Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

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

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Star of India" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)



STAR OF INDIA



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_

Into Temptation
Late in Life
The Spell of the Jungle
East of Suez
Red Records
The Stronger Claim
The Waters of Destruction
Idolatry
The Charm
The Anglo-Indians
The Happy Hunting Ground
The Woman in the Bazaar
Separation
Tales that are Told



STAR OF INDIA


BY
ALICE PERRIN

[Illustration: Decoration]


CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne


First published 1919


DEDICATED TO MY COUSIN,

BEATRICE MARY BYNG HOLDEN



STAR OF INDIA



PART I



CHAPTER I

     I dare not choose my lot;
       I would not if I might.
     Choose thou for me, my God,
       So shall I walk aright.


The rustic portion of the congregation shouted the familiar hymn with
laborious goodwill, overpowering the more cultivated voices that rose
from the chancel and the front pews--almost defeating the harsh notes
wrung from the harmonium by the village schoolmistress, who also led the
singing in a piercing key, supported raucously by her pupils gathered
about the unmusical instrument. Even in the early 'nineties nothing so
ambitious as an organ or a surpliced choir had as yet been attempted in
this remote west-country parish, though with the advent of the new vicar
innovations had begun; actually, of late, the high oak pews had been
removed to make way for shining pitch-pine seats that in the little
Norman church produced much the same effect as a garish oleograph set in
an antique frame. Most of the parishioners approved the change;
certainly it had the advantage of permitting everyone to observe at
leisure who came to church, what they wore, and how they behaved during
the sermon, even if those who were somnolently inclined found the
publicity disconcerting.

Stella Carrington, for one, infinitely preferred the new seats. Though
no longer a child--seventeen last birthday--she could never quite forget
the hours of misery she had endured in the old pew; the smell of dust
and hassocks, the feeling of captivity, the desperate impulse that would
assail her to kick open the door, to fling a prayer-book over the
barrier, to jump up on the seat; only the fear of grandmamma's wrath had
restrained her from such antics. This Sunday, as she stood between Aunt
Augusta and Aunt Ellen, singing the hymn that preceded the sermon,
recollections returned to her of her childhood's trials in the high pew,
and with these, unaccountably, came the old sense of imprisonment. The
feeling disturbed her; she searched her mind for the cause, and became
conscious that it was somehow connected with the presence of Maud
Verrall, seated with her parents in the religious preserve of the Squire
and his family in the chancel. The Verralls had been absent from The
Court for a considerable period, and now here was Maud, who when Stella
last saw her had been in short petticoats with her hair down her back,
transformed into a young lady; she had a curled fringe, bangles and
puffed sleeves; her dress touched the ground, she had a waist, and her
hat, of a fashionable sailor shape, was set well to the back of her
head. And all this though she was no older than her former playmate,
Stella Carrington, whose skirts even now barely reached her ankles,
whose hair still hung in a plait, whose hat, in her own opinion, was
more suited to a child in a perambulator than to a girl of seventeen. No
wonder she felt stifled, cramped! She realised why the memory of her
tortures in the old box-like pew had recurred to her mind; and then
suddenly the hymn that she knew so well and had sung on such countless
Sundays, paying no special heed to the words, struck her as the acme of
hypocrisy. She ceased singing, amazed that the recognition had not come
to her sooner. Surely whoever was responsible for the wording of this
hymn could never have known the tedium for a young person of living with
a stony-hearted grandmother and two maiden aunts in a small village
where nothing ever happened; the author must have belonged to people
like the Verralls, who were, of course, satisfied with their "lot," and
did not want to change it; people who could "dare" do anything they
pleased. If she, Stella Carrington, could choose her lot at this moment,
she would change places with Maud Verrall; and she wondered how Maud
would feel if she found herself forced to accept the lot of Stella
Carrington! Would Maud still humbly proclaim that she would not change
it even if she might?...

Only when Aunt Augusta, regarding her severely, touched her arm did
Stella discover that the hymn was ended; that the congregation was
settling down for the sermon. She sank to her seat, blushing, abashed.

Summer had set in early that year, and the sun poured through the
stained glass window subscribed for by the parish to a former Squire
Verrall, casting kaleidoscopic patterns of purple and crimson on to
grandmamma's brown silk bonnet; a premature bumble-bee droned and bumped
up and down the panes, the atmosphere felt airless, and Aunt Ellen
sniffed elegantly at her green salts-bottle. Stella grew drowsy; she
could not attend to the sermon, and her thoughts strayed on in
confusion.... Would Canon Grass, the vicar, dare to change his lot if he
might? Perhaps he would like to change Mrs. Grass, who was older than
himself, for the pretty visitor who was one of The Court party in the
chancel pew.... And how about Mrs. Daw, who was so artistic, and
considered her talents wasted in her position as wife to a country
doctor; who complained that no one in the village really understood or
appreciated "Art".... How much happier Mrs. Daw would be in London had
she the opportunity of changing her lot--of converting her husband into
a West End physician. And as to the villagers; everyone knew that they
were never contented, no matter what was done for them. At this point in
her reflections Stella fell asleep.

The service over, she followed grandmamma and the aunts slowly down the
aisle, while the school children clattered through the porch. The Court
party left the building by the chancel door, and Stella saw them pace
down the slope of the churchyard between the tombstones and the yew
trees to where a carriage and pair of horses awaited them at the gates.
Squire Verrall went first, in a black coat and a square hat like a box,
his whiskers were brushed smartly aside from his ruddy cheeks, his large
nose shone in the sun, he waved his malacca cane to the school children
marshalled on either side of the pathway; Mrs. Verrall followed,
delicate, smiling, sweet, in dark green satin, and a white ostrich
feather floating from a boat-shaped hat; with her came the pretty
visitor, who walked with a Grecian bend ... and Maud. Stella observed
that Maud was "showing off"; that she minced and looked down her nose as
she passed between the rows of bobbing, saluting children and villagers.
Stella was filled with an envious contempt for such conceit; such airs
and graces! Three maid-servants completed the procession; even they
would drive back to The Court, on the rumble of the big carriage, while
Stella Carrington would walk through the lanes to The Chestnuts pulling
her grandmother's chair, Aunt Augusta pushing behind, Aunt Ellen
shielding the old lady with a green-lined umbrella. They would wait on
themselves at luncheon; probably there would be boiled mutton and a milk
pudding....

There was: in her present rebellious mood, the sight of the plain,
wholesome food was to Stella as the proverbial last straw. Aunt Augusta
carved the mutton; a watery red stream issued from the joint, mingling
with the caper sauce that surrounded it.

"None for me, thank you," said Stella, with suppressed fury.

"My dear, why not?" It was grandmamma who made the inquiry, and Stella
thought the old lady looked like a sea-gull, seated at the end of the
table in her close white cap, her snowy hair looped on either side of
her curved nose.

"I hate boiled mutton!" Beneath her rising defiance the girl was
conscious of amazement at her own temerity. She pushed back her chair
and stood up, quivering--a slim young beauty, giving promise of fine
development, though neither beauty nor promise had as yet been
recognised by herself or by her guardians.

"Yes, I do hate it!" she cried, and her eyes, the colour of burnt
sienna, filled with rebellious tears, "and I hate milk puddings and
babyish clothes, and getting up in the morning and going to bed at night
with nothing in between--the same every day. How you could all stand up
and sing that hymn, '_I dare not choose my lot_,'" she mocked, "'_I
would not if I might_,' as if you meant it! Why, for most of us, it was
simply a lie!"

For a space there was a shocked silence. Augusta, the carving knife
poised in her hand, looked at her mother; Ellen stared at her plate and
extracted her salts-bottle with stealth from her pocket; Stella found
her own gaze drawn helplessly to the expressionless old countenance at
the end of the table, and, despite her new-born courage, she quailed.

"My dear," said grandmamma smoothly, "you had better go and lie down.
The weather has upset you. I think you require a powder."

Stella burst into something between laughter and tears; she made a
childish dash for the door and ran noisily up the stairs.

The meal in the dining-room continued as though nothing had happened.
It was not a Carrington custom to discuss unpleasant occurrences at
meals, or, indeed, at any other time, if such discussions could possibly
be avoided; the Carrington elders possessed a fine faculty for ignoring
difficult subjects. It was a gift that had carried them apparently
unscathed through various trials. When it became imperative to speak of
anything painful it was done as briefly and reservedly as possible. It
was not until well on in the afternoon, when Mrs. Carrington had
awakened from her nap in the drawing-room, that Stella's outrageous
behaviour was mentioned.

The drawing-room at The Chestnuts was a long narrow room with three
French windows opening on a little paved terrace. Formerly the house had
been a farm dwelling, the last remnant of a property acquired a century
ago by a Carrington ancestor with a fortune made in the East and
dissipated in the West. The Court, where the Verralls now reigned, had
once belonged to this magnificent Carrington, and the ladies of The
Chestnuts never forgot the fact. They regarded the Verralls as
interlopers, though by now the Verralls had been lords of the manor for
several generations.

But though The Court and all its acres were lost to the Carringtons,
they had clung as a family to Chestnut Farm, adding to it from time to
time as fluctuating fortunes permitted. It was a haven for Carrington
widows, unmarried daughters, retired old-soldier Carringtons; a
jumping-off place for sons as they started in life, a holiday home for
successions of young Carringtons while their parents were abroad; and
there was still the family vault in the parish church where they could
be buried if India spared them to die in England. Stella's grandfather,
whom she could not remember, lay there with others of his name, and it
had never entered grandmamma's mind to live or die anywhere but at The
Chestnuts.

But to return to the drawing-room--a room that breathed of a people long
connected with the East--here were sandal-wood boxes, caskets composed
of porcupine quills, coloured clay models of Indian servants, brasses
and embroideries. The warmth of the afternoon drew forth faint aromas
still stored in these relics, mementoes of travel and service and
adventure, the perfume that still hung in the folds of the handsome
cashmere shawl draped about old Mrs. Carrington's shoulders.

It was she who opened the debate; failing her lead, neither of her
daughters would have dreamed of alluding to their niece's outburst at
the luncheon table.

"What do you imagine is wrong with Stella?" The old lady's sunken dark
eyes, that yet were quick and bright, turned from one daughter to the
other. The rest of her muscles were perfectly still.

"She is growing up," said Augusta boldly. She was the elder of the two
and more nearly resembled her mother, physically and mentally, than did
faint-hearted Ellen.

"She is still a child!" pronounced Mrs. Carrington, oblivious of the
fact that she herself had been married at the age of seventeen, had
sailed to India and returned with three children before she was
twenty-one.

"Perhaps," ventured Ellen, "seeing Maud Verrall in church dressed as a
grown-up young lady made her feel a little--well, I hardly know how to
express myself--rather kept back?"

Ellen herself had been guiltily conscious of a vague feeling of envy
caused by the sight of The Court people in all their prosperity and
finery.

"Kept back from what?" demanded Mrs. Carrington. "Would you wish to see
Stella trigged out like that forward monkey Maud Verrall?"

"Maud was always a most underbred child," said Augusta.

Ellen hastily took up the cue. "Yes, don't you remember the day she came
to tea and broke the vase, and allowed Stella to be blamed? I saw her
break it myself, but of course we could say nothing as Maud was our
guest, and dear little Stella said nothing."

"But what has that to do with the way Stella behaved to-day?" inquired
her sister. Ellen thought this rather unkind of Augusta.

"Oh! nothing, of course," Ellen admitted. "Only it just shows----"

"We are all aware that Stella has spirit," said grandmamma, ignoring
this passage, "she is a true Carrington, but spirit in certain
circumstances is a danger and not to be encouraged, just as in others it
may be admirable. Now if the child had been a boy----"

The old lady's gaze turned to a portrait that hung over the
mantelpiece--that of a gentleman in a blue velvet coat with lace and
silver buttons, powdered hair and bold, bright eyes that seemed to smile
on the little feminine conclave in amused toleration. "Spirit" in a man
was to be accepted and, whatever its consequences, condoned; but in a
female, particularly in a young girl, it should be guarded against,
suppressed. Ellen Carrington's eyes turned also to the portrait. Long
years ago she had shown symptoms of "spirit" in connection with the
attentions of a dashing young cousin who had strongly resembled the
portrait. Mamma was antagonistic; he had sailed for India (just as had
all male Carringtons one after the other), and the ship had gone down;
so that his vow to return with a fortune and claim his sweet Ellen was
never fulfilled.

Augusta, so far as anyone was aware, had known no romance. The family
spirit in Augusta found outlet in a fierce devotion to her mother, and
in the maintenance of a pathetically pretentious sort of state in the
household; the very manner in which she would ring the bell might have
argued the existence of a host of retainers. Not for worlds would she
have answered the front door herself, neither would she have permitted
Ellen or Stella to do so. Her attitude towards the domestic staff at The
Chestnuts--old Betty, with a daily slave from the village, and the aged,
bad-tempered factotum out of doors--was almost that of a Royal
personage, punctilious in the matter of good mornings and thank yous,
yet carefully distant as became the upholding of class distinction.

"It's a pity she was not a boy," said Augusta, "then she could have gone
to school--a little more discipline----"

"Yes, Stella's education----" interrupted Mrs. Carrington, and paused
thoughtfully. Her daughters listened. Augusta was responsible for
Stella's arithmetic, geography, history; Ellen for her progress in
music, needlework, drawing. Was fault to be found with these educational
efforts?--which in truth were not altogether congenial to the teachers,
conscientiously though they pursued them. Stella was frequently
tiresome, and she did such odd things--for example, she had "a trick,"
as they called it, of rising at dawn and rambling about the woods and
commons and returning late for breakfast, and then she would be listless
and inattentive for the rest of the day. At times she was "wild" and
disobedient, although at others disarmingly docile and quick and
affectionate. On the whole, the aunts were proud of their pupil; what
was mamma about to say concerning Stella's education?

Mamma said: "Though unfortunately Stella is not a boy, I have lately
been thinking that if a suitable school can be found---- What was the
name of that friend of yours, Augusta, who years ago started a school
for young ladies at Torquay?"

"Jane Ogle," said Augusta shortly. In the opinion of Augusta, Jane Ogle
had lost caste when she opened a school. As the daughter of an officer,
Jane should not have descended to such depths as the earning of her
living when she had plenty of relations with any of whom she could have
made her home in genteel idleness. Still, if mamma had any serious
notion of a school for Stella it was so far fortunate that Miss Ogle had
thus bemeaned herself, seeing that none of them knew anything about
boarding schools for girls, institutions which were to be regarded with
suspicion.

"Then you really think, mamma," said Augusta incredulously, "that Stella
needs different tuition, or at least different management?"

"Her behaviour to-day would point to it," mamma replied. "Perhaps you
would write to Miss Ogle, my dear, and make inquiries as to her methods
and terms. I am inclined to think Stella is getting a little beyond us
in every way."


Stella, after rushing from the dining-room and up the stairs in such
unladylike fashion, had thrown herself on her bed and wept until her
ill-humour evaporated and she began to think more kindly of milk pudding
and boiled mutton. Then, feeling hungry and rather ashamed, she had
bathed her eyes and "tidied" her hair, and for a while sat and gazed
from the low window of her bedroom--gazed on the familiar lawn sloping
to a narrow stream that had been the cause of many punishments in her
childhood, what with her attempts to jump it, the catching of imaginary
fish, the sailing of paper boats, all of which had involved "getting her
feet wet," a crime in the view of grandmamma and the aunts. The cedar
tree on the lawn had also been a source of trouble, for Stella had never
fought the temptation to climb it, and the climbing of trees was
forbidden as not only hoydenish but disastrous to clothes--the same with
the high wall of the kitchen garden. There seemed hardly a spot in the
limited domain that for Stella was not associated with punishment; yet
she adored "the grounds," as Aunt Augusta entitled the garden, at all
seasons of the year, and at this season she still found it heavenly to
dabble in the stream, to climb the branches of the cedar tree, even to
roll on the fragrant turf.... She loved the old house as well, though
two of the rooms she had always avoided instinctively--grandmamma's
bedroom was one; Stella felt it held secrets, there was something
mysterious and "dead" in its atmosphere. The painted toy horse and the
wooden soldier, the half-finished sampler, and the shabby doll enshrined
on the chest of drawers seemed to her ghostly objects, sad reminders as
they were of uncles and aunts who had never grown up. When, for any
reason, she was obliged to enter the room it was as if these little dead
uncles and aunts still hovered about the big bed with its faded chintz
curtains, as if they were listening, watching, hating her for her being
alive.

Aunt Augusta's room she also disliked; it might have been a spare room,
so cold, so polished, so neat, and the enlarged photographs of bygone
Carringtons, framed and hung on the walls, were hideous--all crinolines
and strings of black beads and stove-pipe hats and long whiskers....
Aunt Ellen's room was different; it harboured an apologetic air of
frivolity, imparted by gay little ornaments and a screen covered with
Christmas cards and pictures cut from illustrated papers. Whenever
Stella studied this screen she found something she had never noticed
before. Above all, in one corner stood a cabinet containing drawers full
of birds' eggs and butterflies collected by her father as a boy. Aunt
Ellen was the only person who would answer Stella's eager questions
about her father, and even those answers told her too little--only that
he had gone to India as a very young man, like all the Carringtons; that
he was brave and handsome, that he had died in battle when his little
daughter was about two years old.

And concerning her mother Stella had never succeeded in extracting
definite information.

"She is dead, my dear," was all Aunt Ellen would say with grave reserve,
"she died when you were born--in India." Was there a picture of her? No,
there was no picture. What was she like? We never saw her. What was her
Christian name? It was Stella--and clearly the name itself was not
approved--considered foolish, fantastic.

Indeed the child's periodical questions on the subject of her mother
were torture to the three secretive, old-fashioned women, who shrank
from all remembrance of the shameless being who had bewitched their
"poor Charles" and led him astray, dragging the name of Carrington
through the divorce court. At the time of the scandal they had blamed
Charles for marrying the abandoned creature, and when she died, a year
later, they were glad, though she left an unwelcome infant who was
promptly sent home by the widower to The Chestnuts. The child was, of
course, received, but under protest, a protest that vanished when "poor
Charles" was killed in a frontier skirmish, a death (for his country)
that in the eyes of his mother and sisters fully atoned for his
backslidings and the disgrace he had brought on a name that had ever
been associated with brave deeds in the East.

India!--the very word held a magic fascination for the child of "poor
Charles." Stella loved the smell of the curios in the drawing-room, and
her "great treat" on wet days was permission to open the camphor-wood
chest on the landing; fingering the contents, she would feel almost
intoxicated with the sight and scent of fine muslin veils heavily
embroidered, funny little caps, tinsel-encrusted; a packet of pictures
painted on talc of Indian ladies, black-haired, almond-eyed, smiling,
wonderfully robed. At the bottom of the chest were pistols and daggers,
and swords, all chased and inlaid with ivory and gold; and there was a
carved box full of tiger claws, and silver ornaments, bracelets,
anklets, and necklaces that jingled.... In addition to the camphor-wood
chest there was the lumber room, a low attic that ran the length of the
roof; here were stacks of other interesting relics, horns and moth-eaten
skins of wild animals, hog-spears and clumsy old guns shaped like
trumpets. Also piles of old books and pamphlets, packets of letters and
papers, yellow, crumbling, tied up with string and thrown into cardboard
boxes.

On this luckless Sunday afternoon Stella's mind turned to the lumber
room. As yet she had not the courage to descend and face grandmamma and
the aunts after the scene she had made at the dining-table; and
presently she stole into the passage, that was lined with a wall-paper
depicting Chinese scenes, square bordered, then ran up the ladder-like
stairs leading to the long attic in the roof.

There, poring over old papers and pamphlets and books, she forgot Maud
Verrall and all that young person's advantages, forgot grandmamma and
the aunts, and boiled mutton and her rebellious outburst against her own
"lot"--forgot everything but India, the land of elephants and tigers,
tents and palanquins, rajahs and battles, and marvels without end. She
thrilled again as she read of Carringtons who had fought at Plassey and
Paniput, in the Mahratta wars, and before the walls of Seringapatam. A
Carrington had perished in the Black Hole of Calcutta, a Carrington had
been the friend of Warren Hastings, in the Mutiny a Carrington had
performed noble deeds; Carrington women and children had been sacrificed
for the honour of their country....

To-day Stella realised for the first time that her father must have been
the last male Carrington of the line. No more Carrington exploits would
be recorded in the history of British India. The name of Carrington in
the East belonged solely to the past. Why, oh! why--had not she been
born a boy?



CHAPTER II


Maud Verrall threw down her tennis racket; she said she was tired--a
polite excuse for the termination of a game that afforded her no
excitement. Stella Carrington was not a stimulating opponent; if she did
not miss the ball, she sent it sky-high or out of court.

Stella saw through and sympathised with the excuse. "You see," she said
regretfully, "I have had so little chance of practice. Even if we had a
tennis court at The Chestnuts, there is no one for me to play with."

"Let's go into the Lovers' Walk and talk till tea-time," Maud Verrall
suggested; if Stella could not play tennis she might at least prove a
satisfactory recipient of confidences, and Maud had much to impart that
would surely astonish the unsophisticated girl from The Chestnuts.

Arm in arm they strolled up and down the shady retreat arched over with
lilac, laburnum, syringa, while Maud discoursed on the charms of the
latest comic opera that had taken London by storm, and sang snatches of
the songs to her envious companion; from that she went on to tell of
boy-and-girl dances, and bicycling parties, and this led to disclosures
concerning "desperate" adorers who were "perfectly mad" about Miss
Verrall. There was one in particular--his name was Fred Glossop.

"Poor dear, he is awfully gone. I feel sorry for him. Would you like to
see his photograph?" She drew a folding leather case from her pocket and
displayed to the other's interested gaze the portrait of a handsome
youth with curly hair and a distinct shade on his upper lip.

"Are you going to marry him?" inquired Stella.

"Oh! I shan't marry just yet," explained Maud. "I have told him so
frankly. Perhaps in a couple of years, if I meet no one I like better,
he might do. He is quite good looking, and he's going into the Army. I
let him write to me--mother never bothers about my letters; but while I
was still at school he had to write as if he was my dearest
girl-friend--signed himself 'Lily'--because all our correspondence that
was not in the handwriting of parents was opened. I'm to "come out" when
we go back to London. I shall make my people give a fancy dress ball.
What do you think of a Greek dress--white, with a key pattern in gold,
and a big peacock feather fan?"

Stella was ruefully silent. She felt small and humble; there were no
balls, no young men, no "coming out" on her dull horizon.

"And what about you?" asked Maud with kindly, if belated, interest; "you
must have a deadly time in this hole all the year round. I'm tired of it
already. How can you stand it?"

"I have to stand it!" said Stella, grimly resigned. "But I'm going to
school--to a school at Torquay."

"How awful--a horrible place. I went there once after I had measles; and
school, too, at your age! Hasn't the term begun?"

"I suppose so, but it does not seem to matter. Anyway, it will be a
change."

"It won't be so bad if they take you to concerts and lectures, and you
go out riding. Our riding master was a picture; lots of the girls were
mad about him; but he liked me best because I didn't take too much
notice of him. Believe me, my dear, men think all the more of you if you
don't run after them. There was a creature always at the lectures we
went to who gazed at me the whole time and used to follow us when we
went out, trying to get near enough to speak to me. The other girls were
frantic with jealousy. Once or twice I gave him the chance of slipping a
note into my hand; it's quite easy--you put your hand behind your back,
like this, and gaze in another direction, and if a governess happens to
be too close, you just speak to her and distract her attention. I only
once got into a row--it was coming away from church."...

This line of conversation was pursued whenever Stella was invited to The
Court as company for Maud, and when Maud visited her friend at The
Chestnuts. What, oh! what would have been the feelings of grandmamma and
the aunts could they have overheard such vulgar, pernicious talk? To
women of their type and upbringing this dawning of the most powerful of
all instincts would have seemed a matter for the severest censure--not a
natural symptom to be guided into safe and open channels, but a danger
to be dealt with as sinful, corrupt. Intuitively Stella felt that Maud's
enthralling confidences would be condemned with horror by her relations;
and when Aunt Augusta, vaguely suspicious, inquired one day what the
two young people found to talk about, self-preservation prompted a
careless and misleading reply: "Oh, I don't know; Maud's school, and all
that sort of thing."

Reassured, Aunt Augusta considered this perfectly satisfactory and
natural, seeing that Stella was soon to begin school-life herself.

Maud Verrall's egoistical communications, innocent enough in themselves
(though scarcely to be commended), led, indirectly, after the manner of
trivial happenings, to far-reaching results. One of the immediate
consequences of Stella's newly awakened interest in the opposite sex was
her expulsion from Miss Ogle's high-principled establishment before her
first term was over.

From the moment of her arrival at Greystones Stella was in constant hot
water. According to the school standards she was backward, and her
capabilities were hopelessly unequal; she wasted hours that should have
resulted in progress over work she disliked, whereas in the subjects
that attracted her she outstripped her class. Her talent for music was
undeniable, but she shirked the drudgery of practice, and her fatal
facility for playing by ear was ever in the way. She was not popular,
for she made no concealment of her contempt for sickly adorations and
fashionable fawnings on governesses and senior girls. The life irked
her, and her disappointment was keen to find that at Greystones there
was no question of concerts and lectures; that no finishing extras
figured on Miss Ogle's programme such as might have afforded the sort
of excitement described by Maud Verrall as an antidote to the monotony
of school existence. She hated the daily crocodile walk; true, there was
a tennis court, but the game was a monopoly of the first class, while
the rest of the school marched two and two along dusty roads and
uninteresting byways. Stella moped.

Then, one fatal afternoon, the daily procession passed through the town,
a treat permitted once in the term, and as they all tramped the pavement
of the principal thoroughfare, past fascinating shops that held the
attention of governesses and girls, a flashy looking youth, loitering on
the kerb, caught Stella's eye. She remembered Maud Verrall and that
daring young person's adventures; what a triumph if she could tell Maud,
in the summer holidays, that she had attracted the admiration of a real
live young man! Maud had advocated a swift side-glance, especially if
one had long eyelashes. Stella tried the experiment in passing the
youth, who wore a loud waistcoat and had an immature moustache. She felt
rather alarmed at her success. The young man responded with alacrity,
and proceeded to follow the school at a discreet distance; followed when
the "crocodile" turned to climb the hill; and was still in attendance
when it reached the gate of the short drive.

Stella throbbed with excitement. She wondered what he would do now;
would he linger outside; would he return to-morrow and be there when
they emerged for the walk, just to obtain a glimpse of her as they
passed? She thought his appearance rather dreadful; but at any rate, he
was a young man, an admirer; all that she regretted was that she could
not write now and tell Maud Verrall how he had followed the school on a
blazing hot day up a steep hill, all on her, Stella's, account!

A game of tennis was in progress as the girls filed up the sloping drive
and scattered on the edge of the lawn, and at this moment, as it
happened, a ball was sent over the privet hedge into the road below.
Stella saw her chance.

"All right!" she shouted to the players. "I'll run and get it." And she
raced back down the drive and through the open gate. There was the
admirer lurking on the sidepath! He darted forward, an eager expression
on his countenance that, even in her agitation, Stella remarked was
sallow and spotty; also, as he grinned, she saw that his teeth were bad.
What a pity! But it flashed through her mind that such drawbacks need
not, when the time came, be cited to Maud. She would tell Maud, when
they met, that he was "a picture!"

Affecting not to see him, and with a fluttering heart, Stella pounced on
the tennis ball that lay in the middle of the road; and "the picture,"
murmuring something she could not catch, pounced also, and thrust a
piece of paper into her hand. Just at that moment, by all the laws of
ill-luck, Miss Ogle herself came in sight, advancing along the road,
with floating veil and fringed parasol, returning from a private
constitutional.

The letter that brought the appalling news to The Chestnuts of Stella's
disgrace was addressed to Miss Augusta Carrington. Even the customary
ignoring of unpleasant facts was not proof against such a staggering
blow. Stella! the granddaughter, the niece, the child they had cherished
and guarded and reared with such care--to think that she should have
been detected in a vulgar intrigue, and could no longer be harboured at
Greystones lest she should contaminate her schoolfellows! It was almost
too terrible to contemplate, and for once the three ladies permitted
themselves the freedom of natural behaviour. Augusta very nearly
stormed; Ellen wept bitterly; grandmamma said: "Like mother, like
daughter," in an awful voice, and "What's bred in the bone will out in
the flesh." The household was steeped in gloom. They all regretted that
there was no male head of the family to whom they could turn for advice
in this distressing difficulty; and it was Augusta who at last suggested
that Stella's godfather, Colonel Crayfield, should be consulted. Was he
not an old friend of "poor Charles"? And only a few days ago there had
come a letter from him saying that he was at home on short leave from
India, asking for news of his little goddaughter.

Augusta had answered the letter; how humiliating now, in the light of
this subsequent catastrophe, to recall the hopeful description she had
given of poor Charles's child! The confession of Stella's downfall,
should they decide to consult Colonel Crayfield, would be a painful
undertaking; but he was such a worthy, dependable character, and who
could be more fitted, as they all agreed, to give counsel in such a
terrible predicament than the child's own sponsor--the trusted friend of
the dead father, since there was no male member of the Carrington
family to whom they could appeal?

Last time Colonel Crayfield came home, ten years ago, he had spent a
couple of days at The Chestnuts--rather a trial for hostesses who were
unaccustomed to the entertaining of gentlemen, but on the whole the
visit was felt to have been a success. Mamma and Augusta had even
suspected that he was attracted by Ellen, though, according to
Carrington custom, neither had voiced the idea. Ellen, however, could
have given him no encouragement, for nothing came of it, suitable as
such an alliance would have seemed on both sides. Colonel Crayfield was
that amphibious production of the Indian services--a military man in
civil employ, holding responsible, well-paid office; on the occasion of
his brief visit to The Chestnuts he had not disagreed with Miss Augusta
when she expressed her admiration of missionary efforts in the East; he
had only just tasted the wine that was offered him; he had not smoked in
the house, though the pantry was at his disposal for the purpose. All
these good points were recalled during the discussion that ensued as to
whether he should be approached for advice concerning his goddaughter's
future, and such recollections went far towards shaping the final
decision of grandmamma and Augusta, tearfully supported by Ellen. The
whole dreadful truth should be written to Colonel Crayfield, with an
urgent invitation to visit The Chestnuts once more.

Meantime Stella was on her way home, shamefaced, unhappy. The fuss at
Greystones had been frightful, the whole affair bewildering--the
condemnation, the feeling of hopeless inability to defend herself; then
the hasty packing, the self-righteous, disparaging attitude of the
girls, and the stares of the servants; the humiliating departure,
sentinelled to the last moment by Miss Ogle herself, wrathful and stern,
who put her into a compartment for ladies only, in the care of the
guard.

The time that elapsed between her return to The Chestnuts and the day of
Colonel Crayfield's arrival was to Stella a species of purgatory.
Grandmamma and the aunts hardly spoke to her, she was forbidden to go
beyond the garden, no explanation of her conduct was invited, though,
indeed, what explanation could she have given, since it was perfectly
true that Miss Ogle had caught her receiving a note from a strange young
man; and with it all she had not even had a chance to read the note--she
would have given _worlds_ to know what the young man had written!

The culprit was sent to the station in the village wagonette to meet her
godfather, and she welcomed the distraction, awkward though it would be
to face Colonel Crayfield in the uncomfortable circumstances. The
situation struck her as almost grotesque; here she was, driving through
the familiar lanes in the late July sunshine, as an outcast and a
sinner, to meet an old gentleman who had been summoned to sit in
judgment upon her! And, after all, she had done nothing worse, nothing
half so bad, as Maud Verrall; and Maud had not been expelled from school
as a sort of leper. She wished Maud was at The Court; but that happy
young creature was disporting herself in London, and Stella had not the
spirit left to write to her.

Arrived at the little countryside station, a six-mile drive from The
Chestnuts, she seated herself on a bench to await the train from London,
and gazed vacantly at the white palings, at the dazzling herbaceous
border, butterflies floating above it. She felt sorely oppressed, but
more from a sense of misfortune than from shame or repentance. How
unlucky she was! The future held nothing enjoyable; she saw herself
living on at The Chestnuts indefinitely. Grandmamma might die some day,
but she and the aunts would grow older and older, and they would all
continue to sing in church that they dared not choose their lot, and
would not if they might. Stella remembered the case of Miss Spurt, the
only daughter of a clergyman in a neighbouring parish, who, two or three
years back, had run away with her father's groom-gardener. The scandal
had petrified the county; whispers of it had reached Stella's sharp
ears, though the subject was never mentioned in her presence at The
Chestnuts. Now she wondered what had become of Miss Spurt, and she even
began to sympathise with the poor girl's mad action.

Supposing she herself were driven to do the same sort of thing; to
elope, for example, with the solitary porter who stood leaning against
the waiting-room wall, should he suggest such a desperate step! She
regarded him with idle attention, feeling stupefied with the prevailing
somnolence of the station, the heat of the shadeless, empty platform; he
was a fresh-looking boy, with a cap on the back of his head and a curl
of glistening hair plastered to his forehead. Suddenly he stood erect,
stretched his arms, gave a loud yawn, and seized a handbell that he
rang with deafening clamour. So here was the train at last, thank
goodness!

One or two people hurried, perspiring, breathless, on to the platform; a
few more ran over the rails from the opposite side, there being no
footbridge; the station-master emerged from his office and took up a
commanding position. The train rumbled in.


During the long, hot journey from London, Colonel Crayfield had been
repenting his good-natured acquiescence to what seemed to him a rather
exacting, inconsiderate request. At first his fancy had been tickled by
the notion that he, an elderly bachelor, should present himself in this
semi-parental rôle; also he was anxious to see the little girl, his
godchild, who apparently threatened to follow in her mother's footsteps,
though from what he remembered of Charles Carrington, she was more
likely to have inherited unstable tendencies from her father! Charles
had always been foolish and weak where affairs of the heart were
concerned; but in his final "affair," with the young wife of a
singularly unsuitable husband, he was certainly more to be pitied than
blamed. That time he had really been _done for_, and he had behaved well
in the circumstances; he, Colonel Crayfield, had stood by the guilty
pair, and helped Charles to change his regiment, had consented to be
sponsor to the unwelcome child. But, with the usual result of
good-natured actions, it seemed that his responsibilities were never to
end; and partly for the sake of Charles Carrington's memory, partly to
satisfy a newly aroused interest, here he was on his way to give counsel
to three old prudes in the matter of a naughty girl who had got into a
scrape at school! What form this counsel was to take he had not the
remotest idea; he knew nothing about schoolgirls; probably it was all a
storm in a teacup. What on earth had persuaded him to waste his time in
such useless fashion!

As he stepped out of the train in company with a few women bearing
market baskets and a sprinkling of farmers wearing breeches and gaiters,
he wished again that he had not yielded to sentiment and curiosity;
visits bored him; he had been bored on the last occasion, ten years ago,
when he had gone on duty to The Chestnuts. He remembered the ordeal
well: Charles's formal, austere old mother, his uninteresting sisters,
the undrinkable wine, Charles's child of six or seven years old, who had
sniffed and fidgeted and refused to make friends, and was no different
from other children of her age; he even remembered that the village was
a long distance from the station, and he hoped that neither of the
Carrington spinsters had come to the station to meet him.

Stella, standing expectant on the platform, saw a powerful-looking man,
clean shaven, blunt-featured, inclined to stoutness, who moved
ponderously--rather like a big Chinaman, a mandarin. As she stepped
forward he stared at her, and the stare gave her an odd feeling of
shyness. She would have to introduce herself; he did not know that she
was to meet him at the station. He was not at all what she had
expected; she had pictured a fussy old person with a protruding
stomach, a beard, and spectacles!

Colonel Crayfield was equally taken aback. His experienced glance had
been instantly arrested by the vision of a remarkably good-looking girl,
tall and slim, who, though her skirt only reached to her ankles, whose
hair was tied back with a large ribbon bow, was clearly no child; and he
had gazed at the vision as he would hardly have permitted himself to
gaze had he realised that the girl was his goddaughter! All the same,
the situation entertained him; he no longer wished he had refused to
respond to Miss Carrington's appeal.

Colonel Crayfield raised his hat. "Then you are Stella--my godchild? How
d'ye do, Stella?"

The radiant brown eyes met his own. What an unnecessarily pretty
creature; no wonder there had been trouble connected with boys!

"Yes, they sent me to meet you," and she flushed with the consciousness
that he knew of her misbehaviour.

"Very kind of them to send you; very kind of you to come!" He looked
around. "Now for my bag," he added briskly, "and then we can be off."

Stella sighed with mingled doubt and relief; instinctively she felt that
to Colonel Crayfield she was no criminal. Yet the remembrance of his
glance when he first set eyes upon her, not knowing who she was, still
disturbed her strangely. She abandoned all attempt to understand the
doubt, and allowed her relief full play. Her spirits rose. During the
drive to The Chestnuts she chattered freely, pointing out landmarks,
telling stories of the people and the past; and never once did her
godfather allude to the reason of his coming, for which consideration
she was deeply grateful.

On arrival at The Chestnuts even the solemn faces of grandmamma and the
aunts could not depress her; she sprang from the wagonette and ran into
the house with a gaiety most unbecoming in one who had been expelled
from school on a charge that was truly shocking.

After tea she escaped, went down to the stream at the bottom of the
garden and watched grandmamma pacing the terrace in front of the house
on Colonel Crayfield's arm. Grandmamma wore her brown bonnet and her
cashmere shawl, and carried her ebony walking-stick. Stella ached to
know what they were saying; of course, it was to do with herself, and
how she should be punished. If only that nice old fellow would devise
some means of escape for her from her deadly imprisonment!

Mrs. Carrington was saying: "Stella is very irresponsible, and does not
seem to realise how badly she has behaved. I fear she has inherited her
mother's light nature, and what we are to do with her is a problem. It
is not as if we could hope for a suitable marriage in the future,
situated as we are."

"It is a difficult question," said Colonel Crayfield evasively. His eyes
turned to the slim figure that flitted beside the stream. He knew by the
weighty silence that followed that he was expected to make some useful
suggestion.

At last he said desperately: "If I were not a bachelor and could offer
her a chance in India----" then he paused.

Grandmamma glanced at him furtively. Was he thinking of Ellen? What an
admirable solution of the difficulty were he to marry Ellen, and thereby
not only secure a most suitable wife for himself, but provide an equally
suitable haven for Stella till the child could be settled in life. And
just at that moment, as if in response to the old lady's thoughts, Ellen
herself came out of the house. Really, Mrs. Carrington reflected, Ellen
did not look anything like her age, and she was dressed so
becomingly--not too much in the present fashion, which all three ladies
considered so ugly. Grandmamma suddenly discovered that she was
fatigued; that she had taken sufficient exercise for to-day, and would
step into the drawing-room for a rest before dinner. Oh, dear no!--Ellen
and Colonel Crayfield must not trouble about her; no need for them to
come indoors just yet on such a pleasant evening; she would prefer to be
quiet, and perhaps a short nap....

So Ellen and Colonel Crayfield took a little stroll in the garden, and
the gentleman also took the opportunity to make a request connected with
his own comfort.

"I hope I shall not be giving too much trouble, dear Miss Ellen," he
said with diffidence, "but might a tray be put in my bedroom overnight?
I am afraid I am a victim to old Indian habits, and one of them is that
I wake very early and long for a cup of tea. I have my own kettle and
spirit stand--I never move without them in England--so that if a teapot
and some tea, and a little milk----"

Ellen eagerly assented. Of course; it would be no trouble at all. She
was _so glad_ he should have mentioned it. "And I do hope you will ask
for exactly what you want. I will tell Betty, and see that she arranges
the tray properly."

"If it might be a fairly big teapot and a breakfast cup ..." pursued
Colonel Crayfield. (What he had suffered in English households from
"dainty little morning tea-sets"!--a teapot the size of an apple, a cup
to match, tea so thick and strong that it might have been jam.)

Ellen wondered nervously if there would be enough milk left overnight
for the visitor's tray. Betty was always so careful not to take more
than was actually required for the household. "I think I will just run
indoors," she said apologetically, "and tell Betty what to do, so that
she will be sure not to forget anything."

"You are more than kind!" exclaimed Colonel Crayfield with fervour; but
he did not add that he hoped she would speedily return and continue
their stroll. And when Ellen reappeared, smiling and triumphant, he was
nowhere to be seen. Neither was Stella in sight; and Ellen finally
discovered the pair in the kitchen garden.

Stella had crawled beneath a net that protected the gooseberries from
the birds. Colonel Crayfield was standing stolid and large on the path,
and Stella was handing him berries through the meshes of the net. He was
not eating the fruit, and Ellen felt that this was compatible with his
dignity and his years. She could not imagine Colonel Crayfield sucking
gooseberries and throwing the skins about! It seemed he was collecting
them for Stella, who, bent double, was robbing the bushes--such an
ungainly attitude for a young lady.

"Stella!" called Aunt Ellen in reproof, "you are tearing your frock!"

The child looked a disgraceful object as she emerged from the nets; a
long rent in one of her sleeves disclosed a round white arm with a red
scratch in the flesh, her face was crimson, her hair in disorder, she
was covered with twigs and bits, and her mouth was sticky with
gooseberry juice. Laughing, she held out her skirt, like an apron, for
the fruit that filled Colonel Crayfield's large mahogany-coloured hands.

Ellen felt truly ashamed of her niece. What would Colonel Crayfield be
thinking of his goddaughter, and of the way in which she had been
brought up! Had Ellen observed the look in Colonel Crayfield's eyes at
the moment, she would probably have mistaken it for astonished
disapproval; as it was, she only observed that he gazed at Stella in
silence, at the shining hair that fell over her forehead, at the
wide-open brown eyes, thickly lashed and full of mischief, at the
flushed cheeks and parted lips, that showed a row of faultless little
teeth, and at the red scratch on the white forearm.

Stella, unabashed, proffered her skirt, full of fruit, to her aunt. "Do
have some, Aunt Ellen," she cried joyously. "They're ripping, especially
the big, hairy fellows."

"You will spoil your dinner," said Aunt Ellen severely, "as you have
already spoilt your frock."

"Like little Miss Jane," and Stella chanted:


     "Greedy, greedy little Miss Jane,
     I'll never give _her_ a present again.
     She spent her sixpence on raspberry rock,
     And spoilt her dinner as well as her frock."


Colonel Crayfield actually laughed; moreover, he accepted a gooseberry
from Stella's grubby fingers and ate it fastidiously, burying the skin
in the mould with the toe of his boot.

That evening grandmamma's hopes ran high. Augusta sent Stella to bed
early, and afterwards Colonel Crayfield listened, apparently entranced,
while Ellen played the piano--played "Yorkshire Bells" and "The Village
Blacksmith."



CHAPTER III


Very early next morning Colonel Crayfield was awakened by a crash. His
bedroom was alight with the dawn; the lemon scent of magnolia blossom
floated in at the open window. What had aroused him? Involuntarily he
glanced at the tea-tray, at the big teapot and breakfast cup for which
he had Miss Ellen to thank; then he became aware of a curious sound, and
sitting up he beheld the milk-jug in fragments on the floor and a cat
complacently lapping the milk that had spread in a pool on the carpet.
In a fury he sprang from the bed, clapping his hands, shouting at the
thief; the cat, ears back, tail on end, made for the window and
disappeared in a flash; he could hear her scrambling down the magnolia
tree. What about his tea! He hated tea without milk, and probably the
household would not be astir for hours. He formed a bold project--he
would go downstairs and forage for more milk. No one need hear him; he
could explain, relate the disaster at breakfast. Slippers on his feet,
and a coat over his sleeping-suit, he crept into the long, low passage.
All was still. But the stairs! The stairs might have been actually alive
and the banisters too; how they did creak! It was a relief to arrive at
the foot of the staircase without having aroused the household. Now
there was a green baize door that evidently gave on to the kitchen
quarters; it yielded silently to his push, and he was confronted with a
short flight of stone steps. At any rate, _they_ could not creak.
Quickly descending them, he found himself in a large, old-fashioned
kitchen, stone-paved; beyond, surely, was the larder where milk might be
found, if the cat had not been there before him. How different it all
was from Indian establishments; in India, whether as a guest or in one's
own house, one could demand tea at any hour of the night or day, and it
was forthcoming as a matter of course; in India----

"Hallo!"

Colonel Crayfield jumped ingloriously, and only just saved himself from
swearing aloud. His goddaughter was standing in the larder doorway, a
cup in one hand, a crust of bread in the other. She had the advantage of
him in the matter of toilet, being fully dressed in a blue washing frock
that fell in straight lines from her neck to her ankles, and a wide
straw hat bound with a ribbon of the same colour.

They looked at each other, amazed. Colonel Crayfield drew his coat
closer about him, and passed his hand mechanically over his hair.

"Good gracious!" he said resentfully.

"Did you hear me go down?" she inquired.

"No; but I wonder you didn't hear _me_! The stairs made such a
confounded noise."

"Yes, I know; aren't they awful! I always expect Aunt Augusta to burst
from her room with a poker in her hand. Were you looking for something
to eat?"

"I was looking for some milk," he admitted; "a cat got into my room and
knocked down the milk-jug. I don't like tea without milk."

"I expect it was Granny."

"_Granny?_" repeated Colonel Crayfield, mystified.

Stella laughed. "Not my grandmother! Was it an old black-and-white cat
with a very long tail?"

"I really did not notice. Anyway, the brute broke the jug and was
drinking the milk----"

"Here you are then," she handed him a jug.

He took it. "But have you all you want yourself?" he inquired politely.

"Heaps," she replied, munching her crust. "Have a piece of bread? It's
lovely--home made. I only wish I had an onion, too. Don't you love
onions?"

"I don't object to them----" he began; then suddenly the unfitness of
the situation came home to him with something of a shock. Here was he,
the ruler of a vast area in India, accustomed to ceremony and
circumstance and state, pilfering a larder with a chit of a
girl--discussing onions, of all things; and further than that he was not
dressed! It might have been a silly dream.

"And what are you doing down here at this extraordinary hour?" he asked
of his goddaughter with what dignity was left to him.

