting pines, the drifts of cloud over the hills,
even Maud in the rocking-chair, and Mrs. Stuart still aggressive in
her tears and widow's caps--for the good lady had ordered a new one in
anticipation of Belle's visit, moved thereto by an ill-defined but
very kindly impulse of sympathy. But Belle did not know this; she only
saw that sameness which is almost irritating when we ourselves have
changed so much. She used to sit in the little room where she had
slept the night before her wedding, and wonder what she had done to
bring herself into this position; herein, for once, agreeing with
Philip, who far away with his regiment asked himself many and many a
time what either of them had done of which they needed to be ashamed.

Meanwhile the little household went on its monotonous way contentedly.
Charlie was at school, much improved, and glad of Belle's presence;
partly because he was fond of her, partly because she occupied his
room and thus prevented that weekly return home from Saturday to
Monday at which he was beginning to grow restive, since it was almost
as derogatory to dignity as being a home-boarder. Mrs. Stuart employed
herself in weeping placidly over Belle's misfortunes, and paying
visits to her friends, during which she darkly hinted that she had
always been against the match; for Mr. Raby had played _écarté_,
and though of course he had not lost his money that way, it was not
_comme il faut_ in a young civilian. Maud was growing older in the
rocking-chair, and inclined, as ever, to resent other people's tears.

"I don't think Belle is so much to be pitied after all," she cried
captiously. "Other people are not always having legacies left them,
and £30,000 means more to a widow than to a married woman. Besides,
she needn't remain a widow unless she likes; Philip Marsden has been
in love with her all the time." Whereat Mildred, signing her daily
letter to Charlie Allsop with a flourish which would have done credit
to the heiress of millions, interrupted her sister hotly. "I think
it's a beastly shame to say so all the same, Maudie. I dare say it's
true; but I'm sure if any one said such things of me when I was a
widow, I'd never marry the man. No, not if I liked him ever so much!
I'll tell you what it is: Belle has had a hard time of it; and if poor
Dick were only here, as well as his money, I believe she would marry
him and be happy."

"My dear girls!" expostulated their mother feebly, "her husband is not
six weeks dead till next Tuesday. If any one had suggested marriage to
me when poor Colonel Stuart--"

"Oh, that is different, mamma," retorted Mildred impatiently. "Belle
only married John by mistake. Lots of girls do the same thing. Mabel
has, with her Major; but then she will never find it out, so it
doesn't matter. Charlie says--"

"Oh, if Charlie says anything, that settles the matter," broke in Maud
peevishly. "I wish you two would get married, and then you would soon
cease to think each other perfection. For my part, I consider Belle is
not to be pitied. She has plenty of money, and by and by she will have
a baby to amuse her when she's tired of other things. What more can
any woman want? I'm very sorry for her now, but grief doesn't last
forever, and after all she never was in love with John. That's one
comfort."

Perhaps if Belle had been asked she might have denied the last
statement. If she had loved him, the past would certainly have been
less of a regret, the future less of a fear. What was to be the end of
it all? That question clamoured for answer as the big ship began to
slide from its moorings. Leaning over the taffrail, her eyes heavy
with unshed tears, she could see nothing but Philip standing
bareheaded in the boat which slipped landwards so fast. A minute
before his hands had been in hers, his kind voice faltering good-bye
in her ears. And now? Suddenly her clasped fingers opened in a gesture
of entreaty. "Philip!" she whispered. "Comeback, come back!"

But the swirl of the screw had caught the boat and Major Marsden was
in his place at the tiller-ropes, his face set landwards. The rowers
bent to their oars and so, inch by inch, yard by yard, the rippling
sunlit water grew between those two. Was that to be the end?



                            CHAPTER XXVII.


