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Title: Chronicles of Dustypore - A Tale of Modern Anglo-Indian Society
Author: Cunningham, Henry Stewart
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover]



    CHRONICLES OF DUSTYPORE


    H. S. CUNNINGHAM



    DUSTYPORE.



    Ballantyne Press,
    BALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO.
    EDINBURGH AND LONDON



    CHRONICLES OF DUSTYPORE

    _A TALE OF MODERN ANGLO-INDIAN SOCIETY_

    BY
    H. S. CUNNINGHAM
    AUTHOR OF "WHEAT AND TARES," "LATE LAURELS," ETC.

    =A New Edition=

    LONDON
    SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE
    1877
    [_All rights reserved_]



    TO
    R. H. W.


You promised me once that, if ever the 'Chronicles of Dustypore' shaped
themselves into being, they might be dedicated to you. While writing
them my thoughts have often turned to happy hours passed in your
society, and pleasant scenes witnessed beneath your roof. If the story
has profited thereby, and Felicia has borrowed whatever charms she may
possess from those remembered scenes and hours, forgive me, and let me
lay the portrait, with all its imperfections, at your feet.

    H. S. C.



    CONTENTS.


    CHAP.                               PAGE
          I. THE SANDY TRACTS              1
         II. MAUD                         10
        III. WAR AT THE SALT BOARD        22
         IV. FELICIA                      29
          V. 'SUTTON'S FLYERS'            38
         VI. 'A COMPETITION WALLAH'       46
        VII. THE RUMBLE CHUNDER GRANT     58
       VIII. GOLDEN DAYS                  64
         IX. THE FIRST BALL               72
          X. THE WOES OF A CHAPERON       83
         XI. FRIENDS IN COUNCIL           92
        XII. A CHAPTER OF DISCLOSURES    108
       XIII. DESVOEUX MAKES THE RUNNING  115
        XIV. TO THE HILLS!               126
         XV. A DISTRICT OFFICER          141
        XVI. ELYSIUM                     147
       XVII. A BATTLE ROYAL              156
      XVIII. GAUDIA IN EXCELSIS          163
        XIX. A BRUSH ON THE FRONTIER     175
         XX. A LAST RIDE                 184
        XXI. MAUD'S SECRET               192
       XXII. LOVE IS BEGUN               201
      XXIII. A STRAY SHOT                208
       XXIV. THE GULLY                   220
        XXV. AN INVALID                  235
       XXVI. DESVOEUX IN DESPAIR         243
      XXVII. CHRISTMAS AT DUSTYPORE      256
     XXVIII. MORNING CLOUDS              264
       XXIX. THE HILL CAMP               273
        XXX. TEMPTATION                  281
       XXXI. BOLDERO ON GUARD            287
      XXXII. A GRASS WIDOW               298
     XXXIII. FACILIS DESCENSUS AVERNI    305
      XXXIV. BAD TIMES IN THE PLAINS     314
       XXXV. AN ELYSIAN PICNIC           320
      XXXVI. A KISS                      330
     XXXVII. ILL NEWS FLY APACE          348
    XXXVIII. FLIGHT                      359
      XXXIX. THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN       366
             L'ENVOI                     373



CHRONICLES OF DUSTYPORE.[1]



CHAPTER I.

THE SANDY TRACTS.

    He seems like one whose footsteps halt,
    Tolling in immeasurable sand;
    And o'er a weary, sultry land,
    Far beneath a blazing vault,
    Sown in a wrinkle of the monstrous hill,
    The city sparkles like a grain of salt.


Any one who knows or cares anything about India--that is, say, one
Englishman in a hundred thousand--is familiar with the train of events
which resulted in the conquest of the Sandy Tracts, the incorporation of
that unattractive region in the British Indian Empire, and the
establishment of an Agency at Dustypore. The ninety-nine thousand nine
hundred and ninety-nine, who neither know nor wish to know, would not be
grateful for all account of battles fought at places of which they never
heard, of victories gained by generals whose fame is already forgotten,
or of negotiations which nobody but the negotiators understood at the
time, and which a few years have effectually relegated to the oblivion
that awaits all that is at once dull, profitless, and unintelligible.

Suffice it to say that the generally admired air of 'Rule Britannia,'
which has been performed on so many occasions for the benefit of
admiring audiences in different parts of the Indian continent, was once
again piped and drummed and cannonaded into the ears of a prostrate
population. The resistless 'red line,' historical on a hundred
battle-fields, once again stood firm against the onset of despairing
fanaticism, and once again in its advance moved forward the boundaries
of the conquering race. The solid tramp of British soldiers' feet
sounded the death-knell of a rule whose hour of doom had struck, and one
more little tyranny--its cup of crime, perfidy, and folly full--was
blotted for ever from the page of the world's story. The sun set into a
horizon lurid with the dust of a flying rabble, and the victorious
cavalry, as it returned, covered with sweat and dirt, from the pursuit,
found all the fighting done, an English guard on duty at the city gates,
a troop of English artillery drawn up in front of the principal mosque,
and a couple of English sentinels plodding up and down with all the
stolidity of true Britons in front of the Officers' Quarters. The Sandy
Tracts were ours.

The next morning at sunrise the British flag was flying on the Fort of
Dustypore, and a British General and his staff were busy with maps,
orders, and despatches in quarters from which the ladies of a royal
seraglio had fled in post-haste the afternoon before. Thenceforward
everything went on like clockwork. Before the week was out order, such
as had not been dreamed of for many a long year, prevailed in every nook
and corner of the captured city. One morning an elderly gentleman, in
plain clothes, attended by two or three uniformed lads and a tiny
cavalry escort, rode in, and a roar of cannon from the Fort announced
that the 'Agent' had arrived. Then set in the full tide of civil
administration. Courts began to sit, pickpockets and brawlers were
tried; sanitary regulations were issued; returns were called for,
appointments were made. The 'Dustypore Gazette,' in its first issue,
announced with the greatest calmness, and in the curt language
appropriate to an everyday occurrence, the annexation of the Sandy
Tracts; and a gun fired from the Fort every morning, as near as might be
to mid-day, announced to the good people of Dustypore that, by order of
Queen Victoria, it was twelve o'clock, and twelve o'clock in a British
cantonment.

The new addition to Her Majesty's possessions resembled the Miltonic
hell in one particular at any rate--in being a region of fierce
extremes. On winter mornings a biting wind, fresh from its icy home in
the distant snow-clad range, cut one to the core; and people clustered,
with chattering teeth and blue fingers, round blazing hearths, where
great logs worthy of an English Christmas tempered the cruel atmosphere
to a genial glow. When the 'Rains' came it poured a little deluge.
During the eight months of summer the state of things resembled that
prevailing in the interior of a well-constructed and well-supplied
Arnott's stove. Then it was that the Sandy Tracts were seen in the
complete development of their resources and in the fullest glory. Vast
plains, a dead level but for an occasional clump of palms or the dome of
some despoiled and crumbling tomb, stretched away on every side, and
ended in a hazy quivering horizon that spoke of infinite heat. Over
these ranged herds of cattle and goats, browsing on no one could see
what, or bewildered buffaloes would lie, panting and contented, in some
muddy pool, with little but horns, eyes, and nostrils exposed above the
surface. Little ill-begotten stunted plants worked hard to live and grow
and to weather the roaring fierce winds. The crows sat gasping,
open-beaked, as if protesting against having been born into so
sulphurous an existence. Here and there a well, with its huge lumbering
wheel and patient bullocks, went creaking and groaning night and day, as
if earth grudged the tiny rivulet, coming so toilfully from her dry
breast, and gave it up with sighs of pain. The sky was cloudless,
pitiless, brazen. The sun rose into it without a single fleck of vapour
to mitigate its fierceness, and pierced, like a red-hot sword, the rash
mortal who dared, unprotected, to meet its ray. All day it shone and
glistened and blazed, until the very earth seemed to crack with heat,
and the mere thought of it was pain. 'Ægypt,' to use the poet's phrase,
'ached in the sun's eye.' The natives tied their heads up in bags,
covered their mouths, and carried their clothes between the sun and
themselves. Europeans entrenched themselves behind barriers of moistened
grass, lay outstretched under monster fans and consoled themselves with
what cool drinks their means allowed, and with the conviction, which
seemed to spring perennial in each sufferer's breast, that the present
was by far the hottest summer ever known.

Dew there was none. You stepped from your door in the morning into a bed
of sand, which no amount of watering could reduce to the proper
solidity of a garden-path. As you came in at night you shook off the
dust that had gathered on you in your evening stroll. Miles away the
galloping horseman might be tracked by the little cloud that he stirred
up as he went. The weary cattle trudged homeward from their day's work
in a sand-storm of their own manufacture. There was sand in the air one
breathed, in the food one tried to eat, in the water that pretended to
assuage one's thirst: sand in heaven and sand on earth--and a great deal
of sand in the heads of many of the officials.

This getting of sand into the head, and getting it in in a degree
compatible neither with health, comfort, or efficiency, was a recognised
malady in the Sandy Tracts. It cost the Government a great deal of money
and the services of many a useful brain. Officers, when they felt
themselves becoming unendurably sandy and their ideas proportionately
confused, used to take furlough, and go home and try to get washed clear
again at Malvern or Wiesbaden: and there was a famous physician in
Mayfair, renowned for his skill in ridding the heads of those poor
gentlemen of the unwelcome deposit, who made a reputation and a fortune
by, so to speak, dredging them.

There was one official head, however, at Dustypore in which no particle
of sand was to be found, and that was Mr. Strutt's. It was for this
reason, probably, amongst others, that he was made Chief Secretary to
the Salt Board, a post which, at the time when this history commences,
was one of the most important, responsible, and lucrative in the entire
service. For the Salt Board, as will hereafter be seen, was an
institution whose dignity and powers had grown and grown until they
almost overtopped those of the Agency itself. If the Salt Board was the
embodiment of what was dignified and powerful in Dustypore, Mr. Strutt
had concentrated in his own person the functions and attributes of the
Board. He was prompt, indefatigable, self-satisfied, and, what his
superiors valued him for especially, lucky.

A long career had taught him and the world that those who attacked him
came off second-best. His answers were unanswerable, his reports
effective, his explanations convincing. His nervous hand it was that
depicted the early triumphs of the Dustypore Administration and in
sonorous periods set forth the glories of the British rule--the roads,
the canals, the hospitals and schools--the suppression of crime, the
decreased mortality, the general passion of the inhabitants for female
education. His figures were constantly quoted by people who wished to
talk about India to English audiences, and his very name was a pillar of
strength to the champions of the English rule. Even his enemies were
constrained to admit that he possessed the art of 'putting it' to a
degree of fearful and wonderful perfection.

The maxim, 'like master like man,' was as far as possible from being
verified in the case of Mr. Strutt and his superiors. Of these Mr.
Fotheringham, the Chairman, was lymphatic in temperament, inordinately
vain, and the victim of an inveterate habit of enunciating platitudes.
Cockshaw, who came next, was off-hand, superficial, and positive, with
the positiveness of a man who hates deliberation and despises every form
of uncertainty. Blunt, the third member, was a non-civilian, and had
been brought out from England on account of his practical acquaintance
with salt-mines, and of his having been a secretary in the Board of
Trade. He was business-like, straightforward, and unconciliating;
generally thought differently from his colleagues, and had the roughest
possible manner of saying what he thought.

Such a trio had sometimes, as may well be imagined, no little trouble in
preserving toward the outer world the aspect of serene, benevolent, and
consistent infallibility, the maintenance of which Fotheringham regarded
as the first of duties, Cockshaw did not in the least mind a row, so
long as he was not kept too long at office for the purpose of making it.
Blunt would have stayed at office till midnight, arguing doggedly,
sooner than abandon his point. Happily Fotheringham had a great sense
of propriety, concealed the dissensions of his colleagues from the
public eye, and preserved the Board's dignity from ignominious collapse.

Under Strutt came a hierarchy of less important subordinates, who paved
the long descent, so to speak, from the official altitudes in which the
Salt Board had its being to the vulgar public who consumed the salt.
Chief of these was Vernon, with whom the reader will speedily become
better acquainted. Under him, again, came Mr. Whisp, the
Assistant-Secretary, a young gentleman whose task it was to draw up
minutes of the Board's proceedings, to draft its circulars and to
collect the statistics out of which Strutt concocted his reports. He had
thus, it will be seen, an opportunity of acquiring much useful
information and a highly ornamental style, and Whisp was generally
regarded in the service as a rising man.



CHAPTER II.

MAUD.

    Nature said, 'A lovelier flower
    On earth was never sown:
    This child I to myself will take;
    She shall be mine, and I will make
    A lady of my own.'


When Vernon was appointed Under-Secretary to the Salt Board, he no doubt
imagined that it was in connection with that august body that he would
be known to fame and (as Strutt would grandiloquently have put it) leave
his mark on his epoch. He was destined, however, as the reader of these
pages will presently perceive, to become remarkable on the less unusual
ground of relationship to an extremely pretty girl. His cousin Maud, of
whom years before, in a rash moment of benevolence, he had consented to
become guardian and trustee, had been suddenly thrown upon his hands.
She was no longer a remote anxiety which could be disposed of by
cheques, letters to governesses, and instructions to solicitors, but an
immediate, living reality, with a highly effective pair of eyes, good
looks--as to which women might cavil, but every man would be a firm
believer--the manner of an eager child, and a joyousness which Vernon
was obliged to admit was at once deliciously infectious to the world at
large, and a very agreeable alternative to the state of mind produced by
Indian summers, salt statistics, letters polished by Whisp or
commonplaces enunciated by Fotheringham. With the timidity of indolence
he shuddered to think of the social entanglements and disturbances which
so new an element in his household was calculated to produce.

Maud, on the other hand, had come out to India with a very low opinion
of herself and of her claims upon the good-will of society. At Miss
Goodenough's establishment for young ladies, where her education had
been completed, her shortcomings had been impressed upon her in a manner
wholesome, perhaps, and necessary, but decidedly depressing. She had
been haunted by the awful consciousness that she was a 'Tomboy.' Her
general demeanour, her mode of expressing herself, her ignorance of many
things with which no one ought to be unfamiliar, had been the object of
the most unflattering comment. The elder Miss Goodenough--between whom
and Maud there existed a real though somewhat fitful attachment--used to
have her into a solemn little chamber and administer the most awful
lectures on her sins of commission and omission, and the disgrace and
suffering which they would justly entail. These interviews were
generally tearful and tender; for Miss Goodenough, to whom Maud had been
consigned as a child on her first arrival from India, loved her with a
sort of rapture which made itself felt amid all the vehement
fault-finding which Maud's delinquencies necessitated. Maud had always
regarded the old lady in something of a maternal light, and never could
be brought to abandon the familiar abbreviation of 'Goody,' by which she
had been allowed, as a child, to address her instructress. She accepted
her instructress's sentences accordingly with unquestioning faith and
submission. The two used to weep together over Maud's shortcomings. She
looked upon Miss Goodenough as a friend whose heart it was her unlucky
fate to lacerate. Miss Goodenough regarded Maud as a creature whose
alarming impulses and irregularities justified the darkest forebodings
as to her future, and succeeded in infecting her pupil with some of her
own apprehensions. Some judgment must, so both agreed, sooner or later
overtake one whose shoulders seemed guided by a hidden law to unequal
altitudes, whose toes defied every endeavour to keep them pointed in the
conventional direction, and whose impetuous behaviour was constantly
producing a scandal of more or less gravity.

'Dearest child,' Miss Goodenough would say, with an air of profound
commiseration, 'if you could see how you look, with one shoulder up to
your ears and the other near to what should be your waist!'

This taunt particularly grieved Maud, for she felt bitterly that her
form was unromantically plump, and not at all of the refined tenuity of
several of her companions.

'My shoulders!' she would exclaim, with the tears in her eyes; 'I wish
they were both at Jericho. I am sure I am made wrong, dearest Goody,
indeed I am.'

'Then, my dear,' Miss Goodenough would say, not encouragingly, 'we
should try all the more to remedy natural defects; at any rate, you
might know your Bible. Now, dear Maud, your ignorance is, you know,
simply shocking.'

'Yes I know,' said Maud, 'but I can't help it. Those horrid kings of
Israel and Judah! They made Israel to sin, they make me to sin, indeed
they do. Jehoshaphat, Jehoiakim, Jonadab, Jehu--all wicked--all
beginning with J--how can any one remember them?'

'Then, my dear,' her inexorable monitress would reply, 'you can never
know what every well-educated young lady, what every mere school-child,
is acquainted with. How can you be fit to go into the world?'

'I wish,' said Maud, passionately, in despair at the difficulties of
existence, 'that when the tribes got lost they had taken their histories
with them, and lost them too. Darling Goody, let me learn texts, hymns,
all the Sermon on the Mount, as much poetry as you please, only not
those dreadful Chronicles!' Maud used on these occasions to throw her
arms round Goody's neck in an outbreak of affectionate repentance, in a
way that the elder lady, who was absurdly impressionable, found it
difficult to resist.

But Miss Goodenough's kindness made Maud's conscience all the less at
ease. Calmness, self-restraint, composure, a well-stocked mind, and
sensible judgment were, Miss Goodenough told her, the great excellencies
of character to be aimed at. Maud looked into herself, and felt, with
agonies of self-reproach, that in every particular she fell miserably
short; that she was the very reverse of calm; the least thing roused her
into passion, or sent her spinning from the summit of serene high
spirits to the lowest depths of despair; as for self-restraint, Maud
felt she was just as capable of it as of flying to the moon.

From time to time she made violent efforts to be diligent, and set to
work with sudden zeal upon books which her instructress assured her were
most interesting and improving. These attempts, for the most part,
collapsed in grievous failure. Improvement, Maud felt ruefully, there
might be, though unbeknown to herself; interest, she was certain, there
was none. On the other hand, a chance novel, which had somehow or other
passed scatheless through the rigid blockade which Miss Goodenough
established around her young ladies, had filled her with a sort of
ecstacy of excitement; and no amount of poetry--no such amount, at any
rate, as came within the narrow limits of her mistress's literary
horizon--seemed capable of fatiguing or even of satisfying her.
Displaying the most complete inaptitude for every other form of
diligence, she was ready enough to learn any amount that any one liked
to give her. She even signalised her zeal by the spasmodic transcription
of her favourite passages into a precious volume marked with a solemn
'Private,' protected from profane eyes by a golden padlock and destined
by its proprietress to be the depository of all her intellectual
treasures.

Miss Goodenough, however, though admitting perforce the merits of the
great masters of English song, regarded the claims of poetry as
generally subordinate to those of history, geography, arithmetic, and
various other branches of useful and ornamental learning, and treated
Maud's passion for Sir Walter Scott as but another alarming symptom of
an excitable disposition and ill-regulated mind.

A crisis came at last. It happened at church, where Miss Goodenough's
young ladies used to sit just under the gallery, while the boys of 'The
Crescent House Academy' performed their devotions overhead. One fatal
Sunday in February, just as the Service was over, and the two Misses
Goodenough had already turned their backs to lead the way out, and the
young ladies were preparing to follow, a little missive came fluttering
down and fell almost into Maud's hands; at any rate, she slipped it into
her Prayer-book; and all would have gone well but for that horrid
Mademoiselle de Vert, who, turning sharply round, detected the
occurrence, and the moment Maud was outside the church demanded her
Prayer-book.

Maud turned fiery red in an instant, and surrendered her book.

'And the note,' said Mademoiselle de Vert.

'What note?' said Maud. But alas! her telltale cheeks rendered the
question useless, and made all evasion impossible. Maud was speedily
driven to open resistance.

'No, thank you,' she said, with an air that told Mademoiselle de Vert
that further attempts at coercion would be labour thrown away; 'it was
not intended for you; it was a valentine.'

After this appalling disclosure there was, of course, when they got
home, an explanation to be had with Miss Goodenough, who professed
herself, and probably really was, terrified at so new a phase of human
depravity.

Maud was presently in floods of tears, and was obliged to confess that
she and the offending culprit had on more than one occasion let each
other's eyes meet, had in fact exchanged looks, and even smiles; so
that, perhaps, she was the real occasion for this unhallowed act of
temerity.

'Forgive me, forgive me!' she cried; 'it was nothing wrong; it was only
a heart with an arrow and a Cupid!'

'A Cupid!' cried Miss Goodenough, in horror at each new revelation, 'and
some writing too, I suppose?'

'Yes,' said Maud, whose pleasure in the valentine was rapidly
surmounting the disgrace into which it had got her; 'really pretty
verses. Here it is!' And thereupon she produced the offending billet,
and proceeded to read with effusion:--

    I would thou wert a summer rose,
      And I a bird to hover o'er thee;
    And from the dawn to evening's close
      To warble only, 'I adore thee!'

'Stop!' cried Miss Goodenough, with great decision, and white with
indignation; 'do you know what you are reading? Do you know that that
vulgar rubbish is the sort of odious impertinence that shop-boys send to
their sweethearts, but which it is an insult to let a lady even see, and
which, transmitted in a church, is little less than sacrilege?'

So saying, Miss Goodenough took the offending letter and consigned it to
the flames, and poor Maud stood ruefully by, watching the conflagration
of the silver Cupid, mourning over Miss Goodenough's hard-heartedness,
and consoling herself with the reflection that at any rate she
remembered the verses.

'I must write to your aunt Felicia to remove you. What an example for
other girls!'

'Well,' said Maud resignedly, and blushing in anticipation at the
thought of such an exposure; 'do not, at any rate, tell her about the
valentine. Dear Goody, did you never have one sent to you when you were
my age?'

Miss Goodenough quite declined to gratify this audacious inquiry, and
made up her mind that it was high time for Maud to be under more
masterful guidance than her own. The result was that in the following
November Maud was a passenger on the P. & O. steamship 'Cockatrice,'
from Southampton to Calcutta, where her cousin Vernon was to meet her
and escort her to her new home in Dustypore.

She had been, it must be acknowledged, to a certain degree reassured by
the experience of her voyage. She found that the kings of Israel and
Judah did not occupy a prominent place in general conversation; that a
precise acquaintance with the queens of England was not expected of her;
and that nobody resented the impetuosity of her movements or her want of
self-restraint. On the contrary, several of her fellow-voyagers had
evinced the liveliest sympathy and interest in her, and had devoted
themselves successfully to keeping her amused. Maud, in fact, had gone
down to her cabin on more occasions than one during the voyage and shed
some tears at the approaching separation from friends, whom even those
few weeks of chance companionship had carried close to her heart. It had
been in truth a happy time. The captain, to whose special care she was
committed, had watched over her with a more than paternal interest. The
doctor insisted on her having champagne. The purser set all his occult
influences at work to increase her comfort. The stewards conspired to
spoil her. Maud felt that nothing she could do would at all adequately
express her feelings to all these good people who had ministered to her
wants and tried, with so much success, to please her. There are people,
no doubt, to whom a voyage to India is the height of boredom; but there
are other happier natures to whom it presents a continuous series of
excitements, interests, and joys. Maud, at any rate, enjoyed it with a
sort of rapture, and trembled to think how faintly Miss Goodenough's
admonitions even now began to fall upon her conscience's ear.

Then there had been some very charming fellow-passengers on board, with
whom she had formed the warmest friendship. There was a certain Mr.
Mowbray, for instance--a comely, curly-headed, beardless boy, on his way
to join his regiment--whom she found extremely interesting, and who lost
no time in becoming confidential. It was very pleasant to sit on deck
through long lazy mornings and play bésique with Mr. Mowbray; and
pleasant too, when the day was done, to sit with him in the moonlight
and watch the Southern Cross slowly wheeling up and the waves all ablaze
with phosphoric splendour, and to talk about home and Mr. Mowbray's
sisters, and the stations to which each of them were bound, never,
probably, to meet again. There was something mysterious about it, Maud
felt, and impressive, and very, very charming.

And then, on some evenings, the stewardess would declare that Maud
looked pale, or had a headache, and that she should have a little
dinner on deck; 'Just a bit of chicken, miss,' this benevolent being
would say, 'and a slice of ham, and the doctor will give you a glass of
champagne. The cabin is a deal too hot for you.' And then, by some happy
fatality, Mr. Mowbray would also have a headache that very afternoon,
and nothing but dining on deck would do for him; and so there would be a
very pleasant little repast going on over the heads of the hot, noisy
crowd who were gobbling up their food below; and the two invalids would
forget their maladies, fancied or real, in the innocent excitement of a
congenial _tête-à-tête_. On the whole, Maud had arrived at Dustypore
with the conviction that existence, though beset with almost innumerable
difficulties and dangers, was replete with enjoyments, which made it,
despite every drawback, most thoroughly well worth while to be alive.



CHAPTER III.

WAR AT THE SALT BOARD.

    Hos motus animorum atque hæc certamina tanta--


The Salt Board had excessively respectable traditions. Its commencement
dated far back in Indian history, long before the conquest of the Sandy
Tracts, and its _prestige_ had been maintained by a series of officials
all of whom had been in the habit of speaking of one another with the
utmost respect. The 'illustrious Jones,' 'the great administrator
Brown,' the 'sagacious and statesmanlike Robinson,' all threw the lustre
of their abilities over the institution, and were appealed to with
unhesitating faith by their successors in the department. When one
member referred to another he spoke of himself as 'sitting at his feet,'
or as 'formed in his school,' or as 'guided by his principles,' in
language that was perhaps a little unnecessarily grandiloquent, but
which had, at any rate, the effect of investing the Board with a sort of
moral grandeur with the uninitiated. Even the mistakes of the Board
acquired a sort of dignity and were not to be spoken of in an off-hand
or irreverential manner. They might seem mistakes, but it was not
prudent to be too sure that they were so. Many other decisions of the
Board had been cavilled at by rash critics, and time had shown their
wisdom. The Board, moreover, had a certain grand, misty way of its own
of talking, which made its proceedings somewhat hard to criticise.
Indeed, all outside criticism was resented as an impertinence, and those
rash critics who had the temerity to attempt it were put down with the
contemptuous decisiveness appropriate to ill-judged advisers. There was
a regular conventional way of crushing them: first it was contended
that, being outsiders, they could not, in the nature of things,
understand the matter; as if there was a sort of inner and spiritual
sense, by which the affairs of the Salt Board must be apprehended. Then
there were stereotyped phrases, which really meant nothing, but which
were understood and accepted in the Sandy Tracts as implying that the
Board considered the subject disposed of and did not want further
discussion. Arguments which could not be otherwise met were smothered in
an array of big names, or parried by pathetic references to the zeal of
the Salt officials and the conscientious manner in which they worked in
the sun. Whatever line was adopted, it was the invariable tradition that
Government should express its concurrence, and so the whole thing ended
comfortably to all parties concerned. All this was naturally regarded as
being highly satisfactory. But the maintenance of this agreeable
equilibrium depended on the persons concerned being tempered of the
right metal, imbued with the right spirit, and what Strutt used to call
'loyal.' The intrusion of an alien spirit could not fail to produce
deplorable disturbance, disquiet and the dissipation of all sorts of
agreeable illusions. And this was what happened when Blunt--who was an
outsider, the hardest, roughest, most matter-of-fact of commercial
Englishmen--was appointed to the Board. Blunt violated every tradition
in the most ruthless fashion, was unimpressed by all the solemnities
which awed conventional beholders, and had the most inconvenient way of
asking what things meant, and (as he used to say with a sort of horrid
glee) 'of picking out the heart of a thing.' Now, the Board did not at
all relish having its heart picked out in this unceremonious fashion,
and resented it with a sort of passionate dislike. Fotheringham felt
that he had indeed fallen on very evil times, and that the pleasant days
of peace were numbered. Cockshaw, when he found that Blunt would
neither smoke nor play whist, gave him up as a bore. The very clerks in
the office became agitated and depressed. When Blunt pulled out his
spectacles and produced his papers, and went ruthlessly into figures,
looking rigid and tough, and implacable and indefatigable, both
Fotheringham and Cockshaw knew that their places were not worth having
and that they must look for comfortable quarters elsewhere. Fotheringham
counted the months to the time when his pension would be due. Cockshaw,
who was a man of action, applied forthwith for the Chief
Commissionership of the Carraway Islands, which was just then in the
market.

Blunt had not been many weeks at Dustypore before he showed to
demonstration at the Board that the accounts were kept on an entirely
wrong footing, and that a vast sum of money, five or six lakhs, was not
traceable.

'It is the floating balance,' said Fotheringham, with an air of quiet
assurance, arising from his having given the same reply frequently
before, and always found it answer.

'Perhaps you will trace it, then,' said Blunt, pushing the papers across
to Fotheringham in the most unfeeling way. '_I_ cannot.'

'We had better send for Strutt,' said Cockshaw, who knew nothing about
the accounts himself, and had a nervous distrust of Fotheringham's
explanations. Thereupon Strutt appeared, radiant and self-satisfied, and
cleared up everything with the easy air of a man who is and who feels
himself thoroughly master of the situation.

'No,' he said, in reply to Fotheringham's inquiry, 'not in the floating
balance, but in Suspense Account A: here it is, you see: one item, 2
lakhs--85,000 rs. 15 annas 3 pie.'

'Of course,' said Fotheringham, ignoring his blunder with an air of
placid dignity, 'there, you see, it is!'

'Well,' said Blunt, insatiable of explanation, 'but you said it was in
the floating balance; and pray where are the other items, and what is
Suspense Account A, and how many other Suspense Accounts have you? Pray
go on, Mr. Strutt.'

So Mr. Strutt had to go on, and then it was sad to see the brightness
fade out of his face, and his pleasant swagger disappear, and his
answers get wilder and wilder as Blunt led him from figure to figure,
puzzled him by putting things in all sorts of new lights, and finally
took him completely out of his depth.

This was not the sort of treatment to which Strutt had been accustomed,
or for which he was constitutionally fitted. At last, in despair, he
sent down for Vernon and the Head Accountant, and these two brought up a
pile of ledgers, and traced the missing sums from one account into
another in a manner which baffled all Fotheringham's attempts to follow
them, and proved at last to their own satisfaction that all was right.

Still the horrible Blunt was only half convinced.

'All _may_ be right,' he said, 'and I will take your words that it _is_
so. But the figures do not prove it; nor do they prove anything except
that the system of accounts is deplorable. Any amount of fraud might be
perpetrated under them. I can't understand them: Strutt does not
understand them: not one of you gentlemen understands them. This may
suit you; but, as for me, I hate what I cannot understand.'

So no doubt did Fotheringham, and this was one reason why he so
cordially hated Blunt.

Another thing about Blunt that irritated his colleagues was his way of
coughing--a loud, harsh, strident cough--whenever he was vexed.

'His coughs are quite like oaths,' Fotheringham said with a shudder; and
it must be confessed that Blunt could throw an expression that sounded
horribly like 'damn it' into his mode of clearing his throat; and that
when Fotheringham was arguing with him he cleared his throat oftener and
more vigorously than can have been necessary.



CHAPTER IV.

FELICIA.

    The laws of marriage character'd in gold
    Upon the blanched tablets of her heart;
    A love still burning upward, giving light
    To read those laws; an accent very low
    In blandishment, but a most silver flow
      Of subtle-paced counsel in distress,
    Right to the heart and brain, tho' undescried,
      Winning its way with extreme gentleness
    Through all the outworks of suspicious pride.


The new home in which Maud found herself might well have contented a
more fastidious critic than she was at all inclined to be. The Vernons
were delightful hosts. Maud had established thoroughly comfortable
relations with her cousin during the long journey to Dustypore; and
though he was too indolent or perhaps too much absorbed in work for
anything but a sort of passive politeness, still this was, upon the
whole, satisfactory and reassuring, and Maud felt very much at her ease
with him. Mrs. Vernon, the 'Cousin Felicia,' whom Maud now realised in
flesh and blood for the first time, inspired her with a stronger, keener
feeling of admiration than any she had known before. She was beautiful,
as Maud had often heard; but beauty alone would not account for the
thrill of pleasure which something in Felicia's first greeting gave her.
The charm lay in an unstudied, unconscious cordiality of manner that
fascinated the new-comer with its sincerity and grace. Felicia
coruscated with cheerfulness, courage, mirth. She was bright, and
infected those about her with brightness. Transplanted from the quiet
luxury of an English country-house to the rough experiences of Indian
life, she bore through them all an air of calmness, joyousness,
refinement, which the troubles of life seemed incapable of disturbing.
When, years before, just fresh from the schoolroom and with all the
dazzling possibilities of a London season before her, she had admitted
her attachment to Vernon and her unalterable desire to go with him to
India, her father's face had looked darker than she had ever seen it
before, and a family chorus of indignation had proclaimed the unwisdom
of the choice. The rector's son and the squire's daughter, however, had
played about together as boy and girl, and long years of intimacy had
cemented a friendship too strong to be shattered by such feeble blows as
worldliness or prudence could inflict upon it. Vernon had nothing but
the slender portion which a country clergyman might be expected to leave
his children at his death--nothing, that is, except a long list of
school and college honours and a successful candidature for the Indian
Civil Service. Felicia, as her deploring aunts murmured amongst
themselves, 'was a girl who might have married _any one_;' and her
parents, without incurring the charge of a vulgar ambition, might
naturally complain of a match which gave them so little and cost them
the pang of so complete a separation. Felicia, at any rate, had never
repented of her choice; she was greatly in love with her husband, and
had the pleasant consciousness that his taste--fastidious, critical, and
not a little sarcastic--found in her nothing that was not absolute
perfection. India had developed in her a self-reliance and fortitude
which never could have been born in the safe tranquillity of her home.
The hot winds of Dustypore had not quite robbed her cheeks of their
English bloom; but there were lines of suffering, anxiety, and fatigue
which, when her face was at rest, let out the secret that her habitual
brightness was not as effortless as it seemed.

The fact was that life, with all its enjoyments, had been to her full of
pangs, of which, even at a safe distance, she could scarcely trust
herself to think. The separation from her home was a grief that long
usage made none the easier to bear. On the contrary, there was a sort of
aching want which was never appeased, and which the merest trifle--a
letter--a message--a word--was sufficient to light up into something
like anguish. Felicia never achieved the art of reading her home letters
with decent composure, and used to carry them, with a sort of nervous
uneasiness, to her own room, to be dealt with in solitude. Then four
children, all with an air of Indian fragility, and whose over-refined
looks their mother would thankfully have bartered for a little vigour
and robustness, had cost her many a heartache. On the horizon of all her
married life there loomed the dreadful certainty of a day when another
series of separations would begin, and the choice would lie between the
companionship of her husband in India, or the care of her children at
home.

From this horrid thought it was natural for such a temperament as
Felicia's to seek refuge in merriment, which, if sometimes a little
strained, was never wholly unnatural. Excitement was a pleasant cure for
gloomy thought, and it was to Felicia never hard to find. Every sort of
society amused her, and those who saw her only in public would have
pronounced her a being to whom melancholy was inconceivable. Her
husband, however, could have told that Felicia was often sad. There were
afternoons, too, when she was quite alone, when she would order the
carriage and drive away by an unfrequented road to the dreary, lonely
Station Cemetery, and weep passionate tears over a grave where years
before she and her husband had come one morning together and left a
precious little wasted form, and Felicia had felt that happiness was
over for her, and that life could never be the same again. Nor was it,
for there are some griefs which travel with us to our journey's end.

Charmed as Maud had been with her newly-found relation, she was
conscious of the stiffness of a perfectly unaccustomed life, and thought
wistfully of the pleasures of the voyage and even of her French and
geography with Miss Goodenough. Felicia, with all her kindness, just a
little alarmed her; she was so brilliant, so dignified, and quite
unconsciously, so much of a fine lady. Vernon was buried in his books or
away at office, and very seldom available for the purposes of
conversation. The days, despite the excitement of novelty, dragged
heavily, and Maud began to think that if every day was to be as long as
these, and there were three hundred and sixty-five of them in the year,
and fifty years, perhaps, in a lifetime, how terrific an affair
existence was!

Before, however, she had been a week at Dustypore the ice began to melt.
Felicia came in one morning from a long busy time with nurses, children,
servants and housekeeping, established herself in an easy-chair, close
to Maud, and was evidently bent upon a chat. Maud found herself
presently, she knew not how, pouring out all her most sacred secrets,
and giving her heart away in a most reckless fashion, to a companion
whom, so far as time went, she still regarded as almost a stranger. Such
a confession she had never made, even to Miss Goodenough, nor felt
inclined to make it. Now, however, it seemed to come easily and as a
matter of course. Felicia was sympathetic and greatly interested. Even
the episode of the valentine was not forgotten.

'There,' Maud cried, with a slightly nervous dread of telling something
either improper or ridiculous; 'that was my very last school-girl
scrape. Was it very bad?'

'Very bad!' cried Felicia, with a laugh, the joyousness of which was
entirely reassuring; 'it was that naughty boy who got you into trouble.
Fortunately there are no galleries in our church here, and no boys, so
there is nothing to fear.'

That evening Felicia was singing an old familiar favourite air, as she
was fond of doing, half in the dark, and unconscious of a listener.
Vernon was deep in his papers in the adjoining room. Maud, at the other
end of the piano, where she had been turning over the leaves of some
music, stood with her hand still resting on the page, gazing at the
singer and wrapt in attention. Something, she knew not what, nor stopped
to ask--the time, the place, the song or the tone of Felicia's
voice--touched her as with a sudden gust of feeling. When the song was
over Maud walked across, flung her arms round her companion and kissed
her with a sort of rapture.

Felicia, looking up, surprised, saw that the other's eyes were full of
tears.

'That is pretty, is it not?' she said, taking Maud's hand kindly in her
own.

'Sing it once more,' Maud petitioned. And so, while Vernon, unconscious
of the flow of sentiment so close about him, was still absorbed in the
vicissitudes of Orissa, Felicia's performance was encored, and two
sympathetic natures had found each other out and worked into unison.

Afterwards, when Maud had departed, Felicia, with characteristic
impulsiveness, broke out into vehement panegyric:

'Come, George,' she said, 'don't be stupid, please, and uninterested;
don't you think she is quite charming?'

'Felicia,' said her husband, 'you are for ever falling in love with some
one or other, and now you have lost your heart to Maud. No, I don't
think her charming; but I dare say a great many other people will. She
will be the plague of our lives, you will see. I wish we had left her
at Miss Goodenough's.'

'Of course everybody will fall in love with her,' cried Felicia, quite
undaunted by her husband's gloomy forebodings; 'and I will tell you
what, George--she will do delightfully for Jem.'

'Jem!' exclaimed her husband, with a tone of horror. 'Felicia, you are
match-making already--and Jem too, poor fellow!'

Now, Jem Sutton was Vernon's oldest friend, and Felicia's kinsman,
faithful servant and ally. Years before, the two men had boated and
cricketed together at Eton, and spent pleasant weeks at each other's
homes; and when they met in India, each seemed to waken up the other to
a host of affectionate recollections about their golden youth. Sutton,
in fact, was still a thorough schoolboy, and as delighted with finding
his old chum as if he had just come back from the holidays. He had
contrived to get as much marching, fighting, and adventuring into his
ten years' service as a man could wish; had led several border forays
with daring and success; had received several desperate wounds, of which
a great scar across the forehead was the most conspicuous; had
established a reputation as a rider and a swordsman, and had received
from his Sovereign the brilliant distinction of the Victoria Cross,
which, along with a great many other honourable badges, covered the
wide expanse of his chest on state occasions.

Despite his fighting proclivities, Sutton had the softest possible pair
of blue eyes, his hair was still as bright a brown as when he was a
curly-headed boy at his mother's side; nor did the copious growth of his
moustache quite conceal a smile that was sweetness and honesty itself.
Felicia's two little girls regarded him as their especial property and
made the tenderest avowals of devotion to him. Sutton treated them, as
all their sex, with a kindness that was chivalrously polite, and which
they were already women enough to appreciate.

Lastly, among other accomplishments, which rendered him especially
welcome at the Vernons' house, he possessed a tuneful tenor voice, and
sang Moore's Melodies with a pathos which was more than artistic. On the
whole, it is easy to understand how natural it seemed to Felicia that
two such charming people as Sutton and Maud should be destined by Heaven
for each other, and that hers should be the hand to lead them to their
happy fate.



CHAPTER V.

'SUTTON'S FLYERS.'

    Consider this--he had been bred i' the wars
    Since he could draw a sword.


'Sutton's Flyers' were well known in the Sandy Tracts as the best
irregular cavalry in that part of the country. Formed originally in the
Mutiny, when spirits of an especial hardihood and enterprise gathered
instinctively around congenial leaders, they had retained ever since the
_prestige_ then acquired and a standard of chivalry which turned every
man in the regiment into something of a hero. Many a stalwart lad, bred
in the wild uplands of the Province, had felt his blood stirred within
him at the fame of exploits which appealed directly to instincts on
which the pacific British rule had for years put an unwelcome pressure.
Around the fire of many an evening meal, in many a gossiping bazaar, in
many a group at village well or ferry, the fame of the 'Flyers' was
recounted, and 'Sutton Sahib' became a household word by which military
enthusiasm could be speedily kindled to a blaze. With the lightest
possible equipage, wiry country-bred horses, and a profound disregard
for all baggage arrangements, Sutton had effected some marches which
earned him the credit of being supernaturally ubiquitous. Again and
again had Mutineer detachments, revelling in fancied security, found
that the dreaded horsemen, whom they fancied a hundred miles away and
marching in an opposite direction, had heard of their whereabouts and
were close upon their track. Then the suddenness of the attack, the
known prowess of the leader, the half-superstitious reverence which his
followers paid him, invested the troop with a tradition of
invincibility, and had secured them, on more than one occasion, a
brilliant success against odds which less fervent temperaments than
Sutton's might have felt it wrong to encounter, and which certainly made
success seem almost a miracle. To his own men Sutton was hardly less
than a god, and there were few of them on whom he could not safely
depend to gallop with him to their doom.

More than one of his officers had saved his life in hand-to-hand fight
by reckless exposure of their own; and his adjutant had dragged him,
stunned, crushed and bleeding, from under a fallen horse, and carried
him through a storm of bullets to a place of safety. All of them, on the
other hand, had experienced on a hundred occasions the benefit of his
imperturbable calmness, his inspiring confidence and unshaken will. Once
Sutton had gratified their pride--and perhaps, too, his own--by a
display of prowess which, if somewhat theatrical, was nevertheless
extremely effective. A fight was on hand, and the regiment was just
going into action, when a Mohammedan trooper, famed as a swordsman on
all the country-side, had ridden out from the enemy's lines, bawled out
a defiance of the English rule, couched in the filthiest and most
opprobrious terms, and dared Sutton to come out and fight, and let him
throw his carcase to the dogs. There are moments when instinct becomes
our safest, and indeed our only, guide. Sutton, for once in his life,
felt a gust of downright fury: he gave the order to halt and sheathe
swords, took his challenger at his word, rode out in front of his force
and had a fair hand-to-hand duel with the hostile champion. The
confronted troops looked on in breathless anxiety, while the fate of
either combatant depended on a turn of the sword, and each fought as
knowing that one or other was to die. Sutton at last saw his opportunity
for a stroke which won him the honours of the day. It cost him a
sabre-cut across his forehead, which to some eyes might have marred his
beauty for ever; but the foul-mouthed Mussulman lay dead on the field,
smitten through the heart, and Sutton rode back among his shouting
followers the acknowledged first swordsman of the day.

Such a man stood in no need of Felicia's panegyrics to seem very
impressive in the eyes of a girl like Maud. Despite his gentleness of
manner and the sort of domestic footing on which everybody at the
Vernons', down to the baby, evidently placed him, she felt a little
awed. She was inclined to be romantic; but it was rather alarming to
have a large, living, incarnate romance sitting next her at luncheon,
cutting slices of mutton, and asking her, with a curiosity that seemed
necessarily condescending, about all the details of the voyage. There
seemed something incongruous and painfully below the mark in having to
tell him that they had acted 'Woodcock's Little Game,' and had played
'Bon Jour, Philippe,' on board; and Maud, when the revelation became
necessary, made it with a blush. After luncheon, however, Sutton and the
little girls had a game of 'Post,' and Maud begun to console herself
with the reassuring conviction that, after all, he was but a man, and a
very pleasant one.

After he had gone, Felicia, who was the most indiscreet of match-makers,
began one of her extravagant eulogiums. 'Like him!' she cried, in reply
to Maud's inquiry; 'like is not the word. He is the best, noblest,
bravest, and most chivalrous of beings.'

'Not the handsomest!' interrupted Maud, tempted by Felicia's enthusiasm
into feeling perversely indifferent.

'Yes, and the handsomest too,' Felicia said; 'tall, strong, with
beautiful features, and eyes as soft and tender as a woman's; indeed a
great deal softer than most women's.'

'Then,' objected Maud, 'why has he never' ----

'Because,' answered her companion, indignantly anticipating the
objection, 'there is no one half-a-quarter good enough for him.'

'Well,' said the other, by this time quite in a rebellious mood, 'all I
can say is, that I don't think him in the least good-looking. I don't
like that great scar across his forehead.'

'Don't you?' cried Felicia; and then she told her how the scar had come
there, and Maud could no longer pretend not to be interested.

The next day Sutton came with them for a drive, and Maud, who had by
this time shaken off her fears, began to find him decidedly interesting.
There was something extremely romantic in having a soldier, whose
reputation was already almost historical, the hero of a dozen brilliant
episodes, coming tame about the house, only too happy to do her bidding
or Felicia's, and apparently perfectly contented with their society.
Felicia was in the highest spirits, for she found her pet project
shaping itself with pleasant facility into a fair prospect of
realisation; and when Felicia was in high spirits they infected all
about her.

Sutton, innocently unconscious of the cause of her satisfaction, but
realising only that she wanted Maud amused and befriended, lent himself
with a ready zeal to further her wishes and let no leisure afternoon go
by without suggesting some new scheme of pleasure. Maud's quick,
impulsive, highly-strung temperament, her moods of joyousness or
depression, hardly less transient than the shadows that flit across the
fields in April, her keen appreciation of beauty and pathos, made her,
child as she was in most of her thoughts and ways, an interesting
companion to him. Her eagerness in enjoyment was a luxury to see; and
Sutton, a good observer, knew before long, almost better than herself,
what things she most enjoyed. Instead of the reluctant and unsympathetic
permission which her late instructress had accorded to her poetical
tastes, Sutton and Felicia completely understood what she felt, treated
her taste on each occasion with a flattering consideration, and led her
continually to 'fresh woods and pastures new,' where vistas of
loveliness, fairer far than any she had yet discovered, seemed to break
upon her.

Vernon's library, his one extravagance, was all that the most fastidious
scholar could desire; any choice edition of a favourite poet was on his
table almost before his English friends had got it. A beautiful book,
like a beautiful woman, deserves the best attire that art can give it,
and Maud felt a thrill of satisfaction at all the finery of gilt and
Russian leather in which she could now behold her well-beloved poems
arrayed. Sutton told her, with a decisiveness which carried conviction,
what things she would like and what she might neglect; and she soon
followed his directions with unquestioning faith. He used to come and
read to them sometimes, in a sweet, impressive manner, Maud felt; and
the passage, as he had read it, lived on in her thoughts with the
precise shade of feeling which his voice had given it.

One happy week was consecrated to the 'Idylls of the King,' and this had
been so especially delightful as to make a little epoch in her
existence--so rich was the picture--so great a revelation of
beauty--such depths of sorrow--such agonies of repentance--such calm,
quiet, ethereal scenes of loveliness.