"Eating and drinking, as you can see," was her flippant reply. Then, as
though conscious that she was perhaps not treating Colonel Crayfield
quite with the respect that was his due, she added primly: "I often get
up very early and go for a ramble"; she hesitated, and continued with
diffidence, "would you care to come for a walk instead of going to bed
again?"

"Well, I can't come as I am; but if you will wait till I've had my tea
and dressed----"

"Of course I'll wait! I'll leave the side door open and you'll find me
outside."

Later, when he joined her, his self-respect as Commissioner of Rassih
restored, he said: "Indian life would suit you, since you are so fond of
early rising. In India I am nearly always out soon after daybreak."

Stella sighed. "Oh! India--how I should love to go there!"

"Really? What about the heat and the exile and the insects?"--and he
added playfully--"not to speak of snakes and tigers!"

"I'm not afraid of anything!" bragged Stella, and with the elimination
of grandmamma this was true enough. "If it comes to exile, what could be
worse than life at The Chestnuts--where nothing ever happens, and
nothing will ever happen!"

Now they were out of the garden, out on a common that was ablaze with
gorse--the spongy turf was silvered with dew, the air fragrant and
fresh; birds' voices, the distant lowing of cattle, echoed in the sweet
stillness.

"But some day you will marry," prophesied Colonel Crayfield, in a tone
of encouragement.

"Marry!" derided Stella. "Who is there for me to marry?" She thought of
Miss Spurt and of the young porter at the railway station.

He made no answer; he was appraising the slim, young form beside him,
marking the grace of her limbs, the poise of the little head on the
long, round neck, the clean turn of ankle and wrist--every point was
good; in a couple of years she must be a magnificent woman.

"What are you thinking about?" inquired Stella. "Here we are at the end
of the common and you've hardly spoken a word. Are you tired?"

"Tired? Certainly not! It would take rather more than a walk across a
common to tire _me_!" He stepped out with vigour.

"What long strides you are taking. Hadn't we better have a race while we
are about it? See that oak tree over there--at the edge of the wood? I
bet you I'll get there first. One, two, three--off!"

And the Commissioner of Rassih, who could still hold his own at tennis
and rackets, accepted the challenge. The race ended in a dead heat.

Stella flung herself down beneath the oak tree, and Colonel Crayfield
took a seat, formed by the roots, beside her. The fact that he was
scarcely out of breath pleased him.

"Anyway, you can run!" pronounced Stella.

"Why not?" he demanded.

"Oh, I don't know." She was politely evasive; it would hardly do to
explain that such agility in anyone of his age and bulk had surprised
her, and she hastened to change the subject. "Now, do let us talk about
India"--she looked up at him with eager, bright eyes--"you don't know
how I long to see India. I suppose it's in my blood; all the Carringtons
did things in India, and if I had been a boy I should have gone out to
do things, too. I am the last young Carrington left--and I am only a
girl!"

Colonel Crayfield took off his hat and ran his fingers through his
thick, grey hair; he was proud of its thickness; most men of his age in
India were hopelessly bald.

"India isn't what it was; the spirit of romance and adventure has gone,
the pagoda tree is dead, prices are rising, and exchange is falling----"

"But haven't you lovely big houses?" interrupted Stella, "and heaps of
servants and horses, and the sun and gardens and fruit? What is your
bungalow like in India?"

He checked his inclination to grumble. "It isn't a bungalow. It's part
of a Moghul fort, built on the walls of the old city; the wall goes
right round the compound; a compound is----"

"Yes, I know what compound means! I know compound, and tiffin, and
chuprassee, and peg, and lots of words. I find them in all the old
family letters put away in the lumber room. Do go on!"

"Well, I believe the city in the old days used to come close up to the
wall, but it has gradually been moved farther away. The back of the
house looks on to a desert that stretches for miles----"

"Is it a big station?"

"No; it's a small civil station; too small considering that it's the
headquarters of a big charge."

"It must be ripping to feel you are ruling, governing all the time!
Don't you love power--spelt with a capital P?"

"Who doesn't? But there are definite drawbacks as well as compensations
in Indian service."

She sighed. "I shall never see the country; never feel the Indian sun,
or smell an Indian bazaar. I shall never hear a tom-tom or the frogs'
chorus in the rains, or even see a snake, except in the Zoo or in a
bottle!"

Colonel Crayfield gazed at the child in astonishment. He guessed nothing
of the grip that the old letters and memoirs, stored in the lumber room,
had on her imagination; he had no conception of the strength of
hereditary memory, of the spell bequeathed by a long line of forbears
whose lives had been spent in the East, whose hearts and minds and souls
had been bound up with India--their mighty relentless mistress. He met,
in puzzled silence, the frank gaze of the lovely limpid eyes that
stirred his blood, tempting him in all opposition to his reason and
foresight; yet, just as his activity in the race to the oak tree had
pleased him, flattered his pride in his physical preservation, so did
this amorous thrill.

Stella looked away, disconcerted; something in his expression reminded
her of his first glance on the platform the previous afternoon; she did
not understand it, and it made her vaguely uneasy. She rose, brushing
her skirt, uttering hasty little remarks--it was getting late, they
ought to go back, breakfast would be ready, look at the sun!

Yes, the sun by now was well up in the sky; a hot summer sun that sucked
the dew from foliage and turf, creating a mist, like smoke, dispensing
strong perfumes of earth, promising great heat for the day. To the man
whose youth lay behind him, it strengthened his ardour, tempting him to
take possession of this exquisite child by means of her mania for India,
her boredom with her present life and surroundings. Then, suddenly, he
remembered that his mission to The Chestnuts was to administer reproof;
to give profitable advice! As they re-started across the common he said
abruptly: "You know why I have come to The Chestnuts?"

The girl flushed. "Yes," she said reluctantly; here it was at last, the
lecture, the blame, just when she had almost forgotten. It was beastly
of her godfather. "Need we talk about it now?"

"We shall have to talk about it some time, I suppose." His tone
reassured her; it sounded as if, after all, he was rather more on her
side than on that of grandmamma and the aunts. Still she felt
suspicious.

"What did you do, exactly?"

"Well, I made eyes at an awful young man when we were out for a walk in
the town," she blushed deeper at the recollection; "it was just to see
what would happen more than anything else--like pulling a dog's tail.
Oh! I can't explain. Nobody will ever understand----"

"And what did happen?"

With difficulty she told him, and awaited his censure. To her astonished
relief he said: "Bad luck! You see the wicked don't always prosper!"

"But was I so wicked?" she asked defensively. "A girl I know told me she
had done the same kind of thing often; she didn't think it was so
dreadful. It seems to me an awful fuss about very little, and I don't
know why you should have been bothered, even though you are my
godfather. What shall you advise them to do?"

"At present," he said cryptically, "I am not quite sure."

She glanced at him half-alarmed. He laughed. "How would you like it if
I advised them to send you out to India?"

Stella gasped. "Oh! would you? But how? As a missionary, a companion, a
governess--what?"

Again he laughed. "As a companion, perhaps. I'm afraid you would not be
much good as a missionary or a governess. What do you think yourself?"

"I shouldn't care. I'd do anything to get to India."

"Well, we shall see. Don't be too hopeful," he looked at his watch.
"What time is breakfast?"

"Half-past eight--prayers first."

"Then step out!" Enough had been said for the moment.

"Oh! dear," complained Stella, "what a bother things are; you are as bad
as Aunt Augusta about being in time. Why don't you marry Aunt Augusta?"

"She mightn't appreciate India," he said with a grin.

Grandmamma seldom came down to breakfast. Augusta read prayers,
fiercely, glaring at her congregation as though to remind them of their
unworthiness. Ellen kept her eyes shut and responded with fervent
contrition. Neither sister was as yet aware of the guest's early
expedition with their niece, and, as Stella made no mention of it during
the meal, Colonel Crayfield preserved a discreet silence on the subject.
There was a letter for Stella on the breakfast table. The aunts eyed her
with suspicion as she read it and then hastily consigned it to her
pocket. The letter was from Maud Verrall; it contained wonderful news:


     "My dear, what do you think? I am engaged to be married in spite of
     all my resolutions not to commit myself in a hurry. No, it is not
     poor Fred Glossop, who is wild with despair, but a Captain Matthews
     in the Indian Cavalry. He is a positive picture, if you like;
     rather in the style of the riding-master I told you about, but
     much, _much_ handsomer. My people aren't pleased, but that only
     adds to the excitement. There is nothing they can object to
     definitely; he has a little money of his own, and isn't badly
     connected. Of course, they expected me to choose a lord, or a
     baronet at least; but I am very unworldly. I am awfully happy, and
     frightfully in love. I am sure I shall enjoy myself hugely in
     India. Don't you wish you were me?"


Stella groaned over this letter in the privacy of her bedroom. Indeed,
how she wished she were Maud!--who was going to India, not as a
missionary, or a governess, nor in any other servile capacity; but as
the wife of a cavalry officer! Colonel Crayfield was wrong; it was the
wicked who prospered. As compared with herself, Maud had certainly been
wicked, and now here was Maud rewarded with all that Stella would give
her ears to attain. She wept with envy; felt convinced that her
godfather had overrated his power to lighten her "lot"; and in any case
grandmamma and the aunts would oppose whatever plan he might suggest.
She was doomed to grow old at The Chestnuts; she was never to marry,
never to enjoy herself, never to reach India--the Mecca of her dreams.
If only that beast Maud had not been going to _India_! Stella felt
bitterly jealous; it was all so cruel, so hopeless....

Reluctant to appear with swollen eyelids, she remained in her room for
the rest of the morning; also because she wished to allow her godfather
every chance of imparting his advice, however fruitless it might be, to
her guardians. She presented herself at luncheon, but the atmosphere
seemed unchanged. Evidently nothing had happened, for she was still
ignored by her relations, and Colonel Crayfield, purposely, she
suspected, though not with unkindly intention, paid small heed to her
presence.

After luncheon she was dispatched by Aunt Augusta on household errands.

"I am being got out of the way," said Stella to herself as she set off
with a can of soup for old Mrs. Bly, and an order for bacon and rice at
the post office--the postal department being a sort of incidental
appendage to the only shop of the village; stamps and post cards were
also required. Then she was to call for eggs and butter at a farmhouse
quite a mile and a half away. She made no haste; the longer the palaver
concerning her future, that she hoped was taking place during her
absence, the better. The farmer's wife, Mrs. Capper, made her welcome,
gave her tea with honey and fresh-baked bread, told her "what a fine
growed young lady she was getting"; all of which was pleasant and
consolatory for the time being, especially when young Capper came in,
looking quite gentlemanlike in a tweed coat with leather patches on the
shoulders, and breeches and gaiters; he betrayed unmistakable admiration
for his mother's guest--Stella could hardly prevent him from escorting
her home to carry the basket; not that she would have objected to his
company, but somebody would be sure to espy them and tell old Betty, and
old Betty would tell Aunt Augusta, and it would all be attributed to her
own fast and unladylike tendencies, and add to her present disfavour.
The risk was not good enough; young Capper would keep till she knew the
result of Colonel Crayfield's intercession on her behalf. Despite the
little distraction she strolled home listless and depressed.



CHAPTER IV


Tea in the drawing-room was over. Mrs. Carrington sat erect, motionless
as usual. Augusta and Ellen were pretending to knit; in reality their
whole attention was given to Colonel Crayfield, who perambulated about,
large and imposing, his hands in his pockets, a disturbance in the
old-world atmosphere. Augusta noticed with irritation how he scuffled up
the edge of the Persian rug spread in the centre of the room each time
he walked over it. Ellen suspected that he wanted to smoke, but she
dared not suggest the permission. The Carrington ancestor, gaily
indifferent, gazed down at the little conclave that was concerned with
the misdeeds of his young descendant.

"It is a difficult question," repeated Colonel Crayfield; he had said
the same thing already, several times.

"Would you recommend another school?" asked Augusta. "Some stricter
establishment, perhaps, if one could be found, that would receive a girl
under the painful circumstances?"

Colonel Crayfield halted beside a table. He picked up a long, narrow
scent-bottle, and appeared to examine it closely. Augusta hoped he would
not let it fall; the bottle had come from Delhi, was said to have been
the property of a Moghul princess, and once to have contained attar of
roses.

"Well, on the whole, no," he said presently. "We don't want to break
the child's spirit."

"Spirit!" echoed old Mrs. Carrington. "She has the evil spirit of her
mother, not the spirit of her father's people, which I foolishly
imagined might have counteracted failings inherited from the other
side."

To Augusta's relief, Colonel Crayfield replaced the precious
scent-bottle, and addressed himself to the three ladies. "If you will
pardon my plain speaking, I think you are making too much of this--this
indiscretion of Stella's. I had a talk with her this morning----"

"This morning?" cried Augusta and Ellen together, and the three pairs of
eyes were fixed on him in amazed curiosity.

"Yes; this morning, before breakfast," he confessed calmly, "and my
opinion is that Stella meant no harm. She is growing up, is no longer a
child, and she needs more outlet. School is hardly the place for her
now."

"But what would you suggest?" came faintly from Ellen.

Mrs. Carrington shot a quick glance at him. She was recalling their
conversation on the terrace the previous afternoon; he had said, "If I
were not a bachelor, and could offer her a chance in India----" Then he
had strolled in the garden with Ellen, and had enjoyed Ellen's music
after dinner. Was it in his mind to seek the hand and the heart of her
younger daughter?

"A plan has occurred to me," he continued, with caution; "but I am not
at all sure--in fact, subject to your permission," he bowed slightly to
the trio, "I should prefer to wait a little before saying anything
further."

Mrs. Carrington smiled, and at the moment she resembled a hawk more than
a sea-gull. With a gracious gesture of assent she rose. "Augusta, my
dear," she said suavely, "will you assist me upstairs? I feel rather
fatigued. This discussion has been trying, and I think"--again she shot
a sharp glance at Colonel Crayfield--"we may leave the solution of our
unhappy difficulty with every confidence to our poor dear Charles's old
friend."

Augusta dutifully supported her mother from the room; but, to Mrs.
Carrington's exasperation, the tiresome Ellen must needs come too,
instead of allowing Colonel Crayfield this obvious opportunity of paying
his addresses.

Therefore Colonel Crayfield found himself alone in the drawing-room, and
he was only too thankful for the relief. Now he could think connectedly.
In no way had he committed himself, so far, to any suggestion. Should he
ultimately decide that to marry the girl was too serious a step to take,
he could still advise something quite different from the idea that was
so strongly seductive.... He might suggest that Stella should be sent to
some Anglo-Indian friends of his own in London as a paying guest, he
being financially responsible; or he could offer to find some family in
India, when he returned there, who would be willing to take charge of a
girl as a matter of business, he, as her godfather, paying expenses. The
money was nothing.

As he roamed round the room, doubtful, undecided, his eyes fell on the
group of coloured clay models of Indian servants set out on a
papier-mâché bracket, and he paused, for they recalled the existence of
Sher Singh, his Hindu bearer, who for the past twenty-five years had
been his right hand and chief of his domestic staff, and who perhaps
knew more about Robert Crayfield than any other living being. Sher Singh
would not welcome a memsahib. At the same time, the fellow would hardly
be such a fool as to jeopardise his own valuable position by making
trouble; the almighty rupee would soon settle Sher Singh's objections,
and Stella must be made to understand that interference with the head
servant's authority in the household could not be permitted.... Thus the
Commissioner of Rassih endeavoured to exorcise the inopportune vision of
his confidential retainer, who, he was aware, bore a faint, fantastic
likeness to himself. People would sometimes remark, laughing, "Like
master, like man."

He looked out of the window to see Stella crossing the lawn, a basket on
her arm; and he noted afresh the splendid promise of her young form, the
grace of her proportions, the perfection of feature and colouring. Truly
she was well worth a drastic upheaval of his mode of life, a price that
was hardly too high, all things considered. Involuntarily as he watched
her, he began to make plans for the future. The big bedroom that
overlooked the gardens at Rassih? No, it was not so cool in the hot
weather as the one he had hitherto occupied himself, which gave on to
the vast desert area at the back of the house. True, his present room
held tragic associations; his predecessor in the appointment had
committed suicide from the balcony, throwing himself over the parapet
down on to the rubbish and scrub far below, where in the night time
hyenas and jackals yelled and fought and made diabolical merriment....
And then there was the bathroom door, scarred with sabre cuts and bullet
holes, hideous reminders of a mutiny massacre where women and
children---- But that all belonged to the past. Stella need never be
told of such horrors, nor of the stories of footsteps, and cries, and
unaccountable noises--servants' superstitious nonsense that, of course,
he scoffed at and suppressed, though sometimes, when the heat kept him
awake at night, he had even imagined that he heard them himself.... The
drawing-room should be renovated; he had never used it; he would order a
piano from Calcutta.

Stella disappeared round the corner of the house, and Colonel Crayfield
realised with a sense of mingled triumph and incredulity that he had
actually made up his mind, that he had done with all hesitation. And
when Robert Crayfield once made up his mind he did not alter it.

A timid cough in the doorway disturbed his reflections. It was Ellen
Carrington, driven back to the drawing-room by her mother under pretext
that good manners did not permit of a guest being left solitary,
unentertained. She fluttered to a seat, prepared to make polite,
impersonal conversation; but Colonel Crayfield trampled on the
intention.

"Well, and what do you think of it all, Miss Ellen?" he inquired
confidentially; at any rate, she seemed to him the most human of the
three females. His tone gave her a nice little sense of importance.

"I expect you are right. We may have taken things too seriously. But
Stella's conduct did seem very--rather----"

He broke in abruptly. "Can you keep a secret?" And as his companion
looked up alarmed, he added, smiling, "Only for a short time?"

"I--I hope I can." She had so little experience of secrets, and the very
word "secret" savoured of deceit!

"Well, it's this. I intend to take Stella back with me to India. I
intend to marry her."

Ellen gasped. Totally unprepared as she was for such a disclosure, it
left her dumbfounded, also vaguely shocked. To her maidenly mind there
was something indelicate in the notion of _Stella_, who was little more
than a child, _married_, and to a man so very much her senior. Oh, dear!
In all her bewilderment Colonel Crayfield's voice sounded oddly distant.

"I'm so--so surprised!" she faltered.

"I admit that she is young enough to be my daughter, but surely the
drawback goes for nothing if I am prepared to accept it. Consider the
advantage for Stella!"

It was beyond Ellen's power to voice her feelings. She was only aware of
a nebulous resentment that she could not define even to herself, much
less aloud to the man who had caused it.

"As my wife," he went on, glad to give utterance to his arguments, "she
will have an assured position, she will be suitably provided for, _and_
she will be well looked after--I can promise you _that_!"

The last sentence sounded to Ellen more like a threat than a promise.
Her silence puzzled Colonel Crayfield, annoyed him. He had anticipated
expressions of delight, of gratitude; he felt he had every reason to
expect them; yet this limp, bloodless old maid appeared totally
unimpressed by the benefits he proposed to shower upon her niece, seemed
even to disapprove of the whole business. He brushed from his mind the
impatience her odd behaviour had aroused.

"I am in no doubt as to Stella's reception of my purpose," he could not
resist telling her, with pointed satisfaction; and had Miss Ellen been
capable of such vulgarity she would have sworn that she saw him lick his
lips.... She shrank, instinctively disgusted, and gathered up her
knitting with trembling hands.

"Will you excuse me?" she stammered; even her mother's orders could keep
her no longer in the room; she felt as if Colonel Crayfield had suddenly
turned into a sort of ogre. "I--I have a letter to write that must catch
the post." And with this, one of the few lies she had ever told in her
life, she sidled past him to the door.

He looked after her in contemptuous wonderment; then stepped out of the
window in search of his future bride. Probably she was eating
gooseberries, and the kitchen garden had this advantage, that it was
not overlooked by windows, though it was hardly the spot he would have
chosen for love-making. But Stella was nowhere to be found, and
returning at last to the house, he had no better luck: the place seemed
deserted. Where had they all hidden themselves?

He could not know that Stella was an unwilling prisoner upstairs,
helping Aunt Augusta to sort household linen; that Mrs. Carrington,
still resting, believed him to be enjoying the society of Ellen, whereas
Ellen had locked herself into her bedroom, helplessly perturbed.

Only just before dinner did he have the chance of speaking to Stella
without being overheard. "I saw you come back," he said to her, a tender
inflection in his voice. "Were you tired? Was the basket heavy?"

"Oh, no," she replied mischievously; "I only felt overburdened with
virtue. A handsome young man wanted to carry the basket for me, and I
would not let him!"

"Thought you might be found out?" he suggested with a chuckle.

"That was about it!" she said, recklessly candid. "Oh, _do_ tell me: was
anything settled this afternoon? I know you were all talking me over. Am
I to stay here for the rest of my life?"

"Have a little patience," he teased, finding a subtle pleasure in her
obvious disappointment with his reply.

That evening, after dinner, he discovered that Stella had a voice. She
sang a little song, something about a star, to Aunt Ellen's
accompaniment, and though Stella herself was clearly bored by the words
of the song, and despite lack of training and feeling, her voice was
deep and sweet--well worth cultivation, as he quickly decided. She
should have singing lessons before they sailed for India.

The song ended, he found an opportunity to whisper: "That was
delightful. Stella--a star! Some day perhaps a star of India?"

"But that's a decoration, isn't it?" she asked, pleased and eager. "And
not for women? Have you got it?"

He looked at her intently, narrowing his eyes. "No, I haven't got my
star--_yet_."

"But you will have it--soon?"

"Yes, very soon."

Stella felt mystified. Had she said the wrong thing? Perhaps it was a
sore point with him that he had not received the distinction earlier?

"Can you sing?" she inquired quickly, to change the subject.

"Well, I used to," he admitted.

"Oh, do let us see if we have any songs you know. Aunt Ellen, Colonel
Crayfield will sing if we can find something he knows."

There followed much turning over of music, but without success. Then
Stella lifted the lid of the small ottoman that served as a piano-stool,
disclosing several bound books of music; she dragged them forth; beneath
them lay a number of songs in manuscript. Ellen intervened.

"You will find nothing among those; they are so old," she said hastily,
as again her niece delved, and produced "Wings," "Adieu," "The Arab's
Farewell to His Favourite Steed."

Colonel Crayfield shook his head at them all, but he laid his hand on
the next sheet of music that, in spite of Aunt Ellen's unaccountable
obstruction, was excavated by Stella.

"That!" he exclaimed, mingled recognition and reluctance in his tone.
Forthwith Stella placed it on the stand and began to read the
accompaniment, that might have been transcribed with a pin.

"Now?" She looked up at her godfather, gaily insistent.

And Colonel Crayfield, with an air of amused capitulation, sang in a
good bass voice that was not so very rusty:


     "I gave my love a little rose,
       A little rose of red and white,
     Because her colour comes and goes
       Whene'er I dawn upon her sight.

     I gave my love a little key,
       A little key of yellow gold,
     Because she locks her sweets from me,
       And will not her dear heart unfold.

     I gave my love a little dove,
       Around its neck a feathery ring,
     Because a ring betokens love,
       And love to my sweet love I bring.

     And in return what gave my love
       Of all the precious gifts that be?
     No rose, nor key, nor ring-necked dove--
       She gave but her sweet self to me!"


Mrs. Carrington and Augusta murmured polite applause, though they
thoroughly disapproved of the words. They said they had heard the song
before, though they could not recall when, or by whom, it had been sung.

Ellen could have told them. Poor Ellen! The gay young cousin had sung
it, sung it to _her_ in those far-off days that now were as a faint,
impossible dream. She herself had copied the music and the words with an
etching pen, and purposely had buried the manuscript at the bottom of
the ottoman where for so long she had guarded it jealously. Only on the
rare occasions when she was alone in the house did she take it out and
tinkle the accompaniment, whispering the words. It seemed a sort of
sacrilege to Ellen that the song should have been exhumed by the
careless Stella to be sung with zest in a loud voice that destroyed the
echo of the beautiful tenor, the remembrance of which caused her heart
to ache and brought tears to her eyes.

Stella, with girlish enthusiasm, pronounced the song to be "perfectly
sweet," and proceeded to hunt through the rest of the pile. Colonel
Crayfield watched her lithe movements; he was well satisfied with his
own performance, and he smiled to himself as he recollected the last
occasion on which he had sung this song--to a pretty young married
woman with whom at that time he was pleasantly philandering; the lady
had burst into tears at the piano, an affecting scene had ensued, and
the husband had all but surprised them; it had been just touch-and-go, a
Providential escape. What on earth was her name? He could only remember
that her hair was golden and her eyes like forget-me-nots!

Never mind, it did not matter; all that mattered to him was this
exquisite child who was to learn the facts and the meaning of marriage
from him and from him alone.... If only the three tiresome old women
were out of the room--the two spinsters, scraggy and genteel; the old
mother, austere and cold; and to add to his provocation, when Mrs.
Carrington beckoned Stella to her side that she might kiss her
good-night, he heard the old lady forbid her to go out before breakfast
next morning. No reason was given, only the order. What tyranny! Was it
any wonder that, apart from everything else, Stella should yearn to
escape from The Chestnuts? Stella glanced at him ruefully over her
grandmother's head; he returned her a nod of sympathetic understanding.
Next day it should all be different. He enjoyed the prospect of
astounding the old martinet.


The following morning Mrs. Carrington was not so easy to corner. When
she appeared Ellen was in close attendance, and Stella was on duty with
Augusta, occupied with household tasks that seemed to involve strenuous
attacks on cupboards, and perpetual visits to the kitchen, whence came
hot, sweet whiffs of jam-making. Colonel Crayfield wandered aimlessly
in the garden, consoling himself with plans for the immediate future.
The marriage must take place as soon as possible--he supposed it would
have to be in the village church--but a special licence would expedite
matters. In little more than a couple of months his leave would be
up--it would allow only just time for Stella to have riding lessons,
singing lessons, to collect the right sort of outfit, for which, of
course, he would be responsible. No village dressmaker, no ready-made
garments for _his_ wife. His own particular star should shine in every
detail.

At last; there was the old lady, alone on the terrace, settled in a big
basket chair, a mushroom-shaped hat tied on with a broad ribbon, her
ebony stick handy, a small table at her side on which lay spectacles, a
handkerchief, and the paper which arrived at midday. Colonel Crayfield
approached her; formal greetings were exchanged, then he took an
uncomfortable little garden chair from its resting-place against the
wall and applied himself to business.

"Now," he said briskly, "I am ready to tell you what I propose should be
done about Stella."

Mrs. Carrington pouched her cheeks, and intimated silently that she also
was ready--to listen. He trusted she would not have a stroke when she
heard what he was about to propose!

"It may seem a very sudden decision on my part, Mrs. Carrington," he
began; "but I wish to take Stella into my own keeping----"

At once Mrs. Carrington was all gracious acquiescence. (Ellen! He had
spoken to Ellen?)

"Perhaps I can guess the means by which you intend to bring about such
an excellent solution of our difficulties," she remarked, with an arch
expression that struck him as grotesque; and before he could continue,
she added: "I may tell you that I had my suspicions ten years ago!"
(Good heavens! What could she mean?) "I may also say that in my opinion
nothing could be more suitable."

"I am afraid we are at cross purposes," said Colonel Crayfield
carefully. From his own standpoint he felt that the marriage could
hardly be termed "suitable," though the gain for the girl was
undeniable.

"Then will you kindly explain?" demanded Mrs. Carrington.

"Certainly. It is my intention to marry your granddaughter."

Grandmamma stared at him. Then she grabbed her stick and struck it
sharply on the ground. "My good man, are you in your senses?" she cried.
"Do you realise that Stella is not only a child, but that she has bad
blood in her veins? That such an unnatural union could only result in
disaster? Now, if it had been Ellen, her aunt----"

The old lady's natural reserve had been blown, as by a volcano, sky
high.

So that was the idea! Colonel Crayfield only just saved himself from
laughing aloud.

"But you see," he said lightly, "it is not Miss Ellen--fortunately for
me, since I fear she would hardly welcome me as a suitor."

Mrs. Carrington ignored this playful attitude. "It is a preposterous
idea! You are not a young man. Have you considered the cost and the
risk?" Her voice was severe.

"Why," he argued judicially, "should there be any 'risk,' as you call
it? After all, I am not such a Methuselah, and surely you can trust me
to safeguard my wife's honour and happiness as well as my own?"

"In the present, no doubt. But what about the end of it all? In ten,
even twenty years' time, Stella will still be a young woman, while
you----" Her pause was cruelly pointed.

Colonel Crayfield glowered. Confound the old devil; there must be an end
to this croaking, these distasteful forebodings. Assuming indifference,
he stretched out his legs. The chair wobbled ominously, and rising with
precautionary haste, he began to pace backwards and forwards before his
aged adversary. Her opposition was so unexpected!

"It seems to me," he said, keeping his temper with an effort, "that
Stella would be infinitely better off as my wife than if she stayed
here, perhaps to marry beneath her, perhaps never to marry at all? I
can't take her to India as my ward or as my adopted daughter. I'm not
quite old enough for _that_!"

"How old are you?" inquired grandmamma spitefully.

"Not much over fifty," he told her, with disarming readiness, "and I
flatter myself that I am young for my age. I am well off; I am willing
to make suitable provision for my widow. What more can you want?" He
spoke now with truculence.

"Well, I suppose you must cut your own throat, if you are so minded,"
said grandmamma; "but perhaps Stella may not care to marry a man old
enough to be her father--even, to stretch a point, her grandfather!"

"We shall see!" was his confident answer.

The old lady sat silent. She was deeply disappointed, so convinced had
she felt that it was Ellen he was after, and that Stella would be going
to India beneath Ellen's safe wing. It was so seldom her wishes were
thwarted, so seldom her disapproval of anything bore no weight.

Presently she said, "And when do you suggest that this extraordinary
marriage should take place?"

"Just as soon as it can all be arranged. I may say that I wish to be
responsible for Stella's outfit--indeed, for all expenses."

Mrs. Carrington's expression became a little less disagreeable. Money
was not plentiful at The Chestnuts. After all, no one could deny that in
a way it was a good enough chance for the child. But settlements must be
certain. If Stella got into trouble, there must be no returning her,
penniless, to her people, disgraced into the bargain.

"I can only give my consent provided that Stella will be perfectly
secure, financially, whatever happens in the future."

Colonel Crayfield smiled; it was, as Mrs. Carrington felt, a smile that
was covertly insulting. "When I have spoken to Stella," he said slowly,
"I shall return to London and make proper arrangements with my lawyer.
My intentions will be submitted to you, and I hardly imagine you will
find fault with them."

"Very well, then; there is no more to be said at present. But do not
forget that I have warned you."

"I appreciate your concern on my behalf, Mrs. Carrington; but, believe
me, I think you are unduly apprehensive."

"Let us hope so," said Mrs. Carrington grimly; and it was a relief to
them both when, at this moment, Augusta stepped out of the drawing-room
to remind her mother that luncheon would soon be on the table, to
suggest that the sun was rather powerful, and would it not be wiser for
mamma to come indoors?



CHAPTER V


After all, Colonel Crayfield was driven to proposing in the kitchen
garden. Stella was sent there, when luncheon was over, to pick more
fruit for jam-making, that serious ceremony being now at its height; not
even the presence of an important guest in the house could be permitted
to delay its progress. Colonel Crayfield volunteered in public to help
his goddaughter; Ellen's pale eyes flickered, grandmamma was coldly
silent; only Augusta, who, as yet, was ignorant of his intentions,
uttered conventional protests. Why should he trouble? It was so hot out
of doors; Stella was well used to the little task, and required no
help--would he not prefer to sit quiet with a book, or the paper?
Colonel Crayfield was equally punctilious--no trouble, a pleasure....
Though, unfortunately, unversed in the business of fruit picking for
jam, he would feel it a privilege to be allowed to contribute his share
of assistance, and so on.

At last the pair set off, armed with huge baskets, towards the
sun-blistered door let into the old brick wall of the garden.

"I will join you as soon as I can," Augusta called after them kindly.

"I hope she won't!" said Colonel Crayfield, to the malicious delight of
Stella, who promptly echoed the hope. For the first time she felt
reconciled to the tedious duty, for surely now was her chance to coax
Colonel Crayfield into giving her at least some sort of notion as to
what was to happen.

As they opened the rickety door he contrived to touch her hand gently,
again as they closed it behind them; then, rather to his discomposure,
she suddenly slipped her hand confidingly into his.

"Do tell me," she urged; "I know you've got some plan up your sleeve."

She found her hand tightly imprisoned. "You are sure you want to go to
India?" he asked her.

"You _know_! I've told you--it's the dream of my life."

"As a governess, or a missionary?"

"Oh, don't be so tiresome--as anything!"

"Well," he restrained himself still.

"Go on!" she cried with impatience.

"How would you like to go to India with me?"

"With _you_?"

"Yes"--he dropped his basket, snatched hers from her grasp and flung it
to the ground. Now he was holding both her hands. "Yes, with me,
Stella--as my wife!"

Had the old red-brick walls of the garden fallen flat around her she
could hardly have felt more astounded. Involuntarily she wrenched her
hands free, clasped them behind her, backed away from him.

He advanced upon her. "Now, now, little girl, what is the matter? Isn't
it all quite simple? You told me yourself there was no one here you
could marry, didn't you? And now here _is_ someone who wants you, who
will take you to India and give you everything in the world you could
wish for----"

"I'm--I'm so surprised!"

It was just what silly Ellen Carrington had said; damn it all, couldn't
the child understand that she was being given the chance of her
lifetime!

"Come, come--isn't it a pleasant surprise?"

She grew white, then red. "I never thought of such a thing!" she
exclaimed, in agitated apology.

"Of course not, why should you? I quite understand. But it's easy enough
to think of now--eh?"

Her hesitation inflamed him further; he hungered to kiss her, to hold
her in his arms--the first, and as long as he lived, the last man to do
so. Next moment his lips were on hers; she was enfolded, crushed to his
big body, almost suffocated, and to his intense satisfaction she made no
resistance....

To Stella it was like all she had heard about drowning, when a multitude
of impressions and memories were said to invade the mind in a
miraculously short space of time: Maud Verrall and her love adventures
and engagement; the spotty youth outside the Greystones gate; young
Capper the farmer; the lumber room at The Chestnuts, and her thirst for
India; and oddly, above all, the words of the familiar hymn that of a
sudden had exasperated her those many Sundays ago seemed to beat time to
the recollections:


     I dare not choose my lot,
       I would not if I might.


She was barely conscious of the present, hardly even of the determined
embrace that held her fast; only the past seemed real, and it was the
past that won. When he released her, flushed and breathless, she knew
she had dared to choose her lot once and for all; she was in the grip of
a wild excitement; she, Stella Carrington, was to be married, like Maud
Verrall, and she was going to India, to India! The doorway of life was
unlocked at last, presenting a wondrous vista, entrancing,
irresistible.... Then, blocking the doorway, she saw Colonel Crayfield,
bulky, triumphant, a masterful smile on his face.

"Well, isn't it all right?" And again he drew her to him, this time
gently, protectively, and with his arm about her they sauntered among
the vegetables and fruit bushes, while he held forth concerning the
future, Stella hearkening as in a dream. She knew he was speaking of his
position, of horses and clothes, of a piano, and a pearl necklace; but
it was of India she was thinking as she hung on his arm in childlike
gratitude. Was he not granting her the desire of her heart?

"You are a sort of fairy godfather!" she told him, laughing; "perhaps
not exactly a _fairy_--more of a Santa Claus. I think I must call you
Santa-Sahib."

"Call me what you like; but doesn't it spell Satan as well?"

"That will come in useful when you are disagreeable, cross with me."

"I shall never be cross with you, my jewel, my pet!"

Oh, it was all delightful, almost too good to be true.

But what about grandmamma? He said that grandmamma knew.

"So you have made it all right with her?" she exclaimed, with the kind
of sensation that is engendered by some lucky escape. How clever of him!
He was a wonder, her saviour, her deliverer. True, he was neither young
nor "a picture," but one could not have everything, and Stella told
herself she was going to be quite as happy as Maud Verrall, very likely
far happier.

"Just fancy!" she sighed ecstatically. "And if I had only known what was
coming when you found me in the larder! Isn't it a mercy that we both
like onions? Do tell me, when did you think of your ripping plan?"

"The first moment I set eyes on you at the station," he declared
untruthfully.

"Oh! Then _now_ I know why you looked at me like that."

"Like what?"

"You did--and then under the oak tree, too! I felt there was something."

"Bright little star!" Hiding a smile, he raised her hand and kissed each
pink finger-tip with deliberate enjoyment.



CHAPTER VI


"I got your letter," wrote Stella to Maud Verrall, "and am awfully glad
about your news, though at the time it made me feel simply green with
envy. How little I thought I should have some news to tell _you_ when I
answered it. Don't faint, but your little friend is also engaged, _and
going to India_! I could turn head over heels with joy. Perhaps we shall
meet next as married ladies! Wouldn't it be fun if we went out in the
same ship? My fiancé is a big, tall man, much older than me; but I don't
mind that a bit. There is something rather romantic, I think, in the
idea of a husband a good deal older than oneself. He hasn't got a beard,
and is not at all bald. I like him very much, and he spoils me
frightfully. Before we sail I am to have singing lessons and learn to
ride, and he says I can order what clothes I like. He is giving me a
real pearl necklace. His name is Colonel Crayfield, so my initials will
still be the same. Old Betty says that is unlucky, but I don't believe
her; nothing could be unlucky that gets me to India. It's all like a
heavenly dream, only a dream that will go on; no waking up to find
myself stuck at The Chestnuts with nothing to hope for but deadliness
evermore. I suppose I am an ungrateful pig. I know grandmamma and the
aunts are fond of me, and of course I am fond of _them_, but I can think
of nothing but my own good luck. They don't seem altogether pleased
about it; I can't imagine why, except that they never have wanted me to
enjoy myself. I really believe they think it's wicked to be pleased
about anything but the garden and sermons and the weather. However, I
don't care. I am going to India, and nothing else matters on this
earth."


So the "heavenly dream" continued, unmarred by the odd lack of sympathy
displayed by grandmamma and the aunts, and, if anything, enhanced by the
departure of Colonel Crayfield for London; his absence left Stella more
free to indulge her fancies, to lose herself in visions, to revel,
almost as though drugged, in blissful imaginings. Her betrothed sent
presents and frequent letters that, though short, were fervent, and
added to the glamour.

Thus time flew by, till the day of the marriage, which took place, very
quietly, in the little old church. The ceremony was performed by Canon
Grass in a manner, as Stella afterwards declared, that was more
befitting a funeral than a wedding. She attributed his lugubrious voice
and demeanour to the fact that the unfortunate gentleman was so
ill-mated himself. Mrs. Grass attended the service in her invalid chair,
and looked like a rag doll--poor thing, and poor Canon Grass! Grandmamma
did not even have a new bonnet, and might have been a graven image. Aunt
Augusta behaved as if they were all doing something wrong; and, of
course, Aunt Ellen wept.

Stella thought it really very horrid of them, when she herself was
feeling so jubilant, and dear old Santa-Sahib was so nice and so kind,
and looked almost "a picture" in his new clothes. He had grown a little
thinner, which was a great improvement. She wore the pearl necklace, his
wedding gift--it was lovely! Why did everybody but Santa-Sahib seem to
wish to damp her spirits, to put a spoke in the wheel of her pleasure?
Of course, there was no reception, no fuss; that she had not expected;
all she would have liked, and resented not having received, was just a
little sympathy with her state of joy--a little acknowledgment of her
good fortune.

They drove straight from the church to the station to catch the express
for London; and from then onwards "the dream" became rather more
harassing than heavenly! Stella found herself in a sumptuous hotel;
there was a lady's maid, a smart person engaged by Colonel Crayfield
until the date of their sailing, who embarrassed her. She was confused,
dismayed by revelations that, it appeared, were inseparable from
matrimony, and therefore had to be accepted as a sort of toll-bar on the
road to India. The weeks were packed with ceaseless activities: singing
lessons, riding lessons, dressmakers, restaurants, shops, theatres.

It was actually a relief to the overtaxed bride, when they had sped
across the Continent "via Brindisi," to settle down on the big P. & O.
steamer, that throbbed and smelt, and was so strange, yet proved a
paradise of rest and peace compared with London. There were not so many
passengers--it was early in the season--but everyone was interested in
young Mrs. Crayfield; they were all very kind and friendly. Her
deck-chair was always surrounded; her singing was a great success; and
though Santa-Sahib was tiresome in forbidding her to dance or take part
in theatricals on board ship, she had an extremely pleasant voyage.

They landed at Bombay, and oh! the rainbow-coloured crowds, the
splendour, the white, shining buildings, the spicy, intoxicating warmth.
It was all entrancing to Stella, oddly familiar and yet so novel. How
quaint the contradictions of "The Queen of Cities," such a mixture of
dignity and squalor! The best hotel was barrack-like, comfortless, not
over-clean; insects dotted the walls; there were flies in myriads;
doubtful food; yet at that period it was the only possible refuge for
European travellers coming and going.

Santa-Sahib grumbled and scolded; but Stella said what on earth did
comfort and food and cleanliness matter? Were they not _in India_? To
her, all the sights and sounds, the merciless sun, the dust and the
clamour, even the smells, were thrilling. Robert's head servant was
there to meet them, an elderly, important-looking native; his name was
Sher Singh, and he had secured an ayah for the memsahib, a good class
Mohammedan woman who knew her work and understood a little English.
Stella appreciated her quiet movements, her deft attentions, and was not
overawed by "Champa" as she had been by the grand maid in London. The
ayah's attitude towards the Sahib entertained her; it was full of such
humble and modest reverence. She would warn her mistress of the Sahib's
approach as though for the coming of an emperor; turn aside bashfully
when he entered the room, and draw her wrapper over her face. But Sher
Singh! To Stella there was something vaguely sinister about the
bombastic figure that held a weird, elusive reflection of his master's
bearing and outline. The man seemed to watch her furtively, and though
he anticipated her wishes, obeyed her least sign, she felt that beneath
his diligent, obsequious care there lay a smouldering resentment.

"I'm sure Sher Singh is jealous of me," she told her husband; "he looks
on me as an interloper. It's only natural, I suppose, after his long
service with you as a bachelor, but it makes me uncomfortable."

"Nonsense!" he said sharply. "Sher Singh is an invaluable servant.
Whatever you do, don't quarrel with him. It's all your fancy--you don't
understand natives."

"Some day I shall. I mean to!"

"Well, don't begin by misunderstanding Sher Singh. I couldn't do without
him."

There was a note of finality in his voice. It sounded to Stella almost
as though he would prefer to part with her than with Sher Singh! She
determined to banish the little rasp from her mind; after all, what did
it matter? It should not interfere with her enjoyment--Sher Singh was
only a servant.

They stayed long enough in Bombay to dine at the Yacht Club; to visit
the caves of Elephanta, so old, so mysterious; to spend a day with an
English merchant prince, a friend of Colonel Crayfield's, in his palace
on Malabar Hill. And then came the journey up-country: days and nights
in the train, passing from tropical temperature to chilly dawns, first
rushing through scenery grand and austere, Doré-like in its peaks and
valleys, wondrous in the crimson sunset; afterwards vast yellow plains,
relieved by patches of cultivation, villages, groves--mightily
monotonous. Except for the time when she slept, and when they alighted
at echoing stations for unpalatable meals, Stella did not cease to gaze
from the windows of their compartment. The crowds on the platforms of
big junctions and wayside halting-places were fascinating; the family
groups, the varied clothing, the half-naked sellers of fruit and
sweetmeats, the pushing, the shouting, the flurry.

It was midnight when they reached Rassih. The branch line had but lately
been completed, and the railway station was little more than a short
strip of unfinished platform. The station-master, a fat babu, received
the travellers with elaborate civility; and, outside, a curious
conveyance awaited them--like a broad, low dog-cart, hooded, drawn by a
pair of white bullocks, all horns and humps and pendulous dewlaps.
Stella never forgot her first transit through the slumbering city; the
little caves of shops, some dimly illumined; the occasional glimpses of
figures squatting muffled and shapeless, or stretched on rude bedsteads.
From upper storeys floated snatches of sleepy song and the faint twang
of stringed instruments. Pariah dogs nosed and snarled in the gutters.
Beneath the general somnolence lay a ceaseless, subdued undercurrent of
sound that seemed to mingle with stale odours of spice and rancid oil;
above it all the slate-blue sky pressed low, deeply clear, besprinkled
with stars.

The tonga skirted a high wall, cutting through dust so deep that its
progress was hardly audible, turned in through a gateless arch, and
halted before a massive, towering building. Stella, weary, yet excited,
followed her husband up a steep flight of stone steps that terminated in
a vast, whitewashed vestibule; there were countless doors, all open,
screened with short portières. It was cold, gloomy, dim. None of the
lamps that hung on the walls had been turned up; the silence was
oppressive, cheerless.

Robert, muttering angrily, strode ahead and stumbled over a form that
lay swathed, corpse-like, in one of the doorways. A scene ensued that to
Stella was horrifying. The corpse-like figure sprang up with a wild yell
of alarm, and was cuffed and abused by the Sahib. The noise brought a
scampering of bare feet and a swarm of people, hastily binding on
turbans, adjusting garments. It appeared that the servants had all been
asleep, that preparations for the Sahib's arrival were not even begun.
The air shook with the wrath of the Sahib; he would listen to no
explanations; the offenders ran hither and thither; there was confusion,
consternation.

Stella stood by, silent, trembling; she was appalled by her husband's
exhibition of rage; he might murder one of these defenceless people; it
seemed even possible that at any moment he might turn upon her, and kick
and beat and abuse her also! What a ghastly arrival!... Then all at
once there was peace. Sher Singh had arrived with the luggage, and in no
time refreshments were on the table; the dining-room, big as a ballroom,
blazed with light; the Sahib's fury subsided.