Seven years! Time enough, so physiologists tell us, for the whole
structure of the body to be worn out and renewed again. And for the
mind? Is it to be allowed no chance of change, no throwing aside of
effete matter, no relief from the monotony of a fixed body of
opinions, thoughts, and emotions? That would be hard indeed. Yet Belle
Raby--for she was Belle Raby still--had altered little either
outwardly or inwardly in the seven years which had passed since she
stood leaning over the taffrail watching a boat slip landwards, and
asking herself if that was to be the end of it all. Perhaps this lack
of change was the less remarkable because, as she leant over the
wicket-gate looking into the lane beyond, she was still watching and
waiting, and asking herself what the end was to be. Not, however, as
she had done then; for then she had been in a state of nervous
collapse and unable to judge fairly of anything or any one, of herself
least of all. To do her justice this state of mind had not lasted
long; indeed Belle had found herself facing the white cliffs of
England, and the uncertain future awaiting her there with more
equanimity than she would have deemed possible or even proper a month
before. The long journey home,--that slow passaging day after day
towards a set haven regardless of storm or calm,--the imperturbable
decision of the big ship which seems to have absorbed your weakness in
its strength--the knowledge that day and night, night and day, while
you forget, the engines like a great heart are throbbing on
purposefully across the pathless sea,--all this has worked many a
miracle of healing in mind and body exhausted by the struggle for
existence. It wrought one for Belle, luckily, since the future held
many a difficulty. Despite them all, as seven years afterwards, she
stood bareheaded in the cool English sunshine she looked wonderfully
young and happy; even though those seven years had been the fateful
ones which find a woman in the twenties and leaves her in the
thirties. True it is that wisdom, either of this world or the next,
brings a sadness to most eyes, but in this case a sweetness had come
with it which more than counterbalanced the loss of gaiety. In fact
Belle Raby had never looked more attractive than she did as she stood
in a white dress with a Jacqueminot rose tucked away in the lace at
her throat leaning over the wicket-gate waiting,--waiting for what?

For Philip, of course. Ten o'clock had just chimed from a church-tower
close by, and the time between that and the half-hour had belonged for
years to her best friend. Sometimes during those short thirty minutes
of a busy day she wrote to him; sometimes, as now, she stood watching
for him with tolerable certainty that, if steamers and trains were
punctual, he would step with bodily presence into her life for a few
weeks; but most often she was setting time, and space, and absence,
and all the trivialities which clip the wings of poor humanity at
defiance. In other words she was allowing her imagination to get the
better of her common sense. That is one way of putting it. Another is
possible to those who, like Belle, have learnt to recognise the fact
that the outside world exists for each one of us, not in itself, but
in the effect which it produces on our consciousness. Two women are
grinding at the mill; the one weeps over the task, the other smiles;
just as they choose to weep or smile. The secret of the emotion lies
not in the cosmic touch itself, but in the way the consciousness
receives it, and in the picture which the imagination draws of our own
condition; the abstract truth, the actual reality affects us not at
all. So Belle Raby, as she looked out to the wild roses in the
hedgerow and the yellow butterflies fluttering over the grey bloom of
the flowering grasses, saw nothing of the placid English landscape
spread before her eyes. She was standing on a faraway Indian platform
where the crows sat on the railings cawing irrelatively, and a tall
man in undress uniform was listening to those first words,--"it is
father." That had been the beginning of it all; the keynote both of
the discords and harmony of the whole. Then suddenly, as irrelatively
perhaps as the cawing of the crows, the scene changed. The flood of
sunshine faded to mirk and fog; such mirk and fog as humanity and its
ways creates in London on a dull November day. An atmosphere of
civilisation and culture, say some. Perhaps; but if so, civilisation
with all its advantages is apt to smell nasty. She saw a man and a
woman standing opposite each other in a London lodging, in a London
fog. But five minutes before Philip had come into it buoyantly,
decisively, bringing with him a memory of sunshine and purer air. Now
he stood with his back to the grey square of the window, his hands
stretched out to her in something between command and entreaty.
"Belle! put down the child and let me speak to you." And then for the
first time, she had gone over to him, with the child still in her
arms, and kissed him. "Jack will not trouble me, dear," she said; "he
is such a quiet wee mite. Come, let us sit down and talk it over."