More than once Sutton, in reading, had looked up suddenly and found her
eyes bent full upon him, and swimming with tears; and Maud had stooped
over her work, the sudden scarlet dyeing her cheek, yet almost too much
moved to care about detection.

How true, how real, how living it all seemed! Did it, in truth, belong
to the far-off, misty, fabulous kingdom over which the mystic Arthur
ruled, or was she herself Elaine, and Lancelot sitting close before her,
and all the harrowing story playing itself out in her own little
troubled world? Anyhow, it struck a chord which vibrated pleasurably,
yet with a half-painful vehemence, through her mind and filled it with
harmonies and discords unheard before. Certainly, she confessed to
herself, there was a something about Sutton that touched one to the
heart.



CHAPTER VI.

'A COMPETITION-WALLAH.'

    Ainsi doit être
    Un petit-maître;
    Léger, amusant,
    Vif, complaisant,
            Plaisant,
    Railleur aimable,
    Traître adorable;
    C'est l'homme du jour,
    Fait pour l'amour.


One of the stupid things that people do in India is to select the two
hottest hours of the day for calling on each other. How such an idiotic
idea first found its way into existence, by what strange fate it became
part of the social law of Anglo-Indians, and how it is that no one has
yet been found with courage or strength enough to break down a custom so
detrimental to the health and comfort of mankind, are among the numerous
mysteries which the historian of India must be content to leave
unsolved. Like Chinese ladies' feet, the high heels on which fashionable
Europe at present does penance, suttee of Hindu widows, and infanticide
among the Rajpoot nobles, it is merely a curious instance that there is
nothing so foolish and so disagreeable that human beings will not do or
endure if it only becomes the fashion.

At any rate, the ladies and gentlemen of Dustypore were resolved not to
be a whit less fashionable and uncomfortable than their neighbours, and
religiously exchanged visits from twelve to two.

Maud's arrival was the signal for a burst of callers, and a goodly
stream of soldiers and civilians arrived day by day to pay their homage
to the newly-arrived beauty and her chaperon. Felicia's house was always
popular, and all that was pleasantest and best in Dustypore assembled at
her parties. Young London dandies fresh from home, and exploring the
Sandy Tracts under the impression of having left the _Ultima Thule_ of
civilisation far behind them, were sometimes startled to find her
drawing-room as full of taste, luxury, and refinement as if they had
suddenly been transported to Eaton Square.

What is the nameless grace that some women have the art of putting into
chairs and tables, which turns them from mere bits of upholstery into
something hardly short of poetry? How is it that in some rooms there
breathes a subtle charm, an aroma of delicacy and culture, a propriety
in the behaviour of the sofas and ottomans to one another, a pleasant
negligence apparent through the general order, a courageous simplicity
amid elaborated comfort, which, in the absence of the mistress, tells
the expectant visitor that he is about to meet a thoroughbred lady?

Some such fascination, at any rate, there lingered about the cool,
carefully-shaded room in which Felicia received her guests. It was by no
means smart, and not especially tidy, for it was often invaded and
occupied by a victorious horde from the nursery, and bore many a sign of
the commonplace routine of daily life. But to Felicia's friends it was
an enchanted abode, where a certain refuge might be found from whatever
disagreeable things or people prevailed outside, and where Felicia, who,
whatever she might feel, always looked calm and radiant and cool,
presided as the _genius loci_, to forbid the possibility of profane
intrusion.

One thing that made it picturesque was that at all times and seasons it
abounded in flowers. Felicia was an enthusiastic gardener, and her
loving skill and care could save many a tender plant which would, in a
less experienced hand, have withered and sunk under the burning heat and
dust that prevailed everywhere but in the confines of Felicia's kingdom.
Her garden gave her a more home-like feeling than any other Indian
experience. It refreshed her to go out early in the morning, while the
children were yet asleep, and the sun's rays had barely surmounted the
tall rows of plantains that marked the garden's boundary, and guarded
her treasures from the sultry air. It soothed her to superintend ferns
and roses, cuttings from some Himalayan shrub, or precious little
seedlings from England. By dint of infinite care she had created a patch
of turf, which, if not quite as green, fresh and dewy as the lawn at
home, was at any rate a rest to eyes weary with dazzling wastes and the
bright blazing air. There Felicia had a shady corner, where pots and
sticks and garden-tools attested the progress of many a new gardening
experiment, and where the water forced up from the well at the garden's
end went rippling by with a pleasant sound, cooling and softening all
the air around. Oftentimes, as she lingered here, her fancies would
wander to the pleasant Manor House, where her taste for flowers had been
acquired in her father's company, and she would be again fern-hunting
with him through some cool mossy woodland, or roaming through a paradise
of bluebells, with the well-loved beeches towering overhead, while the
sweet summer evening died slowly away.

Early amongst the visitors Mr. Desvoeux was announced, and Felicia, when
she saw his card, told Maud that she would be sure now to be very much
amused.

'He is the most brilliant of all the young civilians,' she said, 'and is
to do great things. But he talks great nonsense and abuses everybody. So
do not be astonished at anything you hear.'

'And is he nice?' inquired Maud.

Felicia made a little face, not altogether of approval:

'Well,' she said, 'he is more curious than nice;' and then Desvoeux made
his appearance, and while he was exchanging preliminary commonplaces
with Felicia, Maud had an opportunity of observing the visitor's
exterior claims, which were not inconsiderable, to the regard of
womankind.

He was certainly, Maud felt at once, extremely handsome and, apparently,
extremely anxious to be thought so. The general effect which he produced
was that of a poetical dandy. He was dressed with a sort of effeminate
finery, with here and there a careless touch which redeemed it all from
utter fopdom. He was far too profusely set about with pretty things,
lockets and rings and costly knickknacks; on the other hand his
handkerchief was tied with a more than Byronic negligence. The flower in
his button-hole was exquisite, but it was stuck in with a carelessness
which, if studied, was none the less artistic. On the whole he was
over-dressed; but he walked into the room with the air of a man who had
forgotten all about it, and who had no eyes or thoughts for anything
but his present company.

Maud soon began to think him very entertaining, but, as Felicia had
said, 'curious.' He was full of fun, extravagant, joyous,
unconventional; he had turned, after the first few sentences, straight
upon Maud and pointedly invited her into the conversation; and she soon
felt her spirits rising.

'I saw you this morning,' he said, 'in the distance, riding with Sutton.
I should have asked to be allowed to join you, but that I was too shy,
and Sutton would have hated me for spoiling his _tête-à-tête_.'

'Three is an odious number, is it not, Mr. Desvoeux?' said Felicia, 'and
should be expunged from the arithmetic books. Why was it ever invented?'

'In order, I suppose,' said Desvoeux, 'that we three might meet this
morning, and that there might be three Graces and three witches in
Macbeth, and three members of the Salt Board. Three is evidently a
necessity; but when I am of the trio, and two of us are men, I confess I
don't like it. It is so nice to have one's lady all to one's self. But,
Miss Vernon, you are alarmed, I know, and naturally; you think that I am
going to ask, what I suppose fifty people have been asking you all the
week, whether you enjoyed the voyage to India, and how you like the
looks of Dustypore. But I will be considerate, and spare you. Enjoyed
the voyage, indeed! What a horrid mockery the question seems!'

'But I _did_ enjoy it,' cried Maud; 'so you see that you might have
asked me after all. It was very exciting.'

'Yes, all the excitement of wondering every day what new mysteries of
horror the ship's cooks will devise for dinner; whether the sinews of
Sunday's turkey can rival those of Saturday's goose; the excitement of
going to bed in the dark and treading on a black-beetle; the excitement
of shaving in a gale of wind and cutting one's nose off, as I very
nearly did; the excitement of the young ladies who are expecting their
lovers at Bombay, and of the young ladies who will not wait till Bombay
but manufacture their lovers out of hand. It is too thrilling!'

'Well,' said Maud, 'we had theatricals and readings and dances, and a
gentleman who played the most lovely variations on the violin, and I
enjoyed it all immensely!'

'Ah,' said Desvoeux, as if suddenly convinced, 'then perhaps you are
even capable of liking Dustypore!'

'Poor Mr. Desvoeux!' said Felicia; 'how sorry you must be to have
finished your march, and be back again at stupid Dustypore!'

'No place is stupid where Mrs. Vernon is,' said Desvoeux, gallantly;
'or rather no place would be, if she were not so often "not at home."'

'That must be,' Felicia said, 'because you call on mail-days, when I am
busy with my home despatches.'

The real truth was that Felicia considered Desvoeux in need of frequent
setting down, and closed her door inhospitably against him, whenever he
showed the least inclination to be intimate.

'Well,' said Desvoeux, 'the days that you are busy with your despatches
and when I have written the Agent's, I do not find it lively, I admit.
Come, Mrs. Vernon, the Fotheringhams, for instance--does not the very
thought of them leave a sort of damp upon your mind? It makes one
shudder.' Then Desvoeux passed on to the other officials, upon whom he
poured the most vehement contempt.

The Salt Board, he told Maud, always from time immemorial consisted of
the three greatest fogies in the Service; that was the traditionary
rule; it was only when you were half-idiotic that you could do the work
properly. As for Mr. Fotheringham, he was a lucky fellow; his idiocy had
developed early and strong.

'That is why Mrs. Vernon detests him so.'

'I don't detest him at all,' said Felicia; 'but I think him rather
dull.'

'Yes,' said Desvoeux, with fervour; 'as Dr. Johnson said of some one,
he was, no doubt, dull naturally, but he must have taken a great deal of
pains to become as dull as he is now. Now, Miss Vernon, would you like
to see what the Board is like? First, you must know that I am the
Agent's private secretary, and part of my business is to knock his and
their heads together and try to get a spark out. That is how I come to
know about them. First I will show you how Vernon puts on his air of
Under-Secretary and looks at me with a sort of serious, bored, official
air, as if he were a bishop and thought I was going to say something
impertinent.'

'As I dare say you generally are,' said Felicia, quite prepared to do
battle for her husband.

'Well,' said Desvoeux, 'this is how he sits and looks--gravity and
fatigue personified.'

'Yes,' cried Maud, clapping her hands with pleasure; 'I can exactly
fancy him.'

'Then,' continued Desvoeux, who was really a good mimic and warming
rapidly into the work, 'in comes the Board. First Fotheringham,
condescending and serene and wishing us all "Good-morning," as if he
were the Pope dispensing a blessing. You know his way--like this? Then
here is Cockshaw, looking sagacious, but really pondering over his last
night's rubber, and wishing the Board were finished.'

Felicia was forced to burst out laughing at the imitation.

'And now,' cried Maud, 'give us Mr. Blunt.'

Desvoeux put on Blunt's square awkward manner and coughed an imprecatory
cough.

'Gentlemen,' he said, 'your figures are wrong, your arguments false and
your conclusions childish. I don't want to be offensive or personal, and
I have the highest possible opinion of your service; but you must allow
me to observe that you are all a pack of fools!'

'Capital,' cried Maud; 'and what do you do all the time, Mr.
Desvoeux?'

'Oh, Vernon and I sit still and wink at each other and hope for the time
when we shall have become idiotic enough to be on the Board ourselves.
We are of the new _régime_, and are supposed to have wits, and we have a
great deal of intelligence to get over. But you know how the old ones
were chosen. All the stupidest sons of the stupidest families in England
for several generations, like the pedigree-wheat, you know, on the
principle of selection; none but the blockheads of course would have
anything to do with India.'

'Don't abuse the bridge that carries you over,' Felicia said: 'No
treason to India--it has many advantages.'

'Innumerable,' cried Desvoeux: 'first, a decent excuse for separation
between husbands and wives who happen to be uncongenial--no other
society has anything to compare with it. You quarrel, you know----'

'No, we don't,' said Felicia, 'thank you. Speak for yourself.'

'Well, I quarrel with Mrs. Desvoeux, we'll say--though, by the way, I
could not quarrel even with my wife--but suppose a quarrel, and we
become mutually insupportable: there is no trouble, no scandal, no
inconvenience. Mrs. Desvoeux's health has long required change of air; I
secure a berth for her on the P. & Q., escort her with the utmost
politeness to Bombay, have a most affectionate parting, remit once a
quarter, write once a fortnight--what can be more perfect?'

'But suppose,' said Maud, 'for the sake of argument, that you don't
quarrel and don't want to separate?'

'Or suppose,' said Felicia, who knew that the conversation was taking
just the turn she hated, 'that we try our duet, Mr. Desvoeux? You know
that you are a difficult person to catch.'

'That is one of your unjust speeches,' said Desvoeux, dropping his voice
as they approached the piano and becoming suddenly serious: 'You know
that I come quite as often as I think I have a chance of being
welcome.'

Felicia ignored the remark and began playing the accompaniment with the
utmost unconcern. The fact was that Desvoeux, though not quite such a
Don Juan as he liked to be thought, had a large amount of affection to
dispose of, and had given Felicia to understand upon twenty occasions
that he would like to begin a flirtation with her if he dared.



CHAPTER VII.

THE RUMBLE CHUNDER GRANT.

    Monstrum horrendum--informe--ingens----


There were many things which a man was expected to know about in
official circles at Dustypore, and first and foremost was the 'Rumble
Chunder Grant.' Not to know this argued one's self not only unknown but
ignorant of the first principles of society and the common basis on
which thought and conversation proceeded. It was like not having read
Mr. Trollope's novels or knowing nothing about the Tichborne Trial or
being in any other way out of tune with the times. One of the things
that gave the old civilians such a sense of immeasurable superiority
over all outsiders and new-comers was the consciousness that with them
rested this priceless secret, this mystery of mysteries.

One inconvenient consequence, however, of everybody being expected to
know was, that everybody took for granted that everybody else did know,
and that those who did not know veiled their ignorance under a decent
mask of familiarity and by talking about it in a vague, shadowy sort of
phraseology which conveniently concealed any little inaccuracies. It had
to do with salt, moreover, and it was at the Salt Board that the
unsearchable depths of the subject were best appreciated and this
vagueness of language was most in vogue.

The facts were something of this sort. When the English took the country
we found particular families and villages in Rumble Chunder in enjoyment
of various rights in connection with salt; some had little monopolies;
others might manufacture for themselves at a quit rent, others might
quarry for themselves at particular times and places, and so forth.

The Gazette, which announced the annexation of the province, had
declared in tones of splendid generosity that the British Government,
though inexorable to its foes, would temper justice with mercy so far as
to respect existing rights of property and would protect the loyal
proprietor in the enjoyment of his own. The sonorous phrases of a
rhetorical Viceroy had entailed on his successors a never-ending series
of disputes, and had saddled the Empire with an obligation which was
all the more burthensome for being undefined. Ever since that unlucky
Gazette, officials had been hard at work to find out what it was that
the Governor-General had promised to do and how much it would cost to do
it. One diligent civilian after another went down to Rumble Chunder and
made out a list of people who were or who pretended to be, entitled to
interests in salt. Then these lists had been submitted and discussed,
and minuted upon, and objected to, and returned for further
investigation, and one set of officers had given place to another, and
the chance of clearing up the matter had grown fainter every day.
Meanwhile the Rumble Chunder people had gone their ways, exercising what
rights they could, and happy in the possession of an interminable
controversy. In course of time most of the original documents got
destroyed in the Mutiny, or eaten by white ants, and a fresh element of
uncertainty was introduced by the question of the authenticity of all
existing copies. Then there had come a new Secretary of State at home,
whose views as to the grantees were diametrically opposed to all his
predecessors, and who sent peremptory orders to carry out the new policy
with the least possible delay. Thus the subject had gradually got itself
into a sort of hopeless tangle, for which Desvoeux used to say that the
only effectual remedy would be the end of the world. No one knew exactly
what his rights were, and every one was afraid of endangering his
position by too rigid an inquiry or too bold an assertion.

One peculiarity of this, as of most Indian controversies, was the
unnatural bitterness of spirit to which it gave rise. The most amiable
officials turned to gall and wormwood at its very mention, and abused
each other over it with the vehemence of vexed theologians.

Whether vain attempts to understand it had engendered an artificial
spitefulness, or whether discussion, like beer-drinking, is a luxury too
strong for natures enfeebled by an Eastern climate, sure enough it was
that, directly this wretched question came to the fore, good-nature,
moderation and politeness were forgotten, and the antagonists made up
for the confusion of their ideas by the violence of the language in
which they expressed them.

The last phase of the story was that some of the descendants of the
original grantees, thinking the plum was now about ripe for picking,
took up the question in a wily, patient, vexatious sort of way, and
produced a tremendous lawsuit. Then a Member of Parliament, whose
ideas, by some sudden process (on which his banker's book would probably
have thrown some light), had been suddenly turned Indiawards, made the
most telling speech in the House, depicting in vivid colours the wrongs
of the Rumble Chunder people and the satanic ruthlessness of British
rule. Then pamphlets began to appear, which showed to demonstration that
all the Viceroys had been either liars or thieves, except a few who had
been both, and asked how long this Rumble Chunder swindle was to last.
The whole subject, in fact, began to be ventilated. Now, ventilation,
though a good thing in its time and place, is bad for such veteran
institutions as the Salt Board, or controversies as delicate as the
Rumble Chunder Grant. Every new ray of daylight let in disclosed an ugly
flaw, and the fresh air nearly brought the tottering edifice about the
ears of its inhabitants. It needed, as Fotheringham ruefully felt, but
the rude, trenchant, uncompromising spirit of a man like Blunt to
produce an imbroglio which could neither be endured, concealed, or
disposed of in any of the usual methods known to Indian officialdom; and
Blunt was known to be hard at work at the statistics, and already to
have assumed an attitude of obtrusive hostility. Fotheringham could only
fortify himself with the reflection that the Providence which had seen
him through a long series of official scrapes would probably not desert
him at this last stage of his career. He wished, nevertheless, that he
had forestalled Cockshaw in his application for the Carraways.



CHAPTER VIII.

GOLDEN DAYS.

    O lovely earth! O lovely sky!
    I was in love with nature, I;
    And nature was in love with me;
    O lovely life--when I was free!


Felicia had been surprised, and not altogether pleased, at the
unnecessary cordiality with which Maud had bade their visitor farewell.
There was an excitement, an animation, an eagerness in her manner which
Felicia had not before perceived, and which she felt at once might be
difficult to manage. Desvoeux was exactly the person whom she did _not_
want Maud to like, and the very possibility of her liking him brought
out in Felicia's mind a latent hostility of which, under an exterior of
politeness and even familiarity, she was always dimly conscious. She did
not mind talking to him herself; she was even amused by him; but then it
was always with a kind of protest; she knew exactly how far she meant to
go and felt no temptation to go any further. But the notion of him in
any other capacity but that of a remote member of society, whose
function it was to say and do absurd things in an amusing way, was
strange and altogether distasteful. Anything like intimacy was not to be
thought of for an instant; the merest approach to close contact would
bring out some discord, the jar of which, by a sort of instinctive
anticipation, Felicia seemed to feel already. So long as he moved in
quite another plane and belonged to a different world, his
eccentricities might be smiled at for their comicality without the
application of any rigid canon of taste or morals. But a person who was
at once irreligious and over-dressed, who constantly had to be 'put
down' for fear he should become offensive, and who was a stranger to all
the little Masonic signals by which ladies and gentlemen can find each
other out--the very idea of his presuming to cross the pale, and to form
any other tie than those of the most indifferent acquaintance, filled
Felicia with the strongest repugnance. It was provoking, therefore, that
he seemed to take Maud's fancy and impress her more than any other of
the many men with whom she was now becoming acquainted. It was more than
provoking that she should let her impressions come so lightly to the
surface, and be read in signs which Desvoeux's experienced eye would,
Felicia knew, have not the least trouble in interpreting.

Suppose--but this was one of the disagreeable suppositions which
Felicia's mind put aside at once as too monstrous to be
entertained--suppose he should come to stand in the way of the rightful,
proper, destined lover? She thrust away the notion as absurd. All the
same, it made her uncomfortable, and no doubt justified her to herself
in pushing forward Sutton's interests with more eagerness than she might
otherwise have thought it right to employ about another person's
concerns. When one feels a thing to be _the_ thing that ought to happen,
and sees it in danger of being frustrated by some thoroughly
objectionable interference, it is but natural to do something more than
merely wish for a fortunate result. Felicia, at any rate, could boast of
no such passivity; and, if praising Sutton would have married him,
Felicia's wishes on the subject would have been speedily realised.

The course of love, however, rarely flows exactly in the channels which
other people fashion for it, and Maud's inclinations required, her
cousin felt, the most judicious handling. There could be no harm,
however, in allowing Sutton's visits to go on with their accustomed
frequency; and since Maud must forthwith learn to ride and Sutton
volunteered to come in the mornings to teach her, no one could blame
Felicia if, in the intervals of instruction, the pupil and teacher
should become unconsciously proficient in any other art besides that of
equitation. Maud used to come in from these rides with such a bright
glow on her cheek and in such rapturous spirits, that her cousin might
well feel reassured.

Sutton had found for her the most perfect pony, whose silky coat, lean
well-chiselled head and generally aristocratic bearing, pronounced it
the inheritor of Arab blood. Maud speedily discovered that riding was
the most enjoyable of all human occupations. Down by the river's side,
or following long woodland paths, where the busy British rule had
planted many an acre with the forests of the future, or out across the
wide plains of corn stretching for miles, broken only by clumps of palms
or villages nestling each in a little grove under the wing of some
ancestral peepul-tree, the moon still shining overhead and the sun just
above the horizon, still shrouded in the mists of morning--how fresh,
how picturesque, how exhilarating everything looked! How pleasant, too,
to go through all these pretty scenes with a companion who seemed
somehow to know her tastes and wishes, and to have no thought but how to
please her! Sutton, though in public a man of few words and
unsatisfactorily taciturn on the subject of his own exploits, had, Maud
presently discovered, plenty to tell her when they were alone. The power
of observation which made him so nice a judge of character extended
itself to all the scene about him and revealed a hundred touches of
interest or beauty which, to coarser or less careful vision, would have
lain obscure. Maud felt that she had never known how beautiful Nature
was till Sutton told her.

'There,' he would say, 'I brought you round this wood that we might not
miss that pretty bend of the river, with Humayoun's Tomb and the palms
beyond. See what a beautiful blue background the sky makes to the red
dome and that nice old bit of crumbling wall. The bright Indian
atmospheres have their own beauty, have they not? And see that little
wreath of smoke hanging over the village. This is my pet morning
landscape.'

'And those peach-groves,' cried Maud, 'all ablaze with blossom, and
those delicious shady mulberries and the great stretch of green beyond.
It is quite enchanting: a sort of dream of peace.'

'We had a fine gallop across here once,' Sutton said, 'when first we
took the Sandy Tracts.' And then Maud learnt that they were riding over
a battle-field, and that for a long summer's afternoon men had fought
and fallen all along the path where now they stood, and that a battery
of artillery had been posted at the very corner of the village to which
her guide had brought her. 'I remember when they knocked that hole in
the old wall yonder and how all the fellows behind it took to their
heels. Then, afterwards we stormed the Tomb and had to finish our
fighting by moonlight.'

'Was that when you got your Victoria Cross?' asked Maud, who was
possessed by a spirit of insatiable curiosity about Sutton's badges,
which he was slow to gratify.

'Oh no,' said Sutton, laughing; 'I got nothing then but a bullet through
my shoulder and a knock on the head from a musket-stock which very
nearly ended my soldiering then and there. Look now how quickly the
scene changes as the sun gets up--half its beauty is gone already! Let
us have a good canter over this soft ground and get home before it grows
too hot.'

Maud, who had never thought of a battle except as one of the afflicting
details that had to be remembered at an historical class, and if
possible to be hooked on to its proper site and date, felt a delicious
thrill in actually realising with her own eyes the place where one of
the troublesome events took place, and in talking to a person who had
actually taken part in it. 'And what became of the bullet in your
shoulder?' she asked.

'It was a very troublesome bullet,' said Sutton, 'and a great deal
harder to dislodge than the people from the Tomb. But I was unlucky when
I was a lad and never came out of action without a _souvenir_ of some
sort or other.'

When Maud got home she asked Felicia about this storming of the Tomb,
and learnt that Sutton's account was not as truthful as it might have
been. He and half-a-dozen others had, Felicia told her, volunteered for
the storming-party, had made a rush for the walls through a shower of
bullets; and Sutton and two companions, getting separated from the
others, had been left for some seconds to hold their own as best they
could against the angry, frightened mob within. No one, perhaps scarcely
Sutton himself, knew exactly what had happened. The rest of the party,
however, when they made their way in, found him standing at bay over a
dead comrade's body, and his antagonists too completely taken aback at
his audacity to venture, at any odds, within reach of his sword. In the
scuffle which ensued Sutton received the wounds of which Maud had been
informed; but his exploits on that day were for ever after quoted by his
followers as a proof that there is nothing which a man may not do, if
only he have pluck and will enough to do it.

Maud felt all this very impressive and Sutton's society more and more
delightful. Her enjoyment of it, however--by this time by no means
small--began to be seriously qualified by an anxiety, increasingly
present to her mind, as to her fitness for the dignified companionship
thus thrust upon her. She felt passionately anxious to please Sutton,
and more and more distrustful of her power to do so. He was good, noble,
chivalrous, everything that Felicia had said, and how hopelessly above
herself! What must he think of one who was, as Miss Goodenough had often
told her, a mere congeries of defects? True, he never seemed shocked or
annoyed at anything she said, and professed to like the rides as much as
she did; but might not this be from mere good-nature, or the charm of
novelty, or the wish to oblige Felicia, or any transitory or accidental
cause? Terrifying thought, if some day he should find her wanting, and
banish her from his regards! Meanwhile, happy, happy mornings, and
sweet, bright world, in which such pleasure can be found, even if
haunted by a doubt as to whether it is really ours or not!



CHAPTER IX.

THE FIRST BALL.

    Il est amiable, car on se sent toujours en danger avec lui.


Before Maud had been many weeks with the Vernons there was a Garrison
Ball, and at this it was fated that she should make her first public
appearance in Dustypore society. That night was certainly the most
eventful and exciting one that she had ever passed. To wake and find
one's self famous is no doubt an agreeable sensation; but to put on for
the first time in one's life a lovely ball-dress, bright, cloudlike,
ambrosial--to be suddenly elevated to a pinnacle to receive the homage
of mankind--to exercise a pleasant little capricious tyranny in the
selection of partners--to be seized upon by one anxious adorer after
another, all striving to please, each with a little flattering tale of
his own--to read in a hundred eyes that one is very pretty--to find at
last a partner who, from some mysterious reason, is not like other
partners, but just perfection--to know that one's views about him are
entirely reciprocated--it was, as Maud, on going to bed, acknowledged to
herself with a sigh, which was half fatigue and half the utterance of an
over-excited temperament, too much enjoyment for a single human soul to
carry!

In the first place, Sutton, all ablaze with medals, tall, majestic,
impressive, and as Maud had come to think with Felicia, undeniably
handsome, had begged her in the morning to keep several dances for him.
The prospect of this among other things had put her in a flutter. She
would have preferred some of the ensigns. It seemed a sort of alarming
familiarity. Could such a being valse and bend, as ordinary mortals do,
to the commonplace movements of a mere quadrille? It was one thing to go
spinning round with another school-girl, under the superintendence of
Madame Millville, to the accompaniment of her husband's violin: but to
be taken possession of by a being like Sutton--to have to write his name
down for two valses and a set of Lancers--to know that in five minutes
one will be whirling about under his guidance--the idea was delightful,
but not without a touch of awe! Sutton, however, quieted these alarms by
dancing in a rather ponderous and old-fashioned manner, and finally
tearing her dress with his spur. Maud had accordingly to be carried off,
in order that the damage might be repaired; and--her mind somewhat
lightened by the sense of responsibility discharged and the ice
satisfactorily broken--looked forward to the rest of the evening with
ummingled pleasure. While her torn dress was being set to rights she
scanned her card, saw Sutton's name duly registered for his promised
dances, and made up her mind, as she compared him with the rest, that
there was no one in the room she liked one-half as well.

But then she had not danced with Desvoeux; and Desvoeux was now waiting
at the door and imploring her not to curtail the rapture of a valse, the
first notes of which had already sounded. Desvoeux's dancing, Maud
speedily acknowledged to herself, bore about the same relation to
Sutton's that her Arab pony's canter did to the imposing movements of
the latter gentleman's first charger. His tongue, too, seemed as nimble
as his feet. He was in the highest possible spirits, and the careless,
joyous extravagance of his talk struck a sympathetic chord in his
companion's nature.

'There!' he cried, as the last notes of the music died away and he
brought his companion to a standstill at a comfortable sofa, 'Such a
valse as that is a joy for ever--a thing to dream of, is it not? Some
ladies, you know, Miss Vernon, dance in epic poems, some in the sternest
prose--Carlyle, for instance--some in sweet-flowing, undulating,
rippling lyrics: Yours is (what shall I say?) an ode of Shelley's or a
song from Tennyson, a smile from Paradise! Where can you have learnt
it?'

'Monsieur Millville taught us all at my school,' said Maud, prosaically
mindful of the many battles she had had in former days with that
gentleman: 'a horrid little wizened Frenchman, with a fiddle. We all
hated him. He was always going on at me about my toes.'

'Your toes!' cried Desvoeux, with effusion: 'He wanted to adore them, as
I do--sweet points where all the concentrated poetry of your being
gathers. Put out that fairy little satin shoe and let me adore them
too!'

'No, thank you!' cried Maud, greatly taken aback at so unexpected a
request, gathering her feet instinctively beneath her; 'it's not the
fashion!'

'You will not?' Desvoeux said, with a tone of sincere disappointment.
'Is not that unkind? Suppose it was the fashion to cover up your hands
in tulle and satin and never to show them?'

'Then,' Maud said, laughing, 'you would not be able to adore them
either; as it is, you see, you may worship them as much as you please!'

'I have been worshipping them all the evening. They are lovely--a little
pair of sprites.'

'Stop!' cried Maud, 'and let me see. My shoes are fairies, and my
dancing a poem, and my fingers sprites! How very poetical! And, pray, is
this the sort of way that people always talk at balls?'

'Not most people,' said Desvoeux, unabashed, 'because they are geese and
talk in grooves--about the weather and the last appointment and the
freshest bit of stale gossip; but it is the way _I_ talk, because I only
say what I feel and am perfectly natural.'

'Natural!' said Maud, in a tone of some surprise, for her companion's
romantic extravagance seemed to her to be the very climax of unreality.

'Yes,' said Desvoeux, coolly, 'and that is one reason why all women like
me; partly it is for my good looks, of course, and partly for my
dancing, but mostly because I am natural and tell the truth to them.'

'And partly, I suppose,' said Maud, who began to think her companion was
in great need of setting down, 'because you are so modest?'

'As to that, I am just as modest as my neighbours, only I speak out. One
knows when one is good-looking, does one not? and why pretend to be a
simpleton? You know, for instance, how very, very pretty you are looking
to-night!'

'We were talking about _you_, if you please,' said Maud, blushing
scarlet, and conscious of a truth of which her mirror had informed her.

'Agreeable topic,' said the other gaily; 'let us return to it by all
means! Well, now, I pique myself on being natural. When I am bored I
yawn or go away; when I dislike people I show my teeth and snarl; and
when I lose my heart I don't suffer in silence, but inform the fair
purloiner of that valuable organ of the theft without hesitation. That
is honest, at any rate. For instance, I pressed your hand to-night, when
you came in first, to tell you how delighted I was that you were come to
be the belle of the party. You did not mind it, you know!'

'I thought you very impertinent,' said Maud, laughing in spite of
herself; 'and so I think you now, and very conceited into the bargain.
Will you take me to have some tea, please?'

'With all my heart,' said the other; 'but we can go on with our talk.
How nice it is that we are such friends, is it not?'

'I did not know that we were friends,' said Maud, 'and I have not even
made up my mind if I like you.'

'Hypocrite!' answered her companion; 'you know you took a great fancy to
me the first morning I came to call on you, and Mrs. Vernon scolded you
for it after my departure.'

'It is not true,' said Maud, with a stammer and a blush, for Desvoeux's
shot was, unfortunately, near the mark; 'and anyhow, first impressions
are generally wrong.'

'Wrong!' cried the other, 'never, never! always infallible. Mrs. Vernon
abused me directly I was gone. She always does; it is her one fault,
that prevents her from being absolute perfection. She does not like me,
and is always putting me down. It is a great shame, because she has been
till now the one lady in India whom I really admire. But let us
establish ourselves on this nice ottoman, and I will show you some of
our celebrities. Look at that handsome couple talking so mysteriously on
the sofa: that is General Beau and Mrs. Vereker, and they are talking
about nothing more mysterious than the weather; but it is the General's
fancy to look mysterious. Do you see how he is shrugging his shoulders?
Well, to that shrug he owes everything in life. Whatever happens, he
either shrugs his shoulders, or arches his eyebrows, or says "Ah!"
Beyond these utterances he never goes; but he knows exactly when to do
each, and does it so judiciously that he has become a great man. He is
great at nothing, however, but flirtation; and Mrs. Vereker is just now
the reigning deity.'

'No wonder,' cried Maud. 'How lovely she is! such beautiful violet
eyes!'

'Yes,' said the other, with a most pathetic air, 'most dangerous eyes
they are, I assure you. You don't feel it, not being a man, but they go
through and through me. She always has a numerous following, especially
of boys, and has broken a host of hearts, which is all the more unfair,
as she does not happen to possess one of her own.'

'She must have a heart, with those eyes and such a smile,' objected
Maud.

'Not the least atom, I assure you,' said the other. 'Nature, in
lavishing every other grace and charm upon her, made this single
omission, much, no doubt, to the lady's own peace of mind. It is all
right in the present instance, because Beau does not happen to have any
heart either.'

'I don't believe you in the least,' said Maud, 'and I shall get my
cousin to take me to call upon her.'

'You are fascinated, you see, already,' said Desvoeux, 'though you are a
woman. You will find her a perfect Circe. Her drawing-room is an
enchanted cell hung round with votive offerings from former victims. She
lives on the gifts of worshippers, and will accept everything, from a
sealskin jacket to a pair of gloves. I used to be an adorer once, but I
could not afford it. Now I will introduce you.' Thereupon he presented
Maud in due form.

General Beau arched his handsome brow, and said, 'Ah! how dy'e do, Miss
Vernon?' in his inscrutable way; and Mrs. Vereker, who, as a reigning
beauty, felt an especial interest in one who seemed likely to endanger
her ascendency, was bent on being polite. She gave Maud the sweetest of
smiles, scolded Desvoeux with the prettiest little pout for not having
been to see her for an age; and, if she felt jealous, was determined, at
any rate, not to show it. She observed, however, with the eye of a
connoisseur, how Maud's hair was done, and took a mental note of a
little mystery of lace and feathers, just then the fashionable
head-dress, which she thought would be immensely becoming to herself.
She pressed Maud affectionately to come some day to lunch and inwardly
resolved to spoil the pretty _ingénue_ of her novelty.

Mrs. Vereker was a type of character which Indian life brings into
especial prominence and develops into fuller perfection than is to be
found in less artificial communities. Herself the child of Indian
parents, whom she had scarcely ever seen, with the slenderest possible
stock of home associations, accustomed from the outset to have to look
out for herself, she had come to India while still almost a child, and
in a few months, long before thought or feeling had approached
maturity, had found herself the belle of a Station, and presently a
bride. Then circumstances separated her frequently from her husband, and
she learnt to bear separation heroically. The sweet incense of flattery
was for ever rising about her, and she learnt to love it better every
day. Any number of men were for ever ready to throw themselves at her
feet and proclaim her adorable, and she came to feel it right that they
should do so. She found that she could conjure with her eyes and mouth
and exercise a little despotism by simply using them as Nature told her.
The coldness of her heart enabled her to venture with impunity into
dangers where an ardent temperament could scarcely but have gone astray:
she, however, was content so long as she lived in a stream of flattery
and half-a-dozen men declared themselves heartbroken about her; strict
people called her a flirt, but friends and foes alike declared her
innocence itself.

Beau was devoting himself to her partly because her good looks gave him
a slight sense of gratification, partly because he considered it the
proper thing to be seen on confidential terms with the handsomest woman
in the room, partly to have the pleasure of holding his own against the
younger men.

Desvoeux, delighted with his new-found treasure, was only too happy to
leave a quondam rival in possession of the field, and to have a decent
excuse for abandoning a shrine at which it was no longer convenient to
worship.



CHAPTER X.

THE WOES OF A CHAPERON.

    The time is out of joint--O cursed spite,
    That ever I was born to set it right!


Felicia came home from the ball in far less high spirits than her
_protégée_. Things had not gone as she wished, nor had Maud behaved at
all in the manner which Felicia had pictured to herself as natural and
appropriate to a young lady making her _début_ in polite society.
Instead of displaying an interesting timidity and clinging to her
chaperon for guidance and protection, Maud had taken wing boldly at
once, as in a congenial atmosphere, had been far too excited to be in
the least degree shy and had lent herself with indiscreet facility to a
very pronounced flirtation. Felicia began to realise how hard it is to
make the people about one be what one wants them to be, and how full of
disappointment is the task of managing mankind, even though the fraction
operated upon be no larger than a wayward school-girl's heart. Maud,
whose rapidly-increasing devotion to Sutton had for days past been a
theme of secret congratulation in Felicia's thoughts, had been behaving
all the evening just in the way which Sutton would, she knew, most
dislike, and showing the most transparent liking for the person of whom,
of all others, he especially disapproved. Sutton, too, Felicia
considered, was not comporting himself at all as she would have had him:
he lavished every possible kindness on Maud, but then it was less for
Maud's sake than her own; he would have done, she felt an annoying
conviction, exactly the same for either of her little girls; and though
he agreed with her in thinking Maud decidedly picturesque, and in being
amused and interested in the fresh, eager, childlike impulsiveness of
her character, his thoughts about her, alas! appeared to go no further.

'Why that profound sigh, Felicia?' her husband asked, when Maud had gone
away to bed, leaving the two together for the first time during the
evening. 'Does it mean that some one has been boring you or what?'

'It means,' said Felicia, 'that I am very cross and that Mr. Desvoeux is
a very odious person.'

'And Maud a very silly one, _n'est-ce pas_? Did not I tell you what a
deal of trouble our good-nature in having her out would be sure to give
us? Never let us do a good-natured act again! I tell you Maud is
already a finished coquette and, I believe, would be quite prepared to
flirt with me.'

'I am sure I wish she would,' said Felicia in a despairing tone. 'Do you
know, George, I do not like these balls at all?'

'Come, come, Felicia, how many valses did you dance to-night?' her
husband asked incredulously, for Felicia was an enthusiastic
Terpsichorean.

'That has nothing to do with it,' she said. 'All the people should be
nice, and so many people are not nice at all. It is too close quarters.
There are some men whose very politeness one resents.'

'Courtesy with a touch of traitor in it,' said her husband, 'for
instance?'

'For instance, General Beau,' said Felicia. 'He looks up in the pauses
of his devotions to Mrs. Vereker and turns his eyes upon one as if to
say, "Poor victim! your turn will be the next."'

'I saw you playing "Lady Disdain" to him with great success to-night,'
her husband answered. And indeed it must be confessed that Beau's
advances to Felicia, with whom he was always anxious to stand well, were
received by that lady with a slightly contemptuous dignity, very unlike
her usual joyous cordiality.

'Yes,' said Felicia; 'General Beau's compliments are more than I can
stand. But, George, what can I do with Maud? Is not Mr. Desvoeux
insufferable?'

'Well,' said her husband, 'if a man's ambition is to be thought a
_mauvais sujet_, and to dress like a shopboy _endimanché_, it does not
hurt us.'

'But it may hurt Maud,' said Felicia, 'if, indeed, it has not hurt her
already. Oh dear, how I wish she was safely married!'

From the above conversation it may be inferred that the responsibilities
of her new charge were beginning to weigh upon Felicia's spirits. Sutton
too slow, and Desvoeux too prompt, and Maud's fickle fancies inclining
now this way, now that--what benevolent custodian of other people's
happiness had ever more harassing task upon her hands?

It is probable, however, that had Felicia's insight or experience been
greater, the position of affairs would have seemed less fraught with
anxiety. Maud's liking for Desvoeux was a sentiment of the lightest
possible texture; its very lightness was, perhaps, its charm. With him
she was completely at her ease and experienced the high spirits which
being at one's ease engenders. She was certain of pleasing him, but
careless whether she did so or not. His extravagant protestations amused
her and were flattering in a pleasant sort of way, and his high spirits
made him an excellent companion; but nothing about him touched her with
the keen deep interest that every word or look of Sutton's inspired, or
with the same strong anxiety to retain his friendship. Desvoeux might
come and go, and Maud would have treated either event with the same
indifference; but if Sutton should ever begin to neglect her, she was
already conscious of a sort of pang which the very idea inflicted.

Upon the whole it is probable that Felicia's apprehensions were
groundless. Not the less, however, did she feel disconcerted and
aggrieved when the very next morning after the ball Desvoeux made his
appearance, in the highest possible spirits, evidently on the best terms
with Maud and politely ignoring all Felicia's attempts to put him down.
He was, as it seemed to her, in his very most objectionable mood, and
she felt glad that, at any rate, her husband was at home and that she
was not left to do battle by herself. She resolved to be as
unconciliatory as possible. As for Maud it never occurred to her to
conceal the pleasure which Desvoeux's arrival gave her, and she soon let
out the secret that his visit had been prearranged.

'I did not think that you really would come, Mr. Desvoeux; it is so nice
of you, because we are both of us far too tired to do anything but be
idle, and you can amuse us.'

'You forget, Maud,' said Vernon, 'that Desvoeux may be too tired to be
amusing.'

'And I,' said Felicia, with a slight shade of contempt in her tones, 'am
too tired even to be amused. I feel that Mr. Desvoeux's witticisms would
only fatigue me. I intend to give up balls.'

'Then,' said Desvoeux, with an air of admiring deference which Felicia
felt especially irritating, 'balls will have to give up me. I should not
think it in the least worth while to be a steward and to do all the
horrid things one has to do--polish the floor and audit the accounts and
dance official quadrilles with Mrs. Blunt--if our chief patroness chose
to patronise no more. A ball without Mrs. Vernon would be a May morning
without the sunshine.'

'Or a moonlight night without the moon,' said Felicia: 'Allow me to help
you to a simile.'

'You see he _is_ tired,' said Vernon, 'poor fellow, and for the first
time in his life in need of a pretty phrase.'

'Not at all,' said Desvoeux, with imperturbable good-nature; 'I am
constantly at a loss, like the rest of the world, for words to tell Mrs.
Vernon how much we all admire her. It is only fair that the person who
inspires the sentiment should assist us to express it.'

'But,' cried Maud, 'you are forgetting poor me. Who is to take care of
me, if you please, in the balls of the future?'

'Yes, Felicia,' said Vernon, 'you cannot abdicate just yet, I fear. As
for me, I feel already far too old.'

'Then,' cried Desvoeux, 'you must look at General Beau and learn that
youth is eternal. How nice it is to see him adoring Mrs. Vereker, and to
remember that we, too, may be adored some thirty years to come!'

'Beau's manner is very compromising,' said Vernon; 'it is a curious
trick. His first object, when he likes a lady, is to endanger her
reputation.'

'Yes,' answered Desvoeux, 'he leads her with a serious air to a sofa or
hides himself with her in a balcony; looks gravely into her eyes and
says, "How hot it has been this afternoon!" or something equally
interesting; and all the world thinks that he is asking her to elope at
least.'

'His manners appear to me to be insufferable,' Felicia said, in her
loftiest style; 'just the sort of familiarity that breeds contempt.'

'Poor fellow!' said Desvoeux, who knew perfectly that Felicia's
observations were half-intended for himself, 'it is all his enthusiasm.
He is as proud of every fresh flirtation as if it were a new
experience--like a young hen that has just laid its first egg. He
always seems to me to be chuckling and crowing to the universe, "Behold!
heaven and earth! I have hatched another scandal." Now,' he added,
'Miss Vernon, if ever you and I had a flirtation we should not wish all
the world to "assist," as the French people say, should we? People might
suspect our devotion, and guess and gossip; but there would not be this
revolting matter-of-fact publicity; and we should be for ever putting
people off the scent: I should still look into the Misses Blunt's eyes,
still dance a state quadrille with their mamma, still talk to Mrs.
Vereker about the stars, still feel the poetry of Miss Fotheringham's
new Paris dresses: you would continue to fascinate mankind at large;
only we two between ourselves should know how mutually broken-hearted we
had become.'

'That is a contingency,' Felicia said, in a manner which Desvoeux
understood as a command to abandon the topic, which, happily, there is
no need to discuss.' The conversation turned to something else; but
Felicia made up her mind more than ever that their visitor was a very
impertinent fellow, and more than ever resolved to guard Maud's heart
from every form of attack which he could bring to bear against it. No
protection could, she felt, be half so satisfactory as the
counter-attraction of a lover who would be everything that Desvoeux was
not, and whom all the world acknowledged to be alike _sans peur_ and
_sans reproche_.



CHAPTER XI.

FRIENDS IN COUNCIL.

              After short silence then,
    And summons sent, the great debate began.


A body constituted of as discordant elements as the three members of the
Salt Board was not likely to remain very long at peace with itself; and
for weeks past, Blunt's increasing truculence of deportment had warned
his colleagues of an approaching outbreak.

Since his successful raid upon the Board's accounts this gentleman had
made the lives of Fotheringham and Cockshaw a burden to them. His
insatiable curiosity plunged in the most ruthless manner into matters
which the others knew instinctively would not bear investigation. He
proposed reforms in an offhand manner which made poor Fotheringham's
hair stand on end; and the very perusal of his memoranda was more than
Cockshaw's industry could achieve. He had a sturdy cob on which he used
to ride about in the mornings, acquiring health and strength to be
disagreeable the entire day, and devising schemes of revolution as he
went. Poor Cockshaw's application for the Carraways had been refused;
General Beau had got the appointment and was actually in course of a
series of valedictory visits to various ladies whom he believed
broken-hearted at his departure. Fotheringham grew greyer and sadder day
by day and prepared himself as best he might to meet the blows of fate
in an attitude of dignified martyrdom. Matters at last reached a crisis
in a proposal of Blunt's, brought out in his usual uncompromising
fashion and thrust upon the Board, as Fotheringham acknowledged with a
shudder, with a horrid point-blank directness which rendered evasion and
suppression (the only two modes of dealing with questions which his
experience had taught him) alike impossible. In the first place Blunt
demonstrated by statistics that not enough salt was produced at the
Rumble Chunder quarries to enable the inhabitants to get enough to keep
them healthy. Nothing could be more convincing than his figures: so many
millions of people--so many thousands of tons of salt--so much salt
necessary per annum for each individual, and so forth. Then Blunt went
on to show that the classes of diseases prevalent in the Sandy Tracts
were precisely those which want of salt produces; then he demonstrated
that there was wholesale smuggling. From all this it followed obviously
that the great thing wanted was to buy up existing interests, develop
the quarries, improve the roads, and increase the production. If this
were done salt might be sold at a rate which would bring it within the
reach of all classes, and yet the gains of Government would be
increased. This was Blunt's view. The opposite party urged that to vary
the salt-supply would interfere with the laws of political economy,
would derange the natural interaction of supply and demand (this was one
of Fotheringham's favourite phrases), would depress internal trade,
paralyse existing industries, cause all sorts of unlooked-for results
and not benefit the consumer a whit; and that, even if it would, ready
money was not to be had at any price. Blunt, however, was not to be put
off with generalities and claimed to record his opinions, that his
colleagues should record theirs, and that the whole matter should be
submitted to the Agent. Cockshaw gave a suppressed groan, lit a cheroot,
and mentally resolved that nothing should tempt _him_ into writing a
memorandum, or, if possible, into allowing anybody else to do so. 'For
God's sake,' he said, 'don't let us begin minuting upon it; if the
matter must go to Empson, let us ask him to attend the Board, and have
it out once for all.' Now Mr. Empson was at this time Agent at
Dustypore. The custom was that he came to the Board only on very solemn
occasions, and only when the division of opinion was hopeless; then he
sat as Chairman and his casting-vote decided the fortunes of the day.