To Stella's astonishment the servants conducted themselves as if nothing
extraordinary had happened, and all went well. Robert made no excuse or
apology for his anger; apparently he was unconscious of having behaved,
as it seemed to her, like a madman. He ate and drank with complacence,
asking questions quite amiably at intervals of the rotund attendant who
was evidently chief of the table staff; while Stella, unable for very
fatigue to swallow food, sipped her tea and looked about her with dazed
interest.... What high walls, washed a pale brick colour; how bare the
great room, just a big table and clumsy wooden chairs with arms and cane
seats. On the floor was a sort of thick drugget; it felt hard beneath
her feet. A wood fire had been lighted in a wide open grate; it smelt
fragrant, comforting.... Stella's eyes drooped; the white-clad figures
of the servants grew blurred to her vision; Robert himself, still eating
heartily, seemed to recede in a mist. Then suddenly there arose, from
somewhere outside, a succession of blood-curdling yells, and she
started, wide awake, laid hold of Robert's arm. "Oh, what is it?" she
cried in alarm. "Someone is being killed!"

He laughed and patted her hand reassuringly. "It's only hyenas and
jackals," he told her; "you'll hear it every night--soon get used to
it."

Hyenas and jackals! Wild beasts she would have gazed at in a zoo with
wondering interest were here, close by, and no more to be heeded than if
they had been stray dogs! She remembered that this was India; the weird
noise fired her fancy, and mingled with her dreams that night.

She awoke next morning to a very different sound, the cooing of doves;
bright, hard sunlight streamed through the long door-windows. She found
she had slept late; Champa, bringing tea, said the Sahib had already
gone out, had left orders that the memsahib was not to be disturbed.
Then she bathed--in a bathroom that resembled a prison cell; the tub was
of zinc, and there was a row of red earthenware vessels for the cold
water. Stella thought them very artistic; how Mrs. Daw would love to
paint on them, paint storks and sprays of apple-blossom, and fill them
with dried bulrushes--the very thing for a bazaar!... But there was
nothing that could by any possibility be considered artistic about the
bedroom: the beds were just wooden frames, not even enamelled or
painted; two enormous cupboards stood against the walls; the fireplace
was a cavern; the dressing-table was more suited to a kitchen; and there
were a few clumsy chairs matching those of the dining-room. It was with
a slight feeling of desolation that she began to explore the house; in
the drawing-room was a certain amount of wicker furniture, with loose
cretonne covers of an ugly pattern, a pair of handsome screens, and two
or three richly carved tables; the dining-room she avoided, having
caught sight of servants laying the table; she felt shy of encountering
them. She peeped into other rooms, all of them equally bare and
enormous, comfortless--even the one she supposed must be Robert's study,
since it had a business-like table in the centre, covered with papers.

And yet there was something exhilarating in the airiness, in the sense
of space, the hard brilliance of the sunshine outside, the unfamiliar
scents and sounds that seemed to float everywhere. Her spirits rose as
she wandered out on to a balcony almost wide enough for a dog-cart, and
gazed over a limitless landscape studded with low bushes, and in the
foreground a few ruins of what might have been mosques or dwellings or
tombs. The flat country, stretching for miles to the dusty horizon, was
impressive in its very persistence and sameness, that was without
relief, save for here and there a pillar of dust that swirled upwards,
waltzing madly for a moment as though demon-possessed. Then she watched
a more steady dust-cloud, of a different form, that was wending its way
slowly among the clumps of scrub and stunted bushes; and presently there
came into view a string of camels led by a great beast hung with gaudy
trappings, ridden by a figure swathed in white garments, heavily
turbaned. On they came, a silent, stately procession, moving as though
to the rhythm of a funeral march, men striding beside them in flowing
garments or seated between the great bales slung on either side of the
camels' humps. One or two baby camels shambled along by their
mothers--awkward, woolly creatures, the size of colts, with legs that
appeared too long for their bodies.

Fascinated, Stella watched the cavalcade till it vanished in a cloud of
dust; then she walked to the end of the balcony and looked over the
parapet, down a drop that made her feel giddy. There was nothing below
but heaps of rough stones and bricks, coarse grass, and thorn trees.
Again she glanced over the waterless waste, burning drab and drear in
the hot sunshine, and suddenly she thought of the Common at home, of the
green turf, the gorse and the bracken, the blue distances; she wondered
what grandmamma and the aunts were doing at that moment; she remembered
the smooth lawn and the cedar tree, the little stream.... The unwelcome
pang of home-sickness was discomforting, but it did not last long. As
she turned away the realisation that she was in India, that the life she
so desired had begun, came back to her forcibly; and soon she was
finding pleasure in the garden, in watching the pair of small white
bullocks that drew water from a well in a big leather bucket like a
gigantic sponge-bag; in strolling among the shrubs that flamed with
blossom, scarlet, yellow, pink. There was an orange grove, too, with
real fruit on the trees gleaming golden among glossy foliage. Flights of
green parrots flew screaming above her head; gay-crested little birds
hopped and scuffled in the dust at her feet; small grey squirrels
scampered in every direction. Was there anything at The Chestnuts to
compare with it all?

Santa-Sahib was in good humour when he returned. They had a wonderful
breakfast at midday: a curry of chicken, with snowy rice boiled to
perfection and served separately, not as a border round some réchauffé,
which was old Betty's conception of a curry. Other dishes were numerous,
and fruit was in abundance--oranges, custard apples, loquats; also
delicious little scones. Afterwards Robert took her into the
drawing-room, and told her she could spend what she liked on it; said he
had ordered a piano from Calcutta; it ought to arrive in a day or two
now. He was sure she would wish to have pretty chintz, and silk
cushions, and new curtains. When she asked him if it would not all cost
too much money, he laughed and kissed her, called her his baby. Sher
Singh was summoned, and was bidden to send for a silk merchant from the
bazaar, and to engage a "durzey"--a male person whose duty it would be
to sit in the veranda all day and make curtains and cushions and chair
covers, and anything else the memsahib might desire. Stella felt like a
princess in a fairy tale.

During the next few days the ladies of the station called on the
Commissioner's bride. Mrs. Cuthell, wife of the Deputy Commissioner,
came first; she was a homely human being, anxious to be kind; but her
good-natured intentions were leavened by a natural resentment that her
husband's superior in the service should have married anyone so junior
in years to herself. She said she hoped Mrs. Crayfield would not find
her position too difficult; of course, she would have much to learn.

"Hitherto," she remarked, "I have been the principal lady!" She forced a
smile. "Now I shall be obliged to take a back seat! We were all so
surprised when we heard that Colonel Crayfield was bringing out a wife.
We had looked on him as a confirmed bachelor. Certainly we did not
expect a wife as youthful as yourself!"

"It's a fault I shall grow out of, perhaps," pleaded Stella meekly; and
afterwards Mrs. Cuthell told Mrs. Piggott, the police officer's wife,
that she thought the new bride was rather a cheeky chit. Mrs. Piggott
made haste to ascertain the truth of this opinion for herself. Stella
found her a more entertaining visitor than Mrs. Cuthell, though perhaps
less likeable; Mrs. Cuthell, she felt, meant to be motherly, whereas
Mrs. Piggott, who also seemed quite middle-aged to Stella, assumed the
attitude of a contemporary. She had sharp eyes, a sharp tongue, and
endless stories to tell of the other folk in the station; how the Paynes
(Post Office) brought up their children so badly, talked nothing but
Hindustani to them; what a lot of money the Taylors (Canals) wasted,
getting their stores from Bombay, and things out from home--if they ever
paid for them at all! And _had_ Mrs. Crayfield seen the Antonios--Dr.
Antonio and his wife and daughter? Old Antonio had been an apothecary at
the time of the Mutiny, and had somehow hung on to the position of Civil
Surgeon ever since--he had been years and years at Rassih; the
Government was only too glad to leave him there, regardless of the
feelings of the rest of the station. Why, they were practically natives!
And it was believed they smoked hookahs--certainly their house smelt
like it. Pussy, the daughter (no chicken), had been doing her best to
marry young Smithson, the Taylors' assistant; but she, Mrs. Piggott,
had warned the young man, with the result that just as the Antonios were
expecting him to propose every moment, he had fled into camp. If only
the Antonios could know! They would never speak to her again.

"And no great loss," added Mrs. Piggott, "except that in such a small
station it's a pity to have rows. Then there are the Fosters (railway
people); they are inclined to give themselves airs because they have a
little money of their own, which is unusual in India. But you will see
them all for yourself, my dear. Of course, you will come to the Club? We
all play tennis there every evening, and have tea and pegs, and look at
the English papers."

"I suppose so," said Stella doubtfully; "but my husband hasn't said
anything about it."

"You must cure him of his dull habits. Hitherto he has only had some of
the men to play tennis with him on his own courts, which, of course, are
first-rate, but it's rather unsociable of him. He must not expect _you_
to hold yourself aloof from the rest of us. Now if he won't bring you
himself to the Club just let me know, and I can always pick you up on my
way."

Mrs. Piggott saw herself envied by the station as young Mrs. Crayfield's
bosom friend. She took the first opportunity of telling Mrs. Cuthell,
whom she detested, that Mrs. Crayfield had been perfectly sweet to _her_
when she called, had asked her advice on all kinds of points, and had
taken her into her bedroom to show her the trousseau and the jewellery,
etc.--all of which, by the way, was untrue; but Mrs. Piggott considered
the falsehoods worth while, since it annoyed Mrs. Cuthell and made her
jealous.

Stella thought she would like to belong to the Club; but, to her
surprise, when Robert came to the drawing-room for tea, and she
mentioned the subject, he said he did not wish her to "make herself
cheap"; he disapproved of the Club gatherings--a lot of gossiping women
and silly young men. Once a week--whichever day she liked to select--she
could be "At Home" to the whole station. Their own tennis courts were in
excellent order, and there was no occasion to become intimate with
anyone.

"You will return their calls, of course," he continued, "and we must
give a couple of dinner parties, and there will be your weekly
reception. That will be quite enough. Now go and get on your habit and
we'll have a ride."

Stella obeyed, feeling rather crestfallen. The programme sounded dull.
Was she never to make any friends? And what was Robert's objection to
all these people? Surely she and Robert were not so superior themselves
as to warrant such splendid isolation! However, for the moment she made
no protest; the recollection of her husband's violence on the night of
their arrival was still with her; she feared to provoke him. But there
would seem to be drawbacks to the position of "chief lady of the
station," according to Robert's idea of its fulfilment!

She forgot her vexation in the delight of mounting the handsome chestnut
mare that was to be her own property, and in the softening sunshine
they skirted the high wall of the city and trotted along the unmetalled
footway of the main road beneath splendid trees planted at equal
distances apart. They passed a few compounds with thatched bungalows
standing well back from the dusty road; these dwellings looked humble in
comparison with the palace on the old fort walls that commanded the
huddled bazaar and the scattered European habitations beyond. They met
native vehicles packed with passengers; and riders of miserable ponies
dismounted, making obeisance, as the Commissioner Sahib went by; low
narrow carts, crowded with women and children and merchandise, creaked
along lazily in the middle of the road.

Then they turned from this main thoroughfare and galloped along a broad,
grass-grown canal bank, flanked on one side with luxuriant plantations;
on the other, dull green water flowed steadily, silently, bearing life
to the villages and crops below. Crossing a bridge, they rode to a
village where Colonel Crayfield wished to make some inquiries connected
with his administration; and Stella watched, keenly interested, while
the headman, a patriarch with a long, henna-dyed beard, hurried forth to
make his report, followed by a rabble of peasants who gathered at a
respectful distance to gape at the spectacle of an Englishwoman on
horseback. Now and then a naked child would run boldly into the open,
only to be hauled back shrieking by relations whose reproaches were as
piercing as the culprit's lamentations.

The memsahib gazed at it all, absorbed; she was sorry when her husband
raised his whip to his hat in farewell salutation to the headman, and
they turned their backs on the village and the eager, excited little
crowd. Their return was by a different route, which, to Stella's secret
interest, took them past the Club gardens. Tennis was in progress, and
the spectators were seated in chairs collected around a refreshment
table. Every head was turned in the direction of the riders; the Club
members seemed as eager to behold the lady on horseback as had been the
villagers. It was pleasing to Stella to find herself the object of so
much human curiosity.



CHAPTER VII


It was the day of Mrs. Crayfield's first garden party. What struck
Stella as an extraordinary form of invitation had gone forth by hand: a
notice, with "Mrs. Crayfield at Home," and the chosen date, inscribed in
large copper-plate by a clerk in the Commissioner's office. Below was
written, "Please write seen," and then came a column of names, the whole
of the visitable community of Rassih. This document came back duly
initialled by all but one or two inaccessible bachelors who were out in
the district on duty. Stella expressed a nervous hope that everyone
would come, and inquired what preparations she ought to make.

"Trust them to come!" scoffed Robert. "And don't worry yourself about
preparations. The servants know what to do."

And, indeed, the servants' capabilities seemed miraculous. Tennis nets
were fixed, the courts marked out correctly; tables became covered with
cakes and sandwiches, tea and coffee, spirits and liqueurs, multitudes
of soda-water bottles; there was fresh lemonade and claret-cup. All far
more imposing than even the yearly flower-show at the vicarage at home
that was patronised by the whole county! Stella felt there ought to be a
band in attendance as well. She dressed herself in a soft white gown,
and a lace hat that had cost Santa-Sahib a fabulous sum in London; then
she stood for a few moments on the raised plinth overlooking the garden
to watch Sher Singh giving orders and directions on the tennis ground
below. Nothing had been forgotten; the row of cane chairs had little
strips of carpet in front of them, and a group of small native boys
clothed in white, with red caps and red belts, stood ready till they
should be wanted to retrieve the balls. And all this was to happen every
week!

Santa-Sahib came out and stood beside her, bulky, cheerful, in clean
flannels, smoking a long cheroot.

"Turn round, little girl," he commanded; "let's have a look at you."

She turned and bobbed him a curtsey; he regarded her from head to foot
with a proprietary air of satisfaction, yet he was silent, and Stella
inquired anxiously if she "would do."

"Just as well, perhaps, that we're not in a big station," he exclaimed,
half laughing, half serious, "or it would take me all my time to look
after you!"

"But shall we be here always?" she asked.

"The longer the better," he answered shortly. "And no careering off to
the hills, mind, unless of course----"

"Unless what? Do tell me!"

"Unless your health makes it necessary."

"My health? But I'm as strong as a horse. What do you mean?"

"What I say, my good child. Thank goodness you _are_ a fine healthy
young woman, and that old Antonio's strong point is maternity cases!"

The blood flew to her face, and down again to her toes; such a
possibility, at which she now understood he was hinting, had never
presented itself to her mind. She felt horrified, frightened, as though
caught in a trap. Did Robert expect it of her? How cruel of him to talk
like this just when she was so content and lighthearted, looking forward
to her garden party, to everything in the future. A baby! She knew
nothing about children, and if she did have a child it would, she felt
sure, be exactly like Santa-Sahib--plain, and solid, and red. Why on
earth couldn't one be married without all that sort of thing!

She heard Robert say: "Why, what's the matter?" and she looked up to
find his small, hard eyes fixed on her with a quizzical expression that
disturbed her still further.

"Nothing," she replied uneasily, turning from him to hide her distress.
"Look, there's somebody arriving. Hadn't we better go down?"

"It's Beard, the missionary, and his wife, and I'm hanged if they
haven't brought their family with them!"

An odd little party was scrambling from an antiquated pony carriage. Mr.
Beard, in a long black coat, white trousers, and a pith hat shaped like
a half of a football; Mrs. Beard, in a voluminous gown of some green
material; and three little girls, who all wore sun-hats as well--hats so
large that they appeared to rest on the children's shoulders.

Stella hastened down the steps in front of her husband, to greet the
guests who were now arriving in force. To her relief, Mrs. Cuthell, so
to speak, took command, and proceeded to make up the sets for tennis,
explaining that _she_ knew how everyone played, which, of course, Mrs.
Crayfield could not; and soon the courts were filled with vigorous
people, running and shouting; tennis balls flew, the little boys darted
after them, non-players gathered in knots about the tables, or settled
in the easy chairs, and it was all very pleasant and cheerful. Stella,
feeling excited and important, set herself to do duty as hostess. She
conversed with Mrs. Beard, and duly admired the three little girls who
hung round their mother; two were twins; the third was only a year
younger, which accounted for their all looking about the same age and
size. Mrs. Beard said that the number of native Christians in the Rassih
district was on the increase; she hoped Mrs. Crayfield would visit the
school and distribute prizes.... Stella then listened to Mrs. Antonio's
artless admiration of her daughter "Pussy," who played tennis well, and
was certainly a handsome creature with rich colouring and brilliant dark
eyes. Why Mrs. Piggott should have branded the Antonios as "practically
natives" Stella could not quite understand, though they seemed
different, it was true, from the rest of the official community, and
they spoke with a curious accent. Dr. Antonio was a stumpy,
good-humoured person, with a large stomach about which he had bandaged a
crimson silk sash; he had long, straggling whiskers, obviously dyed, and
a dark, puffy face. Mrs. Antonio was sallow and thin, and had regular
features inherited by her daughter, whom she adored with the frankest
extravagance. She was drawing Mrs. Crayfield's attention to Pussy's
perfect complexion, when Mrs. Piggott joined the group, and remarked
pointedly that Mrs. Foster's sister, who was playing tennis in the same
set with Pussy, was to be envied her lovely white skin, fair hair, and
blue eyes.

"But how pastee!" objected Mrs. Antonio. "She had a nice colour in her
cheeks when she came out last year from home; now it is all gone, while
my Pussy she is like a rose."

"Well, you see," said Mrs. Piggott, with the air of a kindly
instructress, "Pussy is accustomed to the climate; you must remember
that she has never been to England!"

Stella glanced nervously at Mrs. Antonio, but Pussy's mother merely
nodded complacently and turned to her hostess. "My Pussy, she is so
healthy and strong. It is luckee, for this is a very hot place, Mrs.
Crayfield."

"So I understand," returned Stella politely; and then Mrs. Antonio began
to talk about punkah coolies and their perversities during the hot
season, and alluded to something called "tatties." Mrs. Piggott bemoaned
the difficulty of procuring ice when it was most needed. Mrs. Beard
said, with self-righteous resentment, that _Mission people_ had to
endure the heat without such alleviations; and Mrs. Antonio confessed
that ice gave her "pain at stomach," but that Pussy liked to suck lumps,
which was bad for her prettee teeth.

During this dull conversation among their elders the Beard children
took courage and wandered afield; they made for a big mango tree, behind
which they appeared to find some attraction.

As each set of tennis came to an end the players gathered about the
refreshment tables; trays were handed round by the white-clad servants
under the authoritative supervision of Sher Singh, and suddenly Mrs.
Antonio transferred her attention from Pussy to Colonel Crayfield's
bearer.

"That man! How does he behave to you, Mrs. Crayfield, dear?" she
inquired with genuine, if inquisitive, solicitude.

Stella resented the question, conscious as she was of her subordination
to the rule of Sher Singh. She felt sensitively suspicious that the
little gang of ladies were one and all aware of her humiliating
position.

"He seems to be a very good servant," she replied evasively, "and he is
devoted to my husband."

Mrs. Cuthell joined in. "Oh, yes, and Colonel Crayfield to him; everyone
knows that! But all the same, bachelors' old servants are invariably
antagonistic to a mistress. It's a mistake to keep them. When you have
learnt something about Indian housekeeping you will find out how he has
been feathering his nest all these years!"

It was Mrs. Piggott's turn next. "How well I remember the bother I had
with my husband's old khansamah when first we were married. He used to
commit endless atrocities, and then declare he had only obeyed my
orders. Edward always believed him! However, I soon put my foot down and
got rid of him. There was such a row!"

"I go to the bazaar myself," said Mrs. Beard somewhat irrelevantly,
"and do my own marketing."

"Ah! but of course _your_ servants are Christians," argued Mrs. Piggott,
covert contempt in her tone, "and we all know what that means!"

Mrs. Beard reddened. "Which shows how lamentably ignorant you all are,"
she retorted. "You think that because a native is a Christian that he
must be a rogue. I admit that he generally is a rogue to start with, but
not because he is a Christian. It is because, unfortunately, our
converts are mostly drawn from a class that has nothing to lose by
embracing the true religion, people who are outcasts by birth, cut off
from all spiritual advantages, oppressed and despised, jungle folk,
gypsies, many of them thieves by profession, and such like. So far we
have hardly tapped the better born classes, and whenever we do it is a
real triumph, for they have everything to lose from a worldly point of
view. But we know we must begin from the bottom and work upwards, and
already great progress has been made, though it is necessarily slow, and
the fight is often disheartening...."

Stella looked at the faded, dowdy little woman with a new interest. Mrs.
Beard and her husband were working for India, doing great work, just as
great in its way as the Carringtons had done in the past, and as their
kind were doing in the present. She wished she could help the Beards by
engaging a whole staff of Christian converts as servants! But so far she
was powerless, there was nothing she could do; and as the atmosphere had
become slightly uncomfortable she was about to try and change the
subject when, to her relief, a diversion was caused by Mrs. Beard's
discovery that her offspring were disporting themselves behind the mango
tree with some native children, though, surely, according to Mission
theories, Mrs. Beard should have felt no displeasure?

"Martha, Mary, Deborah!" she called sternly, "come here at once!"

This summons was not obeyed, but apparently it caused an animated
argument between the padre's children and their Oriental playmates.
Again Mrs. Beard raised a voice of command, and presently Martha and
Mary and Deborah emerged from the shelter of the tree, escorting a small
brown boy attired in a red cotton garment and an embroidered skull cap.

"Mother," shouted the three little girls in chorus, "this dear boy wants
to come to our school. We will make him a Christian, mayn't we?"

To their mortified astonishment this praiseworthy plan did not meet with
the encouragement it deserved. The Commissioner's head servant pounced
on the red-coated pagan and took him, howling loudly, from his friends.

Stella rose. "Sher Singh!" she called angrily, "let the child alone!" Of
course, the man heard her order, must have known, though perforce she
had spoken in English, what she wished him to do; but he paid no
attention, just bore the child, kicking and screaming, towards the
servants' quarters.

Martha and Mary and Deborah ran to their mother and buried their faces
in her skirt. Stella looked round for Robert; he was drinking a whisky
and soda, regardless of the scene. Mrs. Cuthell laid a restraining hand
on her arm. "It's quite right, Mrs. Crayfield," she said with reassuring
inflection. "The servants' children must be kept in the background,
otherwise they would swarm all over the place."

But Stella felt she had been publicly flouted by Sher Singh, and though
for the moment she was helpless, she resolved to tell Robert, when the
party should be over, that for the future she expected Sher Singh to
obey her. Meantime, while Mrs. Cuthell made up fresh sets of tennis, she
apologised prettily to Mrs. Beard.

But when the guests had all departed, with many gratifying assurances of
their enjoyment, her courage dwindled. Since the night of her arrival at
Rassih she had dreaded Robert's anger; the unpleasant memory remained
with her so vividly--the uproar, the helpless alarm of the servants, her
own fear and dismay. Never before in the whole course of her sheltered
existence had she seen anyone so angry. And now, were she to protest
against Sher Singh's behaviour, what if he should rage at her in the
same manner? As he passed into his dressing-room she recognised, with a
sinking at her heart, that she was afraid of her husband, abjectly
afraid, ten thousand times more afraid of him then she had ever been of
grandmamma. She dared not risk a scene, dared not stand up for herself.
She would let the matter rest for the present, wait till Sher Singh
disobeyed her again. After all, perhaps the man had not heard, or had
not understood her this afternoon.

However, towards the end of dinner she happened to look up and catch
Sher Singh regarding her with an expression of such venomous hatred that
she barely checked an exclamation. Meeting her astonished gaze, he
turned away abruptly to the sideboard, and she drew in her breath,
shivering. When, a little later, he was pouring port into Robert's
glass, she observed that his hand shook, that his eyes were heavy and
bloodshot; there was something strange in his appearance.

She tried to dismiss the incident from her mind, turned her thoughts to
some advice Mrs. Beard had given her as to studying Hindustani. At least
she might dare to attack Robert on that point. It was like being a deaf
person not to understand the words spoken around one. And once she had
obtained some command of the language she would be in a position to give
her own orders to the other servants without Sher Singh's intervention.

She waited until they were in the drawing-room, and Robert had flung
himself into an easy chair to examine some official document. He worked
very hard, and seemed to think of little else.

"Robert," she began softly. He did not hear her. She repeated his name
and he looked up abstractedly. Then he lowered the sheets of foolscap
and removed his pince-nez.

"What is it now?" he inquired with indulgent resignation.

"Can I have lessons in Hindustani?"

"Why? What good would that do you?"

"I want to learn, and I have nothing particular to do while you are at
work all day."

"You've got the piano, and you can order what books you want from
Bombay. Haven't you any fancy work?"

She laughed. "Fancy work! I want to use my brains."

"Don't talk nonsense. What good will Hindustani do your brains? Keep up
your French and music. Natives respect Englishwomen far more if they
can't speak the language."

"Oh, Robert, what a thing to say! I'm sure that can't be true."

"You know nothing about it, you silly child. Come here!"

She had risen and was moving restlessly about the room. As she passed he
put out his arm and pulled her down on to his knees. With a strong
effort she controlled her reluctance, realising, suddenly aghast, that
her distaste for Robert's demonstrations of affection was on the
increase, that it threatened to develop into actual aversion. As he
pressed her face against his shoulder, kissing her hair, a sort of
desperation seized her. She did not love Robert, had never loved him,
and at this moment she almost hated him. The question rose in her mind:
Was it because they had known she was not in love with Robert that
grandmamma and the aunts had shown so little sympathy with her marriage,
had behaved as if she were doing something reprehensible? If so, why
had they not warned her? Yet, supposing they had gone so far as to put
probable consequences before her, would she have heeded, believed them?
No, she knew well enough that in her headstrong simplicity nothing would
then have turned her from her purpose. If anyone was to blame in the
matter it was Robert, who had married her to please himself only,
regardless of her ignorance of life and love, even partly, perhaps,
because of it. She recalled a sentence in the letter Maud Verrall had
written announcing her engagement: "I am very happy and awfully in
love." If only she was in love with Robert! But she was not, she never
could be. Did he know it? Not that she believed he would care one way or
the other as long as she submitted to his will in every detail. But at
least she did not intend to submit with regard to learning Hindustani.
More than ever did she feel that congenial occupation of mind was a
necessity, that if she could not satisfy her craving for knowledge of
the country she would rather have stayed on at The Chestnuts. How could
she hope to understand India, as far as it was possible for an
Englishwoman to do so, till she was able to talk to the people? She had
already discovered that India for its own sake did not interest Robert.
He worked hard because he liked work. He had a clear, hard brain; the
mode of existence suited him; he appreciated his big pay and the
importance of his position; natives were afraid of him, and he liked to
inspire fear. He never talked to her of his work, or of the people and
their histories and religions, and now he did not want her to learn the
language, beyond the smattering that would suffice for her daily
requirements.

However, learn it she would. And a means, though repugnant, of gaining
her ends occurred to her. Bracing her will, she slipped her arm about
his neck and laid her lips to his cheek. "You are _Satan_ Sahib now,"
she murmured plaintively. "I don't like you at all."

His grasp of her tightened. "Why, what have I done?"

"The first little thing I have ever asked for you refuse me!"

"What was it?"

Good heavens! Were her wishes so trivial to him that they could pass
from his mind on the spot?

She answered his question without betrayal of her resentment. "That I
should learn Hindustani properly."

"What a little pest! Well, if I say 'yes,' how much will you love
Santa-Sahib?"

"Ever and ever so much," she cooed, knowing that half measures would be
useless, that she must pay, and pay fully, for what she wanted.

"All right, then we must see about a respectable old _munshi_, who won't
let you work too hard or teach you bad words. After all, if you must use
what you call your brains, it may be better for you than French novels.
But remember, if you're going to pose as a clever woman I'll divorce you
at once!"

"I don't think you'll get rid of me quite so easily," she laughed. The
victory elated her. In future she would have no scruple as to this
method of conquest when the object she desired was worth it. So she
sipped her first taste of the power of sex hypocrisy, scented the
supreme value of feminine arts and wiles.



CHAPTER VIII


Stella was careful to conceal from Robert the pleasure she found in her
lessons with the white-bearded, horn-spectacled patriarch appointed her
tutor. Having attained her desire through guile, she did not intend to
risk deprivation through candour. Now and then, as a precaution, she
would allude jokingly to her studies, sometimes feigned to be weary of
them, implying that only a determination not to be baffled by a
self-imposed task caused her to persevere; and Robert, who regarded the
matter as a whim that would pass, made no further obstruction. During
the hours while he was safely at office she worked zealously, and the
progress she made surprised her, unconscious as she was of her own
mental ability. Soon she could carry on simple conversations with the
old teacher, and she forbade Champa to speak to her in English, greatly
to the disgust of that accomplished female, who feared that her prestige
in the compound as interpreter to the memsahib might suffer.

Champa sulked, and in some mysterious fashion seemed to join forces with
Sher Singh in creating an atmosphere of espionage that to Stella was
intensely exasperating. Did she give an order on her own account, it was
caught up at once and repeated elaborately by the ayah; if she wandered
in the garden Sher Singh would follow, and when she made objections
both servants professed to misunderstand what she said. She felt she was
being harried, and was unable to discover the reason. Never could she
succeed in exploring the servants' quarters, for Sher Singh was always
at hand; and as Robert had bidden her keep away from the low line of
dwellings that swarmed with people, like a species of human ant-heap,
disobedience might be reported by Sher Singh to his master either with
or without intentional spite. Sometimes Mrs. Cuthell came to see her,
also Mrs. Piggott and Mrs. Antonio, and during their visits Champa
lurked and peeped, or Sher Singh hung about the doorways.

These ladies invited Mrs. Crayfield informally to tea or to tiffin, but
Robert discouraged acceptance, said it was better not to start
intimacies, as if he were jealous of her possible friendships; and
although no real sacrifice was entailed, Stella made capital out of her
refusals--pretended she was foregoing a pleasure for the sole reason
that she wished to follow Santa-Sahib's will. She told herself she was
growing sinfully deceitful; but her apprehension lest her study of the
language should be stopped if she opposed Robert's prejudices in any
other direction was stronger than her conscience. Anything to keep him
amiable. Sometimes she wondered if she had any conscience left.
Therefore Crayfield remained complacently convinced of his young wife's
devotion. She gave him no trouble, was apparently content to leave the
household control to Sher Singh, always looked lovely and fresh and
sweet-tempered, and he desired no more. Wit and wisdom, intelligent
conversation on her part would merely have bored him, rendered him
vaguely suspicious. In his opinion women were better without education,
which, all the same, was not to be confounded with what he regarded as
"accomplishments." He liked her to sing pretty ballads and play waltzes;
he enjoyed singing to her sympathetic accompaniment; and when she
attempted to paint flowers and kingfishers and storks, or embroider
strips of "crash" with intricate patterns in coloured cottons, on the
lines of Mrs. Daw's remembered achievements, he criticised the results
with patronising encouragement.

Thus the days passed smoothly. Rides in the late afternoon, a few formal
dinners to "the station," the weekly "at homes," music in the evenings,
until, shortly before Christmas, they went into camp on a tour of
inspection. This meant double sets of tents, quantities of folding
furniture, camels and carts and followers innumerable; it was a kind of
royal progress. They passed from district to district, joining camps
with various officials who came within the Commissioner's jurisdiction,
friendly people to be entertained by their chief, entertaining him and
his pretty wife in return. Stella revelled in the long marches on
horseback, in the brilliant "cold weather," the small game shooting
parties in the evenings when work was over, and the ever interesting
background of villages, crops and cattle. She felt that such
compensations made it worth while to be Santa-Sahib's plaything,
especially as her lessons could be continued with the old _munshi_, who
had somehow provided himself with a tent like a candle extinguisher and
a small cow-hocked pony at Government expense. From him Stella gathered
much local lore, curious stories of native village life. He expounded to
her the system of self-government, old as the East. She caught glimpses
of an ingrained faith in the power of spells and charms that all went
back to the worship of Nature, though their origins had long been lost
sight of, obscured by time.

It was with genuine regret that she returned to the station to "settle
down," according to Robert, for the hot weather months. Rassih looked
dusty and drear after the groves and cultivation of the district, the
house felt more vast and oppressive, the outlook over the desert was one
endless yellow haze. Preparations proceeded for the fierce heat that was
at hand. Punkahs were hung from the ceilings, clumsy machines called
"thermantidotes" made their appearance for the purpose of pumping cooled
air into the rooms when the moment should arrive, screens of
sweet-scented grass lay piled in the verandas, to be erected in the
doorways and kept damp when the west wind should sweep and swirl over
the land by day, and often by night as well.

The only change that threatened the social community was the coming
departure of the Cuthells. The transfer took place shortly after the
Crayfields' return to the station, and Mrs. Cuthell paid her farewell
respects to the Commissioner's wife bursting with satisfaction, her
broad face one beam of rejoicing and excitement.

"I can't describe to you how thankful we are to be leaving this dreadful
place, Mrs. Crayfield, especially just as the hot weather is beginning.
Only wait till it is in full blast, my dear, and then won't you wish you
were out of it too! Rassih is one of the hottest stations in India, and
this house, for all its height and space, can be a veritable oven. It's
such luck that we are going to the hills on duty. You must ask your
husband to let you come up to us for a visit. You will lose your bright
complexion and good spirits, and get fever and prickly heat and all the
rest of it if you stay here too long."

"It is very kind of you," rejoined Stella, unperturbed by these awful
forebodings, "but I'm really rather looking forward to the experience."

Mrs. Cuthell glanced round the great drawing-room, that certainly of
late had undergone much improvement, but all the same she gave a little
shudder.

"Well, of course you can but try it," she croaked; "but in addition to
definite drawbacks, I always feel that this house is so creepy. I
suppose on account of its history--all those poor women and children
being murdered here at the time of the mutiny. It seems so horrible to
think of the officers cut down on parade, and then their families hiding
here on the roof. They say the mutineers did not think of looking for
them on the roof, and were just leaving the compound when one woman
peeped over the parapet and they saw her. Of course, it was all up with
the poor creatures; they were dragged down and murdered. It is difficult
to realise that it all happened less than forty years ago."

She paused abruptly at the sight of Stella's white face and
horror-stricken eyes. "Oh, didn't you know?" she inquired with remorse.
"I'm so sorry I spoke of it, but I never dreamt----"

Stella gulped down her horror, but for the moment all her enthusiasm for
India turned to revulsion. That dark page of history had hitherto seemed
so remote, so unreal, like some tragedy of the Middle Ages long since
forgotten and forgiven. Now the fact of its comparative recency, the
vision of those defenceless women and children dragged down from the
actual roof that was above her head, to be butchered without mercy in
these very rooms, affected her acutely. How could she exist month after
month in a dwelling that must be saturated with such agonising memories?

"Now, if anyone tells you that extraordinary noises are sometimes heard
during the hot weather," continued Mrs. Cuthell with the best
intentions, "don't take any notice. I have never believed in ghosts
myself, and probably if there _are_ noises they come from the
underground ruins--falling of masonry, and so on."

"The underground ruins!" repeated Stella. What was she to hear next?

"Yes. You know, one of the old Moghul emperors--I forget his name--was
supposed to have dug himself a subterranean living-place, because he was
blind--ophthalmia, no doubt, like so many natives. Anyway, all
underneath the house and compound there are said to be tunnels and
chambers, and an oil tank and treasure, and goodness knows what. The
emperor went to war with some neighbouring enemy and got killed, so
that he and his followers never came back, and what they left
underground nobody knows."

"And has nobody ever tried to find out?" asked Stella, her curiosity
aflame.

"I believe your husband's predecessor in the appointment got leave to
dig. He used the prisoners from the jail, but so many accidents
happened--men fell into holes and broke their limbs, or died from the
bad air, and were bitten by snakes, and in the middle of it all the
Commissioner went mad and committed suicide by jumping over the parapet
at the back of the house. Of course, the natives said the digging had
brought bad luck----" Again Mrs. Cuthell feared she had been indiscreet.
"But you mustn't think of these things," she added cheerfully. "There is
hardly an old house in India that hasn't some unpleasant story, and I'm
sure you are far too sensible to let your mind dwell on anything that
may have happened in the past."

It had been far from Mrs. Cuthell's intention to leave a legacy of
apprehension and disquietude to the Commissioner's young wife, though
she had never quite forgiven the usurpation of her throne as chief
memsahib of the station by one so much her junior. With all her shallow
outlook, Mrs. Cuthell owned a well-meaning disposition, and now she
sincerely regretted that in her selfish elation and glee she should have
alarmed and depressed the poor girl, however unwittingly, as she could
not fail to perceive had been the result of her chatter.

"Now do remember," she said with an affectionately repentant farewell,
"if you find you can't stand the heat you have only to write and say you
are coming to us, and we shall be truly delighted to put you up for as
long as you like. I mean it."

Stella murmured her gratitude. She divined Mrs. Cuthell's self-reproach,
and realised the wisdom of her advice not to allow her mind to dwell on
the information so thoughtlessly imparted. After all, if Mrs. Cuthell
had not divulged the history of the house, someone else would have done
so sooner or later; it was only a wonder she had not heard it all before
now. She freely forgave Mrs. Cuthell, and was sorry to see the last of
her. Had Robert allowed her to make a friend she would have chosen Mrs.
Cuthell, who at least was simple and true. Stella did not trust Mrs.
Piggott. Mrs. Antonio and Pussy were out of the question as intimates.
She had nothing in common with Mrs. Beard, and she had seen little of
the other ladies. None of them had made friendly advances beyond their
first calls, and a self-interested attendance at Mrs. Crayfield's weekly
"at homes," when they were assured of good tennis and refreshments and
an enjoyable afternoon.

Nevertheless, Stella had Mrs. Cuthell to thank for a sleepless night,
that was followed at intervals by many others. She lay awake visualising
horrors, listening with dread for "extraordinary sounds," though she
heard nothing more startling than the usual chorus of jackals and hyenas
outside, the snores of a servant in one of the verandas, and the
coughing and murmuring of the night guard. She made no confession of her
fears to Robert. For one thing she suspected that his silence
concerning the stories and associations of the place had been due not so
much to consideration for her peace of mind as for his own convenience,
and she could well understand his motive. A wife with "nerves,"
despondent, anxious to escape, would not be at all to his taste. But her
efforts to conceal her apprehensions and her antipathy to the house only
added to the strain.



CHAPTER IX


The Cuthells' successor was reported to be a bachelor. Of course, Mrs.
Piggott professed to have knowledge of his history even before he
arrived in the station. She told Mrs. Crayfield he was a very rising
civilian who was considered far too brilliant to be wasted on ordinary
district administration, and therefore it was intended that he should
merely mark time at Rassih pending his elevation to some important
appointment.

"And one can just fancy," she added spitefully, "what a conceited prig
he must be, what airs he will give himself, and how he will despise us
all! I haven't a doubt he's about five foot high, with short sight and a
head too big for his body, can't ride or shoot, and is probably the son
of a shopkeeper at Tooting or some equally refined locality. The sort of
creature who gets into the Civil Service by cramming to the last ounce.
They'll be the ruin of India, because the right kind of natives know
they aren't 'sahibs' and hate them accordingly, while the wrong sort
take advantage of their weak points. I hope you'll sit on him well, Mrs.
Crayfield."

Stella felt a faint curiosity to view a sample of the competitive system
so condemned by Mrs. Piggott. She had also heard her husband deplore the
modern measures that permitted Messrs. Brown, Jones and Robinson to
help govern the most aristocratic country in the world. But one morning,
within the orthodox and inconvenient hours decreed for first calls in
the East (one of the few relics of old John Company customs), when the
visiting card of Mr. Philip Ferguson Flint was brought to her, it was
followed by no under-sized, top-heavy specimen such as Mrs. Piggott had
described, but by a good-looking fellow not much over thirty, with
friendly blue eyes, and no trace of "airs" in his bearing, unless a
certain well-bred self-confidence could be imputed to conceit.

Philip Flint was taken aback in his turn. If he had thought about his
chief's wife at all, save as a personage to be called upon without delay
as in duty bound, he had certainly foreseen an amiable, middle-aged
memsahib who would perhaps rescue him good-naturedly from the
discomforts of the Government rest house until he could find suitable
quarters for himself. Here, instead, was one of the prettiest girls he
had ever beheld, incredibly young, unless indeed she was the daughter,
not the wife, of the Commissioner.

As he entered she was standing in the centre of the big room, a slim,
white-gowned figure beneath the slow-swaying punkah, and its movement
stirred gently the bright little curls on her forehead--adorable curls.
And what eyes, with thick, feathery lashes upcurved at the tips. Great
Cæsar! what luck, after all, that Rassih should have been his portion.
And to think how he had grumbled at the prospect of such exile even for
a few months!

"Miss Crayfield?" he said tentatively, and at the same moment he caught
sight of her wedding ring, the only ring she was wearing. "I
mean"--correcting himself hastily, with a sense of acute
disappointment--"Mrs. Crayfield." Solemnly they shook hands. Then their
eyes met and they both laughed. That mutual, spontaneous laughter sealed
an instinctive friendship. Stella waved him to a chair and took one
herself. Previous to his arrival she had been feeling so languid, so
dull; now everything was different; the very atmosphere became cheerful,
the heat less oppressive.

"You must forgive my mistake," he said, and his blue eyes twinkled, "but
it was your fault. You don't look quite like a Mrs. Commissioner, at
least, not the kind I am accustomed to."

"Oh, you're not the first person to reproach me for being young," Stella
told him, thinking of Mrs. Cuthell. "I really shall have to do something
if the hot weather refuses to turn my hair grey."

"What did the other people say?" he inquired lightly, though in truth he
felt curious to know if these same other people had been men who, like
himself, were nonplussed by the sight of her beauty and youth.

"Nothing at all nice, so perhaps we'd better talk about something else.
Tell me, what do you think of Rassih?"

"Until this morning I thought it a God-forsaken hole!"

She blushed, divining the bold insinuation. He watched the bright
colour creep into her cheeks, delighting in her moment of embarrassment.
Then he came to her aid with commonplace remarks as to the climate, the
surroundings, the new railway line.

"It doesn't strike a new-comer as a tempting spot, but it must be
interesting for anyone with a weakness for Indian history."

"Oh, _don't_ begin about the mutiny and this dreadful old house!"
protested Stella.

He glanced at her, puzzled. "But I wasn't thinking so much of the
mutiny. Did you never hear of George Thomas?"

"George Thomas! Who was he?"

"One of the old military adventurers who paved the way for the British
occupation of India. He very nearly conquered the Punjab, and
established himself in this district, coining his own rupees, and
manufacturing his own arms and ammunition, and he was always for his
King and country. But he failed, beaten by the French under Perron, and
through treachery among his native followers; also partly, I'm afraid,
because at critical moments he was generally drunk!"

"Oh, poor dear!" Stella's eyes shone with interest. "And what happened
to him?"

"He died on his way down country with his wife and family,
broken-hearted, more or less a fugitive, but still, it is said, having
certain possessions in the shape of money and jewels and shawls. His
tomb has never been found, nor is it known what became of his
descendants. I often wonder if any of them are living to-day. There is
a story that on one occasion, when he was looking at a map of India, in
which British territory was then, as now, coloured red, he ran his hand
over the whole of the map and said, 'All this ought to be red.' That was
the real spirit of his ambitions. I'll lend you a book about him if you
like."

"_Like!_ Please let me have it to-day--to-morrow."

He laughed at her enthusiasm. "Very well, directly my things are
unpacked. His career would make a fine subject for a romance."

"Why don't you write it?"

He paused reflectively.

"_Are_ you writing it? Do tell me," urged Stella.

"No, but I should like to try. Will you help me?"

"How on earth could _I_ help you?"

"By allowing me to read you my efforts as they go along. There is
nothing so stimulating to a would-be author as a long-suffering
listener."

Wily Philip Ferguson Flint! Mentally he congratulated himself on having
hit on a subtle device whereby he might secure a delightful intimacy
with this captivating young person. He pictured long hours alone in her
company countenanced by a reasonable excuse. The romance should be
started immediately. Blessings on the memory of poor, stout-hearted,
tipsy George Thomas!

"I should be only too delighted. There would be nothing long-suffering
about it." Then doubt crept into her mind as to how Robert would regard
such a plan. Probably he would grudge her this pleasure as he grudged
her all others, with the exception of riding and petty occupations.
Well, if he did she must contrive to hoodwink him somehow. For this
morning at least she could enjoy Mr. Flint's society. He seemed in no
hurry to go, and she told him all about the Carringtons, and her regret
that, being a girl, she could not follow in their footsteps; confided to
him how she had craved to reach India, disclosed, perhaps unconsciously,
the vague dissatisfaction she felt with her daily life now that her wish
was accomplished.

"Why did _you_ choose to come to India?" she asked him with frank
curiosity, and was thrilled sympathetically when he told her that he too
had been born with an hereditary call in his blood for the East.

"I come of an old Anglo-Indian stock myself. I'm the fifth generation of
my family to serve the Indian Government. It seemed somehow inevitable
that I should come out here. I passed high enough for the English Civil,
but I chose India without hesitation. Apart from family links with the
country, I didn't fancy being mewed up in an office from morning till
night, with little prospect of getting to the top of the ladder, and not
enough money for sport and the kind of amusements I like. Dances and
dinners and tea-parties are not in my line. Out here I can afford a good
horse and unlimited cartridges, and I know I can be useful to India in
my small way. I mean to end up with a Lieutenant-Governorship at least."

"You are very ambitious," exclaimed Stella; but it was as if she cried
"Hear, hear."

"Call it a passion for success," he said, smiling; and Stella felt that
deep determination lay beneath the smile and in his nature, and with her
whole being she applauded his aspirations.

"You will get the Star of India," she said, hardly knowing why the
particular reward should suddenly have recurred to her.

"A star worth striving for," he said seriously, "even if it should burn
one's wings."

"Oh, how I envy you!" Tears rose to her eyes. "And I, who love India
too, can do nothing--can never be useful!"

"Who knows? Your chance may come."

"If it does you may be sure I shall take it." Just then Stella looked
up, to see Sher Singh standing in the doorway, and she realised that for
the last few moments the man had been coughing gently to attract her
attention. Was she never to be free from this perpetual spying and
watching?

"What is it?" she asked impatiently in Hindustani.

"Your highness"--with a low salaam--"the sahib has sent a message. Will
Fer-lint Sahib go to the office? The Commissioner-Sahib desires his
presence."