Now when lovers fall to talking hand in hand it is proper, even in a
novel, to avert one's head and smile, saying that the conversation can
have no possible interest to outsiders. Or, if a sentence or two be
suggested, it is necessary to insist that love, divine love, can only
find its first expression in mere foolishness. Belle and Philip
therefore could evidently not have been lovers, for they talked
serious and sound good sense while the year-old Jack with his wide,
wistful eyes lay in his mother's arms and listened to it all. What was
it to him if more than once a reluctant tear fell on his tiny wrinkled
hands, and more than once Philip's voice trembled and then stopped a
while? What were such emotions to a life which had come into the world
barred from them forever? For Belle's child would never be as other
children are; so much was certain; whether he would ever need her care
more than another's was yet to be seen. But it was strange, was it
not? she seemed to hear herself saying in a calm voice, the steadiness
of which surprised her even at the time, that poor Dick's legacy had
gone to a hospital for just such poor little God-stricken children.

"Don't, Belle,--don't, for pity's sake,--I can't bear it." That had
been the man's cry, bringing home to her the fact that she and Philip
had changed places. In the old days a duty had lain between them; a
duty lay between them now. Why had she seen evil and shame in this
man's love then, and yet find none in it now? Then he had been calm,
and she had fretted. Now with another man's child in her arms, and
just the same love in her heart, she had the decision, and he the
restless pain. In those days no thought of such love as deals in
marriage had ever arisen between them; but now Philip had come all the
way from India full of a man's determination to end the story in what
the world said was the only possible, natural, or moral ending to any
love-story. And on such stories as theirs the worldly verdict runs
thus: they had loved each other when they could not marry, which was
very wrong; but a kindly Providence having removed the unnecessary
husband, they could marry, which set everything right.

The mirk and fog settled very closely round them as they sate by the
fire; closer on Philip than on Belle, for it was his turn to be scared
by the phantom of foregone conclusions. What he had strenuously denied
when the position ran counter to his pride, seemed true enough now
that it joined issue with it. He loved Belle, so of course he must
want to marry her. The two things were synonymous; when, of course,
there was a possibility of getting married. Yet Belle, even with tears
in her eyes, could smile as she told him that her first thought in
life lay in her arms; that she could not even give him hope in the
future, or bid him wait, since the waiting might be forever.

That had been more than five years ago, and there was still a smile on
Belle Raby's face as she roused herself from her day-dreams, looked at
her watch, and turned back into the garden. Perhaps he had missed his
train. Even if he had he would still come by and by to see how
magnificently the roses were blooming that year. There were roses
everywhere; wild in the hedgerows, many-coloured in the borders, white
in the trailing sprays that climbed round about the verandahs of the
low cottage which formed one wing of a plainer yet more important
building beyond. It was evidently the later addition of a different
taste, for the gardens surrounding them showed a like dissimilarity.
In the distance, open stretches of well-kept lawns and wide gravelled
paths; civilised, commonplace. Round the cottage a strip almost wild
in its profusion of annuals, its unpruned roses, and the encircling
shade of tall forest trees which must have stood there long before
either the cottage or the pretentious building beyond had been thought
of; a strip of garden suggestive, even to a casual observer, of a less
conventional fashion of life than is usual in the old country. To
Belle, as she stooped to push a tangle of larkspur within reasonable
bounds, it served as a reminiscence of days which, with all their
sadness, she never ceased to regret. She envied Philip often; Philip
in command of his regiment, away on this expedition or that, able to
come back always to the sociable yet solitary existence so strangely
free from the hurry and strain inseparable from life in the West.
Philip, whose name was known all along the frontier as the boldest
soldier on it. A perfect content for and in him glowed at her heart as
with her hands clasped behind her she strolled back to the gate. And
there he was, his head uncovered, his pace quickening as he saw her.
Her pulse quickened too, but she composed herself to calm. For they
had a little game to play, this middle-aged man and woman; a game
which they had played with the utmost gravity on the rare occasions
when Fate brought them into each other's presence.

"Your train is a little late to-day, Phil, isn't it?" she asked as she
held the gate open for him.

"Rather. Have you been waiting long?"

His voice trembled a little in the effort to take it all as a matter
of course, though hers did not; but then the novelty of environment
was greater for him than for her.