The next Board day, accordingly, Empson appeared, and it soon became
evident that Blunt was to have his vote.

Fotheringham was calm, passive, and behaved throughout with the air of a
man who thought it due to his colleagues to go patiently through with
the discussion, but whose mind was thoroughly made up. The fight soon
waxed vehement.

'Look,' said Blunt, 'at the case of cotton in the Kutchpurwanee
District.'

'Really,' said Fotheringham, 'I fail to see the analogy between cotton
and salt.' This was one of Fotheringham's stupid remarks, which
exasperated both Empson and Blunt and made them flash looks of
intelligence across the table at each other.

'Then,' Blunt said with emphasis, 'I'll explain the analogy. Cotton was
twopence-halfpenny per pound and hard to get at that. What did we do? We
laid out ten lakhs in irrigation, another five lakhs in roads, a vast
deal more in introducing European machinery and supervision; raised the
whole sum by an average rate on cotton cultivation--and what is the
result? Why, last year the outcome was more than double what it was
before, and the price a halfpenny a pound lower at least.'

'And what does that prove?' asked Fotheringham, who never could be made
to see anything that he chose not to see; 'As I said before, where is
the analogy?' Blunt gave a cough which meant that he was uttering
execrations internally, and took a large pinch of snuff. Fotheringham
looked round with the satisfied air of a man who had given a clencher to
his argument, and whose opponents could not with decency profess any
longer to be unconvinced.

'I am against it,' said Cockshaw, 'because I am against everything. We
are over-governing the country. The one thing that India wants is to be
let alone. We should take a leaf out of the books of our
predecessors--collect our revenue, as small an one as possible, shun all
changes like the devil--and let the people be.'

'That is out of the question,' said Empson, whom thirty years of
officialdom had still left an enthusiast at heart; '"Rest for India" is
the worst of all the false cries which beset and bewilder us; it means,
for one thing, a famine every ten years at least; and famines, you know,
mean death to them and insolvency to us.'

'Of course,' said Fotheringham, sententiously, with the grand air of
Æolus soothing the discordant winds; 'when Cockshaw said he was against
everything, he did not mean any indifference to the country. But we are
running up terrible bills; you know, Empson, we got an awful snubbing
from home about our deficit last year.'

'Well, but now about the Salt,' put in Blunt, whose task seemed to be to
keep everybody to the point in hand; 'this is no question of deficit. I
say it will pay, and the Government of India will lend us the money fast
enough if they can be made to think so too.'

'Well,' said Cockshaw, stubbornly lighting another cheroot, and getting
out his words between rapid puffs of smoke, 'it won't pay, you'll see,
and Government will think as I do.'

'Then,' replied Blunt, 'you will excuse me for saying Government will
think wrong, and you will have helped them. Have you examined the
figures?'

'Yes,' said Cockshaw, with provoking placidity, 'and I think them, like
all other statistics, completely fallacious. You have not been out here,
Blunt, as long as we have.'

'No; but the laws of arithmetic are the same, whether I am here or not.'

'Well,' observed Fotheringham, 'I really do not see--forgive me, pray,
for saying it--but, as senior member, I may perhaps be allowed the
observation--I really do not see how Blunt can pretend to know anything
about our Salt.'

'There is one thing I know about it,' said Blunt to Empson as they drove
home together from the Board; 'whatever it is, it is not Attic!'

While thus the battle raged within, Desvoeux, who had come with the
Agent to the Board, took an afternoon's holiday, and found himself, by
one of those lucky accidents with which Fortune favours every
flirtation, in Mrs. Vereker's drawing-room, where Maud had just arrived
to have luncheon and to spend the afternoon.

Now Mrs. Vereker was a beauty, and, as a beauty should, kept a little
court of her own in Dustypore, which in its own way was quite as
distinct an authority as the Salt Board or the Agency itself. Her claims
to sovereignty were considerable. She had the figure of a sylph, hair
golden and profuse and real. She had lovely, liquid, purple eyes, into
which whoever was rash enough to look was lost forthwith; and a
smile--but as to this the position of the present chronicler, as a
married man and the father of a family, renders it impossible for him to
describe it as it deserved. Suffice it to say that, even in a faded
photograph, it has occasioned the partner of his bosom the acutest
pangs, and it would be bad taste and inexpedient to say more than that
gentlemen considered it bewitching, while many married ladies condemned
it as an unmeaning simper of a very silly woman.

Mrs. Vereker affected to be greatly surprised at Desvoeux's arrival, and
even to hesitate about letting him in; but the slight constraint of her
manner, and the flush that tinged her cheek, suggested the suspicion
that the call was not altogether fortuitous.

'How provoking,' she said, when Desvoeux made his appearance, 'that you
should just come this morning to spoil our _tête-à-tête!_ Don't you
find, Miss Vernon, that whatever one does in life, there is invariably a
man _de trop?_'

'No,' cried Desvoeux gaily; 'Providence has kindly sent me to rescue you
both from a dull morning. Ladies have often told me that under such
circumstances it is quite a relief to have a man come in to break the
even flow of feminine gossip. Come, now, Miss Vernon, were you not
pleased to see my carriage come up the drive?'

'No, indeed,' said Maud; 'nothing could be more _mal à propos_. Mrs.
Vereker was just going to show me a lovely new Paris bonnet, and now,
you see, we must wait till you are gone!'

'Then, indeed, you would hate me,' answered Desvoeux; 'but happily there
is no necessity for that, as I happen to be a connoisseur in bonnets,
and Mrs. Vereker would not be quite happy in wearing one till I had
given my approval. She will go away now, you will see, and put it on for
us to look at.'

'Is not he conceited?' said Mrs. Vereker, raining the influence of a
bewitching smile upon her guests, and summoning, as she could at
pleasure, the most ingenuous of blushes to her cheeks; 'he thinks he is
quite a first-rate judge of everything.'

'Not of _everything_,' said the other, 'but of some things--Mrs.
Vereker's good looks, for instance--yes, from long and admiring
contemplation of the subject! It would be hard indeed if one could not
have an opinion about what has given one so much pleasure, and, alas! so
much suffering!'

Desvoeux said this with the most sentimental air, and Mrs. Vereker
seemed to take it quite as a matter of course.

'Poor fellow!' she said; 'well, perhaps I will show you the bonnet after
all, just to console you; am I not kind?'

'You know,' said Desvoeux, 'that you are dying to put it on. Pray defer
your and our delectation no longer!'

'Rude and disagreeable person!' cried the other, 'Suppose, Miss Vernon,
we go off and look at it by ourselves and have a good long chat, leaving
him alone here to cultivate politeness?'

'Yes,' cried Maud, 'let us. Here, Mr. Desvoeux, is a very interesting
report on something--Education--no, Irrigation--with nice tables and
plenty of figures. That will amuse you till we come back.'

'At any rate, don't turn a poor fellow out into such a hurricane as
this,' said Desvoeux, going to the window and looking into the garden,
where by this time a sand-storm was raging and all the atmosphere thick
and murky with great swirls of dust. 'I should spoil my complexion and
my gloves, and very likely be choked into the bargain.'

'But it was just as bad when you came, and you did not mind it.'

'Hope irradiated the horizon,' cried Desvoeux; 'but it was horrible. I
have a perfect horror of sand--like the people in "Alice," you know--

    They wept like anything to see
      Such quantities of sand.
    "If this were only cleared away,"
      They said, "it would be grand."
    "If seven maids with seven mops
      Swept it for half a year,
    Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
      "That they could get it clear?"
    "I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
      And shed a bitter tear.

And I shall shed a bitter tear if you send me away. At any rate, let me
stay to lunch, please, and have my horses sent round to the stable.'

'Shall we let him?' cried Mrs. Vereker teasingly. 'Well, if you do, you
will have nothing but poached eggs and bottled beer. There is a little
pudding, but only just big enough for Miss Vernon and me.'

'I will give him a bit of mine,' said Maud. 'I vote that we let him
stay, if he promises not to be impertinent.'

'And I will show him my bonnet,' cried the other, whose impatience to
display her new finery was rapidly making way. 'It is just as well to
see how things strike men, you know, and my _caro sposo_, among his
thousand virtues, happens to be a perfect ignoramus on the point of
dress. He knows and cares nothing about all my loveliest things.'

'Except,' said Desvoeux, 'how much they cost. Well, there is a practical
side which somebody must know about, I suppose, and a husband is just
the person; but it is highly inartistic.'

'How did you know that I was here?' Maud asked, when Mrs. Vereker had
left the room. 'And why are you not at the Agency doing your lessons?'

'Because we have an aviary of little birds at the Agency,' answered
Desvoeux, his manner instantly becoming several shades quieter and more
affectionate, 'and one of them came and sung me a tune this morning,
and told me to go and take a holiday and meet the person I like the best
in the world.'

'Now,' said Mrs. Vereker, gleefully re-entering the room, with a cluster
of lace and flowers artistically poised upon her shapely little head,
'is not that a duck, and don't I look adorable?'

'Quite a work of art,' cried Desvoeux, with enthusiasm. 'Siren! why,
already too dangerously fair, why deck yourself with fresh allurements
for the fascination of a broken-hearted world? I am convinced Saint
Simon Stylites would have come down from his pillar on the spot if he
could but have seen it!'

'And confessed himself a gone coon from a moral point of view,' laughed
Mrs. Vereker, despoiling herself of the work of art in question. 'And
now let us have some lunch; and mind, Mr. Desvoeux, you can only have a
very little, because, you see, we did not expect you.'

Afterwards, when it was time for Maud to go, it was discovered that no
carriage had arrived to take her home. 'What can I do?' she said, in
despair. 'Felicia will be waiting to take me to the Camp. George
promised to send back his office-carriage here the moment he got to the
Board.'

'Then,' said Desvoeux, with great presence of mind, 'he has obviously
forgotten it, and I will drive you home. Let me order my horses; they
are quite steady.'

Maud looked at Mrs. Vereker--she felt a burning wish to go, and needed
but the faintest encouragement. Felicia would, she knew, be not well
pleased; but then it was George's fault that she was unprovided for, and
it seemed hardly good-natured to reject so easy an escape from the
embarrassment which his carelessness had produced.

'I would come and sit in the back seat, to make it proper,' cried Mrs.
Vereker, 'but that I am afraid of the sun. I tell you what: I will
drive, and you can sit in the back seat, Mr. Desvoeux; that will do
capitally.'

'Thank you,' said Desvoeux, with the most melancholy attempt at
politeness and his face sinking to zero.

'Indeed, that is impossible!' cried Maud. 'I know you want to stay at
home. I will go with Mr. Desvoeux.' And go accordingly they did, and on
the way home Desvoeux became, as was but natural, increasingly
confidential. 'This is my carriage,' he explained, 'for driving married
ladies in: you see there is a seat behind--very far behind--and well
railed off, to put the husbands in and keep them in their proper
place--quite in the background. It is so disagreeable when they lean
over and try to join in the conversation; and people never know when
they are _de trop_.'

'Ah, but,' said Maud, 'I don't like driving with you alone. I hear you
are a very terrible person. People give you a very bad character.'

'I know,' answered her companion; 'girls are always jilting me and
treating me horribly badly, and then they say that it is all my fault. I
dare say they have been telling you about Miss Fotheringham's affair,
and making me out a monster; but it was she that was alone to blame.'

'Indeed,' said Maud, 'I heard that it made her very ill, and she had to
be sent to England, to be kept out of a consumption.'

'This was how it was,' said Desvoeux; 'I adored her--quite adored her; I
thought her an angel, and I think her one still, but with one defect--a
sort of frantic jealousy, quite a mania. Well, I had a friend--it
happened to be a lady--for whom I had all the feelings of a brother. We
had corresponded for years. I had sent her innumerable notes, letters,
flowers, presents, you know. I had a few things that she had given me--a
note or two, a glove, a flower, a photograph, perhaps--just the sort of
thing, you know, that one sends----'

'To one's brother,' put in Maud. 'Yes; I know exactly.'

'Yes,' said Desvoeux, in the most injured tone, 'and I used to lend her
my ponies, and, when she wanted me, to drive her. And what do you think
that Miss Fotheringham was cruel, wild enough to ask? To give back all
my little mementoes to write no more notes, have no more drives; in
fact, discard my oldest, dearest friend!--I told her, of course, that it
was impossible, impossible!' Desvoeux cried, getting quite excited over
his wrongs: '"Cruel girl," I said, "am I to seal my devotion to you by
an infidelity to the kindest, tenderest, sweetest of beings?" Thereupon
Miss Fotheringham became quite unreasonable, went into hysterics, sent
me back a most lovely locket which I had sent her only that morning; and
Fotheringham _père_ wrote me the most odious note, in his worst style,
declaring that I was trifling! Trifling, indeed! and to ask me to give
up my----'

'Your sister!' cried Maud; 'it was hard indeed! Well, here we are at
home. Let me jump down quick and go in and get my scolding.'

'And I,' said Desvoeux, 'will go to the Agency and get mine.'

Stolen waters are sweet, however; and it is to be feared that these two
young people enjoyed their _tête-à-tête_ none the less for the
consideration that their elders would have prevented it if they had had
the chance.



CHAPTER XII.

A CHAPTER OF DISCLOSURES.

                             For his thoughts,
    Would they were blank sooner than filled with me!


Maud did not exactly get a scolding, but Felicia looked extremely grave.
Maud's high spirits were gone in an instant; the excitement which had
enabled her to defy propriety hitherto deserted her at the door; the
recklessness with which Desvoeux always infected her had driven away
with him in his mail-phaeton, and left her merely with the disagreeable
consciousness of having acted foolishly and wrongly. Felicia knew
exactly how matters stood and scarcely said a word. Her silence however
was, Maud felt, the bitterest reproach.

'Scold me, scold me, dear,' she cried, the tears starting to her eyes;
'only don't look like that and say nothing!'

'Well,' said Felicia, 'first promise me never again to drive alone with
Mr. Desvoeux.'

'After all,' suggested Maud, 'it is a mere matter of appearances, and
what do they signify?'

'Some matters of appearance,' said Felicia, 'signify very much. Besides,
this is something more than that. It is bad enough for you to be _seen_
with him--what I really care about is your _being_ with him at all.'

'But,' said Maud, 'he is really very nice: he amuses me so much!'

'Yes,' answered the other, 'he amuses one, but then it always hurts. His
fun has a something, I don't know what it is, but which is only just not
offensive; and I don't trust him a bit.'

'But,' Maud argued, 'he is great friends with George, is he not?'

'Not great friends,' said Felicia; 'they were at college together, and
have worked in the same office for years, and are intimate like
schoolboys, and George never says an unkind word of any one; but I do
not call them friends at all.'

'No?' said Maud, quite unconvinced, and feeling vexed at Felicia's
evident dislike for her companion. 'Well, he's a great friend of mine,
so don't abuse him, please.'

'Nonsense, child!' cried Felicia, in a fright. 'You don't know him in
the least, or you would not say that. To begin with, he is not quite a
gentleman, you know.'

'Not a gentleman!' cried Maud, aghast, 'he seems to me a very fine
one.'

'As fine as you please,' said Felicia, 'but not a thorough gentleman.
Gentlemen never say things that hurt you or offend your taste. Now with
Mr. Desvoeux I feel for ever in a fright lest he should say something I
dislike; and I know he _thinks_ things that I dislike.'

'I think you are prejudiced, Felicia. What he says seems to me all very
nice.'

'Perhaps it is prejudice,' Felicia answered, 'but I think it all the
same. I feel the difference with other people; Major Sutton, for
instance.'

'He is your ideal, is he not?' cried Maud, blushing and laughing, for
somehow she was beginning to feel that Felicia had designs upon her.

'Yes,' Felicia said in her fervent way; 'he is pure and true and
chivalrous to the core: he seems to me made of quite other stuff from
men like Mr. Desvoeux.'

'He is all made of solid gold,' cried Maud, by this time in a teasing
mood, 'and Mr. Desvoeux is plaster-of-Paris and putty and pinchbeck, and
everything that is horrid. But he is very amusing, dearest Felicia, all
the same, _and very nice_. I will not drive with him any more, of
course, if you do not like it.'

Thereupon Maud, in a somewhat rebellious frame of mind, was about to go
and take her things off, and was already half-way through the doorway
when she turned round and saw Felicia's sweet, serene, refined brow
wearing a look of harassment and annoyance, and a sudden pang of remorse
struck her that she should, in pure mischief, have been wounding a
tender heart and endangering a friendship, compared with which she felt
everything else in the world was but a straw in the balance. She rushed
back and flung her arms round her companion's neck. 'Dearest Felicia,'
she said, 'you know that I would fly to the moon rather than do anything
you did not like or make you love me the tiniest atom less. I want to
tell you something. You think, I know, that I am falling in love with
Mr. Desvoeux. Well, dear, I don't care for him _that!_'

Thereupon Maud clapped two remarkably pretty hands together in a manner
highly expressive of the most light-hearted indifference, and Felicia
felt that at any rate she might console herself with the reflection that
Maud was as yet quite heart-whole, and that, so far as Desvoeux was
concerned, Sutton's prospects were not endangered. The certainty,
however, that Desvoeux had selected Maud for his next flirtation, and
that she felt no especial repugnance to the selection, made Felicia
doubly anxious that her chosen hero should succeed, and her _protégée_ be
put beyond the reach of danger as soon as possible. But then Sutton
proved provokingly unamenable to Felicia's kind designs upon him.

His continued bachelorhood was a mystery of which not even she possessed
the key. It was not insensibility, for every word, look, and gesture
bespoke him more than ordinarily alive to all the charms which sway
mankind. It certainly was not that either the wish or the power to
please were wanting; nobody was more courteous at heart, or more prompt
to show it, or more universally popular: nor could it be want of
opportunity; for, though he had been all his life fighting, marching,
hurrying on busy missions from one wild outpost to another, on guard for
months together at some dangerous spot where treachery or fanaticism
rendered an explosion imminent; yet the busiest military life has its
intervals of quiet, and the love-making of soldiers is proverbially
expeditious. Was it, then, some old romance, some far-off English
recollection, some face that had fascinated his boyhood, and forbade
him, when a man, to think any other altogether lovely? Could the locket,
which formed the single ornament where all else was of Spartan
simplicity, have told a tale of one of those catastrophes where love and
hope and happiness get swamped in hopeless shipwreck? Was it that,
absolutely unknown to both parties, his relations to Felicia filled too
large a place in his heart for any other devotion to find room there?
Was it that a widow sister who had been left with a tribe of profitless
boys upon her hands, and to whom a remittance of Sutton's pay went every
month, had made him think of marriage as an unattainable luxury?

Sutton, at any rate, remained without a wife, and showed no symptom of
anxiety to find one. To those venturesome friends who were sufficiently
familiar to rally him on the subject he replied, cheerfully enough, that
his regiment was his wife and that such a turbulent existence as his
would make any other sort of spouse a most inconvenient appendage.
Ladies, experienced in the arts of fascination, knew instinctively that
he was unassailable, and even the most intrepid and successful gave up
the thoughts of conquest in despair. To be a sort of privileged brother
to Felicia--to be the children's especial patron and ally--to sit
chatting with Vernon far into the night with all the pleasant intimacy
of family relationship, seemed to be all the domestic pleasures of which
he stood in need. 'As well,' Felicia sighed, 'might some poor maiden
waste her love upon the cold front of a marble Jove.'

Such was the man upon whom Felicia had essayed her first attempt at
match-making; and such the man, too, whom Maud, though she had buried
the secret deep in the recesses of her heart--far even out of her own
sight--had already begun to love with all the passionate violence of a
first attachment.



CHAPTER XIII.

DESVOEUX MAKES THE RUNNING.

    Free love, free field--we love but while we may:
    The woods are hushed, their music is no more;
    The leaf is dead, the yearning past away,
    New leaf, new life--the days of frost are o'er.
    New life, new love, to suit the newer day:
    New loves are sweet as those that went before,
    Free love, free field--we love but while we may.


Felicia was beginning to find Maud a serious charge, and to be weighed
down in spirit by the responsibility involved in her protection. It
would have been easy enough to tell her not to flirt; but it was when
Maud was unconscious and self-forgetful that she fascinated the most;
and how warn her against the exercise of attractions of which she never
thought and the existence of which would have been a surprise to her?
When, on the lawn, Maud's hat blew off and all her wealth of soft brown
hair tumbled about her shoulders in picturesque disarray, and she stood,
bright and eager and careless of the disaster, thinking only of the
fortunes of the game, but beautiful, as every creature who came near her
seemed to feel--when she was merriest in the midst of merry talk, and
made some saucy speech and then blushed scarlet at her own
audacity--when her intensity of enjoyment in things around her bespoke
itself in every look and gesture--when the pleasure she gave seemed to
infect her being and she charmed others because she was herself in love
with life, how warn her against all this? You might as well have
preached to an April shower!

Desvoeux, too, was not a lover likely to be easily discouraged or to let
the grass grow beneath his feet. Both from temperament and policy he
pressed upon a position where advantages seemed likely to be gained.
Despite the very coolest welcomes Felicia began to find him an
inconveniently frequent visitor. An avowed foe to croquet, he appeared
with provoking regularity at her Thursday afternoons, when the Dustypore
world was collected to enjoy that innocent recreation on the lawn, and
somehow he always contrived to be playing in Maud's game. Even at church
he put in an unexpected appearance, and sate through a discourse of
three-quarters of an hour with a patience that was almost ostentatiously
hypocritical. Then he would come and be so bright, natural and amusing,
and such good company, that Felicia was frequently not near as chilling
to him as she wished and as she felt that the occasion demanded. He was
unlike anybody that Maud had ever met before. He seemed to take for
granted that all existing institutions and customs were radically wrong
and that everybody knew it. 'Make love to married women? Of course; why
not--what are pretty married women for? Hard upon the husbands? Not a
bit; all the unfairness was the other way: the husbands have such
tremendous advantages, that it is quite disheartening to fight against
such odds: tradition and convention and the natural feminine
conservatism all in favour of the husbands; and then the Churchmen, as
they always do, taking their part too: it was so mean! No, no; if the
husbands cannot take care of themselves they deserve the worst that can
befall them.' Or he would say, 'Go to church! Thank you, if Miss Vernon
sings in the choir and will say "How d'ye do?" to me as she comes out, I
will go and welcome; but otherwise, _ça m'embête_, as the Frenchman
said. I always was a fidget, Miss Vernon, and feel the most burning
desire to chatter directly any one tells me to hold my tongue; and then
I'm argumentative and hate all the speaking being on one side; and
then--and then,--well, on the whole, I rather agree with a friend of
mine, who said that he had only three reasons for not going to
church--he disbelieved the history, disapproved the morality and
disliked the art.'

Maud used to laugh at these speeches; and though she did not like them
nor the man who made them, and understood what Felicia meant by saying
that Desvoeux's fun had about it something which hurt one, it seemed
quite natural to laugh at them. She observed too, before long, that they
were seldom made when Felicia was by, and that Desvoeux, if in higher
spirits at Mrs. Vereker's than at the Vernons' house, was also several
shades less circumspect in what he said, and divulged tastes and
opinions which were concealed before her cousin. More than once, as
Felicia came up Desvoeux had adroitly turned the conversation from some
topic which he knew she would dislike; and Maud, who was guilelessness
itself, had betrayed by flushing cheeks and embarrassed manner the fact
of something having been concealed.

On the whole, Felicia had never found the world harder to manage or the
little empire of her drawing-room less amenable to her sway. Her guests
somehow would not be what she wished. Desvoeux, though behaving with
marked deference to her wishes and always sedulously polite, pleased her
less and less, Maud's innocence and impulsiveness, however attractive,
frequently produced embarrassments which it required all Felicia's tact
to overcome. Her husband, laconic and indolent, gave not the slightest
help. Another ground on which she distressed herself (very
unnecessarily, could she only have known) was, that Sutton, among other
performers on Felicia's little stage, played not at all the brilliant
part which she had mentally assigned him. The slightly contemptuous
dislike for Desvoeux which Felicia had often heard him express, and in
which she greatly sympathised, though veiled under a rigid courtesy, was
yet incompatible with cordiality, or good cheer; and Desvoeux, whose
high spirits nothing could put down, often appeared the pleasanter
companion of the two. Sutton, in fact, had on more occasions than one
come into collision with Desvoeux in a manner which a less easy-going
and light-hearted man would have found it difficult to forgive. Once, at
mess, on a Guest-night, Desvoeux had rattled out some offensive nonsense
about women, and Sutton had got up and, pushing his chair back
unceremoniously, had marched silently away to the billiard-room in a
manner which in him, the most chivalrous of hosts, implied a more than
ordinarily vehement condemnation. Afterwards Desvoeux had been given to
understand that, if he came to the mess, he must not, in the Major's
presence at any rate, outrage good taste and good morals by any such
displays. Then, at another time, there was a pretty young woman--a
sergeant's wife--to whom Desvoeux showed an inclination to be polite.
Sutton had told Desvoeux that it must not be, in a quietly decisive way
which he felt there was no disputing, though there was something in the
other's authoritative air which was extremely galling. He could not be
impertinent to Sutton, and he bore him no deep resentment; but he
revenged himself by affecting to regard him as the ordinary 'plunger' of
the period--necessary for purposes of defence and a first-rate leader of
native cavalry, but socially dull, and a fair object for an occasional
irreverence. Sutton's tendency was to be more silent than usual when
Desvoeux was of the party. Desvoeux, on the other hand, would not have
let Sutton's or the prophet Jeremiah's presence act as a damper on
spirits which were always at boiling-point and a temperament which was
for ever effervescing into some more or less indiscreet form of mirth.
The result was that the one man quite eclipsed the other and tossed the
ball of talk about with an ease and dexterity not always quite
respectful to his less agile senior. One night, for instance, Maud, in a
sudden freak of fancy, had set her heart upon a round of story-telling.
'I shall come last of course,' she said, 'as I propose it, and by that
time it will be bedtime; but, Major Sutton, you must tell us something
about some of your battles, please, something very romantic and
exciting.'

Sutton was the victim of a morbid modesty as to all his soldiering
exploits and would far rather have fought a battle than described it.
'Ah,' he said, 'but our fighting out here is not at all romantic; it is
mostly routine, you know, and not picturesque or amusing.'

'Yes, but,' said Maud, 'tell us something that is picturesque or
amusing: a hairbreadth escape, or a forlorn hope, or a mine. I love
accounts of mines. You dig and dig for weeks, you know, and then you're
countermined and hear the enemy digging near you; and then you put the
powder in and light the match, and run away, and then--now you go on!'

'And then there is a smash, I suppose,' laughed Sutton; 'but you know
all about it better than I. I'm not a gunner--all my work is
above-ground.'

'Well, then,' cried Maud, with the eager air of a child longing for a
story, 'tell us something above ground. How did you get your Victoria
Cross, now?'

Maud, however, was not destined to get a story out of Sutton.

'There was nothing romantic about _that_, at any rate,' he said. 'It was
at Mírabad. There was a cannon down at the end of the lane which was
likely to be troublesome, and some of our fellows went down with me and
spiked it. That was all!'

'Excuse me, Miss Vernon,' said Desvoeux; 'Sutton's modesty spoils an
excellent story. Let me tell it as it deserves.' And then he threw
himself into a mock-tragical attitude.

'Go on,' said Maud, eagerly.

'The street-fighting at Mírabad,' said Desvoeux, with a declamatory air,
'was the fiercest of the whole campaign----'

'What campaign?' asked Sutton.

'The Mírabad campaign,' replied the other, with great presence of mind,
'in eighteen hundred and--, I forget the year--but never mind.'

'Yes, never mind the year,' said Maud; 'go on.'

'The enemy fought us inch by inch, and lane by lane; from every window
poured a little volley; every house had to be stormed, hand-to-hand we
fought our way, and so on. You know the sort of thing. Then, as we
turned into the main street, puff! a great blaze and a roar, and a dense
cloud of smoke, and smash came a cannon-ball into the midst of us--five
or six men were knocked over--Tomkin's horse lost a tail, Brown had his
nose put out of joint, Smith was blown up to a second-storey
window--something must be done. But I am tiring you?'

'No, no,' cried Maud, 'I like it--go on.'

'Well, let me see. Oh yes, something must be done. To put spurs to my
Arab's sides, to cut my way down through the astonished mob, to leap the
barricade (it was only eight feet high, and armed with a _chevaux de
frise_), to sabre the six gunners who were working the battery, was, I
need hardly say, the work of a moment. Then--a crushing blow from
behind, and I remember nothing more, till, a month later, I found
myself, weak and wounded, in bed; and a lovely nun gave me some gruel,
and told me that Mírabad was ours! "Where am I?" I exclaimed, for I felt
so confused, and the nun looked so angelic, that I fancied I must have
gone to heaven. My companion, however, soon brought me to earth by--_et
cætera et cætera et cætera_.'

'That is the sort of thing which happens in "Charles O'Malley,"' said
Sutton; 'only Lever would have put Tippoo Sahib or Tantia Topee on the
other side of the barricade, and I should have had to cut his head off
and slaughter all his bodyguard before I got out again.'

'And then,' said Maud, 'the nun would have turned out to be some one.'

'But,' said Desvoeux, 'how do you know that the nun did _not_ turn out
to be some one, if only I had chosen to fill up those _et cæteras?_'

'Well,' said Sutton, who apparently had had enough of the joke 'that
part of the story I will tell you myself. The nun was a male one--my
good friend Boldero, who took me into his quarters, looked after me for
six weeks, till I got about again, and was as good a nurse as any one
could wish for.'

'I should have liked to be the nun,' Maud cried, moved by a sudden
impulse which brought the words out as the thought flashed into her
mind, and turning crimson, as was her wont, before they were out of her
mouth.

'That is very kind of you,' said Sutton, standing up, and defending her,
as Maud felt, from all eyes but his own; 'and you would have been a very
charming nurse and cured me, I dare say, even faster than Boldero. And
now, Desvoeux, go and sing us a song as a _finale_ to your story.

Maud knew perfectly well that this was a mere diversion to save her from
the confusion of a thoughtless speech and turn Desvoeux's attention from
her. It seemed quite natural and of a piece with Sutton's watchful,
sympathetic care to give her all possible pleasure and to shield her
from every shade of annoyance. A thrill of gratitude shot through her.
There was a charm, a fascination, in protection so prompt, so delicate,
so kind, compared with which all other attractions seemed faint indeed.
That evening Maud went to bed with her heart in a tumult, and wept, she
knew not wherefore, far into the night--only again and again the tears
streamed out--the outcome, though as yet she knew it not, of that purest
of all pure fountains, an innocent first love.



CHAPTER XIV.

TO THE HILLS!

    However marred, and more than twice her years,
    Scarred with an ancient sword-cut on the cheek,
    And bruised and bronzed,--she lifted up her eyes,
    And loved him with that love which was her doom.


Summer was beginning to come on apace; not summer as English people know
it, the genial supplement to a cold and watery spring, with just enough
heat about it to thaw the chills of winter out of one; but summer in its
fiercest and cruellest aspect, breathing sulphurous blasts, glowing with
intolerable radiance, begirt with whirlwinds of dust--the unsparing
despot of a sultry world. The fields, but a few weeks ago one great
'waveless plain' of ripening corn, had been stripped of their finery,
and were now lying brown and blistering in the sun's eye. The dust lay
deep on every road and path and wayside shrub, and seized every
opportunity of getting itself whirled into miniature siroccos. More than
once Maud and Felicia had been caught, not in a sweet May shower,
stealing down amid bud and blossom and leaving the world moist and fresh
and fragrant behind it, but in rough, turbulent clouds of rushing sand,
which shut out the sunshine and replaced the bright blue atmosphere with
the lurid glare of an eclipse. Felicia's flowers had begun to droop, nor
could all her care rescue the fresh green of her lawn from turning to a
dingy brown. Already prudent housekeepers were busy with preparations
against the evil day so near at hand. Verandahs were guarded with folds
of heavy matting, to shut out the intolerable light that would have
forced a way through any ordinary barrier; windows were replaced by
fragrant screens of cuscus-grass, through which the hot air passing
might lose a portion of its sting; and one morning, when Maud came out,
she found a host of labourers carrying a huge winnowing-machine to one
side of the house, the object of which was, Vernon informed her, to
manufacture air cool enough for panting Britons to exist in.

Day by day some piece of attire was discarded as too intolerably heavy
for endurance. The morning ride became a thing of the past, and even a
drive at sunset too fatiguing to be quite enjoyable. Maud felt that she
had never--not even when Miss Goodenough had locked her up for a whole
summer afternoon, to learn her 'duty to her neighbour'--known what
exhaustion really meant till now.

The children were turning sadly white, and Felicia began to be anxious
for their departure to the Hills. Maud would of course go with them, and
Vernon was to follow in a couple of months, when he could get his leave.
Much as she hated leaving her husband, Felicia was on the whole
extremely glad to go. The state of things at home disturbed her. Maud's
outspoken susceptibility, Desvoeux's impressionable and eager
temperament, Sutton's unconsciousness of what she wanted him to do--the
combination was one from which it was a relief in prospect to escape to
the refuge of a new and unfamiliar society. Felicia's buoyant and
hopeful nature saw in the promised change of scene the almost certainty
that somehow or other matters would seem less unpromising when looked at
from the summits of Elysium.

For Elysium accordingly they started. Three primitive vehicles, whose
battered sides and generally faded appearance spoke eloquently of the
dust, heat and bustle in which their turbulent existence was for the
most part engaged, were dragged one afternoon, each by a pair of highly
rebellious ponies, with a vast deal of shouting, pushing, and
execrating, into a convenient position before the hall-door, and their
tops loaded forthwith with that miscellaneous and profuse supply of
baggage which every move in India necessarily involves, and which it is
the especial glory of Indian servants to preserve in undiminished
amplitude. Suffice it to say, that it began with trunks and cradles,
went on with native nurses, and concluded with a goat. Vernon sat in the
verandah, smoking a cheroot with stoical composure and interfering only
when some pyramid of boxes seemed to be assuming proportions of perilous
altitude. He was to travel with them, establish them at Elysium, and
ride down sixty miles again by night--a performance of which no
Dustyporean thought twice. Maud, to whom one of the creaking fabrics was
assigned in company with the two little girls, found that (the feat of
clambering in and establishing herself once safely accomplished) the
journey promised to be not altogether unluxurious. The Vernons' servants
were experienced and devoted, and every detail of the journey was
carefully foreseen. The interior of the carriage, well furnished with
mattresses and pillows, made an excellent bed; a little army of servants
gathered round to proffer aid and to give the Sahibs a passing salaam;
friendly carriages kept rolling in to say 'Good-bye.' Sutton, who had
been kept away on business, galloped in at the last moment and seemed
too much occupied in saying farewell to Felicia to have much time for
other thoughts. 'Good-bye,' he said, in the most cheery tone, as he came
to Maud's carriage, and 'Good-bye, Uncle Jem!' shouted the little girls,
waving their adieux as best they might under the deep awning; and then,
after a frantic struggle for independent action on the part of the
ponies, they were fairly off and spinning along the great, straight,
high road which stretches in unswerving course through so many hundred
miles of English rule.

The little girls were in the greatest glee, and busy in signalling Uncle
Jem for as long as possible. Maud, somehow, did not share their mirth:
for the first time Sutton had seemed unkind, or near enough unkind, to
give her pain. This ending of the pleasant time seemed to her an event
which friendship ought not quite to have ignored. She looked back upon
many happy hours, the brightest of her life; and the person who had made
them bright evidently did not share her sentimental views about them in
the least. Partings, Maud's heart told her, must surely be always sad;
yet Sutton's voice had no tone of sadness in it. 'Stay--stay a little!'
she could have cried with Imogen,

    Were you but riding forth to air yourself,
    Such parting were too petty--

True, they were to meet in a few weeks; but yet--but yet!

'You've got a big tear on your cheek,' said one of her companions, with
the merciless frankness of childhood.

'Have I?' said Maud. 'Then it must be the dust that has gone into my
eyes. How hot it is! Come, let us have some oranges!'

By this time evening was fast closing in, and Maud's cheeks were soon
safe from further observation. Before long her and her companions' eyes
were fast closed by that kindly hand which secures to the most troubled
of mankind the boon that one-third, at any rate, of existence shall be
spent in peace. When they awoke the stars were shining bright, but the
sky was already ruddy with the coming dawn, and Maud could see the giant
mountain forms looming, cold and majestical, in the grey air above them.
They alighted at a little wayside inn, and found delicious cups of tea
(the Indians' invariable morning luxury) awaiting them. Maud had
sufficiently recovered her spirits to make a bold inroad on the bread
and butter.

A mist hung about the country round, and it was a delightful, home-like
sensation to shrink once again, as the cold mountain blasts came
swirling down, throwing the wreaths of vapour here and there, and
recalling the delicious reminiscence of a November fog. In a few
moments the horses were ready, the children and nurses packed into
palanquins, and the upward march began.

These morning expeditions in the mountains are indescribably
exhilarating. At every step you breathe a fresher atmosphere and feel a
new access of life, vigour and enjoyment. Sweet little gushes of pure
cold air meet you at the turnings of the road and bid you welcome. The
vegetation around is rich, profuse and--long-forgotten charm--sparkling
everywhere with dew. There has been a thunderstorm in the night, and the
mountain-sides are streaming still: little cataracts come tumbling
clamorously beside your path; below you a muddy stream is foaming and
brawling and collecting the tribute of a hundred torrents to swell the
great flood that spreads away miles wide in the plain, and glitters in
the far horizon. As the path rises you get a wider view, and presently
the great champaign lies below, flashing and blinking in the morning's
rays. Miles away overhead a tiny white thread shows the road along which
in an hour or two you will be travelling, and a little speck at the
summit, the cottage where your mid-day rest will be. Behind you lie
heat, monotony, fatigue, hot hours in sweltering courts, weary
strugglings through the prose of officialdom, the tiresome warfare
against sun and dust; around you and above, it is all enchanted ground;
the air is full of pleasant sounds and sweet invisible influences; the
genius of the woods breathes poetry about the scene, the mountain nymphs
are dancing on yonder crest, and Puck and Oberon and Titania haunting in
each delicious nook. Well may the first Englishman, who toiled panting
hitherwards from the reeking realms below, have fancied himself half-way
to Paradise and have christened the crowning heights Elysium. Maud, at
any rate, leaving the rest of the party behind, rode forward in an
ecstasy of enjoyment.

       *       *       *       *       *

They spent the hot hours of the day in a sweet resting-place. Years
afterwards the calmness of that pleasant day used to live in Maud's
recollection; and though many scenes of bustle and trouble and fevered
excitement had come between herself and it, yet the very thought of it
used to soothe her. 'I have you, dear,' she would say to Felicia, 'in my
mind's picture-gallery, set in a dozen different frames--scenes in which
you played a part--and this is my favourite. I love you best of all in
this; it cools and gladdens me to look at it.'

The scene, in fact, was a lovely one. On one side rose a vast
amphitheatre of granite, rugged, solemn, precipitous; downwards, along
the face of this, a careful eye might trace from point to point the
little path up which the party were to make to-morrow's march. This
mountain ridge separated them from the Elysian hills, and seemed to
frown at them like some giant bulwark reared to guard the snowy
solitudes beyond from human intrusion. On the other hand, fold upon
fold, one sweet outline melting into another--here kissed by soft
wreaths of cloud, here glittering clear and hard in the flood of
light--stretched all the minor ranges, along which for fifty miles the
traveller to the Elysians prepares himself for the final sublimity that
lies beyond. In front, where the mountains parted, lay sweltering in the
horizon, and immeasurably below them, the great Indian plain, spread out
as far as eye could follow it--a dim, glistening, monotonous
panorama--varied only when occasionally a great river, swollen with the
melting snows above, spread out for miles across the plain and twinkled
like an inland lake as the sun's rays fell upon it--and the whole
suggested intolerable heat.

The hillside around was covered thick with forest growth of tropical
luxuriance. On the heights above, a clump of rhododendrons glowed with a
rosy glory; here, on a rugged precipice, a storm-stricken deodar spread
its vast flat branches as if to brave the storm and the lightning
strokes such as had before now seamed its bark. The path below was
overhung with a dense growth of bamboo, each stem a miracle of grace,
and growing at last to an inextricable jungle in the deep bosom of the
mountain gorge. Mountain creepers in fantastic exuberance tossed wildly
about the crag's side or hung festooning the roadside with a gorgeous
natural tapestry. A hundred miles away the everlasting snow-clad
summits, which had stood out so clear in the grey morning, when they
first emerged from their couch of clouds, were fading into faintness as
the bright daylight poured about them. Just below the spot on which
their camp was pitched there was a little spring and a drinking-place,
and constant relays of cattle came tinkling up the road and rested in
the tall rocks' shadow for a drink, while the weary drivers sat chatting
on the edge. Every now and then weird beings from the Interior, whose
wild attire and unkempt aspect bespoke them as belonging to some
aboriginal tribe, were to be seen staggering along under huge logs of
timber felled in the great forests above and now brought down to the
confines of civilisation for human use. It was a new page in Nature's
grand picture-book, and full of charm. Maud, who was always very much
alive to the outer world, was greatly impressed. Her nerves were
over-wrought. She took Felicia's hand and seemed to be in urgent need of
imparting her excited mood to some one.

'How beautiful this is!' she cried; 'how solemn, how solitary! Already
all the world seems to be something unsubstantial, and the mountains the
only reality.'

Felicia threw herself back upon the turf and gave a great sigh of
relief.

'I love these delicious gusts of air,' she said, 'fresh and pure from
the snow-tops.'

'Yes,' cried Maud; 'how serene and grand they look! No wonder the Alpine
tourists go crazy about them and break their necks in clambering about
them, bewildered with pleasure:

    '"How faintly flushed, how phantom fair,
    Was Monte Rosa hanging there!
    A thousand shadowy pencilled valleys
    And snowy dells in a golden air!"

'And here is a whole horizon of Monte Rosas! I should like to stop a
month here and devote myself to sketching.'

While they were chatting in the shade, a native lad, who had been
standing on a neighbouring knoll, came running down to a picketed pony
and began hurriedly to prepare him for departure.

'What Sahib's horse?' Vernon asked with that imperative inquisitiveness
that the superior race allows itself in India.

'Boldero Sahib,' replied the breathless groom; and before many minutes
more 'Boldero Sahib' himself began to be apparent on the opposite
hillside.

'The impetuous Boldero,' cried Vernon, 'riding abroad, redressing human
wrongs, and doing his best, as usual, to break his neck, as if there
could by any possibility be anything worth hurrying about in the plains
below. Now, Maud, you will see a real philanthropist in flesh and
blood.'

Presently the tiny distant object had shaped itself into a man and
horse, and in a quarter of an hour more Boldero came clattering into the
yard, had slung himself out of the saddle in a moment, and was already
preparing to mount his new horse, when he discovered the Vernons and was
introduced to Maud.

He seemed to have broken like a whirlwind into the repose of the party.
His servants were evidently well experienced in their master's
movements; the saddle had been speedily shifted and the fresh horse was
already ready for a start. Boldero drank off a great beaker of cold
water. Maud's first impression was that he looked extremely handsome and
extremely hot, and in better spirits and a greater hurry than she had
ever seen any one in in her life. Vernon, after first greetings, had
speedily resumed his attitude of profound repose and evidently had no
intention of being infected with bustle.

'Come, Boldero,' he said, 'do, for goodness' sake, send away your horse
and wait here and have some lunch, instead of flying off in such a
madman's hurry. India, which has already waited several thousand years
for your arrival to reform her, can, no doubt, dispense with you for
twenty minutes more; and fortune does not send good meetings every day.'

'Yes, Mr. Boldero,' said Felicia, 'and I have just been making a salad,
which I am delighted you have arrived to admire; and I daresay you have
half-a-dozen new ferns to show me.'

'I am pledged to be at Dustypore to-morrow, and ought to be ten miles
further on my way by this time,' said Boldero. 'However, there is a
glorious moon all through the night, and this delightful Doongla Gully
seems set as a snare to beguile one into loitering by the way. What a
sweet little oasis it is among all the gloom of the mountains!'

'Now, Maud,' said Vernon, 'I'll give you an idea of what the virtuous
civilian does. He rides all night, he works all day.'

'Or rather,' said Boldero, who had as much dislike as the rest of the
army of good fellows to being the topic of conversation, 'by night he
dances, by day he plays at Badminton. My visit to the Viceroy was
nothing except for the solemnity of the affair.'

'Well,' answered Vernon, 'and now you come just in time to give my
cousin a lesson in water-colours. You must know, Maud, that Mr. Boldero
carried off the prize at Elysium for a mountain-sketch last year. Now,
Boldero, be good-natured and tell her the mystery of your sunset skies,
which, though I deny their fidelity, are, I must admit, as beautiful as
the real ones.'

'Will you?' said Maud, her eyes flashing out and her colour coming at
the mere thought of what she especially desired.

'Will I not?' Boldero said, with alacrity. 'What pleasanter afternoon's
work could fortune send one?' And thereupon Maud's sketch-book was
produced.

'Did you ever see such a daub?' she cried. 'It looks worse now it is dry
than when I did it. It is so provoking! I feel the scenes--I have them
all beautifully in my mind, and then come those horrid, hard, blotchy
heaps. Just look at this odious mountain! Alas! alas!' Maud went on
ruthlessly blotting out her morning's work, which, to tell the truth,
did not deserve immortality.

'You made it a little too blue,' said her tutor. 'See, now; I will tone
it down for you in a minute.'

'No, no,' cried Maud, 'let us have something fresh, that I have not
desecrated by a caricature. Here, this in front of us will be lovely.'

'See,' said Boldero; 'we will have that nice bit of dark shade with that
ragged deodar, and that jolly little cloud overhead.'

Maud's face glowed with pleasure, and her companion's last thought of
getting in time to Dustypore disappeared.

Before the sketch was done the evening shadows were already fast
climbing up the mountain's side; the valley's short day was over; cold
masses of vapour were gathering about the crags; and the moon, that was
to light the traveller through his night-long journey, was sailing, pale
and ghostlike, overhead. Boldero waved them a last farewell as he
disappeared round the opposite hillside, and seemed to Maud's excited
imagination like some knight-errant riding down into the gloom.



CHAPTER XV.

A DISTRICT OFFICER.