Mr. Flint rose. "Well, good-bye, Mrs. Crayfield. Needs must when
official devildom drives. I will tell you when the George Thomas romance
is well started."

"Don't forget the book about him you promised to lend me," said Stella
eagerly. But when he had gone she gave herself over to a frenzy of
suspicion. Had Sher Singh told Robert that she was laughing and talking
with "Fer-lint Sahib"? and had the message been sent with a purpose? She
dreaded yet looked for Robert's return, so that she might know where she
stood in regard to Mr. Flint's visit. Perhaps it was all her
imagination. The summons might have been perfectly free from intrigue on
the part of Sher Singh; yet she was uneasy, and she wandered from room
to room, a victim to apprehension, her condition aggravated by the
knowledge that she had found such pleasure in this new friendship,
fearful as she was that it might be denied her.

To her astonished relief, when Robert appeared for the midday breakfast
he was accompanied by Mr. Flint, and the two seemed already to be on
excellent terms.

"I've persuaded Mr. Flint to join us at breakfast," Robert explained to
her pompously; but after this he took no notice of his wife, talking
"shop" persistently with his new subordinate--all about revenue, and
boundaries, and agricultural prospects, of the danger of famine should
the monsoon fail or be fatally late. Stella listened with interest,
though perforce she was excluded from the conversation, and
instinctively she understood why Mr. Flint made no attempt to draw her
into it. Mr. Flint was setting himself to please his superior, for which
intention she felt thankful to him; also she was dimly aware that his
object was two-fold, that he meant to make friends with Robert in order
that he might the more easily be permitted to make friends with her. She
effaced herself purposely, and welcomed the sudden intrusion of an
excited fox terrier, who rushed into the room wildly in quest of his
master.

"I must apologise for Jacob," said Mr. Flint, as the dog leapt upon him
with yelps of joy. "I thought I had left him safely tied up."

Robert endured the interruption with good enough grace. He did not like
dogs, would not keep any himself--to Stella's disappointment. But the
disturbance was trivial. He made no comment when his wife enticed Jacob
to her side with succulent scraps from her plate, and soon had him
seated contentedly on her lap, lolling a red tongue, casting
affectionate glances at his master across the table. To Philip this
seemed a good omen. Jacob as a rule was not fond of ladies, except of
his own species, and his wholesale acceptance of Mrs. Crayfield's
attentions was somewhat surprising. Flint was careful to ignore Jacob,
much as Colonel Crayfield ignored his wife, and he was secretly
entertained when, the meal over, and Mrs. Crayfield rose from the table,
Jacob trotted after her into the drawing-room, leaving his master to
smoke and continue his talk with the Commissioner. Master Jacob was no
fool; he knew when he had found an entrancing companion.

The morning had been a success, but Philip took his dog back to the Rest
House that afternoon with feelings divided. To him the situation in
regard to the Crayfields was now clear enough--an elderly man married
to a young and beautiful wife whose heart was still whole, the husband
loftily secure in his authority, his ownership. There was danger in
prospect unless he could be certain of keeping his head; and as he
thought of the girl's beauty, her youth, her attractions, and her
obvious interest in himself, he feared for his own strength of mind. It
might be more than wise to abandon all schemes for meetings that were
not inevitable; but the temptation was strong, and he knew very well
that to a certain extent he should yield to it. All the same, he would
have to walk warily. An entanglement at this stage of his career might
be fatal to his advancement. Colonel Crayfield was hardly the type of a
complacent husband, and he had known cases during his service when
appearances only had brought about irrevocable disaster to foolish,
flirtatious couples who in deed as well as in purpose were innocent of
actual harm.

After all, with the cynicism of circumstances, it was Colonel Crayfield
himself who made matters easy. He had taken a fancy to his new
assistant, invited him frequently to singles at tennis, and never
suspected that Flint let him win, or beat him by such a small margin
that the defeat had a stimulating effect. Stella sat by and watched
these games, Jacob reposing on the edge of her skirt, or more often on
her lap. Robert bore with the presence of Jacob, unless he ran after the
balls or barked piercingly at squirrels. Then the Commissioner shouted
abuse at "that damned dog," and Flint administered chastisement,
ostensibly severe, in reality mild, that caused Jacob to retire
affronted beneath Stella's chair.

When the swift Indian dusk descended, Robert, who perspired abnormally
under exertion, would hasten indoors for a bath and a change, with Sher
Singh in attendance, unwitting of the fact that his wife and young Flint
invariably sat on side by side in the hot, scented darkness as happy
companions, their fellowship ripening dangerously with each hour they
could compass alone one with the other. Skilfully Flint had brought the
George Thomas romance into play. He talked of it openly before Colonel
Crayfield, and one night, when he was dining with the Crayfields, he
confessed he had brought one or two chapters with him that he proposed,
with their consent, to inflict after dinner on his host and hostess.
Robert grunted contemptuously, Stella had the acumen to agree with
polite indifference, and when the reading began Robert at once went to
sleep and snored. The chapters were short, and, truth to tell, of little
literary value, though written in easy style with a talented pen,
costing the author no effort. But Stella was deeply impressed and
interested. She longed to hear more of the hero, the young man of high
birth who had got into such a scrape at home that he was forced to flee
the country, and found himself in the service of a treacherous old
native lady, the Begum Somru, whose commander-in-chief at the time was
an Irish adventurer, one George Thomas. And while Robert slept and
snored, Philip read and Stella listened. Then, the manuscript laid
aside, they talked India in subdued voices to their hearts' content.
This programme was repeated more than once, until Robert turned restive.

"Bother the boy!" he said. "Why does he want to write all this
rubbish--wasting his time!"

"It's his way of amusing himself," Stella suggested carelessly, "like me
with my painting and fancy work."

"Well, it doesn't amuse me to hear it, or you either, I should imagine."

"I confess I'm rather interested in the story. I feel I want to know
what happens next."

"Then let him spout it at some other time, when I'm not present. I
suppose there'll be no peace till it's finished. Give him a gentle
hint."

"I'll try. But won't it hurt his feelings?"

"Not any more than my going to sleep directly he starts reading, I
should think."

Therefore, on the next occasion, before the manuscript could be
unfolded, Stella went to the piano.

"No reading to-night, Mr. Flint. We're going to have some music. I want
you to hear how my husband can sing. Come along, Robert." Her fingers
rippled lightly over the keys, and Robert sang readily, lustily, song
after song, much to his own enjoyment, and presumably to that of the
guest, who applauded with tact, and requested encores till the
performer, in high good humour, declared he was hoarse and could sing no
more. Then Mrs. Crayfield continued the concert, and Philip sat gazing
his fill at the vision she presented, the light from the wall-lamp
behind her gilding her hair, her voice sweet and true, causing his heart
to ache with ominous yearning. He felt confident she found pleasure in
his friendship, yet to-night he was puzzled by her attitude until, the
music put away and the piano closed, she said with an assumption of
matronly indulgence: "I'm afraid we haven't considered poor George
Thomas. How is he getting on?"

"Oh, pretty well, thank you."

"Has the slave girl escaped?"

"Not yet; it's rather difficult; but I mustn't bore you any more with my
attempts at fiction." Purposely he spoke in a tone of humble
discouragement; he was feeling his way.

"Bring the stuff over to-morrow before we play tennis," suggested Robert
magnanimously, "and the memsahib will listen; stories amuse her."

"Oh, may I? But," turning to Stella, "won't it interfere with your
afternoon siesta?"

"Not a bit," Mrs. Crayfield assured him. "I never can sleep in the
daytime, but Robert must have a rest. I tell him he works far too hard."

"Young bully, aren't you?" was Colonel Crayfield's playful retort,
laying his hand on his wife's shoulder. "Take my advice, Flint, and when
you marry don't choose a wife from the schoolroom."

"Judging by your example, sir," chaffed Philip, "one might do worse."

"Well, all things considered, I suppose I've been lucky. Good night. I
shall expect to lick you to-morrow at tennis after you've exhausted
yourself and my wife with your intellectual exertions."

"Not if I can help it," said Philip, diplomatically defiant.



CHAPTER X


When Mrs. Antonio pronounced Rassih to be "a very hot place," her words
at the time had conveyed little to Stella of what to expect. The heat
grew fiercer than she could have believed possible; the blazing sun, the
scorching wind, the nights that seemed equally long and hot as the days,
without variation of temperature save for the worse. There was no
escape, no deliverance, and the rains tarried. Despite her youth and her
health, she flagged, lost her appetite, lived chiefly on tea and iced
mango-fool, with all the short-sightedness of the young in matters of
nourishment. Robert, on the contrary, appeared to thrive. He ate well,
slept soundly, rode and played tennis as usual. His very vigour was
exhausting to his wife.

Now the only ladies left in the station besides herself were Mrs. Beard
and Mrs. Antonio. Martha and Mary and Deborah were dispatched (at the
mission expense) to cooler climes; Pussy Antonio was on a long visit "up
hill" to relations; Mrs. Piggott had fled, like the rest, to the
Himalayas. Therefore Mrs. Crayfield's "at homes" were for the present in
abeyance, and had it not been for Philip Flint, the monotony of her days
would have become well-nigh intolerable. Stella lived for the sight of
his face and the sound of his voice. Whether she might have welcomed his
society with equal delight had he been Mrs. or Miss Flint, possessing
the same tastes and interests, had not occurred to her. One source of
annoyance during his visits ceased suddenly--Champa and Sher Singh no
longer peeped and peered from the doorways. On the other hand, Champa
began to behave as if she recognised, and was ready to abet, an intrigue
that must be kept from the Commissioner's knowledge. Early one morning
she sidled into the bedroom with a note that had arrived from Mr. Flint
for Mrs. Crayfield, hiding it beneath her wrapper, looking unutterable
warnings, since the sahib was half awake. She handed it covertly to her
mistress. In a flash Stella recognised what lay in the woman's mind, and
she made haste to rouse Robert as she took the note and opened it.

"Mr. Flint has got fever," she told him; "he won't be able to play
tennis this evening."

"Say salaam," she added severely to Champa, who retired, snubbed, to
give the messenger the orthodox message of acknowledgment.

This episode worried Stella. She was not yet so conversant with Oriental
outlook as to comprehend that to the native mind there could be but one
interpretation of her intimacy with a sahib who was not her husband nor
in any way related to her. She felt enraged, humiliated, by Champa's
assumption that she must wish to conceal the note from Robert, and in
consequence she passed a restless morning after a long, hot ride that
drained her energy. It was the old _munshi's_ day with his pupil; but
when he presented himself with his pen-box and sheaf of yellow papers,
she could not settle down to the lesson, was unable to fix her
attention, and, pleading a headache, she dismissed him politely. Then
she tried writing her weekly letter to The Chestnuts; but her hand clung
damp to the paper, and she had not the strength of will to persevere;
the keys of the piano stuck to her fingers; it was useless attempting to
paint or to embroider. Finally she sat idle in the darkened room,
permitting her thoughts to wander without aim, backwards and forwards in
chaos, now in one direction, then in another, till they collided with
the solid fact that her disturbance of mind was now not so much
connected with Champa's insulting behaviour as with her disappointment
that she was not to see Philip Flint that afternoon, a vexation
aggravated by anxiety concerning his condition. Had he got all he
needed? He was still in the Rest House, and she pictured him lying sick
and helpless in the hot and hideous little building. Had he plenty of
ice? She knew the supply was limited. She would have liked to order soup
or jelly to be prepared for him, but the order would have to go through
Sher Singh. The day wore on as usual. The heavy midday breakfast,
Robert's rest afterwards, her own efforts to read while he slept. By
tea-time her head ached definitely and badly. Robert suggested that
another ride would do it good. She might like to try the grey stud-bred
he had bought the other day, since her own mare had already been out in
the morning.

"I can't ride again to-day," she declared fretfully. "I don't feel up to
it. You had better try the grey yourself."

At once he became significantly solicitous, and the meaning in his
questions and concern annoyed her still further.

"Oh, do go," she cried, exasperated at last, "and leave me alone. I want
to be quiet. My head aches, that's all."

He grumbled a little that Flint should be ailing and therefore
unavailable for tennis. He could not decide whether to try the grey or
to send for one of the Public Works assistants to play with him. On
inquiry it was ascertained that the young man in question was still out
in the district; and finally, to his wife's relief, he ordered the grey
to be saddled and set off for a solitary ride.

Stella repaired to the front balcony to see him mount and to wave him a
friendly farewell in apology for her ill-humour. The grey was a
satisfactory purchase, a handsome animal, well up to weight, but
evidently hot-tempered, and gave trouble at the start. Certainly
Santa-Sahib looked his best on a horse. He was a good rider, and for a
moment Stella repented her peevish refusal to ride with him. Then
erratically the question occurred to her: Supposing there was an
accident, supposing Robert were killed, how would she feel?

It was as if she awaited an answer from beyond her own brain, and for
answer there came to her the sudden vision of Philip Flint. He seemed to
be standing before her. She saw his blue eyes, heard his slow, pleasant
voice. What did it mean? Aghast at her thoughts, shadowy and indefinite
though they were, she rushed back to the drawing-room, shaking,
unstrung, with the feeling that she had committed murder in her heart.
She was a wicked creature! Oh, why had she married Robert? Why had she
not stayed at The Chestnuts with grandmamma and the aunts, ignorant,
safe, however dull? Nothing but evil had come of her yearnings for
India, and there was no one to whom she could turn for help, for advice,
for sympathy.

In trembling haste, but without purpose, she put on a hat and went out
into the compound. Involuntarily she glanced around for Sher Singh, but
for a wonder he was nowhere to be seen, and impulsively she decided to
call on Mrs. Antonio--anything to escape from the harassing fancies that
beset her.

The house occupied by the Antonios was no distance, built as it was on a
further portion of the fort walls; it stood prominent against the
copper-coloured sky, encouraging the venture....

Mrs. Antonio was at home. As Stella sat in the drawing-room awaiting her
appearance she noticed a curious smell; it recalled to her mind Mrs.
Piggott's belief that the doctor, if not his wife as well, indulged in
the hookah. And why not, queried Stella, if they liked it? though the
taste was not easy to understand judging by the acrid odour! The room
felt fusty, was crammed with a strange assortment of cheap bric-a-brac
overlaid with dust, and the heat was insufferable.

When Mrs. Antonio appeared she presented what Stella's former
school-fellows at Greystones would have described as "a sight for the
blind," clad as she was in a terrible yellow dressing-gown, a bath
towel bound turban-wise about her head.

"Please excuse, Mrs. Crayfield dear," she apologised. "I have been
washing my hair. I did not wish to keep you waiting. Does your ayah
prepare you areca-nut wash? It is best thing!"

"I will remember," said Stella, who had brought a bountiful supply of
shampoo-powders with her from England. "Champa has not told me about
it."

"Oh, my, that ayah of yours, that Champa! She _is_ a lazy," continued
Mrs. Antonio; she unwound the towel and rubbed her grey locks as she
talked. "Where did you get her?"

"She was engaged by Sher Singh, our head servant."

"Yes, and that Sher Singh!" Mrs. Antonio peered at her visitor through a
screen of wet hair. "He is a badmash."

There was no need for translation, Stella knew the word well enough--it
meant rascal. "I detest Sher Singh," she admitted, finding comfort in
the expression of her feelings, "and I know he hates _me_!"

"Of course, what else? So many years with Colonel Crayfield, and knowing
too many secrets! He is jealous. Tell your husband let him go, give a
pension. He is opium-eater, all say in the bazaar."

"An opium-eater?"

"Yes, but do not say to Colonel Crayfield that I hinted. You see you are
so young, Mrs. Crayfield dear. That is why I warn. If he stays that man
will do harm--make mischief."

Stella shrank from exposing her helplessness in the matter, felt
ashamed also of her inclination to let things slide rather than provoke
Robert's wrath. She said:

"Thank you for putting me on my guard, Mrs. Antonio. It is friendly and
kind of you. Now will you tell me about the areca-nut wash for the hair?
I am sure it must be excellent."

Mrs. Antonio followed the drag and plunged into directions, presented
Mrs. Crayfield with a handful of the beneficial nut; then talked of
Pussy's hair and other perfections until Stella made an opportunity for
escape.

As she strolled home she felt further depressed. Her mind was full of
Mrs. Antonio's warning; it served to strengthen her feeling of
repugnance towards Sher Singh. She tried to argue with herself that
there might be excellent reasons for Robert's attachment to Sher Singh
apart from the value of the man's services; gratitude might be involved,
possibly Sher Singh had nursed his master through a dangerous illness,
or in some way saved Robert's life. Robert would never have told her; he
was so secretive. He seldom spoke of the past, and she knew little or
nothing of his former life. She had never induced him even to talk of
his friendship with her father and mother. She hated the feeling that
she was not in her husband's confidence, though she was guiltily alive
to the truth that she did not exactly admit him to her own! Bother Sher
Singh! He was a perpetual thorn in her flesh; she had never disliked the
man more than when this evening she beheld him standing sentinel at the
foot of the steep steps that led up to the dwelling rooms on the fort
walls. There he stood pompous, important, clothed in immaculate white
with a smart blue belt and Robert's crest fashioned in silver fastening
a band to match the belt across his big turban. She longed to get even
with him, and when he started almost imperceptibly at sight of her she
felt a vindictive satisfaction that for once she had eluded his
vigilance. Clearly he had been ignorant of her excursion, had believed
her to be sitting solitary above during the Sahib's absence. He salaamed
low with what seemed to her mocking humility as she passed him, and with
equally mocking disdain she ignored the salutation; not pausing to
observe the effect of her insult, she went on up the steps miserably
conscious that she had made a mistake.

Mrs. Antonio's assertion that Sher Singh ate opium did not disturb her
unduly. She remembered vaguely to have heard that all natives took opium
to a certain extent, just as most Europeans took alcohol, in moderation.
She knew nothing about it, and therefore Mrs. Antonio's caution not to
mention the matter to her husband seemed to her sound. But once in her
bedroom the rest of the warning swung through her brain: "If he stays
that man will do harm--make mischief," and panic possessed her.

It was useless to assure herself that she was making a mountain out of a
mole-hill. Beneath all her defensive reasoning lay a dread apprehension
that she was powerless to control. It was all so intangible, so
exasperating, this heavy-hearted sense of foreboding without actual
foundation. Despairingly she sought refuge in making the worst of her
headache; that, at least, was definite enough. She summoned Champa and
prepared for bed, so that when Robert returned from his ride she might
plead indisposition as an excuse for absenting herself from the dinner
table.

Robert accepted the excuse in all good faith. He prescribed a dose of
quinine and a glass of iced champagne, both of which she swallowed to
please him, and when later he came to her room she lay still, with
closed eyes, till he was safely asleep. Then she stole from her bed and
went out on to the balcony. Yellow and parched the landscape lay before
her, bathed in the strong Eastern moonlight, the little heaps of ruins
in the foreground picked out with black shadows--relics of past power,
dead echoes of ancient strife! On this spot where she stood, on the
ramparts of the old Moghul fort, perhaps Emperors had stood also,
unwitting of the future, of the coming downfall of their dynasty.

From Philip Flint she had learnt how the fort had been built by the
great Akbar in the reign of his greater Western contemporary, Elizabeth;
how it had lain with his descendants to uphold Moghul might and
dominion, and how they had failed--failed before a power that was
stronger in its spirit of self-sacrifice and honest purpose. 'Midst all
her unease of mind she felt the magic and the marvel of the past;
remembered George Thomas and his wide ambitions--a voice crying in the
wilderness of turmoil and chaos and oppression of the helpless, a
pioneer of the peace and protection to follow for this gorgeous old
country. Yet was the present order and prosperity doomed to pass in its
turn, leaving even less traces of its influence than just ruins and
remains and reminders? Would India seethe again with tyranny, murder,
persecution, general insecurity of property and person, creed up against
creed, custom against custom, avarice stalking the land to block and
destroy all progress? Flint, she knew, feared for India's future, owing
to the Western system of education that was being pursued without
forethought, without judicious provision for employment that would guard
against disaster. Sooner or later, he had said, there would come into
power a faction that for the sake of unpractical theories and so-called
"ideals" totally unsuited to the East, would liberate forces, dangerous
forces already at work beneath the surface for personal gain, that would
seek to oppress and intimidate the masses, render just administration
impossible, degrade British rule into a farce. And then? Well then it
would devolve into a choice between the withdrawal of British authority,
leaving the country open to conquest from some stronger foreign nation,
or a reversion to sane government, and the drastic suppression of
sedition, conspiracy, and rebellion.

In face of these reflections Stella's own troubles seemed to fade into
space; she felt lifted above them, indifferent to petty considerations,
to the jealousy of Sher Singh, Robert's propensities and the limitations
he sought to impose upon her. Now boldly, and without scruple, she
permitted her imagination to run riot. Supposing she were Philip Flint's
wife--how she would strive to help and encourage him, how she would
fling herself into his work and his aspirations, each of them doing
their utmost, hand in hand, for the welfare of the country they both
loved! Heart and brain afire she paced the broad balcony in a maze of
fictitious delight; to-night there was little sound, no howling of
beasts save in the far distance where jackals hunted in packs; and, near
at hand, only the soft murmur of the city beyond the walls. Spellbound,
as in a dream, she loitered; the heat was intense in the quiet, the
desolation, the hard yellow light of the moon, but it seemed merely to
caress her limbs, to encourage the intoxication of her fancies.

A sudden sound shattered the reverie; a dull thud as if something had
fallen within the building from the roof to the foundations....
Again--this time it was less loud, less definite, rumbling away into
silence. She listened, alert, her heart beating quickly; then came
reassurance with the recollection of Mrs. Cuthell's conviction that
strange echoes were caused by the occasional fall of masonry below in
the underground ruins. Wrenched back to reality she returned to the
darkened bedroom, once more a prey to restless depression. Robert lay
sleeping profoundly, his deep, regular breathing, and the monotonous
flap of the punkah frill, were the only sounds she could discern as she
lay wide awake, her senses sharpened, her nerves overwrought. But just
as a hint of drowsiness gave hope of repose for body and mind, again she
heard something that this time could not be attributed to the falling of
bricks or stones, since, of a certainty, it was within the room. A
light patter on the matting, a pause, hesitation, a faint whimper....

In sheer terror Stella leapt from her bed; could it be a ghost--the
spirit of a helpless little child massacred with other victims of the
great tragedy in this hateful house? Only by the strongest effort she
refrained from shrieking aloud as a soft touch fell on her ankle; it was
the warm, wet lick of a tongue. She was thankful she had raised no
disturbance when by the dim radiance of the moon through the open
doorways she saw no ghost, no child, but only Jacob!--Jacob with a
broken strip of cord hanging to his collar, apologetic, unhappy,
squirming at her feet in his dumb, pathetic attempts to explain his
desertion of his master.

Stella consoled the little dog, let him lie by her side on the bed. His
company brought a sense of comfort and security. Philip's servants must
have imprisoned Jacob in some out-house so that his well-meant
attentions should not disturb the sick man. She hoped it argued healing
sleep for Philip--did not mean that he was worse. Meanwhile she must
await daylight to ascertain the truth.

At last she fell asleep, Jacob's nose cuddled in the crook of her elbow,
regardless of Robert's indignation when he should awake and discover the
presence of "that damned dog."



CHAPTER XI


The sun poured upon the flat roof of the baking little rest-house,
though the hour was yet early. Philip Flint lay limp and exhausted on a
long chair in the veranda; the sharp "go" of fever had worn itself out
for the time being, worn out its victim also. Through the night he had
tossed and talked nonsense, shivered and burned by turns, with aching
limbs and bursting head. Now the reaction seemed equally bad, if not
worse, since, while the malady raged, he had at least been but vaguely
aware of bodily distress; and, though harassed with hideous dreams,
there had come interludes when he felt as if wafted to regions of bliss,
his companion a being half goddess half mortal. One moment she floated
beyond his reach in limitless space, remote as a star.... He had heard
his own voice calling, entreating with a delirious confusion of words on
his lips: "Stella--a star--Star of India----" Again she was close to
him, held to his heart.

Blurred memories of these transports lingered in his mind as he lay
gasping with the heat, and then came devastating doubts and warnings,
sweeping the glamour away. He dared not shut his eyes to the danger, in
truth he stood on the brink of a moral precipice; unless he could
manoeuvre a transfer from Rassih, unless in the meantime he could keep
clear of the Commissioner's house, he was bound to find himself
desperately in love with the Commissioner's wife; and, without vanity,
he foresaw that the situation must become equally perilous for her. What
a fool he had been!--ensnared by the girl's beauty, by the tempting
circumstance of her alliance with a man so much her senior for whom it
was obvious she had no real affection, a man who was blind to the
budding of her intellect, who merely valued her bright innocence as a
whet to his senses. Yet apart from these odious reflections, apart from
selfish perspective, Philip felt it was up to him now to call halt for
her sake. So far they had exchanged no words that might not have been
shouted from the housetops, but what price words when came mute
understanding, when just a little more and they would find themselves in
the grip of that eternal, immutable force called Love! And then? How
should he bring himself to leave her desolate, unhappy, to face a future
without hope because his own target in life was Success, fulfilment of
ambition?

From the outset of his career one aim had possessed Philip Flint--to
arrive, to reach the topmost rung of his particular ladder; and already
his future was brilliant with promise, his progress sure, unless,
through his own folly, he loosed his hold and fell back. Well he knew
the power of Mother Grundy in Indian official circles, the need for
avoidance of serious scandal in a country where moral standards and
example must count for promotion among a community that, officially
speaking, was composed of one class. In England it was possible for a
man to hold high public office while his domestic belongings socially
could not be recognised; in India such a state of affairs would be
wholly unworkable. Imagine a Chief Commissioner, a Lieutenant Governor,
any representative of the Crown, not to mention a Viceroy, with a wife
who could not be "received"! No; open scandal in India spelt failure.
Therefore it was a choice for Philip Flint between heart and head; and
now he asked himself grimly which was to prove the stronger?

The beat of a horse's hoofs outside scattered his thoughts. He raised
himself on his elbow to see Colonel Crayfield dismounting, and a couple
of peons ran forth with salaams to receive the important visitor.

Colonel Crayfield stumped up the veranda steps. "Hallo, Flint, sorry to
hear you are sick," he threw his hat and whip on to a camp table,
dragged a chair into convenient position and seated himself weightily.
"Had a sharp bout of malaria? You look pretty well washed out!"

"Sharp and short, sir, I hope. I think I'm about over it now all right."

"Poof! the heat of this place!" the Commissioner looked about him with
disgust. "Not fit for a dog. Talking of dogs, your terrier strayed up to
our house last night; it worried the memsahib, because she took it into
her head it must mean you were at the last gasp. I promised to come and
find out if you were still alive!"

"Very kind," murmured Philip; "as usual I must apologise for Jacob, and
I'm afraid he hasn't come back yet!"

"Oh, that's all right, never mind the dog. The question is, how you can
ward off another attack; Rassih has a bad reputation for intermittent
fever once it gets hold, and stopping in this infernal little bungalow
won't help you. What do you say to coming to us for a bit? Plenty of
room and no lack of ice and good milk; we'll soon have you fit. I'll
send the tonga to bring you up, and your man can follow with your
things."

In Philip's present enfeebled condition of body and spirit the
temptation was severe; setting aside the pleasant prospect of creature
comforts, food properly prepared (his own cook was woefully careless)
there would be--Stella! He strove to hold on to the arguments that at
the moment of Colonel Crayfield's arrival were in process of bracing his
will and his judgment; now they were slipping away--if only time could
be gained in which he might call them to heel, summon strength to refuse
with firmness....

He stirred uneasily: "It's exceedingly kind of you, sir, but I couldn't
think of giving you and Mrs. Crayfield the trouble. I'm not really ill;
to-morrow I shall be as fit as ever again. It's nothing but an ordinary
go of malaria."

He felt he was gabbling what his chief would regard as merely
conventional protests; even to himself they sounded futile, unreal.

"Rubbish!" the ejaculation was no more than he might have anticipated.
"Don't be an ass. Give me a bit of paper and a pencil and I'll send word
to my wife. The tonga can be here in two shakes, and I'll wait and go
back with you myself."

He began to shout orders. The groom was to return with his horse and
the note. Philip's personal servant was bidden to produce paper and a
pencil, moreover to pack a portmanteau with his master's requirements.
In a few moments the whole matter had passed from Philip's control, and
he resigned himself to Fate. But what irony that Stella's husband, of
all people, should be the means of forcing him into a position that,
unless Fate proved unnaturally considerate, might lead right and left to
disaster!



CHAPTER XII


"Oh, do go on--don't stop. I shall be miserable till I know what John
Holland and Anne decided."

"But I don't know myself. That's as far as I've written. I was going to
ask _you_ what you thought they should do. What do you think?"

Flint laid the sheets of manuscript, the George Thomas Romance, on the
wicker table that stood between himself and his hostess. The two were
seated on the balcony, though it was late in the morning. Rain had
fallen over-night, and the temperature was lowered for the present--not
that the monsoon had actually broken up-country, but reports were
hopeful, and for the past few days there had been a welcome gathering of
clouds culminating in a heavy downpour. Still the fear remained that the
clouds might yet disperse, to leave the district parched and arid as
before.

The desert steamed like a gigantic hot-bed, the atmosphere was
reminiscent of an orchid house, but at least there was temporary respite
from imprisonment in closed and darkened rooms, and the air wafted from
a hand-punkah, wielded with vigour by a youthful coolie, was
comparatively cool and refreshing. Philip Flint, set free from the
tortures of the Rest House, had quickly recovered condition despite a
recurrence of fever--just a sufficient recurrence to justify
prolongation of his stay with the Crayfields, a short extension of
idleness encouraged by his unsuspecting Chief. To-morrow he intended to
return to his uncomfortable quarters; work must be resumed; meanwhile he
had lived in a golden dream, oblivious of the future that now loomed
before him like a grey, empty tomb, compared with the rapturous present.

As he gazed unceasingly at Stella nothing seemed to matter if only he
could hear from her lips that she cared for him. Beloved! how perfect
she was from the sheen of her pretty head as she bent over some trifling
needlework, to the tips of her little arched feet; and her nature was as
sweet and tender and white as her slim body----

"Well, what do you think?" he persisted recklessly; and in repeating the
question he knew he was heading for danger, as a rider might put a
runaway horse to an impossible fence that the inevitable crash should
come quickly, prove neck or nothing.

She hesitated, sighed. "Oh! I don't know. To begin with, you see, Anne
was married, and her husband, though she hated him, was fighting like
John, under George Thomas. Would it have meant trouble, disgrace, for
John if----"

"If they had bolted? Perhaps; though in those days it might have been
different. But apart from that--what about the marriage question? If you
had been Anne?"

"I should have done what was best for John."

"Even if it meant parting from him for ever?"

"Of course!" she said stoutly.

"Not simply because you were married?"

She raised her eyes from the foolish strip of embroidery engaging her
fingers.

"Stella!"

There! The fence was taken, the crash had come. Now they must both face
the truth, outwardly self-controlled because--what bathos! because of
the punkah coolie and the open doors. Philip cursed the fact that
privacy in India was next to impossible; he saw that Stella's eyes were
brimming with tears. How her hands trembled! Yet he did not dare give
her comfort by taking her in his arms. As in his dream, she was far from
him, inapproachable as her namesake, a star.

The silence that fell between them was tense; the swish of the punkah
went steadily on, the heat grew heavier, more saturating; in the hazy
sky a vulture alternately sailed and dipped, hung motionless as though
suspended by an invisible wire, on the outlook for some carrion prize
below.

Then Philip found himself speaking rapidly, in a low voice; his hands
gripped the edge of the table so tightly that his knuckles showed white
and hard through the skin. He scarcely knew what he was saying,
self-mastery was gone, and in the flood of his passionate declaration
Stella shivered and blanched. He saw love in her eyes, but fear
also--fear and helpless despair. He paused, drew in his breath sharply,
but so far he felt no penitence, no remorse for having let himself go;
he was conscious only of a wild exultation, for he knew that in heart
and in soul she was his. He craved to hear from her lips that she loved
him; she must tell him--not with her eyes alone. That it was cruel to
force the admission he did not, in his madness, consider.

"Speak to me, Stella--just say it, say it once. _Tell_ me."

Her lips moved, he bent forward. But before he could catch the whisper
she had risen abruptly, to pass with swift steps into the house. He rose
in his turn to stay her flight, and was confronted on the threshold of
the open doorway by Sher Singh.

Disconcerting as was the man's unexpected appearance, it was to Philip
merely an accidental, if enraging, check to his intention; it accounted
for Stella's sudden retreat--from where she had sat she must have caught
sight of Sher Singh's approach. But relief quickly followed exasperation
as he realised how narrow had been their escape from an equivocal
situation, for next moment Colonel Crayfield was in the room. Sher
Singh's unwelcome intrusion had, after all, been timely, and thanks to
the numerous exits of an Indian habitation Stella had vanished just a
second or two before the entry of her husband....

The rest of the morning was charged for them both with repressed
emotion. They sat at the breakfast table outwardly composed, inwardly
fearful of meeting each other's gaze. Stella's mental disturbance was
increased by the conviction that Sher Singh was on the watch; he must
have observed that she and Philip were engaged in no ordinary
conversation when he surprised them on the balcony, must have noted her
confusion as she passed him in her flight. Now she realised her folly in
not having held her ground; she should have remained in her seat and
given warning to Philip by speaking promptly to Sher Singh, since of
course the man shared Champa's belief that a guilty understanding was
afoot between herself and "Fer-lint sahib." No doubt it was he who, in
the first place, had suggested the idea to Champa. Her fears in
connection with Mrs. Antonio's warnings had dwindled during the days of
Philip's visit, but now mental torment returned with the feeling that
Sher Singh was but biding his time for mischief with the deadly patience
of the Oriental. Dread lest he should lead Robert to scent the situation
that had arisen between herself and Philip turned her sick.

Deeming it more prudent to avoid Philip for the immediate present, she
sat in her room while Robert rested, her mind in confusion as she
pretended to read. To ignore Philip's outpouring, to continue as if
nothing disturbing had occurred, was clearly impossible. Philip must be
warned; but how to contrive that warning without risk of being spied
upon was a problem. Even could she accomplish it safely she shrank from
facing the days to come with this secret between them. She contemplated
appealing to Robert to allow her to take advantage of Mrs. Cuthell's
invitation, on the score that she could endure the heat no longer; but
should he refuse, as was more than probable, could Philip be induced to
apply for leave, however short, on the plea of health? Something must be
done, and without delay, that she might gain time to set her mind in
order, free from continual trepidation. If only she could secure the
chance of a long private talk with Philip....

Wearily she sat in the drawing-room before the tea-table that afternoon,
awaiting the two men. Robert, when he went to his dressing-room, had
said that if the courts were not too damp for tennis, and if Flint felt
up to it, they might try a game. He was the first to appear, and
evidently he was not in a good humour. Stella's heart sank at sight of
his frown, but bounded next moment with relief when she heard the cause.
It seemed that Sher Singh, as well as herself, desired "leave of
absence."

"Confound the fellow," Robert grumbled, "he's just had a telegram, and
says he must go off at once to see to the funeral of some near
relation."

"How long does he want?"

"He says only two or three days, but with natives that may mean
anything."

Stella trusted privately that in this case it might mean two or three
weeks.

"He suggested that if Flint were staying on with us for the present his
man could look after me for the time."

"But Mr. Flint has arranged to go back to the Rest House to-morrow----"

"Then he'd better alter his arrangements. He's no trouble, and it's far
more comfortable for him here. Don't you want him to stay?"

"I don't care particularly one way or the other, but on the whole I'd
rather we were alone."

Oh, shades of conscience! Stella bent over the tea things, ashamed of
her hypocrisy.

Robert's face cleared. He beamed complacently. "We can't always expect
to be alone, little selfish one!"

"When does Sher Singh want to go?"

"By this time he's gone, I imagine. He intended to catch the afternoon
train."

"Well, it can't be helped," said Stella, "and of course if you wish it,
I'll press Mr. Flint to stay. Now he can be at work again I shan't have
to entertain him----"

"Or listen to his eternal novel."

"I don't mind that; but it's a bore making conversation."

"Yes, I understand. Well, anyway it's a charity to put him up for a bit
longer, and he can sing for his supper by trying to beat me at tennis
every day. Here he comes----"

Stella looked up. There was Philip in flannels; his expression was sad,
dispirited, as though he too had been ground in the mill of mental
perplexity during the last two or three hours. There came a singing in
her ears, a mist clouded her vision. How horrible for them both to be
forced to play a part--a part so ignoble, opposed to her whole nature,
and, she felt assured, to his also.

"Enter Mr. Flint!" declaimed Robert with jovial intonation. "The
memsahib and I were just talking about you, my son."

"What were you saying? Nothing nasty, I hope?" He avoided Stella's eyes
as he seated himself and took the cup she held out to him.

"Quite the contrary," puffed Robert. "We were planning to persuade you
to stay on with us, especially as my bearer has demanded short leave,
and yours, with your permission, might fill the gap for the time being!"

Stella noted a slight flicker of Philip's eyelids, and her ear caught
the echo of self-control in his voice as he answered: "You are very
kind--and of course if my man can be of the slightest use----"

"Very well then, that's settled." Robert attacked the eatables, talking
the while of rain and crops and the uncertainty of the outlook. "Unless
things improve pretty soon there is a difficult time ahead," he
predicted.

And Stella repeated the foreboding in her heart, though from a very
different standpoint.

Tennis, after all, proved impossible. The courts were a swamp, and as
Robert clamoured for exercise the three set off eventually for a late
and, to Stella, a tedious ride. She was too troubled even to find
pleasure in the after-effect of the rain upon the scenery, though she
could not but observe the wondrous vermilion and purple of the sky, the
great clouds massed on the horizon like some angry army awaiting the
word to press forward, or to retire; the colour reflections on the long
streaks of water that still lay upon the earth's hard surface; the rows
of birds gathered on the edges of the miniature lakes, suggesting, in
the distance, broken borders of white stones. The trees were washed of
their drab veiling of dust, and foliage shone in the light of the
sinking sun; an odour of earth refreshed rose in the thick, hot air....
But the mighty magnificence above, the glow flung over the flat,
interminable landscape, served but to increase her sense of helpless
despondence.

There seemed so little hope of safe conference with Philip, and, though
the strain of his presence held for her as much happiness as fear, it
was imperative that some plan of separation should be devised unless
they were to embark on a course of intrigue and deception that, even
apart from any question of conscience, must involve risk of disaster....
Bewildered, unbalanced, as she rode between her husband and the man she
loved, she felt that her life was broken and stained already.

Next day the two men were out in the district on duty from morning to
evening. Stella passed the period of their absence in a state bordering
on stupefaction; each hour that went by, devoid of an opportunity for
clear understanding with Philip, seemed to widen the zone of danger.
That night as she dressed for dinner the reflection of her face in the
mirror appalled her--what a scarecrow, how white and haggard and
hideous! Limp though she felt from the moist heat, oppressed as she was
with her tribulation of mind, she made a brave effort to amend her
appearance--rearranged her hair, bade Champa get out a becoming pink
frock, stockings and shoes to go with it, opened her jewel-box, meaning
to wear her pearl necklace....

The pearl necklace was not in its case. At first unperturbed Stella
searched among her trinkets, only gradually to realise that the necklace
was undoubtedly gone. Champa when questioned of course knew nothing
about it, she might almost have been unaware that her mistress possessed
any jewels at all! Then she suggested that the memsahib might have lost
the necklace out riding, and in response to Stella's derisive rejection
of such an absurd idea she dissolved into tears, protesting that she, at
least, was no thief, however wicked the rest of the servant-people might
be.

"Go and tell the Sahib I wish to speak to him," commanded Stella
severely; it was not that she suspected Champa for one moment of having
stolen the necklace, but the woman's cowardly attitude incensed her. She
understood nothing of the prevalent fear among native servants of false
accusation contrived by some colleague intent upon personal purpose,
whether vengeful or in the hope of advancement, no matter at whose
expense. Champa sidled muttering from the room, and presently Robert
came in half dressed. His face shone with perspiration, his neck, minus
a collar, reminded his wife of a chunk of raw meat, and suddenly she
felt indifferent as to whether the necklace he had given her was lost
irretrievably or not; she wished she had not summoned him.

"What's the matter, you're not ill?" he inquired.

"My pearl necklace has gone," she said, much as she might have announced
the disappearance of some trivial article.

"Good God!" Robert pounced upon the jewel-box, turning the contents over
with ruthless hands.

"It's not there," Stella told him.

"Then where the devil is it? When did you wear it last?"

"I can't remember."

"Nonsense! You often wear it in the daytime as well as in the
evening--you must have missed it before now, if it had been gone any
time. It's worth hundreds. Where have you looked? It may be among your
clothes----"

"I always put it back in the case. I haven't looked anywhere else."

"Good Heavens, then do so at once! Where's the ayah, what has she got to
say?"

"She doesn't know any more than I do what has happened to it. I suppose
I ought to have kept the box locked."

"And if you had you'd have left the key lying about. You're so
infernally careless."

Robert raved and stormed, while Stella and Champa ransacked drawers and
wardrobes without result. The necklace was not forthcoming. Dinner was
postponed, every servant in the establishment was called up, and the
whole staff was threatened with dismissal, imprisonment, punishment,
unless the pearls were produced.



CHAPTER XIII


The disappearance of the pearls caused general commotion throughout the
Commissioner's establishment. Perforce the police were called in to make
investigations, and Mr. Piggott being absent from the station on duty,
the chief native subordinate took command of the compound and set up a
species of martial law. The servants, in terror of secret extortion
under threat of false proof or suspicion, seemed to lose their wits, and
either blundered idiotically over their duties or forgot them
altogether. Champa collapsed, distraught with agitation, and refused to
stir from her quarters.

Robert talked of little else but the loss.

"Such a thing has never happened before in _my_ household," he kept
repeating, as they sat at an uncomfortable meal next midday. "You are
perfectly certain, Stella, that you haven't mislaid the necklace or
dropped it anywhere?"

And each time he asked the question Stella replied wearily, "I am
perfectly certain," until she felt tempted at last to declare that she
had thrown away the pearls of deliberate intention. Her nerves were on
edge, and she found it hard to control her temper. Mercifully, breakfast
was now practically over.

"What about that man of yours, Flint? How long have you had him?"

"Five years, and he's certainly not the thief, if that's what you mean.
He's a respectable, simple-minded old fellow with a long record of good
service to his credit."

Robert grunted incredulously and lit a cheroot. "That ayah knows
something," he suggested to his wife, "or why hasn't she turned up this
morning?"

"She's ill," said Stella, "ill with fright, I should think."

"A guilty conscience more likely."

"I'm quite sure she had nothing to do with it."

Annoying as Champa had been, Stella was convinced of the woman's
honesty.

"How can you be sure? Don't talk nonsense."

"Well, wasn't she engaged by Sher Singh?" She felt she had scored, and
emboldened by the advantage, added recklessly: "If it comes to that, I
would sooner believe that Sher Singh----"

"Sher Singh," interrupted Robert angrily. "On the contrary, if he had
been here the thing wouldn't have happened. Some rascal took the
opportunity of his absence."

"Then, unless it was all prearranged, the thief must have acted pretty
promptly," argued Stella, who had arrived at a pitch of provocation that
rendered her indifferent to Robert's displeasure. "Perhaps the telegram
was bogus?" she continued ironically; "sent to lure the unsuspecting
Sher Singh from his post." And with an effort she quelled a ridiculous
impulse to add that possibly Sher Singh had borrowed the necklace in
order that some member of his family might wear it at the relative's
funeral. She came dangerously near to laughter in picturing the scene
that such a suggestion would evoke. As it was, her sly attack on the
good name of Sher Singh led to mixed consequences.

Robert rose impatiently. "Sher Singh must come back. If a wire goes at
once he ought to be here to-night."

Stella repented her imprudence; on the other hand, as Robert strode from
the room to fulfil his intention, there was comfort in the fact that at
last she and Philip were safely alone for a space. The table servants,
at work in the pantry, were well out of hearing; the punkah coolie at
his post could not see them.

Philip said breathlessly: "Stella, what are we to do?"

The moments were precious; she answered with haste, though her voice was
calm. "One of us must go away. It's the only thing to do. Sher
Singh----"

"What has Sher Singh to do with it?"

"He knows, he has been watching us. He would do anything to harm me.
Anyway, we couldn't go on like this----"

"It's all my fault," he said wretchedly. "What a selfish beast I have
been. I ought to have held my tongue."

"What difference would it have made? We both _knew_!"

He was amazed at her fortitude. No longer was she the helpless, unhappy
child weighed down by relentless fate, but a woman determined to grapple
with the future. The Carrington spirit of pluck and endurance still
lived in the last of the line.

A little cloud of masculine grievance gathered in his mind, rose
between them. His was the blame for the whole situation, and he was
prepared to sacrifice all for her sake, to take her away that they might
live for themselves alone. Since his outburst on the balcony wild
schemes had invaded his brain, though as yet, without practical plan;
now it chafed him to feel that she might not be ready to follow his lead
in joyful appreciation of his purpose. The realisation fanned his
passion, strong as it was already.

"Are you thinking of yourself or of me?" he asked bitterly.

"Oh, how can you!" she cried, pained beyond further expression of
reproach; yet she understood that his cruelty arose from the very
strength of his feelings, and while with feminine instinct she divined
his love-selfishness she cared for him none the less.

"Look here," she said firmly, "I belong to Robert. You belong to India.
And we've both got to remember----"

"Oh, I know what you're going to say--remember our duty. Duty be
damned," he retorted, beside himself. "You can't love me as I love you
or you wouldn't talk like this. What do I matter to India?--I'm only a
fly on the wheel. What do you matter to Crayfield, any more than if you
were--well, a pearl necklace, for instance!"

"I know my value to Robert exactly," she told him with a wry little
smile; "but I married him for what he could give me, and he has given
it. I don't agree with you as to your value to India. India depends on
men like you; and if you are flies on the wheel, the wheel wouldn't go
round without you."

It was true, and he knew it. All the same, he felt that Stella meant
more to him now than his duty to India and all his ambition.