"How long is it this time, Phil? I forget, and after all what does it
matter? Come and see the roses, dear; there are such a lot out this
morning."

He stopped her for an instant by drawing the hand he held towards him,
and clasping it in both of his. "More roses than there were yesterday,
Belle?" he asked with a sort of eager certainty in his tone.

She looked at him fondly. "Yes, more than yesterday "--then suddenly
she laughed and laid her other hand on his. "I will say it, dear,
since it pleases you. There are more roses to-day because you have
come, and this is holiday-time."

Their welcome was over; they had stepped for a time into each other's
lives. A ridiculous pretence, of course; a mere attempt to make
imagination play the part assigned since all eternity to facts. But if
it pleased these two, or if it pleases any number of persons who find
facts are stubborn things, why should the world quarrel with it? Belle
had once on a time made herself unnecessarily miserable by imagining
that she and Philip were in love with each other, and that, since love
was inextricably bound up with marriage or the desire for it, she must
be posing as the heroine of the third-rate French novel. Her
consequent loss of self-respect had very nearly spoiled her life, and
even Philip had never ventured to think what might have happened had
John lived to force them into action. The unreality of her past fears
had come home to Belle, however, during the long months when she had
waited for her last legacy. And with the first sight of the baby-face
whereon Fate had set its mark of failure all too clearly, had come a
resolution that in the future nothing but her own beliefs should rule
her conduct. Her life and Philip's should not be spoiled by other
people's ideas; her imagination should be her slave, not her master.
So much, and more, she had said to Philip on that mirky day when in
his first disappointment he had declared that he could not bear it.
But that had been five years ago, and life seemed more than bearable
as he walked round the garden with her hand drawn through his arm and
held there caressingly. A man who is in command of a regiment in which
he has served since he was a boy, whose heart is in his profession,
whose career has been successful, has other interests in life besides
marriage; if he has not, the less he figures as a hero, even in a
novel, the better.

"It is like Nilgunj, isn't it?" said Belle pointing to the tangles of
flowers.

"With a difference. You can't grow Maréchal Niel roses in England.
They were,--well,--overpowering as I came through. Mildred has the
garden very nice; you would hardly recognise the place. The trees you
planted are taller than the house; but everything grows fast in
India,--their eldest girl is up to my elbow. Oh! and Maud was there on
a visit, wearing out her old clothes. She hasn't forgiven you yet,
Belle, for what she calls throwing away your money and becoming a
hospital nurse. I spent some time in trying to explain that you were
simply spending your money in the way which pleased you best; but it
was no use. She only said that caps were no doubt very becoming. Why
don't you wear them, Belle? You always tell _me_ to take what pleasure
I can out of life, and I obey orders."

There was a pause ere he went on. "And Charlie is quite a dandy. More
like you, Belle, than I should have thought possible from my
recollection of him as a youngster at Faizapore. Allsop gives a
first-rate account of him, says he is working splendidly. And Allsop
himself! what a rare good fellow he is, with just that touch of
determination his race generally lack. He is making the business pay
now; not as John would have done, of course, but it supports them and
leaves something over for the bloated capitalist. Besides it is so
much better for Charlie than loafing about at home like the others."

"You needn't tell me that, Phil," said Belle softly. "Don't you think
I see and understand all the good you have forced from what promised
to be evil?"

"That is rather strong, isn't it? It would most likely have done as
well without my interference; things generally come right in the end,
especially if you trust other people. At least that is my experience
in the regiment. By the way, I went over to see the old Khân when I
was at Nilgunj. He is a bit broken, though he won't allow it, by his
wife's death. Obstinate old hero! He declares, too, that it is no
satisfaction having his son back from the Andamans because he is only
out on ticket-of-leave. He stickles for a full apology; as if life
would be endurable without a grievance of some kind or another.
If he only knew how I had backstaired and earwigged every official
on the list over that business! I wasted a whole month's leave at
Simla,--which I might have saved up and spent on board a P. and O.
steamer, my dear. It was during the rains, and I seemed to live in a
waterproof on my way to some _burra sahib_ or another. But my pride is
all broken and gone to bits, Belle; I shall be asking the authorities
for a C.I.E.-ship some day if I don't take care. Well! the old man
sent you his _salaam_ as usual, said the women ruled the roost
nowadays, and in the same breath fell foul of them collectively
because his daughter-in-law had not prepared some peculiar sherbet
which old Fâtma always produced on state occasions. Not that Haiyât-bi
minds his abuse, now she has a husband to bully in her turn. That,
says the Khân, is women's way; since the beginning of time deceitful
and instinct with guile. And then, Belle--yes, then he brought out the
old sword, and here it is, dear, his and mine in the old way, if only
in the spirit."