             Their aches, hopes,
    Their pangs of love, with other incident throes,
    That nature's fragile vessel doth sustain
    In life's uncertain voyage----


Boldero was one of the Queen's good bargains. His mind teemed with
schemes for the regeneration of mankind. Disappointment could not damp
his hopefulness, nor difficulty cool his zeal; he was an enthusiast for
improvement and the firmest believer in its possibility. Against
stupidity, obstinacy, the blunders of routine, official _vis inertiæ_,
he waged a warfare which, if not always discreet, was sufficiently
vigorous to plague his opponents: 'See,' cries Mr. Browning's
philanthropist,

    I have drawn a pattern on my nail
    And I will carve the world fresh after it--

Boldero's nails were absolutely covered with new patterns, and the
little bit of the world on which he was able to operate was continually
being carved into some improved condition. Nature having gifted him
with courage, high spirit, resource, inventiveness, enterprise,
and--precious gift!--administrative effectiveness, and Fortune and the
Staff Corps having guided his steps from a frontier regiment to a
civilian appointment in the Sandy Tracts, his importance was speedily
appreciated. Wherever he looked at the machinery about him he saw things
out of gear and working badly, and his mind was forthwith haunted with
devices to improve them. He saw material, money, time wasted; wheel
catching against wheel and producing all sorts of bad results by the
friction; office coming to dead-lock with office; one blundering head
knocking against another; wants to which no one attended; wrongs which
no one avenged; sufferings to which no hand brought relief. Some men see
such things and acquiesce in them as inevitable or relieve themselves by
cynical remarks on the best of all possible worlds. Boldero felt it all
as a personal misfortune and was incapable of acquiescence.

Thus he was for ever discovering grievances, which, when once
discovered, no one could deny. His reports to Government sent a little
shudder through the Chief Secretary's soul. The Salt Board regarded him
with especial disfavour. Cockshaw cursed him for the long correspondence
he involved. Fotheringham thought him dangerous, rash, Quixotic. Even
Blunt accorded him but a scanty approval, Blunt's view being always the
rough, commonplace and unsentimental, and Boldero's projects involving a
constant temptation to expenditure. But the Agent was a finer judge of
character than any of them, and his keen eye speedily detected Boldero's
rare merits and his fitness for responsible employment. Boldero had more
than justified the Agent's hopes, and accordingly moved rapidly up from
one post to another.

He was now acting as chief magistrate of the district next to Dustypore.
Here his energetic temperament had the fullest play. He built, he
planted, he drained. Sunrise found him ever in the saddle. He drove his
Municipal Committee wild with projects of reform--water-supply,
vaccination, canals, tanks, and public gardens. He fulminated the most
furious orders, plunged into all sorts of controversies, was always
waging war in some quarter or other, and manufactured for himself even a
hotter world than Nature had provided ready-made. He offended the
doctors by invading the hospitals and pointing out how the patients were
killed by defective arrangements; the Chaplain, by objecting to the
ventilation of the church and the length of the sermons; the Educational
Department by a savage tirade on the schools, and the General in
command by a bold assault on the drainage of the barracks. Altogether a
bustling, joyous, irrepressible sort of man, and, as the Agent knew, a
perfect treasure in a land where energy and enthusiasm are hard to keep
at boiling heat, and where to get a thing done, despite the piles of
official correspondence it gets buried under, is a result as precious as
it is difficult of achievement.

When he first came to India he had been for a couple of years in
Sutton's regiment, and at the time of Sutton's illness the two had
almost lived together. The intimacy so formed had ripened into a cordial
friendship, and Boldero had thus become a not unfrequent visitor at the
Vernons' house, where, though her husband pronounced him an enthusiastic
bore, Felicia ever accorded him a kindly welcome.

He had now, however, carried away with him that which speedily cured him
of enthusiasm, or, rather, forbade him to feel enthusiastic about
anything but one. With his accustomed earnest precipitancy he had fallen
deeply in love with Maud the first moment he had seen her, and all his
afternoon had been spent in that paradise which springs into sudden
existence beneath a happy lover's feet. Maud had been delighted with him
for being so handsome, so good-natured, and the latest comer. And, then,
was not he Sutton's friend, whose care and kindness had brought him
from Death's door? Maud thought of this with a gush of interest and
rained the sweetest and most gracious smiles upon him in consequence.
Those bright looks pursued him down the mountain's side, through the
livelong night, and next day into court and office and all the hundred
businesses of a busy official's day. So bright were they, even in
recollection, that all the brightness seemed to have faded out of
everything else. The details of his District, lately so full of
interest, had become the dreariest routine. Improvements which, when
last he thought of them, seemed of vital importance, faded away into
uselessness or impossibility. A great pile of papers stood, ranged upon
the study table, inviting disposal. A week ago Boldero would have fallen
upon them, like a glutton on some favourite repast, and driven through
them with alacrity and enjoyment. Now he had not the heart to touch
them. A week ago the plains, with all their drawbacks, were pleasanter
far, for a healthy man, than the indolent comforts and dull frivolities
of a Hill station. Now, alas! Elysium was the only place where life--any
life, that is, which deserved the name--was to be had.

Meanwhile, the object of his devotion was conscious only of having had a
very pleasant afternoon and added one more to an already ample list of
agreeable acquaintances. By the time she arrived at Elysium next day,
Boldero had faded into indistinctness, and his chance meeting with them
figured in Maud's thoughts only as one, and not the most striking,
incident of a journey which had been to her full of things new,
interesting and picturesque.



CHAPTER XVI.

ELYSIUM.

    For they lie beside their nectar, and their bolts are hurled
    Far below them in the valleys, and the clouds are lightly curled
    Round their golden houses, girdled with the gleaming world.


The conquering races, who in one age or another have owned the fair
plains of Hindostan, have successively made the discovery that there are
portions of the year when their magnificent possession had best be
contemplated from a respectful distance. Some monarchs retired for the
summer to the exquisite Cashmir valleys: others to cool plateaux in the
far interior. The latest administrators of the country have solved the
problem by perching, through the hot season, on the summits of a craggy
range, and by performing the functions of Government at an altitude of
7000 feet above the sea.

The fact that the highest officials in the country, having a large
amount of hard work to do, should prefer to do it in an invigorating
mountain atmosphere, rather than amid swamps, steam and fever in the
plains below, is not, of course, surprising. The only matter of regret
is that the obvious advantages, public and private, of an European
climate for half the year can, from the nature of things, be enjoyed by
so tiny a fraction of the official world. As it is, the annual removal
of the Government to its summer quarters gives rise too often to a
little outburst of unreasonable, though not unnatural jealousy; and
Indian journalists, who are necessarily closely pinned to the plains,
are never tired of inveighing against the 'Capua' of the British rule.
The truth is, however, that if Hannibal's soldiers had worked half as
hard at Capua as English officials do at Elysium, nothing but good could
have resulted from their sojourn in that agreeable resting-place. Of the
holiday-makers it may safely be said that, in nine cases out of ten,
they have earned, by long months of monotonous, laborious, and often
solitary life, a good right to all the refreshment of body and soul that
a brief interval of cool breezes, new faces, and an amusing society can
give them. The 'Jack' of the Civil Service is often a dull boy because
the stern _régime_ of 'all work and no play' is too rigorously enforced
upon him. Let no one therefore grudge him his few weeks of rest and
merry-making, or mock at the profuse homage with which the goddess
Terpsichore is adored by her modern votaries on the Himalayan heights.

Elysium, indeed, enchants one on the first approach. You clamber for
weary miles up a long, blazing ascent, where even the early morning sun
seems to sting and pierce. As the road turns, you enter suddenly a sweet
depth of shade formed by thick growths of ilex and rhododendron, from
the breaks in which you look out at ease upon the blazing day beyond.
Dotted all about the road, above and below, perched on every convenient
rock or level ridge of soil, or sometimes built up on a framework of
piles, are the homes of the Elysians; not, alas! the ideals which the
imagination would conceive of the abodes of the blest, but seaside
lodgings, of a by no means first-rate order, with precipices, clouds and
rain, instead of sea. Presently the road fails at a great chasm in the
mountain-side, and the horses' feet clatter over a frail-looking
structure of planks and scaffolding, which clings to the mountain's
edge. This is merely a landslip, an event too common even to be
observed. Each heavy rainfall, however, washes an appreciable fraction
of the Elysian summits to the depths below and leaves the craggy sides
barer and steeper than ever. Then, emerging from the ilex grove, the
traveller passes to a little Mall, where the fashionable world assembles
for mutual edification, and the tide of life, business and gaiety flows
fast and strong.

There is something in the air of the place which bespeaks the close
neighbourhood of the Sovereign rule, the august climax of the official
hierarchy. Servants, brilliant in scarlet and gold, are hurrying hither
and thither. Here some Rajah, petty monarch of the surrounding ranges or
the fat plains below, attended with his mimic court and tatterdemalion
cavalry, is marching in state to pay his homage to the 'great Lord
Sahib.' Here some grand lady, whose gorgeous attire and liveried retinue
bespeak her sublime position, is constrained to bate her greatness to
the point of being carried--slung like the grapes of Eschol--on a pole,
and borne on sturdy peasants' shoulders to pay a round of the
ceremonious visits which etiquette enjoins upon her. Officers,
secretaries, aides-de-camp come bustling by on mountain-ponies, each
busy on his own behest. The energetic army of morning callers are
already in the field. A dozen palanquins, gathered at Madame Fifini's,
the Elysian 'Worth,' announce the fact that as many ladies are hard at
work within, running up long-bills for their husbands and equipping
themselves for conquest at the next Government House 'At home.'
Smartly-furnished shops glitter with all the latest finery of Paris and
London, and ladies go jogging along on their bearers' shoulders, gay
enough for a London garden-party in July. In the midst of all,--the
solid basis on which so huge a structure of business, pomp and pleasure
is erected,--clumps the British Private, brushed, buttoned and rigid,
with a loud, heavy tread, which contrasts strangely with the noiselessly
moving crowd around him and bespeaks his conscious superiority to a race
of beings whom, with a lordly indifference to minute ethnological
distinctions, he designates collectively as 'Moors.'

Some servants were waiting at the entrance of the place to conduct the
Vernons to their home, and before many minutes the travellers were
standing in the balcony, looking out on the steep slopes of green
foliage below them and the noble snow-ranges which bounded the entire
horizon. Maud soon rushed off to explore the house; and Felicia made her
way to the garden, to see how many of last summer's plants the winter
had spared to her. Presently she came in, with dew-bedrenched sleeves
and gloves and an armful of sparkling roses, geraniums and heliotropes,
and deposited them joyously in a heap on the table.

'There,' she cried, 'is my first fruit-offering. Bury your face in them,
George, and do homage, as I have been doing, to the Genius of the Hills!
Come here, babies, and be crowned.'

Felicia knelt down and stuck the children's hair full of flowers, till
each looked as gaudy as a little Queen of May. Her husband came and
stood over them and watched the scene.

'Now,' he said, 'Felicia, you ought to be quite happy--you have your
children and your flowers to adore at once.'

'And my husband,' said Felicia, looking up at him, with her sweet,
radiant smile. 'And, oh dear, how I wish you had not to go down again
to-night! Do you know, George, I mind each separation worse than the
last? Next summer we will send the children straight to "The Gully," and
we will stay comfortably together.'

Maud came back in the highest spirits. 'Look here,' she said, showing a
handful of snow, and fingers red and blue with unaccustomed cold--'how
nice it is to feel it once again! And what nectar the air is! And,
George, actually, strawberries!'

'Yes,' said Vernon, 'and cream, and plenty of both. Is it not
enchanting?'

'You shall have some flowers too, dear,' cried Maud, who seldom missed
an opportunity of petting Felicia and letting her love run out in some
pretty act or speech. 'See, this rose was made for me to deck you with.
Does she not look charming, George?'

'Hush!' said George; 'we shall make her and the little girls too as vain
as possible. Now, as I suppose nobody means to crown me, I vote that you
go and get ready for breakfast, and I will prepare Maud a plate of
strawberries-and-cream, by way of beginning the feast.'

That morning lived ever afterwards in Maud's thoughts as one of the
times when the world looked brightest to her. Everything was full of
excitement, interest and keen pleasure. If from time to time a thought
of Sutton set her heart beating, it was more that she had learnt to
worship him as an ideal of all that was most charming in man than that
his absence cost her any serious regret. It had given her a pang to part
and to feel how little of a pang it had given him. He had been almost
unconscious of her departure; he had been certainly quite, quite
indifferent to it. Such insensibility was a little speck on the
otherwise spotless perfection; but Maud's heart was too light for this
to weigh it down for long. A long, charming vista of enjoyment was
opening before her. Half-a-dozen people, she knew, were awaiting her
arrival with impatience and thought Elysium not quite Elysium till she
was there. Before the morning was over there would come, so her
prophetic soul announced, kind familiar faces, all the brighter for her
presence, with all sorts of delightful projects, often talked of
beforehand, now to come into actual fruition; rides, picnics, dances,
theatricals, and (thrilling thought!) a fancy ball, at which Maud had
already found herself twenty times whirling in anticipated valses, each
more enchanting than the last. Who could contemplate such a prospect
with equanimity? or whose heart have room for gloomy thoughts with so
many bright dreams to crush them out?

Then presently there came a note from Mrs. Vereker, bidding her a
cordial welcome and threatening her high displeasure if Maud's first
visit was not to her. To Mrs. Vereker's accordingly they went, and found
her in a little cottage, romantically stuck into a cleft in the rocks,
with a cataract of honeysuckle tumbling all about a wooden porch, and a
view of the mountains which even her adorers, burning to behold herself,
were yet constrained to stop and look at. There was a little court, with
a wooden railing to guard the edge and geraniums blazing all about it,
where a succession of enthusiasts' ponies waited while their owners did
homage within. Through that convenient cranny in the foliage the deity,
unseen, could spy the approaching visitor and decide betimes whether she
would be 'at home' or not. Now she was unquestionably at home and met
them at the door with merry greetings. She led them in and showed them
her drawing-room, the very home of innocence and refined propriety. 'My
husband does not wish me to mope when he is away,' she said, with a
charming simple smile; and, to do her justice, in this respect, at any
rate, she obeyed his wishes. If the loveliest, freshest bonnets, the
daintiest gloves, the most picturesque mountain costumes, a succession
of bewildering head-dresses, could rescue a widowed soul from
melancholy, Mrs. Vereker had no right to gloom. Nor was hers the only
nature that was cheered, for all mankind conspired to assure her that
she was the most bewitching of her sex. Turn where she would she found a
host of willing courtiers, who thought their assiduous services well
rewarded with a single smile. She looked at the world through her
beautiful purple eyes, and saw it prostrate at her feet.

Even Felicia was captivated, despite her own convictions; and Vernon
alone of the party declared her a little ogling hypocrite, and
pronounced himself unable to understand how any one could think her even
pretty.



CHAPTER XVII.

A BATTLE ROYAL.

    Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer----


Leaving the celestials to their business and pleasures in the upper
regions, the Historic Muse must now descend into the plains and record
the wrath of Blunt and the more than Homeric combats which, stirred by
Até in her most malignant mood, that irrepressible official waged
against his luckless compeers at the Board. The outbreak was horribly
inopportune. The weather was becoming disagreeably hot; Cockshaw was
looking up his rifles and fishing-rods for a month's run into Cashmir;
Fotheringham was preparing to retire behind his cuscus entrenchments and
æstivate in placidity till the moment arrived for going to the Hills.
But the black soul of Blunt was impervious to climatic influences; his
craving for information became more insatiable, his contempt for
Fotheringham's platitudes and Strutt's tall writing less and less
disguised. The further Blunt looked into the Rumble Chunder affair the
keener grew his sense of the feeble, roundabout, inaccurate, unthorough
way in which it had been treated by every one who had essayed to take it
in hand. 'The way to handle nettles,' he said, roughly, 'is to take
tight hold of them and bear what stinging you get and have done with
it.'

Neither Fotheringham nor Cockshaw were in the least disposed to handle
official nettles or to admit the force of Blunt's logic as applied to
themselves.

'Some nettles,' Fotheringham said, with dignified composure, 'will not
bear handling at all. Many of our Indian maladies you will find, Blunt,
require a course of treatment always unpopular with ardent physicians,
that, namely, of being left alone.'

'Ay,' said Cockshaw, blowing a great stream of smoke from his mouth, as
if he wished he could treat Blunt and his schemes in like fashion;
'leave well alone, Blunt. What the deuce is it you are driving at?'

'I'll tell you what I am driving at,' said Blunt, 'I want to be out of
the muddle in which we have been going on all these years, just for want
of a little explicitness and courage.'

'Excuse me,' said Fotheringham testily; 'I am not aware that the
conquerors and administrators of the Sandy Tracts have ever been accused
of deficiency in courage, at any rate.'

'Of course not,' answered the other; 'no one supposes anything of the
sort; but what I mean is that no one has faced the consequences of that
confounded Proclamation of the Governor-General in a plain,
business-like way, and seen what it really comes to.'

Now the Governor-General's Proclamation was regarded in official circles
at Dustypore with a sort of traditional awe, as something almost sacred.
Fotheringham had often spoken of it as the Magna Charta of the Sandy
Tracts, and Strutt generally quoted it in the peroration of his Annual
Report. Nothing, accordingly, could be less congenial to his audience
than Blunt's coarse, offhanded, disrespectful way of referring to it.
Fotheringham's whole nature rose in arms against the idea of this rash,
irreverential intruder handling with such jaunty freedom and contempt
the things which he had all his life been accustomed to treat and to see
treated with profound respect. The moment had now come when to put up
with Blunt any longer would, he thought, be simple weakness; the cup of
Blunt's misdeeds at last was full; and Fotheringham, his patience fairly
at an end, pale and excited, spoke, and spoke in wrath.

'I must beg,' he said, in a tone of aggrieved dignity which Blunt
especially resented, 'to remind our junior colleague that there are some
things of which his inexperience of the country renders it impossible
for him to be a competent judge, and of which, when he knows them
better, he will probably think and speak with more respect. This Rumble
Chunder Grant is one of them. Cockshaw and I have been at work at it for
twenty years: we know the places, the people, the language, the feeling
it excites, the dangers it may provoke. The Proclamation, which Blunt is
pleased to describe as "confounded," was, we know, a high-minded,
well-considered act of a great statesman and has been the foundation
stone of all peace, prosperity, and civilisation in the province. It all
seems clear to you, my good sir, because--forgive me for saying it--you
do not see the intricacies of the matter, and are incapable of
appreciating its bearings. For my part'----

'Come, come, Fotheringham,' said Cockshaw, who had been looking
nervously at his watch and knew that it wanted only seven minutes to the
hour at which his afternoon game of racquets should begin, 'don't let us
drift into a quarrel. As to speaking rudely of the Proclamation, it is
as bad as the man who damned the North Pole, you know--no harm is done
to any one by that. Blunt is not so nervous about the matter as we are,
because he has not had such a deal of bother over it as we have had. My
idea is that we have gone into it of late quite as far as we can just
now. Suppose we drop it for the present and take it up again in the cold
weather?'

'I object altogether,' Blunt said, in a dogged way, which made Cockshaw
give up his chance of racquets that day as desperate. 'That system of
postponements is one of the objectionable practices which I especially
deprecate. Whenever any of us comes across a thing which he does not
fancy, or cannot or will not understand, he puts it into his box and
burkes it, and no more is heard of it for a twelvemonth. I would sooner
take the chance of going wrong than the certainty of doing nothing.'

'And I,' answered Cockshaw, lighting a new cheroot with the remaining
fraction of his old one, 'would sooner take the risk of a little delay
than the certainty of going wrong, as you will do to a moral certainty
if you are in such a devil of a hurry.'

'Please, Cockshaw,' said Fotheringham, to whom his colleague's cheroots
and bad language were a chronic affliction, 'do not lose your temper.
For my part, I was going to observe when you interrupted me just now, I
really do not know what it is that Blunt imagines could be done.'

'This could be done,' Blunt said, 'we could bring things to a head, and
know exactly how we stand; ascertain the claims, the rights, and at what
prices we could buy the owners of them out.'

'My good sir,' Fotheringham exclaimed, by this time fairly in a passion,
'that is exactly what all of us have been trying to do for the last ten
years, and you talk as if it could be done out of hand.'

'And so it could,' cried Blunt, 'if any one would only resolve to do it.
I tell you what: let me have Whisp and a few clerks and translators, and
hold a local commission, and I will go into the District myself and
knock my way through the matter somehow or other.'

'You will find it infernally hot,' said Cockshaw.

'You will have a rising on the frontier,' said Fotheringham, 'mark my
words, and come back deeper in difficulties than ever.'

However, Blunt at last got his way and went off trotting on his cob.
Cockshaw escaped gleefully to the racquet-court, and Fotheringham sat
sadly at the Board-room, conscious of present harassment and impending
disaster. Both he and Blunt used to carry away with them to their
domestic circles the traces of the conflicts in which they had been
engaged: both reached their homes in a truly pitiable state of mind and
body whenever this hateful Rumble Chunder Grant affair was on hand: both
their ladies knew only too well the days when it formed part of the
programme. Blunt used to stamp about and abuse the servants, emphasising
his language with various vehement British expletives, quaffing large
goblets of brandy and soda-water, as if to assuage an inward fury, and
making no secret of his opinion that Fotheringham was a donkey.
Fotheringham, on the other hand, retired to his sofa, called for
sal-volatile, had both the Misses Fotheringham to bathe his temples with
toilet-vinegar, and breathed a hint that poor Blunt was a terribly
uncouth fellow, and that it was extremely disagreeable to have to do
with people who, not being gentlemen themselves, could not understand
what gentlemen felt. Mrs. Fotheringham thought so too, and began, on her
part, not to love Mrs. Blunt.



CHAPTER XVIII.

GAUDIA IN EXCELSIS.

    Quis non malarum quas Amor curas habet
      Hæc inter obliviscitur?


Before many weeks had passed Sutton and Desvoeux came up to Elysium for
their holidays, and Maud's cup of pleasure began to overflow. Boldero
moreover, to the great surprise of every one, discovered that the plains
were telling seriously on his constitution, and, despite the
lamentations of his Commissioner, who was at his wits' end to find a
satisfactory substitute, insisted on carrying out the doctor's
recommendation to try a change of air.

'I am sorry you are ill,' the Commissioner said, 'and overworked, but
what on earth am I to do without you? No one understands anything about
our arterial drainage scheme but you; and who is to open the new cattle
fair? And then there is that lakh of saplings we had determined to plant
out in the rains--my dear fellow, don't go till October, at any rate.'

But Boldero was inexorable: the arterial drainage of the Sandy Tracts,
new cattle fairs, and even the delicious prospect of planting out a
hundred thousand trees in a region where a tree was almost as great a
phenomenon as Dr. Johnson found it in the Hebrides--all seemed to him
but as hollow dreams, which fell meaningless on the ear, when compared
with the solid reality of a personal romance. To go to Elysium, to see
Maud again, to hear her joyous laugh, to watch her eyes light up with
pleasure, and the colour coming and going in her cheeks, as each new
turn of feeling swayed her this way or that; to hold her hand in his and
feel a subtle, electric influence flashing from her to him and stirring
every nerve and fibre of his being into new existence; and then to win
this sweet creature to himself with a tender avowal of devotion and the
sweet coercion of passionate attachment; to bring her to irradiate a
dreary, solitary life with youth, beauty, freshness, everything that
Boldero now discovered that his own existence wanted; this was the dream
which filled his waking and sleeping thoughts, or, rather, this was the
reality, and everything else was dreamland, far off, unsubstantial,
unsatisfying. What, to a man in this mood, are reclamation schemes and
irrigation projects and all the vexatious details involved in improving
thankless people against their wills, educating those who do not want
to be taught, and aiming at a chimerical Golden Age, which no one is
sure can ever come, and which, at any rate, we shall never see? Boldero
confessed to himself that a morning's sketching on the mountain's side
with Maud was, as far as his interest about the matter went, worth more
than all the Golden Ages that poets have sung or philanthropists
devised. The utmost concession that the Commissioner could get out of
him was that he would go only for a fortnight. And so to Elysium he came
among the rest.

There may be natures to whom, according to Sir Cornewall Lewis's dictum,
life would be tolerable but for its enjoyments; but the Elysians
assuredly are not of the number. They go about pleasure-hunting with a
vehemence the stronger and keener for the long period of partial or
total abstinence from amusement which most of them have undergone. The
soldier who has been for months marching up and down a desert frontier,
with no attainable form of excitement but the agreeable possibility of
having one's throat cut in the night or a bullet cleverly lodged in one
from behind a rock overhead--the engineer who has been for months out in
camp with little companionship but that of theodolites and maps--the
forest superintendent who has spent a twelvemonth among the deodars in
some nameless Himalayan gorge--the civilian who has carried off his
bride to a solitary existence in some far-off Mofussil station, where
the only European is perhaps an excise officer or policeman--people like
these acquire a keen relish for any change of scene and rush into a
holiday with the enthusiasm of long-imprisoned schoolboys. Nothing damps
their ardour--not even Himalayan rain, which effectually damps
everything else. There is a ball, for instance, at the Club House; it is
raining cataracts and has been doing so for twenty hours. The mountain
paths are knee-deep in mud, and swept by many a turgid torrent rattling
from above. Great masses of thunder-cloud come looming up, rumbling,
crashing and blazing upon a sodden, reeking world. The night is black as
Tartarus, save when the frequent flashes light it up with a momentary
glare. The road is steep, rough and not too safe. Carriages, of course,
there are none. A false step might send you several thousand feet down
the precipice into the valley below. Will all this prevent Jones the
Collector and Brown the Policeman and Smith of the Irregular Cavalry
putting their respective ladies into palanquins, mounting their ponies
like men and finding their way, through field and flood, to the scene of
dissipation? Each will ensconce himself in a panoply of indiarubber and
require a great deal of peeling before becoming presentable in a
ballroom; but each will get himself peeled, and dance till four
o'clock. The ladies will emerge from their palanquins as fresh and
bright and ambrosial as lace and tarlatan can make them. Mrs. Jones, if
she would only tell the truth, has already more than half-filled up her
card with engagements. Smith and his wife have never been at a dance
since the night he proposed to her at the Woolwich ball, and feel quite
romantic at the prospect of a valse together. Mrs. Brown will meet
half-a-dozen particular friends who are dying to see her, and whom she
is not averse to see. The night outside is Tartarean, certainly, but
within there is nothing but light, music and mirth. The band crashes out
and drowns the patter of the rain above. The Viceroy, towering like a
Homeric chief among his peers, mingles with the throng, and is valsing
with Felicia. Boldero has reached the seventh heaven of his hopes, is
actually in possession of Maud's hand and has her heart beating close to
his own. Desvoeux looks reproachfully at her over Mrs. Vereker's
shoulder as they go whirling by. A hundred happy hearts are pulsating
with excitement and pleasure, drowning the cares of existence in such
transient oblivion as may be manufactured out of fiddlers and champagne.

Is this the race which proclaims itself inadept at amusements, and
which, historians gravely assure us, loves to take its very pleasures
sadly? Are these the melancholy beings whose gloom is supposed to have
acquired a still sadder tinge from the sad routine of Eastern life? Say,
rather, a race with healthy instincts and conscious energy and the ready
joyousness of youth--fittest rulers of a world where much hard work is
to be done, where many things tend to melancholy and all things to
fatigue.

Boldero, as he rode homewards (only three miles out of his direct
course) by the side of Maud's palanquin, through the pelting rain,
admitted to himself an almost unlimited capacity for happiness, of which
he had till now been unaware.

There were some balls, moreover, when it did _not_ rain; when the music,
streaming out into the still atmosphere, could be heard miles away
across the gorge, and the moon, sailing in a cloudless sky, flooded the
mountain-sides with soft pure light. Such a night was that on which the
'Happy Bachelors' entertained their friends. Happy indeed! for the
fairest hands in Elysium had been busy twining wreaths and arranging
flowers; and ottomans and sofas and mirrors had been brought from many a
despoiled drawing-room, in order that the Happy Bachelors' abode should
look as picturesque and comfortable as hands could make it. Whole
conservatories of lovely plants had been all the morning marching up the
craggy path on peasants' heads. All Elysium was alert, for the
Bachelors were men of taste, 'well loved of many a noble dame;' and, if
not otherwise fitted for the Episcopate, at any rate fulfilling the
Apostolic requirement of being given to hospitality.

To one person, however, that ball was a period of the darkest
disappointment. While the merriment of the evening was raging to its
height poor Boldero's heart was growing colder and colder, and all his
pleasant schemes were rapidly melting into air. The course of true love
always runs delightfully smooth when one person only is concerned and
that person's imagination directs it at his will; but how often rude
contact with reality brings all our airy castle-building to the ground!
Boldero, in his dreams about Maud, had no doubt judged her charms
aright; but he had omitted one important consideration, namely, that he
was not the only man in the world, and that other people would be likely
to think about her much as he did himself. This melancholy fact was now
borne in upon him with a cruel vehemence. Maud seemed to be in the
greatest request and to smile with distracting impartiality on all who
came about her. 'Why did you not ask me sooner?' she said reproachfully
when he came to claim a dance, 'my card has been full for ages.
Stop--you shall have one of Mr. Desvoeux's; he does not matter and he
has put down his name for several too many. Shall it be the fifteenth?'
Maud asked this in the most artless way and seemingly without a
suspicion that Boldero could be otherwise than pleased. Alas! how far
otherwise than pleased he felt! The fifteenth! and then only a sort of
crumb of consolation from Desvoeux's over-ample banquet! How cruel for a
man whose heart was beating high with hope, and who had risen to that
state of nervous excitement when to propose would have been easier than
not! The charmer had come and gone. The next moment Boldero saw her
hurrying off with a new partner and laughing just the same joyous,
childlike laugh that had been ringing in his ears for weeks. 'What could
that idiotic young ensign have said to make her laugh?' How could any
one laugh while Boldero found existence rapidly growing into a Sahara
around him? What business had Maud to smile so affectionately on each
new comer? Then what was this intimacy with Desvoeux which enabled her
to treat him so unceremoniously? How came he to be putting down his name
for what dances he pleased? Boldero moodily denounced the object of his
devotion as a flirt of the purest water and not over-particular in her
selection of admirers. As for Desvoeux, could any really nice girl like
such a fop as that? Poor Boldero, in the amiable, sensible condition of
mind which jealousy provokes, plunged at once into despair, felt too
acutely miserable to dance, and resigned himself, a melancholy wall
flower, to the contemplation of enjoyment in which fate forbade him to
participate.

Presently Maud came back and put every depreciatory thought about
herself to instant flight. There had been some mistake about a
quadrille, she said, and her partner was not forthcoming, and so she had
taken flight at once. It was so dull dancing with people one did not
know; and would it not be nice if it was the fashion to dance only with
one's friends? 'And now,' she said, 'do take me outside to look at the
moon.' Maud was evidently bent on being kind and gracious; and Boldero,
blushing to think what an idiot he had been making of himself, took her
out into the balcony, where the Bachelors' industry had worked wonders
with ferns and flowers and sofas poetically suggestive of a
_tête-à-tête_ and all that an artistic Bachelor's soul dreams of as
appropriate to balls. There lay the still valley at their feet--all its
depths filled with motionless white clouds, that glistened in the
moonlight like a silver lake. The twinkling fires of the hamlets
opposite were one by one dying out of sight. The solemn pine-shade all
around, wherever the moonlight could not pierce, made the rest of the
picture seem ablaze with glory. Is there a sweeter, softer radiance in
the world than the moonlight of the Himalayas? 'This is enchanting,'
Maud said, in great spirits; 'how I should like to sketch it! Why should
we not have a moonlight party? And you will do my sketch for me, will
you not, Mr. Boldero? Let me get Mr. Desvoeux to arrange it; he is great
at such things; and we can make him sing to us and play on his guitar,
which he does delightfully, while we are drawing--would it not be
delicious?'

Boldero, in his heart, doubted the deliciousness of any programme in
which Desvoeux figured as a performer. He had no time to reply, however,
for all too soon--before, as it seemed, he and his companion had well
established themselves--the quadrille had ended, and Maud's claimant for
the next dance came bustling up; and Maud, who thought moonlight all
very well but would not have missed a valse for the world, went
gleefully away, smiling her adorer a kind farewell that sent him
sevenfold deeper into love than ever.

No proposal, it was clear enough, was destined to be made that night;
but would the scheme look hopefuller to-morrow? Boldero lay tossing
through the few hours which intervened before to-morrow, already
reddening the eastern horizon, came, and could give himself no
satisfactory reply. She liked him, certainly; but with how many was this
precious privilege shared? He was one of the 'friends' with whom Maud
liked to dance; but the list was so long, that all through a long
evening he could with difficulty get near her for a minute. She would
come with him for a moonlight picnic; but then Desvoeux was to arrange
it, Sutton, no doubt, to preside, and half-a-dozen more attendant
courtiers to swell the little monarch's train. Boldero's manly bosom
heaved with sighs. His servant, inexperienced in such symptoms, brought
him, unbidden, a large beaker of iced soda-water, as if the flames of
love could be extinguished by that innocent beverage.

Maud had, in fact, been very much impressed with Boldero, and, with the
frankness of inexperience, had taken good care to let him know it. At
this period of her career novelty possessed a wondrous charm and the
last admirer had a strong recommendation in being the last. Boldero
forgot that at Elysium this fortunate advantage was no longer his. Still
Maud smiled upon him, as she did on almost every one who aspired to her
smiles. It was not so much fickleness as the keen pleasure of success,
the most natural and pleasantest, probably, of all human successes,--the
proved capacity to charm mankind. What faint adumbration of love had
darkened the sunshine of her heart was all for Sutton; and even this was
a sort of transient pang, which the excitement of daily life made it
easy to forget. Knowing but faintly what love meant, she mistook, as
women often do, the thrill of flattered vanity for solid feeling.
Boldero had not disguised his admiration, nor Maud the pleasure which it
gave her. Mutual satisfaction had been the natural result. Poor Boldero,
who was always rushing at conclusions and unskilled in the tactics of
the feminine heart, thought himself at once the happiest of men and
gilded his horizon with a bright aurora of matrimonial bliss. Maud
meanwhile, by a hundred half-unconscious arts, encouraged the delusion
and established the relation of friendly intimacy. When he looked across
the room her bright eyes met his and spoke him the heartiest
recognition. She would look up wearily from some uncongenial companion
and find Boldero watching her, and a glance would sign the pledge of
mutual understanding. 'Here is the song you liked,' she had said only
the evening before, 'and I like it too;' and then she had sung it, and
each note had caught a new charm in being intended especially for his
ear. So it was that Boldero had fallen into the too common mistake of
impetuous lovers: he thought, poor mortal, that Maud had fallen
violently in love with him; the truth being that she was merely rather
pleased at the symptoms of his being violently in love with her, and
accepted his homage with a light heart, as hardly more than her due.



CHAPTER XIX.

A BRUSH ON THE FRONTIER.

    Tell me not, love, I am unkind,
      That from the nunnery
    Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
      To war and arms I fly.


The reign of peace and pleasure was not destined to last through the
summer undisturbed. Conflicts, more serious than those which were
agitating poor Boldero's breast, broke in upon the tranquil season and
caused a hurried dispersion of many of the holiday-makers.

For weeks past the news from the frontier had not been reassuring. Blunt
had gone off on his mission to the Rumble Chunder District, dragging the
miserable Whisp, who could not ride and hated leaving head-quarters, in
his train. He had mastered the whole matter, as he considered, from
first to last and was resolved to bring his knowledge to bear with good
effect upon the entanglements which his predecessors' ignorance and
indistinctness had produced. He saw his way quite clearly and was
resolved to have it. Other people had faltered and hesitated; but Blunt
was resolved to strike, and to strike hard, and to finish the matter and
have done with it once for all. He arrived, accordingly, in no mood to
be trifled with, as Mahomed Khan, the first of the Zámindars who had an
interview with him, discovered in about two minutes. Now, Mahomed Khan,
a wily old gentleman, with a great turn for diplomacy, was deeply
interested in the Rumble Chunder question, and had, at different times,
interviewed a long succession of 'Sahibs' with reference to it. He had
invariably found them long-suffering, conciliatory, anxious to learn and
not difficult to puzzle. He had talked to them at ease in his own
language and was accustomed to the elaborate courtesy due to the leader
of a powerful and not over-loyal clan. His antecedents entitled him to
respect. When Sutton was getting his troop together in the Mutiny a word
from Mahomed Khan would have put the whole district in a blaze and
rendered it impossible to recruit a man. The liking, however, which one
good soldier feels for another had carried the day. The old fellow had
ridden with fifty followers into Sutton's camp, unstrapped his sword,
and, placing it in Sutton's hands, had sworn that he and his would
follow him wherever he pleased to lead them. Well had the oath been
kept; when some months later the fighting closed, Mahomed Khan's name
was recorded as amongst the most deserving of Her Majesty's lieges, and
his well-timed loyalty had resulted in a fine grant of fat acres, a
conspicuous seat in the Durbar, and, not least in the estimation of men
keenly sensitive to honour, a vast deal of complimentary writing and
talking on the part of every British official with whom he had to deal.
All this flattery had, perhaps, turned the old soldier's head, or, at
any rate, had given him no small idea of his importance to the British
'Ráj' and of his claims to the gratitude of British administrators. His
rights in the Salt matter had been left in convenient obscurity, and
might, not without reason, be considered as tacitly conceded by the
Power with whom he was on such affectionate terms.

This, however, was not at all the light in which Blunt saw the matter;
he was annoyed at the man's bluster, pomposity and pretence. He was not
in the least impressed by a well-worn packet of letters which his
visitor produced, in which successive Generals and Commissioners had
testified to his deserts; what he wanted was business, and this was
essentially unbusinesslike. If Sutton had written, 'You have proved
yourself a brave and loyal soldier, and I will ever be your friend,'
this was no reason why Mahomed Khan should not pay his salt-dues like
other folk, or should object to have his title-deeds rigidly overhauled.
'If it was just, why had Sir John Larrens Sahib never done it?' the old
man objected; but Blunt did not care what Sir John Lawrence had done or
had not done; what he wanted was his bond, and nothing else would
satisfy him.

This was Blunt's first nettle, and he was grasping it firmly, with no
doubts as to the propriety of the course. Then, at last, he got tired of
the interview, and--fatal blunder for an Eastern diplomat--became abrupt
and rude, and began to show his hand. Thereupon Mahomed Khan began to
show his teeth and went away in a surly mood with the news, which spread
like wildfire among the clansmen, that the Sirkar was going to rule them
with a heavy hand; that all old rights were to be cancelled; a grievous
land-tax to be imposed, and that a terrible 'Sahib,' of fierce aspect,
had arrived to see this objectionable policy carried out.

Then Blunt found the investigation by no means the simple matter he had
hoped. Statements, which looked so neat and clean when submitted to the
Board and neatly minuted on by Whisp, assumed an aspect of hopeless
inexplicability when Blunt had them face to face; and the more he
questioned the less he understood. He was armed with powers to examine
witnesses, but not a word of truth could be got out of any one. Fine
old countrymen, whose noble bearing, well-chiselled features and long
flowing beards would have made a fortune in a Roman studio, came before
him and told him the most unblushing lies with a volubility and
earnestness that fairly staggered Blunt's bewildered comprehension.

To say one thing to-day, the precise opposite to-morrow, and to explain
with easy grace that it was a mistake, or that the evidence had been
wrongly taken down, seemed to every man whom Blunt interrogated the
correct and natural procedure for a person who was being pressed for
information which it was inconvenient to produce. Some men remembered
everything; others professed the most absolute obliviousness; each
contradicted all the rest, except when Government interests were
concerned, and then all swore together like a band of conspirators. To
make confusion worse confounded, the accounts were kept on a system
which none of the Salt Board people understood and which no one else
could be induced to explain.

Then, by some fatality, the white ants had always eaten the precise
documents of which Blunt stood in need, and the trembling officials
produced a tattered mass of dirt and rags and assured him that this was
the record which he called for, or rather all that could be found of its
remains. Blunt became, day by day, more profoundly convinced that all
men--all the Rumble Chunder men, at any rate--were liars, and let his
conviction appear in short speeches and abrupt procedure. The old
Zámindars, outraged by discourtesy in the presence of their retainers,
came away from his presence quivering with rage and ripe for the first
chance of mischief which offered. Blunt found the nettle stinging him
sorely, and, like a rough, resolute man, grasped it with all the more
unflinching hand. When at last he succeeded in making out a case he
dealt out the sternest justice, not, perhaps, without a gratified
vindictiveness against the people who had so long baffled and annoyed
him. One Uzuf Ali, a large grantee, had been called upon to verify his
claims; and this he proceeded to do with the utmost alacrity. He and his
forefathers, he protested, had been in possession for centuries--look at
the Revenue records, the files of the Courts, the orders of Government.
Here, too, was a Sunnud from the Emperor Akbar confirming them in their
rights. Twenty witnesses, all disinterested, honourable, unimpeachable,
the entire village indeed, would attest the fact of continuous, open,
rightful enjoyment from a period as far as memory could go. So the
twenty witnesses did; but then appeared a gentleman, one Hosain Khan, on
the other side, and blew the pretty story into the air. Uzuf Ali was an
audacious impostor, everybody in the country knew that his father had
come from Delhi not thirty years ago; he had no more right to an ounce
of salt than the 'Commissioner Sahib' himself; the ground over which he
claimed his rights was notoriously in the possession of another man: as
for the Sunnud of Akbar, it was an obvious forgery, as the Commissioner
Sahib might see for himself by merely looking.

Hosain Khan having had his innings, Uzuf Ali returned to the wickets and
began to make great play. 'Ask Hosain Khan,' he said, 'if his uncle did
not carry off my sister and if some of our people did not kill him for
it?'

'Yes,' says Hosain Khan, 'you stabbed him yourself, like a coward as you
are, when he lay asleep by his bullocks.'

'And if I did,' cries his opponent, 'did not your father knock out my
cousin's brains with a lathee[2] and get sent over the Kala Panee[3] for
his pains?'

The controversy waxed ardent; the combatants' voices rose shrill and
high; they tossed their black locks and waved their arms, and poured out
long streams of passionate family history, long-cherished feuds--deep,
never-to-be-forgotten wrongs--interminable complications as to lands and
wells, women and bullocks; and Blunt, who understood nothing but that
they had travelled a long way from the Rumble Chunder Grant, sat by in
mute and wrathful despair, and began to perceive that the administration
of justice to folks so excitable and unveracious as these was no such
easy matter as he had once imagined.

Amid all the chaff, however, Blunt had, he thought, got hold of one
piece of solid fact: either the Sunnud was a forgery or it was not; and
if a forgery, then he resolved to make an example, prosecute Uzuf Ali
for his fraud, and turn him summarily out of his pretended rights. A
forgery no doubt it was, for the paper bore the British watermark, and
you could see the places where the gunpowder had been smeared in hopes
of giving it an antiquated look. And so the question was decided, and
the order made out, and poor Uzuf Ali, in vain protesting that it was a
device of the enemy, left the Commissioner's presence a ruined man.

Ruined men, however, are dangerous things at all times, and especially
with an excitable and easily frightened people, who see in their
neighbours' fall only an anticipation of their own. The Bazaar was
presently in a tumult: angry clusters of talkers gathered in circles
round the grain-shops or at the village well, or under the great
banyan-tree which spread a wide shade over one end of the street, and
discussed past grievances and future disaster. Meanwhile Blunt, not
with so light a heart or seeing his way as clearly as usual, had moved
his head-quarters a dozen miles away, and begun a new series of
investigations with a new set of Hosain Khans and Uzuf Alis, and with
precisely similar success.

Before the month was over Fotheringam's words had come true. The Eusuf
Khayls, a turbulent tribe of frontier freebooters, were up. A police
outpost had been attacked in force one night, and its occupants had made
a bad retreat, leaving two of their number on the field. The marauders
had ridden through twenty miles of British territory, burning villages,
destroying crops, driving away bullocks to their fastnesses in the
hills. Blunt, as he came, escorted by a strong detachment, into
Dustypore, met the Horse Artillery rattling out towards the disturbed
region; and a telegram despatched to Elysium informed Sutton that he was
to head a flying column into the enemies' country and that he must be
with his regiment without an instant's delay.



CHAPTER XX.

A LAST RIDE.

    He turned his charger as he spoke
      Upon the river-shore;
    He gave the bridle-reins a shake,
      Said 'Adieu for evermore,
              My love!
      And adieu for evermore!'


Sutton, who was practising '_La ci darem la mano_' with Maud when the
telegram arrived, glanced at its contents without stopping the duet and
slipped it into his pocket before Maud had even seen it. '_Andiam,
Andiam, Andiam,_' she sang joyfully; '_Andiam, Andiam, Andiam_' pealed
Sutton's pleasant tenor tones; '_d'un innocente Amor_' sang the two
together; so the performance came smoothly to its close. 'And now,'
Sutton said, 'I am afraid we must stop our practice for this morning, as
I have to go to the Viceroy. I will come and see you on my way back. I
may have to go down to Dustypore this afternoon.'

'Down to Dustypore!' Maud cried, in a tone that bespoke the pang of
disappointment that shot into her heart, 'I thought that you were to
stay all the summer?'

'And so did I,' said her companion; 'but unluckily some of my naughty
boys on the Hills out there have been getting into too good spirits, and
I must go and look after them. And now for his Excellency.'

Before Sutton had been gone many minutes Desvoeux came galloping up the
pathway, and found Maud still standing in the verandah, where she had
wished Sutton farewell, and where in truth she had been standing in a
brown study ever since he went. Desvoeux was in the gloomiest spirits,
far too much concerned about himself to pay much attention to Maud's
troubled looks. 'Have you heard the dreadful, dreadful news?' he said.
'All our holidays are over for the year. There has been an outbreak on
the frontier. The troops are already on the march. The Agent is closeted
with the Viceroy and goes down this afternoon, and of course poor I have
to go along with him. Sutton is to command the expedition, and, I
daresay, is off already. Every soldier in the place will be ordered
down; and meanwhile what is to become of the fancy-ball?'

'And the moonlight picnic?' cried Maud, suddenly conscious of the
necessity of concealing a feeling which she would not for the world
have had Desvoeux suspect, namely, that Sutton's absence would be to
her a calamity which would go far to render balls and picnics alike a
matter of indifference.

'Yes,' Desvoeux said, with bitter vehemence; 'life is sometimes too
unendurably disagreeable, and things go so provokingly as one does not
want them. And we were just having such a happy time! And then, I
suppose, to make our farewell the sadder, you have chosen this morning
to look your loveliest. As for me, the only bits of life I care about
any longer are those I spend with you.'

'And with Mrs Vereker,' cried Maud. 'Come, Mr. Desvoeux, confess, now,
have you not been there just this minute saying the very same thing to
her? I'll ask her this afternoon and we will compare notes as to our
adieux!'

'Profane idea!' said Desvoeux. 'But you are always mocking. You know I
care a great deal more about you than you do about me.'

'Impossible,' cried Maud. 'Did I not tell you just now that I was
broken-hearted about the picnic? I meant to sit by the waterfall and
make you sing us "Spirito Gentil" in the moonlight. It is a cruel
disappointment.'

'You are very unkind and very heartless,' said Desvoeux in no mood for
banter.

'Come, come,' said Maud, 'do not be cross; we will not quarrel just as
we are parting.'

'Well, then, be serious.'

'I am serious,' said the other; 'and, seriously, I am sorry that we are
to lose you. Poor fellow!'

'Give a poor fellow a present,' said Desvoeux, beseechingly; 'that
cherry riband that binds the loveliest neck in the world.'

'No, I won't,' said Maud; 'it cost me two rupees only the day before
yesterday. There, you may have this rose. Take it, take it, and
remember----'

'You are enough to drive a fellow mad,' said Desvoeux. 'Who will be the
lucky man to find out where your heart is, and whether you have got
one?'