"We belong to each other, and to no one and nothing else," he maintained
doggedly. "You can't go on living with one man when you know you love
another. It's not right."

"Perhaps not, from one point of view, but I don't take that view. We
can't think of ourselves. I shall ask Robert to let me go to the
Cuthells, even if I have to pretend to be ill. If he won't let me go,
then you must apply for leave, or get away somehow from Rassih."

"Stella, are you made of stone?" He drew his chair nearer to hers, laid
his hand on her arm, rejoiced as he felt how her pulses responded to his
touch. "Think what the separation would mean. We could go to England,"
he urged. "I would work for you, slave for you, darling."

"And that would mean your giving up India?"

"Not necessarily. I can take leave on urgent private affairs for six
months. Furlough is due to me, too, but that takes time to arrange. I
could get it tacked on afterwards, and then--then we could be married
and come out together. It would all have blown over."

But even as he spoke there came visions, strive as he would to ignore
them, of obscure little stations, promotion tardy, other men passing
over his head for the rest of his service.

"And suppose Robert wouldn't--supposing we couldn't be married?"

This possibility had not entered his mind. He hesitated, then added
quickly: "He couldn't be such a brute! If he was, I'd retire; we would
live quietly somewhere out of the world, just for each other. Don't you
care for me enough to take the risk?"

She did not answer, because she feared if she spoke at the moment she
might burst into tears. He misunderstood her silence.

"I tell you," he went on impetuously, "I tell you again, as I told you
yesterday morning, that nothing matters to me in the world but your
love. It means more to me than my work and my aims, my life itself.
Without you, success in the Service would simply be dust and ashes. I'd
sooner live on a desert island with you than be Viceroy of India. Are
you afraid to trust yourself to me?"

She struggled for self-control. His eyes were pleading, his face looked
drawn. She longed to give in, to tell him she asked nothing better than
to be with him for always, at whatever the price or the punishment. Yet
surrender at best must mean greater sacrifice for Philip than she on her
side could offer, and she meant to hold out even should it all end in a
parting that left Philip with the impression that she valued her worldly
well-being beyond his love. Her thoughts were simple, direct; but she
felt if she tried to explain, urged the fact that she cared too much for
him to become a drag on his life, would find compensation in knowing he
was free to go forward untrammelled, she might only appear to be
setting herself up on a pedestal of self-righteousness at his expense.
She temporised.

"Let us think it over," she entreated; "let us give ourselves time, by
one of us going away, at any rate for the present."

"Time would make no difference as far as _I_ am concerned. It would only
be the same thing all over again! But if you think it would help you to
forget, then of course I must agree."

"Oh, it isn't that," she protested, tortured beyond endurance. She cast
about in her mind for further argument. "Do you remember one day when I
told you how I regretted I wasn't a man to do what little I could for
India, and you said my chance might come?"

"Oh, you sweet, silly child!" he scoffed. "Do you honestly imagine that
India would crumble to pieces without me?" He laughed as he seized her
in his arms, kissing her madly. She wrenched herself free, stood
swaying, confused, overcome with the force of his passion, the thrill of
his embrace. Then came the sound of Robert's returning footsteps, and
she held up a warning hand, bent over the bowl of flowers on the table
as though to rearrange them. Philip moved his chair back to its original
position and busied himself with his cigarette case, but he could have
wished that Crayfield had surprised them; then there would have been an
end to all subterfuge, of all Stella's doubts and scruples. He felt a
cur because he did not stand up and proclaim the truth there and then,
so setting her free from the onus of decision.

"That's done!" said Robert. "Now, when Sher Singh comes back, perhaps
we shall get to the bottom of this pearl business. Are you ready, Flint?
We ought to be off again if we're to see to that farther chain of
villages. It looks like more rain, thank goodness. Stella, you'd better
go and lie down; you look like a ghost."

"I feel like one, too," she answered, and as he turned to leave the room
she followed him quickly. "Robert, wait a moment." She caught his elbow.
"Come into my room, I want to speak to you."

He acquiesced, though with impatience. "Well, what is it?"

"I must have a change," she began volubly; "I can't stand the heat any
longer. I believe I shall die if I don't get away from it. You can't
think how awful I feel."

He looked at her in astonishment, with which concern, vexation, and a
shade of indefinite suspicion were mingled.

"You want to go away? You know perfectly well I can't ask for leave with
all this distress in the district, even if the rains break freely in the
next few days."

"But I could go alone," she pleaded. "Mrs. Cuthell would have me, I know
she would. I'd come down again directly I felt better. It isn't gaiety I
want, only to feel better."

"Antonio must come and have a look at you. Perhaps----"

"No, no," cried Stella. "It's not that!" She almost wished it were, that
she might have stronger excuse for flight. The idea even crossed her
mind to feign doubt in order to gain her purpose, and though she
dismissed it with horror she clung ignominiously to the straw that
floated detached from definite deception.

"If I could only get strong," she hinted shamefacedly, "it might make a
difference. I feel such a wreck, Robert. I'm so sorry, but I can't help
it."

It was all true, she told herself wildly. She did feel a wreck; she was
sure she would be seriously ill if she stayed on at Rassih,
unless--unless Philip would go instead.

"Well, wait till this evening," said Robert, "and we'll see. I must be
off now; Flint is waiting, and we've a long afternoon's work to get
through." He advised her to rest, and kissed her in kindly, if
perfunctory, farewell.

When he had gone, Philip with him, a hot muggy silence descended upon
the premises. The servants went off to their quarters in the compound
for the customary midday meal and sleep, save for a couple of peons on
duty who snoozed in the front veranda, and the ever present shift of
punkah pullers. Since the downpour of rain the west wind had ceased to
roar and rage over the land; Nature seemed motionless, as though waiting
in patient expectance for the swollen clouds to discharge their burden
of water.

Stella, torn with emotion, wandered from room to room, unable to rest,
Jacob pattering at her heels. She found herself longing for the peace
and security of The Chestnuts, for the home of her childhood that in her
young arrogance she had despised, rebelling against its restrictions.
Now she visualised the old house and garden bathed in serene summer
sunlight, the village, the common, the cornfields; remembered with
regret the small vexations, her ignorant, stupid little grievances that
were as grains of sand compared with the mountain of trouble before her.
She wept with self-pity, with terror of the future. The word "disgrace"
rang in her ears, disgrace for herself and for Philip unless she had
strength to resist him; and yet if she remained steadfast, what of the
long empty years that lay ahead like a limitless desert? Even to face
them with courage--for Philip, that Philip might go forward unshackled
by fetters riveted in shame--seemed more than she had power to
undertake. Could she tell Robert the truth, entreat him to help her, to
let her leave Rassih for a time? No; such a scheme was unworkable. She
knew him well enough to feel sure she might as well throw in her lot
with Philip at once. Robert would never forgive, understand; and could
she think that he might, she herself had rendered such a course
impossible by her way of deception--allowing him to believe that she
loved him, leading him to assume that she but tolerated Philip's
companionship. Even from Philip there was no hope for such help as would
support her in her struggle.

The room grew dark. At first she fancied that the gloom must be of her
own mental making; then came a dull roll of thunder, followed by a
close, threatening pause, full of portent. A little breeze rose and
whispered through the house, stirring the curtains, like a scout feeling
its way in advance of the attack to come. She went out on the balcony,
to see huge purple clouds, rent with forked lightning, rolling up
rapidly from the horizon. The air was full of dust; birds were wheeling
and crying against the sinister background. Jacob cowered, trembling, at
her feet. A drop of rain fell like a bullet on the balustrade, another,
and another.... In a few seconds a rush of wind drove her indoors, and
with a mighty tumult of sound the rain fell in one solid, relentless
sheet as if giant buckets were being emptied from above.

Stella threw herself on a sofa in the drawing-room, Jacob cuddled at her
side. She ceased to think, was conscious only of the noise and the
darkness that seemed to continue for hours, until, exhausted body and
soul, she fell asleep.


Robert and Philip returned late in the evening, drenched. Robert,
despite his wetting, was cheerful over the fact that, to all
appearances, the rains had arrived to stay, though he grumbled because
there was no further news of the necklace, and because Sher Singh had
not yet arrived. Philip looked white and ill as they sat down to a
belated dinner; once or twice he shivered, and he ate little or nothing.
Stella watched him in anxious concern; a return of malaria was only to
be expected after his long ride in wet clothes. By this time the
downpour had slackened, and from without came the clamour of
frogs--"Croak, croak, co-ax, co-ax"--in regular rhythmical chorus. The
temperature had fallen, punkahs were almost unwelcome; the reaction was
depressing. A damp mist crept into the great room; little black insects
gathered in multitudes around the lamps on the walls; lizards darted
among them, enjoying the feast they provided. Stella could have cried
with dejection, and, to add to it all, as they passed from the
dining-room they encountered Sher Singh, salaaming, full of important
concern. He had heard of the robbery, understood why he had been
recalled, though he explained humbly that in any case it had been his
intention to return next morning. The Sahib's telegram had, of course,
hastened his departure. The matter of the necklace, he added miserably,
was to him terrible, a disgrace to the household; he, the slave of the
Sahib and Memsahib, would neither sleep nor eat till the thief was
discovered, the pearls restored; until then his face, as chief servant,
was blackened.... He showed signs of prostrating himself at his master's
feet, and Robert, to escape a scene, bade him go and do his best to
clear up the mystery, thus tactfully dismissing him.


Philip, with Stella's warning in his mind, had regarded the man closely
during this interview. Stella was right; he felt certain Sher Singh was
up to no good, that his leave had been part of some treacherous scheme,
and he made up his mind to remain in the house till he knew what it was.
If Sher Singh meant to make mischief, to arouse his master's suspicions
in regard to his mistress, he, Philip, must be at hand to see Stella
through; it might even bring matters to a crisis, help to decide for
them both. He had a presentiment that, whatever Sher Singh's intention,
something would happen that night, and, ill as he felt, he assumed
liveliness, made conversation with Crayfield, discussing results should
the rain prove to be merely local, the effect that severe distress would
have on the various areas under their control. Robert, lured from the
subject of the pearls, talked freely, held forth on his experiences in a
famine that had occurred early in his own service, and how abominably he
had been treated, his efforts ignored by the Government.

"It's always been the same," he complained; "the fellows who do the real
work may die in harness, literally driven to death, and get no credit;
while those who have done nothing but talk and write, are smothered in
decorations and shoved up to the top of the tree. Thank goodness I could
retire to-morrow, if I felt so inclined, and snap my fingers at the lot
of them."

He cited instances of his contemporaries in the Service, who, without a
quarter of his own claim to distinction, had been given the C.I.E. and
the K.C.I.E., the C.S.I. and the K.C.S.I., until Stella felt that the
alphabet, as well as the Government, must be to blame for failing to
recognise Robert's meritorious achievements; and her memory turned to
the evening at The Chestnuts when she had wondered if he were sore
because no Order had yet been bestowed upon him. Since then she had not
thought of it, but now she suspected that the omission rankled in his
mind, and her sympathy with his possible disappointment went out to him.
She knew how he worked, and even if he worked without enthusiasm, surely
that was even more to his credit than if he were spurred by romantic
inspiration? She wished he had confided in her, allowed her to share his
feelings; but she knew that to him she was of small account
intellectually; the disparity of years stood between them. And even had
he admitted her to his confidence, what could she have done save
endeavour to console him with understanding? It was not as if he were
young, like Philip, with the world of India before him.

But the very fact of this disadvantage helped her determination to fight
against her love for Philip. For Robert's sake in the present she could
only refrain from adding to his sense of failure in life; for Philip's
sake in the future she must stick to her post; and for her own
sake--well, at least she could feel she was doing right, whatever
Philip, in his desperation, might argue. Peace of mind would come,
though at best a dull, empty peace, with the knowledge that she had
nothing to fear, that she had brought trouble to no one. Then again
round and round swung the question on which hung her chief difficulty:
if Robert refused to let her go to the Cuthells--if Philip could not, or
would not, get leave or a transfer from Rassih, what was she to do? In
such a situation she saw little chance of true peace of mind. It would
mean one continual effort to avoid Philip by every manoeuvre in her
power, to pretend, pretend, pretend, both to him and to Robert.

She sank into a sort of lethargy; her brain felt numbed, and the voices
of the two men sounded hardly nearer than the ceaseless song of the
frogs outside. A figure came into the room, stood for a moment by
Robert. It was Sher Singh--always Sher Singh! How she loathed the
creature. Robert rose, and went away; Sher Singh too. She roused herself
with an effort; Philip was asking her something:

"Did you hear what he said? Were you asleep?"

"No, I don't think so; I don't know." She sat upright, passed her hand
over her eyes. "What did he say?"

"He said the pearls had been found."

So the tiresome pearls had been found! It seemed to Stella that the news
had barely reached her understanding before Robert was back. He crossed
the room reflectively, with measured tread, the pearls gleaming white in
his big hand; the contrast struck Philip as painfully symbolical: just
as pure and as perfect was his dear love in the man's coarse keeping.

Crayfield paused, dandling the pearls. When he spoke he addressed
himself to Flint in a voice that was devoid of all expression. He said:
"My wife's necklace was found in your room."

For a moment Philip gazed at him dumbfounded. Then, as with the shock of
a flashlight, he understood. Sher Singh! Sher Singh had either put the
necklace in his room, or pretended to find it there, not with the object
of fastening false suspicion of theft upon anyone, but in order to
compromise the mistress he so hated. What a fool as well as a devil the
fellow must be! How could he imagine that such an obvious piece of spite
was likely to succeed? Yet, what was the meaning of Colonel Crayfield's
curious attitude? Was it possible that he believed---- Swiftly Flint's
mind pounced on the opportunity: he might refrain from defence, allow
the "find" to speak for itself. But what about Stella? Would she realise
the situation? Already she had risen, trembling and white with
indignation.

"Robert! What do you mean? Surely you don't--you _can't_ suggest that
_Mr. Flint_ took the pearls?"

Philip glanced at her hopelessly. Her simplicity was almost
unbelievable; her innocence, all too obvious, had lost them their chance
of freedom.

"Philip!" she cried involuntarily, and made a quick movement towards
him. Crayfield moved also, just a couple of interceptory steps. He
laughed, and put the pearls in his pocket.

"That's all I wanted to know," he said coolly, an ugly glint in his
eyes. "Out you go, my boy! You didn't steal the pearls, of course; but
you've been doing your damnedest to steal something else, and you
haven't succeeded."

"You may think what you like!" interposed Philip hotly; but he felt he
was blustering, that Colonel Crayfield, his senior in years and
authority, had the whip hand of him, perceiving the truth. The trap had
been cleverly laid.

"Thank you! Then I like to think this: you have been making love to my
wife under my roof, taking advantage of her youth and inexperience; but
mercifully you've been caught in time. Now go and pack your belongings
and clear out. Consider yourself on leave. I want no scandal. Slink
off--quick! You young hound!"

Stella had sunk into a chair. Her husband stood before her; Philip
could not see her face. He was racked with humiliation, with helpless
rage; his pride, his self-respect lay in the dust, since he could not
but recognise the fundamental justice of his chief's accusation.... Must
he leave Stella without comfort, without reassurance of his fealty and
love? Driven to desperation, he tried to push Crayfield aside; he might
as well have endeavoured to move a mountain.

"Stella!" he called hoarsely; but for answer to his cry came only the
sound of stifled, terrified sobbing.



CHAPTER XIV


Colonel Crayfield stood silent, motionless, until all sound of Philip
Flint's exit had ceased. When, with a dazed effort, Stella looked up at
her husband, his face reminded her dimly of some monster depicted on a
Chinese screen. She held her breath, half expecting him to kill her
there and then. Instead, to her amazement, he merely spoke to her as he
might have spoken to an unruly child caught in some act of mischief,
ordered her to her room, watched her grimly as she rose in dumb
obedience.

Passing through the hall, she encountered Philip's old servant; he
looked harassed, bewildered, as he salaamed. "It is the Sahib's order,"
he said in querulous resentment, "that his belongings be taken back to
the Rest House at once! Even but now hath he departed there himself, and
on foot! Yacoub-dog also." Clearly the old man expected some
explanation. What could she say? Only that she supposed the Sahib's
orders must be obeyed. She left him standing puzzled, indignant, in the
doorway of the bedroom his master had occupied.

For days afterwards Stella felt, as it were, "put into the corner" by
Robert. This attitude on his part, humiliating to her though it was,
came as a partial relief; it gave her time to revive in a sense from the
shock she had suffered. The interval of disgrace, despite its ignominy,
rested her nerves, and helped her to face Robert's forgiveness, which,
when it pleased him to extend it, was far more unbearable than his
displeasure. She dared make no further appeal for permission to join
Mrs. Cuthell; she knew well enough, if she did so, what Robert would
say: that she was not to be trusted! Her very pride gave her strength to
conceal, often to overcome, her physical distress during the unhealthy,
wearisome months that followed before the cold season set in.

The monsoon weakened, failed; the heat was diabolical, mosquitoes were a
torment, the days and nights seemed endless, and there was always Sher
Singh, watchful, malignant. Champa had begged leave to resign from the
Memsahib's service once the disturbance caused by the episode of the
pearls had subsided in the compound; she did so with crocodile tears and
feeble excuses. The truth was, that having been frightened out of her
senses, she felt unable to recover her pretentious position in the
Rassih establishment. So Champa departed without great loss of dignity,
and her place was taken by a humble person whose name her new mistress
did not even trouble to inquire, since the word "Ayah" seemed to be the
beginning and the end of her obtuse personality.

Stella's spirit supported her, but nothing could deaden the heartache;
there was nothing to relieve the burden of her time, nothing to ease the
struggle to control her ever-growing abhorrence of Robert and his
demands on her outward docility.

All that winter they toured in tents. The scarcity, though not so
severe in the Rassih division as in other adjacent areas, meant much
extra work for the Commissioner, and occasionally Stella would be left
in the camp for two or three days while Robert and his satellites went
off on side inspections by rail. At such times Robert would commandeer
some lady, whose husband happened to be on duty with him, to keep Mrs.
Crayfield company. Stella would have preferred to be alone; it seemed to
her that she had lost the capacity for making friends; but at least
Robert was absent, at least she was freed from the strain of his
presence, and for that she gave thanks while enduring the companionship
of an unwelcome visitor who she knew was an unconscious watchdog.

Only these little periods of peace, the tonic of the cold-weather
climate, the frequent change of locality kept her going; but when they
returned to Rassih her vitality sank, the effort to keep up appearances
became harder, and she felt that the fight could not continue much
longer. Constant attacks of low fever laid hold of her, and Robert was
annoyed because she could not eat, could not sleep, because, he
declared, she would make no attempt to exert herself, because the
medicines prescribed by Dr. Antonio did her no good.

Gradually his impatience changed to indifference. He ceased to scold and
advise, or to insist on her company; paid little attention to her. She
knew he was bored with her sickliness, her altered appearance. She only
prayed that he might send her home.

Relief came from quite an unexpected quarter. The English mail arrived
one evening while Robert was out riding: the usual consignment of papers
for him--he seldom received anything else beyond business
communications--a letter for Stella from Aunt Augusta, and one with an
Indian postmark; the handwriting on this envelope stirred her memory,
but she laid it aside till she had read Aunt Augusta's letter. The
little chronicles from The Chestnuts were precious to her now. She read
greedily of small happenings, how old Betty had been so troubled with
rheumatism that further help was needed from the village; how grandmamma
had dropped her handkerchief in church last Sunday, and little Isaac
Orchard, the blacksmith's son, had picked it up and run after them, and
grandmamma had given him a penny. (Stella could see her bestowing the
reward with the air of a potentate; doubtless they had talked of the
incident all through luncheon.) The potatoes were disappointing: so many
of them were diseased this year. Canon and Mrs. Grass had been to tea;
poor Mrs. Grass's health did not improve, but she had been none the
worse for the outing. Aunt Ellen had embroidered such a _very_ pretty
cushion cover as a birthday present for grandmamma, and so on. The
letter concluded with the usual messages from all at The Chestnuts to
dear Stella and Robert, and the hope that they were both keeping fairly
well.

Stella then opened the other envelope. Maud Matthews! What a surprise!
Only once had Maud written since her arrival in India as a bride, and
Stella had long since assumed that she had dropped out of Maud's
thoughts. The letter was like a refreshing little breeze to its dejected
recipient:


     "MY DEAR STELLA,--

     "I know I'm a pigandadevil (that's Dick's word) not to have written
     all this time, but unless I make myself answer a letter the moment
     it comes I somehow get so that I simply can't answer it at all.
     Anyway, _you'll_ have to answer _this_, because I want to know if I
     can break my journey up country at Rassih with you and your good
     man. Don't you hate that expression? In most cases I'm sure 'bad
     man' would be nearer the mark. I've got a baby--such a grand excuse
     for going to the hills! And I've taken a small house at Surima, a
     long journey from here, but it's such a jolly place, and no one
     bothers what you do. My old Dick will be as right as rain by
     himself, and he'll come up on leave later on. Rassih isn't much out
     of my way, and I must stop somewhere to take breath. It would be
     such fun to meet again and have a talk and a laugh. Are you going
     away for the hot weather, or are you one of those saintly wives who
     never desert their husbands? Have you got a baby? If not, don't;
     they are a scourge, though I admit mine might be worse now he's
     here, and I refrain from infanticide because he does me such
     credit. He's not a bit like Dick. Now may we come? Send me a wire,
     because we must start in a few days, and, anyway, wiring is easier
     than writing a letter!

     "Ever yours,

     "MAUD MATTHEWS."


Stella dropped the letter in her lap, and sighed with mingled hope and
foreboding. Would Robert consent to her friend's visit? What a blessed
break it would make in the monotony of her days. Her courage rose. She
decided to send the telegram now, before Robert's return. He could
hardly insist that she should cancel it, once it had gone; whereas, if
she waited to ask his permission he might raise objections, though what
reason could he advance for refusing to receive Mrs. Matthews and her
baby for a few days on their way to the hills?

Hastily she wrote out a telegram, called a peon, and dispatched him with
it to the post office. Mercifully, Sher Singh was not lurking about,
else the message would certainly have been withheld until his master's
return; such was her bondage to the servant who ruled!

Nervously she told her husband, when he came back, what she had done,
handed him Maud's letter, her heart beating fast.

"What a flibbertigibbet!" he exclaimed contemptuously. "I suppose we
must put up with the infliction, as you say you have wired already."

"I thought you wouldn't mind," said Stella apologetically. "She's an old
friend of mine, and I should like to see her again."

"Very well then, let her come. Perhaps it will be an incentive to you to
pull yourself together and behave a little less like a wet rag!"

Maud arrived with mountains of luggage, the baby, and a retinue of
servants, and from that moment the house seemed transformed. Robert
succumbed reluctantly to the gay company of his guest, who took it for
granted that he was overjoyed to receive her; she chattered and chaffed
and looked charming--such a contrast to her frail hostess!

It was not until the morning after her arrival, when Robert was safely
at work, that Maud started a confidential conversation with Stella, who
hitherto had avoided a tête-à-tête. She shrank from any admission of her
unhappiness and ill-health; but Maud, with all her fortunate lot in
life, had spotted at once that something was wrong, and by degrees she
succeeded in worming the truth from the unwilling Stella, who proved as
wax in her ruthless hands. Very soon she knew all concerning the
unsuitable marriage, the trouble with Sher Singh, the affair with Philip
Flint and the incident of the pearls, Stella's pitiful condition of body
and mind. The two sat talking in low voices throughout the morning,
while it pleased "young Richard," as his mother called him, to sleep
soundly.

"Something must be done," pronounced Maud; "you'll snuff out if you go
on like this!"

"I shouldn't care," said Stella hopelessly.

"Nonsense! What you want is a good rousing change away from this beastly
house and every one in it. That bearer alone would give me the creeps if
I stayed here much longer. Once you were away from it all you'd get over
this business with Philip Flint. I should have forgotten Dick if I
hadn't married him. Now I'll tell you what: I mean to make up to your
old Robert-the-devil and canoodle him into letting you come to Surima
with me."

Stella gave an incredulous laugh. "You don't know him. He will never
let me go!"

"I know _men_ pretty well, my dear, and after all he is a man, as well
as a brute--very often the same thing, but not always. You can pretend
to be jealous, if you like; it might help matters on!"

"I can't pretend any more about anything!" Stella had small hope that
Maud would succeed in her project; if she did it would be little short
of a miracle.

"Very well, then; lie low and leave it all to me. Here he comes, my lord
the elephant. How the time has flown without him."

She turned to greet Robert as he came into the room. "Well, here you are
at last, just in time to save us from dying of dullness. Have you been
working very hard? If so, how do you manage to look as if you had just
come out of a band-box? You ought to be made to give up the secret!"

Robert regarded her with amused indulgence. "How do you manage to talk
such nonsense and look so fetching?" he retorted.

"Do I look fetching?" She rose and shook her skirts. "Oh! I've lost my
shoe!" She hopped, and held forth a slim little foot in an open-work
stocking. "There it is, under that chair."

With a grunt, Robert stooped and retrieved the shoe. "What an
absurdity!" he exclaimed, balancing it on the palm of his hand.

She clutched his arm to steady herself. "Don't make my shoe look silly!
I daren't put my foot down; I might tread on a pin or something and get
'mortification-set-in' or whatever it is."

He pushed her into a chair. "Now then, 'hold up' and be shod." He
pressed her ankle with his finger and thumb. "Quite clean: no splint,
not a wind-gall!" He took his time fitting on the truant shoe.

Stella observed the scene with excited wonder. Robert was flirting! She
could hardly credit her senses. His small eyes twinkled wickedly. Maud
looked like a mischievous sprite. Was it possible that by this means
Maud might really succeed in her object? As long as she did succeed
Stella did not care what means she employed.

They went in to breakfast. Maud sparkled and bantered, and talked
tactfully of food, praised the curry and the cutlets, exchanged
reminiscences with her host concerning the cooking at various
restaurants in London, besought Colonel Crayfield to take her for a ride
that evening, and, to Stella's secret entertainment, Robert agreed at
once, though she knew he had arranged to play tennis. For her part she
had planned a drive alone with Maud; instead, she found herself placed
in charge of "young Richard." Later on she and the baby, with his ayah,
watched the pair ride away, Maud mounted on the grey stud-bred that by
now had become a sober and tractable member of the stable.

"Gee-gee!" quoth the ayah importantly to the bundle in her arms; and
young Richard, aged eight or nine months, leapt and squealed with
delight. He was a handsome, good-tempered child; to Stella he appeared
singularly intelligent, and she felt almost happy that afternoon
wandering about the garden with him and his attendants, the ayah
garrulous and consequential, swinging her voluminous skirts, a staid
bearer carrying a white umbrella and a rattle.... Yet Stella did not
envy Maud her motherhood, no thrill of maternal longing possessed her as
she took the child in her arms to show him the birds and the squirrels;
she was only thankful there was no "young Robert" to bind her more
closely to the man she had come to loathe.... She wondered how Maud was
progressing with her subtle scheme, wondered with a gleam of hope if,
after all, Robert might not be glad rather than otherwise to get rid of
her, glad to take advantage of Maud's persuasions while pretending to
grant his engaging guest the favour she asked of him. Had Maud already
broached the subject during their ride...?

Could she have known it, Maud was making headway, craftily, with Robert
while Stella was amusing young Richard.

"Isn't it funny?" said Mrs. Matthews as she and Colonel Crayfield walked
their horses along the canal bank after a brisk canter. "I feel as if I
had known you for years! I think Stella is very much to be envied."

"Do you?" He grinned complacently. "Tell me why you think so."

Maud sighed. "It must be so nice to have a husband one can lean on, who
doesn't expect his wife to do all the planning and thinking. Now with me
and Dick _I_ have to take all the responsibility about everything. I
daresay I seem very frivolous and feather-headed, but I flatter myself I
have my share of common sense. It was dreadful having to decide about
leaving Dick for the hot weather. Of course, I was torn in two--duty,
you know, and all that--but there was the child to be considered as well
as my own health. I am sure if you thought Stella ought to go to the
hills, instead of saying, like Dick, 'do as you think best,' you would
settle it off-hand, not leave the decision to her. Wouldn't you?"

"Stella has no common sense," he said evasively, frowning.

Mrs. Matthews gazed thoughtfully ahead. "I know what you mean. Some
people take a long time to grow up. Of course Stella is awfully good and
sweet, but as a companion for a man of the world----"

He glanced at her in quick suspicion, and she divined that he was
questioning how much, if anything, Stella had confided to her.

"I can't quite make her out," Maud continued confidentially. "She seems
to me so listless, not interested in anything. I tried my utmost to get
her to talk this morning, but it was no use. What is the matter with
her, Colonel Crayfield?"

"She's not well, and she will make no sort of effort to rouse herself."
He paused, then added violently: "She's just a little fool!"

"Well, when you think of her upbringing what can you expect? But it
seems rather hard on you! I wonder if I could help in any way----"

"What could you do? If a man of my age is weak enough to marry a child,
he must put up with the consequences."

"Perhaps if she could have a change; is there no one you could send her
to?"

"Only a woman who wouldn't know how to look after her. She'd very soon
get into mischief."

"Oh! surely Stella would never do that!"

His silence was significant. For the moment Mrs. Matthews accepted it.
She appeared plunged in reflection. Presently she said: "Couldn't you
get leave yourself and take her away?"

"Just now it's quite impossible."

"I understand. Later on do you think you could manage it?"

"Perhaps. But I've no use for hill stations."

"Rotten places," said Maud. "I know I shall be bored to death at
Surima."

"Not likely," scoffed Robert. "_You!_"

Mrs. Matthews felt she had perhaps made a false step. "Oh! I've no doubt
I shall have a good time after a fashion. I always make the most of
circumstances, and luckily I have a head if I haven't much heart! I can
take care of myself anywhere. Look here," she went on boldly, "would you
think of entrusting Stella to me? I should like a companion, and there's
plenty of room in the house I have taken. Directly you can get leave you
could join us for a bit, and that would be ripping!"

He hesitated, gnawed his lip, said grumpily: "It's rather a tall order!"

"Why? It would do Stella all the good in the world. I'm certain she'd
come back a different creature. You'd never repent it. What could be
worse for you than the silly state she has got into?"

"That's true," he admitted; and she played on his vanity and his
self-commiseration until he had promised to think over her proposal.

Maud returned from the ride in the sure and certain hope that she had
triumphed.



PART II



CHAPTER I


A weak monsoon, following on scarcity already serious; consequent
failure of autumn and spring crops; and famine, dread word, echoed over
the half of India.

Now the hot weather had set in unusually, as it were, malevolently
early. Areas none too fertile at the best of times reverted to parched
deserts, wells and river-beds dried, canals shrank, strained to the
limit of inadequate supply. People and beasts were dying of disease and
starvation, and officials, both European and Indian, fought one of
Nature's remedies for over-population with every ounce of human energy.

Philip Flint sat in his office-tent weary, over-taxed, writing with a
sort of dogged persistence. His papers were powdered with dust, the ink
evaporated, thickened in the pot; his eyes smarted and his bones ached.
For months he had been touring through stricken districts, his camp a
kind of flying column, inspecting and organising relief works, famine
camps, poor-houses, hospitals. Out at dawn, often not home till dusk, he
would have to sit up half the night to wrestle with reports and returns,
accounts and statistics; so sparing neither body nor brain on behalf of
the miserable multitude that crawled and craved, hunger-smitten,
homeless, his heart sore with the sight of skeleton children, exhausted
mothers, piteous old people....

Early yesterday he had arrived at a remote point far from town or
railway, where earthworks had lately been started for the relief of an
area comprising numerous scattered villages, never prosperous, now on
the verge of absolute ruin. Transport was the chief difficulty; it must
be some time before the light railway that was being laid from the
nearest junction could be completed. Cartage and bullocks were scarce,
and though a certain stock of food and necessaries were already to hand,
there were many to be fed, clothed, accommodated, and the numbers
increased day and night. The hospital sheds, in charge of a native
doctor, were filling rapidly; further medical help would be needed.
Flint had been thankful to hear from his senior subordinate that
recently a Zenana Mission lady had arrived with a fair supply of
comforts. He was familiar with the invaluable work of such women; it was
beyond all praise. As yet he had not had the time to visit the little
encampment pointed out to him on the far side of the works; all day he
had been too busy superintending transport, checking stores of grain,
considering applications for financial assistance, while it was his
duty, as well, to detect and guard against imposition, to sift demands,
even to appear callous, that the ready cunning of those who sought to
benefit by help intended for their suffering brethren might be
frustrated. Only this afternoon he had been nearly outdone by an old
fellow who presented himself among a gang of emaciated villagers
clamouring that he had no plough-bullocks, no seed, nothing--that he and
his descendants were ruined.... At first Flint had listened with
sympathy until something in the demeanour of the bystanders aroused his
suspicions; a few of the less distressed members of the crowd were
covertly smiling as though in amused admiration of the patriarch's
powers of persuasion, and a little adroit inquiry disclosed the fact
that the supplicant was none other than the moneylender of the village
whence they had all come.

In contrast with this example of rascality a man of low caste in obvious
need had stoutly refused assistance other than in the form of a loan
from the Government to be repaid with reasonable interest when times
should improve. So it had gone on from the first--patience and pride,
heroic endurance, a fine sense of fair play, in company with avarice,
fraud, evil intention. Ignorance, stupidity, superstition had to be
reckoned with as well, allowed for; the problems were endless, for,
while the people must be tended and fed, money could not be wasted or
misapplied.

At last Flint laid down his pen and leaned back in his chair to relax
muscles and mind. Had he been called upon to define his condition, he
would have summed it up simply in the one word "cooked." He lit a
cigarette and allowed his thoughts liberty, it was seldom he permitted
them to dwell upon the past, but to-night he was too tired for
self-discipline. On leaving Rassih he had volunteered for famine work as
a desperate antidote to his sickness of heart and spirit; this in face
of the knowledge that the decision had probably cost him a chance of
important advancement, but the future for him had been shorn of
attraction, and the sight of wretchedness and want, his passionate pity
for the helpless, the strain and the stress of the work had, he knew,
preserved him from despair as no official promotion could have preserved
him at the time.

All the same Stella had never been far from his memory, and to-night she
seemed to him painfully near. Again he went over that last scene in the
Commissioner's house, saw Crayfield standing grim and contemptuous in
the big drawing-room, Stella weeping and helpless, himself worsted,
ashamed, without honest claim to defence. "_Slink, you young hound!_"
The sentence forced itself backwards and forwards through his brain,
hitting his pride each time like a shameful blow.... In his weak
selfishness what misery he had brought upon himself and the woman he
loved, would never cease to love. Where was she now? What was she doing?
He pictured her at the piano accompanying the self-satisfied vocal
performance of her husband! He visioned the light on her hair, the
delicate outline of her neck, and he writhed as the memory tortured his
heart. What devilish fate had taken him to Rassih! Yet he had a feeling
that in any case he and Stella must ultimately have met, and that some
day, somehow, they must meet again. The refrain of a cheaply sentimental
little ballad he had heard her sing came back to him: "Some day, some
day, some day, I shall meet you"--he could almost hear the clear,
chorister-like voice.... Of a certainty the day would come, and then? He
smiled with a sweet bitterness as he recalled her faith in his work, in
his usefulness to India; she had said: "Without men like you the wheel
would not go round." Well, he was doing his best in his own way to act
up to her trust; and for her sake he would stick to the wheel, humbly,
unswervingly, though the zest and the savour of ambition had gone, wiped
out by unlawful love....

A cold muzzle crept into his hand that hung listless at his side--Jacob,
diffident, sensitive, asking attention; Jacob had loved her too, with
all his tender dog-heart. On that terrible evening Jacob had sat
shivering on the edge of her skirt, conscious of trouble, until he
followed his miserable master from the room.

Suddenly he became aware that someone was speaking; he looked up to see
an apologetic peon standing at his elbow.

"Sahib, there is a memsahib without."

For one wild second he fancied it might be Stella, his mind was so full
of her. Had she fled to him, sure of his love and protection, willing to
give herself into his care? He felt as though aroused from a distressing
dream, perhaps to find that all the pain and the longing had passed----

"A memsahib is without," repeated the peon resentfully. "She will not
depart, though this slave hath told her that the sahib is busy."

Flint rose mechanically, his reason flouting the fancy that Stella could
be "the memsahib without." A tall figure was framed in the doorway of
the tent.

"Yes?" he said with tentative politeness.

"I won't keep you long." The voice was brisk and high. "I've come from
the Zenana Mission camp, where I'm helping Miss Abigail on behalf of the
Charitable Relief Fund Committee."

"Indeed!" murmured Philip, inwardly apprehensive. The Charitable Relief
Fund Committee sometimes added heavily to his work and responsibilities,
admirable though its purpose, welcome though its help.

"Yes, I've been hoping all day to get hold of you, but you were always
somewhere else."

"Please come in." He glanced around dubiously, for the interior of the
tent seemed hardly fit for the reception of a lady; files and papers
heaped on the table, on the chairs, even on the floor; dust, cigarette
ends, everywhere; camp equipage, boxes, books and boots, in a hopeless
jumble.

"I'm afraid it's all very untidy," he added as he cleared a seat.

The brisk, high voice responded: "What _does_ it matter! Who can hope to
be tidy in these horrible circumstances. I feel very untidy myself."

She did not look it, whatever she felt. Here was no typical Zenana
Mission female, but a long-limbed, well-built girl, garbed in a neat
holland frock, brown shoes, wash-leather gloves, and an obviously
English felt hat, bound with a blue puggaree, that proclaimed itself
"Indispensable for travel in the East." All very plain and serviceable,
but to an experienced eye undoubtedly expensive.

To Flint's astonishment she took off her hat, carelessly, as any man
might have done, and dropped it beside her chair. He saw that her hair
was cropped short, a thick mop of curling, fox-coloured hair; that her
eyes, clear and shining, were grey (and truculent), that her freckled
irregular nose and rather large mouth had a certain charm. He felt
faintly scandalised when she proceeded to help herself calmly to a
cigarette from his box, lighting it with an accustomed air. Smoking
among ladies was not general in India at that period. Seated, she
crossed her legs, showing slim ankles and neatly-turned calves in brown
stockings.

"Well," she began, "I thought someone ought to come and tell you that a
lot of people have bolted from the relief works."

"Yes, I know----"

"And you don't care, I suppose," she interrupted.

He stared at her, puzzled; why this unprovoked attack? "We shall get
them back. Perhaps you don't realise the reason----"

Again she broke in: "It's because you officials inspire no trust!"

What on earth was the matter with the girl--was she a lunatic?

"I'm afraid superstition is more to blame," he told her patiently. "Some
mischief-maker among them has probably started the report that they are
all to be murdered in order to extract oil from their bodies for
medicinal purposes."

"What nonsense!"

He wondered if she meant the report, or his explanation.

"Of course it's nonsense. But that kind of thing will happen, even
nowadays. Superstition dies hard in India. Coolies often bolt wholesale
when some important work has to be started, because in old times, before
our occupation of the country, a human victim was nearly always buried
beneath the foundations of any big building as a sop to the gods!"

He could see she did not believe him. His anger rose. "How long have you
been out here?" he inquired.

"Quite long enough to discover how little the people are considered. I
think the Government ought to be hanged. Not a penny will you spend--on
this famine, for example--without exacting the uttermost farthing in
return. You make these wretched creatures work for a mere pittance, you
force them into poor-houses when you know it lowers their self-respect,
and many of them die because they would rather die than accept relief in
the way you administer it!" She paused, breathless.

"And how do you propose it should be administered--indiscriminately, and
no questions asked? That would be rather hard on the taxpayers, and bad
for the people themselves. I think even the Charitable Relief Fund
Committee would hardly work on those lines."

She ignored his argument. "It's appalling," she went on heatedly, "to
find how badly private charity is needed. I came out a few weeks ago to
see what I could do to help, and I'm horrified. Where would all these
unfortunate people be without the Charitable Relief Fund!"

"If it comes to that," he retorted, "where would they be without all the
Government machinery that is kept ready to be set going directly
scarcity becomes serious--the means of transport, the linking up with
unaffected Provinces, the loans for seed and cattle. Good Heavens, you
can have no conception of the work."

She opened her mouth to speak, but he stopped her with a peremptory
gesture, and continued quickly: "Private charity is of the utmost value
in a calamity of this kind, and we are only too thankful for it,
especially in remote regions, but personal sacrifice and hard work isn't
entirely confined to the non-official. The help would be simply a drop
in the ocean if the way hadn't been prepared. Try to be just, Miss----"

He waited interrogatively.

"Baker--Dorothy Baker"--she waved her cigarette. "You may have heard of
my father, Lord Redgate?"

So here was the solution of the girl's extraordinary antagonism. She was
the daughter of a new-made nobleman whose apparent object in life, to
judge by his speeches, was to disparage British administration in India,
to discount the long years of effort and experience, to undermine
confidence in honest rule. No doubt such an undertaking engendered a
nice sense of superiority and importance that blinded its owner to the
truth, if his eyes were not shut deliberately. This obtrusive young
woman was clearly imbued with her parent's particular form of conceit.
He would not trouble to wrangle with her further.

"Oh! yes," he said indifferently; "we have all heard of your father. Did
he object to your coming out here alone?"

"Object? Of course not. He believes in the freedom of the individual.
And if he had objected I should be here all the same. I always do as I
please."

"And it pleased you to come out and do famine work. How kind of you!"

She shot him a glance of contemptuous suspicion. He understood all that
the glance implied; as a British official in India he was an enemy of
the people, a bureaucrat, battening on the revenue wrung from a
poverty-stricken land, one of the guilty gang that kept Indians from the
possession of their country. Yet she seemed in no hurry to quit the
presence of such a tyrant and oppressor; evidently she found his chair
comfortable, was enjoying his cigarettes, and perhaps she was not
altogether averse to a little change of companionship? It was
conceivable that the privilege of constant intercourse with her Zenana
colleague might have become a bit of a strain. For himself her young
presence, despite her antagonism, was in a measure welcome after his fit
of depression. Physically she was an attractive creature, and her naïve
self-importance, her impulsive opinions, suited her vigorous
personality. Jacob, the little traitor, was already making advances to
the visitor. She snapped her finger and thumb in response.

"I like dogs," she said, as though it were a form of weakness that
redounded to her credit. "And they always love me!"

"And horses?"

"Oh! yes, rather! I wanted to buy a pony, but Miss Abigail seemed to
think it would not be quite in keeping with the work we are doing, and
that the money had better be spent in some other direction. We get
about in a bullock shigram, not a very comfortable or rapid mode of
progression, but comfort and convenience don't count, of course.
Personally, I'm not sure that we oughtn't to walk everywhere."

"It would perhaps be a waste of energy and time," suggested Philip.

"But think of the example! You, I suppose, ride or drive everywhere?"

"I couldn't get through my work if I didn't; it would entail endless
delay in the administration of relief. I'm practically single-handed in
this circle. For example, to-morrow morning I have to cover, roughly
speaking, about fifteen miles before breakfast. How would you like to
come with me? Have you a saddle--I could mount you."

Obviously the offer tempted her. "Yes, I brought out my saddle. Perhaps
it wouldn't be a bad thing----"

"It would give you a further opportunity of condemning our iniquitous
methods," said Philip meekly.

She let the thrust pass. "All right; what time do you start?"

"About six. Is that too early for you?"

"Don't talk rot! Send the gee to our camp, and I'll be ready."

"Good! Now can I offer you any refreshment--will you have a cup of tea
or coffee, or," he ventured, in view of the cigarettes, "a peg?"

"Nothing, thank you." She rose a little reluctantly. "Now I must get
back----"

"Have you a lantern?" he inquired, for the sudden Indian dusk had
descended.

She looked out of the tent. "No, I never thought of it, but I can find
my way all right."

"I'll come with you----"

She protested. He paid no attention; and presently they were stumbling
along side by side in the wake of a peon who marched ahead swinging a
hurricane lantern, and banging a staff on the ground to scare possible
snakes that at this season, waking from their winter sleep, were apt to
lie curled in the warm dust, a danger to pedestrians.

"Are you married?" she asked him suddenly.

"No, I am a lone being, and I think it is just as well."

"Why?"

"If I had a wife and children it would only mean separation sooner or
later. Children must be sent home after a certain age, not only on
account of health and education but because the moral atmosphere is bad
for them, and to my mind the children should be considered before the
husband."

"How do you mean--the moral atmosphere?" she asked argumentatively. "I
have always understood that natives were excellent with children, kind
and patient and faithful."

"They are all that, bless them!" he said, "but their ideas of discipline
are not quite the same as our own. To tell lies is merely a matter of
self-protection, and, all wrong as it may seem, they knuckle under to
English children, let them have their own way, and encourage them
indirectly to be arrogant and self-indulgent, taking a sort of pride in
their faults! At least that is what my married friends tell me."

"Then the parents are to blame!" declared Miss Baker severely, "for
leaving their children to the care of servants while they amuse
themselves flirting and dancing and playing games! You don't accuse this
Mr. Kipling everybody talks about of writing what is not true, I
conclude?"

"Have you never read a preface to one of his books in which he
particularly warns his readers not to judge of the dirt of a room by the
sweepings in a corner? Parents in India are much the same as parents in
England, and parents in England haven't to contend with exile and
climate and long separations"--he paused, feeling he was wasting his
breath, and was ashamed of a spiteful little sense of satisfaction when
at that moment she tripped and clung to him to save herself a fall.

"Now, if I hadn't been with you"--he could not help reminding her.

"I should have come a cropper, and probably been none the worse," she
replied ungratefully. "What were we saying? Oh! about parents in India.
Why do you go into the Indian services at all then? You know what to
expect!"

"Why do we go into the army and the navy--the worst paid professions on
earth? It's an instinct, thank goodness, and with it goes the love of
justice and fair play towards the weak and unprotected. It's the keynote
of our power all the world over."

"Oh! you are hopeless!" cried Miss Baker. "I call it love of conquest,
and position, and power!"

"Call it what you like, don't you shut your eyes to the results--anyway,
out here."

"The results! Poverty and famine, and a refusal to allow the people to
govern themselves, refusal to mix with them socially----"

"Wait a moment," he interrupted, angry with himself because he could not
keep silence. "Which in your opinion should govern--the Hindus or the
Mohammedans?"