He stood beside her, stretching out his hands in the well-remembered
fashion, as if something sacred lay in them and before the tenderness
in his face, the calmness of hers wavered for an instant. "Did we
really go through all that together, Phil?" she asked with a tremble
in her voice. "Oh my dear, my dear, how much you have all given me!
And I give,--so little. But my pride is, like yours, all broken and
gone to bits, and I take everything I can get. You should see how I
beg for the hospital."

She turned to the big white building beyond the cottage as if to
escape into another subject; and Philip turned also.

"Is it,--is it getting along nicely?" he asked dutifully.

"Yes, dear," she replied, looking at him again with a smile; "but we
shall have time to talk of that by and by. You haven't given me half
the budget of news. And do you know, Phil, I begin to suspect that in
writing you tell all the pleasant things and keep back the
disagreeables. Now that isn't fair; as children say, it spoils the
game."

"Does it? Well, I won't do it again. Let me see what is the most
unpleasant story I have heard for the last few months. Ah--yes! that
is about the worst." He paused with a frown.

"Well?"

"Only Shunker Dâs is dead. That isn't very distressful; but you
remember Kirpo?"

"Why, Philip, it was her husband who--"

"Yes, of course, of course; but I was not thinking of that; only of
the day when she came out of the coolies' hut with a child in her
arms, and told us why he was called Nuttu. Well, it is a horrid story,
Belle, but that pitiless old fatalist the Khân, who was my informant,
saw the hand of high heaven in it. Shunker got the telegram informing
him that he was to be made a _Rai Bahâdur_, and another announcing his
son's death by the same messenger. Ghastly, wasn't it? He had a fit,
and though he lived for some weeks they never could understand a word
he said, though he talked incessantly. One can imagine what he wanted
from the sequel. Well, at his funeral-pyre, up turns Kirpo with a
strapping boy of about eight years old, and there was an awful scene.
She swore it was Shunker's son, and made the child defile the ashes.
Do you remember her face that day, and how I said she hated somebody?
Great Heavens! there is something perfectly devilish in the idea of
such a revenge."

"And yet we talk calmly enough of the sins of the fathers being
visited on the children." She paused as the church clock struck
eleven. "It is time I went to see my bairns, Phil. Will you come too?
They will be at their best; the out-ones just in from the garden, the
in-ones ready for their midday rest. They look so comfortable all
tucked up in their cots."

The bravest man winces sometimes, and Philip, despite the five years,
had never forgotten that day of mirk and fog when he had first seen
John Raby's child, and Belle had bidden him go away if he could not be
satisfied with what she had to give him. To be satisfied, or go away!
Both, it had seemed to him then, equally impossible; yet he had done
both. Still the memory was painful. "You are going to build the new
wing next year, I suppose?" he said as indifferently as he could when,
leaving the shady wilderness, they made their way along the gravel
walks which were seamed in every direction by the wheel-marks of
invalid carriages.

"It depends," she replied quickly, answering the effort in his tone by
a grateful look. "I may not have to build it. I may not be here. I am
to go where I am most wanted; that was settled long ago, Phil."

He was silent; what was there to say?

Side by side they climbed the terrace steps to reach the front of the
hospital which looked right across a stretch of wind-swept down to the
open sea. A row of perambulators and wheeled couches stood under a
glazed verandah, and above the level lines of square windows the words
"SMITH'S HOME FOR INCURABLE CHILDREN" showed in big gold letters as a
balustrade to the semi-Grecian façade.