Then Desvoeux cantered off and Maud retired to her bedroom, locked
herself in, threw herself on a couch and indulged in the unusual luxury
of a thoroughly good cry. Sutton, quite unconsciously, had made great
advances in the occupation of her heart. He had been constantly with her
and Felicia; and the more Maud saw of other people, the more convinced
she became that he was the paragon of men and with him the only chance
of happiness for her. And now he would come back presently, Maud knew,
and say a kind, feeling farewell to Felicia and a word or two of
politeness to her, and go away on his expedition and take all the
sunshine of existence with him, and never have a suspicion of the aching
heart he left behind and of the treasure of devotion waiting for him if
he chose to have it. Surely there must be something wrong in the
constitution of a world where such woes could come to pass.

So while Desvoeux, in a sort of half-rage, was hustling his pony down
the hillside as if he really did mean to break his neck once for all and
have done with a life in which Maud could not continually figure, Maud
herself was in affliction for quite another cause; and Sutton, his mind
too full of warlike schemes to think of love, was busy with a map spread
out on the Viceroy's table, pointing out exactly the route through the
Hills which the expedition was to take. Sutton and the Viceroy were the
best of friends. They had ridden and shot and slaughtered tigers and
bears in each other's company, and each knew and liked the other as a
daring, enthusiastic and thoroughgoing sportsman. The Viceroy, himself
no mean performer, had seen Sutton dispose of a big boar, turned to bay,
on more than one occasion in a way which had filled him with admiration
and delight; and when, in rare intervals of business, the Ruler of India
allowed himself a day's holiday for a walk through the forest in search
of bears or jungle pheasants, no more favourite companion than Sutton
ever helped to fill the bag. Each trusted the other thoroughly, and the
Viceroy now spoke of the expedition with a cheerful confidence
indicative of his conviction that it was in the proper hands. The main
plans had been actually settled. The force was to be pushed on as far
into the Hills as was practicable. Two strong mule-batteries were
provided to keep the mountain-sides clear of a hovering enemy. When they
reached the high table-land which lay beyond, a dash was to be made at a
village where one of the rebellious tribes was known to be entrenched in
force; and when this was seized and destroyed and the rebels for the
time dispersed, the little army was to be encamped for a few weeks, by
way of demonstration of military power to the refractory mountaineers.
'Good-bye, Sutton,' said the Viceroy, 'and good luck to you and speedy
return!' And then, as he went out, kind ladies met him in the hall and
wished him a fresh farewell; and Sutton went away, in a glow of
excitement and pleasure, to make his preparations for the afternoon's
gallop, unconscious of all the sentiment in another person's heart which
his departure was stirring into life. He would be gone a fortnight or
three weeks, and was, in truth, not sorry for an excuse for a return to
his dear soldiers after a month's idleness and holiday-making.

When he came to the Vernons', an hour later, he found Maud's pony at
the door, and herself ready-equipped.

'Would you like a companion for the first stage of your journey?'
Felicia said; 'if so, Maud will ride with you, and the children and I
will start later, and meet her on the way home.' This was, in fact, a
kind device of Felicia's--one of the rash things which people do when
they are completely perplexed, in a sort of wild hope that some good may
come of it, rather than with any precise design. Felicia had come with
distressing distinctness to recognise the full gravity of the position
and to feel how dreadfully she had been to blame. She had done all that
one woman can to lead another to fall in love, and she had succeeded
only too well. Her little scheme of happiness for her two friends was
marred by an impediment which she had altogether overlooked. Sutton's
obduracy had never occurred to her as a serious impediment, yet now he
seemed hopelessly unimpressible. Bitterly Felicia reproached herself for
all her part in the transaction; but of what use was self-reproach?
There was the terrible result, beyond the reach alike of penitence or
redress. Maud's heart, Felicia knew instinctively, was lost--her very
silence on the topic betrayed the consciousness of something to conceal.
There was a sort of entreating air about her that seemed to cry for
pity. More than once Felicia had taken her to her arms and embraced her
tenderly--she could not have said why, but yet she knew. Maud, with her
joyousness gone, and battling with a silent sorrow, seemed to her to
have a touch of pathos which roused all the latent melancholy of
Felicia's nature into activity. It was one of those sad things in life
before which her fortitude completely failed. Ruefully did she vow, now
that vowing was of no use, that her first attempt at match-making should
be her last. At any rate she sent the two riders off together on this
last ride, in the faint hope that something might occur to bring the
tardy wooer to a right frame of mind.



CHAPTER XXI.

MAUD'S SECRET.

                ----In the glance,
      A moment's glance, of meeting eyes,
    His heart stood still in sudden trance--
      He trembled with a sweet surprise;
    All in the waning light she stood,
    The star of perfect womanhood.

    That summer eve his heart was light,
      With lighter step he trod the ground,
    And life was fairer in his sight,
      And music was in every sound:
    He bless'd the world where there could be
    So beautiful a thing as she.


The western horizon was all ablaze, and the sun's rays came slanting
through the gloom of the Rhododendron Forest, as Sutton and his
companion rode down the mountain-side towards the plains.

Did Felicia's wishes and hopes breathe a subtle influence around them,
which drew their hearts together and opened to each the destiny which
awaited it? Did the sweet, serious look with which she bade Sutton
farewell speak to his eye, for years accustomed to watch for her
unspoken commands, of something in which he had failed to please her,
to understand her desire, to do or to be exactly what she wanted? Was
there some shade of reserve, constraint, dissatisfaction in Felicia's
manner that aroused his attention and led him to explore his companion
with an anxious curiosity which usually he was far from feeling? Or was
it something in Maud, a causeless embarrassment, a scarcely concealed
trepidation, a manner at once sad and excited, the flush that, as
Desvoeux had told her in the morning, gave her cheek more than its
accustomed beauty, which, before they had been ten minutes on the road,
had sent such a flash of intelligence through Sutton's being,--which
came upon him like an inspiration, clear, cogent, indisputable, and only
curious in not having been understood before?

Be that as it may, Sutton suddenly found himself in an altogether
different mood and in altogether different company to that which he had
figured to himself for the first stage of his journey. Maud had all at
once become supremely interesting and infinitely more beautiful than he
had ever yet conceived her. She was no longer the mere excitable,
romantic child, whose nascent feelings and ideas might be watched with
half-amused curiosity, but a being whose brightness and innocence were
allied with the most exquisite pathos, and who was ready to cast at the
first worthy shrine all the wealth of an impulsive, ardent, tender
nature. As for Maud, she was too excited, too profoundly moved, too
much the prey of feelings of which she knew neither the true measure nor
the full force, to be able to analyse her thoughts or to be completely
mistress of herself.

Dissimulation was an art of which life had not as yet taught her the
necessity, or experience familiarised the use. The unconscious hypocrisy
with which some natures from the very outset, perhaps all natures later
on in life, veil so much of themselves from the outer world, had never
occurred to her as a possible or necessary means of self-protection in
an existence which till now had been too simple, childish and innocent
to call for concealment. She fixed her clear, honest eyes on her
interrogator, whoever he was, be the question what it might, and he knew
that it was the truth, pure, simple and complete, that she was telling.
Each phase of feeling wrote itself on her expression almost before Maud
herself had realised it, certainly long before she knew enough about it
to attempt to conceal it from the world. The feeble attempts at
deception, which the accidents of life had from time to time forced upon
her, had proved such absolute failures as merely to warn her of the
uselessness of everything of the kind, even if it had occurred to her to
wish to deceive. Her courtesy was the courtesy of sincerity, and she had
none other to offer. Those whom she disliked, accordingly, pronounced
her rude, and it was fortunate that they were very few in number. Her
friends, on the contrary, and their name was legion, read, and knew that
they read, to the very bottom of her heart. Now, for the first time in
her life, she was distinctly conscious of a secret which it would be
misery and humiliation to divulge, but for the custody of which neither
nature nor art had supplied her with any effectual means. Silence was
the natural resource, but silence is sometimes more eloquent than
speech. Whether she spoke or whether she held her peace, Maud felt a
terrified conviction that she would betray herself, should it occur to
Sutton to pay the least attention to her state of mind.

'There,' Sutton said, pointing to a range of hills just visible in the
faint horizon, 'there is the Black Mountain, and there lies the pass
where we shall be marching in a day or two. It is such a grand, wild
place! I have been along it so often, but have never had leisure to
paint it. This time, however, I hope to get a sketch.'

'Tell me,' Maud said, 'the sort of expeditions these are, and what
happens, and what kind of danger you are all in.'

'I will tell you,' said her companion. 'They are hot, troublesome,
inglorious promenades, over country which lames a great many of our
horses and harasses our men. We burn some miserable huts, destroy a few
acres of mountain crops and drive off such cattle as the people have not
had time to drive away themselves, and, in fact, do all that soldiering
admits of in the absence of that most important ingredient of a
brilliant campaign, an enemy: _he_, unluckily, is invariably over the
hills and far away some hours previous to our arrival.'

Maud felt this account to be on the whole reassuring: 'How soon,' she
asked, 'will you come back again?'

'Before you have time to miss me,' said her companion; 'it is an affair
literally of days. Besides, Elysium, you will find, is all the
pleasanter for having its crowd of soldiers somewhat thinned.'

'It will not be the pleasanter to us,' said Maud, 'for your being gone.'

Her tone took Sutton greatly by surprise.

'You are having a happy time here, are you not?' he asked. 'It seems to
me a pleasant sort of life.'

'Yes,' said Maud, emphatically, 'the pleasantest, happiest I have ever
known. All life has been bright to me; but there are things in it that
hurt one, for all that.'

'Yes?' said Sutton, with a kind inquiry in his tones, for he had never
thought of Maud but as the pretty incarnation of enjoyment; 'well, tell
me the things which hurt you.'

'The things that have hurt me the most,' said Maud with a sudden impulse
of outspokenness, 'are partings. They grieve me, even though I know that
they are no real cause for grief. I minded leaving school and my dear
mistress more than I can tell, and yet I longed to go. I minded leaving
my friends on board ship, and yet I had only known them a month. I
minded leaving you at Dustypore when we came away, and now to-day I am
sad because you are leaving us.'

'That makes me sad too,' said Sutton, grieved, and yet not wholly
grieved, at each new phase of sentiment which the childish frankness of
his companion revealed to him; 'but, you know, we soldiers are for ever
on the move, and nobody is surprised or sad when we are ordered off. You
love Felicia, do you not?'

'Yes,' said Maud, seriously; 'I feel a sort of worship for her. Who
could be so sweet, noble and pure without being adored? But then she
makes me melancholy too sometimes, because she is so melancholy herself;
and, oh, how far above one! Could one ever hope to be half as good? She
fills me with love, but love with a sort of despair about it.'

Maud was highly wrought up and feeling strongly and painfully about
everything that formed her life. She was full of thoughts that
clamoured for expression; and Sutton, she knew not why, seemed the
natural and proper recipient; it was so easy almost to confess to him,
to trust him with thoughts, hopes, pangs, which instinct said the common
eye must never see; to claim from him a sort of gentle, chivalrous
protection which no one but he knew how to give.

'Felicia,' Sutton said, 'need fill no one with despair, rather with
hopefulness and courage about life. I have known her since she was a
child; we two, in fact--children of two sisters, whose marriages had
bound them closer in affection to each other--lived for years more as
brother and sister than anything else. I have watched her for years
gathering strength, calmness, and nobility from going nobly and calmly
through the troubles of the world. She seems to me, in the midst of all
that is vulgar and base in the world around her, like the Lady in Comus,
impervious to everything that could sully or degrade.'

'Ah!' said Maud, 'if one could only go through life in that way--but it
is so horribly unattainable. Everything is too difficult, and one is so
shamefully weak. I could never be calm or noble in a trouble, like
Felicia.'

'Wait till the troubles come,' said her companion kindly; 'you will find
how one rises to an emergency. Felicia would not be what she is but for
the trials she has borne. But see there is the guard, and here, alas!
our pleasant journey together ends. I must travel on alone.'

A few hundred yards below stood Sutton's first relay of horses, and here
they were to part. A trooper was waiting to escort Maud on her homeward
journey till she rejoined Felicia and the children.

'This,' Sutton said, 'has been a charming ride, though something of a
sad one. I shall like to remember it. See, you shall give me that sweet
rose you wear, and that shall be my badge in all tournaments to come. In
return I will give you something to keep for me. This locket, you know,
holds my mother's hair. I never part with it; but I have often thought
it a foolish risk to take it on such wild expeditions as this. This time
you shall take care of it for me, if you will.

Sutton gave her the locket with the grave, pathetic air which, to Maud's
eye, threw a sort of romance over his least important actions. He took
her hand and held it in his own, and it seemed as though some sacred
pledge were at the moment, with no spoken words, given and received.

Maud never afterwards forgot that little scene--the kind, gentle eyes,
the sorrowful furrowed brow, the tender solemn voice; in front the wide
mysterious plains, stretching far below, all the horizon still aglow
with the expiring glory of the sunset; behind her a cold blue darkening
world--the gathering vapours, no longer irradiated, settling in solid
masses on the solemn mountain-tops. As she came to a bend in the path
she turned to wish her companion a last farewell, for she knew that he
was watching her departure. Then she rode homewards through the gloom,
moved, agitated, frightened, yet on the whole happier--with a deeper
kind of happiness than she had ever known before.



CHAPTER XXII.

LOVE IS BEGUN.

    Love is begun--thus much is come to pass;
    The rest is easy.


Sutton rode onward in a condition of happy bewilderment. He recalled the
conversation, every word Maud had spoken--her look, her tone: and as he
did so the result of the whole seemed to take a deeper hold upon his
mind. An afternoon's ride with a pretty girl--what was there in it to a
man like Sutton, the experienced companion of so many who had both the
power and the will to charm? What was there in this child to whom he had
shown the mere ordinary good-nature due to her circumstances, that all
of a sudden, he hardly knew whether by her doing or his own, he should
find himself completely fascinated? How was it, too, that the first
woman with whom he really felt in love should be so different from the
ideal which all his life he had set before himself of what was
especially lovable? In his childhood he had loved Felicia with the
spontaneous and unconcealed attachment of a near relation. Then had
followed years of school, long expeditions abroad, a life which soon
became adventurous, grave cares, anxieties and interests at a time when
most lads are still trifling over their lessons. Sutton had not only to
push his own way in life, but to keep guard over others less capable
than himself, of whom he found himself, while still a boy, constituted
the natural protector. His mother, suddenly left a widow, had looked to
him unhesitatingly for counsel, protection and--so Sutton's account book
would have testified--supplies, which he was ill able to contribute.
Brothers had had to be set a-going, and kept a-going, in that
troublesome and anxious process of making a livelihood in a world where
no one is in the least want of one's services. Then Fortune and Valour
had combined to push Sutton forward as a soldier, and one or two
adventures, brilliant because they were not disastrous, made him a
reputation which secured him constant employment. When, years later, he
had met Felicia again, a newly-arrived bride, in the Sandy Tracts,
though he felt towards her the same affection as ever, it had not
occurred to him to envy the man who was now lawful possessor of that to
which he might have seemed, had circumstances allowed, a natural
pretender. He had remained the loyal friend of both. None the less was
Felicia the typical conception in his mind of what a woman ought to be.
Her grave, refined serenity; her unstudied dignity of form and gesture;
her mirthfulness flashing all about a melancholy mood; her sorrows so
acutely felt, so bravely borne, so sedulously concealed; the prompt
excitability that made the world full of pleasures and interests to her,
and her a moving influence in the world; the tenderness of sympathy
which, beginning in the little home centre, spread in increasing circles
to all who came within her range of thought or action and enthroned her
mistress of a hundred hearts,--made up the type which his imagination
had adored. Now he was startled to find himself kneeling at quite
another shrine, adoring quite another deity, and adoring it, as he was
constrained to confess to himself, with a sudden, vehement devotion,
characteristic rather of boyish enthusiasm than of the mature sobriety
of middle age.

Anyhow, as Sutton rode into the yard of the little inn where dinner
awaited him, he wished, for the first time in his life, that the
campaign was well over and himself safe back again at the pacific
pursuits on which duty was just now sternly calling him to turn his
back.

Here he found the Agent and Desvoeux, who had been busy all the
afternoon with despatches and were waiting now for the moonlight to
allow them to get forward on their journey.

Desvoeux, as was always the case in times of difficulty, had risen to
the occasion and fully justified the confidence of those who placed a
seeming fop in a responsible position. He had been working all day like
a slave, and he was now dining like an Epicurean, and in higher spirits
than Epicureans mostly are. The Agent, who kept him in thorough order
and got an inordinate amount of first-rate work out of him at times,
rewarded him by a generous confidence and a liberty of speech in
private, which no other subordinate enjoyed. A jaded, weary official,
with an uncomfortably lively scepticism as to the usefulness of himself
and his system to the world, forced into all sorts of new and
uncomfortable conditions, could not but be grateful to an assistant
whose spirits, like Desvoeux's, were always in inverse ratio to the
darkness of surrounding things, whose cynicism was always amusing, and
whose observations on the world around and above him, if frequently
somewhat impertinent, were never without good sense and insight.

At present both Desvoeux and his master were abusing Blunt over an
excellent bottle of champagne. Sutton was soon installed at the banquet,
which presently began _da capo_ on his account.

'We shall have no moon till eleven,' said the Agent; 'so Desvoeux and I
are amusing ourselves by inveighing against poor Blunt for the kettle
of fish he has set a-boiling down below; and which you and your
troopers, Sutton, must dispose of as best you can. It is another
instance of that bane of the service--zeal. Tallyrand was quite right to
insist on no one having any of it.'

'Yes, sir,' said Desvoeux; 'Enthusiasm, Experience and Principle may be
said to be the three rocks on which we get shipwrecked--enthusiasm,
because it gives us affairs like this of Blunt's; experience----'

'Experience and principle require no illustration,' said the Agent,
filling up Sutton's glass and his own. 'I feel how disastrous they are
in my own case. But, seriously, one of the difficulties in dealing with
a matter is that you always have to rescue it from the clutches of some
one who knows too much by half about it, and who takes a host of details
for granted of which nobody but himself has the faintest glimmer of
understanding. You are right, Desvoeux, in naming experience as one of
your banes; I qualify it by the addition of an epithet--inarticulate.'

'Oh!' cried Desvoeux, gaily, 'one takes that for granted. If men
possessed the art of making themselves understood, there would be no
difficulty in governing at all.'

'Yes,' said the Agent; 'officials and their reports remind one of
cuttle-fish, beings capable of extruding an inky fluid for the purpose
of concealing their intentions. And now, Sutton, king of men, tell us
how soon you mean to lead the bold Acheans to the fray.'

'As fast as I can march the bold Acheans up. In three days at the
furthest I hope to be well into the enemy's country; the mule battery
will, I expect, do wonders in bringing about a loyal state of mind, and
I may rely on the mules and camels for my commissariat?'

'You may rely,' said the Agent; 'I sent word to Boldero yesterday.' And
Sutton knew that on that score, at any rate, he might feel secure.

'Boldero,' cried Desvoeux, 'has no doubt by this time impressed every
donkey in the province and has a cavalcade of camels awaiting us. The
job will, it is to be hoped, have driven Miss Vernon out of his poor
bleeding heart. Here is to her good health.'

'And here's to Mrs. Vereker's,' cried Sutton, who felt an urgent need of
an immediate change in the conversation.

'Cruel, cruel Sutton,' cried Desvoeux, 'to suggest the mournful thought.
Let me see; it is half-past ten. I left at noon. I grieve to think that
I have been forgotten an entire afternoon. Mrs. Vereker's recollections,
I believe, never survive a repast. Luncheon, no doubt, swept me from her
thoughts.'

'Desvoeux,' said the Agent, 'you are a very unfeeling young man. I
believe I am rather in love with Mrs. Vereker myself.'

'Then, sir, I presume you will wish me to transfer my attentions
elsewhere; but meanwhile let me dream of the paradise I have quitted--

    In the clear heaven of her delightful eye
    An angel guard of loves and graces lie;
    Around her knees domestic duties meet----'

'So that,' interposed the Agent, 'as you look at her face, and not at
her knees, you naturally see more of the loves and graces than of the
domestic duty.'

'Indeed, sir,' cried Desvoeux, 'she is all that a wife and mother should
be.'

'Very well,' said the Agent; 'then go and order the horses and let us be
off.'



CHAPTER XXIII.

A STRAY SHOT.

              ----A barren strand,
    A petty fortress and a dubious hand----


The expedition, though in no way distinguishable from twenty others, did
not prove such a mere promenade as Sutton had anticipated. The whole
country-side was in a nasty, excitable mood. The news of Blunt's
injudicious proceedings had spread far and wide, and the prospect of
endangered rights turned the wavering scale with wild clans, whose
loyalty at the best of times was anything but proof against a seeming
danger or a fancied wrong.

Every landholder whose title Blunt had impugned proved a centre of
disaffection; and even where there was no reason for hostility the
example of unruliness was infectious. Many a stalwart hillsman, coerced
for years into uncongenial tranquillity, felt the old pulses throb
within him, and his heart beating high at the prospect of a fight;
unearthed some primitive weapon--sword or matchlock or lance--from its
hiding-place beneath the floor of his hut, mounted on a wiry pony and
made his way over the mountains to the scene of action. Several more
outrages, of which the District officers knew the significance too well,
had already been reported. Everything predicted a storm, and a pretty
severe one.

Indian life is like a strange, dark sea, full of invisible currents,
strange tides, unsuspected and unexplained influences. The waters, which
look so smooth and lifeless, may be stealing silently along and hurrying
the hapless vessel to its doom. Magnetic streams, inappreciable to the
nicest scrutiny, pour this way or that and disturb the most accurate
calculations. Storms gather and lower and burst when all looks most
serene; a little cloud rises in the quarter where danger is least
expected, and in a few minutes the ship is tossing, a crushed and
staggering wreck, in the midst of a tornado.

Just before the great outbreak of 1857 the ruler of India had occasion
to remark on the absolute tranquillity of the Empire and on the peaceful
prospects of a reign which stood, as the facts proved, on the very
crisis of its fate, and whose annals were presently to be written in
characters of blood. Men who live in such a world as this become
sensitive to its symptoms, and adept at interpreting them. The
magistrates knew well enough--they could scarcely have said why--that
mischief was at work. Police officers on remote stations wrote uneasily
and hinted at the advisability of reinforcements. Strange, weird beings,
whose unkempt locks and half-crazy visages bespoke for them the
_prestige_ of especial sanctity, thronged about the bazaars, the wells,
the spreading tree where travellers halted for rest and talk. A famous
Fakir went through the District haranguing excited audiences on the
kindred duties of piety and rebellion against an impious ruler. Then the
first drops of the storm began to fall. One morning the collector of a
neighbouring town was sitting in his verandah; in front a pair of
saddled horses were being led up and down; by his side was a tea-table,
with letters, business papers and the frugal repast which ushers in the
Indian official's day. At his feet two little children sat at play. From
inside a lady's voice cried that she would be ready for a start in two
minutes. Presently an animated bundle of rags, hair and dirt, came
grovelling up with a petition. The misery of the creature was its
passport, and the sentry who stood by, at a signal from the officer, let
it pass. Then came a whining, rambling, unintelligible story of
grievance; and then, as the listener's eye for a moment wandered from
the speaker, a sudden rush--the flash of a concealed dagger--a groan--a
heavy fall, and the Englishman lay dead on the ground with a cruel
Pathan knife-wound through his heart. The assassin stood fiercely at
bar, exulting in his accomplished vow to slay a 'Feringhee,' and trying
his best to stab the sentry who approached him. They cut him down as he
stood; and before noon that day rumour had whispered in a hundred
villages that Allah's will had been done, and that the Jehad, or Sacred
War, was forthwith to commence.

To strike quickly, effectually, and with an air of absolute confidence
in the result, is in such cases the safest policy. A symptom of
hesitation, an hour's delay, would ensure disaster. The spark, which one
moment might be stamped under foot, the next would be a consuming fire,
forbidding all approach.

Sutton's business was, he well understood, to teach these lawless
spirits (which no conqueror has ever yet succeeded in taming) a stern
lesson of obedience, and to teach it them quickly, sharply, and in the
mode most likely to impress the popular imagination. If all went well
the business would be over in a week, and the refractory clansmen our
good friends and subjects till temper, forgetfulness, or an official
blunder produced another outburst. If things went ill--but this is a
contingency upon which the administrators of British India cannot afford
to calculate and which Sutton's temperament and good fortune alike had
long accustomed him to ignore.

When he rode into the camp he found everything in readiness and
everybody in the highest spirits. Boldero had impressed a fine array of
camels and bullock-carts, and had organised a commissariat train more
than sufficient for the wants of the expedition. The mule battery had
arrived in perfect order. The little knot of officers who were to join
the expedition gave a hearty welcome to a leader whose very presence
seemed to them the best guarantee of success. In a minute the news
spread through the camp that the 'Colonel Sahib' had arrived, and the
men, whom he had led so often to victory, glowed at the thought that the
well-loved and well-trusted leader was once again in the midst of them
and that something stirring was certainly at hand. The little force was
to encamp that night at the bottom of the pass along which for the next
two days their route would lie; then they would come to a high level
table-land, where the enemy was (so the scouts said) entrenched, and
where the serious part of the business might be expected to begin.

Occasions such as these were the parts of Sutton's life in which
hitherto he had felt himself most at home, and which he had, in fact,
enjoyed the most keenly. He had been very successful, and had, he knew,
been not undeserving of success. This was the thing in life which he
could do pre-eminently well, and the doing it gave him a thrill of
pleasure, which lasted all through the duller parts of his existence.
Yet now things seemed changed to him. He had looked forward to this
expedition with enthusiasm; it had taken in every way the shape which he
wished; and now, when the hour was come, it had brought no sense of
pleasure with it. Sutton was startled at his own lack of zeal. The lads
who were having their first apprenticeship in actual soldiering, were,
he felt, far more soldier-like about it than he was. He could not sleep
that night, and strolled about the camp amid all the old accustomed
sights and sounds; the long array of human sleeping forms, each one
motionless and corpse-like; the lines of tethered horses; the sentinels
pacing stolidly up and down and challenging the passer-by in the still,
clear air; the bullocks encamped by their carts, serenely chewing
through the peaceful hours undisturbed by the thought of pokes and
shoves which awaited them on the morrow. It was all very familiar, and
brought back many a like occasion of former years; and yet there was,
Sutton knew, a difference: the world was no longer the same; a new
current of thought and feeling had set in and disturbed all the old
associations. His afternoon ride had metamorphosed his entire being.
Maud's sweet impassioned air as she had wished him farewell; her
serious, soft, pathetic tones; her last look as she turned to go, the
sort of earnest rapture which her eyes bespoke; the unspoken pledge
which had been exchanged between them; these were the matters which
preoccupied his thoughts and left but scant room in them for the
business which he had in hand. He found himself, accordingly,
uninterested, unenthusiastic, and, for the first time in his life,
completely sceptical as to the usefulness of his employment. Every man,
philosophers tell us, is seized at some period of his career with a
misgiving as to whether his life-task is not a delusion. Is it worth the
long, painful endeavour, the patient waiting, the resolute hopefulness
which a successful career demands? Life seems, as it did to the sailors
of Ulysses, a wearisome, endless affair,

    For ever climbing up the climbing wave;

Is it certain that the end for which we struggle so earnestly is good
for ourselves or for any one? Sutton had such a mood just now strong
upon him. He had been all his life soldiering; a hundred time-honoured
phrases had declared it the finest profession in the world; but what did
it come to? To be chasing a pack of lawless savages about a country
scarcely less savage than themselves, and inflicting a chastisement
which no one supposed would be more than temporarily effectual. To drill
a handful of freebooters into something sufficiently like discipline to
render them effectual as an instrument of destruction; to march up a
pass and stamp out the first germs of civilised life by burning a few
wretched crops and crumbling hovels; to fire at an enemy always well out
of reach, and then march down again; what was there in all this to
deserve the thought, the devotion, the sacrifice of life itself, which
men so freely gave in its pursuit? Had not life something better worth
living for than this? Were not the civilians right who sneered at
soldiering as a meet occupation for brainless heads and hands for which,
if not kept thus wholesomely employed, Satan was sure to find some less
desirable occupation? Thus it came to pass that of all the men who
marched in the expedition its leader was the one who was least in love
with it.

Two days later Sutton had warmed into his work and was in better
spirits. The march had been delightful. The splendid military road,
which coiled in and out among the folds of the mountain, robbed the
journey alike of anxiety and fatigue. Nothing gives a pleasanter sense
of power and triumph over nature than these great engineering exploits.
You canter along a splendid road with easy gradients, a scarcely
perceptible ascent; there is a precipice above, a precipice below, and
no spot anywhere on which, till the hand of science came to make it, a
human foot could rest. Every now and then a distant vista reminds you
that you are climbing some of the wildest and steepest hill sides in the
world. The mountaineers may well cower and fly before a foe who begins
with so impressive an achievement, and who cuts his way--resistless as
fate itself--across the rocky brow of barriers which it seems half-mad,
half-impious to try to scale.

The expedition, Sutton found, was in every way complete. His own
regiment was always ready to march at twenty minutes' notice, and the
General at Dustypore seemed to have been equally well prepared. The air,
despite the hot sun, was fresh and exhilarating; the men were in the
very mood for brilliant service. Besides, a peasant who had just been
brought in from the district told them that, ten miles across the plain
which now stretched away in gentle undulations before them, the enemy
was entrenched in strength and intended to show fight. The village had
been fortified, the man said, with a wall of earth and stones, and the
fighters would be found behind it.

'Then, gentlemen,' cried Sutton, who was standing with a knot of
officers at his tent door when the news arrived, 'I propose that we
attack them to-night. If we let them have a day to do it in, these
scoundrels will give us the slip.'

In half an hour the whole force was on the march. The day was
delightfully fresh; the mountain-mists gathered overhead and formed a
welcome shelter from the blazing sky. Sutton had his troopers on either
flank; then came the tiny battery, looking more like playthings than the
grim realities the Armstrongs proved; in the midst of a long line of
Native Infantry. The men marched with a will and with the exciting
consciousness that in the afternoon there was to be a fight. At noon,
when there was a halt to rest the force, the outline of the village wall
might be clearly seen, and those who had telescopes could make out an
occasional figure creeping stealthily about. There was a little rising
ground some half-mile from the village, and here Sutton determined to
establish his battery. The tiny telescope-like tubes soon did their
work, and the main gate of the village fell inwards with a crash; the
mud wall crumbled and fell wherever it was touched, and a thick cloud of
dust showed where each ball had lodged. In ten minutes the village was
in flames, and Sutton's little army was advancing on it at a run.
Presently they got within musket-shot, and bullet after bullet came
singing through the air. Sutton was riding, with a trumpeter on the
right, half-a-dozen yards in advance of his men; the ground, though firm
and safe, grew rougher as they neared the village; and the troops' line
was somewhat broken. By this time they could make out the mud wall which
had been thrown up in front of the village and measure the paces between
it and them. It was a mere nothing, but the men were going at it faster
than they should. Two horses were struck and fell heavily just as their
riders were pulling them together for the jump. Half-a-dozen more
refused: then came the usual scene of rearing, plunging, and dismounted
men. There was an instant's check, but only an instant's, for Sutton and
the trumpeter were over, and the first dozen men who followed them had
knocked the wall level with the ground. Sutton had speedily disposed of
two of the hillsmen, who fired their pistols in his face and made at him
with their swords; and had galloped up to help the trumpeter, who was
having a hard time of it with a Sawar, mounted on a nimble little horse
and evidently a competent and practised swordsman. The man turned on his
noble antagonist and made a cut which left a deep dent on Sutton's
sword-handle. The native had, however, met with more than his match. The
others got over just in time to see Sutton cut him down, and his horse
gallop wildly off with an empty saddle. The men gave a shout and
galloped forward. Then some one from a neighbouring window took a lucky
shot. Sutton was at the moment giving an order and pointing with his
sword in the direction indicated. His sword flew out of his hand, his
arm fell powerless, and his horse, rearing up, fell back upon him. His
native aide-de-camp dragged him out from under the horse, which was
lying shot through the heart across him. Half-a-dozen men carried him to
the rear. Ten minutes later, when the village had been cleared and the
troop returned from the pursuit, they found him lying in a crimson pool,
insensible, with a broken arm and a bullet-wound in his side, the red
stream from which the surgeon, kneeling beside him, was endeavouring in
vain to staunch.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE GULLY.

    I know not if I know what true love is;
    But if I know, then if I love not him,
    Methinks there is none other I call love.


Perhaps the thing which more than any other exasperated Fotheringham
about this unlucky frontier outbreak was the cool way in which Blunt
took it. He quite ignored all responsibility in the matter. This was
more than Fotheringham could forgive. When he had to come post-haste
back to Dustypore, with his tail, so to speak, between his legs, leaving
the country in a blaze behind him, with an escort of cavalry to protect
him from the animosities which his proceedings had provoked, the least
that could be expected of him was to wear the penitent air of a man who
has had his own way and come to grief. Blunt, however, was as unabashed
and uncompromising as before, and it had never, it was evident, crossed
his mind that he could be the person to blame. The whole affair was gall
and wormwood to Fotheringham: it was improper, incongruous, and a shock
to his perceptions of the eternal fitness of things. It never ought to
have happened--never, so his fine instincts told him, would have
happened--but for this rough, self-confident, inexperienced outsider. It
came too at the most horrid time of year, just when almost every one was
at the hills and the few whose ill-luck compelled them to remain in the
plains were exhausted with the summer and in need of repose. The Misses
Fotheringham and their mamma had been all the summer at Elysium, and
poor Fotheringham had been meaning to join them for a few weeks'
autumnal holiday; and this was now out of the question. This in itself
was no small grievance. And then, on public grounds, Fotheringham felt
the outbreak a sort of stain on himself and the institution which he
cared most about. The Salt Board might be to others a mere abstraction,
but he had worked at it and in it till he had come to regard it with a
sort of fondness. Now Blunt's mismanagement exhibited the Board in a
perfectly false light, as political incendiaries. The Rumble Chunder
Grant was made to figure as a stone of stumbling and rock of political
offence, instead of, as its advocates felt it to be, a sort of moral
buffer on which any little unpleasantness which the wear and tear of
government engendered, was allowed to vent itself in safety.
Fotheringham had exactly foretold the result, and felt, it must be
supposed, that kind of melancholy satisfaction which the most
good-natured prophets of evil cannot but experience when their
prophecies come true. He was too much of a gentleman to say to Blunt,
'There! I told you so,' in so many words; but this was what he _felt_;
and this sort of inward triumph joined together with the other and
graver aspects of the affair to make him treat Blunt in a manner, which,
no doubt, the latter gentleman, pachydermatous as he was, found the
reverse of soothing.

Cockshaw, too, in his idle way, was greatly put out and not at all
inclined to make himself pleasant. He smoked more cheroots than
ever--was more impatient of discussion--fidgeted worse when Fotheringham
was settling down into nicely-rounded periods and getting real relief
from doing so, and altogether did not behave as Fotheringham felt that
he ought at a trying time.

Of his two colleagues Cockshaw had come to dislike Blunt by far the
worst. Fotheringham, he knew, was an ass; but then he had known him as
such ever since they were at Haileybury together as lads, and his being
asinine seemed all right and proper in the natural course of things.
With all his feebleness he had a sort of chivalry about him, a pride in
his order, an enthusiasm about his work, a professional sympathy with
his colleagues, which bound him to his brother-civilians. Blunt was a
stranger to all this and was known to talk about the Civil Service in a
way that made Cockshaw long to knock him down and give him a thrashing,
as he would have done to a rude schoolfellow years ago. An article
appeared in the 'Edinburgh Review' about the Government of India, which
Cockshaw felt certain from its style was Blunt's, and which spoke of the
administrators of the country with undisguised contempt. There was a
phrase about 'one dead level of mediocrity,' which some angry
Governor-General had used, and which the article quoted with an approval
which Cockshaw could neither forgive nor forget. The Rumble Chunder
Grant was quoted as a specimen of the gigantic messes which ensue, when
second and third rate men have the management of first-rate questions.
The local Governments were described as costly bureaux, with all the
natural defects of a bureau and some peculiar evils of their own to
boot--now meddlesome and fussy, now indolent and obstructive, frequently
unprincipled and insubordinate. The three separate War establishments
were disposed of with a sneer as the most expensive folly in existence.
The vile corruption which characterised the East India Company in its
earlier days, the scandalous exhibitions of public and private
wickedness which fired the righteous wrath of Burke, had, the writer
admitted, been rendered impossible by the increased communication with
home and the generally improved tone of English manners; but Indian
Governments had long remained the home of jobbery. The stringent remedy
of the Competitive System had been necessary to deal with the
accumulated dulness with which years of licensed favouritism had crowded
the ranks of the service. On the whole it was not true, or anything like
true, that India was well administered. The wonder, however, was,
considering the class of men to whom the job had been entrusted, that it
had ever got administered at all.

'D---- his impudence!' exclaimed Cockshaw with all the fervour of an
indignation which had been gaining strength through a dozen pages of
unpalatable reading; and the expression may be taken as representing in
a concise formula the view which Cockshaw had come to take of his
colleague's mental attitude, and of the respect or consideration to
which he and his proposals were entitled.

The meetings of the board grew very stern and stiff. Unluckily, too, at
this very time the Board's Annual Report had to be written, and the
conflicting views of the members as to the cause of the disaster could
scarcely fail to be brought prominently forward. It was one of the
occasions which Strutt had been accustomed to treat historically, and
which called, he felt, for something grander than Whisp's businesslike
and unpretentious style. 'My good sir,' he would say, 'I have no time to
read history: I am _making_ it.' In the good old days, when Strutt had
his own way, he would have knocked the affair off in half-a-dozen
well-rounded, vague, magniloquent phrases; have left the connection of
the Board with the whole thing in obscurity; have congratulated the
Government on the excellent behaviour of the troops; applauded the
accuracy and range of the Armstrong battery, and paid Providence a
handsome compliment on the fortunate turn which events had taken.

But now Strutt felt a painful misgiving that this sort of thing would
not do. When he began the paragraph--'The sun of the official year has
set in blood,' he saw Blunt's horrid cynical look, and knew that he
would never stand it. Any allusion to Providence--and Strutt felt that
one was quite essential to anything like a proper peroration--Blunt
would, he was sure, ruthlessly draw his pen through. Nor was it only as
to matters of taste and style that Strutt felt embarrassed. Fotheringham
would, he was certain, deprecate any reference to a connection between
the outbreak and the Rumble Chunder Grant. 'Policy,' he would say, in a
mysterious way, 'calls for reticence. We may be misconstrued, but we
cannot afford to show all the world our hand; we don't want the hillmen
to imagine that we admit them to have a grievance.' Blunt, on the other
hand, would be for having it all down in black and white--for describing
the outbreak as the natural result of indistinctness, cowardice and
idleness. Altogether Strutt felt that his lines had been cast in rough
places, and began to agree with Fotheringham that outsiders like Blunt
were a mistake.

While things stood thus, one of those events occurred which form so
constant a characteristic of Indian life and add so formidable a
contribution to the difficulties of government. How is it possible to
have continuity of action, settled policy, completeness of design, when
existence is so shifting that no man who begins a work is likely to see
its close? Promotion or leave or the chances of health keep the
hierarchy of Indian officials for ever on the move. One man goes home to
Europe, and his departure involves the change of a dozen others, each of
whom is waiting anxiously for an advance and is entitled to step into
his fellow's shoes. One of these vicissitudes befell the Board, for poor
Fotheringham fell violently ill, and for some time seemed likely to
create a permanent vacancy. A week's fever left him a skeleton, but a
live one, and his only chance of re-established health was immediate
flight for home. Accordingly, in fewer hours than it takes an English
lady days to determine where she will spend her summer holiday, the
Fotheringham establishment had moved off the scene. The fine
barouche--the Australian carriage-horses--the lovely Arabs on which the
Miss Fotheringhams took their morning exercise--the pretty garden
where their mamma received society to tea and croquet--the dining-room
where the Senior Member had regaled his friends--the library where he
assailed his enemies--the piano at which the young ladies sang tremulous
duets--the arm-chair in which Fotheringham had sate and thought or
seemed to think--all became matters of the past. A neat paper, copied
out by the elder Miss Fotheringham and containing the scanty catalogue
of an Indian official's worldly belongings, was circulated in the
Station, each item at so many rupees for those who liked to buy. Before
the week was over the house was stripped, the simple treasures were
scattered to a dozen new possessors, and the Fotheringhams, as the Arab
folds his tent and glides silently away, had departed. The waters of the
official life rolled smoothly over them, and next day the 'Dustypore
Gazette' announced with laconic severity that Mr. Snaply had on such and
such a morning taken over charge, as Member of the Salt Board, from Mr.
Fotheringham, during the absence of the latter on sick leave, or pending
further orders.

Now Snaply was known as the crossest man in the Service, and it cheered
poor Fotheringham, who was almost too ill and weak to care about
anything, to know that his _locum tenens_ would not allow Blunt to
repose on a bed of roses if he could help it.

Felicia, meanwhile, had carried Maud off to the 'Gully,' a mountain
retreat some twenty miles away, where purer air and a less constrained
life were to be had than at Elysium. It was, in fact, nothing more than
one of a cluster of log-huts, built years before, when a working party
of soldiers had been cutting one of the grand military roads that
traverse the mountains in these parts, and sold offhand, when the work
was done, for what they would fetch to the first comer. Felicia and her
husband had been encamped in the neighbourhood, and had fallen in love
with the wildness of the place, the exquisitely pure air, the huge
towering pines, which gave the scene a character of its own, and,
moreover, with the unfamiliar idea of owning a part of the Himalayas in
freehold.

For a few hundred rupees, accordingly, Vernon had become possessor of
the huts and some adjoining acres, and since then Felicia's embellishing
hand had worked wonders. Nature, as if in gratitude for unaccustomed
devotion, lent herself in a lavish mood to beautify the little
structure. A profuse growth of creepers festooned the porch; a delicious
piece of turf, bright, smooth and soft, and broken only by one or two
projecting crags, stretched down the mountain-side in front; inside the
rough deodar paling the beds were all ablaze with English flowers that
not even Felicia's tenderness could coax into healthiness in the plain
below. 'These are my invalids,' Felicia said, to whom this spot was
always full of charms: 'I send them up with the babies to breathe a
little wholesome air. Shut your eyes, Maud, and smell this--cannot you
fancy yourself in a sweet English wood in June?'

There were other beauties, moreover, about the place than those of an
English summer. They were hanging in a little picturesque nook of
safety, but all around them was sublime. Storms gathered and crashed and
spent their fury as if this was their very home where they could play at
ease. An inky mass came lowering over the heights above and shed itself
in one angry deluge on the mountain-side; the thunder crashed in fierce
echoes from crag to crag, and all the heavens blazed from end to end as
the fearful fiery zig-zags came darting out of the gloom; then the
tempest would pass away and nothing be heard but the distant rumble and
the hundred muddy torrents roaring downwards. The great folds of mist
came swirling up the precipice, wrapping everything for a few moments in
gloom; then they would pass on, and presently again the sky be serene
and bright, and the reeking mountains sun themselves gleefully in the
brightness and warmth that were everywhere present.

'It is beautiful,' Maud said, 'but too grand to be quite pleasant; it is
rather awful. That black mountain opposite, with its army of skeleton
deodars, makes me shudder.'

Across the gorge the forest had been burnt--the first rude attempt by
the mountaineers at reclaiming the soil. For weeks together these
blazing patches may be seen on the hillside, hidden in a cloud of smoke
by day, and at night lighting up the landscape with a lurid, fitful
glare. When, by a change in the wind or sudden downpour, the
conflagration ceases, nothing remains but a gloomy array of charred
stumps, with here and there some monstrous stem towering above, which
the flames, though they were able to kill, have not succeeded in
devouring. Then among the ruins of the forest comes the primitive
cultivator, with his tiny plough and scrambling goat-like bullocks, and
wrings a scanty crop of oats or potatoes from each ridge and cranny of
the rocky steep; and so the reign of agriculture has begun. The effect,
however, from the picturesque point of view is weird and gloomy; it was
so, at any rate, in Maud's thoughts, for she ever after associated it
with the first piece of really bad news that had ever come to her in the
whole of her sunshiny existence. A note arrived one morning from Vernon
at Dustypore, and Felicia read it out before she was well aware of its
import. He was just starting, Vernon said, for the head-quarters of the
expedition. 'There has been a fight, and the entrenched village has
been carried by a _coup de main_, and----'

'And what?' said Maud, who felt herself turning deadly cold and her
heart beating so that she could scarcely speak, 'Go on, Felicia,
please.'

'"Sutton, I fear, has had a serious wound and a fall from his horse. I
am going out to look after him. More news to-morrow."'

Maud rose and fled, without a word, to her bedroom, to deal with this
agitating piece of news as best she might. She did not feel sure enough
of her composure to trust herself to the chances of a break-down even
before Felicia. There was something in herself, she knew, that she did
not wish even Felicia's eye to read. To Felicia her husband's letter
spoke only of the fortunes of their common friend; to Maud it was, as a
quick, agonising pang told her, an affair of life or death. A serious
wound--a fall from horseback--terrible, vague words that might mean
anything--that might mean something that would eclipse all Maud's
existence in the gloom of a lifelong disaster. She had thought over
their last ride together often; but she knew now, and now only, to the
full what it had really been to her. She had recalled his last acts and
words--they had been sweet and tender words, such as would keep their
fragrance through a lifetime; but, supposing that they were to be
really last words, the long farewell of a man who was going to his doom!
Maud sat still, crushed and stunned at this first brush of misfortune's
passing wing: a dark shadow, black and fateful as the storms which came
raging up the valley, seemed to be gathering across her life. Life
itself seemed to hang on a slender thread, the tidings which to-morrow's
messenger should bring--perhaps even now life was over for her.

Felicia did not leave her long in solitude; she came in presently, with
her kind considerate air, knowing and feeling all, as Maud instinctively
was aware, but speaking only just what should be spoken, and guarded by
a delicate tact (rare attribute of only the most finely-moulded natures)
from the possibility of a word too much.

'Courage,' she said; 'I know the meaning of George's letter too well to
be frightened. To-morrow, dear Maud, there will be good news for both of
us.'

Maud took her companion's hand in a helpless, imploring way that went to
Felicia's very heart; but, if her life had depended on it, no spoken
word would come.

There are some things in life, some desperate chances, some horrible
possibilities of suffering, which seem to strike one mute. Maud seemed
now to have come across some such crisis of existence. She followed
Felicia about; they took the children for a walk; she went almost
unconsciously about the little routine of their home life; all the time
she seemed to herself in a sort of dreadful dream; she turned faint and
chill as the messengers now and again came clambering up the gorge, each
with his fresh item of news from the world below, some one of them, as
she knew must be the case, carrying with him the sentence of her fate.

'It makes my blood run cold,' she told Felicia afterwards, 'to see one
of them coming even now.'

Sutton's words of farewell to her were not, however, destined to be his
last. The next day a good friend at Government House sent them across
the Hills a copy of a telegram from head-quarters, which showed that
Sutton's life was at any rate in no immediate danger. Then came a letter
to Felicia from her husband. He had been up to head-quarters, he said,
and stayed two days with Sutton. He was a good deal knocked about; there
was a bullet lodged in his side, which had been troublesome, and he had
been much bruised by his horse rolling across him. But there was no
danger; in a week or two he would be able to move, and meanwhile he was
in splendid air, and well looked after.