"Of course the Hindus. India is _their_ country."

"The Mohammedans would have something to say to that; or, rather, it
would be deeds not words. And how about other nations who would all like
to exploit India? We could hardly be expected to keep up an army and a
navy to prevent them from doing so if we had no stake in the country."

"Go on," she urged sarcastically. "I am listening."

"When India is in a position to protect herself from internal quarrels
and foreign invasion it will be time enough for us to clear out; and as
far as social questions go I can assure you they are not at all anxious
to mix with us. Their customs and traditions are all opposed to ours....
But it would take weeks to give you even the most superficial idea of
the difficulties, and at the end I suppose you wouldn't believe me."

"Oh! I've heard it all over and over again from hide-bound old generals
and retired civilians at home, the same time-worn arguments that really
mean nothing. However, I am quite ready to believe that you, personally,
are well disposed towards the people, and that you do your best for them
in spite of the trammels of red tape!"

He refrained from an amused expression of gratitude. After all, the
girl was actuated by benevolent intention, however befogged, and she was
enduring discomforts, almost hardship, in her self-imposed philanthropy,
as he realised when they arrived at the Zenana Mission encampment. What
wretched little tents, badly pitched, ill-lighted, with a clamouring
throng of distressful humanity pressing up to the very flaps. From the
tent in the centre came the sound of singing; a familiar hymn tune.

"There now!" exclaimed Miss Baker in vexation. "I'm late for evening
prayers. I'm an atheist myself, but I try to fit in with my chief's
customs."

"I hope for her sake that you spare her argument on the subject of
religion at least!" said Flint with a magnanimous laugh, as he held her
hand in farewell. "We shall meet again to-morrow morning."

He watched her disappear into the principal tent, and turned his steps
back to his camp, his feelings ajar. Why would these good folk from home
interfere in what they knew nothing about. What mischief they made, all
unwittingly for the most part, adding to the difficulties already so
great for those who were working under conditions but dimly understood
even by the faction who trusted their own countrymen, and did not regard
the English official as a thief and a bully and a time server....

In spite of Miss Baker's tiresome attitude, he looked forward to seeing
her the following morning. She was a stimulating companion and engaging
in her way with her boyish figure, her eager grey eyes, her expressive,
irregular features.... In time, if they met often enough, they might
become friends--an armed friendship, perhaps, but none the less
interesting for that.... What would Stella have thought of her, Stella
with her passionate perception of the work that England had done in the
past, was doing in the present, would continue to do as long as she was
permitted, with honest endeavour, for India. He was conscious of a
revival of his old ambitions as he plodded over the uneven track, and
far into the night he sat writing, reading, spurred, refreshed as well,
by the unexpected diversion of Miss Baker's visit and her violent
opinions.



CHAPTER II


Miss Baker could ride; not a doubt about that, thought Philip. She sat
squarely in her saddle, hands down, right shoulder well back; her habit
skirt was very short, she wore a stiff white shirt and collar, and a
linen coat. The whole effect was neat and smart and pleasing. How she
chattered as they rode over the bare, dusty plain! Some of her theories
rather startled her cavalier; for example, she considered it immoral of
people to have large families unless they could afford to educate the
children highly--this with reference to some friends of Miss Abigail's
who had spent the previous day in the Zenana Mission camp on their way
to the nearest station, a missionary with his spouse and offspring.

"Did you tell them so?" asked Flint with amused curiosity.

"Yes, of course I did; and I asked them how they were going to provide
for three boys and two girls in the future."

"What did they say?"

"They said the Lord would provide, and that the mission granted an extra
allowance for each child!"

"Then you can hardly blame them, I suppose."

"I think that clergymen, and doctors, and schoolmasters ought all to be
celibates. They should be able to give their whole attention to their
work unhampered by domestic affairs."

"That is expecting a good deal, surely?"

"I don't see it. Marriage isn't everything. Now if I were a man I should
never marry."

"And not being a man?"

"Oh, I dare say I shall marry some day, but my husband would have to
share my views on all the important questions of the day, and believe
absolutely in the equality of the sexes. At present I hate men."

"Oh, dear!"

"Yes, that is partly why I came out to India, to escape"--she checked
herself as though she had been on the brink of a confidence, then
added--"to escape worrying attentions."

"Then it was not entirely devotion to the downtrodden masses of this
miserable country?" he asked slyly.

She flushed and said with lofty evasion: "I felt India needed me, I
wanted to _help_ India. I don't mean to stay out here permanently, of
course; only till I have collected enough information and proof to open
the eyes of the electors at home. I shall write a book. I think I shall
call it 'What I saw in India.'"

"Why not 'The Evil English in the East,'" he suggested amiably. "An
alliterative title is always arresting. The one you have thought of
might be regarded as almost too uncommon?"

She laughed as though unable to help herself. At least, it seemed she
had some saving sense of humour.

"How silly you are! You don't take life seriously at all!"

"Perhaps not;" he spoke carelessly, but he felt he could have shaken
Miss Baker--conceited, self-satisfied monkey!--puffed up with her
superficial views, untouched as she was by trouble or experience, so
ready to blame and condemn where she did not understand. Of what avail
to argue with her, why should he bother about what she thought, if she
ever really thought at all! Help India, indeed! Who was she to help or
even hinder the great machinery of Eastern administration, and as to her
independence of sex--some day she would learn that she was but flying in
the face of nature, and he hoped she would suffer for it.

"We must get on," he said; and as they put their horses into a gallop he
found himself admiring the way in which she handled the mount he had
lent her, a high-spirited young chestnut, unaccustomed to a side-saddle,
yet aware that liberties could not be taken with his present rider;
Flint noted the strong turn of her wrist, the firmness of her long, slim
foot in the stirrup, the poise of her straight young figure. It crossed
his mind, but for her wild ideas what a wife she would make for a man
whose life was all action; ready for emergencies and discomforts,
willing to rough it, daring, unafraid. She ought to marry a colonial, go
with him to Canada, Australia, his equal in physical endurance, and
disregard of convention, yet mastered by his manhood, the mother of a
string of strong children whether they could be educated highly or not!
An unworthy temptation assailed him; as they arrived at an outstanding
relief camp he helped her from her saddle with a bold tenderness that
held an element of revenge, held her hand a little longer than was
strictly necessary, looked into her fine grey eyes, of purpose intently.
He could not tell if she recognised the unspoken signal; if she did she
ignored it, and presently they were deep in the object of their
expedition, tramping over hot, hard ground, watching the slow movements
of the ragged crowd--women and children breaking up dry clumps of soil,
carrying it on their heads in baskets; men and boys digging, scraping.
It was like an ants' nest without the energy and diligence of those
insects, for the workers were weak and apathetic, only looking forward,
as was natural, to the distribution of food and money that was to
follow.

Flint was on the look out for bullying among the overseers, for petty
pilfering on the part of the distributors of supplies; he listened
patiently to complaints, investigated grievances, and entirely forgot
Miss Baker except when she asked questions or got in his way. She
followed him for the most part silently, unobtrusively, and the morning
was well advanced before it suddenly struck him that his companion must
be feeling the need of refreshment. They were a long way from
headquarters, far from any place of accommodation; the sun was
overpowering; he noted that she looked tired and hot, he himself felt
fagged. His inspection was not yet completed. Never mind, he could
return this evening and finish it at the price of a little extra
pressure and exertion.

He took out his watch. "Look here," he said penitently, "you must be
pretty well done. Let us get back as quick as we can and have a good
breakfast in my camp."

She hesitated; if he could have seen into her mind she was thinking of
the kind of meal she might expect on her return to Miss Abigail's tents
(boiled rice and pulse, and perhaps a stew that had seen service
already). She was despising herself because the temptation was strong to
accept the invitation, and not altogether on account of the better fare.

"Wouldn't it be proper for you to breakfast with me alone?" he asked
provocatively.

"I wasn't thinking of that!" she exclaimed with scorn, and added, not
quite honestly: "I was only wondering if Miss Abigail would be keeping
breakfast waiting for me----" She knew perfectly well that Miss Abigail
would not.

"She knows you are with me, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes----"

"Then why worry? Come along."

On their way back she asked him: "You do this kind of thing every day?"

"Certainly. It's my job."

"But you are paid for it," she remarked vindictively.

"One must live, though perhaps in my case you don't see the necessity.
Anyway I get no extra pay, so it's not for pure love of gain!"

"How do you mean? Weren't you ordered to do the work?"

"As it happens, no. I volunteered."

"Then where would you have been if you hadn't?"

"At Simla perhaps, or somewhere away from the famine area in my own
province."

"Then you don't belong to this part?"

"No, I've been lent."

"At your own request?"

"Haven't I just said so?"

For a space she was silent. Then she said grudgingly: "After all, it's
nothing so very wonderful!"

"I quite agree. I lay no claim to doing anything wonderful. Now _you_,
on the other hand, have left a comfortable home and quite a different
kind of life at, I am sure, an enormous sacrifice, to come out and _help
India_!"

She winced obviously, and he enjoyed her discomfiture; yet his
conscience smote him, for he queried inwardly if he would have been here
at all but for the fateful happenings at Rassih! At the same time he did
not intend to enlighten Miss Baker on that point. For the sake of other
Englishmen who had given their services in this terrible affliction
without reserve, better let her believe that he had been actuated solely
by a stern sense of duty. The result of his work was the same, he had
foregone advancement, was out of the running, over-working himself
without hope of reward in the future. If he were not on the spot someone
else would be; the whole thing was general, not individual. England was
doing her duty by India comprehensively, he was but a fly on the wheel,
and he neither desired nor expected special recognition. But he felt
entitled to exact just approbation, on these grounds, from this
arrogant girl who, in her way, represented a certain section of public
opinion at home.

Save for a few desultory remarks on the scenery she said little more as
they urged their horses onward, but he noted a new diffidence in her
attitude; she was less aggressive, a little softer, and despite his
contempt for her outlook on Indian affairs he could not forbear to take
advantage of her weakening. He talked seriously, earnestly, of the
problems and peoples of the country, set forth their helpless dependence
on disinterested rule, defended British enterprise; and to his
satisfaction she listened. Through it all he watched her clever,
expressive face; how she showed her feelings!--an undisciplined nature.
One moment he saw hesitation, doubt of her own judgment; the next
incredulity, impatience of his arguments; again a little light of
enthusiasm in her eyes, albeit reluctant, as he spoke of the long line
of heroes who had made India what she was--prosperous, peaceful, secure,
in so far as such a vast and complex country could be secure, unless
danger was fostered from within.... She had a good heart if her brain
was ill-trained, falsely developed; he wondered what her childhood had
been like, how she had been brought up, and later, as they were seated
at breakfast in his tent, he asked her if she had ever been at school.

"Oh, yes, the ordinary thing, a rotten place at Brighton--all music and
French and dancing. You see, we are very rich people! My father is a big
manufacturer, he began life with the proverbial half-crown in his
pocket. We are not blue-blooded at all, I can assure you! My mother was
the daughter of a small artisan. To the day of her death, a few years
ago, she hated late dinner, and was afraid of the servants. I firmly
believe she died, poor dear, because she had to live in an atmosphere
that was too much for her. She couldn't stand the strain when my father
bought a place in the country and a house in London, and she was obliged
to entertain and meet people she had never been accustomed to. She was a
victim to the intermediate stage. In time, of course, all the big places
will be in the hands of go-ahead men like the pater who have made their
own fortunes, and the idle rich will disappear."

"What about the descendants of the go-ahead men?" put in Philip. "Have
you any brothers?"

"Yes, two----"

"And are they working for their livings?"

"Well," she moved uneasily, "one is in the Guards and the other is still
at Oxford----"

"And you were sent to an expensive school for young ladies at Brighton?
In a few generations, I suppose, you will be ousted from your big place
in your turn!"

"But we know how to take care of our money. It won't be squandered in
racing and cards and dissolute living."

"How do you know? Doesn't it depend on the individual? There are plenty
of pedigree landlords who are models of stewardship and right thinking,
doing their duty by the country and their responsibilities, just as
there are self-made men who are selfish and hard and tyrannical. It
isn't entirely a question of birth and heredity. I am of opinion that if
a man with an inherited position and property is false to his trust he
should be deprived of it by law, but when he does his best he should be
protected from attacks that are prompted more often by jealousy than by
concern for the poor. What do the majority of self-made men go for, once
they are 'made'? Titles and 'places.' Isn't it true?"

The girl crumbled the toast on her plate with restless fingers.
"Everything is all wrong," she burst out presently. "My father won't see
that we ought to keep only just enough for ourselves and share the rest
with the people who have helped him to make his money. Why should we
have an estate in the country and a sort of palace in London, while our
workmen are living in slums! It's abominable. I admit we are as bad in
our way as the families that can trace their descent for hundreds of
years and look upon their lands and their tenants as just mediums of
supply for their luxuries and amusements. It will always be the same, I
suppose!"

"It has been the same since the beginning of the world," said Flint,
"each man for himself. It's human nature. Have some more coffee?"

"Yes, please. It's delicious. Miss Abigail seems to think it's wrong to
have decent food. Why she and her kind aren't all dead from poisoning I
can't imagine."

"The survival of the fittest, perhaps."

"Their hearts and their souls are bound up in the work, and their
stomachs don't seem to matter. I feel I am horribly material and
greedy. Perhaps I haven't a soul or a heart, only a stomach!"

"In that case you wouldn't be out here," he suggested for her comfort,
"giving your time and your money in a good cause."

"I don't want to take credit for that. I am beginning to see that I may
have come out with a mistaken motive, not so much to do my little bit
over the famine as to find fault with what seemed to me an autocratic
mode of government. If all Indian officials were like you----"

"Like me!" Philip gave a bitter little laugh. "I may also have had my
motive in doing famine work apart from the welfare of the people. We are
all actuated by motives, principally selfish and private."

She finished her coffee. "Anyway," she said, rising, "I am glad we have
met, though you have upset my ideas and made me feel horrid when I
thought I was such an angel of mercy and reform! I am afraid I am very
conceited, but it is so nice to feel superior and generous!"

He saw tears in her eyes, and he took her outstretched hand in true
comradeship, ashamed of his attempt that morning to play upon her
natural instincts. "Don't bother about motives," he said in friendly
understanding, "go on with your blessed work. We are all doing what we
can for the people of this great old country, and believe me they aren't
insensible to our efforts. They know in their hearts. Some day they will
stand by us and give all they can in recognition of what we have done in
the past for them. The test is bound to come, and whoever gets the
credit doesn't matter. The result will be our reward. The only fear is
that all the drudgery and the sacrifice may be undone, go for nothing,
wrecked by a clique composed of self-seekers, encouraged by those who
have quite other ends to gain."

They left the tent together. He helped her into her saddle, and watched
her ride off attended by the syce who would bring back the chestnut; the
Honourable Dorothy Baker--born of the people, reared as an aristocrat,
who had set out to patronise those among whom such an anomaly was
impossible, unthinkable! How invaluable might be the zeal of her kind
rightly inspired and directed in the cause of India, could they only
divest themselves of the very arrogance they were so anxious to impute
to the men who were guarding the safety of the brightest jewel in the
crown of England....

For the next few hours Flint buried himself in papers. The heat and the
dust and the flies were distracting; he found it hard to fix his mind on
his work, and his thoughts wandered perversely. He remembered he had not
yet written his weekly letter to his mother; it had been so difficult to
write naturally after the upheaval at Rassih, he had felt such a
hypocrite--allowing his parents to infer that in volunteering for famine
work he had been prompted solely by a sense of duty; yet to tell them
the truth was beyond him. He pictured the old people in their
comfortable South Kensington home; his father always busy over local
charities and municipal boards and councils. Major-General Sir Philip
Flint had not shed his energy and public spirit with his retirement from
Indian service. Dear old chap!--white haired, courtly, ever ready to
listen when people came to him with grievances, real or imaginary; and
the mater, with her large circle of old Indian friends, her bazaars, and
her tea parties, and the never ending stream of visitors she was always
so ready to "put up," people just arrived from India, old friends
settled in the country who were intent on a week's shopping; hospitality
was in her bones. She would have loved to harbour grandchildren. Philip
knew how she regretted that his sister was not the wife of an Indian
civilian, or an Indian Army man, though her marriage to a prominent
specialist in Harley Street had been highly satisfactory, as Lady Flint
admitted; of course, she would say, it was a comfort to feel that Grace
was so well provided for, but Grace lived in such a different world from
their own--a world composed of public people, people connected with the
stage, and literature, and art, politics, the law; no dull old Generals,
or members of the Indian Council, and so on for Grace! and there were no
babies to come and spend the day with Granny, to be taken to the
seaside, to be fussed over and spoiled.... Her great hope now, as she
told him in her letters, was that Philip would marry some dear girl
whose family, like his own, had served the Indian Government for
generations, so that they would all understand each other and carry on
the old traditions comfortably, friends in every sense. Grace's friends
and in-laws were a sort of nervous terror to poor Lady Flint. What
would be her feelings, questioned her son as he sat dreaming of his
mother in his tent, so far away from her, could she know the truth,
could she realise that her hopes of such a daughter-in-law would never
be fulfilled so long as Stella Crayfield claimed his heart; and that
would be for always--till he died....

The pen dropped from his fingers, he leaned back in his chair, drowsy,
inert. Jacob was snoring in a corner; from without came the ceaseless
murmur of the concourse awaiting his decisions, and on his table lay
such piles of papers still to be examined. From sheer weariness he fell
asleep and dreamed of Stella, of their hopeless love, and mingled with
it all was the memory of Dorothy Baker, vigorous, purposeful, arresting.
He seemed to be standing between the two girls at the base of a long
flight of steps; they were urging him upward, but he felt tired,
slack-limbed, heavy-hearted; he wanted to rest. The steps were so steep,
high as a pyramid of Egypt; he could not see the top, it was lost in a
haze of luminous light. "Go on, go on," they were saying; they were
holding each other's hands, as it seemed to him conspiring to urge him
forward. "Go on; they have all gone up in their turn--look! some are
already at the top, some have died on the way, some have lost
everything, but never mind--go on, go on...."

And he struggled, lifting his feet to the steps that were rough and
burning, to find himself in the midst of a ghostly pageant. Near him was
a little old man with dim tragic eyes, dressed in a blue coat and knee
breeches. Where had he seen him before? There was a world of sorrow, of
bitter disappointment in the small, bowed figure, so pathetic, yet
breathing a spirit of wisdom and untiring tenacity. "Who are you, little
old man, tell me who you are?" Philip heard himself asking. And faintly,
as though borne on the hot west wind, came the whisper of a name--was it
Warren Hastings? A wrinkled yellow hand was raised, pointing upward....
A few more steps; now he was pushing through a motley host all strangely
garbed. Some of them held up a Cross and a Book, some displayed tokens
of trade; there were women with empty arms, weeping for the husbands and
the children they had lost, yet glorying in the sacrifice; and a band of
people, half English half Indian, who had given their lives in the cause
of their great two parents. They were lining the ladder, the stiff,
steep ladder.... Someone stepped out from the crowd and laid an
encouraging hand on his arm: "Go on, my boy, fight! There is nothing
like fighting!" and to his horror Philip saw that the speaker's throat
was cut, that he held in his hand a little penknife and a pen, just a
quill pen.... Who was it? Who was it had ended his life in a moment of
mad impulse, the fine brain snapping with the strain and the fervour of
work and responsibility? Ah, now he remembered; it was Clive, great
Clive! so noble, so strong in his influence and judgment, in his making
of Indian history. Always a fighter, even from his schoolboy days....
What a pitiful end to a brave career! and yet what matter when the task
had been accomplished, victories won; at least he had but sought peace
and repose in his own way and at his own time. The hand that held the
fatal little knife was also waving him upward, pointing to the top....
With him were others, ghosts from the past, whispering names, magical
names, that lived not only in the memories of those of their own race
and colour but in the hearts of the people they had served and fought
for, and saved; also great fighters with dusky faces and flashing eyes,
faithful supporters, fearless and fierce, without whose allegiance all
the strife and the sacrifice might have been useless; one in spirit with
their leaders, East and West bound together by one high aim--that of
justice and right.... "Don't fail us," they chorused. "Keep going, give
of your best as we did before you!" And they waved their swords and
their scimitars, and the Cross, driving him upward, till at the summit
he saw a speck of light that, as he climbed, grew in brilliance, took
shape, and formed itself into letters of fire: "_Star of India_."

He cried: "What can I do? I am only one of a crowd, a fly on the wheel!"
The sound of his own voice wakened him; he stood up, still dazed,
haunted by the fantastic dream. Jacob was snoring in the corner; hoarse
voices murmured outside; a swirl of hot dust and wind shook the tent.
Mechanically Flint sorted his papers, put on his hat, and went forth
into the hot stillness of the evening.



CHAPTER III


As was only to be expected, Miss Baker had brought a photographic outfit
with her to the Zenana Mission camp. Flint came across her next evening
endeavouring to snap a little bevy of "famine wallahs," new arrivals,
squatting with their cooking vessels till their turn for attention
should come. There seemed to be no extreme cases among them, and though
all were obviously weary, in need of food, none were too exhausted to
exhibit lively alarm at sight of the Feringhee woman who waved her hands
and pointed her black box at them. They hid their faces, turned their
backs, jabbered expostulations, finally rose and scattered like so many
frightened fowls, leaving their utensils behind them.

Philip halted, just for a moment. He was in a hurry, on his way to take
over a large consignment of incoming supplies.

"Illustrations for a book, I suppose?" he said, smiling at her annoyance
with the fleeing little crowd; of course she was ignorant of the belief
among the rustic population that when a picture is taken a portion of
the spirit goes with it, causing calamity. "Take photographs when
they're not looking," he advised.

She turned the camera on to him. "Let me take you. At any rate you can
stand still, I imagine. I must take something. I don't know how many
plates I haven't wasted over these people. What on earth is the matter
with them?"

"I can't stop to explain or to stand still at present. A lot of stuff is
arriving and I must go and receive it."

"Come and have tea with us to-morrow, and I'll take you then. Miss
Abigail told me to ask you, if you came along. She's over there."

Miss Baker indicated a temporary enclosure in the near distance, where
he could see a short, substantial figure trundling about amidst a
gathering of women and children.

"Thanks, I'd like to come. I ought to have paid my respects before now."
He cantered off, leaving Miss Baker preparing to photograph the
abandoned pots and pans.

When the time came for him to fulfil the engagement for the following
afternoon he was surprised to realise how eagerly he had looked forward
to it. Work and anxiety had slackened a little with the arrival of fresh
supplies, and he felt almost light-hearted as he bathed and got into
clean flannels; for the first time since he had left Rassih he caught
himself singing in his bath. He walked the good half-mile that lay
between his own encampment and that of the Zenana Mission lady, Jacob at
his heels, well groomed like his master; they were a good-looking
English pair.

Miss Baker was outside the living tent photographing Laban, the native
Bible teacher, who posed in mingled pride and uneasiness--proud to be
taken in his black alpaca coat and pork-pie cap, a shiny-bound Testament
in one hand, a bulging umbrella in the other; uneasy because deep down
in his mind, for all his enlightenment, there lurked the same fear that
had brought about the flight of the famine wallahs.

"One minute," Miss Baker called out to the approaching visitor; a click,
and she raised her head triumphantly. "Thank you, Mr. Laban. That ought
to be very good. You shall have some copies to send to your home, and
I'll put your picture in my book."

"Mr. Laban" salaamed, and withdrew hurriedly. Then it was Flint's turn.
He submitted while Miss Baker took him seated, standing, with Jacob,
without Jacob; she fetched a larger camera from her own tent, and talked
of head-and-shoulders, profile, full, and three-quarter face portraits.
She commanded him to take off his hat.

"But I shall get sunstroke, and you would have to nurse me," he
quibbled, rather bored with the performance, though Miss Baker's
engrossment amused him, and she was a pleasant vision in her blue linen
frock, a bright flush on her cheeks, her ruddy hair curling about her
neck and ears and forehead beneath what might have been a boy's straw
hat.

"Oh! Miss Abigail would do that!" she assured him. "I hate nursing. I
know nothing about it. Come into the shade of the trees behind the
tents."

The little camp was pitched close to a couple of mango trees, probably
the sole survivors of a once flourishing grove, but as the space
surrounding their trunks had been appropriated by the servants as an
open-air kitchen, shared by the shigram bullocks, a goat and her kids, a
collection of fowls, and a few sprawling children, Flint hesitated,
compromised.

"Why not the big peepul tree further back?" he suggested.

The tree in question stood solitary and majestic between the camp and
the adjacent village, a landmark in the wide flatness, mightier, far
more ancient than the mango trees. No doubt it had once shaded a temple
long since ruined and decayed.

"But it's such a way off," objected Miss Baker. "We'd better have tea
first. The light will be better afterwards, too."

Miss Abigail settled the question for the moment. She emerged from the
living tent, a stout, ungainly body, grey-haired, middle-aged, browned
by exposure and innumerable hot weathers. But there was character in the
blunt, homely features, courage in the small light eyes; a woman to be
trusted and esteemed in spite of her unfortunate appearance. Philip
liked her instinctively. She reminded him of a cottage loaf, rather
overbaked, all knobs and crusty protuberances, spreading and wholesome.

Miss Baker introduced them with a proprietary air that included them
both, and they entered the tent where tea was laid carelessly on an
unsteady camp table. The spout of the teapot was broken, the plates were
all chips and cracks, there was a pat of Danish butter, goat's milk,
some slabs of thick toast, and a tin of jam roughly opened with some
blunt implement.

He glanced at Miss Baker, saw her nose wrinkle ever so slightly, as
though in suppressed distaste. Was she contrasting the spectacle with
afternoon tea in "the sort of palace" in London, and "the place in the
country"?

Nevertheless, it was a cheerful little meal. They laughed and talked.
Flint described to Miss Abigail the scene he had witnessed the previous
evening when the "famine wallahs" had refused to be photographed. He
explained the reason to Miss Baker, who said it was, of course, the
fault of the Government that such silly ideas should still be general.
The people should have been educated out of them by this time.

"What about the freedom of the individual?" he inquired. "Why should
they be photographed if they dislike it, for whatever reason?"

"That's a smack at me, I suppose," said Miss Baker huffily.

"Not a very hard smack, any way." He looked at her with a friendly
smile, and, mollified, she smiled back at him. It turned out that Miss
Abigail knew the Beards at Rassih, though she had seen nothing of them
for years. She asked many questions about them and their work, few of
which Flint was able to answer, indeed he could hardly remember what the
Beards were like. They talked "shop," discussed the works, and the
shelters, and the hospital, agreed how lucky it was that the well in the
village was holding out satisfactorily so far; Miss Abigail was certain
she had seen a small cloud in the distance that morning, and was
confident that if they all prayed hard enough rain would fall within a
reasonable time. Flint said politely that he hoped so indeed; Miss Baker
tried not to look scornful.

Between them they emptied the teapot and finished the toast; and Miss
Baker observed that if Mr. Flint insisted on being photographed under
the peepul tree they had better be up and doing. Miss Abigail was
persuaded to accompany them, though she openly grudged the time, and
they plodded through the dust of the rough road that led past the camp,
and the great tree, on to the village beyond.

"I hate peepul trees," said Miss Abigail, with an odd little shudder;
"the leaves never seem to be still, even when there is hardly a breath
of wind to stir them. Look at them, hark at them now!"

The flat spade-shaped leaves trembled in the sultry evening heat; the
faint, continuous rustle sounded like whispering voices. No wonder
Philip reflected that spirits were believed by the people to dwell in
the branches. Miss Abigail glanced disgustedly at the rough, time-worn
stones scattered about its roots; some bore traces of carving,
unmistakable figures of idols, others showed sacred symbols, defaced,
indistinct, all remnants of a former shrine or temple. Bits of rag had
been hung by some passing worshipper to the lower twigs of the tree; it
looked, as Miss Baker remarked, as though someone had flown through the
branches, leaving scraps of their clothing behind them.

"The rags are hung there as a protection against evil spirits," said
Flint; "all the superstitions connected with the peepul tree would fill
a good-sized volume. Look at that bit of thread wound round the trunk;
somebody has lately been propitiating the tree by walking round it and
winding the thread as they went. The peepul is the home of the Hindu
Trinity, as well as of mischievous devils!"

"There's a nasty atmosphere of idolatry that doesn't suit me at all,"
proclaimed Miss Abigail. "It's high time a Christian was buried here to
counteract all the wickedness this horrid old tree must have witnessed
in its time!" She smiled at her own little pleasantry.

Philip laughed. "And then the grave would become a sort of shrine in its
turn, and the people would make offerings to it, and hang more rags than
ever in the branches above it!"

Miss Baker turned to Miss Abigail. "But you wouldn't like to be buried
here, would you?" she inquired, aghast.

"I don't care where I am buried when my time comes, but here for choice
if I thought it would do any good." Miss Abigail dived into a capacious
pocket, pulled out a pair of folding scissors, and calmly proceeded to
cut the thread that encircled the tree trunk. "There! That's my protest
against the devil and all his bad works."

To the embarrassment of her companions she then knelt down on the roots
and in a loud voice said a vigorous prayer. What a curious contrast she
presented to her surroundings--an almost grotesque figure in an attitude
of supplication with her dust-coloured gown flowing about her, and an
unlovely sun hat on the back of her head. Jacob sniffed at the soles of
her boots that protruded from beneath her skirts. The prayer finished,
she rose without a trace of self-consciousness, brushed the dust from
her knees, and requested Miss Baker to make haste over the photography
as her help would soon be needed in the camp with the evening work.
Then she stumped off towards the tents.

"Did you ever!" exclaimed Miss Baker, looking after the retreating
figure. "Now I suppose something awful will happen to us all. I feel
quite nervous. Hark at the leaves. There really might be something
moving about in the branches!"

"Shall we hang up a piece of rag?" suggested Philip chaffingly.

Half in earnest, she took out her handkerchief, a white wisp with a
pretty coloured border.

"It's a pity to tear that," said Philip.

"A sacrifice!" she replied; and before he could stop her she had torn it
in two. "Now, you hang up one bit and I'll hang up the other. What would
Miss Abigail say! For goodness' sake don't tell her."

Laughing, they hitched the bits of cambric to the twigs above their
heads, and Miss Baker picked up her camera.

"Now, then, take off your hat, and let's hope the spirits won't spoil my
pictures."



CHAPTER IV


Three days later cholera broke out on the relief works.

During the afternoon a woman had arrived with a dead, monkey-like infant
in her arms and a dilapidated little family clinging to her skirts, only
herself to curl up and die in the heartbreaking fashion common to the
stricken native, haplessly, silently, without struggle or protest.
Before dawn the demon let loose among a weakened multitude had begun to
pick off victims, here in a triangle, there in a semicircle, again in a
neat zigzag, as if with mathematical malice and caprice....

Flint, roused at daybreak by the fatal news, worked for hours in
conjunction with the medical officer, dosing, segregating, attending to
the removal of the dead, striving to stem the panic that might drive the
people to scatter over the countryside, spreading the disease. Then,
after a hasty breakfast, he rode off to Miss Abigail's camp with the
intention of urging Miss Baker to seek some other field of activity in
view of the present danger. He encountered Laban, the Bible teacher,
nervous and voluble, outside the principal tent, and was informed by him
that the two ladies had gone forth the previous morning to visit a small
outpost in connection with the Mission some few miles distant, having
arranged to remain there for the night. They had not yet returned.

"This is a very bad sickness!" added Laban. "How shall we all escape
with our lives--and my grandmother dying in Cawnpur, calling, and
calling for my presence!"

"Meantime," suggested Philip, left cold in regard to the grandmother,
"hadn't you better go and help with the children whose parents are dying
or dead? There's a good supply of tinned milk, and it's got to be served
out quickly."

The teacher's flabby brown face paled to a sickly hue. He swallowed
hard, and his lips moved. Philip fancied he caught the word
"photograph." Probably the wretched Laban, unable to divest himself of
the fear that a portion of his spirit had already gone from him with the
taking of his picture, felt he was doomed unless he could flee to his
home.

"Look here, old chap," went on Flint, prompted by sympathetic
understanding, "aren't you a soldier of Christ, ready to fight for your
own people?"

He asked the question with a certain grim amusement at his own recourse
to missionary diction; but presently the amusement turned to respectful
admiration as Laban shivered, hesitated, then, without further ado or
explanation, marched off in the direction of the camp.

Inwardly Flint salaamed to the shambling figure of this "soldier of
Christ." He said to himself: "By Jove, that's a feather in the
missionary cap!"

He had turned his horse's head, when the sight of a little cloud of dust
in the distance caused him to halt, and out of the dust-cloud appeared a
hooded bullock cart, crawling, bumping over the rough ground at a
snail's pace. He waited, wondering how the energetic Miss Baker could
bear with such leisurely travel, since patience was hardly one of her
gifts. The bullocks must have taken hours covering the distance. When at
last the vehicle pulled up at the camp a flushed and fuming young person
scrambled from beneath the hood.

"Thank goodness!" exclaimed Miss Baker, shaking the dust from her
clothes and stretching her cramped limbs. "Hullo, Mr. Flint!" Her face
brightened at sight of him. "What do you want?"

"Good morning, had a nice drive?" He smiled at the grimace that was her
answer, and dismounted.

"I want to speak to Miss Abigail." It had occurred to him that Miss
Abigail's powers of persuasion might prove more effective than his own
in the matter of counselling change of air for Miss Baker, the girl
being more or less under her authority. Truth to tell, he rather shrank,
with masculine cowardice, from a task that he anticipated would involve
something of a scene.

"Here she is, then--what's left of her after that awful journey!" There
was plenty of Miss Abigail left; the stout, square figure clambered
backwards from the cart, and he took comfort from the fat, kindly face
and brave little eyes. He drew her aside.

"Bad news," he said; "we've got cholera in the works!"

"Ah! so it has come! I don't know which I have been dreading most, that
or smallpox. Well, we must all turn to and do our best."

"But what about Miss Baker? She oughtn't to be allowed to stay----"

"Why not? She has put her hand to the plough, and surely you don't
expect her to turn back?"

He felt annoyed, disconcerted. "It's all right for us," he deprecated,
"but Miss Baker should go."

"Well then, you had better tell her to do so. Frankly I shan't be sorry
if she takes your advice. Amateurs are more bother than they are worth
in my line of work. But _I_ can't urge her to bolt!"

"Don't you feel responsible for her safety? A girl out here alone----"

"She came of her own free will, as far as I know, and was handed over to
me by the Charitable Relief Fund Committee. I didn't ask for her. But
now she's here I consider she should take the rough with the smooth like
the rest of us. I will leave you to settle the question."

With a nod and an exasperating smile of unsympathetic comprehension Miss
Abigail stumped off to her tent.

Miss Baker approached. "What has happened?" she asked. "You look
peevish. Don't cry!"

"I've been telling Miss Abigail she ought to send you away at once."

"And are you so miserable because she has refused or consented? Why
should I be sent away? What have I done?"

"Cholera has started among the people," he told her bluntly, "and you
must pack up and be off, unless you want to add to our anxieties!"

Could he believe his eyes? Instead of the torrent of lofty expostulation
he had expected, and hoped successfully to combat, the girl simply
showed him the tip of her tongue. "There!" she added defiantly after
this vulgar exhibition.

"Do, for Heaven's sake, listen to reason----" he began, irately.

"Don't waste time," she interrupted. "I know what you want me to hear,
but I can't wait for your words of wisdom. I must make haste to pack and
run away as fast as I can!"

She darted towards Miss Abigail's tent, throwing him a glance of
derisive revolt over her shoulder. He was helpless. Anyway he had but
done what seemed to him his duty, and he had been given no chance of
emphasising the fact that in leaving the camp she would be sparing him
and Miss Abigail additional responsibility.... Yet he doubted if any
argument under the sun would prevail with her now. To remain and risk
death would, of course, enhance the feeling of superiority and
benevolence that on her own admission she found so pleasant!

He rode back to the works determined to put her out of his mind. He had
more to think of, he told himself, than a tiresome, pig-headed girl; but
later in the day, when he caught sight of her with Miss Abigail and the
Bible-teacher herding a flock of women and children into a new-made
enclosure, his conscience murmured reproaches. At least Dorothy Baker's
pluck was undeniable, even though it might be the pluck of ignorance and
self-will....

That was a dreadful night. At times the hot, still air rang with the
weeping and wailing of mourners, piteous cries that rose and fell; the
silences that intervened seemed even worse--while the fight with death
went on. Now and then it appeared as if the fatal scourge had been
checked in its merciless progress; then again, as though leaping the
barriers, it would break out in some quarter hitherto free. Luckily
remedies held out, and more were expected in answer to urgent telegrams.
By dawn further medical help had arrived, and as the sun rose, fierce
and cruel, Flint felt justified in snatching a rest. He was roused from
heavy sleep by a message, a message scribbled in obvious haste and
agitation by Miss Baker from the Mission camp.

"Please come quickly; it's Miss Abigail."

An ominous summons! Fearing its import, he obeyed it without delay,
ordered a horse to be saddled, threw on his clothes, and rode rapidly.
Arrived, he found, within a sagging little sleeping tent, Miss Baker
seated beside a narrow camp-bed on which, as he perceived at first
glance, lay a dying woman. The once round, tanned face of the lady
missionary was wet and grey, so strangely altered; the sturdy form was
twisted and shrunken. A horrible odour pervaded the atmosphere, mingled
with the smell of drugs and straw and canvas. At the foot of the bed a
dishevelled ayah crouched terrified, weeping. On the rough, uneven
drugget was scattered a confusion of clothes, a couple of tin basins, a
shabby Bible, a notebook. The solitary camp table was covered with
bottles and coarse crockery.

Dorothy Baker turned to Philip Flint; she was pale, trembling a little,
yet wonderfully self-controlled.

"It was so sudden!" she faltered, biting her white lips. "This morning
she was quite well, full of energy and plans. We had come back for some
breakfast, and she was taken ill. Laban fetched the doctor. He stayed as
long as he could, and she got better. He said he thought she would pull
through. I did everything he told me. But now, see! I have sent for him
again----"

Flint laid his finger on a cold wrist. Clearly it was a case of sudden
collapse, beyond hope; even as he felt the faint, racing pulse it grew
feebler, fluttered spasmodically.... He heard the girl's voice in his
ear, a choking whisper: "Is she going? Is it the end?"

He nodded, and the whisper went on: "Just before you came she spoke. She
said she _knew_, and she wanted to be buried under the tree, under the
peepul tree...."

He nodded again. She poured something into a glass and held it out to
him. "Try," she urged, "perhaps she could take it."

To please her he tried, though he knew it was useless. What a pitiful
death scene--the cramped, untidy little tent, the coarse bedclothes, the
scanty furniture; the only ornament, if so it could be called, a text
printed in large black letters on a piece of cardboard, hung to a nail
on the yellow tent-pole: "Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me."

Yet Philip felt it was all ennobled by the sound faith, the unswerving
purpose of the strong, simple soul whose work on earth was over. For a
few moments there was silence; even the stifled, convulsive sobbing of
the ayah crouched at the foot of the bed had ceased; the woman hid her
face in her wrapper. Then, presently, with a long-drawn sigh, a gallant
spirit passed to rest. For Ann Abigail, ardent Christian, brave worker
in the cause of alien souls and bodies, no more weary hot weathers, no
more disappointment, discomfort, sacrifice. And as Philip gazed down on
the blunt features that already were almost beautiful in their repose he
found himself picturing Miss Abigail heading a band of helpless,
bewildered ghosts, leading them from the camp and the works to regions
where suffering, fear and want were unknown....

He remembered Dorothy Baker, and looked round. She was still standing
close beside him, silent, her eyes fixed on the dead face; now she
swayed, put her hand to her throat: "I have never--I have never seen
anyone die----" Then, aware of his concern for her, she added
reassuringly, "I'm all right, I'm not going to faint."

"Come into the other tent; where's your hat?"

She did not seem to know. He looked about, found his own, and held it
umbrella-wise over her head as he guided her quickly through the
burning, midday glare to the living tent that was hardly bigger than the
one they had left. She made no resistance, sat down at his bidding, and
drank the brandy he gave her from his flask. Then he stood watching her
anxiously as the colour came slowly back to her lips and cheeks. His
mind was working swiftly. Somehow he must get the girl away; she had had
a severe shock, her vitality was lowered, he dreaded the
consequences....

Footsteps and voices outside drew him to the door of the tent, and for
the next few hours he and the doctor were busy over such arrangements as
were possible for the funeral. The work finished, Flint sent off a
messenger mounted on a camel to the railway junction with a couple of
telegrams. One was to the headquarters of the Mission in the nearest
station, the other was to the wife of the Magistrate, whom he happened
to know slightly. He had evolved a plan for the benefit of Miss Baker,
and he only trusted she would fall in with it. All the time she had
remained in her tent, effaced herself, for which he was grateful to her;
perhaps she would be equally sensible when he told her what he had
done....

By sundown a rough coffin was ready, composed of packing-cases, a grave
had been dug beneath the big peepul tree, and a melancholy little
procession started, headed by the bullock shigram that bore Miss Abigail
on her final journey. Flint had fetched Miss Baker at the last moment,
he had promised her he would do so, and they walked together behind the
shigram. Laban, crying bitterly, the native doctor, one or two
subordinates followed, and the dead woman's servants; behind them again
came a straggling crowd of people from the works and the camp.

Flint read the burial service. Dorothy Baker stood by his side; now and
then she shivered despite the heavy heat of the evening; he saw her
glance furtively at the scraps of her handkerchief that hung conspicuous
from the branches above their heads. He knew she must be picturing, as
he was, the scene of but a few evenings back, when Miss Abigail had
knelt praying among the roots of the tree.... The air was thick and
sultry, perhaps Miss Abigail was right, perhaps rain was not so far
off.... The setting sun threw a red glow over the land, already the
fireflies danced in the branches, the leaves whispered and rustled; two
or three bats flew from the foliage, skimming over the open grave and
the heap of sulphur-coloured soil at the side.... Now the last words had
been read, now the coffin, wrapped in a blanket, was lowered into the
shallow trench, the dry earth was shovelled over it by the scavenger
coolies of the village, and the gathering, all but Philip Flint and the
English girl and Laban, departed. At a sign from Flint the coolies
collected some of the stones that lay about and piled them upon the
grave.

"Oh! she would hate that!" cried the girl impulsively. "The idols, the
carvings----"

"There must be some protection," Flint told her reluctantly; "you see,
jackals and other animals----"

"I understand." She turned away, gazing sadly over the misty, red plain.
"And we have to leave her here by herself! Oh! I can't bear it--India is
horrible, horrible!"

For the first time she broke down, leaned, weeping, against the trunk
of the tree that, maybe, had seen other human sacrifices offered at its
foot. Flint waited for a moment; then he went to her, took her hand
gently, protectively.

"Don't grieve too much," he said. "She is all right. She would have
asked nothing better than to give her life for her work. We are not
leaving _her_ here, remember!"

"I wish I could think"--she paused, flung out her hands passionately. "I
can't believe anything; I always wondered how she could. And here am I
alive and useless, and she has gone. It seems so unfair!"

"I expect she was very tired," said Flint simply, "and is glad to rest.
Come back to the camp; Laban will see that it is all finished properly,
and I want to talk to you."

They started. It was now almost dark, and he set himself as they went to
tell her what he had arranged--that she should take Miss Abigail's
personal belongings back to the Mission headquarters.

"The things are all ready," he confessed. "I told the ayah to pack them.
There were very few, just a writing-case and a little locked box and
some papers and notebooks; one or two photographs, her Bible and Prayer
Book. The camp things can all follow later. Of course the clothes she
was wearing, and the bed and so on, have had to be burnt, that was
necessary; the Mission people will understand."

At first she said nothing. He went on hurriedly: "I can drive you to
the junction; there's a train----"

"You want me to go?" she asked below her breath, "to go now, to-night?"

His heart sank. Did she mean to refuse? "It's only right. She would have
wished you to go, you know she would."

"But do you wish it?" She bent towards him, trying to see his face in
the gathering dusk.

"Only because I know I ought to send you away."

Silence again for a space. "I telegraphed to the Magistrate's wife as
well. She is a kind woman, she will take you in if you would prefer it
to the Mission House, I am sure."

There was a pathetic little catch in her voice as she answered drearily:
"Yes, I suppose I must go. Oh, how everything has altered, just in a few
hours!"

"That's India."

"I feel so horribly alone."

"It will be different when you get into the station. I wish I could go
with you all the way, but I must stick here till this epidemic is over
and things are working properly. Then I go on to another district, where
I hear matters are pretty bad. Goodness knows when all the trouble will
end."

"I wonder if we shall ever meet again?"

"I hope so. You'll write, won't you, and let me know your plans?"

"Yes, of course. And--shall I go on writing?"

"Would you? I should like it. Sometimes I feel 'horribly alone' too."

"You aren't happy."

"No; I am more alone than you are." They had reached the camp. His trap,
which he had ordered beforehand to meet them, was waiting.

"Just pack what you will want for the next day or two," he advised. "I
will see that everything else is sent after you at once. You must come
and have some dinner with me, and then we'll start for the junction.
It's a long drive. The train goes about midnight."

She obeyed him with a touching docility. For the rest of that curious
evening she might have been a child, leaning on his judgment, listening
to his directions, trusting him utterly. He knew she ate the food that
was set before her because he urged her to do so, accepted his brandy
flask and the escort of his old bearer for the journey, got into the
trap without a word when the moment came for their departure. Jacob
leapt at the wheels in an agony of apprehension that he was to be left
behind.

"Can't he come too?" she asked; and the panting, whimpering Jacob was
hoisted on to her lap. The moon was rising as they set off, a swollen
red moon whose light irradiated the veil of dust that hung over the
spreading, irregular earthworks, the lines of sheds, the outlying groups
of tents. Here and there a few spidery thorn trees showed black and
scanty--it was as if a fire had swept the locality and was still
smouldering. A hum of voices, the thin wailing of women and children,
rose and hung in the hot mist....