Belle glanced up at it before passing through the noiseless swinging
doors. "I always wish I had been in time to stop that awful
inscription," she said; "but it was scarcely worth while pulling it
all down. You see none of them can read. We take them young, and those
who stop don't live to be old; that is one thing to be thankful for.
You don't like my speaking of it, Phil, but I often wonder what would
have become of this empty shell of a house if my Jack had been born as
most children are born,--as I wished him to be born. Some one would
have carried on the work, I suppose, if I hadn't, and yet,--these
bairns might have been God knows where, instead of in the sunlight."

She opened an inner door, and signed to him to pass before her. There
was sunlight there, and no lack of it, though it shone on sights which
to Philip Marsden's unaccustomed eyes seemed to dim the brightness.
Rows of little crutches along the walls, weary unchildlike faces
resting on the low divans in the windows; in the centre a more
cheerful picture of little ones gathered round a table set with bread
and milk.

"This is my show room and these are my show babies," said Belle with a
smile. "We all get about more or less and play by ourselves; don't we,
nurse? And some of us, like Georgie here, are going home again because
we are too strong for the place. We don't keep noisy, romping, rioting
ragamuffins, do we, children?"

The face she turned up to hers as she passed grinned doubtfully, but
all the other little white faces dimpled and wrinkled with mirth at
the very idea of Georgie's exile. They went up stairs now, into more
sunshine streaming on rows of beds where childhood wore away with no
pleasure beyond a languid joy at a new picture-book or a bunch of
flowers. Here they trod softly, for some of the little ones were
already asleep.

"Where is Freddy?" asked Belle in a whisper of the nurse busy
smoothing an empty cot.

"He seemed so restless this morning, ma'am, that Dr. Simmonds thought
we had better put him in the White Ward; he was afraid--"

Belle passed on, her face a shade graver, and as Philip followed her
up another wide staircase she paused before a closed door and asked
him to wait for her; she would not be long.

He caught a glimpse of a smaller, more home-like room, white and
still, with the light shaded from the open windows. Then he stood
leaning against the bannisters, watching the dancing motes in a
sunbeam slanting down from the skylight overhead; a skylight looking
as if it were glazed with sapphire.

"That was the White Ward," said Belle, coming out and passing upward
through the beam of light. She spoke almost cheerfully, but Philip,
who had faced death, and worse horrors than death, many a time without
a qualm, felt himself shiver. Once again they paused before a closed
door and she gave Philip a hurried half-appealing glance, before she
said nervously, "I have Jack in this ward now. Dr. Simmonds thinks it
good for him to be with the other children, and he seems to like it
better."

It was the sunniest room of all, for the windows were set wide open,
and the blinds drawn up. The scent of the roses from Belle's garden
drifted in with the cool fresh wind. The children had evidently all
been out, for a pile of hats and cloaks lay on the table, but they
were now seated on their cots awaiting their turn for lunch. Philip's
eyes, travelling down the row of beds, rested on a crop of golden
curls, and he gave a little exclamation, half groan, half sigh. That
was a face he could not mistake, strange and wistful as it was; not an
unintelligent face either, and great heavens! how like the father's as
it fell stricken to death.

"Listen!" said Belle, touching his arm. A nurse passing with a tray
paused in pleased expectancy.

"Jack!" her voice echoed softly through the silence.

The golden head turned, the veriest ghost of a smile came to the
pinched face, and the thin little hands stretched themselves aimlessly
into space with a sudden plaintive cry which sent a lump to Philip's
throat.

"Lor!" protested the nurse full of pride; "didn't he say it beautiful
clear that time? Mother? Yes, it is mother, my pretty; and you knows
her voice, don't you, dearie? just as well as any on us."

Belle sate down on the cot, gathering the child in her arms, and the
yellow curls nestled down contentedly on her shoulder. A mite of a boy
with great wide blue eyes fixed on the only face he ever recognises.
"Do you think him grown at all?" she asked; then seeing Philip's look
bent over the child and kissed the blue veins on the large forehead.
There was a passion of protection in her kisses. "If he were the only
one, Phil, I should break my heart about it; but there are so
many,--and,--and it is so causeless." Her eyes seemed to pass beyond
the child and she went on more cheerfully, "Then he is such a
contented little fellow when he is with me,--aren't you, Jack?"