Then Maud went to her precious locket once again, and wept over it tears
of joy, gratitude and love. The mists had cleared away, the world was
irradiated with happiness and hope; even the blackened hillside opposite
had caught a ray of sunshine and seemed to smile back at her. She felt a
very child again in the lightness of her heart; and Felicia, in a graver
but not less happy mood, breathed a deep prayer of fervent gratitude
that the calamity so near and terrible had passed away, leaving this
young bright life as bright as ever.



CHAPTER XXV.

AN INVALID.

    How do I love thee? Let me count the sums.
    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height,
    My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
    For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace----


When, a month later, Sutton was carried into Dustypore, he was, as any
one would have felt, a fit subject for romance, and Maud was just in the
mood to appreciate all that was romantic about him to the full. She had
been thinking about this event and fancying it, and dreaming about it
for weeks past, poor child, till it had become for her the very climax
of existence. As the time for its realisation drew near she had been
haunted by nervous apprehensions as to whether she had not
misinterpreted Sutton's words of kindness at that last interview, and
whether the moment of disillusionment might not be now arriving. Sutton,
so a morbid mood suggested, might have meant nothing; or his words,
perhaps, proved only a passing tenderness, engendered by the special
circumstances of the hour: her fancy, perhaps, had dressed up a few
careless expressions into something serious. But there came a truer
voice which said that it was not so; that Sutton was not a man of
careless words or a transient mood, and that a pledge had been given,
though without actual spoken vow, which he assuredly would redeem on his
return. On the whole then, though not absolutely without a misgiving,
Maud was joyous and courageous, and her heart was light within her. She,
however, felt herself becoming greatly embarrassed and excited as the
hour of Sutton's arrival drew near. The most needless blushes came
flushing into her cheeks; the simplest things seemed difficult to
answer. Felicia knew, Maud was certain, pretty well how matters stood;
knew at any rate that there was something between her and Sutton: yet
Maud had never summoned up courage to inform her what it was, nor had
Felicia chosen to inquire. It was rather agitating, accordingly, that
Felicia should now be about to have an opportunity of judging for
herself how matters stood.

Then Sutton arrived, too suffering from his wound to be moved except in
a palanquin; and was got, with a great deal of trouble and pain
apparently, to the sofa in Vernon's study, which was turned into his
sitting-room for the time being, and where the invalid was to spend the
day. Here he lay, a close prisoner, as feeble as a bad wound and a
month's fever could make him, and quite in a condition for judicious
nursing. A man in such a plight wants company--pleasant, gentle,
noiseless, unexciting, feminine if possible; he wants to be read to, and
sung and played to; he wants cooling drinks, which, when mixed and
administered by a hand like Felicia's, are more than nectar; he wants
those delicious idle gossips, for which the healthy busy side of life so
seldom provides either the opportunity or the mood. If a man lack these,
an illness is a dreary affair; if he has them, it may bring him the
pleasantest hours of his life.

All these pleasant conditions now attended the fortunate Sutton's
convalescence. Felicia welcomed him with a joyful cordiality and devoted
herself with enthusiasm to the task of making his imprisonment as little
wearisome as might be. Vernon stole an hour from his office to read him
the 'Pall Mall Gazette;' Maud found herself busy with the rest, a
willing attendant on the happy warrior in his hour of weakness.
Everybody made a great deal of him. Felicia's little girls, coming with
much modesty and many blushes, brought him a nosegay apiece and kissed
his hand with a sort of affectionate reverence. His face was wan and
thin, and marked with lines of suffering; but the sweet, kind smile was
still the same, and the honest eyes and finely-chiselled brow. On the
whole Maud found him handsomer and ten times more touching than ever
before. She knew, too, before they had been a minute in each other's
company that all was well with her. The time of separation, uncertainty,
distress, was done: happiness, greater than she had ever dreamed of, was
already hers. Her foot stood already on the crowning ridge of existence,
and all the horizon blazed with the golden clouds of Hope and Joy.

One effect that Sutton always had upon her she was especially conscious
of just now: she had no feeling of shyness with him, such as she felt
with all the world beside; he stirred her being too profoundly for any
slighter feeling to find a place. Shyness deals with the superficial,
slighter outcomings of life. Sutton seemed to transport her to another
world of thought and feeling: thoughts too high and feelings too intense
to heed the mode of their expression. The consequence was, that it
seemed quite natural to Maud for her to be waiting on him; who had so
good a right as she to that pleasant duty?

Then presently Felicia went away with the children, and the two were
again, for the first time, alone together.

'Come,' Sutton said, changing his manner instantly, 'sit down by me and
tell me all that has happened since we parted on the mountain's side.
You missed me a little, I hope?'

'Yes,' said Maud, simply, looking at him with fearless, trusting eyes;
'your going was the end of all our pleasure--we went away to the Gully,
and then came your accident and some dreadful days of anxiety. Since
then everything has seemed a sort of dream.'

'It has seemed a dream to me sometimes,' said Sutton, 'as I lay and
wondered whether the happiness I fancied for myself was real or fable.
Things befall one so suddenly in life, and strokes of good or ill
fortune take one so by surprise, that one distrusts one's own belief
about them, and cannot fancy that the old life which went before has
been all transfigured. Now, however, that I see you and hear you and
have you about me, I begin to feel it was not a dream after all.'

'It was no dream,' said Maud, in her serious way; 'here is your locket,
which I have been keeping for you since we parted.'

'No,' said the other, giving back the proffered locket and keeping the
hand which gave it in captivity; 'you shall keep it now, if you will,
for good and all; that is, if you have a fancy for an old soldier,
wounded and battered as you see me. Here I shall be for weeks, I
suppose, a burden on the friends who are good-natured enough to be my
nurses. You will have to tend me, as Elaine did Launcelot in his cave.'

'I will,' Maud said, wrapped into a mood which left her scarcely
mistress of herself; 'my love is as great as hers was. I have been
living all these weeks only that I might see you again. I must have died
if you had not come back, or come back other than I hoped.'

The die was cast--the words were spoken; they came out naturally,
spontaneously, almost unconsciously before Maud had time to know what
she was about, or to judge of the wisdom and propriety of what she was
saying. They were the truth; they were what she had been feeling and
saying to herself for weeks past; they were the true outcoming of her
honest heart; and yet no sooner were they spoken than Maud felt an awful
conviction that they had better have been left unsaid; they were more,
far more, than anything which had been said on Sutton's part to her. Was
it wrong, unwomanly, indecorous, thus to have declared herself and torn
the veil from her feelings without waiting for a lover's hand to remove
it? The thought rushed in upon her with an agonizing distinctness; the
blood came rushing to her cheeks and forehead; her very hand which
Sutton was holding in his own, emaciated and bloodless, was blushing
too. She could say nothing, she could do nothing but stay, helpless,
having made her confession, and wait for Sutton to rescue her.

As he lay there, holding her hand in his, clasping it with a firm,
tender grasp, which seemed to be expressive of all she wanted, Felicia
came into the room. Maud stood there, scarlet, and moved not, nor did
Sutton seem inclined that she should.

'Felicia,' he said, 'you are the good angel of us both, and this moment
would have been incomplete without you. Maud has just consented to
become my wife.'

Felicia took Maud to her arms in a sort of rapture of happiness; her
heart was too full for speech. It was a delightful relief from the
anxiety and distress which had been weighing upon her all the summer and
which had of late grown into an acute pang. She felt grateful to both
parties, who had at last brought about the result for which she had
wished so anxiously and of which she had somehow begun to despair.

Maud, on her part, felt it natural that Sutton should, at a trying
emergency, have protected her skilfully, considerately, efficiently from
the embarrassment into which her outspokenness had betrayed her; it was
like himself to do so, and typical of the sort of feeling of confidence
with which he always inspired her. There was a delightful sense of
safety and protection in being with him. How should her heart not beat
high at the thought that this safety and protection would evermore be
hers!



CHAPTER XXVI.

DESVOEUX IN DESPAIR.

                  All through, love
    Protested in a world of ways save one
    Hinting at marriage----


The news of Maud's engagement was naturally a congenial topic for gossip
in Dustypore. The romantic circumstances under which it had come about
lent themselves readily to the superaddition of any details, necessary,
in the teller's opinion, in order to bring the story to the correct
pitch of embellishment. Everybody considered Maud a lucky girl; some
cynics remarked that once again Sutton had shown himself the most
courageous of mankind; and Mrs. Vereker said, sentimentally, that she
feared poor Desvoeux would _this time_ be really broken-hearted. There
was some satire lurking in the words 'this time,' because the present
occasion was by no means the first on which the same sort of thing had
occurred. Desvoeux's was one of those inconveniently adjusted
temperaments to which no woman is completely delightful till she has
become unattainable. His relations to the opposite sex did not as a
general rule appear to involve anything of a seriously pathetic order;
but no sooner was a girl engaged to some one else than he awoke to the
terrible discovery that he was deeply in love with her himself and
deeply aggrieved by her betrothal to another. He was known not to be a
marrying man; he made no secret of his dislike of matrimony as an
institution; still he greatly resented other people's marriages.
Whenever any ladies of his acquaintance got married he used to send them
the most lovely bridal presents, with beautiful little gilt-edged notes
on the finest satin paper, politely intimating that he was
broken-hearted. Sometimes his feelings were too much for prose and his
melancholy would break out into epigrammatic versicles; sometimes the
gift bore only an inscription eloquent in its reticence--'_Le don d'un
triste célibataire_,' or '_Avec un soupir_.' The presents, however, were
so very pretty (for Desvoeux's tastes were of the extravagant order),
that their fair recipients, for the most part, were glad enough to take
them, sighs, poetry and all, without inquiring too rigidly into the
giver's actual frame of mind. As most of the young ladies who had for
some years past been married at Dustypore had experienced something of
the sort, they probably compared notes and reassured each other as to
the probability of a disease, from which Desvoeux had already more than
once recovered, not proving fatal on any subsequent occasion.

Maud's engagement, however, touched Desvoeux more nearly than any
previous blow of the same description. Her joyous, childish beauty, the
readiness of her wit, the quickness of her replies, the great fun which
they always had whenever Fortune was kind enough to throw them together,
Maud's unconcealed appreciation of himself, despite the coquettish airs
in which she now and then indulged; the ready frankness which invited
intimacy so pleasantly--all had gone deep into Desvoeux's heart, and he
had grown to feel a sort of proprietorship in them, which it vexed him
terribly to feel suddenly at an end. He felt certain that Maud liked him
very much; and certain, doubly certain now, that he intensely admired
her. No one else, he felt bitterly, had an equal right to do so. That
Sutton, too, should be the fortunate rival made defeat all the bitterer.
Sutton's good qualities were precisely those which Desvoeux could least
appreciate; his military prowess did not impress him in the least; his
chivalry touched no corresponding chord; his ideas of duty seemed
pedantic, his feelings about women an anachronism.

If there was one thing in which it was especially irritating that such a
man should have carried the day, it was in the ascendancy over women,
which Desvoeux considered as his especial forte. He piqued himself not a
little on his knowledge of the sex, his insight into their weaknesses,
his experienced tact in dealing with them to the best account. He had
established what he considered a perfectly satisfactory footing with
Maud, and had spent no little time, trouble, and sentiment in the
process. It was a cruel humiliation to be rudely displaced from this
agreeable eminence by a mere commonplace soldier, who had lived all his
life in a camp and talked about women like a child.

Women are, Desvoeux came bitterly to feel, inscrutable, and the
cleverest or stupidest of mankind alike puppets in their hands when they
have a passion to gratify or a secret to conceal. Anyhow, the news of
Maud's engagement set his heart a-beating and sent his spirits down to
zero. He was dining with the officers in the Fort when the announcement
was made. One of them had been calling at the Vernons', and had heard
the interesting fact from Felicia's own lips. 'Honneur aux braves!'
cried Desvoeux, with ostentatious merriment, tossing off his glass;
'here's to their very good healths.' He was an adept at concealing his
feelings, but a near observer might have seen that his hand trembled so
that it was with difficulty he could carry his glass to his lips, and
that, despite his jovial tones, he had turned deadly pale.

'I am glad she has come into the Army, at any rate,' said some one.

'Of course,' said Desvoeux; 'it is the old story. "J'aime beaucoup les
militaires." What chance have we poor civilians when a red jacket is in
the field?'

'And what, pray,' said one of the guests, a new arrival, 'is the lady's
name?'

Desvoeux had risen from the table, and was moving towards the
billiard-room. 'Her name,' he said, stopping in the act of lighting a
cigar, 'is that of the rest of her sex--frailty.'

'Desvoeux is hard hit this time,' observed one of a little knot who
lingered behind the rest over their wine; 'he really loved her.'

'Fiddlededee!' said another. 'Desvoeux love her, indeed!'

'He will have to drop all that now,' observed a third; 'Sutton would
wring his neck for him or pitch him out of the window, if he as much as
dared look at her!'

The fact, however, was that, conceal it as he would, Desvoeux was hard
hit. His usual expedient of buying a handsome wedding present and
writing the lady some poetry quite broke down. Maud's bright eyes and
glowing cheeks, her beautiful upper lip--now full of pretty scorn, now
melting into a smile that was sweetness itself--haunted him in his
dreams. He lit his pipe, he raged about the room, he denounced the
perfidy of womankind, he read all the most horrible passages in all the
worst French novels in his possession, he quoted all the fiercest
cynicism of Chamfort and Rochefoucauld in vain; there was Maud,
enthroned unquestioned mistress of his heart, and it was labour lost to
endeavour to displace her.

In course of time Desvoeux lashed himself into a highly uncomfortable
state of mind and became perfectly convinced that Maud had treated him
most cruelly. Accordingly, when next they met, his appearance was
suggestive of a Byronic gloom of the very deepest dye; his handkerchief
was tied with the negligence which spoke of shattered hopes, and his
general demeanour was that of a man for whom the world was over. Maud
was really in consternation at her friend's metamorphosis and felt
herself growing inconveniently shy. She was conscious of an instinctive
apprehension that Desvoeux was going to bring about a scene. His face of
martyrdom was a study in the completeness of its woe.

'You expect me to wish you joy,' he said, 'and so I do. May all bright
things attend you wherever you go, and wherever you are! The news of
your engagement surprised and hurt me, of course.'

'Surprised and hurt you, Mr. Desvoeux!' cried Maud, with increased
alarm, 'I can't think why it should do that or why you should look so
very odd and--untidy.'

'Cannot you?' cried the other, stalking about the room and fanning the
flame of his excitement; 'I suppose not; you women are all so
heartless.'

'No, we are not,' said Maud; 'and if we were, I do not see that you, of
all people in the world, have any right to complain. Come now, tell me
what is the matter. Has the Agent been scolding you?'

'The Agent!' cried Desvoeux, in tones of the profoundest disgust; 'you
little traitress, don't you know as well as possible that there is only
one thing in the world that could really hurt me, and that you have done
it?'

'I!' exclaimed Maud, in horror. 'I'm sure I am very sorry. You must try
and forget me.'

'Try and fly to the moon!' said Desvoeux; 'I shall remember you all my
life, to my cost, as the most bewitching little piece of mischief in
existence. Why am I so unfortunate? I wish to goodness I had never seen
you.'

'I am sure,' said Maud, fervently, 'I wish to goodness you never had,
since it makes you so unhappy. But remember, if you please, that I had
no idea of what you were feeling. You never told me, you know.'

'Who was to guess that Sutton would be so abominably precipitate? I
thought he was safe with his soldiers and out of harm's way. Besides, I
told you! Why, you knew as well as possible that I adored you. Don't you
remember how I squeezed your hand at the last Government House ball?'

'And don't you remember,' cried Maud, indignantly, 'how I refused to
dance a single round dance with you all the evening in consequence, and
only gave you a Lancers to prevent your being laughed at?'

'I only wish you could feel my heart beating,' said Desvoeux, feeling
that interesting organ, and apparently horrified at its activity.

'That is because you will go stamping about the room in that absurd way
instead of sitting still and talking quietly. Come now, Mr. Desvoeux,
come and sit down and wish me joy kindly and pleasantly, or I never will
speak to you again.'

'Little tyrant!' said the other, doing as he was bid as meekly as could
be wished; 'and to think that you should be growing lovelier every day
and more charming, if possible, and all for Sutton! Speak to me, indeed!
Why, you will not dare open your mouth for fear of a scandal. Sutton
will make you cut me, you will see, as an old admirer.'

'Indeed,' said Maud, upon whom Desvoeux's flattery always told with some
effect, 'I have not the slightest intention of giving up my old friends.
Why should I? Only you will not make love to me, of course.'

'Oh, of course not,' said the other, with a laugh. 'But tell me now, are
you not a wee bit sorry for a poor fellow who is breaking his heart
about you?'

'Breaking his fiddlestick!' cried Maud, bursting out laughing. 'Why, Mr.
Desvoeux, you don't, I assure you, know what you say. It is very kind of
you to like me, and admire me, and so forth, and I am very much
obliged.'

'Don't, don't, for heaven's sake, talk like that,' cried the other; 'it
is not kind of me at all to be over head and ears in love with you, but
just my misfortune. But, tell me: they teased you into it, did they
not?'

'Teased me into it!' cried Maud, tossing her head indignantly; 'how
little you know!'

'Yes,' said the other, positively, 'it is obvious. You are an
orphan--you have that sweet, interesting, dependent look that orphans
have; and Mrs. Vernon made it up; set Sutton to flirt with you;
everybody observed that much last summer; and then, no doubt, told you
that you had been flirting and were bound to accept him. Why didn't you
pluck up heart of grace and say "No"?'

'Because I plucked up heart of grace to say "Yes." Do you think that
Colonel Sutton is a sort of man who needs any one to help his wooing?'

'I do,' said Desvoeux, with provoking persistency, 'and Mrs. Vernon gave
him every assistance. I only wish she would have done half as much for
me.'

'Well, then,' cried Maud in a passion, 'if you must know, it was I that
proposed to him--not he to me; and I adore the tip of his little finger
more than all the other men and women in the world. Now do you think
they teased me into it?'

'No; but if you begin with so much enthusiasm you will come to dislike
him very much before long. His little finger indeed! And here am I left
out in the cold! What am I to do?'

'Write and consult Mrs. Vereker,' said Maud. From which unfeeling remark
it may be inferred that she believed less in Desvoeux's
broken-heartedness than he was inclined to do himself.

'Well,' said her companion, with a resigned air, which Maud felt had a
touch of reproachful dignity in it, 'laugh at me as you will. I love
you, and always shall.'

'Nonsense!' said Maud. 'Here comes my cousin. I have a great mind to
tell her, and get her to comfort you.'

The interview was over. Maud had stuck to her programme, which was to
treat Desvoeux with an airy indifference and his protestations with
ostentatious disbelief. Nevertheless his words were not without effect.
Had she been less inexperienced Maud would have known that she had
allowed him to leave off in a most dangerous position; that of an
admirer whose homage was sufficiently congenial to be allowed a hearing;
whom it was within her power to have at any moment at her feet, and who,
whether rightly or wrongly, felt he had some show of right to be
aggrieved and disappointed at her declared preference for another man.

There was another person, however, besides Desvoeux to whom the news of
Maud's engagement gave a serious shock.

One of Sutton's first acts, after Maud and he had mutually ascertained
each other's views, was to scribble a line to Boldero, announcing the
joyful event; and he had done so, too full of his own happiness to pay
much attention, even had he known more than he did, to the view his
friend might take of it. All that he knew was that Boldero, like all
the world, was a great admirer of his future wife. This was but natural,
and Sutton without the least misgiving accepted the position. 'My dear
old boy,' he wrote, 'you will, I know, be pleased to hear a good piece
of news of me, to make up for my bad luck the other day. Come over as
soon as you can and wish me joy. Meanwhile, remember, of course, that
you must be my groomsman.'

'His groomsman!' Boldero sat, pale and speechless and stunned by the
sudden overthrow of all his hopes. The day-dream of his existence was
ended by this stern awakening. Life--all that part of life, at least,
which is worth living--was, he felt bitterly, over for him. It was, to
use Heine's expressive figure, as if some one had climbed up a celestial
ladder, rolled up the bright blue sky and taken down the sun. Only the
dismal scaffolding, the dust, the gloom remained. Maud, though she had
never quite encouraged him to hope, had never bidden him despair, and
figured, we may be certain, the lovely chatelaine of all his castles in
the air. He found out now to his cost how full his thoughts had been of
her. And now it was all over. His pleasant hope lay shattered on the
ground. The blow was hard to bear; none the easier, perhaps, that it was
his dearest friend's hand that struck it.

Being, however, a man of pluck and determination, he sat down
courageously, wrote a cheery note of congratulation to the fortunate
winner of the prize, promised his services as groomsman or anything else
which Sutton wished, and then ordered his horse and rode twenty miles to
an outlying village, where there was a troublesome boundary dispute to
be settled, which he had had in his eye for weeks past as wanting a
visit from the Collector.



CHAPTER XXVII.

CHRISTMAS AT DUSTYPORE.

    Truth is the strong thing. Let man's life be true--
    And love's the truth of mine--time prove the rest!


Christmas had arrived, and Christmas was a festival observed at
Dustypore with all the emphasis proper to men who had carried their
Lares and Penates beneath a foreign sky, and were treasuring in alien
regions the sacred fire of the paternal hearth.

The weather was cold enough to realise all that English tradition
requires as 'seasonable' in the way of climate. For weeks past, great
bullock-carts, piled high with gnarled heaps of jungle-wood, had been
creaking along the dusty tracks from the outlying villages and supplying
the Station with materials for Christmas-fires of appropriate
magnificence. The air was deliciously clear, crisp and invigorating: the
searching wind came with its breath frozen from the Elysian snows and
left a hoary rime on all the country's face. English habits began to
resume their sway: people were glad to forego the morning ride, and came
down to breakfast at half-past nine with red noses and blue fingers
and--romantic reminiscence of European life--extremely bad colds in
their heads.

Dustypore surrendered itself to holiday-making. The Salt Board suspended
its sittings. The vehement Blunt, finding that no work was to be got out
of any one for love or money, started off into the country with his
rifle after black-buck and jungle-partridges. The courts were closed for
a fortnight, and judges and collectors devoted themselves to sweeping
off long arrears of morning calls. Contingents of visitors from all the
surrounding out-stations came pouring in to share the festivities: every
house was full and more than full; for, by the hospitable usages of
India, when your spare rooms are filled you order tents to be pitched in
the garden, and enlarge your encampment as each new guest arrives. An
Indian house is, therefore, viewed as to its capacities for hospitality,
extremely elastic, and just now every house in Dustypore had its
elasticity tested to the uttermost. Felicia was renowned as a hostess;
and there were half-a-dozen friends whose winter holiday would have lost
half its charm if spent anywhere but beneath her roof. There was a
mixture of joyousness and pathos in these Christmas gatherings which
suited her temperament exactly, and showed her in her sweetest, most
attractive mood. Her guests invariably went away with cheered spirits
and lightened hearts and a little store of remembered kindness to last
them through the dreary months to come. Nor was Felicia alone in her
good intentions. Everybody set about keeping Christmas with heroic
good-nature. The Agent gave a ball in the state apartments in the Fort.
The Dustypore Hunt had a home meet and a lunch. The 'Tent Club'
organised a pig-sticking expedition for the keener sportsmen. The
volunteers had a gala-day, and were formed into a hollow square and
panegyrised by the General of the Division on their loyalty and
discipline. Everybody attempted something for the edification of
everybody else.

The Vernons gave some private theatricals, and Felicia and Maud made a
great success as Portia and Nerissa in the 'Merchant of Venice.'
Desvoeux, who was entrusted with the part of Shylock, heroically shaved
off his moustache and transformed himself into the most frightful of old
Israelites, with a hook-nose and beard of diabolical aspect. The way in
which he rolled his eyes when Gratiano exclaimed 'Now, infidel, I have
thee on the hip!' had twice caused Maud to explode in irrepressible
laughter at rehearsals and very nearly caused a break-down among the
actors at the final performance. Altogether it was very like home, and
very pleasant, as all the party felt.

These Indian festivities are, perhaps, none the less festive, and
certainly the more touching, for the fact that at least half the
holiday-makers have a dark, sad corner in their hearts which has to be
hidden from the world's eye and to be ignored in the common intercourse
of life. Separation is the dark cloud which hangs over an Indian
existence: husbands and wives, mothers and children, forced asunder,
perhaps at the very time when union is most delightful, and living (how
maimed and sad a life!) in the absence of all that is best-beloved. They
put a brave face upon it, but the heartache is there all the same. What
a strong pulse of love and tenderness and sorrow goes throbbing week by
week across half the world from the wives and children at home to the
lonely exile, struggling bravely with his fate in the far-off Indian
station: what dear, ill-spelt, round-hand, stupid letters, which yet are
wept over with such passionate pleasure and treasured with such pious
care! People have a cheap tariff for telegraphing back to India their
safe arrival in England, with a rupee extra for saying that the
traveller 'is better.' What a story it tells of anxious men in India
toiling over work, with their hearts far away with the shattered,
invalid lady or flickering child's life, carried away to cool regions in
hopes of saving it!

Take, for instance, little Major Storks, who was stage-manager for the
Vernons' theatricals and sang a comic song between the acts. He is a
grizzly, wizen, well-tanned, wiry little fellow, but has, under that
rough exterior, as brave and tender a heart as ever beat. He is in
charge of the Rumble Chunder Canal and bestows on it all a lover's
assiduity: for it he thinks, he writes, he plans, he labours early and
late: he rides about in the most demented fashion until the sun has
dried him up into a perfect mummy. He knows the Canal's ways and
manners--how much water it ought to pour per second; how much it _does_
pour; which of the bridges are infirm; where the silt is accumulating;
where the water is being wasted or stolen. He drives his subordinates
frantic by a zeal in which they cannot participate and a thoroughness
which they cannot shirk. To the world outside he seems the merest
drudge. To-day, however, he is in paradise. It is Christmas morning and
the mail has brought him a goodly budget of letters, all redolent of
home and tender conjugal love, and--precious alleviation of
exile--photographs of half-a-dozen little Storks. He sits now, with all
his family before him, with tears of joyful satisfaction in his eyes.
What comely lads! what sweet, ingenuous little girls! what dear,
familiar looks, the legacy of a youth that has passed away, greeting him
from every little portrait! In a moment Storks' soul quits its shabby
tenement of clay and its hot surroundings, and is away in England with
wife and children--the wife, whose heart has ached for many a dreary
year of separation--the children, who have been taught to love him with
a sort of romantic piety, all the more for being far away--the pleasant,
cool, idle life in England, which lies afar off, a sort of Promised
Land, if ever his long, rough task in India can get itself performed.
Then, in the fulness of his heart, he will put on his shabby uniform and
order round his shabby dogcart, and go and show his treasures to
Felicia, who will, he knows, have a quick sympathy for his pleasure and
his pain; and when the two act in a charade that night, each will know
that all is not as merry as it seems, but that, under a stoical
calmness, lie thoughts and hopes and pangs which stir the very depths of
man's being, and which require all the help that sympathy and kindliness
can give.

The last and most interesting occasion of the holidays was one in which
Sutton and Maud played a leading part. Sutton had a two months'
Inspection march before him, and no better sort of honeymoon could be
desired. The country through which they were to go was wild but very
picturesque. Sutton's duties would never take him away for more than a
few hours; and camp life is idyllic in its freedom, unconstraint and
tranquillity. Existence has something charming about it when each
morning's ride takes you through new scenes to a new home, in which you
live as comfortably for the next twenty-four hours as if you had been
there all your life. Maud was in rapture at the prospect, nor was her
happiness lessened by the arrival of the most perfect Arab to be found
in Bombay--her husband's wedding gift to her--on which her long journey
was to be performed. To Sutton these weeks seemed the fitting threshold
of the new and brighter existence into which he was about to pass. Each
day Maud bound herself closer to his heart by some sweet act or word,
some unstudied outpouring of devotion, childish in its simplicity and
unconsciousness, but womanly in its serious strength; some sympathetic
note which vibrated harmoniously to his inmost soul. 'To be with you,
dear,' he said, 'is like travelling through a lovely mountain country,
where each turn in the road opens up a fresh delight: you charm me in
some new fashion every hour.'

To this sort of remark Maud had no need of any other reply than that
easiest and most natural of all to feminine lips, which dispenses with
the necessity of spoken words. Her kisses were, we may be certain,
eloquent enough to Sutton's heart, irradiated for the first time with a
woman's love and beating high with a courageous joyfulness and hope.

By the end of January Sutton was well enough to be emancipated from the
pleasant thraldom of an invalid's sofa; nor could his march be any
longer delayed. One afternoon, accordingly, the little world of
Dustypore assembled to see the brave soldier and the beautiful girl made
man and wife. Boldero came in from the District and performed his part
as groomsman with creditable stoicism. No one--Maud and Sutton least of
all--had the least idea that he was assisting at the sacrifice of all
his hopes.

Desvoeux preserved his tragic demeanour to the last, presented Maud with
a diamond pendant which must have gone far into his quarter's income,
and refused obstinately to return thanks for the bridesmaids--a task
which was traditionally assigned to him in Dustypore, and which, on all
ordinary occasions, he accepted with alacrity and performed with
success.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

MORNING CLOUDS.

    ----The little rift within the lute----


Sutton brought back his bride in April, all the better, as it appeared,
in health and spirits for her two months' expedition. The beautiful rose
of her cheeks had a tinge of brown which spoke only of healthy exercise
in the open air. Everybody pronounced her prettier, brighter and more
charming than ever. She was in the highest spirits to be back, and
Sutton seemed pleased to bring her and to be once more amongst old
friends.

To all who saw them, except Felicia's observant eye, they seemed
everything which a newly-wedded pair should wish to be. But Felicia felt
less confident of their happiness. Whether Maud's letters had
unconsciously sounded a little note of distress, or whether it was that
she knew both their natures so well and how they ought to harmonise,
that the least approach to discord caught her ear--something, at any
rate, made her aware of the existence of a subtle disquietude between
Maud and her husband. The discovery, or rather the suspicion, filled her
with a distress which she attempted in vain to ignore. She found herself
joining languidly and insincerely in the chorus of gratulation which the
Dustypore community set up over the happy couple. When Mrs. Vereker came
to call, rustling in the loveliest of new dresses, and poured out a
little stream of gossiping remarks--how pretty it was to see them
together, and what a charming lover Sutton made, and was not Maud a
picture of a girl-wife?--Felicia responded with a coldness which puzzled
her visitor and which Felicia was conscious of trying in vain to
conceal. Something, her fine instinct told her, was amiss. One alarming
symptom was the obvious relief which Maud found in her society, and the
profuse tenderness and affection which she displayed whenever there was
no one else to see. She lavished on her a sort of unconscious fondness,
for which Felicia looked in vain in her behaviour to her husband. With
him her affection seemed constrained, conscious, too deferential to be
natural and happy. There was about Maud, when she and Felicia were alone
together, a joyous self-abandonment to animal high spirits, which was
for ever flowing out into some pretty childish act of fun or affection,
but which vanished at the appearance of Sutton or any other onlooker.
She became a girl again--she sang, she danced, she got into the wildest
games with the children--she let off her excitement and mirth in a
thousand natural acts. Then Jem would come in, and it all seemed to die
away. When visitors arrived, and Felicia had presently more on her hands
than was at all to her taste, Maud would seem to enjoy it and to get
amused and interested; then, as the door closed upon the strangers, she
would come and throw her arms round Felicia and caress her, as if her
one feeling about the visit was that it had been an inconvenient
restraint on love which was wanting every moment to express itself in
some outspoken fashion; 'I love you the best, the best of all,' she
would say impetuously.

'Of all women,' Felicia put in.

'Of all women and of all men too, except Jem,' Maud answered; 'yes, and
I believe I love you better even than Jem; anyhow, I love you.'

More than once, too, Felicia detected little manoeuvres on Maud's part
to walk or drive with her and to quit her husband's society in order to
do so. Altogether Felicia felt frightened, anxious and sad about her
friends: and Vernon, who always knew her melancholy moods and could
generally guess their cause, in vain endeavoured to console her with the
assurance that all was right and that Sutton's had been a wise and happy
choice.

The truth was that the march had not been altogether a success. A great
authority on such matters has said that people often endanger the
permanent happiness of married life by putting too severe a strain upon
it at its outset. Now a two-month's _tête-à-tête_ is a serious strain.
Life wants something besides mere affection to make it run smoothly: it
wants the ease and comfort of familiarity, the freedom of tastes
ascertained to be congenial, the pleasant usages of common action. The
first year of wedded life is, no doubt, a series of experiments in
getting on; two wheels, however nicely fitted, are likely to rub a
little at some point of contact or other. And then Paradise itself would
lose its charm if it were all the same; and the days on Maud's first
journey had a distracting resemblance. Her eyes ached with the
interminable horizon of dust and sand, the scrubby brushwood, the lonely
crumbling tomb, the rare clumps of palms, the scuffling, bellowing herds
of cattle. Sutton's cook, whom his master in his simple tastes believed
a prodigy of culinary skill, used to send up the same dishes with
depressing monotony, and, do what she would, Maud could not like them.
Then some marches were over terribly rough ground, and her Arab made
stumbles that took her breath away, though she was ashamed to say so.
But it was not the little things which really mattered. Her husband's
very nobility of nature oppressed her. A hundred times she had felt how
good he was, how true, how really great, how chivalrous in his devotion,
how tenderly considerate, and yet--and yet--something more unheroic
would perhaps have been sometimes a relief. When the most ineffably
stupid young officers rode across from some neighbouring station and
plunged with cheerful volubility into the gossip of last season at
Elysium, there was, Maud felt, something welcome in the humbler
companion and the more trivial theme. Then, too, the solitary days
oppressed her. Sutton had often outlying posts to visit and would
accomplish them by starting off three or four hours before Maud was
awake and making a _detour_, so as to meet her at their new
halting-place at breakfast. On these mornings Maud had the company of an
escort of troopers, her greyhound Punch, and her own thoughts, which
were apt to get gloomy. Even Punch, she fancied, thought it a bore, and
went along in a dejected fashion. Sometimes Sutton's work could not be
so quickly disposed of, and he would be detained till the evening, and
then the solitary day seemed sad and interminably long. More than once
the tears had come unbidden to her eyes. Did Sutton forget her? Never
for an instant, her heart told her clearly enough; but he did not
perhaps sufficiently realise the wants and wishes, the flickering,
uncertain spirits, the wayward moods, the causeless melancholy of one
who, though invested with the dignities of womanhood, was in character
and powers in reality still a child.

Then, though Sutton was never in the slightest degree imperative, and
though her every spoken wish was law, Maud was conscious sometimes of
being kept in better order than she liked and being forced up to a
standard which was inconveniently high. Her husband spoke little of his
tastes; no word from him ever assumed the resemblance of a command; yet
Maud not unfrequently felt that a secret pressure was constraining her
to something that was not exactly congenial; she knew with an almost
distressing distinctness what her husband liked and disliked, and the
knowledge was something of a burden. She was conscious when she hurt
him; sometimes from mere waywardness she chose to do it, but she hurt
herself in the process as much as him. She had given him her heart and
made him all her world, and was glad to have done so. None the less
there was sometimes an undefined pang about her self-devotion; she
became restless, anxious, uncertain in her moods, and the tears seemed
to lie near the surface and would spring to light, in unwary moments, at
trifles too slight to cause their flow.

Then on some matters her husband's tastes and hers were by no means in
harmony. On one occasion Desvoeux had seized the opportunity of the
Agent's camp being in the neighbourhood and had ridden across and
travelled a couple of marches with them. Maud had looked forward to
seeing him with pleasure and greeted his arrival with marked animation.
The visit turned out as pleasant as she had expected; but the pleasure
was marred by a secret conviction of her husband's disapproval. Nothing
could quench Desvoeux's light-heartedness or impede the easy flow of his
amusing small-talk. Sutton, however, did not seem to find it amusing,
and assumed, quite unconsciously, a dignified air, which Maud felt to be
rather awful, though Desvoeux was, as usual, imperturbable in his
gaiety. His spirits, however, were better, and she was more at her ease
to be infected by them when Sutton was not by. It vexed her to the heart
to know that it was so, but so she knew it was.

The morning that Desvoeux went away was one of Sutton's busy days, and
Maud was alone when their guest bade her farewell. 'Good-bye,' she said,
with a sort of sigh; 'how I wish you could have stopped and ridden with
me this morning! I shall be alone all day and feel that I am going to
have a fit of low spirits.'

'And so am I,' said Desvoeux, 'a very bad fit indeed, which will last
till next time we meet. Good-bye.'

Maud saw him turning pale, as he used to do when he got excited, and
heard the eager tremble in his voice. He held her hand for an instant as
if he could not bear to give it up, and looked at her with a look that
was earnest and reproachful and, Maud felt, very, very sad. Then
Desvoeux had left without another word, but how eloquent may silence
sometimes be!

Was she smiling or crying, and did she really want his company; and was
she neglected and miserable? Desvoeux had galloped away with his heart
in a tumult from queries such as these, cursing the cruel fate which
obliged him to be at his master's camp, full thirty miles away, with
endless boxes of despatches ready for disposal before to-morrow morning.

Thus it was that Maud's early married life had not been without its
morning clouds and sorrows. Then, as people do when they are unhappy,
casting about for a cause of her unhappiness, she began to reproach
herself. The old doubts of her fitness, her worthiness for her position,
her power to retain her husband's love, began to haunt her. 'Ah me!' she
sometimes felt inclined to cry, 'I fear that I am no true wife.' And yet
she knew that, not even if her inmost thoughts were read, could she
bring any charge of doubtful love or allegiance against herself.
Sutton's men had, she had often heard, begun to worship him when his
exploits in the Mutiny had raised their enthusiasm to its height. Maud
felt that she could understand the feeling; in fact, she did worship him
with all her being. But then worship is not all that is wanted for a
happy married life. Maud, at any rate, felt it delightful to be with
Felicia once again.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE HILL CAMP.

    And hope to joy is little less in joy
    Than hope enjoyed----


Maud soon lost sight of her troubled spirits in Felicia's society. Her
doubts about her happiness in married life were forgotten in the midst
of pleasures which pleased Sutton no less than herself. Her devotion to
Felicia was a sentiment which her husband thoroughly understood and
cordially approved.

'I used to be finely jealous of her, Jem, I can tell you, in old days,'
Maud would say to him, 'and to think you liked her twenty times better
than some one else; and indeed I am not sure that I am not jealous now;
only I am so much in love with her myself that I do not feel it.'

'Jealous!' Sutton would plead. 'Felicia is like a sister to me. It was
she, I believe, who first hit out the brilliant idea of our being
married.'

'Was it?' said Maud blushing. 'I fancied that happy thought had been my
own. Well, Jem, if you never flirt with any one but her I will forgive
you, because in my opinion she is an angel.'

The pleasant visit ended. Sutton had to go off to his camp, a tiny hill
station some three thousand feet above the sea, and therefore, as its
enemies declared, combining all the drawbacks of hill and plain. Here
they were to stay till June, when Sutton was to have his leave and to
take his bride up to Elysium for the rest of the summer. Even this
prospect had not enabled Maud to bear the parting from her friend with
equanimity. 'I wish--I wish,' she had said, wistfully, with the tears in
her eyes--'what do I wish? If only, dear Felicia, I could never go away
from you!' Felicia bade her farewell with an aching heart, and some dark
misgivings. They were not to meet at Elysium, for this year she had
determined to establish her children in their little mountain abode at
the 'Gully' and to divide her time between them and her husband till he
could come up and join them. Then they had resolved to take a little
march into the interior, where Felicia might get some new sketches and
enlarge her stock of ferns; while Vernon might have a few days'
shooting, unharassed by a pursuing train of official cares and
correspondence.

The Hill Camp proved a fearful place; worse, far worse, than anything
on the march. It was only to be endured till June, happily, but still it
looked terrific. The long lines of huts; the horrible little abodes
which were honoured by the title of Officers' Quarters; the gaunt,
hideous, treeless hills; the valleys blazing and withered, the dry,
blistering scene uncheered by a single streamlet; the dusty plateau,
where the soldiers were eternally marching, galloping, cannonading--all
the outer world seemed dull, parched, repulsive. There was no other lady
in the camp but one, the surgeon's wife, large and dark and hot, and, as
Maud felt, horribly realising one's ideas of an ogress. This lady used
to come and see her, and sit gossiping and questioning and telling long
stories, and shaking a great bird of paradise feather in her head, till
she made Maud's life a burthen to her. Then, after about three of these
visitations, which Maud imagined that she had endured with angelic
sweetness, the lady, for some inscrutable cause, took offence, and when
next they met out of doors flung up her head, brandished the bird of
paradise feather in the most menacing and defiant manner, and had
evidently proclaimed a social war of an altogether implacable order.

'O Jem! what _have_ I done?' said Maud with a shudder, as she passed.

'Something unforgivable evidently,' said Sutton; 'we must make peace at
once, because Surgeon Crummins could poison us all, if he pleased, next
time we happen to be poorly and to fall into his hands. Let us have them
to dinner.'

So the irascible lady and the surgeon had to be asked to dinner; and
dull and stiff and wearisome the dinner proved, and Maud's heart sank
within her at the thought that these were to be her companions, and this
the sort of life upon which she was embarked. She loved her husband, but
what a price her love had cost her!

Flashes of brightness, however, break in upon the dreariest lot, and one
cheering feature of this period was the arrival of a most interesting
box from England, containing a highly important supplement to Maud's
original _trousseau_. To take an array of pretty garments for a march of
two months in the jungle had been out of the question, so that Felicia
had determined that all Maud's dresses for the coming summer should not
arrive till the time approached when they would be of use. In May,
accordingly, there came two splendid cases, whose appearance announced
the importance of their contents. Jem professed himself quite as excited
as Maud and set to work at once with chisel and hammer to disinter the
treasures. There is something very delightful in such unpackings--far
from home--the very air within seems English; the silver-paper has a
charming familiar look; each package as it comes out and is revealed
excites a pleasing pang of excitement. And then these boxes were mines
of treasures. There were lovely ball-dresses, lying fresh, unruffled,
ethereal as when they left the artist's hand; and a new habit, which
made Maud feel how shabby hers had grown in her long tour; and a most
charming morning dress, looped up into all sorts of fantastic costumes,
which her prophetic soul told her would look very effective on the lawn
at Government House; and there were hats and bonnets and flowers for the
hair, culled surely by some fairy hand; and amongst the other treasures
was a fine pearl necklace, which old Mrs. Sutton had guarded for many a
year for this especial end, and had at last had reset, and now sent,
with all sorts of fond wishes and blessings, to her dear son's bride.

Sutton insisted on Maud's trying everything on; and Maud, nothing loth,
obeyed.

'Let us send across for Mrs. Crummins,' suggested her husband, 'if this
will not appease her she is a fury.'

Accordingly Maud wrote a little note in great excitement:--'Dear Mrs.
Crummins, _would_ you like to see my new dresses, which have just
arrived?' Mrs. Crummins _would_ like it, of all things, and came across
in about two minutes, under a big umbrella, bird of paradise and all,
and was quite as much pleased as Maud, and plunged with her at once into
mysteries of detail in which Sutton's male mind was incapable of
sympathising. She heaved great sighs of wonder, delight, and
satisfaction as each new treasure came to light, and ended by losing her
heart and kissing Maud quite affectionately in her enthusiasm. 'Indeed
they are very pretty, and so are you, my dear, and, as the surgeon says,
quite a refreshing sight for weary eyes.'

So Maud, who was ever ready for a proclamation of amity, signed peace at
once, and before the week was out she and her new friend were on terms
of the utmost confidence, and had arranged the bird of paradise in the
very latest fashion, as shown in Maud's own hats, so that it really
looked lovely.

The result, however, of all this was, that Maud anticipated Elysium with
greater glee than ever. A pearl necklace, a beautiful satin dress, a
Paris fan with lovely Watteau ladies gliding all about it--well, it was
something to go from day to day and look at these treasures, but the
moment for fruition had not arrived. They would have been quite thrown
away on Sutton's troopers and mule-men, amid the horses and the dust.
Maud's grey habit, plaid dress and broad pith hat, was the only costume
that would not have been ridiculous for the camp. No, the hour for real
enjoyment had not arrived, and patience, as Maud had frequently occasion
to observe, is a virtue easy to preach but hard to practise, when the
present is dull and the expected future a blaze of pleasure.

Then other things had occurred to intensify her anticipation of
enjoyment at Elysium and her wish to go there. Mrs. Vereker had written
her a letter which set her heart beating. 'The Governor-General and I,'
that excellent lady wrote, 'have both arrived, and so the Season may be
said to have begun. Our friends of the Twentieth are here in force and
are going to do wonders in the way of entertainment: everybody says it
is to be _dazzling_. General Beau is here, as adoring as ever. The truth
is, my rose bonnet is rather adorable, so, at least, _mes amis_ inform
me. By the way, that naughty Mr. Desvoeux goes on as absurdly as ever
about "some one," and declares quite seriously that he is
broken-hearted.'

'Silly fellow!' said Maud, and yet it rather pleased her.

'Can you dance a minuet?' the letter went on. 'We are all having
lessons. There is to be one at Government House. General Beau's shrugs
and shakes over it are delicious. Everybody declares that I do it to
perfection--but everybody won't say so when "somebody" arrives and
carries all before her. So you see, my dear, I make hay while the sun
shines, and am not a bit jealous; but come and eclipse me as soon as you
please, for I, too, rather love you.'

Two hot, dusty, weary months had still to pass. Over that dull interval
Maud's imagination travelled, each day with lighter steps, to a paradise
of excitement and delight.



CHAPTER XXX.

TEMPTATION.

    We fell out, my wife and I,
    And kiss'd again with tears.


Such being the state of things at Elysium, and such the state of Maud's
feelings at the camp, imagine her dismay when Sutton came into the room
one morning, with a letter in his hand and a very vexed expression on
his face, and said: 'Is not this a bore, Maud? Here is a letter from the
Chief telling me to go and inspect and report on all the suspected
villages at once and say what force we want. So we cannot go to Elysium
after all.'

'Not go to Elysium!' cried Maud, flushing red and the tears gathering to
her eyes before she had time to check them. It seemed to her, poor
child, the very climax of disappointment.

Her husband kissed her kindly. 'I did not know, dear,' he said, 'that
you would care about it so much. I am such an old salamander myself that
I forget that other people don't enjoy being grilled as much as I do.
But what can be done? These scoundrels--bad luck to them--must be
reported on, and I must get the report finished before my autumn march
begins.'

'It cannot be helped, I suppose,' said Maud, in a tone of despair, and
retreating gloomily to her bedroom; for the tears kept coming fast, and
the news seemed worse and worse each time she realised its import
afresh. No Elysium! No holiday--no change--no charming balls--no
beautiful dresses--no pleasant rides--none of the nice scenes on which
her fancy had dwelt, the prospect of which had cheered her through the
long, dull spring--no bright companions, full of mirth and flattery and
devotion to herself! Alas! alas! Maud felt that her trouble was too
great to bear.

Sutton followed her presently, in a great state of perturbation at her
display of disappointment.

'Come, Maud,' he said kindly, 'cheer up. You shall go and see Felicia if
you like.'