The trap rocked over the uneven ground, now sinking into soft powdery
soil, now jerking against clods of earth, hard as iron. They left the
works and the camps behind them, and headed for the grand trunk road
marked by an avenue of great trees in the distance; passed through a
village that was silent, deserted; most of the inhabitants had sought
refuge on the relief works. On the outskirts they encountered an
ash-smeared figure, practically naked, with long, matted hair and
upraised arms, who called after them--cursings or blessings, what matter
which!

The comparatively smooth surface of the grand trunk road came as a
blessed relief, and they spun along swiftly, between the rows of giant
trees, avoiding sleepy carts that crawled in the middle of the highway,
passing silent, plodding little bands of foot travellers. Neither of
them felt inclined for conversation; the hot, still air through which
they clove, the rhythmical beat of the pony's hoofs, lulled their
senses; even Jacob had long since ceased to fidget and demand
attention.... As in a dream they arrived at the junction that with its
satellites of ugly square buildings appeared to have been dropped
without purpose on to a barren plain, and found themselves in the midst
of a clamouring throng of humanity; every caste seemed to be
represented, from the shaven, high-featured Brahmin priest to the
humblest, uncleanest outsider. A proof, so often quoted by the
inexperienced observer, of the power of progress! Yet, while the
"twice-born" would journey cheek by jowl with the pariah, making use of
the railway for his own convenience, in reality it brought them no
nearer to bridging the gulf. A few oblations, ceremonial ablutions, a
liberal religious offering, and the high-caste traveller would feel
cleansed, soul and body, from the evil effect of such contamination....

The interior of the station was suffocating. Philip shouldered a way for
his companion through the crowd to a waiting-room reserved for
"Europeans only," where they found a family of Eurasians already
installed, bundles innumerable, a pack of fretful children, a litter of
domestic belongings spread over the floor.

Philip backed hastily from the entrance. "This won't do," he said. "We
must try the refreshment-room."

It was scarcely more inviting, but at least they had the place to
themselves, save for a couple of slovenly-looking servants who were
flicking crumbs and dead flies from the table laid with dirty
appointments. A dingy punkah began to wave jerkily, moving the
ill-smelling air. Nauseated, weary, miserable because she was about to
part from the only man who had ever appealed to her heart as well as to
her mind, Dorothy Baker sat staring at the pretentious electroplated
epergne set in the middle of the table, coloured tissue paper ruffled
about its base.

How sordid it all was! She dared not look at Philip Flint for fear she
should lose her self-control; the lump in her throat was almost
strangling....

To Philip her silence, her depression, merely indicated that she was
pitifully tired, worn out with the trying events of the day, and no
wonder, poor girl! He felt helpless, at his wits' end to know what more
he could do for her.

"It won't be long now," he said in hopeful desperation, looking at his
watch. "The train ought to be here in a few moments."

"In a few moments," she echoed mechanically.

Then, from outside, came the clangour of metal striking a suspended
length of rail, the Indian equivalent of the station bell, announcing
the train's arrival.

"Here she is!" Philip rose, half relieved, half reluctant. They plunged
into the yelling throng on the platform. Flint's old bearer spread the
Miss-sahib's bedding on an empty seat in the ladies' compartment that
had only one other occupant, a mummy-like form, fast asleep.

"Now you're all right." Philip looked into the carriage. "You'd better
get in and settle yourself for the night."

She held out her hand. "Please don't wait," she said formally, avoiding
his gaze. "Good-byes are so horrid, and they say it's unlucky to see the
last of a traveller!"

"Unlucky for me to see the last of you. I shall miss you."

"Oh, no, you won't," she said sharply. "Good-bye, and very many thanks
for all your kindness."

She got into the train. Through the window he saw her busying herself
with her bag. She did not even look up as the train passed out of the
station. Chilled and puzzled he turned away. What an odd girl! Her
curious behaviour, her grey eyes and freckled eager face filled his
thoughts as he drove back to his camp in the hot moonlight.



CHAPTER V


Slowly, monotonously for Philip the months dragged on, unmarked by any
special events of a personal character. At intervals he heard from Miss
Baker. First she reported her safe arrival at the Mission headquarters,
having considered it "only right" to go there rather than take advantage
of the more comfortable hospitality offered by the Magistrate and his
wife. But apparently this meritorious attitude was not fully understood
or appreciated by her hardworking hosts, for Miss Baker complained that
though the Mission people were always desperately busy themselves they
made no real use of the services she was so ready to render; one of them
had actually advocated her joining the Station Club that she might
obtain some distraction! The next letter came from the Magistrate's
bungalow, where Miss Baker was being nursed over an attack, her first
attack, of malarial fever; at the Mission House, it seemed, no one had
time to look after a white patient! The Magistrate's wife had most
opportunely come to the rescue.... As soon as a passage could be secured
Miss Baker intended to go home. On the whole, she confessed, she felt
that her visit to India had not been quite the success she had
anticipated. Wherever she went she seemed only to get in the way--and
she had meant to be so useful! English people in India wasted their
energies over things that did not greatly matter, and in consequence
had no time for more vital questions. Later on, perhaps, she might come
back, and with better results; in any case she had gathered ample
material for her book, which she would begin on the voyage.... She wrote
to Philip from board ship, and again from her father's house in Mayfair.
The letters still contained criticisms aimed at British administration
in India, but through them all there ran a pathetic little undercurrent
of self-distrust that reached Philip's sympathy; and her never-failing
remembrance of their brief companionship touched him--always her love to
Jacob, and how was the chestnut pony, and the old bearer, and did he
recollect this, that, and the other? Also when was he coming home? A few
mails later (great excitement) she had met Lady Lane-Johnson, his
sister, at a big literary gathering, quite by accident; they had begun
to talk about India, and then of course had discovered, etc., etc.

These letters, though Philip sometimes felt it an effort to answer them,
were welcome during the dreary routine of duty, as inspection followed
inspection, journey upon journey, by road or by rail, from one
famine-smitten area to another. The battle with death and want continued
through the long, hot days and nights, until, as though with belated
compassion, nature at last stepped in, and a strong monsoon swept up
from the coast, allaying epidemics, washing away disease and dirt,
reviving energy and hope; and if the work was still as strenuous in its
way, it was at least work that was spurred by relief and thankfulness in
place of dread and despair.

With the cessation of the rains Flint felt free to take a
breathing-space. His leave granted for September, he sought a popular
station, that, not being the headquarters of a Provincial Government,
was in a measure exempt from official etiquette and certain irksome
observances that prevailed in the more important health resorts. Surima,
its dwellings perched like a flock of white birds on the slopes of the
high hills, was notorious for its gaiety and its gregarious gatherings.
Here assembled merchants from the great ports, lonely ladies whose
health and spirits suffered from the heat and the dullness of the
plains, subalterns intent on "a good time," holiday-makers of every
service and calling, and an abundance of pretty girls....

Philip selected Surima for his leave because he felt it might be
possible to lose his identity for the time being in such a motley crowd.
He need make no calls; Government House with a visitors' book and
commands to social functions was non-existent. His presence would not be
noted. He intended to loaf, to spend long hours in the life-giving air
on the hill-sides, perhaps do a little shooting--jungle fowl, a bear or
two, possibly a leopard. He would have ease and leisure in which to make
up his mind whether to sink back to the level of humdrum district
administration until his first pension was due and he could leave India
altogether, or set himself to regain his position in the front ranks of
competitors for high office. He realised that he was overworked, that
his mental outlook was hardly to be trusted at present, deranged as it
had been by the distressing affair at Rassih. Given time and rest he
might manage, in a measure, to make a fresh start and to put the past
behind him....

To his disgust the Club chambers at Surima were full, and he was forced
to find temporary quarters in a fashionable hotel that occupied a
central position. It was close on the dinner hour when he arrived, and
as he changed into evening clothes he found it difficult to realise that
for a full month he would be master of his time, able to follow his own
inclinations. With a sense of personal freedom he strolled into the
dining-room only to be confronted by a scene that, at first glance, made
him query--was he, by any chance, in a lunatic asylum instead of a
hotel?

The tables were crowded with a chattering throng garbed in a variety of
fantastic costumes, a host of masqueraders. He beheld a devil complete
with horns and tail; a red Indian; an aerial being all wings and
gossamer; figures enveloped in dominoes; others painted, patched,
bewigged--all laughing and talking and eating. He felt like a sparrow
that had strayed into an aviary of tropical birds. Humbly he slipped
into an empty seat beside a stout youth draped in a leopard skin, with a
wreath on his brow! "Bacchus," or whatever mythological character this
individual imagined he represented, made way for the stranger
good-naturedly.

"Got up just in time for the ball!" he shouted, as though it were a
matter for the heartiest congratulation.

"Is there a ball?" inquired Philip, dismayed. What a superfluous
question!

"Rather! _The_ fancy ball of the season. Every soul in the place will
be at it. Know many people up here?"

"Nobody--that I am aware of."

"Soon cure that complaint! Keen on dancing?"

"Not particularly; and dancing hasn't been exactly encouraged where I
come from!" He thought grimly of desolate camps, of relief works, bare
plains and stricken villages, of all the stress and the strain of the
last year. What could be farther from festivity!

"Some beastly little station, I suppose," assumed his companion
sympathetically. "If it wasn't for places like Surima we should all rot
and die. I come from a hole sixty miles off the railway; only seven of
us all told including the women; just a small hell upon earth. I put in
for 'three months' urgent private affairs,' my only chance," he grinned.
"Luckily they asked no awkward questions. Next week my leave's up, worse
luck!"

He fell to eating dejectedly, but soon added in a hopeful tone: "Anyway,
I'm going to enjoy my last hours. Now, if you want introductions
remember I'm your man. No dog-in-the-manger about J. D. Horniblow!" He
looked round the room. "Plenty to choose from if you're not over
particular."

"Thanks, don't bother about me," said Philip indifferently. "Bed is more
in my line than a ball to-night."

"Oh! but you _must_ see what we can produce in the way of beauty, even
if you don't want to dance. All this lot here are nothing compared
with----" He began to reel off names with impudent comments on each.

Philip paid small attention, till he became aware that the chatterbox
was describing with enthusiasm the charms of a particular lady, over
whom, he asserted, the whole place was crazy; the name came to his ears
with the effect of a pistol shot....

He stammered out: "Who--who did you say--Mrs.--Mrs. Crayfield?"

"Yes, Mrs. Crayfield. She's the rage, absolutely divine. She and her
friend Mrs. Matthews carry everything before them; not that Mrs. M. can
compare with Mrs. C., though little Mrs. M. is fetching enough in her
own way. I _might_ manage to introduce you. I'll try, if you like, but
they're in the General's set, and that's rather a close preserve. The
old boy fancies himself no end with Mrs. C.; and young Nash, his
aide-de-camp, poodles for Mrs. Matthews, so it's very convenient all
round."

Flint writhed in silence. Was there another Mrs. Crayfield? Soon he
would know, and he tried to be deaf to the rattle of this jackanapes.

Joining the tail of the crowd that surged into the ballroom after
dinner, he took up a position against the whitewashed wall that was
decorated with flimsy festoons of pink and blue muslin, and watched the
revellers filling their programmes, chaffing, laughing. What fools they
looked! How could grown-up people be so idiotic.... Yet, in justice, he
reminded himself that the majority of them must have endured the
hardships inseparable from exile, trials of climate, and sickness, and
separation, even actual danger to life and person; that they would go
back to these conditions, grumbling no doubt, but refreshed and
strengthened to endure them again by such frivolities, this pathetic
aping of "smart society" that would be regarded with contemptuous
amusement by its superior prototype at home. How Dorothy Baker would
have censured the scene, simply because it was laid in India, where, of
course, none of her compatriots deserved, or should desire, frivolous
recreation! Not one of these merrymakers but would face death without
hesitation should the necessity arise; and in a community all more or
less of one class there was bound to be scandal, with far less reason
very often than in their own country, where wickedness could be hidden
successfully.... He almost forgave the harmless enough gossip he had
heard at the dinner table, even endeavoured to tolerate his would-be
friend who buzzed round him, so important as "one in the know," still
offering introductions.

"Little Miss Green, now--that girl over there dressed as a butterfly?
Not much to look at, I grant you. With her figure she ought to have gone
as a blue-bottle, but she can dance, and first go-off in a place like
this you have to take what you can get. She and her sisters rely on the
new-comers, thankful for any kind of partners; sensible girls! Easy
enough to drop them when you get into the swim. Or there's Mrs. Bray;
only her husband's jealous. Of course they're known as the donkeys. He
won't let her dance with anyone more than once. There was a row at the
last Cinderella----"

Flint bestirred himself. "Please don't trouble. I don't want to dance.
I'll just look on for a bit." He nodded a polite but determined
dismissal, and was turning away when his tormentor exclaimed:

"Ah! Here we are! Now look. Here she comes, the General in tow, of
course, and half a dozen other adorers. She's a fine hand at driving a
team!"

Flint held his breath, his heart seemed to rise in his throat as the
crowd parted slightly and a group came through one of the doorways. To
the swing of a waltz he saw Stella--yes, Stella--advancing down the
long, shining floor of the ballroom, radiant, light-hearted, attended by
a little court of men mostly in uniform. He could not have told how she
was dressed, he merely had an impression of floating pink drapery,
gleams of silver; she looked to him taller, less girlish, in a way
changed; her bearing held a gay confidence.... How different from his
last sight of her--a wan, despairing figure, huddled weeping in a chair!
She had forgotten him; their love had been but an episode in her young
life, while for his part how he had suffered!--sacrificed so much. He
ought to have expected it, should have realised that, child as she was,
her heart must heal quickly from a wound that, though painful enough no
doubt at the time, had not gone deep. Youth had asserted its claim;
pleasure, social success, admiration, had consoled her successfully. He
strove for her sake to feel glad, to stem the storm of rage and
self-pity that seized him. Devil take the handsome, elderly satyr who
was speaking in her ear.... She was smiling at him; it was unbearable.
Now she was hidden by the whirling, throng. He waited, morose and
miserable, planning to leave the bright scene before she should
discover his presence, to clear out of Surima at dawn, and go where he
could assert his claim to advancement, pick up the threads of ambition,
push and trample and fight his way fiercely to the top. It was not too
late, the way was still open....

Yet, unable to tear himself away, he stood, a stiff, black figure
against the wall, his eyes scanning the dancers, until presently she
passed him in the arms of her distinguished-looking partner, the scarlet
of whose coat clashed harshly with the rose-colour of her gown. As they
danced they were talking and laughing. In his mind Philip called to her:
"Stella! Stella!"; he felt as if the whole room must hear him.... The
pair halted at the opposite side of the room. The man was bending his
iron-grey head towards her; there was force, personality in the well
set-up figure and the bold features that but just escaped coarseness. He
was taking Stella's fan from her hand with a familiar, proprietary air
that to Philip was maddening; he lost hold of his high intentions and
crossed the room deliberately, making his way among the dancers
regardless of their indignant protests, the collisions he caused; as far
as he was concerned they might all have been phantoms--he simply walked
through them.

Then he stood before Stella, before the woman he loved, bowed like any
casual acquaintance, and heard himself saying:

"Mrs. Crayfield, have you forgotten me? My name is Flint."

Startled, she looked up, and he saw the colour drain from her lips and
cheeks. The General stiffened, clearly resenting the intrusion.

"I've just got up from the plains," continued Philip pleasantly, though
he found it hard to steady his voice. "I had no idea you were at Surima.
It's a long time since we last met, isn't it?"

"Yes," she said faintly, not looking at him; "a long time----"

He knew that for the moment, at any rate, he was being a kill-joy, a
ghost at the feast, calling up the past, spoiling her pleasure. Yet the
consciousness was mingled with a sense of revengeful satisfaction that
he could not control. Her passing vexation of spirit was as nothing
compared with the tortures of his own.

"Come along, Mrs. Crayfield," the General was moving his feet, impatient
to be off again, "we shall miss the last part of the waltz." He made as
if to place his arm about her waist.

Philip turned aside, not waiting for her to look at or speak to him
further. Blindly he made his way from the ballroom, his thoughts, his
sensations in confusion, only to find himself in the midst of a babbling
concourse of natives outside, bearers of the canoe-shaped conveyances in
which ladies, and even a few men, were borne to the dance; neighing
ponies were clustered by the railings; it was all jostle and noise. He
walked round to the side of the hotel and discovered an empty veranda, a
quiet refuge where he could smoke and attempt to think calmly. As he
leaned on the railing his racked nerves welcomed the cold night air, the
star-lit peace, the scent and the faint stir of the pine trees. Beneath
the ramshackle building sloped the wooded hill-side; far, far below lay
the wide plains, dark and boundless as an ocean. Right and left in
endless majesty stretched the mountains, and back in ever-rising ranges
to the snow peaks, "the home of the gods." His thoughts went loosely
adrift; that little crowd of human beings dancing, philandering in the
ballroom, intent on their enjoyment, their fleeting loves and hates;
whose lives were less than infinitesimal fractions of seconds compared
with the ages! Who could grudge them their "little day" while it lasted?
Nature had no pity, no sympathy for the struggles, the temptations, the
sorrows, the pleasures of the ever-passing multitude of human insects
loving and dancing and fighting through their short moments of darkness
or sunshine.... What was love, what was sin? What difference could it
make whether any of them failed or succeeded, did what seemed to them
right or wrong! Nothing really mattered.... Should the human race be
swept from the face of the earth, the hills and the plains, the seas and
the sun, the moon and the stars, would go on to the end of Time....

Footsteps and voices broke in on Flint's wild, if hardly original,
reflections. He recognised that a couple intent on privacy were groping
their way into the dark retreat. He heard the grating of chairs on the
stone floor, caught snatches of talk as he hid himself instinctively in
the shadow of a pillar.

"All right?" the man's tone was full of tender concern. "You won't feel
cold? Now listen--give me your hand, your dear little hand! I must tell
you. I can't wait any longer. You _know_, don't you, darling?"

There came a tearful, agitated response. "Yes, but there will be such a
row. Mother and father will never understand----"

"Oh! they will, when they see we're determined. Don't be frightened.
We've only got to stick to it, hold on. You do love me, sweetheart,
don't you?"

Philip slunk round the pillar and left the lovers to themselves. How he
envied the two young creatures!--their path clear before them save for
the frail barrier of parental prudence, which, of course, in the end
would break down. It was all so idyllic, so natural. What a contrast to
his own dark outlook where love was concerned.... In bitter envy he
loitered on the pathway outside, beset by a longing to return to the
ballroom that he might catch just one more glimpse of Stella, whatever
the cost, before turning his back on Surima at dawn.

In a few moments he was standing among a group of spectators in one of
the doorways, his eyes anxiously searching the crowd of dancers. But in
vain; she was not in the ballroom.

"Hullo! This is luck. Thought you'd gone bye-bye!" His importunate
acquaintance of the dinner-table was pushing a way to his side. "Flint
_is_ your name, isn't it?"

Philip nodded absently.

"Well, Mrs. Matthews would like me to introduce you; she says she knows
all about you. Dark horse, _you_ are! You never let on when I mentioned
her at dinner. It was only when she got hold of me just now and said:
'Mr. Horniblow, you know everybody, can you point me out a new arrival
whose name is Mr. Flint,' that I smelt a rat, and of course I made
straight for _you_. There she is. Come on now, quick, or we shall miss
her."

He grabbed Philip's coat sleeve and dragged him forward. Before he could
resist he was being presented to a lively-looking little lady all
sequins and red and gold tissue, and a tambourine.

"That was very clever of you, Mr. Horniblow," she said brightly to the
triumphant go-between. "Thank you so much."

She turned in pretty apology to Philip. "Don't think me too bold," she
seemed to be pitching her voice high of intention, "perhaps you've
forgotten me? But _I_ remember _you_!" She shot him a meaning glance,
and he could not but take the hint.

He feigned pleasure. "This is a surprise! But when we last met you
weren't a gypsy, or--or a Spanish dancer--which must be my excuse for
not recognising you at once." He offered her his arm.

With a charming smile she waved away her late partner, a diffident young
soldier easily shelved for the moment; and talking gaily of the dance,
of the dresses, of anything, she guided Philip to the platform, of which
the front seats were filled with chaperones and partnerless girls. Well
at the back, screened by this rampart of female forms, stood a sofa,
safe from listening ears. They took possession of it.

"Neatly done!" exclaimed Mrs. Matthews, sinking to her seat.

"Very," returned Philip, "but I don't quite understand----"

"You _are_ Mr. Flint, Mr. Philip Flint?"

"Certainly. That is my name."

"Well, Mrs. Crayfield has gone home."

"Oh? Wasn't she feeling fit?" he inquired, apparently unmoved.

She glanced at him in rather resentful surprise. "Now don't be
tiresome," she said quickly. "I know all about it, and we haven't much
time to talk. I can't throw over any more partners. Stella was worried,
upset, at seeing you so unexpectedly. I said I'd find you and explain.
She's staying with me; we were girls together, you know. I dare say
Stella has told you about me, Maud Verrall?"

"Yes, of course." Of course he knew about Maud Verrall, and The Court
and The Chestnuts, and Grandmamma and the Aunts; had any detail of
Stella's childhood, imparted to him by her, faded from his mind!

"We only got into touch with each other again at the beginning of this
hot weather; somehow we'd stopped writing. But when I settled to come up
here I wrote and asked if I could break my journey with the Crayfields
for a few days. What an awful hole Rassih is! I found Stella half dead.
That old brute, Colonel Crayfield, ought to be shot, and his horrible
servant too. Between them they had nearly killed the poor girl."

Philip moved uneasily, and drew in his breath. "Do you----" he began,
but he was not allowed to finish his question; Mrs. Matthews took it up.

"Do I know everything? Of course Stella told me, and the silly row
about the pearls that gave the show away. She had a perfectly poisonous
time after you left; I don't know how she got through it, and I'm sure
she doesn't know either. When I turned up, old Crayfield was getting
rather sick of her always being seedy; and I diddled him into letting
her come with me. He took a fancy to me, and I let him--any port in a
storm! We've lived in terror that he would come up on leave, but luckily
he hasn't been able to get away. Stella was awfully ill for the first
few weeks after we arrived----"

"She looks very well now," said Philip coldly, "and happy," he added.

His companion smote him sharply on the knee with her fan.

"My good man, you ought to be thankful, both for your own sake and for
hers!"

"I am; and for that reason don't you think I'd better go without seeing
her again?"

Mrs. Matthews hesitated; and Philip waited, hoping for some crumb of
comfort, for the smallest encouragement to stay.

The answer came slowly. "I think you ought to go. You see--you see
Stella has found out the power of her beauty and her charm, and it's a
sort of consolation to her. She'll never get into mischief, not
seriously, I mean, with anyone else, and as you and she can't come
together again without the risk of a lot of bother and trouble, you'd
much better let her alone. You can't blame her if she takes what she can
get out of life under the circumstances----"

"I don't," he said shortly. "If she can put the past behind her I can
but try to do the same."

"Wise man! Oh! look at this creature making for me; I shall have to go,
the dance has begun."

A cowboy had climbed the daïs in pursuit of Mrs. Matthews, and further
hope of confidential conversation was blocked. Philip rose and held out
his hand.

"Good-bye, then--and thank you for your advice. I will take it. I
recognise that you are right."

As they parted he saw sympathy in her bright eyes, and was grudgingly,
miserably grateful.



CHAPTER VI


"Oh! How slack I feel. Dances are the devil!" Maud Matthews yawned and
stretched amid a nest of cushions in a long chair. "I'm sure I must look
about sixty. Do I, Stella?"

She appealed to her friend who at that moment joined her in the veranda
of the Swiss Chalet-like habitation perched on the hill-side. Clear
midday sunshine blazed over the terraced garden thick with dahlias,
crimson and purple, orange-red, yellow, a wild, luxuriant growth. Pots
of chrysanthemums fringed the veranda steps, an autumn odour pervaded
the atmosphere, a smell of ferns and moss and pungent evaporation. The
sky was like pale blue glass, and far, far away, beyond valleys and
rising ranges, glittered and sparkled the everlasting snows.

Outside, on the narrow pathway, young Richard was asserting himself in a
perambulator, attended by the long-suffering ayah who every few minutes
retrieved a woolly toy, handing it back to the small tyrant with
indulgent remonstrance. "Hai-yai! What is to be done with such a
malefactor! Must not throw; it is forbidden."

"Beat him," his mother advised lazily. "Beat him with a big stick."

"Dost harken?" warned the ayah. "One more throw, and see what will
befall!"

Instantly the woolly toy was again hurtled down among the dahlias, and
the child shrieked with mischievous glee.

"Aree! Narty!" the ayah picked up her petticoats and plunged into the
foliage.

Unperturbed by her son's misdemeanours, Mrs. Matthews turned once more
to her guest and began to patter nonsense. Truth to tell she was
nervously delaying the moment when Stella's questions must be answered.

"If possible, dear thing, you look even more dreadful than I do, though
you went home so early last night. I got back at some disreputable hour
and peeped into your room, but you were asleep. Really, to look at you,
one would imagine _your_ husband was coming up on leave next week
instead of mine. What on earth shall I do with Dick! He'll hate all my
men friends, and be rude to them, and expect me to break all my
engagements. I suppose we shall go to bed early and have long walks
before breakfast, and devote ourselves to young Richard with intervals
for arguments over domestic affairs----"

"Oh! to hear you," interrupted Stella with exasperation, "one would
think you didn't care one snap for Dick or that imp in the perambulator.
Why humbug with me of all people?"

"Yes, I know," in hasty apology. "I know I am lucky. Yet you have your
compensations. You are ever so much better looking than I am, and your
looks are of the sort that will last. Your nose, for example; it's a
nose for a lifetime! _You_ can amuse yourself with a clear conscience,
without feeling a pig, as I do when I flirt till all's blue. How I am to
suppress Bobbie Nash when Dick appears on the scene is a problem, and I
can't give the young owl a hint beforehand; that would be a bit too low!
Now, you and your old play-boy--even Dick couldn't make a fuss if it was
the General instead of Bobbie Nash!"

"Oh, Maud, do stop!" cried Stella, at the end of her endurance. Maud's
little excitements and intrigues were so trivial; no misery, no
heartache, lay beneath the surface of her frivolity. Stella knew well
enough that Maud loved her husband, and that once he was on the spot she
would be happy in his company, though in his absence the attentions of a
herd of irresponsible young men was as the breath of her nostrils. "How
can you go on gabbling like this when you know what I am longing to
hear?"

Last night she had fled from the ballroom, distraught by the sudden,
unexpected meeting with Philip. It had been beyond her to remain as if
nothing had happened. She was at a loss to interpret his demeanour, so
distant, so formal; did he intend her to understand that his feelings
had changed? She had relied upon Maud to find out; for hours she had
lain awake listening for Maud's return till, from sheer exhaustion, she
had fallen asleep, and, after all, Maud had not awakened her. Both of
them had slept late into the morning, and now Maud would only drivel
about her own silly affairs. The suspense was intolerable; she could
bear it no longer.

"Aren't you going to tell me _anything_?" she demanded furiously.

"Wait a moment." Mrs. Matthews rose from her long chair and went to kiss
her obstreperous offspring in the perambulator, gave some directions to
the ayah and banished the pair to another quarter of the garden out of
sight and hearing. Then she returned to her seat and faced Stella with
reluctance.

"It's rather difficult to tell you," she began. "That was why I was
putting it off. He has gone."

Stella flushed and paled. "Gone? Gone away from Surima--from--from me?"

Maud nodded. "Now, dear thing, be sensible. I assure you he hopes you
may have got over that unfortunate business between you. He wants to get
over it too. I don't say he has, any more than you have, altogether, but
you both will, given the chance. Isn't it best? You can't deny it,
Stella."

"Oh, Maud, what have you done?" Stella's voice rang sharp with pain and
reproach. Her disappointment was poignant. She had expected some
message, she hardly knew what, but something of solace and reassurance,
at the least that Philip wanted to see her alone. She had never dreamed
that he would not wish to see her.

"I haven't done anything," declared Maud defensively. "He saw for
himself that you weren't exactly pining away without him, and if you do
still care about him you ought to be thankful that he has gone off like
this without making further trouble for you or for himself. After all,
you wouldn't bolt with him when you had the chance, and quite right too!
And now you shouldn't want him to be a martyr any more than he wants you
to mope for the rest of your life."

Stella gazed at her blankly. Staunch friend though Maud was, how little
she understood. Oh, why had she not stayed on at the ball? She might
have got at the truth for herself. Instead, she had behaved like a fool,
like a coward; and so Philip had gone!

She burst out: "Tell me what he said, what you said. Tell me exactly.
Don't dare to keep anything from me."

"My dear girl, keep calm. You can't expect me to remember every single
word we uttered. I'm not trying to make mischief and muddles, like
people in stories. I simply told him how I had got you away from Rassih
and how ill you were, and he simply said that as you looked very happy
and well he thought the best thing he could do was to clear out, and I
agreed with him. I pointed out that you had learnt to enjoy yourself,
and that he couldn't blame you. He said he didn't. I must say I don't
wonder you fell in love with him, especially at Rassih. He is an awfully
good sort; but you know if he had stayed here now the whole thing would
have begun all over again, and been worse than ever. Buck up, Stella!
You had a lucky escape. I dare say I might have persuaded him to stay,
but I knew it was best not to. When you have thought it all over you'll
say I was right and be grateful, instead of looking as if you would like
to poke my eyes out!"

Stella sat miserably silent. There was nothing further to be said. It
would hardly be fair to accuse Maud of having done her an ill turn, but
at present she certainly could not bring herself to feel grateful. Sore
and wretched, she rose.

"I'm going for a walk before tiffin," she said abruptly.

"Keep out of the sun, then," advised Maud, "or you'll have a headache.
Remember it's the General's garden party this afternoon, and the club
dinner and theatricals to-night. Just put out the 'Not at home box,'
will you? I'm not fit to be seen this morning, and can't be bothered
with callers."

A little later Stella strolled along the pathway. She hung the
protective card-box on the trunk of the pine tree that guarded the small
domain; then she wandered up the steep incline towards an upper road
little frequented by the English community. It led to the back of the
hill, where as yet no bungalows had been erected, dwindling eventually
to a mere bridle path used by the hill people from far distant villages.
Once away from all sound of the station, she seated herself on a
moss-covered boulder and gazed gloomily over the blue valleys and the
opposite mountains that in the rarefied atmosphere looked so unnaturally
near. Jungle fowl were calling, crickets sang lustily among the ferns
that fringed the tree branches; a family of black monkeys crossed the
path and went crashing and chattering down the wooded precipice below;
round the shoulder of the hill trudged a stalwart hill-woman, a load of
charcoal on her back in a conical-shaped basket. She had a flat
Mongolian countenance, red colour in her brown cheeks, and her eyes were
like green agates; a heavy turquoise necklace hung round her neck. She
grinned a friendly greeting as she passed the forlorn figure seated by
the wayside, and Stella envied her. How contented and independent she
looked, though probably she had two or three husbands and led a hard
life of toil. At any rate, she was neither desolate nor oppressed. The
sound of her stately tramping died away, and at last, influenced
unconsciously by the solitude, the grand beauty of the landscape, the
purity of the air, Stella began to think more coherently, to think of
all she would have told Philip had he been beside her asking for her
confidence, anxious to know all that had befallen her since their
parting at Rassih. Then, though she had thought he was going out of her
life, the distress and the terror had been leavened by the conviction
that he loved her. This time he had gone of his own free will, ready to
forget her, wishing to forget her. It seemed years since he had called
to her that night in the big drawing-room. She seemed to hear his voice
now, charged with love and despair. And the memory of the time
intervening until Maud's arrival was like a long nightmare, followed at
Surima by a blank that, ill as she was, came as a dreamless, refreshing
sleep from which she had awakened to a world of diversion.

With returning health and the stimulation of Maud's company she had
begun to find solace in her freedom, in the power of her beauty, which
slowly she had learn to value. At first the attention she attracted came
to her as a genuine surprise, and all the dances, the parties, the
light-hearted gatherings proved a welcome refuge from depressing
thought. Finally she had plunged into the gay whirl with a will,
encouraged by Maud, living solely in the agreeable, intoxicating
present, banishing as far as possible the past from her mind, refusing
to look forward.

And in one second all the false ramparts she had erected around her had
crumbled to dust. One moment she had been laughing, free from care, the
next she had looked up in the midst of some careless banter to see
Philip--but what a different Philip, cold and callous and hard! Stella
did not doubt Maud's version of the conversation that had passed between
the two. It seemed clear enough that Philip shrank from renewal of the
past, and was it any wonder? She tried to be just to him, yet a feeling
of bitter resentment fought with her sense of fair play. Why, when she
had discovered that, given the opportunity, life could be enjoyed,
should he have come to disturb and distress her? Where, all this time,
had he been, what had he been doing? No word concerning him had reached
her. Of course, she understood that he had not known she was at Surima;
yet why, if he did not wish to meet her again, had he come up to her in
the ball-room? Surely it would have been simple enough to leave Surima
without allowing her to know he had been there at all. Was it partly for
her sake that he had, to quote Maud, "cleared out," or was it entirely
because he feared she might expect him to lay his heart at her feet once
more? Whatever the reason the result was the same. He had gone without a
word or a message that would have left her in possession of the truth.

Passionately she wished she had the power to wipe the whole incident
from her mind. Maud was right; she had her compensations; but of what
value would they be to her once she was back at Rassih? In another month
or less she must return to Robert, to the horrible old house, to Sher
Singh, and the loneliness, the dull round of petty happenings repeated
day after day.... A fierce defiance seized her; at least she had this
month before her; she could but make the best of it. Her heart hardened.
She looked up at the clear blue sky, watched an eagle soaring over the
valley, became conscious of the vast, sunny peace around her, drew in
long breaths of the wonderful air.... After all, she was young, she was
well; and when she returned to Rassih she would endeavour to recover her
influence with Robert. Once reassured of her loyalty he might allow her
to invite friends to stay with her, friends she had made at Surima,
might permit her to pay visits in return. Next year she would manoeuvre
to take a house of her own at Surima for the hot-weather months. With
such a prospect the coming winter could be endured. She realised that
Robert, on his part, had a grievance against her; undoubtedly she had
been a disappointment to him. She owed him some consideration; in his
way he had not been ungenerous; all this time at Surima he had kept her
well supplied with money, and if he had been glad to get rid of her was
it not only natural?

Well, she would continue to enjoy herself now, and then she would go
back and wheedle and coax and work upon Robert's weaknesses until she
could induce him to grant her liberty when occasion should arise. Let
Philip go hang. If he wished to forget her let him do so; she could play
the same game, and play it she would! Resolutely she turned her mind to
coming dissipations; the General's garden party this afternoon--she was
fully aware that the station regarded her as the special "favourite" of
Sir George Rolt. Subalterns made up to her with the idea that she held
the ear of the Chief; not only subalterns either, but more senior
aspirants to favour and promotion. The sense of prestige and power fed
the worst side of her nature, and, in addition, she liked Sir George
Rolt, whose free admiration raised her to a pinnacle of importance,
rendered her an object of envy among all the other women of a certain
type in the place who possessed any claim to attractions. To-night there
would be the Club dinner, with theatricals to follow; at both gatherings
she knew she would be the best looking, best dressed woman of the
throng, and her sore spirit took comfort in the conviction.

Stella wandered back to the little bungalow on the side of the hill
feeling as though she had drunk deep of some draught that stilled
trouble and pain for the time, however pernicious its after-effects.



CHAPTER VII


The Swan Song of the Surima season took the form of a picnic--a truly
ambitious entertainment given by a moneyed merchant from Calcutta, whose
ideas of hospitality had apparently no boundaries. A banquet was
prepared in the vicinity of a famous waterfall some two miles below the
station; champagne vied with the waterfall itself in its volume and
flow; there was a band; Badminton nets had been erected on a convenient
plateau, and covetable prizes had been provided for the winners of an
improvised tournament of two a side; in addition every lady present was
to receive a gift--chocolates, scent, pretty, expensive trifles. High
spirits prevailed, and amid the gay, well-dressed assemblage of women
Mrs. Crayfield was pre-eminent.

Stella had won the first prize in the tournament, a jewelled bangle;
animated, flushed, she stood the centre of attention receiving
congratulations, protesting that her success was due only to her
handicap, and to the exertions of her partner in the game. "You all know
I can't play a bit!" she said laughing, radiant; the bangle was lovely,
everyone was so nice, nobody seemed to grudge her the little triumph; it
was all delightful.

"Never mind--you have won, no matter how!" chaffed the General. "Now
aren't you tired?" he added, lowering his voice. "Come for a stroll, to
get an appetite for tea!"

Adroitly he detached her from the crowd that had already begun to
disperse in groups and pairs. As Stella and Sir George moved off
together Maud and her husband went by; Dick Matthews had arrived at
Surima the previous evening, and Bobbie Nash, as some wag had remarked,
was nursing his nose in the background for the time being; the only
individual, perhaps, who was not altogether enjoying the picnic.

"Don't attempt to follow us!" called Maud as she passed Stella and the
General, and she looked back at them over her shoulder, pulled down her
mouth, cast up her eyes, then tucked her arm into Dick's and stepped out
beside him with an air of exaggerated virtue.

"Little cat!" exclaimed the General, highly entertained with her antics,
"as if we should want to follow them!" He glanced about, scanning
various directions in which they might hope to find privacy; and
presently they were climbing the slope of the mountain above the
waterfall to seat themselves on the trunk of a fallen tree screened by a
tangle of ferns, saplings, feathery bamboos, beneath the shade of the
oaks that rose densely behind them.

Sir George took out his cigarette case. "Well," he said with a resigned
sigh, "it's sad to think we shall all be scattered during the next ten
days. I wonder when and where you and I will meet again!"

"Goodness knows!" Privately Stella did not particularly care. "Don't let
us look forward."

Yet his words gave her a sense of depression after all the gaiety and
the glamour of the picnic luncheon and the surface excitement of the
tournament. She was tired, conscious of reaction; her spirits fell. She
would have preferred to sit silent, listening to the music of the
waterfall, the cheerful chirrup of the crickets, to be soothed by the
scenery and the soft evening sunshine, the peace and the remoteness of
the surroundings.

"Not look forward to our meeting again?" Reproachful astonishment was in
the General's tone as he leaned forward to look into her eyes. "Do you
mean to forget me, little girl?"

She was aware of a certain magic in his bold, strong face, in his
maturity, and experience of women and of the world. Stella felt
helpless, ensnared, yet the ensnarement was enticing, held a baleful
fascination. So often during these months at Surima she had felt it,
felt at the same time that it meant nothing serious; it was just a game,
but a game that Sir George knew so much better than she did how to play
without fear of disastrous result. More than once had he led her, as it
were, to the edge of the volcano; just a peep over and a timely
withdrawal into safety.

"Why don't you answer?" he laid his hand on hers; she moved her hand
quickly, yet, as before, not altogether unwilling to dally with the
moment that held a little thrill of excitement.

"Of course," she said demurely, "I don't want to forget you. Why should
I?"

"Well then, give me something to remember--that we can both remember to
the end of our days!"

His arm went round her; his face, his hard, handsome face, was close to
hers! he meant to kiss her, meant business this time--because it was
the last opportunity? And of a sudden Stella thought of Philip, of how
Philip had held her in his arms, had pressed his lips to hers....

"Don't!" she cried desperately, "don't! You can't understand--it's
impossible----"

"Why?" he inquired, intrigued. "Is there someone else?"

She let herself go, turned to him in her distress, with an instinct that
he would comprehend if he had but an inkling of her plight. "Yes," she
said tremulously, "there is, there was, someone else, and it's all so
hopeless, and miserable!"

He held out his hand, this time with friendly, almost fatherly
intention. "There! Poor child, how was I to know? Forgive me; I dare say
I've been a beast, but I meant no real harm. Tell me all about it, eh?"

Sir George felt as much curiosity as interest to hear the little story.
Surely she was too young, too inexperienced, to have had any serious
love affair; he was prepared to be secretly amused, as well as to show
adequate sympathy. Probably it was just some boy and girl romance, and
her parents had married her suitably to put an end to it.

"I can't talk about it," said Stella.

"Did it happen before, or after you were married?" he persisted.

She did not answer.

"Then it was after!"

She nodded reluctantly.

"And shall you see him again?" Clearly it was no one at Surima, since
he himself had been the favoured one of all her adorers.

"No, never!" said Stella vehemently.

"Well then, listen to my words of wisdom. Don't imagine at your age that
you won't fall in love again, but when you do remember to keep your head
if you can't keep your heart. The world is never well lost for any man's
sake, whatever the poets may say. If I'm not mistaken you have plenty of
grit; so don't allow circumstances to get the better of you. Take what
you can get out of life without losing your place in the ranks of the
righteous, or you'll be trampled into the dust. Love as much as you
like, but love wisely. Bide your time, Stella, my child; you'll forget
this lover, whoever he is, and there'll be plenty more. Break hearts all
over the place, they'll mend soon enough, and you'll have had your
amusement without paying for it. But don't make false steps and imagine
you can't suffer for them at the hands of the world. It's not good
enough, believe me!"

From one point of view Stella felt he was right; from another, and a
higher point, that his advocations were false. Had he told her to
remember her marriage vows, to be faithful in thought as well as in deed
to her husband, to shrink with shame from all thought of extracting
consolation by devious methods.... She almost laughed as she imagined
Sir George preaching such practice. Yet in substance his counsel was not
far removed from the course she had mapped out for herself that morning
on the hill side after her meeting with Philip in the ball-room; and
Maud had often said much the same thing, though not quite so plainly
perhaps. Truly she was between the devil and the deep sea; but which was
which? To do her duty by Robert honestly, squarely, meant a sort of
death in life--the deep sea? To play a part while seeking underhand
compensations--the devil?

"Look here," went on Sir George kindly. "Come and stay with me for the
race meeting at my headquarters this November. You shall have the time
of your life. A big party, all the prettiest women in the Province, and
you'll be the prettiest. You shall do hostess if you like. People might
talk, no doubt they do now, but that doesn't matter as long as they've
nothing to lay hold of. Is it a bargain?"

It was an alluring invitation. But could she accept it with any hope of
fulfilment? Perhaps--if she carried out her programme of false
conciliation where Robert was concerned.

"I'm not sure if I could get away," she said doubtfully.

"The husband?" queried Sir George smiling. "Aren't you clever enough to
get round him?"

Stella felt reckless. "Anyway, I'll try," she declared; and she
determined, if humanly possible, to succeed.

"Very well, leave it at that, and let us hope for the best. Count on me
to send you the right kind of letter, and we'll pull it off somehow.
Cheer up, my dear, never say die!" He patted her hand, and lit his
cigarette, persuaded her to take one too, and Stella felt comforted,
almost convinced that he and Maud were right--that in time she might
forget Philip; she had all her life before her in which to do so!


Someone was shouting below them; it was the summons to tea. Figures
emerged from all quarters, the valley resounded with voices, privacy was
at an end. Stella rose readily. "We must go," she said, glad of the
interruption; and they scrambled and slipped their way back to the
meeting place. At sunset a procession started toward the station--a
phalanx of dandies and ponies and more Spartan pedestrians who felt
equal to the climb. It was almost dark when Stella and her friends
reached their perch on the hill side, tired yet cheerful, ready for a
rest if hardly for dinner after the superabundance of fare they had
lately enjoyed. Maud rushed to the nursery, Dick hung about, smoking, in
the veranda; Stella was making for her bedroom when one of the servants
accosted her with a salver in his hand on which lay a yellow envelope.

"Telegram, Memsahib," he said stolidly; she opened it with a qualm of
foreboding. It was signed "Antonio," and she read:


     "_Come down Colonel Crayfield ill._"



CHAPTER VIII


"Diagnosis difficult," said Dr. Antonio pompously professional, yet
clearly puzzled and disturbed.

Stella stood with him in the big drawing-room that looked dusty and
neglected in the dim lamplight, trying to gather what had happened, what
was likely to happen. From across the hall came a monotonous sound, a
loud, delirious voice repeating some sentence over and over again. On
her arrival, soon after midnight, she had scarcely been able to realise
that it was indeed Robert who lay on his bed, so strangely altered,
talking incoherently, paying no heed to her presence. Mrs. Antonio was
there as well as the doctor; apparently the good couple had not left the
house for the past twenty-four hours.

"Is it typhoid, do you think?" Stella asked helplessly.

"No, not typhoid, some kind of poison."

"Something he had eaten?"

"How can I say? One day quite well, playing tennis, then feeling ill,
sending for me; and all at once very high fever, delirious. As yet not
yielding to treatment. Typhoid, smallpox, cholera, malaria," he ticked
off the diseases on his fingers, "none of them. I have grave suspicion,
Mrs. Crayfield!"

"You mean you think someone has tried to _poison_ my husband?"

"Yes, that is what I think."

"But who could it be? The servants have all been with him for
years----"

"That is so. But where is that bearer, that Sher Singh?"

Mystified, Stella stared at the old man. "Isn't Sher Singh here?" In all
the distraction of her arrival she had not noted Sher Singh's absence,
had not thought of him.

"Not here! He has----" Dr. Antonio paused as though searching for a
word, "he has _bunked_."

"But surely----"

He shrugged his shoulders, spread out his hands. "_Afim_-wallah, you
know!" he said significantly.

"_Afim_-wallah?"

"Yes, opium-eater."

"I don't understand. Dr. Antonio, do speak plainly. Is it your opinion
that Sher Singh has been trying to poison my husband? But Sher Singh was
so devoted to him!"

"That is just it. Jealousy, and you coming as bride, and the woman, his
relation, sent away. Now, brain upset with opium, and you coming back
again soon."

"Sher Singh's relation? What relation?" She thought impatiently that the
old doctor's imagination had run away with him; then, from the back of
her mind, called up by the mention of opium in conjunction with Sher
Singh, came the recollection of all Mrs. Antonio had said that hot
afternoon long ago in her stuffy, hookah-smelling drawing-room. She
visualised the untidy form clad in a grotesque dressing-gown; the bath
towel tied over the grey hair, the mysterious nods, and: "Knowing too
many secrets!" What was behind it all? The idea that Sher Singh had
tried to poison Robert seemed to her too melodramatic and impossible to
be accepted, whatever his provocation or mental condition; yet,
according to Dr. Antonio, Sher Singh had disappeared, "bunked!" Why?