Again came the ghost of a smile, and the same plaintive cry. Philip
walked to the window and looked out on the roses. It was a very slight
thing, that cry, to have come between a man and a woman,--if it had
come between them. He turned to look at Belle instinctively, and found
her looking at him. No! nothing had come between them. Before the
insoluble problem of what Belle held in her arms love seemed to him
forever divorced from marriage. The veriest pariah, born of God knows
what, or of whom, the outcome of the basest passion, might enter the
world fair and strong and capable, while their child, if they married,
bringing each to each a pure devotion, might be as these children
here.

He crossed the room again and sate down on the bed beside her. "How
many have you in the hospital now?" he asked in a low voice, for Jack,
contented and comfortable, was evidently falling asleep.

"Fifty; but Dr. Simmonds says he could fill a hundred beds to-morrow.
It is the best place, he declares, of its kind."

"Would you undertake so much?"

She shook her head. "I never know,--no one knows from day to day. They
are all so frail. Freddy, for instance, was no worse yesterday, and
to-day! There are plenty to fill my place here when,--when the time
comes."

"It may never come. Besides," he added, "I may be incurable myself ere
long. Don't you remember promising me the gatekeeper's place if ever I
was pensioned off minus a leg or an arm?"

"Did I?" she answered in the same light tone, as she rose to lay
little Jack on his pillow and draw the blanket over him. "Then I must
warn the present old cripple that his place isn't a permanent one.
Isn't he like his father, Phil?" she added, laying her hand on the
child's pretty soft curls.

"Very."

They passed along the sunny corridors again and so out into the open
air. Philip drew his hand over his forehead as if to brush away
puzzling thoughts, and gave a sigh of relief. "Come down to the cliffs
with me, Belle," he said. "There is plenty of time before lunch, and I
feel as if I wanted a blow. It's rather an irrelevant remark, but I
wonder what will become of the babies if women become men?"

They crossed the downs keeping step together, and walking rapidly as
if to leave something behind, finally seating themselves in a niche
between two great white pillars of chalk, whence they could see the
waves ebbing and flowing among the rocks at their feet. The horizon
and the sky were blent into one pale blue, so that the fishing boats
with their red-brown sails seemed hovering between earth and heaven.

"How long is it this time?" she asked after a pause. "The usual three
months?"

"Yes! the usual three months from the frontier. That leaves me six
weeks with you; six whole weeks."

There was another pause. "Philip!" she said suddenly, "I'll marry you
to-morrow if you like,--if,--if it would make you happier."

He was sitting with his hands between his knees, looking out absently
over the waves below. He did not stir, but she could see a smile
struggling with his gravity.

"My dear Belle! The banns haven't been called."

"Perhaps we could afford a special license on the easy-purchase system
by monthly instalments," she suggested quite as gravely. "But really,
Philip, when I see you--"

"Growing so old; don't be afraid of the truth, Belle. Am I very bald?"

"Bald! No, but you are grizzling fast, Phil; and when the fact is
brought home to me by seeing it afresh, I ask myself why you shouldn't
have a wife and children."

"I could, of course; there are plenty of young ladies now on the
frontier. Oh, Belle! I thought we had settled this long ago. You can't
leave Jack; you wouldn't with a clear conscience, if you could. I
can't leave the regiment; I shouldn't like to, if I could. Is not that
an end of marriage from our point of view? Besides," he turned to her
now with a smile full of infinite tenderness, "I am not at all sure
that I do want to marry you. When perfection comes into a man's life,
can you not understand his being a little afraid--"

"Philip!"

"Not of you, dear; but this love of ours seems better than we are
ourselves,--than _I_ am, certainly. Then marriage, as I take it, is
for young people, and what they call Love is the bribe held out by
Nature to induce her thoughtless children to undertake a difficult
duty. The sweet isn't unwholesome in itself, but that is no reason why
we should call it manna from heaven and say it is better than plain,
wholesome bread and butter."