But, alas! Maud's tears had got the mastery of her. A long-pent-up
stream of melancholy had burst and nothing could stop it. She was
inconsolable; the disappointment, in itself a great one, had found her
not too well prepared to bear it. She wept, and would not, or could not,
be comforted.

Sutton was completely disconcerted: to see her in trouble, and not be
able to relieve it, wishing for anything that he could not give,
grieving in this sort of hopeless fashion about what was to him scarcely
more than an annoyance, was a new experience, and one which he was
unprepared to meet. The fact was, though he did not know it, that Maud
had got her head full of nonsense about Elysium. Distance lent
enchantment to the view, especially when the view was taken from the
dusty, stupid camp. Mrs. Vereker's foolish letter sounded bright and
alluring: Desvoeux's merry talk and romantic protestations, how full of
amusement, interest, excitement it all seemed! How unbearably dull in
contrast the life about her! Sutton often absent, often tired and
silent; sometimes sad; never, Maud told herself, anything like amusing.
Yes, it was too vexatious for all the heroism she could bring to bear
upon it: her philosophy broke down.

'I know it is a hard life here,' said her husband, in vain attempts at
consolation; 'it is hot and dull for you. I like it, but then I am used
to it. But what can I do? If only Felicia were at Elysium you might go
up to her.'

'There is Mrs. Vereker,' said Maud, suggestively.

'Mrs. Vereker!' exclaimed Sutton, in consternation; 'you surely'----

'She wrote very kindly the other day,' Maud said, cutting short her
husband's protestation, 'and asked me to stay with her in her cottage.'

'But, Maud, you would not really like to go to her, would you?'

'I should not like to go,' Maud said, 'if you disapproved.'

'And I,' answered Sutton, suddenly nettled, 'would not have you stay
unless you liked. How shall we decide?'

'You must decide,' said his wife, too much excited and too anxious to
know well what she was about.

'Very well,' said Sutton, kindly, but with a sad tone that haunted Maud
in aftertimes, 'I will decide. You shall go.'

Maud knew the tone in which he spoke as well as spoken words. She knew
the look when he was hurt; she had watched it before. It told her now
that she had never wounded him so deeply as to-day. Her heart smote her.
He had hardly gone before she longed to repent and stay; and yet she
could not make up her mind to the sacrifice which it would cost her. She
had been reckoning so upon it that it seemed like the blotting out of
all the brightness of her life. The prospect of the dreary, lonely
summer, was too grievous. So her heart went swaying to and fro: she grew
more and more unhappy. Sutton was doubly kind and tender to her, and
his look smote her to the heart. At last her good angel carried the day.
'Jem,' she said, 'I want to change my mind, please. I was mad just now
and do not know what possessed me. I do not want to go to Elysium or
anywhere, if you cannot go with me. I am frightened at the idea of it,
even at this distance. I am sure I should be wretched. You must forgive
me, and forget my foolish tears.'

These two had perhaps never loved each other quite so much as at this
moment, nor Maud been ever quite so lovable. She was in her sweetest
mood; she wore a bright, serene air which spoke of an unworthy
temptation overcome, a higher happiness attained, a victory over her
weaker, baser self. Already, as happens in such cases, it seemed to her
incredible that she could have wished for the lower pleasure which had
so nearly won her. As for Sutton, the world was suddenly re-illumined to
him; the gloomy, terrible, agonising eclipse had passed: all was
sunshine and joy. His face showed what he was feeling. He drew Maud to
him and kissed her with a serious, fervent air, as if it were an act of
worship; he held her as if it were impossible to him ever to let her go.
Maud knew that his iron frame was shaken with vehement emotion; she saw
a kind of rapture in his eyes, and read in them that she was
well-beloved.

'Dear Maud,' he said, 'I should be wretched, the most miserable wretch
alive, if ever any shade of doubt or coldness came between us two. You
hold my life, dear, in your hand: my heart is wholly yours and has no
other life. If ever your love to me waned it would be death to me.'

And Maud, as she looked and listened, knew that it would.

'It can never wane, dear Jem,' she said, infected with her husband's
mood and clinging to him, as was her wont, like a child that needs
protection. 'Every day you bind me closer to you; only I fear--and ten
times more after being such a goose as I was just now--that I am not
half worthy of all you are to me.'



CHAPTER XXXI.

BOLDERO ON GUARD.

                    Oh! never work
    Like this was done for work's ignoble sake:
    It must have finer aims to spur it on!


Thus Maud and her husband were more than reconciled. Maud packed up her
dresses, with a few natural sighs that so much sweetness should waste
itself unseen, and set about passing the summer with heroical
cheerfulness. Things took a turn for the better. A few thunder-storms
had come to cool the world, and the early rains were covering the barren
mountains with verdure and bringing new life to Maud's garden. Mrs.
Crummins was giving her lessons in water-colours, and altogether
existence was less intolerable than she had believed it possible that it
should be. Perhaps the momentary breach, followed so quickly by so
thorough a reconciliation, had engendered an especial sweetness in her
intercourse with her husband. Be that as it may, Maud had resigned
Elysium and settled down courageously to her home life, not, perhaps,
without regret, but at any rate, without discontent.

Before, however, their reconciliation had time to take effect in any
alteration of their plans, events occurred which gave their thoughts a
wholly new direction and effectually settled for them what they were to
do. Occasional cases of cholera, seeds sown by the scattered atoms of
the great Fair the year before, had been occurring in various districts
all through the winter, and at the first blush of spring the disease
showed symptoms of breaking out in force. Week by week the 'Gazette'
chronicled a marked diminution in other forms of sickness, an equally
distinct increase in this. The doctors had a busy time in making
preparations, and great were the cleansings, the whitewashings, the
emptyings, the fillings-up in many an immund old town and ill-odoured
village, where the kingdom of Dirt had prevailed in unbroken
tranquillity for generations past.

Outside each city a cholera camp was formed, with a view to the
isolation of the sufferers. The District officers were at work from
morning to night. The natives took it all with that slightly wondering
acquiescence which is the normal attitude of mind produced by the
proceedings of the 'Sahib.' It was the order of God that cholera should
come; it was likewise the order of the 'Sirkar'[4] that houses should
be whitewashed, cesspools cleared out, and chlorodyne administered
gratis to all who liked it. Both visitations were inscrutable, and to be
endured with philosophic calm. The English Doctor, however, was, so ran
the orthodox belief, a dangerous fellow, and the old 'Hakim,' with his
traditional nostrums, no doubt the proper person to be killed or cured
by. The right thing therefore, if one became ill, was carefully to
conceal the fact, have surreptitious interviews with the native
physician, and, if die one must, be returned as having died of some
disease which would not involve a visit from the 'Inspector Sahib,' a
conflagration of bedsteads and clothes, a general effusion of whitewash
and consequent topsy-turveying of all the household. English doctors and
native doctors, however, were of much the same avail, for King Cholera
has as yet defied science to read his deadly mystery and learn the
secret of his rule. All that science can achieve is to narrow the limits
of his ravages.

May had scarcely begun when two cases occurred in the Hill Camp, and
Sutton, for the first time in his life, knew what it was to be afraid.
He had given 'hostages to Fortune,' and death and danger for the first
time looked really terrible when it was Maud who had to confront them.
Fifty times Sutton cursed his folly and selfishness in not having sent
her off earlier to the Hills, out of harm's way.

While he was harrassing himself with vain regrets and self-reproaches
and puzzling his brains as to how the mistake might be even yet
repaired, Maud herself added a new item to his perplexities by becoming
decidedly unwell. She awoke unrefreshed and wretched; declined the great
treat of the day, her morning ride; came shivering and appetiteless to
breakfast and confessed to feeling completely miserable. Her husband,
the moment that he felt her dry, burning hand, exclaimed that she had
got fever, gave her a welcome prescription to go back at once to bed,
and sent off for the Doctor.

The reader of these pages, who knows the Sandy Tracts, would think that
I did them scarcely justice if I omitted from the picture all reference
to a visitation which to many of them formed, too often, a main feature
of Indian existence. There is a Fiend there, be it known, that comes, no
one can tell whence--from earth or air, or marshy pool or frosty sky or
blazing sunny morning. However, when he comes he speedily makes his
arrival known to the guests whom he favours with a visit. He shakes them
and racks them, and gets into their heads and beats a kettledrum there,
and sets a tribe of imps to dance a sort of infernal ballet all about
each quivering limb; he freezes them, so that the poor shivering
wretches bury themselves under mountains of rags and blankets and go on
shivering still; he parches them till they feel like Dives in torture;
he turns their brains to mud, their thoughts to chaos, their high
spirits to the very blackest gall. Most people, it is believed, when the
demon first possesses them, signalise his accession by a hearty cry; and
well they may, for among the other cheering thoughts which suggest
themselves at the moment, one is that every time you have fever the
likelier you are to have it yet again; and that your way to recovery
lies through a remedy which for bitterness and bewilderment is only not
as bad as the disease for which it is invoked--quinine. In the Sandy
Tracts they serve it to you hot, out of a black bottle, stopped with a
twisted coil of paper, and heated half to boiling by being carried
through the sun. It is at such a moment that existence naturally wears a
sombre look, and that the Indian exile curses the ambition or the
ill-luck that bore him to such a fortune beneath an alien sky.

Maud, however, was so far fortunate that she had the best and tenderest
nurses that could be wished. The surgeon, delighted with so interesting
a patient, was assiduous, considerate and suggestive. Mrs. Crummins was
more than a mother, and Sutton suddenly discovered a perfect genius for
the science of an invalid's room. When Maud, after a week or two, began
to get strong again there was no doubt in the little conclave that she
ought to go to the Hills. A great deal of illness was about--the cholera
had become really serious--the fierce summer was coming quickly on--in
another fortnight the journey would be almost impossible for all but the
strongest. So it was settled for her to go; and Sutton became very
impatient and uneasy till she was safely off.

Circumstances seemed to settle whither she should go. There had come the
kindest letter from Mrs. Vereker, the moment she had heard of Maud's
attack. Indian people are, it must be said for them, delightfully
hospitable, and offer one bed and board for as long as one likes, as a
matter of course. 'Let me know the day,' Mrs. Vereker had written, 'and
I will send out my pony for the last stage in; and I shall take the
children into my room, which they will think great fun, and turn the
nursery into a bedroom for my pretty invalid. Come, dear Maud, and I
will promise you back your blooming cheeks in a fortnight!'

Sutton was touched by the kindness of a person to whom he had never been
in the least polite; and, in far too great a fright to be particular, or
allow objections which would have suggested themselves at another time,
he lost no time in writing to Boldero about the means of getting to
Elysium (for, without a little pressure in the matter of bullocks and
camels from the District officer, carriage in the Sandy Tracts is hard
to find); and Boldero had written to say that happily he himself was
going up on business, and would put his camp at Mrs. Sutton's disposal.

Accordingly Maud went up to the Hills in the utmost comfort, and with
what would have struck European eyes as somewhat unnecessary pomp. The
wild country in which they lived rendered an escort of cavalry an almost
necessary feature of any but the shortest expedition, and she was quite
accustomed to go out for her ride, in her husband's absence, attended by
a couple of wild Sawars, whose rude attire, fierce aspect, drawn swords
and screaming, prancing horses, rendered them somewhat incongruous
companions for a young lady's morning canter. It seemed, therefore, in
no way strange for their party to assume the aspect of a military
expedition. Boldero, however, added all the civil splendour at his
command and called into requisition all the resources of the District
officer's establishment to make Maud's journey luxurious.

All along their route there were signs of due preparation for the
'Deputy Commissioner Sahib's' party. Whenever they came to a
halting-place they found a little encampment of tents already pitched,
surrounded by a host of willing ministrants; a meal awaiting them, the
tea-kettle simmering or champagne cooling, and all the little comforts
that Indian servants have so ready a knack of extemporising on a march.
Maud, though still weak, had sufficiently recovered to enjoy it all
extremely, and found her companion very much to her taste, yet not
altogether as she would have him. He watched over her with as anxious
and tender a care as Sutton himself could have done. Everything that
could by any possibility contribute to her comfort had evidently been
thought of with a sedulous attention. Their dinner each evening was a
little banquet of a very different description from the rough-and-ready
meal which sufficed for Boldero's simple tastes on ordinary occasions.
Maud's every wish was watched. Twenty miles from home she had said
casually that she had left her scent-bottle behind her, and thought no
more of it till it made its appearance next morning at breakfast.
Horsemen had been riding through the night in order that she might not
lack her eau de Cologne. Sutton had insisted on sending with her his own
especial body-servant, who had been with him ever since he was a lad,
and was, Maud knew, essential to the comfort of his existence. He might,
however, have spared himself the sacrifice, for Boldero proved himself a
brilliant organiser and was full of resources. Maud simply rode from
one pleasant drawing-room to another. The journey kept her in a glow of
pleasure. 'How pretty it is!' she cried, as they alighted after the
first morning's march and found the camp-fires alight, the relays of
ponies picketed, and a banquet ready under a vast peepul-tree's shade;
'how pretty it is, and how good you are to me! I am beginning to feel
like an Eastern queen on a royal progress.'

'Pray rule us as you will,' said Boldero gallantly; 'you will find us
loyal subjects. Meanwhile let your Majesty's cup-bearer offer you some
hock and Seltzer-water, the best of beverages after a thirsty ride.'

But, polite and kind and hospitable as Boldero was, he was yet not quite
as Maud would have liked him to be. His mirth, formerly so ready and
unconstrained, had departed. He made no approach to familiarity,
scarcely to unconstraint. He was ready to talk, if she began the
conversation; but he was equally well pleased to ride for miles without
a word. His object seemed to be to make her journey pleasant, but he
gave no symptom that it pleased himself. He never for a moment forgot
that she was the Colonel's lady and he the District officer in
attendance upon her. This reserve jarred somehow with Maud's idea of
what was interesting, natural, romantic. Many nice men, most nice men,
she thought, were eager in rushing into friendship with her and
required a little putting down. It was provoking that Boldero showed no
tendency to stand in need of this gentle repression. She had liked him
especially last year and he had seemed quite alive and responsive to the
fact; now it piqued her that, beyond the assiduous politeness required
by his position as a host, he showed no symptom of being fascinated; in
plain language he quite declined to flirt, and yet she gave him every
opportunity. This was provoking, since Maud herself felt especially
disposed to be gracious.

'Now,' she said, after luncheon, when Boldero showed symptoms of
retreating, 'please do not go away to smoke; let us sit in this pleasant
shade--you shall read me some poetry--no--if you like, you shall smoke
and I will read to you. See, now, I have my beloved Browning--I am so
fond of this.' And Maud began to read, which she did very nicely:--

    Constance, I know not how it is with men:
    For women (I am a woman now like you)
    There is no good of life but love--but love!
    What else looks good is some shade flung from love;
    Love gilds it, gives it worth. Be warned by me,
    Never you cheat yourself one instant! Love,
    Give love, ask only love, and leave the rest!

'Will you have some more of this hock before it is packed up?' said
Boldero, in the most determined manner.

'No, thank you,' said Maud, with a sigh of real annoyance, 'I will not
have any more hock before it is packed up nor shall you have any more
poetry. And why, kind Fates, is it that I have so prosaic a companion
for my journey just when I happen to feel poetical?'

'It was because the prosy companion happened to be going at the right
moment,' Boldero said; 'I am afraid this sounds very unromantic too, but
I advise you to go into the tent and have a thorough rest before we
start again. And, by the way, I shall be sending back to the camp: do
you want to write a line to Sutton?'

'Of all things!' cried Maud. 'And I shall tell him how pleasant you have
been about the poetry.'

Before their Elysian residence was ended Maud discovered that it was
Boldero's particular function to recall her husband to her thoughts:
sometimes at moments when oblivion would have been preferable.



CHAPTER XXXII.

A GRASS WIDOW.

    Let's teach ourselves that honourable stop
    Not to outsport discretion----


Maud found Mrs. Vereker's promises of hospitality and enjoyment fully
verified. The change from the Camp was delightful; the extra four
thousand feet of altitude made life a luxury. Energy, in a hundred
different forms, returned to her: some new spring of life quickened her
powers alike of mind and body. Mere existence once again became
delightful; the pleasant consciousness of health and strength again put
her in high spirits. The dull routine in which she had been living of
late seemed in retrospect extremely dull. She missed her husband and
wrote him enthusiastic letters to tell him so; but a hundred fresh
pleasures and interests rushed in to fill the vacant space and to deaden
the feeling of regret. And then it had been settled that as soon as the
inspection was finished Sutton should get leave to come up and write
his report at Elysium, so that their separation promised to be a very
short one.

Mrs. Vereker's cottage was the scene of a great many quiet but enjoyable
festivities. She had the most charming little luncheon parties, over
which she presided with a modesty, liveliness, and grace which her
guests found irresistible. There was not much to eat, but each one in
his turn received a smile and a glance from the purple eyes and found
his glass of sherry turning into nectar before him. These happy guests
were mostly military; and he must have been a severe critic indeed who
would have denied them the merit of faultless attire, good looks and
chivalrous dispositions. The very atmosphere was infectious with
flirtation. Mrs. Vereker kept a little court of gentlemen, each with his
acknowledged position in the hierarchy of adorers. Nor did she appear to
question that her guest would do the same. She took for granted that
Maud would accept Desvoeux's proffered politeness; she laughed a little
gentle laugh at her girlish scruples, and turned her sweet eyes upon her
in amused wonderment at such innocent prudery.

'My dear child,' she said, 'what are we poor wives to do? Sit, with our
hands crossed, singing hymns and thinking of our _cari sposi_ in the
Plains? How would my good man be the better if I went out moping for
rides all alone, instead of being attended by my cavalier? Besides, no
one ever would believe that one was alone, and one would be gossiped
about as much as ever. And then did not your old Othello wish that
Boldero was here to look after you? No, no, I don't find "moping" among
the other disagreeable things we vowed to do when matrimony marked us
for its own. And then you must know that three is quite an impossible
number at the Hills--the paths are too narrow, happily--and three is an
odious number, which ought to be turned out of the arithmetic-books. So
you must start a flirtation not to interfere with mine. Besides, Mr.
Desvoeux is too charming. I only wish that he would flirt with me!'

So Maud found herself taken possession of by Desvoeux, and assigned to
him as a matter of course in the set in which she was living. The worst
of it was that she found it rather pleasant. It was, of course,
convenient to have some one ready to fetch and carry, who was always on
the look-out for one at parties and only too delighted at having any
command to obey. It was all above-board and recognised as right. Every
one knew that there was not the least harm in it. The only drawback was
that Maud found it very difficult to describe the state of things to
Jem, and her letters grew shorter than was right. Mrs. Vereker was too
volatile, too frivolous, too much in love with herself and the world
around her, to allow of her companion lapsing into a serious mood. She
spent hours over a succession of toilettes, each of which was
perfection; hours more in designing how such perfection should be
achieved. High spirits and fun pervaded her every thought, but dress was
the matter about which Mrs. Vereker was most nearly feeling serious. The
two ladies had a long discussion over the attire which would do most
justice to their charms at the Viceroy's Fancy Ball.

'I can't go as a Marquise,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'because powder does not
set my eyes off well, and paint spoils my complexion. I mean to be
Night--holy, peaceful Night--black tulle, you know, with a crescent moon
glittering on my forehead, and little diamond stars twinkling, twinkling
in both my ears, which you know are loves. See, now!' And Mrs. Vereker
caught up a great piece of muslin which was lying on the sofa, threw it
over her shoulders, turned her beautiful violet eyes to the ceiling, and
went sliding across the room with a sweet, demure smile and graceful
undulations.

'See, now!' she cried, 'don't you feel the moonlight and the
nightingales and the tinkling folds, and how very sacred and peaceful it
all is? I shall be furious if at least sixteen men don't break their
hearts about me. But, my dear, you shall be a _vivandière_ and show your
pretty ankles; or a Normandy flower-girl, with a high cap and crimson
petticoat. Or why not be Morning, and dance in my quadrille; a Rising
Sun, with rays?'

'Oh no, thank you,' Maud answered; 'I intend to have a quadrille of my
own. I leave you the sun, moon, and stars to yourself. Mr. Desvoeux is
arranging one for me out of Sir Walter Scott--something historical and
romantic.'

Then Desvoeux would come (oftener than ever, since this Historical
Quadrille gave a new excuse for frequent calls) and turn everything into
ridicule. 'As usual,' he told them, 'Mrs. Fotheringham has been trying
to drive a bargain. The two young ladies are to go as Mediæval
Princesses; and poor Giroflont, who had come all the way from Calcutta
to dress the ladies' hair for the Fancy Ball, stipulated for his
accustomed five rupees a-head. Fotheringham _mère_ stuck out for three.
Giroflont rejected the suggestion with scorn. "Impossible, madame," he
said, "ce sont des coiffures historiques!" So exit Mrs. Fotheringham in
a fury.'

'And the poor girls will have to go as milkmaids,' said Mrs. Vereker.
'What a shame! And what a mother!'

'And what a father!' said Desvoeux. 'He has just been to interview the
Agent and has made us both extremely ill. Such vapid dulness!

    He spoke of virtue--not the gods
    More purely when they wish to charm
    Pallas and Juno sitting by;
    And with a sweeping of the arm,
    And a lack-lustre dead-blue eye
    Devolved his rounded periods.'

'What a comfort you must find it, Mr. Desvoeux,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'to
fly for refuge to eyes that are neither lack-lustre nor dead-blue! Now I
come to think of it, though, I believe dead-blue is just the shade of
mine.'

'Yours!' said Desvoeux, in a tone of fervour which spoke volumes.

'These poor girls!' cried Maud, 'how shamefully they are dressed!
Perfect Quakeresses!'

'Quakeresses!' answered Desvoeux; 'but Quakeresses are too charming,
dear little tender doves, in the softest silk and freshest muslin. I
suffered agonies once upon a time on account of one.'

'Profane!' cried Mrs. Vereker; 'Quakers are really a sort of monks and
nuns, only that they happen to have husbands and wives.'

'Yes,' said Desvoeux, 'monasticism without its single recommendation!'

'Rude man!' Mrs. Vereker cried; 'let us send him away, Maud. I should
like to know, sir, what would become of you without us married women?'

'What indeed?' cried Desvoeux; 'but, you know, when the Pope offered
Petrarch a dispensation to marry, he declined on the ground that he
could not write poetry to his wife.'

'That reminds me,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'that I must write some prose to
my husband, and Mrs. Sutton some to hers; and the post goes in
half-an-hour. Mr. Desvoeux, you must really go.'

'I obey,' said Desvoeux, with a sigh; 'my exile from paradise is cheered
by the thought that I am coming back at four to take Mrs. Sutton for a
ride.'



CHAPTER XXXIII.

FACILIS DESCENSUS AVERNI.

    Birds, yet in freedom, shun the net
    Which love around your haunts hath set.


The pleasant weeks flew by, a round of enjoyments. Maud found herself in
great request. She and Mrs. Vereker held quite a little levée every
morning. Day after day a never-failing stream of visitors poured along
the path to the modest but picturesque residence where these two
beauties waited to charm mankind. The grass-plot in front was worn quite
bare by a succession of ponies, who waited there while their owners were
worshipping within.

No young officer who arrived for a holiday considered himself at all _en
règle_ till he had been to pay his respects to this adorable couple.

Mrs. Vereker was none the less attractive, as she knew very well, for
being contrasted with another charming woman, whose charms were of a
different order. 'Blest pair of syrens!' Desvoeux used to say in his
impudent fashion; 'it is too charming to have you both together--a
dangerous conspiracy against the peace of mind of one-half of the
species.'

'Ah!' Mrs. Vereker would answer, turning her violet eyes upon him, with
a sweet reproachful smile, which would have melted any heart but
Desvoeux's; 'and when one of the syrens is young and lovely, and just
arrived from the Plains. There _were_ days, my dear Maud, when Mr.
Desvoeux used to want to ride with me and used to run my errands so
nicely! Alas! alas! for masculine weathercocks! I am very jealous of
you, my dear, I'd have you to know, and shall some day tear your pretty
eyes out. You do too much execution by half. Meanwhile, here is my dear
General Beau coming up the road.'

Maud shrugged her shoulders and arched her pretty brow, and both
Desvoeux and Mrs. Vereker burst out laughing to see the General
portrayed.

'The General to the life!' cried Desvoeux, '"like a poet or a peer

    With his arched eyebrow and Parnassian sneer."'

'I protest against the poet,' cried Mrs. Vereker, laughing; 'we always
flirt in the very plainest prose. As for his eyebrows, they are
adorable.'

Then the General arrived, as great a dandy as ever Poole turned out, and
was in the drawing-room before Maud's gravity was at all re-established.
'And what was the laugh about?' he inquired.

'About a Parnassian sneer,' said Desvoeux with great presence of mind;
'and where do you come from, General?'

'I have been calling at the Fotheringhams,' said the General; 'my
intimacy with Mrs. Fotheringham does not incline me to wish to be one of
her daughters.'

'Poor girls!' said Mrs. Vereker, 'we were commiserating them the other
day, and saying how cruelly their mother treats them.'

'Ah!' said the General, 'she does indeed; actually makes the poor things
do lessons all the morning. A certain gentleman, a friend of mine, I
cannot tell you his name, went there the other day with the most serious
intentions towards the little one, the one with yellow hair, and
actually found them hard at work at Mill's "Logic."'

'Two women were grinding at the mill,' said Desvoeux, 'and one was taken
and the other left, I suppose?'

'I am afraid,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'that both were left. But fancy a
woman who was also a logician! For my part, I consider it a great
privilege to be as unreasonable as I choose.'

'The arguments of beauty,' said the General, 'are always irresistible;
but I am quite for female education.'

'And I,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'am dead against it. We know quite as much
as is good for us as it is. What do you say, Maud?'

'I have quite forgotten all I learnt at school already,' said Maud.
'General Beau, can you say your Duty to your Neighbour?'

'And your duty to your neighbour's wife?' put in Desvoeux. 'But I object
to all education as revolutionary--part of this horrid radical epoch it
which we live.'

'Yes,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'one of the nice things about India is its
being a military despotism. As for Europe, the mobs have it all their
own way.'

'Horrid mobs!' said Desvoeux, 'as if an unwashed rabble was Nature's
last achievement.

    Her 'prentice hand she tried on lords,
    And then she made the masses O!'

'But you must teach them religion, you know,' said the General, 'the
Catechism, and so forth.'

'Of course,' said Maud; their Duty to their Neighbour, for instance.'

'I don't know,' said Mrs. Vereker; 'they only learn it all by rote. When
I was last in England our clergyman gave us this specimen of one of his
parishioners, to whom he had been detailing the mysteries of faith:

'"_Clergyman._ And now, Sally, how do you expect to be saved?"'

'"_Sally._ Dun'noa; please, sir, tell I."'

'Well,' said Desvoeux, 'theology is a thing I never could understand
myself. Now I must be off to my Agent.'

'When shall we see you again?' said Maud.

'Dun'noa,' said Desvoeux; 'please, ma'am, tell I. What time shall I come
and take you out this afternoon?'

But the ladies had visitors more distinguished even than the General.
The Agent himself came in one Sunday after church and asked to be
allowed to stay to lunch. Cards flowed in apace from Government House,
for the Master of the Ceremonies there knew that no entertainment would
be complete where Maud was not.

There were little dances got up expressly in her honour, for which her
card of engagements was filled for days before: at every point homage,
the sweetest that woman's ears can listen to, awaited her. A chorus of
worshippers assured her she was beautiful; the incense was for ever
burning on her shrine, till the very air became drugged with flattery.
Yet Maud was not completely happy; her conscience was ill at ease. The
scene around her was pleasant; but, tried by certain standards, she knew
that it would fall short. She remembered, with a sigh, the sort of way
in which her cousin Vernon would have turned up his nose at the people
among whom she was living, and she knew that in many ways they deserved
it. Felicia, she knew, thought Mrs. Vereker utterly frivolous, fast and
slightly vulgar; and she felt that Felicia was right. Her husband,
conscience reminded her, disapproved of and despised Desvoeux: and was
there not something to disapprove and dislike about him? Still Maud felt
herself unable to resist the current that was hurrying her along. The
consequence was that she had fallen out of harmony with those stricter
judges whose tastes just now it was convenient to forget. It gave her no
pleasure to think of them. She fancied Jem in a silently reproachful
mood, Felicia daintily contemptuous, Vernon with an outspoken sneer. Her
letters to her husband, though they never contained the
hundred-thousandth part of one untruth, began to be less faithful and
complete transcripts of her life than of old. Desvoeux ought, in truth,
to have occupied a more prominent place. She felt ashamed to tell her
husband, toiling hard in solitude and heat, of the round of gaiety in
which her life was passed. On the other hand, her husband's letters gave
her no satisfaction. They were far from amusing; indeed, the life which
he was leading was hardly susceptible, in livelier hands than his, of
being rendered amusing or picturesque. He missed her, of course; but
then he would be with her again in a few weeks, and Maud did not think
it necessary to be sentimental about it. His pen was far from a ready
one, and this Report, Maud knew, would be worse to him than a campaign.
In his letters to her his one idea would have been to conceal from her
anything that was disagreeable, and she might, if she had chosen, have
augured ill from his reticence; but life just now was too bright and
exciting for such inward monition to get a hearing. Her companions had
infected her with a passion for pleasure, and duty had faded into
indistinctness. Then, too, her new position as a married lady and as
Sutton's bride was not without its charm. She was a much grander lady
now than she had been the year before as Miss Vernon, and this access of
dignity was pleasurable. It involved, however, being taken in to dinner
by officials of an age, dignity, and disposition which she found
anything but congenial to her own, though Desvoeux protested that she
was trying to establish a flirtation with the Agent. Once at Government
House she had the honour of sitting next the Viceroy, an alarming but
yet delightful eminence. How kind he seemed, how full of friendly talk,
how eager to know about her husband and his doings!

'How is your _preux chevalier_?' he said. 'What would become of
everything, I wonder, in that stormy corner that he keeps in such good
order, but for him? He is one of the people whom I completely trust.'

Maud felt her cheek glowing with pleasure, yet the pleasure was not
without a sting. Everybody conspired to speak of her husband as some one
beyond the usual flight in goodness, chivalry, nobility of soul. Was she
behaving as became the wife of such a man? Was she loving, honouring,
and obeying in the full spirit of her vow? Was it honourable or right
that half-a-dozen foolish lads should be competing for familiarity with
her, and a man like Desvoeux be her habitual companion? Ought her
husband to hear such things of her? This was the little skeleton which
Maud kept locked up, along with many lovely dresses, in her bedroom
closet--this the little prick her conscience gave her--this the drop of
bitter in the glittering, ambrosial draught of pleasure.

She drank it all the same and found it too sweet to put it from her
lips.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

BAD TIMES IN THE PLAINS.

    Where nature sickens, and each air is death.


While the fortunate Elysians were thus bravely keeping up their own and
one another's spirits by a round of gaieties, the people in the Plains
were busy with a round of work of quite a different description. Cholera
having broken out, all leave in the infected regiments had been
cancelled, and many a luckless officer had come back to his cantonment,
grumbling at a curtailed holiday and the stern mandate which recalled
him just as he had reached the snow scenery of which he had dreamed for
months, or established himself in some happy hunting-ground for a two
months' campaign against ibex or bison. Back they all came, however,
poor fellows, to take their equal chance with rank and file against an
enemy of whom even the bravest men are not ashamed to be afraid.

The prevalence of illness and the precautions ordered to prevent its
increase entailed a deal of extra labour, and kept all the officers
busily employed. The hospitals required constant visiting, for the men
were moody and disheartened, and stood in need of all the encouragement
that their leaders could give them. Sutton, always thinking of every one
but himself, had ordered two of his 'boys' away to an outpost forty
miles off, nominally to look after a turbulent Zámindar, really to be
out of harm's way. This threw all the more work on his hands, and it was
work that he felt himself specially capable of doing with good effect.
His visits at the hospital were, he knew, eagerly looked for, and a few
kind words from the Colonel Sahib often inspired cheerfulness and hope
at a moment when gloom and despondency were telling with mortal effect
on men's minds and bodies. His regiment had already lost several men,
and they had died happy in the thought that the well-loved leader was
ever close at hand, and ever on the look-out for something to alleviate
their suffering. Many a gaunt visage, with death already written in each
ghastly feature, lighted up with sudden brightness as he came, and, when
exhaustion had gone too far for speech, smiled him a heartfelt
benediction of gratitude and love. The scene was, indeed, one full of
pathos, even to a less interested looker-on than the Colonel. It was
horrible to see these sturdy, joyous, much-enduring, dare-devil troopers
lying so utterly prostrated, unnerved and helpless. Death, it seemed,
should have come to them in the form of steel or bullet, the thrust of
lance, the crashing sword-cut or wild cavalry charge; not as a
pestilence, creeping on them unawares and slaying them in their beds.
Sutton, who had looked death in the face a hundred times with perfect
indifference, began to understand why people feared it. After all some
aspects of life are, he felt, too delightful to leave without a sigh.
For the last few months he had been, for the first time in his life,
completely happy. A new era had begun for him, new vistas of pleasure
had opened up. All that had gone before had been duty, excitement, hard
work; not, indeed, without its enjoyment, but, after all, something far
from happiness in the sense in which Sutton had now begun to understand
it. Fighting was all well enough, and the hazardous ambition of a
soldier's career delightfully spirit-stirring; but it was not here that
the real end of life was to be found. Sutton's real end of life was now
the little being who was flirting away at the Hills, in happy
forgetfulness of all but the present moment. Sutton, however, thought of
her only as he had seen her, tender, affectionate, devoted to himself.
Since the half-quarrel about her departure for the Hills and the
reconciliation which followed it, his life with her had been one of
perfect happiness. Maud had been raised by her conquest over herself
into a sweeter, nobler mood, and was more than ever mistress of her
husband's heart. Her departure, peremptorily insisted on by her husband,
had none the less cost them both a bitter pang; though Sutton promised
that it should be for a few weeks at the utmost, a promise which cheered
Maud more than it did himself, as she knew not, as he did, how easily
its fulfilment might be rendered impossible. So Sutton went about his
work in his own determined, loyal fashion, but with his heart no longer
in it. His treasure was elsewhere and his heart with it. The collection
of materials for his Report gave him a deal of trouble and involved many
weary rides. He had to see District officers, Zámindars, police
inspectors, heads of villages, spies, and then to determine what the
real necessities of the case were and where the posts should be fixed.
Everything depended on his work being well, wisely, and thoroughly done.
The responsibility weighed on him: the peace, safety, prosperity of a
whole District was hanging on his judgment. This is the kind of work
which tries conscientious and loyal men far more than physical exertion.
Then the cholera, which had shown symptoms of abatement, broke out all
of a sudden with more violence than ever, and it became apparent that
Sutton's regiment was thoroughly infected. Then all real hopes of his
getting up to the Hills for the present, at any rate, had to be
abandoned; but of this he said nothing to his wife. It was of no use to
distress her beforehand with bad news, which she would be certain to
learn quite soon enough.

One evening, when Sutton had returned, thoroughly tired with a long, hot
expedition, the orderly, whose task it was to bring him the returns of
the sick for the day, told him that in the list of seizures for that
afternoon was a Pathan boy, who had been picked up years before by some
of the troopers in a suddenly deserted village, and who had lived as a
pet child of the regiment ever since. Sutton had been kind to the lad,
had defrayed such small charges as his maintenance in the lines
involved, and had secured him the beginning of an education in the
regimental school. Sutton on hearing the news went off at once to the
hospital. Already the disease had made fearful progress, and he saw in a
moment that the boy was in the most critical condition. He bent over the
exhausted, helpless form, and said a few kind words of hopefulness and
sympathy. The boy listened with glistening eyes and lips quivering with
agitation; and as Sutton turned to go he sprang up in bed, forgetful of
everything but the master-feeling which overpowered him, and clasped his
protector round the neck with a single outburst of affection: 'Ma-Bap,'
'My father and mother!'

Two hours later they came to say that the boy was dead, and before the
next morning Sutton began to be aware that that last embrace had been a
deadly one, and that the dread malady had laid its hand upon himself.



CHAPTER XXXV.

AN ELYSIAN PICNIC.

          Nay, the world--the world,
    All ear and eye, with such a stupid heart
    To interpret ear and eye, and such a tongue
    To blaze its own interpretation!


Three gallant officers, who had been enjoying the hospitality of Elysium
for many weeks, were fired one day with a noble resolve to show their
gratitude to the gentlemen and their devotion to the ladies by whom they
had been so pleasantly entertained. It was an inspiration, everybody
felt at once, and all Elysium thrilled with conscious responsiveness at
the happy thought. There is a little valley near Elysium, a mile or two
from the mountain's summit, where a green, smooth sward invites the
weary climber to repose; where venerable deodars, towering on the steep
hillside, stretch their limbs to ward off the fierce afternoon sun;
where a headlong stream comes bubbling down among the thick-grown ferns
and falls in a feathery cascade and disappears in the gorge below; where
the Genius of the Mountains has, in fact, its chosen haunt. There you
may sit and watch the rose-tipped snowy range warming into fresh life
and beauty as the sun goes down, and fading into cold gloom as he
disappears. Here, in a hundred suggestive nooks, Nature has hinted at a
sylvan _tête-à-tête_, or spread a verdant curtain of wild growth to
festoon an _al fresco_ banquet; and here it was that the three inspired
officers resolved to give an entertainment that should at once do
justice to the warmth of their feelings, the correctness of their
tastes, and the profuseness of their liberality.

It was to be a picnic--the picnic of the season--the picnic of the
world; and if enchanting scenery, a cloudless sky, enthusiastic hosts, a
crowd of pretty women, an army of devoted men, a community not too blasé
to be easily amused, nor yet so unused to pleasure as not to know how to
take it--if all these ingredients, backed with the music of a lovely
band crashing out among the rocks, cookery over which, by gracious
permission, the Viceroy's own chef presided, and champagne, iced to
perfection in Himalayan snows, could make a success, then it would, as
Maud expected, be indeed an era in the lives of all concerned.

Mrs. Vereker, though perhaps less sanguine than her more youthful
companion, determined to have a new dress for the occasion; and a
committee of adorers discussed the rival merits of half-a-dozen
projected costumes. Mrs. Vereker, however, treated all their suggestions
with contempt, and determined in the depths of her own consciousness on
something that should be a sweet surprise.

Maud, happily, had one of her English treasures which was still unknown
to the admiring public, and which she felt at once would be the very
thing.

For some days nothing but the picnic could be talked of in Elysium; what
to wear at it, how to get to it, how to return, were topics of the
liveliest interest to all. A hundred pleasant plans in connection with
it shaped themselves into being. General Beau, who liked being
beforehand with the world, secured for himself the honour of escorting
Mrs. Vereker; and Desvoeux, as a matter of course, established his claim
to act as Maud's gentleman-in-waiting on the occasion. By this time her
spirits were very high and impatient of all that seemed to check their
flow. She was flirting with Desvoeux, she knew, in the most open manner,
yet she resented any notice being taken of it. Boldero had met her at a
croquet party and been very disagreeable. He confessed to having been
two days in Elysium, and could or would give no account of why he had
not been to call. 'How unkind and unlike the old Mr Boldero whom we all
liked so much! How you are changed!'

'Yes,' Boldero said, flushing up quite red, so that Maud knew that he
meant more than met the ear, 'and some one else is changed too and might
not care about her former friends.'

'What do you mean?' Maud said, disturbed at Boldero's serious air; 'how
can I care about you, if you won't come and see me? Come now, and take
me across the lawn for an ice, and tell me what it is that is the
matter.'

'I do not think I can tell you,' said Boldero, greatly alarmed at
finding himself committed to a lecture; 'you will not like it; you want
a scolding.'

'Well,' said Maud, 'I like scoldings from my friends, and I often
deserve them, and often get them, goodness knows. Give me one now; only
you must be quick, please, because there is Mr. Desvoeux signalling me,
and I have promised to go for a ride with him.'

'Don't,' said Boldero, with great alacrity; 'stay and hear my lecture.
Let me go and say you would rather not.'

'Not for the world!' cried Maud; 'I am looking forward to it immensely;
he would be broken-hearted if I disappointed him, poor fellow. How would
you like it yourself?'

'Broken-hearted!' said Boldero, with that peculiar turn of contempt in
his voice with which her husband and his friends always vexed Maud by
speaking of Desvoeux.

'How disagreeable you are!' said Maud. 'Don't you know he is my
particular friend?'

'Friend!' said Boldero; 'he is the very worst enemy you have, believe
me. Forgive me, as your husband's old friend, if I tell you the truth
when, it seems, no one else will. He is making you talked of; and if you
could only know how people talk! He knows it, and he likes it, and it is
what he is always doing.'

'And what you are always doing,' said Maud in a passion, 'is coming and
saying the most horrid things in the most disagreeable way and joining
the horrid people who gossip about one. Do they talk of me? Then why
don't you make them eat their words--you, who used to be my friend?'

'I am your friend,' said the other with a grave persistence, 'and
Sutton's too. It is because I am that I risk your displeasure by telling
you that you are doing wrong.'

'Doing wrong?' cried Maud, by this time quite flushed with excitement
and hardly mistress of her words; 'how dare you say so? You know it is
false. I am alone, or you would not venture to insult me.'

'Come,' said Boldero, unmoved by the taunt, of which Maud herself felt
the outrageous injustice, 'be sensible, and let me take care of you this
evening: do me a kind act for once.'

'Thank you,' said Maud, the tears gleaming in her eyes, 'and hear such
things as you have been saying over again? Take care of me, indeed!
Please never speak to me again!'

She was gone, leaving her companion discomfited. In another instant
Desvoeux was at her side, and, as he lifted her to her pony, said
something which made her laugh and blush. Boldero would have liked to
throttle him.

Maud's conscience, however, prevented her full enjoyment of the ride.
She knew as well as possible that Boldero was telling her truth: she
_was_ doing wrong, she felt only too distinctly. Boldero would have cut
his fingers off to please her, and she had chosen to misunderstand him.
Still it was too provoking to be lectured. When she got home there was a
letter from Dustypore, which told her that Felicia too had heard of her
proceedings and was wanting to warn her. 'You must not forget, dear
Maud,' the letter said, 'what a home of gossip Elysium is, and how all
that is young and pretty and interesting is what gossip busies itself
most about. Some men, like Mr. Desvoeux, for instance, have only to look
at one for the gossipers to begin; but I know you will be very
judicious, even at the expense of being somewhat too particular. How I
wish I were with you!'

'They all want to tease me with their horrid advice and hints,' Maud
thought, in vexation of heart; 'as for Mr. Boldero, he was too odious: I
can never, never forgive him.'

Then, as if all the world were in a conspiracy, Mrs. Fotheringham, whom
Maud met at a dinner-party that night, pounced upon her as the ladies
were filing into the drawing-room and made her come and sit down on a
remote sofa.

Maud always believed, probably not without justice, that Mrs.
Fotheringham bore her a grudge for being married before the two Miss
Fotheringhams. She was, accordingly, quite indisposed to be lectured.

'My dear,' Mrs. Fotheringham said, 'an old woman may sometimes give a
young one a friendly hint. You don't know the world as I do, with my
twenty years of India. Now, don't be angry with me if I give you a bit
of advice. Take care! Young wives whose husbands are in the Plains
cannot take too much.'

This seemed the last drop in the overflowing cup of annoyance and
humiliation. Maud felt excessively indignant. It was an impertinence
surely for Mrs. Fotheringham to venture to speak so.

'And what am I to take care of?' she said; 'and what right have you
to speak to me in this way?'

'Take care of your companions, my dear. You have chosen the most
dangerous, the worst you could find--Mr. Desvoeux.'

'Stop, stop!' cried Maud, jumping up in a fury; 'he is my friend, my
kind friend. I will not hear him abused.'

'You must be on your guard,' continued the other, with exasperating
pertinacity; 'he is very unprincipled.'

'I know he is very agreeable,' cried Maud; 'unprincipled! what do you
mean by that?'

'I mean--I mean,' said the other, 'that he is dangerous--just the sort
of man to try to kiss you, if you gave him the chance.'

'Indeed?' cried Maud, by this time in far too great a passion to be
either courteous or discreet, 'I should think none the worse of him for
that. _I believe they all would!_' Having delivered this parting shot,
Maud hurried away in a great state of agitation, and Mrs. Fotheringham
shrugged her shoulders in despair at so unseemly an outburst of temper,
so awful a view of human nature.

When they got home that night Maud told Mrs. Vereker her troubles, and
was relieved to find what slight importance she attached to them. She
burst out laughing, and clapped her hands in delight at Maud's account
of the encounter with Mrs. Fotheringham. 'But, my dear child, what
induced you to make such a foolish speech? And as for Mr. Boldero, he
wanted you himself, don't you understand? Flirt a little with _him_
to-morrow and see how much he will want to lecture you then.'

'But he won't flirt with me,' said Maud; 'it is very odd. Besides, I was
in a passion, and told him never to speak to me again. Poor fellow!'

'You dear little goose!' Mrs. Vereker said, kissing her, 'sit down this
instant and write and tell him you are broken-hearted for being so rude,
and that he is to come to lunch and finish his lecture to-morrow. You
must not quarrel with all the world at once.'

Of Felicia's letter Mrs. Vereker equally made light. 'She means nothing,
my dear, except what I preach to you and practise myself, discretion and
moderation. So many dances in the evening, so many rides in the week, so
many lunches, so many looks, so many smiles, and so forth. Besides, you
know, Mrs. Vernon is a prude, a born prude; she breathes a congenial
atmosphere of proprieties where I should be suffocated. She likes men to
be polite, and only polite; I take them up where politeness ends and
something else begins. She likes small-beer; I happen to prefer
champagne, bright, sparkling and intoxicatingly delicious! Besides,'
rattled on Mrs. Vereker, quite at ease with a familiar topic, 'Mrs.
Vernon is a flirt too, in her prudish way. She flirts, she used to flirt
with your husband scandalously, I hope he behaves better now. Mine is a
monster, and makes me cry my eyes out. But, I tell you what, my dear
Maud, there is great safety in numbers. Don't speak to that saucy
Desvoeux for a fortnight, and turn your pretty eyes on some one else,
the first you fancy. Would you like my General? or Parson Boldero? Take
him in hand, my dear, and in a week we will make the horrid fellow flirt
just as much as his neighbours.'

'He's a very bad hand at it at present,' said Maud, with a laugh.

However, the result of the conference was that Maud sat down and wrote a
pretty little repentant note: and the next day Boldero came with a
beating heart and took the little scapegrace for a ride, and scolded her
very affectionately, much to his own satisfaction, through a whole
pleasant summer afternoon.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

A KISS.

    As she sped fast through sun and shade
    The happy winds upon her played,
    Blowing the ringlets from the braid;
    She looked so lovely as she swayed
      The rein with dainty finger-tips.

    A man had given all other bliss
    And all his worldly worth for this:
    To waste his whole heart in one kiss
    Upon her perfect lips.


When Mrs. Vereker suggested Desvoeux's temporary deposition, she
overlooked two obstacles which proved fatal to the scheme's success: in
the first place, Maud did not quite wish to depose him; in the next,
Desvoeux had not the slightest intention of being deposed. Despite all
hints to stay away, he presented himself with provoking regularity at
Mrs. Vereker's cottage-porch, outstayed later callers without the least
compunction, and evidently felt himself quite master of the situation.