"What relation?" she repeated.

Dr. Antonio puffed, and fidgeted his feet. "Oh, no use going over old
stories. All done with," he said evasively. "Only, putting two and two
together, it is my suspicion that Sher Singh has done harm. But these
things are not easy to bring home; at present we have just to think of
curing."

He took out a large gold watch, for the clock in the room had stopped.
"Will you rest now, Mrs. Crayfield? Not much change likely just yet. My
wife, she must go home and get sleep, but I will remain."

"I am not tired," declared Stella, though she ached all over after the
long journey. "It is you who ought to rest," and indeed the old man's
fatigue was patent. "Let me sit with my husband while you lie down;
there is a bed in the dressing-room, and I would call you at once if
necessary."

Just then Mrs. Antonio joined them. She also looked well nigh worn out.

"He is dozing now!" she said hopefully; and Stella became aware that the
sound in the bedroom had ceased.

A little later she was seated by Robert's bedside, and from the
dressing-room came long-drawn, regular snores which told her that Dr.
Antonio was already enjoying his well-deserved rest.

Robert lay quiet, save for his quick, uneven breathing, and now and then
a moaning sigh. The punkah had been stopped by Dr. Antonio's orders
because, as he had explained to her, it had seemed to worry the patient;
it was hardly needed now that the nights were growing cooler except to
keep off mosquitoes, and Stella could do that with the palm-leaf fan
Mrs. Antonio had handed over to her before her departure.

For an hour she sat fanning the mottled, swollen face on the pillow; the
lights were turned low, and the long door-windows stood open. It was a
bright starlit night; except for the cry of some restless bird, and the
intermittent squabbling of animals at the base of the fort walls, there
was little sound.... Stella tried not to think, she did not want to
think; and to keep her mind quiescent she repeated to herself verses,
songs, anything she could recall mechanically, but always with
irritating persistency the words of the hymn that seemed to have been
the starting point of her real life kept recurring, ousting all else:


     I dare not choose my lot
     I would not if I might....


Strive as she would she could not get away from the refrain, the very
movements of the fan beat time to the words and the tune.


     Not mine, not mine the choice....


But she had chosen, she had dared; and what had been the result?


     In things or great or small....


Supposing she had made a different choice; for example--on that other
occasion, when Philip would so gladly have taken her away to live, if
need be as he had said, "just for each other." At that time she had
honestly put her own longing aside that his future, his work, his
ambitions might not suffer. Supposing she had yielded, failed to "walk
aright" according to her own conception, how soon would Philip have
discovered his mistake? He owed her much! And she had done her little
bit for India--not that India counted any longer with her now; India was
to blame for everything, she told herself petulantly, illogically. She
did not care what happened to India!... Suddenly Robert began to talk,
and her whole attention became concentrated upon him. Gradually his
voice grew clearer, though it was a curious, unnatural voice as if some
stranger were speaking through his lips. Now and then he laughed, a hard
self-satisfied little laugh.

"There they all go!" he waved his hand in a mocking welcome. "What a
pretty procession! Not a bad record! No trouble, with a little
precaution. Ah, Susie, you young devil--ran off with that fellow to
spite me, did you? What was his name, now? Couldn't have done anything
to suit me better.... Not a patch on the little Eurasian girl; look at
her! Cost a pretty penny to get her married to that black railway boy.
A fortune for him, anyway. Good child, run along; you're all right....
How many more? Where are you all going--to Hell?" He sang hoarsely:


     No rose nor key, nor ring-necked dove,
     She gave but her sweet self to me!


"Yes, eyes like forget-me-nots. That was a lesson, a near shave. Nearly
gave me away too, as well as herself. Well out of _that_! Something
safer, easier to shunt. Sher Singh knows which side his bread's buttered
... faithful fellow Sher Singh...." The voice dropped again to an
indistinct mutter.

Stella sat aghast. Was it all true, or just the delusions of a
disordered brain? She felt in her bones that it was all true. Yet what
did it matter? Robert's past life was nothing to her. Only, when he got
well, could she forget these revelations, would it not be harder still
to face life with him, however she might contrive to go her own way by
means of subterfuge--and "precaution"! All shred of consideration and
pity for Robert fell away from her as she sat patiently waving the fan.
She, also, seemed to vision the "pretty procession" of his victims; they
mocked her with their eyes as one of themselves. A nausea seized her of
his cruelty, his pitiless sensuality; she felt she could almost applaud
Sher Singh if indeed the man had actually tried to poison his master.

Then, without warning, Robert sat upright. Words came tumbling in
confusion from his lips; something about the balcony, about someone who
had thrown himself from the balcony.... He was getting out of bed! She
tried to push him back, called loudly for Dr. Antonio, but the long
snores from the dressing-room went on.... Now clinging to Robert's arm
she was being dragged by the great bulky figure towards the open door
that gave on to the balcony, and all the time she called and screamed,
not daring to let go. They were out on the balcony; the stars had
disappeared, and a faint yellow light was stealing over the sky like the
reflection of some vast conflagration unseen in the distance. From below
rose a sudden clamour, beasts fighting among themselves over carrion.
Robert moved on, unconscious of her frantic efforts to stop him; she was
powerless as she felt herself being drawn to the balustrade, still
calling, clinging. His hands were on the stonework, he was climbing up,
raising her with him. Then all at once he paused, turned his head,
looked down on her; his face was terrible. Next moment he had taken her
by the shoulders and flung her violently from him, and as she reeled
giddily she saw something leap into the dawnlight, something that was
like a gigantic bird with wings outstretched. She fell forward, striking
her head heavily against the balustrade.


Stella lay semi-conscious, weakly pondering. What a queer smell; she
knew the smell, yet could put no name to it; the room seemed unfamiliar,
and she found she could see only a portion of it as if the rest were in
darkness. What had happened? Where was she? Not that it signified--she
felt too ill to care. When she tried to raise her hand it was heavy as
lead--how funny! When she tried to speak she could not remember what she
wanted to say. Her hat was too tight, it hurt her head, and she could
not take it off. Why was she lying in bed with her hat on? That was
funny too! She heard a little feeble laugh--who had laughed? She was
very thirsty.... Ah, that was nice and cold.

"Thank you," she managed to say politely, as some iced liquid trickled
down her throat. Then as her senses slowly awoke she found herself
looking into Mrs. Antonio's homely brown face. Kind Mrs. Antonio, who
was giving her a delicious drink. Mrs. Antonio would take off the hat
that was hurting her forehead. Now she knew the name of the smell that
pervaded the room; it was hookah! The successful recollection brought a
sense of triumph. She smiled sweetly at Mrs. Antonio....

It was some days before Stella's memory grew clear, before she could
recall what had happened up to the moment when she had fallen against
the stone balustrade. Now she knew that she was in the Antonios' house,
that she had been there for nearly three weeks hovering at death's door;
she knew that Robert had been buried in the little European cemetery,
and that a new Commissioner had arrived who, according to Mrs. Antonio,
was "a very kind man and attending to all business" until Mrs. Crayfield
should have recovered sufficiently to do her share; everybody in the
station had been "helping and good, there was no hurry about anything,
no need to bother." Stella knew also that there was injury to one side
of her head, but to what extent she had not yet thought to ask. Her mind
had been too exercised with the realisation of Robert's tragic end, with
mingled compassion for him and, she could not pretend to deny it, relief
for herself; any effort to look forward was as yet almost beyond her
strength.

One morning later, when the bandages had been finally removed and she
found she could see with both eyes, she asked Mrs. Antonio to bring her
a hand mirror; she said lightly: "I want to see what I look like. I
expect I'm an awful fright, but I'm well enough now to bear any shock!"

"Better go through your letters," suggested Mrs. Antonio, laying a
little heap of accumulated correspondence on the table beside the bed.
"I have to run away just now and see to the fowls and the goats."

She left the room hastily, and Stella fingered the envelopes with
reluctance, dreading the condolences and the sympathy she might find
within them. First she skimmed the English letters apprehensively; it
was possible that the news had been telegraphed home to the papers. No;
evidently when last they wrote Grandmamma and the aunts had known
nothing. There was a letter, of course, from Maud; one from Sir George
Rolt, others from friends she had made at Surima; Mrs. Cuthell had
written. All contained stereotyped phrases; difficult letters to write!
She hardly read them, because there was one she had put aside as yet
unopened--one from Philip Flint! She knew the clear, small handwriting
from seeing the manuscript of the George Thomas romance. How curious
that she should receive her first letter from him in such circumstances.
What had he written? Just "deep sympathy," no doubt, like all the
others! Her hand went out to the letter; she felt faint as at last she
forced herself to tear it open. For a few moments the words danced
before her eyes. There were very few words; no formal beginning--only
this:


     "I have seen what has happened, and I write to tell you that I am
     the same, always the same. If you want me I will come anywhere and
     at any time. But if you do not write I shall understand.--PHILIP."


She sank back on her pillows. Philip was the same, always the same! She
must have known it all along in her heart; how could she ever have
doubted him! "Philip," she breathed, "Philip!"

The stuffy, hookah-smelling room was glorified, full of a celestial
light. How quickly she would get well; she was well already--all the
dark days were over. Happiness lay ahead, such happiness! She would send
him just one little line to tell him she had his letter, that she would
write; she composed it in her mind. Or should she telegraph, do both?...
When and where they would meet did not trouble her; time was nothing;
whatever interval was necessary would pass like a dream.

Mrs. Antonio, returning from her ministrations to the goats and the
fowls, found the patient sitting up in bed, a pencil in her hand,
writing on half-sheets of paper.

"Now, now," scolded Mrs. Antonio, shaking her forefinger, "doing too
much!"

"I am quite well," said Stella. "I feel I could get up and do anything."

"To-morrow, perhaps, out of bed on the sofa. And Pussy will read to you.
Such a nice book she has got, called 'Wide, Wide World.' Shall she come
just now?"

"Not to-day, dear Mrs. Antonio. I have had some good news in my letters,
and I can't think of anything else. I should like to do my hair when I
have finished writing, and then have some of your nice tea. And will you
send my letter and a telegram for me to the post office presently?"

"Doing hair! Writing letters! Sending telegrams!" exclaimed Mrs.
Antonio. "You are wanting to run before walking!"

"Well, do let me run; I promise not to fall down. There, my letter is
ready, and the telegram. Now do give me a looking-glass, and a brush and
comb, there's a good soul. I feel I want to smarten myself up!"

"I think the doctor will be coming in just now. Better to wait and ask
what he says. Listen!" she cocked her ears. "That is him coming back
from the bazaar dispensary. I hear the trap. Wait a moment, Mrs.
Crayfield dear----"

She was gone; and Stella, elated, defiant, rose from her bed and
tottered across the room. She was determined to see herself in the glass
before Mrs. Antonio came back. If she was a scarecrow she would know how
long to postpone her meeting with Philip; she must be looking all right
when she met Philip again.... Clinging to the furniture, she made her
way to the dressing-table. Had she any legs, or hadn't she? If she felt
she was walking on air, was it any wonder after Philip's letter! Now she
had reached her goal. She bent forward; and in the mirror she beheld a
sight that froze her blood. The whole of one side of her face was
disfigured, hideous, grotesque; a great, puckered red scar ran from her
forehead to her chin, shortening the contour, lifting the edge of her
mouth.... She was revolting! That was why Mrs. Antonio had evaded her
request for a hand glass.... Clutching the edge of the table, she stood
gazing at the wreck of her beauty. Everything was gone; she could never
let Philip see her; and she was so young, so young!

A few minutes later she had groped her way blindly back to the bed. She
tore up the letter and the telegram she had written, tore up Philip's
letter also. "_If you do not write I shall understand._" She could never
write; Robert's legacy of punishment was complete.



CHAPTER IX


Lady Lane-Johnson looked about her handsome drawing-room with critical
gaze. She moved a bowl of roses to a more effective position, loosened a
sheaf of Madonna lilies in a crystal vase. The atmosphere was fragrant
with the perfume of costly flowers; the whole room betokened prosperity
combined with good taste, from the excellent examples of modern Art on
the brocade-hung walls to the Aubusson carpet and the silk curtains that
subdued the sound of traffic through the open windows. And Philip
Flint's sister harmonised with her surroundings, an elegant, well-bred
looking woman in a Paris gown, diamonds in her hair, round her neck, at
her breast.

She consulted her list of expected guests; the pairing for this dinner
party had entailed an unusual amount of consideration. In such
undertakings John was of no use whatever; he would rush in at the last
moment, and unless she took care would probably seize absentmindedly on
the first lady he saw and hurry her down to dinner. Even now he had not
returned; if she heard him on the stairs before the arrivals began she
must catch him and remind him that he was to take in old Lady Bawe
(though he always declared her name ought to be spelt Bore). She herself
must put up with Lord Redgate, disagreeable creature, but the laws of
etiquette forbade any other arrangement; anyway she would have Carmine
Lake, the fashionable portrait painter, on her other side, and he was
good company. Her own parents were rather on her mind; her father never
considered the political feelings of his neighbours, and invariably
suspected her literary and artistic friends of being Radicals.
Concerning Lord Redgate's opinions there could be no question of
anything so mild as "suspicion," and she had therefore placed the two
gentlemen as far apart at the dinner table as possible. She knew her
mother felt "out of it" among actors and painters, and authors, and
John's distinguished professional colleagues with their wives who were
always busy over public meetings and charity entertainments patronised
by Royalty.

As a rule she did not invite her old-fashioned parents to her dinner
parties; they preferred to come quietly, when she had an evening to
spare, but to-night their presence was unavoidable, because Philip had
just arrived from India (she had not even seen him yet), and she
particularly wanted him and "the old people" to meet Lord Redgate and
his daughter Dorothy, who had known Philip in India two years ago; and
if she, Grace, were not greatly mistaken the young lady would like to
meet him again as often as possible! Lord Redgate would not have said
"Thank you" had she bidden him to a quiet family gathering; that would
have to come later if matters shaped as she hoped they might. It would
be such an excellent marriage for Philip; Lord Redgate had so much
influence, his son-in-law would be pushed on regardless of obstacles,
however glaring the "job"; his one weakness was his self-willed,
impulsive daughter, who publicly boasted that she could turn her father
round her little finger!

Grace knew from Dorothy that she and Philip had kept up a desultory
correspondence since their parting in India. She wondered if she would
have time to pump Philip in the matter of his feelings towards the girl
if he and the old people arrived early, as she had told them to do. She
hoped Philip would not look too "Indian." His clothes were sure to be
all wrong, seeing that he had arrived only three days ago, during her
absence in the country for a week-end visit. The dinner party had been
hastily convened, with apologies and explanations for the short notice,
directly his telegram came from Marseilles.

Was that John on the stairs? She flew to the door and saw her husband
ascending leisurely.

"Make haste, darling," she called, "and remember you are to take in Lady
Bawe."

"Why, is there a dinner party?" He blinked at her dreamily; his scanty
hair was ruffled, he looked tried, over-strained. That afternoon he had
been engaged on a stupendous operation, and the reaction of success was
still upon him.

"Yes, yes, I told you! Go along quickly and dress."

"You look wonderful," he said, smiling at her.

She knew he was proud of her, that he grudged her nothing in the world,
that the money he made gave him pleasure principally for her sake, yet
sometimes he provoked her almost past bearing, his forgetfulness, his
blindness to the value of her social triumphs that were undoubtedly an
indirect asset to him in his calling. His calling came first with him,
she came second; and there were no children, nothing to fill her life
beyond the eternal round of engagements and social successes, which
during the last ten years had become a sort of second nature to her. Now
she looked forward to match-making on her brother's behalf.

The front door bell rang. "There!" She waved her husband up the stairs.
"Don't be longer than you can help, and whatever you do, remember Lady
Bawe."

"Lady Bawe," he repeated, and quickened his steps obediently.

Presently Sir Philip and Lady Flint, and Mr. Flint, were announced.

"Well, mother--well, father." Grace kissed her parents, then turned to
embrace her brother. "Philip," she cried, "how you have altered! Is it
really you?"

She could hardly believe that this sun-baked, middle-aged man, growing
rather bald, with the set face and grave eyes, was Philip. Her
remembrance of him last time he was on furlough was so different. Then
he had looked almost boyish, full of spirits, enjoying every moment of
his leave, yet enthusiastic over his prospects when he should return to
his work. Now he looked as if nothing would ever arouse his enthusiasm
or high spirits again. He even showed little pleasure at seeing her, and
they had been such pals in the old days! Grace supposed it was the want
of rest and change that ailed him. He ought to have come home two years
ago, after all his hard work over the famine, instead of being tempted
to stay on in a responsible position that, whatever it might lead to,
could hardly be worth the sacrifice of health. She thought he looked far
from well as she drew him aside and whispered:

"Who do you think is coming to-night on purpose to meet you again?"

"Tell me," he said indifferently.

"Dorothy Baker."

It was a relief to see his face light up with a certain amount of
interest. "Dorothy Baker! Just fancy! And when I last saw her----"

His memory turned to an Indian junction and a native-crowded platform, a
dimly lit railway carriage, and Dorothy Baker with all her wild ideas,
her conceit and her flashes of humility, her freckled face and slim,
long figure. "Then she knows I am at home? I'm afraid I didn't write and
tell her I was coming."

"Yes, she knows, and presently she and her father will be here. This
party is in your honour, dear old boy."

"Very kind of you." There was no more than politeness in his tone, but
his sister observed that he looked towards the door as though watching
for the arrival of Dorothy Baker.

Mr. Carmine Lake was announced, and Lady Lane-Johnson welcomed him with
effusion. Sir Philip Flint glared disapproval of the celebrated artist's
abundant locks and soft, tucked shirt, glared more fiercely still on the
couple that followed, whose name was well known in Liberal circles,
though the gentleman present was only a relative of the real culprit.
The room filled quickly. Lord Redgate and his daughter were the last to
arrive.

Dorothy entered swiftly, eager, animated, dressed as usual, simply but
expensively. Her gown was of a soft shade of green that suited her tawny
colouring. Lady Lane-Johnson thought she had never seen the girl look
better--quite _pretty_, in spite of her strong resemblance to her
father, whose irregular features and ruddy complexion she had inherited
in a refined and more kindly form. Lord Redgate was an ugly man, but no
one could say that his daughter was ugly or even plain.

As Lady Lane-Johnson greeted the pair Philip came forward. He was glad
to see Miss Baker again, and Miss Baker made no concealment of her own
delight. Her evident pleasure, though it could hardly fail to flatter
his vanity, caused Philip a slight feeling of embarrassment. He had
never realised that the girl liked him to such an extent; in fact, he
remembered that at the time of their parting she had appeared almost
indifferent to him. Her heart must have grown fonder with absence.

"Pater," she said, turning to her father, "this is Mr. Flint, who was so
kind to me in India, you remember."

Lord Redgate shook hands without speaking. Philip encountered a
searching gaze from beneath the shaggy red eyebrows. He felt he was
being "sized up."

"You will take Miss Baker down to dinner," Grace told her brother, "and
you must put up with me, Lord Redgate, though"--with an engaging
smile--"I can't talk about labour troubles, and 'back to the land,' or
anything of that kind, you know."

He grunted. Certainly Lord Redgate's strong point was not "manners."

"Now we are all here," went on Lady Lane-Johnson, not at all
disconcerted--she had expected nothing else from her distinguished
guest, peer of the realm with unlimited riches though he was--"except
John, of course." Consulting her list, she went in and out among the
company allotting partners, while Miss Baker chattered with a sort of
nervous excitement to Philip.

"And how is India? It seems more like twenty years to me instead of only
two since I was out there. I shall never rest till I can get back. How
long are you home for?"

"Six months, unless I take an extension."

"Good! You will come and see us? I've such heaps to talk about; and you
must stay with us in the country. Your sister has told me how splendidly
you have got on--Simla and Calcutta, and no end of importance. The next
thing will be 'The Star,' of course."

Just then Sir John hurried in, and the little disturbance that ensued as
he went round shaking hands, to be successfully anchored by his wife to
Lady Bawe, parted them for the moment. But when, with Dorothy on his
arm, Philip found himself descending the staircase, carefully avoiding
the train of the lady in front of them, it was of Stella Crayfield that
he was thinking. Miss Baker had innocently started the aching,
regretful memory. The one star he really desired was not for him, would
never be his. Where was Stella at this moment? What had become of her?
The letter he had written to her after her husband's death was never
answered, and, true to his promise, he had "understood," had accepted
and respected her silence with bitter resignation, extracting what
solace he could from his work and his rapid advancement, though his
success brought him little solid satisfaction.

Now they were all seated at the dinner table, with slices of musky melon
before them; and fantastically the notion struck him that Miss Baker was
rather like a slice of melon herself--all curves and rich golden hues,
delectable but just as unsatisfying.

"What about the book?" he inquired with an interest that was not wholly
simulated. "If it has appeared, why didn't you send me a copy?"

Her face fell. "Oh, that was a dreadful blow!" She looked up at him with
a pathetic demand for sympathy in her fine eyes. "No one would publish
the book unless all expenses were guaranteed by the author, and though,
of course, there would have been no difficulty about that----"

"You wanted it to come out on its own merits?"

"Yes, that was how I felt. Pater said it was very stupid of me."

"I think it was very honest of you."

"Do you really? I often wanted to ask you, but it seemed such a
confession of failure, and you know you always made me feel a failure
when I was with you in India!"

"Did I? I assure you it was quite unintentional."

She laughed a little self-consciously. "Oh, I'm sure it was very good
for me, and perhaps it helped me to realise that my object in writing a
book at all was not so much to give my experiences and opinions to the
public as to impress my friends with my cleverness and superiority.
Really _you_ are to blame for the non-appearance of the book."

"What an unkind accusation!"

"Not quite so unkind perhaps as it might appear," she said softly; then,
as though to edge away from a too intimate topic, she began to ask
questions about his last appointment, about his voyage home. What had he
done with Jacob? Had he sold the chestnut pony? And they talked and
talked as course succeeded course, until the wine and the wonderfully
cooked food, and the girl's unaffected interest in himself and his
doings chased the cloud from Philip's spirit, lifted his depression, and
he felt, as the women streamed from the dining-room at the conclusion of
the meal, that perchance life need not be quite so dreary, so empty,
after all.

Someone plumped down in the vacant chair beside him. It was Dorothy's
parent, a glass of port in his hand, purpose in his bearing. Philip
prepared himself for an argument as to the claims of India to Home Rule.
He felt ready to go farther than his own convictions in order to confute
the ignorant and arrogant assertions he anticipated from this man, who
seemed to him a traitor to his own class, and equally a traitor to the
class into which he had shoved himself by means of his tongue and his
wealth.

Instead, equally to his annoyance, he found himself being catechised as
to his pay and prospects in the Indian service. When would his pension
be due? What would it amount to? Did he expect any special recognition
for his work during the famine? Philip scowled and answered shortly,
said in conclusion that he expected no recognition of his famine
services, it was all in the day's work. He endeavoured to change the
subject, but his inquisitor, for some reason of his own (if he had any,
as Philip queried, beyond vulgar curiosity), was not to be snubbed. "Let
me see, what are the Indian decorations? C.I.E.'s one of them?"

Philip interposed flippantly: "Which means A.S.S. very often!" But the
pleasantry was lost on Lord Redgate, who either ignored or did not
perceive it.

"Now I recollect," he continued. "And C.S.I., the Star of India; but I'm
blessed if I know which is the more important."

"The Star, of course," snapped Philip. Why in the world should he be
haunted this evening by the word that was so closely associated with all
that had gone wrong in his life?

Lord Redgate produced a gold pencil-case and made a note on his shirt
cuff. Philip watched him, wondering moodily what he was writing; then
Lord Redgate looked up, and the eyes of the two men met.

"You were very good to my girl in India," he said unexpectedly, and the
rugged face softened.

Philip flushed, repenting his antagonism, but he could not bring
himself to like Lord Redgate any better. "I did nothing," he protested
awkwardly.

"She told me how you looked after her. My girl and I understand each
other; there are no secrets between us."

"There was very little to tell. I was glad to be of use."

A pause followed, and Philip rose. "If you will excuse me, I want to
have a few words with my brother-in-law." And he made his way round the
table to where Sir John was sitting silent, not attempting to make
conversation. His wife was perhaps right when she declared that John was
the worst host in the world; but his wine was excellent if his company
was not, and his guests were contented with the former.

Meanwhile in the drawing-room Miss Baker had attached herself to the
guileless Lady Flint, who was willingly drawn into confidences
respecting her son's boyhood. Here was a nice, unaffected girl; it was
no effort to talk to her, especially as she was anxious to talk about
Philip, and had seen Philip in India, had seen how he lived and how hard
he worked.

"It must be so lovely for you to have him at home again," said this
charming young lady.

"Yes, my dear, it is a great comfort and pleasure, but I don't feel
quite happy about him. He has changed a good deal."

"Well, it's a long time since you last saw him, isn't it?"

"I don't think he looks well."

"Neither do I, but he will soon be all the better for the change to
England."

"He was a delicate child though he grew up quite strong. You see, he was
born in India, and I couldn't bring him home till he was nearly seven
years old." The old lady prattled on, and Miss Baker listened with such
encouraging interest that Lady Flint plunged deep into the subject of
Philip's childish ailments, the difficulties over his education, the
agonies of parting with him just when she felt he most needed her care.

"We Indian mothers have always that trial to meet--separation from
either husband or children, and it never seems to be taken into account
by those at home who don't have to face it. Personally we were lucky in
finding a nice place for Philip and Grace till they were old enough to
go to school, but then the holidays were always on my mind; relations
are sometimes so injudicious. Fortunately the children had character,
both of them, and as my husband rose in the service I was able to come
home more frequently to see them. Dear Philip was such a clever boy!"

"He is a very clever man!" quoth Miss Baker emphatically, "and how well
he has got on!"

"He was always ambitious; he mapped out his own career from the very
first--got a scholarship for his public school and again at Oxford, and
passed very high for the Civil Service. He could have stayed at home,
but he preferred to take India, and his father and I were very glad.
Life in an office would not have suited him; he was a sportsman at heart
as well as a student."

"No wonder you are proud of him----"

Lady Flint dropped her fan; Miss Baker picked it up, deferentially, and
as she restored it Lady Flint thought the girl's hair very pretty,
though it was a pity, in her opinion, that she wore it cut short. A
possibility crept into her mind that was not altogether distasteful: was
there likely to be "anything" between Miss Baker and her beloved son?
Though Miss Baker had no connection with India beyond her brief visit to
the country, she seemed a warm-hearted, sensible child, and certainly
she appreciated Philip! Lady Flint was aware that Lord Redgate was a
very rich man, which might be a barrier; if not of course it would be
nice to feel that Philip and his wife need never be worried over money
matters; in the case of Grace's marriage that had been a satisfactory
element, who could deny it?--though she would not have had either of her
children influenced in the least degree by worldly advantages.

She felt her way gently. "How would you like to live in India?" she
inquired, and she saw the girl flush as she answered decidedly: "I
should simply love it!"

"Perhaps your father will take you there again for a visit some day?"

"I went alone, you know--that time. And if I ever go again it will not
be on a visit; I shall go to stay."

Lady Flint looked a little puzzled. "But what would your father say to
that?"

"My father never interferes with anything I want to do."

"Dear me!" said Lady Flint.

The door opened and the men came into the room. Philip made straight for
his mother and Miss Baker, who whispered hurriedly: "Lady Flint, may I
come and see you?"

"Do, my dear, I am always at home on Sundays. I shall be very pleased to
see you. Come next Sunday if you can." And she made a mental note to
keep Philip at home next Sunday afternoon. If the two young people were
mutually attracted she would help on the courtship to the best of her
powers; but she rather wished Miss Baker were not a rich man's daughter,
and not an Honourable--it would mean that Philip, like Grace, might be
absorbed into a world she did not understand.

"I have been hearing all about you!" exclaimed Dorothy, looking up at
Philip as he stood beside them. "How tiresome and naughty you were, and
how you wouldn't work, and gave such a lot of trouble after you grew
up!"

They all laughed, and Philip glanced affectionately at his mother, a
glance that endeared him the more to the long-limbed girl in the green
gown....

Then a well-known pianist who was of the party consented to play, and
silence was enforced on the audience. Once at the piano the musician
continued to give unlimited samples of his own compositions, and Philip,
though he thought the fellow made an unconscionable noise, welcomed the
respite from conversation. Again he felt depressed, inert, unreasonably
impatient with the well-fed, well-dressed throng that had met together
merely to eat and drink and to impress each other with their own
importance. They were all so self-satisfied in their several ways! He
made up his mind that he would get away from London as soon as he could
do so without hurting his parents' feelings; go somewhere to fish by
himself; he had no use for crowds like this.

"You will come and see us?" repeated Miss Baker when at last farewells
became general. "Come and dine quite quietly, just ourselves. When will
you come?"

He could hardly plead a press of engagements, yet he was seized with the
reluctance to tie himself that so often attacks the newly returned
Anglo-Indian; everyone was in such a hurry at home, he wanted to feel
free, but evasion was impossible, and a near date was decided upon.

Going home with his father and mother in the hired brougham he said: "I
wonder how Grace can stick that kind of life!"

"So do I," agreed the General.

"But her friends are all so clever," protested Lady Flint; she had never
before felt so well disposed towards Grace's world; "and most of them do
something."

"Nothing that really matters, except the doctor lot," growled Sir
Philip, puffing at one of his son-in-law's excellent cigars. "Upon my
word, I felt thankful I was a bit deaf when that music master, or
whatever he calls himself, began hammering on the piano. And as for that
fellow Redgate--all I can say is that if he made himself, as he boasts,
he made a mistake."

"Well, dear, his daughter seems a very nice girl. You think she is
nice, don't you, Philip?"

Philip answered casually: "Oh, she's all right, as long as she gets her
own way."

Lady Flint ventured to announce that Miss Baker was probably coming to
tea on Sunday, and Sir Philip said he hoped her father was not coming
too. "If he is," he added truculently, "I shall go out."

How tiresome they both were, thought poor Lady Flint; perhaps the dinner
had something to do with it, certainly it had been very rich, and far
too much of it. The General was sure to have eaten all the things that
he knew disagreed with him, and of course Philip was not accustomed to
such elaborate feasts.



CHAPTER X


Philip did not carry out his intention of leaving London as soon as
escape could be accomplished without hurt to his parents' feelings. He
felt as though helpless in the grip of some mysterious conspiracy that
from day to day left him with hardly an hour that he could call his own.

"London is an awful place," he complained to his mother; "the smallest
errand runs away with the best part of a day, buying socks and shirts
for example, not to speak of boots and the tailor! Trades-people seem to
take a delight in obstructing one at every turn. If you wish to buy a
pair of gloves in comfort you have to be prepared to spend hours over
it, what with going and coming and hunting about for what you really
want!"

"Dearest boy, how you do exaggerate!" argued Lady Flint, fondly. "But I
know what you mean. I always felt the same for the first month after I
got home from India. Life is so different out there; plenty of space and
no trouble over trifles, though one hardly calls setting oneself up in
necessaries exactly a trifle anywhere. You ought to go to the dentist,
too, and see a doctor, and have your eyes tested. Don't leave all that
to the end of your leave, or the last month will be worse than the
first. And your father thinks you ought to attend a levee."

"My teeth are all right, I'm not ill, and I can see perfectly well;
also I am not going to attend a levee," he assured her firmly; he could
not have explained his condition of mind to his mother even had he
desired to do so; he could hardly account for it to himself. He felt
restless and listless at the same time; he hated the crowds in the
streets and the shops, the appointments to see relations that his mother
cajoled him into making, the little luncheons and teas with aunts and
cousins who were all so much more delighted to see him than he was to
see them; and Grace was a nuisance; she dragged him hither and thither,
tied him down to engagements without his permission, told him, when he
protested, that he wanted "waking up." Miss Baker, to his surprise, was
ever ready to aid and abet Grace in making up theatre and supper
parties--always something--Sandown, Ranelagh, the Park, endless
"tamashas"; Miss Baker appeared to have forgotten all her unworldly
theories, and to be as keen on gaiety as the rest of them; and wherever
they went he found himself at her side. Philip began to suspect his
sister of match-making; the suspicion became a certainty one evening
when he had accompanied her unwillingly to a great "crush" in Carlton
House Terrace, which, to him, was just a kaleidoscope of colour and
jewels, and a pushing, chattering throng.

The blaze of light, the crowd, and the scents, and the closeness of the
atmosphere, despite blocks of ice and electric fans, confused and
depressed him; he stood moody and resentful as Grace greeted her
friends, kept introducing him: "My brother from India," and he had to
listen and reply to vapid remarks about heat and snakes, and how
interesting it must be to live in India, and so on; till at length, in
desperation, he interrupted a conversation his sister was holding with a
being whose coat-front was bespattered with orders, to tell her he meant
to go home.

"This is more than I can stand," he said with suppressed impatience;
"I'm off!"

"Oh, Philip, do wait; Dorothy is sure to be here presently, and then
you'll be all right." Her eyes roved round the brilliant scene. "She was
to meet us here, you know. You can't disappoint her."

"She won't be disappointed."

"Of course she will be. Philip," she added, with serious intention,
"don't be a fool!"

"What do you mean?" he began hotly, but just then they were swept
asunder by new arrivals, and as he turned to flee he encountered Miss
Baker at the head of the stairs. He felt that a web was being woven
around him; now he understood what they were all driving at--Grace, and
his mother, and yes, Dorothy herself!--for as he met her eyes shining
with welcome he realised that she, with everyone else, awaited but one
outcome of their friendship. How blind he had been; he cursed his own
denseness.

As a matter of course she attached herself to him. "Where shall we go?
It's too early for supper, and I don't feel inclined to sit and listen
to music. Let's find some comfortable corner where we can talk in
peace."

"I am making for a comfortable corner farther away," he said
petulantly; "I'm going home!"

"Oh!" her dismay was patent, "and when I've only just come? I've got
something to tell you, something thrilling! Look here, I know this house
well. Come along, follow me!"

What else could he do? Morosely he followed her, feeling rather as if he
were walking in his sleep, through a door, along a passage, up a few
steps, and they were alone in a pretty boudoir that was cool and quiet,
fragrant with flowers, away from the crowd and the noise.

"Now we are safe! Give me a cigarette." Dorothy settled herself in a
deep chair; the gleam of her hair against a pile of purple cushions, her
long white arms and slender outline presented a striking picture, as
Philip could not but note as he stood before her on the hearthrug. Had
it not been for the disturbing idea that had taken definite shape in his
mind this evening he would have felt soothed, contented, very much at
home with her. As it was, he began to distrust his own powers of
resistance. Either he must get out of London at once, or he would be
forced seriously to consider the question of asking Lord Redgate's
daughter to be his wife. If, as he could not help assuming, she expected
him to propose to her sooner or later, opposition from her father was
not to be anticipated. Dorothy would have her own way--given the chance.
The fact that he was now actually contemplating the possibility startled
him. What a mean brute he must be! He could never love the girl as a man
should love the woman he married; if it became necessary he must tell
her the truth, and put an end to all thought of anything but
friendship....

"You are very glum to-night," she remarked, gazing at him through a
cloud of smoke. "What is the matter?"

"Probably the usual curse of the Anglo-Indian--liver!" he replied, with
an effort to speak lightly. "I've been eating and drinking too much ever
since I got home. It's time I went in for the simple life, somewhere out
of all this. It doesn't suit my peculiar constitution!"

"It doesn't suit me either," she said reflectively.

"You seem to thrive on it, anyway!"

"Oh! I am one of those chameleon people who can adapt themselves to any
surroundings. I could be happy anywhere, on a desert island, in the
Indian jungle--more particularly in the Indian jungle, provided----"

She paused and flicked some cigarette ash on to the carpet.

He took a little china saucer from the mantelpiece and placed it on a
table beside her. "You must learn to be tidy wherever you are!" he said
with mock severity, and added: "What was it you had to tell me?"

"A secret! Such a nice one, though soon it will be a secret no longer."

"Oh! Are you going to be married in spite of your contempt for my sex?"

She drew in her breath sharply, as though something had hurt her. "Why
do you remind me of my silly ideas? Don't you think I have the sense to
see when I have been wrong?"

He evaded reply to the question. "Well, out with this wonderful secret.
Don't keep me in suspense."

"It's this--you are to have the C.S.I.!" she told him triumphantly. "The
Star of India! Doesn't it sound splendid--glittering, glorious, grand!"

He stared at her stupidly, stammered: "How--how do you know?"

"Pater told me to-night, just as I was starting to come here," and she
added naïvely: "to come and meet _you_. Good old Pater, he is arranging
it all. Now, what do you say to that for a piece of news?"

"It is extremely kind of him, but I don't want it, I don't deserve it!"
he cried in desperation. "You must tell him--it must be stopped----"

"What on earth are you talking about? If you don't deserve it, who does?
Anyway, it's to be yours, whether you feel you deserve it or not, and I
can't tell you how proud I feel that in a kind of way you will have got
it through _me_!"

Through her! and through her, if he chose to say the word, he could have
all that, to the world, would appear to make life well worth the living.
For the moment the temptation was strong, almost overwhelming. Here, for
the asking, was the devotion of a clever, capable girl who had the
makings of a true comrade, who would revive his ambitions, enter
wholeheartedly into his career; he saw himself honoured, successful,
beyond his dreams; a power in the country that he loved to serve, with
every advantage, officially and socially, in his grasp. Why should he
hesitate? Here was his chance! he stood at the turning-point of his
existence that meant "fortune" without struggle or delay if he went
boldly forward....

Then, all at once, sweeping aside the temptation, the brilliant outlook,
came the thought of Stella, the true Star of his life and his heart; and
dimly he felt that to barter the memory of that other star, however far
from his reach, for tangible gain would be infamous, contemptible. The
shadow was more to him than the substance; he could not do this thing
and feel that his purpose was clean!

"I suppose you will think I am mad," he said slowly, with difficulty,
"but there is something--something that stands in the way----"

The girl paled, dropped the end of her cigarette into the saucer, and he
saw her hands grip the arms of the chair. "Is it--is it because----" she
lost her self-control. "Oh! don't look at me like that! Can't you
see--what does anything matter! Don't be so proud. Nothing can be too
good for you--Philip!"

She rose, held her hands out to him, firm, square hands; he took them
gently, reverently, and she swayed as she recognised the lack of passion
in his touch.

Haltingly, as best he could, he tried to tell her the truth, but it all
sounded so elusive, so unsubstantial, he felt he could hardly expect her
to comprehend. Silence fell between them; he turned from her in painful
regret.

She laid her hand on his shoulder. "Philip, don't you trust me? Do you
think I can't know how you feel? If I can't help you in one way I can in
another perhaps, by giving you all my sympathy and understanding. I hope
if I had been placed as you are that I should have done exactly the
same. I see--I realise----" she faltered pitifully, "that as things are
you can't take the Star, you can't owe it to _me_ in the least degree. I
will explain somehow to my father; leave it to me, it isn't too late,
and some day you will have it--earn it yourself entirely--and--it may be
the other one too, I hope so, I do indeed! if she is worthy of you. But
oh! how could she, how could she leave your letter unanswered! There may
have been some mistake, it may come all right, don't give up hope. The
most wonderful things happen. And I--I shall always be your friend----"

She stopped, breathing fast; she had spoken so rapidly, under such
stress of emotion. As he met her strained, wide-open eyes she looked
almost unreal. A mist clouded his vision; he felt choked as he tried to
answer, to thank her; speech seemed so futile; for him the whole thing
was beyond words; he knew he was failing hopelessly to express himself.

She gave a tremulous laugh that was half a sob. "It's all right, don't
say anything, don't try. We both _know_. Let's get back to the crowd,"
and moving to the door she turned out the lights. Quickly she went
before him, down the steps and along the narrow passage. He saw her
mingle with the throng, her head held high, talking and laughing, a
bright, conspicuous figure, a brave, noble-hearted girl! He wished
honestly that he could have loved her; wished it quite apart from the
solid advantages she could have brought him as his wife.



CHAPTER XI


A day or two later when Philip, preparatory to his departure from
London, was choosing a fishing-rod in a well-known shop devoted to the
requirements of anglers, a little lady dressed in the height of fashion
rustled over to him from the farther end of the showroom where she had
been standing in company with an elderly, distinguished-looking man.

"Is it Mr. Flint?" she inquired gaily; and as he looked at her in
puzzled politeness a vague memory returned to him of someone trigged out
in sequins and tinsel, with a tambourine....

"You don't remember me? This time I'm not pretending. We really have met
before! My name is Matthews--Maud Verrall, you know, Stella Crayfield's
friend. How history repeats itself. Fancy my having to introduce myself
again, and all among fishing-rods and tackle and things, instead of in a
ball-room full of dressed-up idiots in India!"

"Why, of course--of course, how are you?" he said, gathering his wits
together, battling with an impulse to attack her on the spot as to
Stella's whereabouts, to ask her all about her. If anyone knew it would
be this wonderfully garbed little person, who now proceeded to beckon to
her deserted companion.

"Here's another old friend of Stella's, Sir George Rolt; you saw him at
that horrible ball, if you remember----"

The shop assistant stood by in patient resentment as the male customers
neglected their object, and the lady chattered of everything but
fishing-rods.

"I'm taking Sir George down with me to my old home in the country
to-morrow for a visit," she told Mr. Flint; "he and my husband are going
to fish from morning till night. So dull for me! but I shall have Stella
to talk to, and she will be thankful. She's at The Chestnuts, you know.
'Grandmamma and the Aunts'," she added with a mischievous "moue," then
she sighed "Poor Stella!" and she looked at him searchingly. "That was a
terrible business, wasn't it?"

Philip composed himself with an effort. "Her husband's death, you mean?
Yes, I suppose it was. I have heard nothing of her since it happened. I
hope she is well, have you seen her lately?"

"Quite lately; I've only been in town for a flying visit, just to get
clothes."

There was an awkward pause. Philip became aware that Sir George was
regarding him with particular attention. Was the man Stella's future
husband? The possibility filled him with helpless rage.

Mrs. Matthews coughed artificially and glanced from one man to the
other. "Sir George, dear," she said sweetly, "you'd better go back to
that kind gentleman who was giving you such good advice about
fishing-rods, or someone else will snap him up. I want to talk secrets
with Mr. Flint, if he's not in too great a hurry."

Sir George smiled and moved away compliantly. Mrs. Matthews apologised
to Philip's assistant. "I'm so sorry to interrupt, but I haven't seen
this friend of mine for such ages. Presently he will buy _heaps_ of
things, don't wait for him now if you are busy. I will see that he
doesn't run away!"

The young man succumbed to her blandishments, and Mrs. Matthews piloted
Philip to a corner of the shop where she annexed a couple of chairs.

"This is a funny place for a private conversation!" she remarked, "but
I'm not going to lose such a chance now I've got it. Fancy our meeting
like this; what a piece of luck! Now listen to me and answer my
questions." She scrutinised him closely. "You look struck all of a
heap!"

"I feel it," said Philip briefly.

"Why? because you want to hear news of Stella, or because you don't?"

"Because it's the one thing in the world I wish for," he answered, his
heart beating fast.

Her face cleared. "That's all right; one step forward! Now tell me--do
you know why Stella never answered your letter?"

"There could be only one reason. I told her in my letter that if I did
not hear from her I should understand." He fixed his eyes on a stuffed
salmon in a glass case, he could not bring himself to meet Mrs.
Matthews' inquisitive gaze.

"You silly fool!" said Stella's friend vigorously. "Couldn't you have
guessed that she must have had some desperate reason?"

"I thought----"

"You thought everything that was wrong, of course. Men always do. Sir
George Rolt thinks he is devoted to me at present, dear old thing, and
that I am equally 'gone' on him, but he's mistaken, though it's great
fun for us both while it lasts. Can you stand a shock, Mr. Philip
Flint?"

"I can stand anything," said Philip doggedly, "except----"

"I know what you were going to say--except to hear that Stella never
wants to see you again?"

"Exactly."

"Would it make any difference if you found her altered in another way?"

"How do you mean?" he asked, mystified.

Then Mrs. Matthews 'set to' as she would herself have expressed it, and
for the space of five minutes she talked breathlessly, uninterrupted by
Philip, who listened to her in greedy silence.

"There," she concluded at last. "Now, do you see?"

"Not altogether, I must confess. I don't see why Stella should have
concluded that her appearance would have made the smallest difference to
me, after my letter. It was very unfair to me!"

"Don't talk such trash. It was perfectly natural. She was too hideous
for words until she got home; we came home together, and I made her put
herself into the hands of an expert. Massage and treatment did wonders,
but, all the same, poor dear, she will never be beautiful again!"

"Good heavens, as if that would matter to me. Whatever she looks
like----" he paused, overcome by his feelings.

"Well, I will believe you, though one never knows! Anyway she's not so
bad, it's only one side of her face."

"Mrs. Matthews, for goodness' sake don't talk like this; I can't bear
it. Just tell me, once for all--does Stella care for me still?"

"Yes, darling, she does; and the best thing you can do is to come down
with me and Sir George to-morrow, fishing-rods and all, to The Court,
and make her tell you so herself. Will you?"

"Will I?" he scoffed ecstatically. "Mrs. Matthews, you are an angel!"

"Not yet," she assured him. "I don't mean to die young."

       *       *       *       *       *       *

Philip Flint walked up the short drive to The Chestnuts. The air was
filled with the peace and the scent of the summer's evening; and as he
viewed the old house with its little paved terrace, the lawn sloping
down to the stream, the cedar tree, the red wall of the kitchen garden,
he felt that it was all familiar to him.

An old lady was seated on the terrace flags--that would be "Grandmamma";
and an austere-looking female emerged from one of the French windows to
speak to the old lady--was that Aunt Augusta, or Aunt Ellen? His heart
warmed towards them. And as he hesitated, hardly daring to go forward,
he caught sight of a form stretched on a long chair beneath the cedar
tree.

Boldly he took a short cut through the shrubs. At the sound of his
footsteps she looked up, gave a little cry, hid her dear, maimed face in
her hands. Stella--his beloved, his star, his Star of India!


PRINTED BY CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED, LA BELLE SAUVAGE, LONDON, E.C.4
                          F.80.1019





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Star of India" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home