"You are growing detestably didactic in your old age, Phil. When you
come to the gatekeeper's house I shall have to amend your ways."

"You forget I shall be incurable then; but you are right. I am fast
becoming a real old crusted military fogy, and of all fogies that is
the worst. You can't think what a nuisance I am to the boys at mess;
they depute a fresh one to prose to the Colonel every night."

"I know better. When young Cameron came home sick he had a very
different story."

"Young Cameron isn't to be trusted. To begin with he had had a
sunstroke, and then he proposed marrying on subaltern's pay."

"Well, you can't expect the world to give up falling in love because
you don't approve."

"Let it fall by all means; only let us call things by their proper
names. You and I, Belle, know the trouble which follows on the present
confusion. And if we, eminently respectable people, suffered much,
many must suffer more. Many! Why the question, 'Is Marriage a
Failure?' fills up the interstices of conversation left between the
Rights of Labour and Home Rule. How can it be anything but a failure
when people are taught to expect impossibilities? when they are told
that love is better than duty? Thank heaven, we never were in love
with one another!"

"Never?"

"No,--at least,--yes! perhaps I was one day. Do you remember when you
kissed your cousin Dick in the church garden at Faizapore? I was
decidedly jealous as I stood by the canal bridge. If he had lived,
Belle, I think you would have married him."

She did not answer, but sate softly smiling to herself. "So long ago
as that," she said at last in a contented tone of voice.

Philip started to his feet with a half-embarrassed laugh. Even now,
after all these years, her woman's nature, in its utter inconsequence,
was a puzzle to him,--perhaps to herself.

"Come," he said prosaically, "I'm sure it must be time for lunch."

"Are you so very hungry?" she asked, dusting from her dress, with
something of regret in the action, the sweet-smelling herbs which she
had idly gathered from the crannies of the cliff and crumbled to
pieces for the sake of their perfume.

"I ought to be, seeing I had no breakfast."

She started up in her turn. "Philip! How could you? and never to tell
me!"

"You see we were late all through; something went wrong somewhere, and
then I had to catch the ten o'clock train. Don't look horrified; I got
a stale bun at Swindon."

"Stale buns are most unwholesome."

"That is what materialists like you always say of any diet which does
not suit them. Personally I like stale buns."

"You mean that you can put up with them when you have a solid lunch in
prospect."

He had taken her hand to help her to the level and now suddenly he
paused, and stooping kissed it passionately. "Oh, Belle, my darling,
why should we talk or think of the future? To-day is holiday-time and
I am happy."

So, hand in hand, like a couple of children, they went homewards
across the down; while the great gilt letters of the legend above the
hospital glowed and shone like a message of fire against the blue sky.


Was that the end of the story, so far as Belle and Philip were
concerned? Or on some other sunshiny day in a future June or December
did those two pass through the churchyard where the tiny flower-set
graves grew more numerous year by year, and, beneath the tower whose
chime had so often called Belle to her bairns, take each other for
better, for worse? Most likely they did, but it is a trivial detail
which has nothing to do with the record of Miss Stuart's Legacy. That
began with her father, and ended with her child. She paid it
cheerfully to the uttermost farthing, and was none the worse for it.
Such payments, indeed, leave us no poorer unless we choose to have it
so. The only intolerable tax being that which follows on the attempt
to inherit opinions; for, when we have paid it, we have nothing in
exchange save something that is neither real estate nor personal
property.



                              FOOTNOTES


[Footnote 1: A lineal descendant of the Prophet.]

[Footnote 2: The three divisions recognised in Mahometan polemics. (1)
The place of Islam; (2) the place of the enemy; (3) the place of
protection. The sign of the latter is the liberty of giving the call
to prayers.]

[Footnote 3: A common occurrence in old Pathan houses.]

[Footnote 4: A celebrated white charger of a Rajpoot prince; an
eastern Bucephalus.]

[Footnote 5: Literally, a footman.]

[Footnote 6: Small millet; the food of the poorest.]

[Footnote 7: The extreme south-east.]

[Footnote 8: Electrical dust-storm.]

[Footnote 9: Deputy-Collector, _i.e_., chief native official.]



                               THE END.





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