At Maud's first symptom of neglect he was more devoted, more assiduous,
more amusing than ever. Both ladies were constrained in their hearts to
admit that his presence was a great enlivenment. Maud, though she would
not have admitted it to herself, felt sometimes impatient for his
arrival. She had given Desvoeux to understand that his attentions were
unwelcome, but she had not the least wish that he should become
inattentive. As the French song says--

    Lorsque l'on dit, 'Ne m'aimez plus jamais,'
    On prétend bien qu'on obéira, mais
    On compte un peu sur des révoltes.

So Maud, when she tried to keep Desvoeux at a distance, probably only
made it apparent how much she liked him to be near; at any rate, the
attempt at a little quarrel had only the result of making them better
friends than before. Then there was a sort of familiarity about him
which Maud was conscious of only half-disliking. Mrs. Vereker declared
she had not breathed a word; but something in his look, when he spoke of
Mrs. Fotheringham, convinced Maud that he had heard of her unlucky
speech to that lady. When she rode with some one else she was sure to
meet him, looking the picture of dulness. She knew that if they had been
together they would be both having the greatest fun. And then how flat
and what a bore her own companion seemed! One day she did actually go
for a ride with General Beau. Mrs. Vereker asked him afterwards how
they had got on, and the General arched his brow and said, 'Ah!' in a
manner which suggested that he had not altogether liked it. Then, one
day, in a pet, Maud went out alone, saying, 'No one can find fault with
me for _this_.' Alas! alas! she was sauntering along in the most
disconsolate manner, when, round a corner of the hill, who should come
sauntering along but Desvoeux, also alone and disconsolate and in the
direst need of a companion! Of course under such circumstances there was
nothing to be done but for Desvoeux to turn his pony round and accompany
her for the rest of the expedition; and then, no sooner had they done
this, than, as bad luck would have it, they came upon all the people
whom they particularly did not wish to meet--first the Fotheringhams,
the mamma and two young ladies in palanquins, a nice young civilian
escorting each; Fotheringham _père_ on his pony, bringing up the
rear--in order, as Desvoeux said scornfully, to cut off retreat if the
young men's hearts failed them.

'If that is courtship _à la mode_,' he said, 'Heaven preserve us! Fancy
four parental eyes glaring at every act! My love is a sensitive plant
and would shrink up at every look.'

Maud, however, felt that it was no joke, and was very much provoked with
Desvoeux. She was in the act of turning back to join the Fotheringhams.

'Don't, pray don't,' said Desvoeux; '_qui s'excuse s'accuse_. Why don't
the two young gentlemen come and ask to be allowed to walk with us and
be taken care of? If only we could _afficher_

    "MET BY ACCIDENT,
    UPON OUR HONOUR"

on our backs, and let all the world know how innocent we really are!'

And next, before Maud had at all recovered her equanimity, a turn in the
road brought them face to face with all the Government House
party--ladies and ponies and aides-de-camp in attendance, and, last of
all, the Viceroy himself, with a big stick and wide-awake hat. 'Ah! how
d'ye do, Mrs. Sutton?' he said, looking, Maud fancied, not near so
good-humoured as of old and taking no notice of Desvoeux; 'I hope you
have good accounts of your husband?'

'Yes, very good, thank you, Lord Clare,' Maud said, blushing at a
question which seemed to convey a reproach to her guilty conscience, and
at the thought of how little her husband had been present to her mind of
late. Altogether, Maud's attempt at a solitary ride turned out a
thorough failure.

Then came the picnic, and Maud, it must be confessed, behaved like a
little idiot.

'The best way to treat gossip,' Desvoeux suggested, 'is to ignore it and
show the world that you have nothing to be ashamed of.' By way of
enforcing his doctrine he proceeded to monopolise her in the most
outrageous manner; nor did she refuse to be monopolised. When other
people came and tried to talk to her Desvoeux stood by and contrived to
make them feel themselves _de trop_. He put poor Boldero, who flattered
himself that his afternoon's sermon was to bear good fruit, utterly to
the rout; insulted General Beau by some absurd question about the
Carraway Islands; put all the aides-de-camp to flight; and, even when
the Viceroy came by and stopped to speak to Maud, seemed to consider it
a very great intrusion.

'Really, Mr. Desvoeux,' Maud said, with a laugh, 'you give yourself all
the airs of a jealous husband.'

'I only wish,' said her companion, 'you had ever given me the chance of
being one. But don't these people bore one? I don't feel a bit inclined
to-day to be bored.'

'No more do I,' said Maud, 'but I feel very cross with you all the same.
Let us go and sit by the Fotheringhams.'

'Please do not,' said Desvoeux; 'here is a delightful nook, with a
smooth stone for your table, and the stream making too much noise for
any one to overhear us. It was evidently intended for you and me.'

So all the world had the opportunity, at lunch, of witnessing Desvoeux
in the act of adoration; and Desvoeux, if he would let no one else have
a chance of talking, had, Maud felt, plenty to say himself. It was
indiscreet, but very pleasant. Even Mrs. Vereker grew alarmed, and
making an excuse to pass close by them, came and whispered in Maud's ear
a solemn 'Don't!'

'Don't what?' said Maud in ill-affected wonderment.

'Don't be a goose,' said her companion; 'Mr. Desvoeux, would you be
good-natured and go and fetch me some ice-pudding, while I sit and talk
to Mrs. Sutton?'

'With pleasure,' said Desvoeux, smothering his resentment as best he
could; 'but where am I to sit when I come back?'

'You need not come back for half-an-hour,' said Mrs. Vereker quietly;
'go and talk with some one else. I see I must keep you young people both
in order.'

Desvoeux went off in dudgeon, and Mrs. Vereker lost no time in supplying
his place. 'Ah, Mr. Boldero!' she said, 'come and be amusing, please,
and give us the latest news from Dustypore.'

For once in his life Boldero thought Mrs. Vereker very nice.

'Be amusing!' thought Maud; 'why does not she ask him to fly to the moon
at once? Only Mr. Desvoeux can be that.'

And so it proved. Even Mrs. Vereker could not make conversation go.
Boldero was stiff, uncordial and ill at ease. Maud was vexed, and did
not care to conceal it. It was a relief when General Beau appeared, and
Maud, in a pet, asked him to take her to the waterfall.

The General, who had been intending to perform the pilgrimage with Mrs.
Vereker, did not betray that he was disconcerted, and professed his
delight at the suggestion.

'But,' said Maud, 'can we trust those two naughty people together? My
dear Mrs. Vereker, "Don't!"'

'Is not she growing saucy?' Mrs. Vereker said to Boldero; 'it is all
your fault; all you gentlemen conspire to spoil her.'

'No,' said Boldero,'begging your pardon, it is all your fault. You let
one of us have it all his own way. You encourage him to flirt, and
encourage her to encourage him. It is a shame, Mrs. Vereker; in another
fortnight her reputation will be gone.'

'Fiddlededee!' cried Mrs. Vereker. 'See what jealousy will do! You might
as well accuse me of flirting with you, and every one knows that I am a
saint.'

'A very pretty one and in a very pretty dress,' said Boldero, whom Mrs.
Vereker's violet eyes always threw off his balance in about two minutes.

'No, thank you,' she said, tossing her shapely head in pretty scorn, 'I
don't want any flattery; we are too old friends. My dress is lovely, I
am well aware, and it has pleased God to make me not quite a fright. But
about Maud, now: don't you know that all the gossip is simple envy; some
horrid unkind old woman like Mrs. Fotheringham, with about as much heart
as one of these rocks, and her two hoydens of girls? But here comes
Major Fenton, who has, I consider, quite neglected me to-day.'

Major Fenton was one of the hosts, and the most eligible of the trio.

'Impossible!' he said, melting under the sweet smile from a stern,
languid air which he wore to all the world; 'the duties of my day
performed, its pleasures are now, I hope, about to begin. Will you come
with me to the waterfall?'

Mrs. Vereker bent two soft orbs on Boldero with a reproachful look, as
if to say, 'Why did you not ask me sooner?' and went off in glee with
the Major; and Boldero, left in solitude to his own meditations,
mentally voted this the dullest, flattest, and most unsuccessful picnic
at which it had ever been his ill-luck to be a guest.

When Maud and General Beau arrived at the waterfall, there, of course,
was Desvoeux, trying to encourage the Miss Fotheringhams to cross the
stream and so ascend to the finest point of view. This was a little more
than the Miss Fotheringhams' nerves were equal to: the stream was full
and foamed and tossed itself into an angry crest; the water looked black
and swift and treacherous. You had to jump on to one boulder, then
balance yourself on three stepping-stones through the shallows, then
make one good spring to the rock opposite, and the feat was done! This,
however, was just too much for the Miss Fotheringhams, who had not been
trained in athletics and were not naturally what the Irishmen call
'leppers.' As they were hesitating and refusing, Maud and the General
came up, looking very much bored. Maud had been finding her companion
almost intolerable, and would have jumped _anywhere_ to be free of him.
There was nothing in it: Desvoeux had been skipping across half-a-dozen
times. 'Look,' he said, 'a skip, two hops and a jump, and there you are!
Do try. Don't you see?'

'I see, exactly,' said Maud, gathering up her petticoats and giving her
parasol to General Beau.

'Stop! it is not safe,' he cried; 'stop, I implore; the rocks are
slippery, the water is deep. I implore, I beseech, I command!'

But the General might as well have commanded the stream to stop, for
Maud was gone, and in about two seconds was standing, flushed, beautiful
and triumphant, on the opposite side.

'If you will not come with us,' said Desvoeux, calling to the people on
the other side, 'we must go up to the Point without you. General Beau
will, I am sure, take care of the Miss Fotheringhams.'

'A most wilful girl,' thought the General, 'and dull, but a fine jumper,
and feet and ankles quite perfection.'

Maud, when she got across the stream, had passed a moral Rubicon; she
left propriety, prudence, and prudishness on the other side with the
General and the Miss Fotheringhams.

Desvoeux was in the greatest glee at the result which had come about. 'I
wish the General had tried and tumbled in,' he said, 'and got a
ducking.'

'Oh,' cried Maud, 'what a dreadful man he is, with his shrugs and his
"Ahs!" How lucky that you came to save me!'

'And you to save me,' said her companion; 'I was having a sad time of it
with the Fotheringham girls. What a thing it is to have a deliverer!'

'But,' said Maud, 'I think the younger one is looking very pretty. You
know you used to love her. What lovely hair!'

'Yes,' said the other. 'Hair

    So young and yellow, crowning sanctity,
    And claiming solitude: can hair be false?'

'It can,' exclaimed Maud; 'Mrs. Blunt showed me two large coils, which
had arrived from Douglas' in her last box from Europe. When one has a
diamond tiara I suppose one must have hair to put it in, _coûte qui
coûte_.'

'Mrs. Blunt and her eternal tiara!' cried Desvoeux; 'like the toad and
adversity, ugly and venemous, she wears a precious jewel in her head.
But is not this lovely? Look at the rainbow in the foam and the deep
green of the ferns beside it. Was it not worth a jump?'

'Was not _what_ worth a jump?' said Maud, with one of her pretty
blushes.

'If only,' cried Desvoeux, 'there was somewhere we could jump to, where
I could have you all for my very own! But see, here is the Speaking
Rock; call out something now and see how it will answer you.'

'Hoop!' cried Maud, and 'Hoop!' answered the steep crag opposite, and
Maud, in a mood to be pleased with everything, was quite delighted.
'Hoop, hie!' she cried again, and all the hillside seemed to echo to her
joyful tones.

'See,' cried Desvoeux, 'you have waked the Genius of the Mountain. If
you called long enough the nymphs would come and dance and crown you for
a rural queen, the fairest that Arcadia ever saw!'

'Now,' said Maud, quite breathless with her calls, 'shout out something,
Mr. Desvoeux, and see what the mountain nymphs will have to say to you.'

'No,' Desvoeux said sentimentally, 'the nymphs would answer nothing: my
voice is too rough to please them. Besides I know by experience it is my
fate to call and call, and rocks and other things just as hard will give
me no response.'

'Indeed,' said Maud, 'I think they answer quite as much as is good for
you.'

'Our echoes,' cried Desvoeux, turning suddenly upon her and speaking
with a vehemence that was only half in play--

    'Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
    And grow for ever and for ever----'

'And ever and ever,' laughed Maud. 'Well, now, it is high time that they
stopped growing for the present. Come, Mr. Desvoeux, let us get back
before our dear friends have torn us quite to pieces.'

Maud came back in great spirits and made a public laugh at General Beau
for his desertion of her.

'"The rocks are slippery, the water is deep!"' she cried, taking him off
to his face with great success, '"I implore, I entreat, I command"; but
I don't jump! O faithless, faithless General Beau!'

The General was not in the least disconcerted. 'Ah!' he said, in his
usual mysterious way; and everybody felt that he could have jumped if he
had chosen, but that he had some particular reason for not choosing to
do so.

Then the party reassembled for tea and they played at games. Some one
proposed 'What is my thought like?'

'Delightful!' cried Maud. 'General Beau, what is my thought like, pray?'

'Like?' said the General, quite unprepared for such sudden demands on
his conversational powers, 'it is like yourself, no doubt.'

'Enough, enough!' cried Maud. 'Now, then, please say how wit, which is
my word, and I are like each other?'

'Ah!' said the General, as if to imply that he mentally perceived the
resemblance; 'because, because'----

'Because,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'you are both to "madness near allied."'

'Or because,' said Desvoeux, cutting in with great promptitude, '"true
wit is nature to advantage dressed;" and so, I am sure, is Mrs. Sutton.'

'Very nice!' cried Maud, glowing with pleasure; 'now, General Beau, you
must pay forfeit, you know. I will give you a bad one for deserting me
so cruelly.'

'Forfeits!' said Desvoeux, 'spare us, spare us--they are too fatiguing.'

'Not a bit,' said Maud, 'you bow to what is wisest, and kneel to what is
prettiest, and kiss what you love best.'

'Well, then,' said Desvoeux, kissing his hand sentimentally and blowing
it into the air, 'there is a kiss for what I love best, wherever it may
be.'

'Dear me,' said Mrs. Vereker, 'what a touching idea! There goes my
kiss.'

'And,' cried Maud, laughing and kissing the tips of her pretty fingers,
'there goes mine! What a state the air will be in! But here comes Major
Fenton with a plate of plumcake, which is what I love best; so my kiss
is for that!'

'Happy plumcake!' said the Major, gallantly, 'to be loved, eaten and
kissed by a mouth so fair.'

'Give me a bit too, Fenton,' said Desvoeux; 'I must eat some for
sympathy, though it is not what I love best.'

Then the quiet valley shadows crept about them, and it grew sad and
sombre; and while they sat and talked and laughed, the day was done and
all steps were turned towards home.

So Maud and Desvoeux found themselves travelling home together in the
moonlight and falling behind the crowd of riders, to enjoy, undisturbed,
the pleasure of a _tête-à-tête_. One of the great dangers of the Hills
is that the paths admit only of two people riding abreast; the _terzo
incomodo_ must ride behind, and might, so far as prudence is concerned,
just as well not be there at all. No such inconvenient intruder,
however, threatened Desvoeux's enjoyment of the present occasion or
aided the faltering monitions which Maud's half-silenced conscience
whispered to her. Her nerves were overstrung, and the excessive
loveliness of the scene seemed only to add to her excitement. Along the
winding path which crept up the mountain-side, and through the dark
green forest-trees towering sublimely over them and all ablaze in
moonlit patches with silver floods of light, their journey took them.
Far away, miles below, a hundred tiny sparks showed where the villagers
were cooking the evening meal; across the valley, on the opposite side,
a great streak of woodland was blazing, scarcely seen by day, but now a
ruddy lurid glow in the white light that lit up all the scene around. In
the horizon was the great, cold, snowy range, standing out hard and
clear in the moonlight--still, majestic, awful. How sweet, how bright,
how exhilarating to a heart so prompt for enjoyment, senses so quickly
impressible, nerves so alive to every surrounding influence as Maud's!
Again and again she burst into exclamations of pleasure as each turn in
the road brought them to some new scene of enchantment.

'Let us stop,' she cried, 'I must get off and sit down here and enjoy
this in peace.'

'Let us walk a little,' said Desvoeux, 'and send our ponies on to await
us at the half-way point. Are you too tired?'

'I am not a bit tired,' Maud said, glowing with pleasure; 'it is too
lovely to think of it. This is the best of all the day's pleasures.'

'It is lovely,' said her companion, 'but to me its greatest charm is
that I have you to myself.'

'Well,' said Maud, who was accustomed to pulling up Desvoeux when he
became inconveniently sentimental, 'we have had a delightful day and
great fun. I wish we had had the forfeits all the same and made General
Beau do something nice. You stopped it all, Mr. Desvoeux, by being so
idle. Why did you blow your kiss into the air?'

'It was the only thing I could do with it,' said Desvoeux, 'and see--it
has alighted on your cheek!'

'And _that_ on your arm,' cried Maud, wielding her whip with a sudden
vehemence which made Desvoeux feel that his kiss had been, at any rate,
well paid for; 'when I want to be kissed I will tell you; but no
robberies!'

'You little spitfire!' said Desvoeux, rubbing his shoulder with a comic
air.

'Well,' said Maud, suddenly repentant, and trying her whip across her
knee, 'it _does_ hurt, I confess. I beg your pardon. You deserved it,
however, and I was in a passion at the moment. Do you forgive me?'

She gave him her hand--that little, delicate, exquisitely-fashioned
piece of Nature's workmanship, which Desvoeux had often vowed was the
most beautiful thing in India. Its very touch electrified him.

'Forgive you?' he said, with a sudden sadness in his voice; 'you hurt me
once in good earnest, and I forgave you that, and do forgive it, but it
hurts me still.'

Desvoeux's voice trembled with feeling. Something in his look struck
Maud with a sudden pang of pity, sympathy, remorse. Was Desvoeux then
really suffering, and his life darkened on account of her? A sudden rush
of sentiment streamed across her soul, carrying everything before it. A
passionate, irresistible impulse possessed her. She stooped towards
him, bent her cheek, flushed with excitement, to his, pressed to his the
lips on which Desvoeux's thoughts had dwelt a hundred times in
impassioned reverie, and kissed him with a long, sweet, earnest caress,
the sudden outburst of gratitude, tenderness, regret.

Desvoeux said not a word, but he still kept possession of her hand, and
the two stood looking silently across the misty valley and the precipice
that fell away at their feet into solemn gloom below. The tramp of a
horse's feet was heard behind them and Boldero came trotting innocently
up the path.

'We are walking home,' Maud said, 'the night is so delicious. You may
get off and come with us, if you please.'

Boldero, who would have jumped over the mountain-side if Maud had bidden
him, at once dismounted. Desvoeux fell behind, and said not one word
during the rest of the homeward journey.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

ILL NEWS FLY APACE.

    Never any more, while I live,
    Need I hope to see his face as before.


Maud reached her house over-tired, over-wrought, and somewhat sad at
heart. She had gone much further than she meant, much further than her
real feelings prompted. Even as she yielded to the sudden impulse she
had repented, and while still doing it begun to wish the deed undone.
She had been vexed and teased and excited till she scarce knew what her
actions meant. The man to whom she had committed herself by so
compromising an indiscretion had no sooner reached the dangerous
eminence in her regard than he began to fall away and make her doubly
remorseful for the act. She resented his ascendency over her, the force
of the liking with which he inspired her and the degree to which he led
her where he would. His language, when he was not there to carry it off
with fun and daring, seemed unreal, exaggerated, absurd. Even before
they got home her taste had begun to turn against him. Boldero's almost
reverential care of her set her upon disparaging the other's lawless,
inconsiderate homage. The very way in which he stayed behind was, she
knew, intended as a sulky protest against Boldero's intrusion. A man who
really cared about her would, Maud felt, have acquiesced in what she
chose, what it was obviously right for her to choose, without any such
display of temper. Then there had been something in Desvoeux's manner,
when he wished her good-night, which implied a private understanding and
set her heart beating with indignation. A really fine nature would have
been doubly deferential, doubly courteous, doubly watchful against
seeming to take a liberty. Desvoeux's tone had something in it to Maud's
ear, which was familiar, easy, only just not disrespectful. She had been
defying public opinion for him all day; she had at last, in a sudden
impulse of pity, put herself at his mercy: already she began to doubt
whether he was a man who would use his advantage generously. Perhaps
after all Felicia had been right about him.

Then, when she got home, everything conspired to try her nerves. In the
first place, no letter had come from her husband; there had been no
letter for two days before, and this was a longer interval than had
ever yet occurred. She tried in vain not to be frightened at the
unaccustomed silence. Mrs. Vereker laughed her anxieties to scorn, but
Maud knew better what such a long cessation implied. Her conscience was
too ill at ease not to be apprehensive at the first occasion, however
trivial, for alarm. Either something had happened or, dreadful
possibility, her husband was displeased, and too displeased to write.
While she was taking off her things and harassing herself with all sorts
of fancied troubles, Mrs. Vereker came in and completed her
discomfiture.

'Maud,' she said, and Maud thought her tones sounded harsh and
unsympathetic (how different from Felicia's gentle lectures! which
always thawed her heart at once), 'I have been commissioned to give you
a scolding and by whom, do you suppose?'

'I really don't know, and don't care,' said Maud, in a pet, 'I have had
enough the last few days to last me for some time. Will it not keep till
to-morrow or the day after?'

'No, it will not,' said Mrs. Vereker, who was herself sincerely provoked
at the notoriety which Maud's indiscretion had attained; 'it is from the
Viceroy. I have something to say to you from him. Now do you wish to
hear?'

'No,' said Maud, 'unless it is an appointment for my husband.'

'No, but it is about your husband, or about things your husband would
not like. He told me to scold you thoroughly.'

'Then,' said Maud, her heart beating so that she could scarcely speak,
'he took a great liberty. I know, however, that he did not.'

'Guilty conscience!' cried the other; 'how white you look! Well, it is
not exactly the truth, but it is not far off it. He gave me a hint.'

'He gave you a fiddlestick!' cried Maud in a passion; 'he meant to tell
you not to flirt yourself.'

'Oh no! Lord Clare and I understand each other far too well for that. He
said quite seriously, "When is Colonel Sutton coming up? Why don't he
come? He ought to come; write to him and say so; say so from me." Now,
what do you think that meant?'

Maud felt her colour gone and her heart beating violently, and could
venture on no reply.

'You see,' said her monitress pitilessly, 'you will be injudicious. I am
always telling you. You can't be content with fluttering round the
candle, but must needs go into the flame and singe your wings, and then
of course it hurts you. People should know when to stop.'

'And,' cried Maud, in a thorough passion, 'people should not throw
stones who live in glass houses. Why, Mrs. Vereker, if I am a flirt, I
should like to know who taught me?'

'Now you are rude and cross. You should never throw stones, whether you
live in a glass house or not. The best thing I can do is to leave you to
recover your temper.'

Mrs. Vereker was gone and Maud's last friend seemed lost to her. She had
offended every one; or rather every one had done something to offend
her. She disliked them all. She flung herself upon her bed and wept in
very bitterness of heart. She longed for a really friendly, loving hand
to take her and get her right; she longed for her old mistress to
confess to; she thought of Felicia, considerate, tender, sympathetic,
and she seemed like an angel compared with those amongst whom she was
living. If she could but have crept to her embrace and breathed her
troubles in her ear! She thought of her husband--the pure and faithful
heart beating with no thought but for her, where nothing coarse or
unchivalrous could ever find a place; where she knew that she alone was
enshrined; of his perfect trust in her, his spotless faith, his
transparent honour. She looked at his photograph standing on the table:
how grave and sad it looked! She flung herself on the bed; the bitter
tears of remorse and repentance began to flow, and while they
flowed--for Maud was far more exhausted than she knew--she slept; and in
her sleep of a few minutes passed into dreamland; not the happy, silly,
aimless dreamland of easy minds and tired frames, where Maud's nights
were chiefly spent; but into a sad weird region, where everything seemed
horribly real and connected and designed and to bear some frightful
relation to actual life that makes it part of our being and haunts one's
after-thoughts. She was with her husband once again, and yet it was not
quite himself; an undefined something separated him from her and all the
past. She was riding by him. How grieved and reproachful a mien he wore,
as of a man with a hidden sorrow cankering his heart! And then he fell,
and Maud saw him crushed and wounded and helpless as once before, and
agonised in some frightful entanglement with his horse. She meanwhile
was trying in vain to help or to approach him, for a hidden hand
restrained her, and Sutton himself, sad and stern, was waving her away.
And then came a fierce struggle and blows and cries, and Maud found
herself waking with a scream and her servant standing by her bed and
saying that a 'Sahib' had come and wanted to see her directly.

She knew what it meant and went with a beating heart into the
drawing-room, as fresh from the land of sorrow and ready for news of
disaster.

She found Boldero in the drawing-room, looking ominously grave.

'Well, Mr. Boldero,' Maud said, with an unsuccessful attempt at gaiety
and a dread of the answer which she would receive, 'why have you come
back? Do you want me to give you some tea or to receive some advice?'

'Have you heard from Sutton to-day?' said the other, not heeding her
inquiry.

'No,' said Maud, turning sick at heart and deadly white; 'why do you
ask? Quick, quick!'

'Because I have bad accounts of him from Dustypore. You must not be
alarmed.'

'But I _am_ alarmed,' cried Maud, by this time in thorough terror;
'don't you see that standing there and giving hints is just the way to
frighten one? I know quite well you have brought me some bad news.'

'Yes,' said Boldero, 'I am sorry to say I have. Your husband is ill.'

Maud started up and looked him straight in the face, with a serious,
eager look, that made Boldero, even at that moment, think how lovely she
was.

'Now,' she cried, 'tell me the truth. Have you told me all?'

'No, I have not. I can hardly bear to tell you; but you have sense and
courage, and would rather hear the truth. _He is down with cholera._'

The words went like a sword through Maud's heart. A blank horror seized
her. This, then, had been the meaning of her dream. The blow came
crashing down upon her, and body and soul seemed to reel before it. She
sank like a crushed, terrified child on the sofa, and, covering her face
in her hands, hid herself, speechless, motionless, as from an ill that
was too great to bear.

'Let me send for Mrs. Vereker,' said Boldero.

'No!' cried Maud, starting up, 'pray do not. Leave me for a minute or
two. I shall be better directly. Will you come back in a quarter of an
hour?'

'I will do anything you bid me,' said Boldero frightened at the task he
had in hand and its probable results, and thinking that perhaps the best
thing he could do was to leave Maud to deal with her sorrow alone.

So Boldero went out into the moonlight, and strolled about the pathway,
now so silent, where so many joyous footsteps used to press, and Maud
was left to herself with her first great trouble.

It was significant of the real nature of her relations to Mrs. Vereker
that she shrank especially from seeking her now, in her time of sorrow,
or following her counsel. Mrs. Vereker was essentially a fine-weather
friend. The task which Maud had now in hand was something deeper and
graver than anything that the other's feelings reached. What lay before
her now to do, or to endure, was something between her husband and
herself, and it would be profanity for a stranger to come into that
sacred region. Mrs. Vereker's advice would, Maud knew instinctively, be
all wrong. She herself felt already what she ought to do. She knelt
weeping on the sofa, and the thoughts of sorrow, humiliation, remorse,
came pouring thick upon her troubled mind. To what a precipice's edge
had not her folly and madness brought her! her fair fame darkened, her
husband's name dishonoured, her vows of love and honour how badly kept!
Oh, how unutterably weak, faithless, heartless she had been! How ghastly
all the afternoon's adventures, the evening's folly, seemed! how wicked,
how base, how altogether bad! She had felt the thought stinging all the
while, but other, stronger feelings had helped her to ignore it and
forget. Now there was no other feeling, and it was overwhelming.

There was only one thing left to do, one good, one hope left--to fly to
her husband's side, to pour out the pent-up stream of confession,
repentance, and love, and, if only God would spare him, never, never
leave him again!

When Boldero came in again Maud was herself again. 'I am better and
stronger now,' she said; 'the news came upon me too suddenly, but now I
am calm. I have settled what I ought to do, and you must help me. I
shall go down to him at once.'

'Indeed, you cannot do that,' Boldero said, decisively; 'it would be
excessively wrong.'

'Indeed, indeed I will!' cried Maud; 'I feel that I ought and must. What
is there to stop me?'

'It is out of the question,' said the other; 'you will be running into a
great deal of danger unnecessarily.'

'I have no strength to talk about it,' said Maud, 'but I must go or I
shall die, and you must help me. Do you mean me to stay quietly here,
and Jem dying by himself? My God, my God! why did I ever leave him?'

Here Maud threw herself on the sofa, and cried a longer, sadder, more
heartfelt cry than ever in her life before. Boldero went again into the
garden in despair, for it was in vain, he saw, to try to soothe her.

It ended, of course, in Boldero telegraphing for two relays of horses to
be sent out from the Camp, and sending out two more as fast as possible,
to get as far as might be on the way for the forced march of fifty miles
which Maud and he were, it was settled, at once to undertake. She was
to rest for a few hours, start at three o'clock, get on as far as they
could in the cool, rest through the day, and complete the remainder of
the journey the following night. They would be at the Camp, Boldero
reckoned, by the morning of the day after to-morrow.

It required all his official resources to organise such a journey, but a
Collector on his march can do anything; and Boldero, with whom Maud was
by a sudden reaction of sentiment rapidly being promoted from heroine to
saint, was determined that her journey, so far as in him lay, should be
as comfortable as money and care could make it.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

FLIGHT.

    In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand,
    and led them away from the City of Destruction. We see no white
    winged angels now; but yet men are led away from threatening
    destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them gently
    towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more
    backward.


Maud effected a speedy reconciliation with Mrs. Vereker, who had
entrenched herself in her bedroom with a French novel till such time as
Maud should have recovered her equanimity. Mrs. Vereker at once forgot
her grievance, listened with real concern to Maud's alarming tidings,
and lent herself with great alacrity to assist in the preparations for a
hasty departure. Boldero had gone off and was to get coolies[5] together
as speedily as possible, so as to be well on the way during the cool
hours of the early morning, before the heat of the day would render
travelling a work of distress.

By three o'clock, accordingly, a little army was collected in front of
Mrs. Vereker's door. The urgent demands of the Collector and the
subsequent zeal of his subordinates had done wonders, and some forty men
had been assembled at an hour's notice for the task of carrying down
Maud, her servant and her various belongings.

The moon had sunk and the torches glared fitfully with dreadful smell
and smoke. The figures looked weird and strange and, to Maud's eye,
horribly numerous. The arrangement of each box involved enormous
discussion as to how the burden of carrying it could best be shared. At
last all was ready; Maud was established in a palanquin; the carriers
kept time to the cadence of a wild refrain; the torch-bearers shuffled
along in front, relays of coolies came behind; close at her side rode
the faithful Boldero, marshalling the little force, and ever on the
watch to shield her from any possible annoyance. Maud appreciated his
fidelity, and felt that she had never liked him half well enough before.
Her conscience smote her for all her rude speeches, slighting acts and
unkind looks; she determined henceforth to be very kind indeed. Boldero,
accordingly, though in a great state of agitation and distress about his
friend's condition, found the journey not quite without its charm. He
had telegraphed to the Camp for Sutton's two horses to be sent out, and
both of them were well accustomed to carry Maud when occasion offered. A
messenger was to be sent up to each halting-place, so that Maud had not
an hour longer to wait for news than was absolutely necessary. It was a
relief, hour by hour, to find the distance growing less and the messages
more recent; still the tidings were very grievous. Sutton, it was clear,
was very ill. He had been thoroughly knocked up beforehand, and agitated
and distressed about something, the doctors thought, and this no doubt
had helped the evil. This was a cruel stab for Maud. For a few days,
said the letter, it would be rash to say what turn the case might take;
still there was reason to be hopeful: he was a very strong man, and very
temperate, and these points, of course, were greatly in his favour. The
mortality, however, had been terrible at the Camp, and the men were
greatly disheartened. They were now marching every day, in hopes of
keeping clear of their own infection.

An hour or two later the two travellers came to a halt. Maud found some
early tea awaiting her, and joyfully exchanged the tiring captivity of
the palanquin for the horse which had been hurried on for her use for
this stage of the journey.

'I have been fast asleep,' she said, as Boldero and she rode down the
hillside together and watched the faint glow in the east warming
gradually into day, 'and this is very refreshing. The darkness, the
crowd, the blazing torches, the confusion, the babel of tongues we had
last night seem like a horrid dream. I was never more thankful for the
light. I feel as if I were escaping; and, Mr. Boldero, you are my
deliverer. I shall be grateful to you all my life. You must have had so
much trouble and have done it all so kindly and like yourself.'

'Do not talk of that,' said the other; 'what are friends for but to
serve us when we need them?'

'And to forgive us when we wrong them?' said Maud, whose conscience was
goading her to confession; 'I know I have behaved ill to you--to you and
to everybody. Now I am going to try to do better, if only I can get the
chance--if only God in His goodness will grant me that.'

'I am hopeful,' said Boldero, 'for both of you. Sutton, I feel, has
something greater yet to do. We have often laughed and said that nothing
can kill him. You know in cholera it is as much mind as body: courage,
calmness, and determination are half the battle.'

'Then,' said Maud, with enthusiasm, faith, and hopefulness glowing in
her face, 'I am sure he will do well. His body is his soul's servant,
you cannot fancy how completely; it does its bidding as a matter of
course. I do not think it would even die without his leave. Have you
telegraphed to say that I am coming?'

'Yes, but leaving it to the doctors to tell him when they think best;
or not at all, if they fear the intelligence will excite him. Very
likely they will be afraid to do so.'

'They will do wrong,' said Maud, who knew her husband's temperament
better even than Boldero; it will not agitate him, and it will make him
resolve to live. He _will_ live, I believe, if it is only in order to
forgive me.'

'Do not say "to forgive,"' said the other, who, in a generously
enthusiastic mood, began to think that Maud was pressing with undue
severity against herself; 'to tell you all that you have been to him and
all the sunshine you have brought into his life.'

'All I have been!' cried Maud, with a vehement remorse; 'I could tell
him that best. You could tell him. I mean to tell him the first moment I
can--and I am in an agony till I can do so. I have been mad, Mr.
Boldero, or in a dream, I think, and you tried in vain to wake me. Now I
am awake, and know the truth. All the things and people we have left
behind are merely shadows, and I mistook them for realities; only one
thing in the world is real for me: my love for my husband. Other people
flatter and excite and amuse one, and one is carried away with all sorts
of follies; but my heart never moves and never can. It is his and his
only, and I never knew it fully till last night. My life, I find, is
centred in his.'

'I pray God,' said Boldero devoutly, 'we may find him better; and
somehow I believe we shall.'

A level stretch of valley lay before them, and allowed them to push
sharply over the next five or six miles. By ten o'clock they arrived at
their halting-place, where Boldero proposed that they should wait till
the afternoon. Maud, however, was too restless to halt.

'Suppose,' she said, 'we push on another stage? The sun is not so very
dreadful, after all.'

'The next two stages are bad ones,' said Boldero. 'Don't you remember
that long, troublesome valley with the rocks on either side?--by twelve
o'clock they will be all red-hot.'

'Well,' said Maud, 'we will tie a wet towel over my head. Will it do you
any harm? or the horses?'

'Me!' cried Boldero, in a tone which at once reassured his companion
that no danger need be apprehended so far as he was concerned; 'as for
my horses, they can, of course, go as many stages as you like.'

So they dressed and breakfasted and Maud declared herself quite ready
for an immediate start. Boldero brought in a great plantain-leaf from
the garden of the little inn, and they tied this under her wide pith
hat; then Maud armed herself with an enormous umbrella, and 'Now,' she
said, 'I am prepared for anything.'

By the end of the stage, however, her strength was spent: she sank into
the first chair that offered itself, and acquiesced thankfully, like a
tired child, in Boldero's decision that they should not move again till
the day's fierce glare was past. There was no need to hurry, for she was
now within a night's march of her husband, and by the morrow's morning
would have known and seen the worst.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

THE PRODIGAL'S RETURN.

          Thus 'twas granted me
    To know he loved me to the depth and height
    Of such large natures, ever competent
    With grand horizons, by the land or sea,
    To love's grand sunrise. Small spheres hold small fires,
    But he loved largely.


Maud was inexpressibly shocked at her husband's appearance. Neither the
telegrams nor the doctors' notes nor Boldero's description had in the
faintest degree prepared her for what she saw. She had heard of death,
and even seen it, but in its gentle, peaceful, unagonised aspect; she
had seen illness, but in its milder mood, as it visits the European
household: not the savage, destroying, desolating demon-angel that waves
a sword across the cholera-stricken plain or city in the East. A
sickness of a few days, a few hours, shatters the sufferer's frame,
blurs out the familiar features, leaves the stalwart man a quivering
skeleton, deadens the sense and clouds the strong mind with a deep,
dreadful shadow of oblivion.

And to this stage Sutton had come. Maud, despite all entreaties and
warnings, went straight to her husband's side and let the full horror of
the scene take possession of her soul. It wrung her very heart to see
him--the man whom, after all, she loved with a passion which, if
sometimes forgotten, was never extinct for an instant. She had loved him
at first; she loved him now ten times more than ever. She had wronged
him, neglected him, dishonoured him--alas, how grievously!--her one hope
lay in confession, reconciliation, forgiveness: and he lay there, more
dead than alive--speechless, motionless, except when some spasm of
suffering shook him--and, so far as outward sign showed, unconscious of
her presence. Maud thanked Heaven that she was on the spot to know and
see the worst, and yet it was almost more than she could bear. Her load
of anguish seemed too much for one till now a stranger to sorrow. Again
and again some old trait in the haggard, suffering face, a moan of pain,
a gesture too slight from weakness to be intelligible to any eye but
hers, touched a fresh chord in her heart, broke down her wavering
fortitude, and sent her rushing to her room to shed in solitude the
tears of sorrow and remorse. Again and again she washed away the useless
tears, nerved herself once more to maintain a courageous exterior, and
returned, with a fortitude which she felt gather strength within her,
to the sad task of watching and waiting for the crisis which a few hours
more must bring.

Let us leave that terrible passage of Maud's life, with its trembling,
agonising suspense, its heartfelt vows and prayers, its remorseful
tears, its thrilling hopes, its mysterious communings with another
world. Let us drop a curtain over that solemn season. Maud will emerge
from it, we may be sure, with a new-born fortitude, patience, loftiness
of soul; courage, the child of suffering; calmness, the attribute of
those who have been close upon despair.

A fortnight later Sutton was lying in the drawing-room, with no other
malady than excessive weakness, and with no other occupation than to
recruit his shattered powers. Maud was busied with the composition of
some appetising beverage, which was, the doctor said, the only kind of
medicine of which he now stood in need, and which could, in Maud's and
her husband's opinion, be properly concocted and administered by no hand
but hers. Then the invalid's pillows needed skilful arrangement, for he
was still at the stage when mere lying still is an exertion which seems
to tax every limb and muscle in the aching frame. Maud found an
indescribable relief and pleasure in waiting on her husband, and proved
herself a nature-taught adept in the kindly art of nursing. Every act,
though her husband knew it not, had, to Maud's aching conscience, a sort
of penitential devotion about it, and said a hundred things of love and
sorrow which as yet found no utterance in spoken words.

'What a model wife!' said Sutton, as he lay watching her movements, in
grateful admiration at her skill and care on his behalf.

'Ah! but,' said Maud, thankful for the opportunity of the confession she
was longing to make, 'I am not a model wife at all, but just everything
that a model ought not to be.'

'Then,' said Jem gallantly, 'I am for you, and not for the model,
whoever drew it.'

'Jem,' she said, with sudden seriousness, 'I want to tell you something,
and be forgiven. I meant to do so before, but you have been too poorly.
I am afraid it will hurt you. I have been going on very stupidly at
Elysium, and very wrongly, and doing everything that you would most have
disliked, and that I dislike now--oh! how bitterly!'

Sutton, to Maud's great relief, did not seem in the least surprised or
inclined to be serious about the matter. He took her hand and held it
with the kindest caressing manner.

'I have no doubt,' he said, 'that Mrs. Vereker did all she could to get
you into a scrape. It was a shame of me to let you go to her.'

'No,' said Maud, 'it was not her fault at all. The truth is, I have been
flirting with--some one.'

'Some one,' said Sutton, 'has been trying to flirt with you, you mean,
and no wonder. Some one showed his good taste at any rate.'

'Yes, but,' said the penitent, 'I flirted with him. I think I must have
been crazy.'

'You risked your life, dear, to come and be with me. Why look further
back than that? I cannot.'

'But,' said Maud, her cheeks burning scarlet at the awful confession
which conscience compelled her to make, 'that is not all: _I gave him a
kiss_.'

'Then,' said her husband, 'you gave him a great deal more than he
deserved, whoever he was. Well, now, give me one, and let us say no more
about it.'

The blinding tears fell fast and hot as Maud bent over her husband's
haggard face and exchanged the sweet pledge of reconciliation,
confidence, and love. There was something so generous, sparing and
delicately magnanimous in her husband's ready, uninquiring forgiveness,
and his refusal to know more of a matter which it grieved and shamed her
to narrate. Maud knew that his was a temperament which jealousy would
torture like any Othello's, and that his passion against an offender,
had it once forced its way to light, would have been a sort of fury. She
could perfectly realise to herself her husband doing anything--the
worst--to a man who, he thought, had in the slightest degree wronged
him. He was accustomed to stern deeds and stern sights, and, as any man
does who has a hundred times seen death face to face and found nothing
to dread in it, held life the cheapest of all his treasures. Maud had
felt an awful misgiving lest he should utter some dreadful, quiet threat
at the wrong-doer. As it was, her husband would not even know his name
and treated the whole thing as a mere childish misadventure. It was
indeed an heroic kindness. Her whole nature went out to him in
thankfulness and love; she bent her head beside him and hid her face and
wept in the fulness of her heart. No wonder his soldiers had learnt to
worship him. No word more was spoken, but Sutton had good cause to know
that the last touch of waywardness, the last fickle mood, the forgetful
moment, the girlish caprice, were gone for ever--the last spot in her
heart that had not been wholly his was carried at last. 'I am thankful,'
the surgeon said, 'that he is better: the poor child is ten times more
in love with him than ever.'

Then the three friends had a very happy time. It is so pleasant to be
getting well; and nursing, too, is a pleasant labour when the invalid
is interesting and considerate and well-beloved. Happy the patient whose
lot it is to pass from the dreary land of sickness with such sweet
companionship! Boldero, though the gravity of his loss kept pace in his
thoughts with each new-discovered charm in Maud, got himself into an
heroic mood, and derived a satisfaction, less blackened with melancholy
than he would have conceived possible, from the sight of his friend's
felicity. At any rate he made himself very pleasant--was always
available for whatever was wanted of him--submitted, it is probable, to
a little delightful tyranny from the woman he adored, and went away at
last leaving almost a little blank behind him.

'How kind and useful he has been!' Maud said, as they watched his
cavalcade winding along the valley; 'and how clever about your
barley-water! Yes--I certainly like him.'

'Like him!' said Sutton. 'I should think so. He is the best fellow in
the world.'

'Yes,' said his wife, 'all the same there is something pleasant in a
_tête-à-tête_; and I don't like anybody taking care of you but me.'



L'ENVOI.

    Joy, gentle friends, joy and fresh days of love
    Accompany your hearts!


Hope, which catches up the brush as it falls from the narrator's hand,
adds yet another scene, in the faint, hazy, indistinct hues of a distant
horizon, to the picture at which we have been looking for awhile.

We are on Aldershot Heath. Troops are marching up from different
directions; orderlies are galloping wildly on their behests; words of
command ring noisily through the air; great masses of red come looming
out of the dust as each regiment tramps solidly along; there is the roar
of cannon from the neighbouring hill; the horse artillery goes rattling
by like a hurricane of horses and iron; in front is a long array of
spectators, and in the midst a blaze of uniforms and the carriage where
a gracious Sovereign sits to inspect and compliment the heroes of the
day--the men who had served their country well; for there has been a
successful expedition, led by an Indian General; and the victorious
army, with its leader, bearing his honours thick upon him, at its head,
is marching past amidst the shouts of a joyful and sympathetic crowd.
When Sutton, for it is he, has passed the Royal carriage and made his
salute, he turns his horse and joins the staff who glitter round their
Sovereign. Kind words are spoken and a Royal hand adds one more to his
long list of decorations. Presently he makes his way to a group of
ladies in a carriage near at hand. There is Felicia, with a sweet,
matronly air, her beautiful features none the less fair for the lines
that sorrow had left upon them and some silvery threads among the waving
gold; she sits serene and joyous in the presence of two lovely girls,
Sutton's playfellows of old, now, as he tells them, when he wants to be
very polite, the very repetition of their mother. Vernon is in England,
at home for his last furlough, and beyond lies, near enough now to be a
source of pleasure, not of pain, the prospect of a final settlement at
home. Beside Felicia sits Maud, blushing under her husband's honours,
but rejoicing that all the world should recognise his claim to homage.
As he comes up the smile that she gives him tells us that all is more
than well between them. Suddenly she jumps up with an exclamation, for
she has recognised a familiar face--it is Boldero, who is making his way
to them through the crowd. He brings a blushing lady on his arm, and he
is blushing too, and there are introductions and greetings which sound
as if his old love-wound had been healed by the only effectual remedy.

Meanwhile the long armed array is flowing steadily past. Maud, who is
quite the soldier's wife, criticises and approves. At length the last
regiment has come and gone, the last band has crashed out its music, the
Royal carriage makes a move, the staff gallops away, the crowd is
pushing and hurrahing and scattering itself over the wide plain; the
shades of evening are gathering over it; the Indian friends drive off
merrily for home; the scene fades--fades and dies away.

Let us leave this party of happy people to themselves--we must be their
companions no longer.


THE END.


PRINTED BY BALLANTYNE, HANSON AND CO.
EDINBURGH AND LONDON



FOOTNOTES:

[1] For the sake of readers who might mispronounce the name of the
famous station Das-tipúr if the official spelling were retained, the
name is spelt phonetically.

[2] Club.

[3] Blackwater, _i.e._, sea.

[4] Government.

[5] Native porters.



Transcriber's Notes


Obvious errors of punctuation and diacritics repaired.

Hyphen added: good-nature (p. 88), half-way (p. 133), light-hearted (p.
111), over-wrought (p. 135), school-girl (p. 35).

Hyphen removed: dreamland (p. 164), hillside (p. 320), lifetime (p. 33).

The following words appear both with and without hypens and have not
been changed: off[-]hand.

Pp. 8, 158: "Fortheringham" changed to "Fotheringham".

P. 11: "alterative" changed to "alternative" (a very agreeable
alternative).

P. 42: "biddin" changed to "bidding" (only too happy to do her bidding).

P. 99: "hat" changed to "that" (there is no necessity for that).

P. 111: "he" changed to "she" (she might console herself).

P. 111: "protégé" changed to "protégée" (her _protégée_ be put beyond
the reach of danger).

P. 131: "dot" changed to "got" (You've got a big tear on your cheek).

P. 209: "adepts" changed to "adept" (adept at interpreting them).

P. 213: "corps" changed to "corpse" (each one motionless and
corpse-like).

P. 239: "or" changed to "for" (Here I shall be for weeks).

P. 293: "incongrous" changed to "incongruous" (rendered them somewhat
incongruous companions).

P. 296: added "I" (I have my beloved Browning).

P. 337: "violent" changed to "violet" (Mrs. Vereker's violet eyes).

P. 344: "terzo incommodo" changed to "terzo incomodo".





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